by Cori Falls
Chapter 1 -- A Crossroads of a Different Kind
"Good night, James," Jessie said as she pulled the blankets up around us.
"Good night, Jessie," I replied.
She looked over at Meowth, who was settling into his own bed across the room. "Good night, Meowth."
The cat smiled at us. "Night, Jess. Night, Jim."
"Good night, Meowth," I echoed.
"G'night, John-boy," Meowth snickered.
Jessie shook her head and sighed as she returned Wobbuffet to his poke ball. "Good night to you, too," she muttered.
"Hey, can youse guys do me a favor?" Meowth asked.
"Sure," I told him. "What do you need?"
He flashed us a wicked grin. "If you and Jess are gonna do any mattress testin', try ta keep the volume down -- I don't wanna wake up in the middle of the night and hafta listen ta youse guys screamin' and thrashin' around!"
I felt my cheeks getting hot as I buried my face in my hands. "I should've known...."
"Hmmmph!" I heard Jessie grumble. "If James and I didn't run the risk of waking up everybody in the building...."
"Yeah, yeah, I know -- you'd be doin' it extra loud, just ta piss me off!" Meowth said, finishing the thought for her.
"He knows us too well," Jessie sighed.
"Alas, too true," I told her. Then, to Meowth, "Alright, you win. If Jessie and I get amorous tonight, we'll be sure to keep the noise to a minimum."
Meowth nodded approvingly. "I appreciate it."
As he wrapped his blanket around himself, Jessie and I exchanged looks.
"I guess we should wait until he falls asleep," Jessie whispered.
I smiled at her. "It's no big deal -- we can always do something else while we wait."
"Yeah. I've been meaning to catch up on my reading," she replied.
With that, the two of us reached into our backpacks and got out our books. I was rereading my grand-papa's old copy of Lord of the Rings, and Jessie was reading Sea of Swords -- the latest installment in the Drizzt Do'Urden saga, which had come out earlier in the month. (I'd bought the book for her while we were staying with her grandparents in Redwood Heights, and I was looking forward to reading it myself once I finished Lord of the Rings. R.A. Salvatore was right up there with J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and J.K. Rowling as one of my favorite authors!)
Jessie became starry-eyed as she opened her book and continued the chapter she'd been reading.
I gave her a sidelong glance and smiled again. "What is it?"
"You don't mind a bit of a spoiler?"
I shook my head.
She smiled back at me. "I'm happy because Drizzt and Catti-brie finally admit their feelings for each other and become a couple in this book."
"That's good to know," I remarked. I reached over and brushed my fingers against her cheek. "Those two were meant to be -- just like you and I!"
I leaned closer and gave her a kiss. Then, I resumed my own reading and reflected on the day we'd just had....
Jessie, Meowth, and I had come to Cianwood City that afternoon since we were still trying to catch Pikachu, and we'd heard that the twerps were on their way here. After almost three years of following those kids around, we've learned that the first place Ash goes when he gets to a new city or town is invariably the local gym, so that was the first place we went as well.
When we arrived at the Cianwood Gym, however, we found no sign of the twerps. Quite the contrary, we received a pleasant surprise!
It was lunchtime, and the three of us were starving. And as luck would have it, when we entered the common room of the gym, we found a long Japanese-style table laden with rice balls, sashimi, stir-fried vegetables, and various other treats! The food looked and smelled wonderful, and nobody was there to claim it, so we decided to help ourselves. The food was, indeed, delicious, and once we'd eaten our fill, we were too stuffed to move -- all we could do was collapse to the floor and try to catch our breath!
While we were digesting our lunch, the gym leader's wife showed up. For a moment, I was afraid she was going to be upset that we'd eaten all of the food (and I had to admit that I felt a little guilty about what we'd done now that my stomach was full, and I was thinking more clearly), but she seemed happy to see us. She assumed that Jessie and I were some of her husband's new students, so she asked us to help her with some chores around the gym since Chuck was busy battling another trainer. And she didn't have to ask twice when she told us that she was making steamed dumplings as an afternoon snack when the chores were done! (I was happy to help anyway, since I wanted to repay her for her generosity. It's not every day people give us the benefit of the doubt, after all -- we usually get chased off, blasted off, or worse when we take food without asking!)
Jessie, Meowth, Wobbuffet, and I spent the next few hours washing dishes, doing laundry, scrubbing floors, and making beds. And true to her word, Chuck's wife made a batch of steamed dumplings for us once we were finished working. Then, we ate dinner with the rest of the students, and we even got ice cream for dessert as thanks for being so helpful!
Now, we were spending the night at the gym. Chuck and his wife had given us our own private room, and Chuck had even invited me and Jessie to battle his pokemon for a chance to win the Storm Badge tomorrow morning! No gym leader has ever given us a fair chance or been so hospitable to us before, so we accepted.
A delicious lunch, an afternoon snack, a hearty dinner, dessert, a hot bath, a warm soft bed to sleep in, and a chance to earn a gym badge...all in exchange for an honest day's work. It's times like these when I can truly say that life is good.
Suddenly, I felt Jessie sliding her hand under my pajama top and running her fingers along my chest and stomach. "Hey, James, I think the coast is clear," she whispered seductively. "You still want to?"
I cast a quick glance at Meowth and saw that he was sound asleep. Then, I set my book on the nightstand and wrapped my arms around Jessie. "What do you think?" I replied.
"I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you do!" she giggled as she began unbuttoning my pajama top.
I nodded and unlaced the bodice of her red nightie. Then, I closed my eyes and savored the feeling of Jessie undressing me and covering my bare flesh with her velvety kisses.
Yes, life is definitely good.
Once our passion was spent, Jessie cuddled into me and rested her head on my chest. I put my arms around her and ran my hands through her silky crimson hair.
Jessie traced patterns on my chest with the tip of her finger and gave me a sleepy smile. "I love you so much, James," she muttered.
"I love you too, Jess," I said, giving her a kiss on the forehead.
She propped herself up on her elbow and brushed aside my rogue wisp of hair. "We should do this more often," she remarked.
I took her hand in my own and kissed it. "I'd love to, Jessie dear, but I'm not a machine," I chuckled. "Two or three times a day is about all I can handle!"
Jessie smirked and gave me a playful shove. "That's not what I meant! Honestly! Is sex all you can think about, James?" Now she was laughing, too.
"You know it's not," I told her. "But if you weren't talking about sex, then what were you talking about?"
She blushed. "Sorry. Guess I should've warned you that I was switching gears."
"Indeed. I know we're on the same wavelength, but I can't read your mind all the time, honey."
"Sorry," she apologized again. "I was talking about...today. It seems like things always go well for us whenever we don't run into the twerps, or when we get sidetracked from trying to catch Pikachu."
"You noticed that too, huh?" I asked.
She nodded. "It's almost like they're cursed. Lately, I've been wondering if it's even worth our while to keep following them."
I placed a hand to Jessie's cheek. "You're not the only one -- I'm fed-up with it, too...and I'm sure Meowth feels the same way."
"But still...we have a job to do," she sighed.
"Not for much longer," I assured her. "I have a feeling we'll be reaching our goal sooner than we think. Besides, it's not like we're alone anymore -- we finally have friends and family that are there for us. We could probably quit our job now if we wanted to!"
"I know that," Jessie replied. "But I don't want to be a burden to any of them or have to ask them for help. I want to quit Team Rocket as much as you do, James. But we have to do it on our own terms."
"I agree. But it's nice to know that we finally have a choice...that we finally have people to turn to if circumstance forces us to quit before we're ready," I said.
Jessie laid back down. "You're right. I guess it's knowing that we're not alone that gives me the strength to go on. If not for that, I don't know what we would've done...."
I draped an arm around her again. "Me either. But let's not ruin this good day by dwelling on such a heavy topic." I quickly moved on to a more cheerful subject. "Are you ready for your gym battle tomorrow?"
Jessie closed her eyes and thought for a moment. "I think so. I've heard that Chuck specializes in fighting-types -- Arbok's poison attacks and Wobbuffet's Counter should be more than a match for that!"
I nodded. "I think Weezing and Victreebel have a good shot at winning, too."
"I know they do," Jessie told me. "We have good pokemon, James. I have faith in them."
"So do I."
Now Jessie was smiling again. "A Storm Badge," she mused. "It sure would be nice to win a few gym badges. I don't really care about competing in league games or being an expert trainer anymore, but it'd feel good to know that I could if I wanted to...."
"Same here," I replied.
Jessie leaned closer and touched her lips to mine. "Good night, James."
I returned her kiss. "Good night, Jess."
"Sweet dreams," she muttered as she snuggled into the blankets again and closed her eyes.
"Sweet dreams," I echoed.
Once Jessie drifted off to sleep, I gazed down at her. With her crimson hair spread out on her pillow and her alabaster skin glowing with a silver sheen from the dim starlight that was filtering through the curtains, she looked like a princess. And to me, that's exactly what she was -- my Sleeping Beauty!
"I don't think I'll ever get over how lovely you are," I whispered as I traced her delicate facial features with the tip of my finger.
Jessie sighed contentedly in her sleep, and another smile made its way across her ruby lips.
After admiring her a moment longer, I found my attention drifting back to my book. I was on the final two chapters of The Two Towers, and I wasn't very sleepy, so I decided to finish reading it.
I opened the book again and read about Frodo and Sam being attacked by Shelob, Frodo falling victim to the spider's deadly sting, Sam battling valiantly to avenge his friend, and the closing scene where the orcs carry Frodo's body away, and Sam learns that his friend is still alive. Once I was done, I reflected on the end of the story, and my thoughts became troubled. I'd read Lord of the Rings several times already, and I knew that I had nothing to worry about -- I knew that in the next book, Sam would find his way past the orcs and rescue Frodo, and the two little hobbits would go on to destroy the ring. But just as the ending of The Fellowship of the Ring, where Sam vowed to follow Frodo into the darkness of Mordor and stay by his side no matter what, had struck a raw nerve with me on the night that Jessie and I had left the bike gang and joined Team Rocket together, so the ending of The Two Towers was striking a raw nerve with me tonight. I knew all too well how helpless poor Sam must have felt when he thought Shelob had killed Frodo, and when he saw the orcs taking his best friend's body away and there was nothing he could do to save him.
I knew because something similar had happened to me and Jessie only a week ago. Granted, things had turned out okay for us, just like they had for Frodo and Sam, and I'd been trying to put the ordeal behind me, but it wasn't a simple task.
And now that I was alone with my thoughts, those memories were back with a vengeance.
Memories of how Jessie had almost been killed, and I'd been powerless to save her.
I closed my eyes and went back to that harrowing experience....
It all began last Sunday. Jessie, Meowth, and I had just spent a few days with Jessie's grandma and grandpa Rochester, and when we went back to work, we followed the twerps to the Arbor Forest, which was just south and east of Olivine City. While we were in the forest, we encountered Lord Vicious the Iron-Masked Marauder -- one of the more notorious members of the Team Rocket Elite.
We were getting ready to challenge the twerps to a battle when some guy wearing a ridiculous outfit that made him look like a cross between the Rocketeer and a character from a Mexican wrestling movie showed up and attacked all of us with his Tyranitar. We weren't about to let this weirdo take our quarry without a fight, so I called out Weezing and got him to make a Smokescreen. During the confusion that ensued, the twerps managed to make their escape, but Jessie, Meowth, and I were left behind. And when Tyranitar defeated Weezing, and we realized who we'd been battling, we knew that we were in big trouble! Luckily, when the three of us explained that we were fellow Rockets, Vicious brought us aboard his spider mecha and told us that he was following the twerps too, but for a different reason -- the little boy that was hanging out with Ash, Misty, and Brock had a Celebi, and he wanted the Celebi for himself. He invited us to come with him since we were all working towards a similar goal.
Normally, I would've rejoiced at the opportunity that had just presented itself, but I knew firsthand that Elites were usually bad news. Antonio, Butch, Cassidy, Domino -- almost all of them got to where they were in the organization by using their teammates and then stabbing them in the back the second they were no longer useful. The only Elites I've ever known that are actually nice are Miyamoto, who achieved her status by working hard and doing her job well (though she was never rewarded for it with decent pay), and Annie and Oakley, who just manage the Rocket Game Corner for the boss and aren't out to compete with other agents. We'd never had any dealings with Vicious before, but something (besides his name) told me that he was the former kind of Elite and that we'd best keep our guard up while he was around.
My instincts turned out to be right.
Jessie, Meowth, and I were separated from Vicious later that afternoon when we fell out of his mecha while trying to pick peaches from a tree. We chased after him for awhile and tried to catch up, but he was so hell-bent on finding the kid with the Celebi that he didn't even notice we were gone and didn't come back for us. It was no great loss since none of us relished the idea of spending the night with him anyway. So, when it started getting dark, the three of us backtracked and made camp for the night under the peach tree we'd found earlier, and we were finally able to pick some peaches and enjoy them in peace.
We resumed our search for the twerps the next morning, and just like the day before, we found them at the exact same moment that Vicious did. Only this time, he succeeded in capturing the Celebi. He used a strange device called a dark ball, which controls a pokemon's mind when it's captured...and once Celebi was under the control of Vicious, it turned evil.
As a demonstration of his newfound power, Vicious commanded Celebi to create a tornado that cut a swath of destruction through the forest. Jessie, Meowth, and I tried to run for cover, but when we did, Jessie was swept away by the storm, and all Meowth and I could do was watch helplessly as she vanished in a maelstrom of trees, vines, and debris.
In hopes of finding Jessie, Meowth and I stowed away on the dirigible that the twerps and their friends were using to fly over the forest once the storm had passed. And I tell you, not knowing where she was, whether or not she'd survived, or if we'd ever see her again was one of the worst feelings in the world! I felt like I was reliving the time I thought she'd been killed when Domino had pushed her off one of the cliffs of Snowtop Mountain, or when she'd been abducted by Ayesha -- two places I'd never wanted to go again!
Fortunately, our search didn't last long. After about half an hour, we spotted an explosion over the Lake of Life at the heart of the forest. We then saw Vicious riding on the arm of a hideous creature that was made from all of the plants that had been uprooted in the tornado. It was slowly lurching through the forest and destroying everything in its path, like a gigantic shambling mound...and Jessie was entangled in its vines! I couldn't see her very well from our vantage point, but I could tell that she was kicking and struggling to free herself. A wave of relief washed over me now that I knew where she was and that she was alive and (for the most part) unharmed, but at the same time, I was enraged. Vicious was standing only a few feet away from Jessie -- it was obvious that he knew she was there, but he wasn't making any kind of attempt to free her. In fact, he seemed rather pleased that she'd been captured! He'd taken her hostage!
The sight of that madman gloating about his victory and ignoring Jessie's cries for help made my blood boil, and I silently vowed that revenge would be mine.
Unfortunately, Vicious spotted the dirigible almost immediately after we spotted him, and he commanded Celebi to attack us. When he shouted out his orders, the head of the shambling mound began to glow, and I could see Celebi deep inside, acting as the creature's brain. A few seconds later, Celebi unleashed a psychic blast that knocked the dirigible out of the sky, and we all crash-landed in the lake.
Before the dirigible hit the water, Meowth and I jumped ship and swam for shore. When we reached the bank, I looked back at the monstrosity, which was now on the opposite side of the lake. Jessie was barely visible anymore, but I could see that she was still trying in vain to free herself.
I had to do something to save her! But what? How could I take on Vicious, Celebi, and that shambling mound all by myself?
It was Meowth who gave me my answer.
"Hey, Jimmy, isn't dere some kinda spell you can cast dat'll stop dat thing and help us save Jess?" the cat asked nervously as we watched Vicious continuing to wreak havoc on the forest. "I mean...ya defeated Ayesha with yer magic, and dis guy is small potatoes compared ta her, right?"
I felt a surge of confidence when he said this. "Yes. On both counts," I replied.
"Den whadda we waitin' for?! Let's get crackin'!" Meowth exclaimed.
I shook my head. "It's not that simple, Meowth. We need to go back to camp so that I can get my supplies," I told him. "The forest...the earth...the water -- I can hear them all crying out in pain. Jessie isn't the only one that needs to be saved...."
"So, dis has ta be a heavy-duty spell with a full-on ritual, like the one we used ta project ourselves to the Astral Plane?" he ventured.
"Pretty much," I said.
With that, the two of us raced back to our camp beneath the peach tree. Luckily, it was far enough away from where the battle had taken place that it hadn't been disturbed by the tornado or the rampage of Vicious's monstrous creation, and all of our backpacks and camping gear were right where we'd left them. After thumbing through my grand-mama's old Book of Shadows for a moment and deciding which spell to perform, I grabbed the herbs I needed and the wand she'd given me, and Meowth and I returned to the lake as quickly as we could.
"Whaddaya gonna do, James?" Meowth asked as I picked up a fallen tree branch and drew a circle around the two of us in the muddy soil.
"A couple of things -- we need to dispel the dark forces that are allowing Vicious to control Celebi, and we need something that'll give us the strength to combat him and get Jessie out of there," I explained.
The cat nodded approvingly and cast another nervous glance at the shambling mound, which was still lurching about on the other side of the lake. "Good plan."
After uttering a few blessings to consecrate the circle, I brought out my lighter and ignited the sprigs of rue that I'd brought with me. Then, I held up my wand and began to chant:
Great Mother, guardian of your children,
We are in need of your protection.
There are those who are against us
By thought, word, and deed.
Let their efforts fail.
Let their evil return to the darkness.
Great Mother, I ask for and accept your protection.
As I chanted, I closed my eyes and thought about what I wanted. I'd heard tales of a Suicune that lived in the Arbor Forest -- a legendary pokemon that had the power to purify water. A pokemon that helped protect the forest along with Celebi.
If a Suicune couldn't help us battle Vicious and save Jessie and the forest, then nothing could!
I repeated my prayer to the Goddess over and over again and held fast to an image of Suicune. I pictured myself and Meowth riding on the Suicune's back, going forth to save the woman I love and battle the monster that was destroying the forest.
And then, I heard it.
After several minutes of chanting, a howl like the north wind echoed through the forest. And when I opened my eyes, I saw a Suicune racing right towards us!
The Goddess had answered my call...or so I thought.
When the Suicune reached us, it didn't even slow down. In fact, it raced right past us and went to the twerps instead! Ash and his new friend were the ones who climbed aboard the Suicune's back, and together with Brock's Onix, they defeated Tyranitar. Then, the Suicune took them to confront Vicious.
"No! This isn't how it's supposed to happen!" I cried as I watched the battle that was raging on around us.
"What does it matter, as long as Vicious is defeated?" Meowth asked. "Let the twerps stick dere necks out for once, I say! I dunno about you, but I'm sick of always pullin' dere fat outta the fire and doin' all the real work, only ta have dem get all the glory while we get shafted!"
"I'm sick of it too, but that's not the point! All the twerps care about is rescuing Celebi -- they probably don't even know that Jessie is trapped in there, and even if they do, what are the odds that they'll help her?! If they destroy that thing while she's still inside of it...well, I don't even want to think about what might happen!" I countered.
Meowth's expression became grim again as he turned his attention back to the battle. "Oh, yeah...."
"Poor Jessie...." I sighed.
When Suicune took Ash and the other boy up to save Celebi, it became entangled in the shambling mound's vines as well. While it was trapped, Celebi unleashed another psychic blast that knocked the two children off of Suicune's back and sent them plummetting towards the lake. Luckily for them, however, Jessie reached out and caught them before they fell very far. But they didn't bother to return the favor -- they just resumed their climb towards Celebi and left her behind, screaming for help, and struggling in vain to escape.
"Fuck! You were right, James -- Jess saved dat twerp's miserable life, and he just left her hangin' dere!" Meowth growled.
I clenched my fist and spat on the ground. If anything bad happened to Jessie, I was going to hold Ash personally responsible. "Sometimes I really hate being right," I grumbled.
The next few minutes seemed more like an eternity. As the last sprigs of rue from my failed spell burned away, all Meowth and I could do was watch the horrific scene that unfolded. The Suicune eventually freed itself, and all of Vicious's dark balls suddenly exploded and released his Sneasel and his Scizor. Then, Celebi came back to its senses, and the Suicune took it and the two children to safety as the shambling mound fell apart in a massive explosion and sank beneath the surface of the lake. Amid the chaos, I could barely perceive Jessie, who was still bound tightly by the vines, falling headlong into the water as trees and rocks rained down all around her. Meowth and I screamed her name, but our voices were drowned out by the din.
When it was over, Meowth and I wasted no time in turning a few pieces of driftwood into a makeshift raft and paddles and setting out to find Jessie. In the distance, I could see Suicune bounding across the surface of the lake, turning the waters clean and pure again, and I could see the twerps trying to revive Celebi, but I paid them no mind. Just like earlier in the day, I had no idea where Jessie was, whether or not she'd survived, or if we'd ever see her again. Finding her was all that mattered.
After another half hour of searching (which also seemed more like an eternity), we found Jessie floating listlessly at the far end of the lake. Panic seized me for a moment, but as we got closer, I could hear her saying something about all of the pain in her body being gone.
"Jessie! Jessie, we've come to rescue you!" I called out to her.
Jessie turned around and smiled when she saw us. "James! Meowth! Where have you been?" she asked.
"Climb aboard, and I'll explain everything," I replied as she swam towards the raft.
When I took her hands in mine, however, Vicious's Tyranitar suddenly sprang up from the water and capsized the raft. But he didn't attack us -- the mind controlling dark balls were gone, and he was simply returning to the wild, along with Sneasel and Scizor.
Once the three pokemon had vanished into the forest, I turned my attention back to Jessie, and I suddenly felt a warm, giddy sensation spreading through me. "This water is amazing!" I heard myself saying.
"Isn't it?" Jessie giggled.
"Yeah! I don't even mind bein' wet!" Meowth commented.
The three of us smiled at each other and rolled onto our backs. "It's a good feeling...." we sighed in unison.
We floated in those clear, cool, comforting waters for the rest of the afternoon, gazing up at the crystal-blue sky and enjoying each other's company. It was like the water had washed away all of the pain and horror of everything that had happened! When we finally climbed out of the lake and made camp for the night, however, our moods immediately sobered.
Now that the ordeal was over and I had time to reflect on it, several questions began to nag at me. Why had my spell failed? Why hadn't Suicune come to aid me and Meowth? Why hadn't I been able to save Jessie? What had I done wrong?
Suddenly, the sound of Meowth's voice stirred me from my brooding. "Hey, whatsa matter, Jess? Ya look like yer gonna be sick!"
I turned my attention back to Jessie. She was sitting in an upright fetal position, with her arms wrapped around her knees. And even though she was next to the campfire, her face looked pale and gray, and she was shivering violently.
"What's wrong, honey?" I asked as I wrapped a blanket around her shoulders.
Jessie shuddered again. "I feel like somebody just walked over my grave," she murmured.
Now Meowth was shuddering, too. "Ugh. Nice imagery," he said sarcastically.
"I'm not joking," Jessie told him. She looked at the two of us for a moment, and then her gaze slowly drifted to the lake. "I...I really think...if not for the healing powers in those waters...I wouldn't be here right now...."
Those words made my blood run cold.
Tears rolled down Jessie's cheeks as she closed her eyes and continued. "When that thing fell apart, and I fell into the lake...I remember getting hit by a bunch of tree trunks and rocks. And before I blacked out, I could feel my bones breaking and my lungs filling with water as I sank to the bottom. Then, I found myself standing in this gray, foggy place, and I saw my parents. They told me that I had a choice to make...." Her voice trailed off for a moment, and she shook her head. "I knew what choice they were talking about. I said that I didn't want to die...that I couldn't leave you...."
I covered my mouth with my hand and tried desperately to fight back my own tears as I listened to her. I knew all too well what had happened to Jessie. I knew because I'd been there once myself -- the crossroads between life and death. Just as Jessie had seen her parents, I'd seen my grand-papa, and he'd told me the same thing -- that the choice to live or to die was mine to make. I'd chosen to live on that day...just as Jessie had chosen to live today.
"Momma and daddy told me that I'd made the right decision...that it wasn't my time," Jessie went on. "Then, I was alone again, and my whole body was filled with pain. It hurt so much, I started to wonder if I really had made the right choice, but I kept thinking of you and Meowth and how much I needed to be with you. And when I opened my eyes, I found myself floating in the water. All of the pain in my body was gone, and I could breathe again. And then, you came and rescued me." She looked back at me and Meowth. "I felt like I really was dead for awhile...and that when I told momma and daddy that I wanted to live, the waters brought me back to life...."
"That may very well be -- this place isn't called the Lake of Life for nothing, you know," I told her. I put my arms around Jessie and held her to me. "I'm just glad you chose to live. I don't know what I'd do without you, sweetheart."
"Me-owth either!" Meowth sniffled as he hugged her, too. "We love ya, Jess."
Jessie hugged us back and buried her face in my shoulder. "I love you guys, too. I saw you earlier, when you were searching for me. And when Vicious got Celebi to blow up the dirigible, and you fell into the lake, I got so scared. That whole time I was stuck up there, I was more worried about you than I was about myself, to tell the truth...."
I held Jessie closer and stroked her hair. "You didn't have to worry about us -- Meowth and I were fine," I whispered into her ear. "I'm just sorry that we couldn't do anything to save you...."
"Hey, dat ain't true, Jim!" Meowth interjected. "I wouldn't call dat spell ya cast nothin', ya know!"
Jessie raised an eyebrow.
"After we crash-landed, James whipped up a magic spell ta save you and the forest and stop Vicious," the cat explained.
"For all the good it did," I snorted. "I was trying to summon the Suicune, but it went to the twerps instead...and they left you there to die. I'm so sorry, Jessie. I'm sorry I failed you...."
Jessie placed a hand to my lips and silenced me. She gently brushed away the tears that were now spilling down my cheeks. "James, you did nothing of the sort," she assured me.
I hung my head. "I wish I could believe you...."
I felt Jessie putting her arms around me again and drawing my head down so that it was resting on her breasts. "Listen to my heart," she told me. "It's beating now because of you -- I'm here now because I love you, and I want to stay with you forever. That's what truly saved me today, sweetie. Never forget that."
Her words soothed me somewhat, but deep down inside, I still felt guilty. And the question of why my spell hadn't worked the way it was supposed to was still nagging at me.
Presently, I felt Jessie kissing the top of my head, then cupping my chin in her hands and kissing my face. When her mouth met mine, she slowly lowered me to the ground and laid herself on top of me.
"Jess...." I muttered.
She silenced me by closing her mouth over mine again. Then, she snaked her arms around me. "James, I want you," she whispered once she drew her lips away from mine.
I licked my lips and exhaled in a ragged breath as my eyes met hers. Normally, I would've taken her without hesitation, but despite everything she'd told me, I didn't feel like I deserved the pleasure she was offering me.
"Please?" she whispered again, sensing the reason for my hesitancy. She ran her fingers through my hair and caressed my tear-stained cheeks. "When I think about everything that happened today, it scares the living hell out of me! I need you to hold me. I need to be close to you. I need to feel alive. I need to know that we're safe now. Please don't say no...."
I sat up again and brushed away the tears that were spilling down her cheeks once more. "I wasn't going to," I assured her. "But I still feel unworthy...."
Jessie shook her head. "Nothing could be further from the truth. Being with you always makes me feel so safe, and warm, and happy...and alive. I need that more than anything...especially now."
I gazed once more into her sapphire eyes. "You're certain?"
She nodded and brought her lips to mine again. "You're everything I need, James...."
As the two of us rested our foreheads together and smiled at each other, Meowth cleared his throat and reminded us that he was still there. "Uh...I guess I'm gonna go scrounge up somethin' for dinner," he said awkwardly.
Jessie brought out one of her poke balls. "Here. Take Wobbuffet with you," she told him as she released the pokemon.
"I guess you two could pick more peaches...and I saw some berries growing on some trees further down the lake," I suggested.
"Sounds good," Meowth remarked. He and Wobbuffet dug a pair of reed baskets from his backpack. "We'll be back in...." He paused for a moment and smirked. "Ya got an hour! After dat, yer fair game again -- bad day or no, Wobbu and I ain't hangin' out in the woods all night, waitin' for youse guys ta get done bein' intimate!"
"Fair enough," I chuckled.
Once the two pokemon were gone, Jessie and I exchanged looks.
"That Meowth," I sighed. "What are we going to do with him?"
Jessie leaned into me and slid her hand under my shirt. "Well, for one thing, we can hurry up and do this before he gets back."
I wrapped one of my arms around Jessie's waist, and with my other hand, I took the blanket from her shoulders and spread it out on the ground. "Sounds good to me," I muttered, offering no resistance as she laid herself down on the blanket and pulled me with her.
The two of us undressed each other as quickly as we could. Then, we nestled together and made love in the lowering light. And as I held Jessie in my arms and gazed into her beautiful blue eyes, I knew that she'd been right -- we needed this. After what had happened today, I needed to be as close to her as I possibly could...to feel her warm body next to mine and know that she was alive and well. I needed that intimacy every bit as much as she did.
When we finished, I rested my head on Jessie's breasts again and continued to savor the softness and warmth of her body. I concentrated on the sound of her heartbeat and the breath in her lungs and reminded myself once more that she was still here, and it finally put my troubled mind at ease.
Jessie smiled at me and ran her fingers through my hair. "Feeling better now?" she asked.
"Yeah...though I still wish I could've done a better job of saving you," I told her.
Jessie's fingers moved from my hair to my neck and shoulders. They felt like fire on my skin as she caressed me. "You'll always be my hero, James. Never doubt that, and never worry about anything you do not being good enough for me," she assured me.
"Thanks, Jess," I muttered as I brushed my fingertips down her side and placed my hand on her hip. I looked up and gazed into her eyes again. "Are you sure that you're okay?"
She nodded. "Being with you made me feel even better than when we were in the water -- it's the best feeling in the world. Thank you."
I took one of her hands in mine and brought it to my lips. "I'm glad I was able to do something for you, then...."
Presently, Meowth and Wobbuffet returned to camp. Their baskets were filled to the brim with peaches and berries. When we saw the two pokemon, Jessie and I quickly got dressed again so that we could avoid being the butt of their dirty jokes.
"Heh. Looks like we're right on time!" Meowth snickered as I pulled my boxers and pants back on. "Ol' Jimmy-boy musta blasted off at the speed a light if youse guys was actually able ta finish within the time limit!"
I felt my face turning red.
Jessie grabbed a peach from the basket that Wobbuffet was holding and crammed it into the cat's mouth. "Hey! You said you weren't going to pick on us if we were done by the time you got back!" she snapped.
Meowth pulled the peach from his mouth and gave her a sly smile. "I did not -- I just said you was fair game again once the hour was up! Now I can make as many filthy jokes about ya as I want!"
Jessie and I groaned.
He took a bite from his peach and winked at us. "Aw, take it easy -- ya know I only tease ya cuz I care!"
And if you're teasing each other again, it means that everything is back to normal! Wobbuffet added.
"Good points," I conceded. "I guess we could all use a good laugh after the day we had."
"I just wish it didn't have to be at our expense," Jessie grumbled.
"Alright, alright, I won't pick on youse guys anymore tonight," Meowth said. He picked up his basket of berries again. "Why don't we just enjoy our dinner instead?"
I took the baskets of fruit from Meowth and Wobbuffet and smiled again. "Now that sounds like a good idea!"
Once I'd put some rice in a pot and set it on the fire to boil, I mashed up the berries and a few peaches and added some sugar and spices and made an impromptu sweet and sour sauce to flavor it with. Then, I mixed up some instant milk, Jiffy Mix, and sugar and used the rest of the peaches to make a cobbler for dessert.
While I was preparing the food, Meowth inhaled the aromas and grinned. "Mmm-mmm! Smells great -- I can hardly wait!"
Jessie wrapped her arms around my waist and gave me a kiss on the cheek. "Another culinary masterpiece from our resident gourmet chef!"
I smiled at the two of them and felt myself blushing again.
When everything was done, I took the pan with the cobbler off of the fire so it could have time to cool, and I drained the excess water from the rice and served it with the sauce I'd made. True to Jessie and Meowth's prediction, the meal was pretty good for something I'd whipped up on the spot. Not a bad way to end the day, all things considered.
Unfortunately, an unwelcome visitor showed up just as we were finishing our dessert. A very unwelcome visitor.
"Ah! Dinner and dessert were divine, my dear James!" Jessie sighed contentedly as she dabbed her lips with a napkin.
"Dee-licious!" Meowth concurred. He slurped the last of the milk from his cobbler dish and placed a paw to his stomach.
"Thank you," I replied.
"Aw, man, what are YOU losers doing here?!"
The three of us turned and saw Ash standing at the edge of our campsite. The very sight of him made me taste bile, and the sound of his grating voice set my teeth on edge.
Jessie frowned. "Excuse me, but you're the one who's trespassing in our camp! I think the real question is what are you doing here?!"
Meowth's fur bristled as he unsheathed his claws. "Yeah! You got a lotta nerve showin' yer ugly mug around here, Ketchum!" he growled.
I clenched my fist and took a deep breath, trying not to say anything. I knew that if I did, I was going to lose my temper.
Ash fixed us with his usual clueless expression. "Uh...Brock and Misty sent me out to pick more berries to go with dinner." His mud-brown eyes scanned the area and fell on our empty dishes. "As long as I'm here, could I have some food?"
Meowth flashed me and Jessie a wicked grin. Then, he gathered up a handful of peach pits. "Sure thing, twerpo! You can have what's left of our peaches!"
Ash's face lit up. "Really?"
"Yep!" came Meowth's reply. With that, he threw one of the peach pits and hit Ash between the eyes. "Bon appetit, shit-heel!"
As Meowth continued to pelt him with peach pits, Ash staggered backwards and tripped over a rock. "AUGH!!!" he whined.
Jessie applauded. "Good one, Meowth!" she laughed.
I folded my arms across my chest and nodded approvingly.
Ash got back to his feet and scowled at us. "Why are you so mean to me?!" he shouted indignantly. "I just saved Celebi and this forest from your stupid friend today, and you won't even share a bit of food with me?! What's your problem, Team Rocket?!"
Those words sent a cold spike of rage through me. I couldn't hold myself back any longer -- it was time to pay that bastard back for what he'd done to Jessie. In spades.
I turned to Jessie and Meowth, who looked like they were angry enough to bite nails in two as well. "Let me handle this," I told them. "And don't hold me accountable for what I'm about to do."
This made Meowth snicker. "Wouldn't dream of it!"
Jessie gave me a thumbs-up and smirked.
Maintaining my calm facade, I strode over to Ash. "Oh, I'll tell you what our problem is," I said matter-of-factly.
Ash looked up at me with a smug grin, as if he were expecting me to make some kind of admission of guilt.
It was time to relieve him of that delusion.
I seized Ash by the throat. "YOU'RE our fucking problem, twerp!" I shouted. With that, I balled my free hand into a fist and drove it into his face.
"AUGH!!!" Ash whined again. He struggled to free himself from my grasp. I responded by gripping more tightly and making him choke.
As Ash continued to struggle, I punched him in the gut. And when he doubled over, I smashed his face with an uppercut. "You...shit...weasel! You...filthy...fucking...shit...weasel!" I growled, punctuating every word with another punch to his ugly face. I slammed him into the trunk of a nearby tree and pinned him so that he was unable to move. He had no choice but to look me in the eye. "Jessie saved your worthless fucking life today, and how do you repay her?! By leaving her to die, that's how! You've pulled a lot of shit with us over the years, but that was the final straw! I have fucking had it with you, you fucking sadist!"
"B-but...I was t-trying to save Celebi!" Ash protested. "I didn't have time...."
His voice was like fingernails scraping down a blackboard. I didn't want to hear anything he had to say, so I silenced him with another punch. "You shut your goddamned mouth!" I spat. "And don't feed me any of your bullshit, either! You and your friend could've taken a few seconds to free Jessie from those vines, or you could've left one of your pokemon to cut her loose while you went to help Celebi! But you didn't! You didn't do jack shit to help her!"
I threw Ash to the ground and caught him by the throat once more. "Jessie was still trapped when that thing exploded. She was almost killed when she fell into the lake. If the water hadn't healed her, she'd be dead now." My voice was calm...too calm as I said this. But as the words passed my lips, I flew into another rage and began buffetting Ash with more punches. "She could've DIED because of you...because you're such a selfish bastard! You had better be goddamned thankful that she survived...because if she hadn't, I swear, I'd have fucking killed you!"
As I continued to punch Ash in the face, ribs, stomach, and everywhere else I could reach, I suddenly felt Jessie and Meowth grabbing me by the arms and pulling me away.
"Whoa! Take it easy dere, Jimbo!" I heard Meowth saying.
I felt one of Jessie's hands move to my cheek. "James...."
The feeling of her warm, soft hand and the sound of her voice snapped me back to my senses. For several minutes, my breathing came in short, rapid gasps, and my heart thundered in my chest. I was covered with a mixture of my sweat and Ash's blood, and I could feel spittle oozing down my chin, as if I'd been frothing at the mouth.
Once I'd regained my composure, I looked over at Ash, who was struggling to get back to his feet. His nose was squashed to the side, as if it had been broken, and all of his front teeth were missing. His dislocated jaw was hanging slack, and blood was pouring from his nose and mouth. Every inch of his face and neck were swollen and covered with bruises. The sight of him horrified me.
For as long as I've lived, I've always detested violence. I've only ever used it as a last resort in extreme situations. The only other time I'd lost my temper to this extent had been the time Domino had pushed Jessie off of the cliff and had been trying to kill me as well -- a life-or-death situation where I'd had no choice but to defend myself and "avenge" Jessie by any means necessary. Never before had I succumbed to such a blind, visceral rage when we weren't in mortal danger. It was so unlike me to let my anger get the better of me like this!
I hung my head, unable to bear the sight of what I'd done to Ash any longer. "I-I'm sorry," I murmured. "I don't know what came over me. I just...I...."
Presently, my gaze drifted to Meowth. He was grinning up at me like a Cheshire Cat. "Don't apologize, Jimmy -- I only stopped ya cuz I wanna turn now!" With that, he unsheathed his claws again and lunged at Ash.
"AUGH!!!" Ash cried as he got a face full of Fury Swiping feline.
"GAH!!! YA ALMOST KILLED JESSIE, YA BIG JERK FUCK-FACE!!!!! I OUGHTTA MURDERIZE YA FOR DAT!!!!!" Meowth screamed as he slashed relentlessly at the twerp. "PAYBACK'S A BITCH, AIN'T IT, ASSWIPE?!?!?!"
When Ash tried to pry Meowth off of him, the cat bit his hand and continued to scratch.
Ash screeched and howled and began running around in circles in a desperate attempt to shake Meowth off, but Meowth just responded by biting down harder and Fury Swiping more ferociously than ever. And even though he had a mouthful of Ash's hand, I could still hear the cat shouting a string of obscenities that made my tirade seem mild by comparison!
Once Meowth finally released him, Jessie stepped forward. She reached down and patted Meowth on the head. Then, she set her sights on Ash. "I hope there's enough left for me -- I want a piece of him, too!" she said.
Meowth rubbed his paws together and grinned again. "Ya gonna punch his lights out now, Jess?" he asked eagerly.
A malicious smile spread across her lips. "No, I've got a better idea!"
When he saw the look on her face, Ash gulped. And when he turned tail and tried to run, Jessie caught him by the collar of his vest and wheeled him around to face her again. Then, she shoved him to the ground, brought up her foot, and stomped on his groin as hard as she could with the heel of her boot.
Ash's voice shot up at least three octaves as he screamed in pain again.
Meowth and I reflexively covered our own groins with our hands.
The cat winced. "Ooohhh, right in the nads!"
I winced, too. "That's got to hurt! I'm sure glad Jess is on our side!"
"Ya got dat right, Jimbo!" Meowth said through clenched teeth.
Jessie knelt next to Ash as he curled himself into a ball and continued to whine in agony. "Serves you right, you fucking pissant! I should've let you fall!" she said disdainfully. She rolled him onto his side and forced him to look up at her. Then, she spit in his face. "You deserve to die for everything you've done to us."
Ash fixed her with a defiant stare, as if he were daring her to make good on her threat.
"But my friends and I won't be the ones to give you what you deserve. We'd never cross that line...especially not for a wormy little shit like you," Jessie continued. "To paraphrase what Gandalf once said to Frodo Baggins: many who live deserve death, and some who die deserve life. We can't give life back to those who deserve it, so it's not our place to give death to those who deserve it, either." She paused for a moment and smiled mischievously. "No, young twerp, all you'll be getting from us is a healthy dose of pain. And we can deal out as much of that as we like...especially with these lovely healing waters immediately on-hand!"
Ash looked like he didn't have a clue what Jessie was talking about, but being reminded that we could heal the twerp's injuries and leave him with nothing more than the memory of the beating we'd just given him alleviated my guilty conscience somewhat. Maybe that'll be enough to teach him a lesson, I silently hoped.
Jessie grabbed Ash by the collar again and hauled him back to his feet. "Come on, guys! Let's take out the trash!" she said to me and Meowth.
Meowth and I grinned as we returned to her side. Then, the three of us dragged Ash to the shore of the lake and tossed him headlong into the water.
"And DON'T come back!" Meowth shouted, sticking up his middle claw. "We're through pullin' punches with you, twerpo! If you EVER hurt Jessie, or James, or any a dere pokemon, or Me-owth again, we'll fuck ya up even worse! See if we don't!"
I looked down at the cat, then at Jessie. "So, you guys don't think I overreacted?" I ventured.
"Of course not!" Meowth replied. "Poor Jess almost died cuz of him -- I'd be more worried if ya didn't get pissed off about somethin' like dat!"
"Yes, but he's a kid," I sighed. "To me, using violence against children is every bit as abhorrent as using violence against women."
Jessie took my hand in hers and caressed my palm with her thumb. "We know that, James. And that's why we love you," she said softly.
"Yeah," Meowth agreed. "We'd also be more worried about ya if ya didn't feel any remorse for what ya did, my friend."
Jessie nodded. "Just because you're sweet and gentle doesn't mean you're incapable of hurting anybody. It just means that you only do it as a last resort...and that you regard it as a necessary evil rather than something to take pleasure in. And that makes a world of difference between you and a monster like Ash Ketchum."
This made me smile a little. "Thanks."
"Besides, child or no, Ash had it coming!" she went on. "That twerp has been crossing the line way too far and way too often for way too long! He's always attacking us, torturing us, leaving us for dead...hell, sometimes he even seems like he's trying to kill us with some of the shit he does! And what do we get in return whenever we're nice to him? Maybe an insincere thank you if we're lucky, and then he starts treating us shittier than ever. I don't know about you, but I'm not going to stand for that anymore!"
"Damn straight!" said Meowth. "It's time we started fightin' back! See how he likes gettin' a taste a his own medicine!"
"You're both right," I admitted. "We can't let the twerps walk all over us anymore, but repaying violence with violence isn't the answer -- we'd only be sinking to their level if we did something like that."
Jessie bit her lip. "You're right, too. But what other choice do we have? Outsmarting them doesn't work, and neither does playing fair or turning the other cheek! What are we going to do, James?"
Before I could reply, Ash resurfaced and began coughing and sputtering. Sure enough, the Lake of Life had healed all of his injuries -- his cuts and bruises were gone, he had all of his teeth again, and his nose and jaw were back in place. It was as if nothing had even happened to him.
Ash looked up at us with another vacuous expression. "Team Rocket? What are you doing here?" he asked.
Jessie raised an eyebrow. "What the hell?! Did the Lake of Life give him amnesia, or something?"
Meowth shook his head. "Nah. Dat's prolly just his natural stupidity kickin' in."
I felt a sweatdrop form on my temple. "So much for teaching him a lesson," I grumbled.
Ash shook his head. "Brock and Misty sent me to find some berries to go with dinner, so...uh, how did I end up in the lake?"
Meowth shrugged. "Hell if we know, kid." He looked up at me and Jessie and winked.
Jessie smirked. "We just assumed you were taking your annual bath."
I wish I could've joked along with the two of them, but I just couldn't -- I was still too disgusted with Ash...and to a much lesser extent, with myself. I placed a hand on Jessie's shoulder. "Come on, guys. Let's get out of here."
Meowth gave me a quizzical look. "Get outta here? But we've already made camp for the night! Why should we hafta move, just cuz Ash barged in on us?"
"Because I don't want to spend the night in this forest if he's here," came my reply. "If we follow the river, we should be back in town within a couple of hours. We can get a room there."
Neither one of them looked like they wanted to break camp and spend the rest of the evening on the road, but at the same time, I could tell that they didn't want to be anywhere near Ash, either.
"You're right, James," Jessie muttered. "Let's go."
Once the three of us extinguished the campfire, gathered all of our belongings, and set out, Ash finally climbed out of the lake. "Hey, where are you going?!" he demanded. He sounded like he was ready to pick another fight with us.
Meowth stuck his middle claw up at Ash again. "We was just leavin', so get off our case already!"
Ash gave us a smug look. "Yeah, run away!" he sneered. "Your dumb old friend was sent to prison for pokemon poaching, destroying part of the forest, and almost killing Celebi! Run away before you get caught too, you cowards!"
I felt my fists clenching again, but I held my temper in check this time. "So, Vicious got sent to prison, did he?" I heard myself asking.
"Yep!" Ash proudly replied.
Jessie placed her hands on her hips and smirked. "Good! I hope he rots there!"
Ash looked like he didn't know what to make of that statement. He'd probably been hoping that his news would upset us.
"For the record, Vicious was no friend of ours. We're disgusted by what happened today," I told him. "If there's one thing I hate, it's people who revel in violence and destruction and place no value on the lives of others."
Ash seemed genuinely shocked by what I'd said as well. Though it was obvious he didn't realize that my remark had been directed more at him than at Vicious. True, I'd been disgusted by Vicious's actions, too...but at least he was honest about his self-serving nature and all-consuming ambition. I could take one look at the guy and know that he was trouble. I could stand up to him and not have to grapple with my own morality afterwards. Not so with Ash. He's every bit as ambitious, selfish, violent, and destructive as Vicious, but he's a child! Even if he had deserved the beating I'd dealt him tonight, how could I not wonder about myself after attacking a child?
I felt Jessie taking my hand in hers again. "James? What's wrong?"
I looked over at her. And as I felt her gentle touch and gazed at her beautiful face, I was reminded that despite all of my misgivings, I had, indeed, done the right thing tonight. Jessie was the best part of my life...the other half of my soul, and she'd almost been taken from me by Ash's cruelty. What Meowth had said earlier was true -- I'd have had more cause to wonder what kind of man I am if I hadn't been moved to rage or felt the need to punish Ash for what had happened to Jessie.
I smiled at her. "Nothing...nothing at all," I replied. "I'll be fine, as long as you are...."
After leaving the Arbor Forest, the three of us spent the night at a motel in a small coastal town at the mouth of the river. From there, we returned to Redwood Heights to pay another visit to Jessie's grandparents. Ahearn and Miriel's thirty-ninth wedding anniversary was the next day, and we wanted to be there to celebrate it. I also wanted Jessie to take it easy for awhile and recover from her ordeal, and I needed some time to recover as well.
Our second visit with the Rochesters lasted only four days, but we had a pleasant time nonetheless. On Ahearn and Miriel's anniversary, Jessie, Meowth, and I took them out to dinner. Then, we went to see Ultra Maximum, and we even got a sneak preview of the new movie that Brad was making (with Smoochie as his co-star). We also went to a book store, where I bought Sea of Swords for Jessie. We didn't tell Ahearn and Miriel about what had happened in the Arbor Forest since we didn't want to cause them any undue worry about Jessie, but they could still tell that something was troubling us. Thankfully, they didn't press the issue, but not for the first time, they reminded us that they were always there for us, no matter what. (Their not-so-subtle way of suggesting that we should quit Team Rocket now.)
I have to admit, every day I'm tempted more and more.
I opened my eyes again and rubbed my temples as I brought myself from my reverie. Yes, I was definitely still troubled by the events of last week. I'd only be fooling myself if I thought I could put the whole thing behind me and keep on going as if nothing had happened.
Jessie and Meowth were right -- what Ash did on that day was the final insult. He's forced us into a position where we now have no choice but to fight back. I could tolerate the vicious (and more often than not, needless) attacks that he'd subjected us to in the past because I'd always been with Jessie and Meowth when they'd happened -- I'd been in a position where I could protect them if things got out of hand. And even though I'm sure Ash is trying to kill us sometimes, nothing he's done to us has ever been fatal before.
Not so anymore.
Last week, I'd been unable to protect Jessie when she was in danger, and my attempt to rescue her had failed. She'd been at Ash's mercy on that day, and he'd left her to die. And if not for the healing waters of the Lake of Life, she would, indeed, have died. And I can never, ever forgive Ash for that. Looking back on that night, I have no regrets about beating him to a bloody pulp the way I did. And if I were in that situation again, I'd have no qualms about beating him down again. Still, even though Ash had deserved it, I'd taken no pleasure in what I'd done. And I don't relish the idea of ever being in another situation like that.
Yet, if we keep following the twerps, it's inevitable that we will. Ash is beyond help and beyond hope -- if we needed any further proof that he's utterly incapable of seeing us as we truly are and making peace with us, it was in how he'd served Jessie on that day. He'll only get more sadistic and cruel from here -- it's only a matter of time before his actions place Jessie or somebody else that I care about in mortal danger again.
And I can't let that happen. We need to get away from him so that he never has another chance to hurt us like that.
But how? I asked myself. How can we avoid him when our job calls for us to dog his every move? And how can we quit our job at this point without being a burden to our friends and families?
I needed some answers, and I needed them now.
And there was also the nagging issue of why my spell had failed last week...why the Goddess had ignored my call for help. Was she punishing me for something I'd done wrong? Or was she just trying to tell me something?
There was only one way to find out.
Getting out grand-mama's Book of Shadows, I looked up the spell that I needed and gathered all of the necessary components. Leaving the lights off, I lit a white candle and went back into the bathroom to draw another bath. While the tub was filling, I added seven drops of lavender oil and consecrated the water. Then, by the light of the white candle, I soaked in the lavender water and pondered all of the questions that were running through my mind.
When I got out of the bath, I got dressed again and returned to the bedroom. Setting the candle on the nightstand, I brought out a fresh bay leaf and wrote upon it: My friends and I are at a crossroads. We know in our hearts which road to take and which to avoid, but what should we do to set our feet on the right path? Once I finished writing, I placed the bay leaf under my pillow and blew out the candle. As I got back into bed, I whispered, "May the answer to my dilemma appear tonight in my dream."
I was asleep before my head even touched the pillow.
I was no longer in my room at the Cianwood Gym. Rather, I was standing in a clearing at the heart of a forest of cedar trees. The clearing was encircled by a ring of dark green grass and mushrooms -- a faerie ring -- and a pool of clear water surrounded by mossy stones was at my side. I was in the forest on my grand-mama and grand-papa's old estate.
My dreams always brought me here when I needed guidance or comfort.
Knowing that the pool was enchanted, I stepped closer and peered into the water, hoping that the answers to my questions would be revealed to me. But all I saw was my own reflection staring back. I was dressed in the white pants and purple belt of my Team Rocket uniform, but in place of my jacket and black shirt, I was wearing a white tunic. My boots and gloves were purple rather than black, and I was wearing a white cloak with purple roses embroidered along the edges.
"Nice outfit," I commented.
"And very appropriate," said a new voice. "White is the color of spiritual guidance and seeking the right paths in life, and purple is the color of success in long range plans and breaking bad luck. I take what you're wearing to be a very good sign!"
I looked up and saw my grand-mama standing on the other side of the pool.
She smiled at me. "I've been waiting for you, James."
"Then, I suppose you know why I'm here?" I ventured.
She nodded. "I do. That's why I've come -- to help you find the answers you seek." With that, she placed her hand to the surface of the water.
I looked back into the water to see what it would reveal. And what I saw made my blood run cold.
A montage of images flashed before my eyes. Images of me, Jessie, and Meowth trying to steal water pokemon and getting blasted off. Images of the three of us getting electrocuted and blasted off by Pikachu and a group of Chinchou. Images of Misty siccing a Corsola on us and blasting us off. Images of a Mantine attacking our submarine and Pikachu blasting us out of the water. Images of the three of us getting pummelled by an Octillery and blasted off by Ash. Images of us getting attacked by a stadium full of water pokemon and Ash getting Pikachu to electrocute us while we were blasting off. Images of Ash blasting us off while we were trying to help him and the other twerps. Images of Butch and Cassidy sinking our submarine and a Lugia blasting us away while we clung to the wreckage. Images of me, Jessie, and Meowth infiltrating an undersea Team Rocket base, getting sealed in a room, and almost drowning when the room filled with water. Images of me, Jessie, and Meowth fighting a pokemon battle with Butch and Cassidy and that enraged Lugia blasting all of us off. Images of the three of us getting bad-mouthed by Misty while seeking refuge from a violent storm and then falling through the floor of a rickety old airplane. Images of us getting blasted off by a Steelix while Ash attacked us and Misty bad-mouthed us. And finally, an image of me, Jessie, and Meowth lying petrified on the ground while a hideous serpent-like creature with the body and head of a cock, the wings of a bat, scaly gray skin, and three sickly-yellow feathers on the tip of its tail stood over us. The basilisk was ripping us apart with its razor-sharp claws and devouring our flesh, and we were powerless to stop it. Steam began rising from the now-boiling water as the basilisk looked up and turned its stony gaze upon me. I had to tear my eyes away from the image to keep it from petrifying me as well.
Grand-mama touched the water again, and the image vanished. "I know what this is -- it's what will come to pass if you continue on your present course," she said matter-of-factly once the steam dissipated. She came to my side and placed her hands on my shoulders. "No good can come from chasing the basilisk, James. He will do nothing but lead you and your friends along the paths of pain and sorrow...and he will eventually destroy you all. You know of whom I speak."
"I knew it," I muttered. "I knew things would only get worse from here...."
"It doesn't have to be that way," grand-mama interjected. "What you've just seen has not yet come to pass -- you still have the power to change it."
"I know that, too," I replied. "That's why I'm here, grand-mama -- I want to know how to keep what I've just seen from happening. I want to know what Jessie, Meowth, and I need to do to get away from the twerps."
"The answer is simpler than you think," grand-mama told me. "If you want to follow a different path, all you have to do is set your feet upon it. If you don't want to see the twerps anymore, just don't follow them anymore!"
"Easier said than done," I sighed. "Grand-mama, we have a job to do."
"A job that the twerps are constantly interfering with," she was quick to remind me. "Catching Pikachu isn't your sole purpose...in life, or your career. If you stay away from the brats, you'll fare better in the other capacities of your job...and I don't imagine Giovanni will be too disappointed if you never bring him that little piece of vermin."
I considered her words for a moment. "You have a point. Whenever we talk to the boss, he never asks specifically about Pikachu -- he just wants us to bring him pokemon...any pokemon. I don't suspect that would be the case if Pikachu were really all that important to him." Yet, this only posed another question. "But if the boss doesn't really care about Pikachu, then why....?"
Grand-mama gave me a sly smile. "Giovanni had his reasons for giving you that assignment. But that's a story for another time -- right now, there's a more pressing issue at hand."
I thought again about what I'd just seen in the water and shuddered. "Indeed. No matter what his motives were in giving us this assignment, we just can't do it anymore."
Grand-mama cupped my chin in her hand. "Yes. You've known this truth for quite some time now, James. And you're at the point where it can no longer be ignored. In the beginning, you and your friends were meant to follow this path -- for awhile, it allowed you to do many good things...."
When she said this, I suddenly found myself thinking about a strange dream that Jessie, Meowth, and I had a little over a year ago. In the dream, we lived in a world where we'd never met and never followed the twerp on his journey. Many people had suffered, and many had died because the three of us hadn't been together...and because we hadn't been there to play our role in all of the heroic things that Ash ended up taking all the credit for.
"....But now, the path has become too dangerous," grand-mama went on. "Any good you do by continuing to follow the twerps is no longer worth the risk to yourselves. You've seen it firsthand...."
Her words made me think once more of what had happened in the Arbor Forest last week, and I shuddered again.
"I see you've made the connection," she remarked.
I raised an eyebrow.
She smiled tenderly and brushed her fingers across my cheeks. "Contrary to what you believe, your spell did work on that day, James," she told me. "It was the rue you burned within the consecrated circle that dispelled the evil power of the dark balls and allowed the children to help Celebi return to its senses. And it was your prayer to the Goddess that summoned the Suicune -- the battle against Vicious was won, and the lake was purified once again because of you...and the purified lake is what saved Jessie's life. So you see, she was right -- she is still alive because of you! Whether you know it or not, you were the true hero, James -- none of the good things that happened would've been possible without your magic. But after the way you were repaid for that heroic deed, you can no longer be expected to help Ash when it involves putting your own lives on the line."
"I'm glad that my spell worked, after all," I said. "But why didn't it work the way I wanted it to? Why didn't it let me save Jessie and battle Vicious myself?"
"And here we get to the heart of the matter," came grand-mama's reply. "The Goddess answered your call the way she did for a reason, James -- she wanted you to see just how dangerous Ash Ketchum is to you and your friends. She wanted to drive the point home that he places no value whatsoever on your lives and that he's quite capable of killing you and feeling no remorse...even when you've gone out of your way to help him."
I shook my head and felt tears stinging my eyes. "Couldn't she have found another way to get the point across?! A way that didn't involve risking Jessie's life?!" I cried. "Grand-mama, she could've been killed! You can't expect me to accept that!"
Grand-mama brushed my tears away. "But Jessie wasn't killed. Yes, she was very badly hurt when she fell into the water, and under normal circumstances, the injuries she sustained would have been fatal. But Suicune was there to restore the healing properties of the water because of you...and the Goddess. When the water was purified, Jessie's soul went to the crossroads rather than the afterlife...and she would have chosen to live, even if the spirits of her parents hadn't been there to offer her comfort and counsel. No matter how frightening the experience was...no matter how bad it seemed, the Goddess would never have allowed Jessie to die on that day, James," she assured me. "The Great Mother always protects her children and keeps them from true harm...even when she's giving them a bit of tough love."
My brow furrowed. "Tough love?"
She nodded. "The ordeal you and your friends went through on that day was a warning, James," she said bluntly. "You needed to be there to help save Celebi and the forest, but that was the final obstacle before you reached the point where your path could finally diverge from the one that Ash follows. The Goddess made you think your spell failed and left Jessie at Ash's mercy to show you what can happen if you continue to follow him. She was warning you not to choose the wrong path...and she wasn't being very subtle about it, I daresay!"
"You can say that again," I muttered.
"As I said before -- you and your friends have done a lot of good in the past by following the twerps and giving them the solutions to all of their problems," she continued. "But as you've realized, following them is going to do far more harm than good from this point on, so it's time to leave them behind. You, Jessie, and Meowth are destined for better things. The three of you have grown in so many ways that you're no longer victims of circumstance -- now that you finally have a choice about what to do with your lives, the time has come to make one. And that's not such a dilemma. You know which choice to make...and so do Jessie and Meowth."
"So, all we have to do is give up on catching Pikachu and stay the hell away from the twerps?" I asked.
"It's that simple," grand-mama affirmed. "So you see, you didn't need my guidance tonight -- in your heart, you've known all along what the solution to your problem is."
I hung my head and blushed. The answer had been so obvious that I now felt foolish for going to all this trouble!
I felt grand-mama place a hand to my cheek. "Don't be ashamed that you asked for my help, sweetheart," she chuckled. "The simplest answers often elude the smartest minds. For with intelligence comes thinking...and sometimes there's such a thing as too much thinking!"
I looked back at her and smiled.
She leaned closer and planted a kiss on my forehead. "Have faith in yourself, James -- you've always had great wisdom and strength of character. I have every confidence that you and your friends will be able to take your lives in a new direction. And if you do, things will only get better from here."
"Thanks, grand-mama," I whispered as her spirit began to fade away. "For everything...."
I awoke and found myself back in bed. At my side, Jessie was still sound asleep. One of her arms was draped across my chest, and there was a smile on her lips.
Grand-mama is right, I said to myself as I gazed down at the sleeping form of my lover. We have friends and family now, we've saved up a modest amount of money, and I'm even going to be getting an inheritance in a couple of years! We finally have a choice about what to do with our lives, and I'll be damned if we choose to keep following those stupid kids around! I'll be damned if I let them hurt me or anybody that I care about ever again! It's time to make some changes!
I caressed Jessie's cheek and tucked a loose strand of her crimson hair behind her ear. "Poor Jess. You've really been through the wringer lately, but things are going to get better for us -- I swear it!" I said quietly. "You know that white tomorrow I'm always promising you? It's closer than you think...a lot closer!"
Jessie stretched herself out and slowly opened her eyes. "James?" she muttered. "Why are you still awake, sweetie? Is something wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong, honey," I assured her. "But we have some important things to talk about."
She was fully awake now. "Things? What kind of things?" she asked as she sat up.
I looked over at Meowth, sleeping peacefully in his bed. "I'll tell you in the morning," I replied. "It's kind of a team meeting thing that we all need to be present for. But I promise you, it's something good...something very good!"
This made her smile again. "Is that the only hint I get?"
"Yep!" I said mischievously.
Jessie smirked and began unbuttoning my pajama top. "And what if I give you a little...incentive to tell me more?"
I felt my cheeks getting hot as Jessie pushed me back on the pillows and started covering my neck and chest with warm, velvety kisses. "Well...I guess there's no harm in giving you another hint!" I gasped.
She arched an eyebrow.
"It has to do with our bright future and how we're going to make it happen," I told her.
Jessie's smile became a grin. "I like the sound of that!" she said.
I wrapped an arm around her waist and smoothed back her hair. "Oh, really? How much do you like it?" I asked playfully.
She leaned closer and touched her lips to mine. "Care to find out?"
"You know I do!"
Our lips met again in a more passionate kiss as Jessie and I undressed each other. Then, we made love for the second time that night. It was almost dawn by the time we finished, and as Jessie fell asleep in my arms, I felt more peaceful than I had in a long time.
My magic didn't fail, then or now! I really did save Jessie's life! And now, after all these years, the long, rough road we've been following is finally becoming smooth! All of our hard work, pain, and sacrifice is finally paying off! I said to myself.
I held my Jessie closer and joined her in repose.
To be Continued....
Readers will notice that some parts of this story don't follow the exact storyline of the anime. This is because the events, flashbacks, and such all take place during my "phasing out" period of series canon. I stated in an author's note at the end of Where Angels Dare to Tread that during the time between "Control Freak!" and the end of the Johto League Champions arc, some things from the show would apply in my timeline, and some things wouldn't. For a specific breakdown, "The Art of Pokemon" and "The Heartbreak of Brock" are the same in my timeline, but TR's role in "Current Events" never happened because J & J were having their "fake" wedding at the time. "Turning Over a New Bayleef" and "Doin' What Comes Natu-Rally" were pretty much the same, but the OOC stuff (like Jessie & Meowth being unsupportive of James wanting to be a farmer and James almost being conned by Dirty Sanchez) didn't apply. "The Big Balloon Blow-Up" happened differently for our heroes, too. (There's a mini-WRH of that ep in Chapter 3 of this story.) Since "The Screen Actor's Guilt" was okay (and Brad is one guest character I actually like), I did a WRH about that episode (Never too Late). "Right On, Rhydon!" and "The Kecleon Caper" were both NEH since our heroes were still visiting with Jessie's grandma and grandpa Rochester, but they went back to work in time to be there for the events of Celebi: The Voice of the Forest. (The 4th movie is pretty much the same in my timeline -- the only real change I make for my stories is that Sammy is NOT a young Professor Oak. And since no name was given for the forest in the movie, I chose to call it the Arbor Forest -- it seemed fitting since the town was called Arborville.) And finally, "The Joy of Water Pokemon," "Got Miltank?" and "Fight for the Light" were all NEH for J, J & M since they went to visit the Rochesters again after their encounter with Vicious. When they returned to work, they went straight to Cianwood City, where the happy, twerp-free day we saw in "Machoke, Machoke Man!" remains as is (the only difference is that they got to Cianwood by ferry rather than getting caught in a boat anchor and dragged there after a blast-off). And this story picks up that night, after our heroes enjoy their ice cream!
Now, for the big enchilada -- the scene where James beats Ash up. I know some readers might find this to be out of character for James, but I wrote it for a reason, and here's why I feel it wasn't OOC. In my stories, I've established that James is NOT a wimp or a coward -- he can and will fight to defend himself and his loved ones if anybody poses a threat to them. And the fact that Ash's actions in the 4th movie endangered Jessie's life (not to mention all the other sadistic shit he does to TR in practically every frickin' ep >_<), most certainly makes him a threat. James is a very sweet, gentle, compassionate, peaceful person. He detests violence, and hurting women and children goes against every fiber of his being. However, this doesn't mean that he's incabable of using violence or going against his scruples. What makes James a nice person is that he only uses violence when he's left with no other choice, or in extreme situations when somebody has completely crossed the line (which Ash is always doing, folks -- that twerp's had a thrashing coming for years now). Yet, on the rare occasions when James does resort to violence, he doesn't enjoy it. And more often than not, he faces a self-imposed moral dilemma about his use of violence. But in the end, there's never a doubt that he did the right thing. (I touched on this subject in A Bird in the Hand...., too.) It doesn't matter if it's a woman or a child -- if somebody hurts Jessie or anybody else that James cares about, then all bets are off, and he's perfectly within his rights to put a serious hurtin' on the offender! Ash, on the other hand, is a remorseless beast who always resorts to violence and confrontation...even when it's completely uncalled for or when there's a million other ways to solve the "problem," goes completely overboard in his use of violence every single time, gets off on hurting others, and never stops to soul-search or think about the consequences of his actions -- all things considered, getting beaten to a bloody pulp by J, J & M is the LEAST that shit-demon deserves! Besides, it doesn't really matter how badly they messed Ash up since he made a complete recovery immediately afterwards. Just goes to show that even when they're being violent, our heroes are still nicer and more merciful than the twerps. Anyway, the fight scene is essential to this story because it's what leads to James's epiphany that he and his friends need to get the hell away from the twerps. James has realized that he's capable of extreme violence when he gets angry enough, and he knows that future dealings with the twerps have the potential to become every bit as explosive since it's inevitable that Ash will keep on hurting them as long as they keep following him. This notion is a deeply disturbing one to a gentle soul like James, so this story is about how he takes steps to protect his friends and avoid future situations where he's forced to resort to such violence. And once this trilogy is finished and the split between my timeline and series canon is complete, our heroes will, indeed, be enjoying a much happier, healthier, safer, more prosperous life. Hope that clears things up! ^_^
And finally, on a brighter note, the spells that James casts are all based on real magic rituals. The protection spell is from Celtic Magic, by D.J. Conway, and the dream spell is from The Dream Book: Dream Spells, Nighttime Potions and Rituals, and Other Magical Sleep Formulas, by Gillian Kemp. Both are highly recommended reading for anybody who's interested in magic or dreams!
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