New Directions

by Cori Falls


Chapter 2 -- The Right Path


I awoke to the feeling of sunlight shining on my face and James's strong arms wrapped around my waist. I looked up at him and saw that he was still asleep. The smile on his lips reminded me that he had something important to talk to me and Meowth about...something that had to do with our future.

I was curious to learn what was on James's mind, but at the same time, I didn't want to stir him from his slumber. So, I just laid there and admired how beautiful he was. The way his silky, blue-violet hair spread out on his pillow, the way the golden sunlight illuminated his handsome features -- he looked like a sleeping prince. And to me, that's exactly what he was -- my Prince Charming!

"You're so wonderful," I whispered as I traced the outlines of his face with the tip of my finger. "I'm so lucky to have you in my life...."

As I said this, James slowly opened his eyes and smiled at me. "Good morning, Jess," he said softly.

I leaned closer and kissed his lips. "Good morning, James. Sleep well?"

"Better than I have in a long time," came his reply.

"So, are we going to have that team meeting now?" I ventured. "I want to know what last night was all about!"

He touched the tip of my nose and smiled again. "Patience, my dear Jessie -- we still have to wait for Meowth, remember?"

I looked over at the still-sleeping cat, then back at James. "Well, can't we wake him up? The suspense is killing me!"

James put his hands behind his head. "Ah, I forgot that patience was never one of your strong suits," he said playfully.

I smirked at him. "Okay, now you're just toying with me!"

A mischievous light twinkled in his emerald eyes. "Maybe...."

I responded by smacking him in the face with my pillow.

Now James was grinning. "My, my! You're more impatient than I thought!"

I couldn't help but laugh a little. It always turns me on when James gets playful, so I decided to play along. "And what are you going to do about it?" I asked seductively.

He raised an eyebrow. "Oh, I don't about this?" With that, he pulled me down on top of him. Then, one of his hands moved lower, and he gave me a gentle slap on the rear.

"I don't know why I'm the one who's getting a spanking," I remarked. I rolled over and pulled James along so that he was now on top of me...then, I gave his behind a little love-tap. "You're the one who's being a naughty boy by keeping me in suspense!"

"Oh, yeah?"


For the next few minutes, the two of us rolled around together on the bed. James and I have always enjoyed play-wrestling. Back when we were kids, I beat him every time, but now that James is a little taller, heavier, and stronger than I am, he wins every now and then, too. Not that it really matters who wins and who loses now that we're lovers -- we both get the same sweet prize!

At length, I succeeded in pinning James down. "Hah! I win! Now you have to give me whatever I want!" I laughed.

"Heee!!!" James squealed delightedly as I tickled his sides.

I leaned down and began covering his face with kisses. "You do know what I want, don't you?"

Once James caught his breath, he smoothed back my hair and smiled again. "Oh, I think I can take a wild guess...."

"Well, whaddaya know! I thought the full moon was a good two weeks away...but here it is, right in front a me!"

I looked over my shoulder and saw that Meowth was wide awake and grinning from ear to ear. And it was easy to see why -- from the angle I was at, he was getting an unobstructed view of my bare ass!

James quickly pulled the blanket up over us as Meowth began to laugh. "Oh, god. I'm never going to hear the end of this," I groaned as I buried my face (which felt like it had turned seven shades of red) in his shoulder.

"Appropriate choice of words!" Meowth snickered.

"Who asked you?!" I snapped as I turned to face the cat again.

James gave me a reassuring pat on the back. "Take it easy, Jess -- it's not like Meowth has never seen us naked before...and we've heard his filthy jokes a million times." Now he was beginning to laugh, too.

"Don't encourage him," I muttered.

Too late.

Meowth flashed James a wicked grin. "Sorry, Jimbo -- I woulda stayed asleep awhile longer if I knew you was gettin' Jess ta help ya polish yer mornin' wood!"

James's face began to turn as red as mine must have been. "Knock it off, Meowth!" he cried.

Now it was my turn to laugh. "What's the matter, James? I thought you said we'd already heard all of his filthy jokes!"

"Well, that was a new one," he grumbled.

By this time, Meowth was laughing so hard that he fell out of bed.

I felt a drop of sweat forming on my temple. "Your timing is impeccable, Meowth," I said sardonically.

James facefaulted. "Well, you did say you wanted him to wake up, Jess."

"Guess I should be more careful what I wish for," I sighed.

Meowth placed his paws on either side of his face and gave us a look of mock-surprise. "Are you sayin' ya wanted Me-owth ta watch?! Tsk, tsk! Youse guys are shameless!"

"Oh, you KNOW that's not what we meant!" I shouted. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Meowth!"

"Jessie couldn't wait for you to wake up because I have some good news that I want to share with both of you," James explained. He grinned sheepishly. "We were just...keeping ourselves occupied while we waited...."

Meowth folded his arms across his chest and smirked. "And ya seemed ta be doin' a damned good least from dis angle!"

I felt myself blushing again.

James wrapped an arm around my shoulders. "Alright, lay off, Meowth. Once Jessie and I get some clothes on, it's team meeting time. Now, if you don't mind...."

Meowth turned around to give us a bit of privacy. "Not in the least. Can't conduct important Team Rocket business without clothes -- it's kinda hard ta take youse guys seriously when yer naked, after all!" he chortled.

"Said the one member of this trio who's always naked!" James retorted as he pulled on his boxers.

The cat looked back at us and smirked again. "Dat ain't true, and you know it, Jim -- I've got dis lovely fur coat! So technically, I'm always decent!"

I quickly finished pulling on my panties and covered my breasts with my hands. "Well, I'm not yet! Quit peeking!"

Meowth blushed and placed his paws over his eyes. "Oops! Sorry, Jess!"

Once James and I had put on some blue jeans and shirts, we let Meowth know that it was okay to look again.

"So, what's dis big news ya have for us, Jimmy?" Meowth asked eagerly as he seated himself next to us on the bed.

James smiled. "Well...I think I may very well have found the solution to all of our problems, Meowth!" he replied after a long, dramatic pause.

I had to admit the statement was impressive...but it was something we'd already been saying for years, only to have all of our plans end in humiliating failure shortly afterwards. I couldn't help but remain a bit skeptical. "Is that so?"

Meowth looked equally dubious. "Yeah! Please share dis perfect Pikachu-catchin' scheme with us!"

James's smile became a grin. "Ah, and that's the beauty-part -- this has nothing to do with Pikachu! In fact, the farther we stay away from Pikachu and those twerps, the better!"

I raised my eyebrows. Was James suggesting that we quit our job?! Now?!

"Perhaps I should explain," James continued, taking note of my expression. "You see, last night I got to thinking about everything that's been going on lately." His own expression became serious again as he reached over and took my hand in his. "Especially what happened last week in the Arbor Forest...."

"James, I hope you're not still upset about that beating you gave the twerp!" I told him. "He's the monster, not you -- you have nothing to feel guilty about!"

"Dat's right!" Meowth added. "I'd beat dat asshole down again after what he did ta Jessie, too!"

James shook his head. "So would I -- I don't feel guilty about that...not anymore," he assured us. "But just because I would do it again doesn't mean that I want to. No. I don't ever want us to be in another situation like that. And I don't mean to let it happen!"

"And how do you plan on preventing something like that?" I queried.

"That's precisely what I want to talk to you about," came his reply. He fixed us with a piercing green gaze, and his tone became more serious than ever. "I thought about it for a long time last night, and I performed a spell to ask for guidance. Then, I had a dream where I spoke with my grand-mama. She confirmed my fear that no good would ever come from following the twerp, and that things will only get worse from here. She showed me a lot of terrible things...things that are going to happen to us if we continue on our present course...."

"How cheerful," Meowth grumbled.

"....But grand-mama also told me that we have the power to change our path...and our luck," James went on, ignoring the cat's sarcastic remark. "Think about it, guys. How important can one lousy Pikachu be to the boss?"

I considered James's words for a moment, and the realization hit me like a bolt of lightning! "You're right, James -- if he were really that desperate to have the twerp's Pikachu, he'd have sent reinforcements ages ago! Whenever he means business about catching a specific pokemon, he always sends entire Elite squadrons, not lone field-agent teams!"

James folded his arms across his chest and nodded. "Exactly. Plus, he never asks specifically about Pikachu whenever we contact him...and that certainly wouldn't be so if catching the little rat really mattered."

"Youse guys make some good points," Meowth conceded. "But if the boss don't give a shit about Pikachu, den why'd he put us on dis assignment?"

"That, I don't know," James replied in all honesty. "But the point is, I don't think he'd mind if we give up altogether on catching Pikachu and simply concentrate our efforts elsewhere. We'd do a lot better at our job if we didn't have to contend with the twerps interfering with us and blasting us off anymore."

"True, but they always seem to find us, even when we're not looking for them," I pointed out. "How many times have they shown up to hassle us when we were just minding our own business?"

"More than I can count. But the only reason they're always showing up, even when we don't want them to, is because we're following them," James countered. "If we're not on their trail, we can put some distance between them and us and do our job in peace! Jessie, last night you said yourself that we always have better luck when the twerps aren't around. So, what's keeping us from getting away from them and changing our luck for the better permanently?"

The logic was so simple it was beautiful! And James was absolutely right -- if we quit following the twerps, then we'd be able to catch more pokemon for the boss (and probably even get a raise or some nice bonuses), and the odds of giving up on catching Pikachu having an adverse effect on our job were virtually nil! And even if this move did get us fired, we wouldn't be left high and dry -- swallowing our pride and asking our friends and family to help us find jobs in the private sector was certainly a more appealing prospect than always blasting off again!

"Absolutely nothing!" I answered.

"Then, let's do this!" James exclaimed. "We'll take a little twerp-free vacation for a few weeks, and if I'm right that getting away from them is all we need to do, then we'll make it a permanent vacation!"

Meowth nodded. "Yeah! And the boss don't even need ta know! He'll just be happy if dis move lets us catch more pokemon for him!"

I folded my arms across my chest and smirked. "And if, on the off chance, he does have a problem with any of this, we can just tell him to take this job and shove it!"

James and Meowth visibly tensed when I said this, but I just laughed. After all the ordeals I'd been through in Yew and the Arbor Forest (and after learning a few...interesting things about old Giovanni and the role he'd played in getting my mom and dad back together), I was no longer afraid of the boss.

James brushed away the sweatdrop that had formed on his temple. "Well...I don't know that those are the exact words I'd use if we had to bring any of this to his attention, but you do have a point -- quitting or being fired is definitely preferable to what we've been doing."

"You can say dat again, Jim!" Meowth concurred.

I smiled. "Okay, I think it's safe to say that we all agree about this. But now it's time to address another important issue."

The two of them looked at me again.

My smile became a grin. "What kind of fun things are we going to do on our vacation?"

James smiled back and brought out his field-guide. "I'm very glad you asked, honey!" he replied. "According to the guide, the Whirl Islands are one of Johto's biggest tourist attractions. That means there's plenty of cruise liners and vacation resorts." He paused for a moment and gave me a sly wink. "And a lot of these islands have natural hot springs!"

He'd just said the magic word! I closed my eyes and felt my cheeks getting red again as I formed a mental image of soaking in a hot spring with James. "Ah, that would be so lovely!" I sighed.

"And hey, it sez here dat the climate and weather patterns make dis place ideal for hot-air balloonin'!" I opened my eyes again and saw that Meowth was now reading the field-guide. He was grinning, too. "Who needs dose cruise ships? We can get the Meowth balloon, and I can take us around dese islands in style!"

"Sounds great!" James said, taking the guide back. "And here's another point of interest -- every three years, the Whirl Cup competition is held on Red Rock Isle during the final week of October...and this happens to be one of those years!"

"That would probably be fun to watch," I remarked. The smile returned to my lips. "I remember, when I read my daddy's journal, he wrote about momma entering the 1980 Whirl Cup with her Dragonair and Gyarados. She won the tournament and received the title of Water Pokemon Alpha Omega!"

"Dat's cool," said Meowth. A mischievous light twinkled in his midnight-blue eyes. "Aw, man, I can just picture the look on ol' carrot-top's face if she knew dat little tidbit! She'd be soooooo jealous dat yer mom was a water pokemon master!"

"Like Misty isn't jealous enough of Jess as it is," James snickered as he wrapped an arm around my waist.

"That reminds me -- if the twerps are here in the Whirl Islands, and there's a big water pokemon tournament taking place, you just know that Misty is going to be entering...and as competitive as Ash is, he'll probably be entering, too," I said.

Ever in step with me, James knew exactly where I was going with this. "Which means we'll have a pretty good idea where they are...and thus, be better able to avoid them! And if we do go to watch the competition, there shouldn't be a problem if we wear civilian clothes and don't draw any attention to ourselves."

Meowth nodded. "Got it! No stealin' any water pokemon at the tournament!"

Suddenly, James's expression grew serious again. "Which brings us to another important issue."

I raised an eyebrow.

"Avoiding the twerps isn't the only change we need to make in our lives," he told us. "When I learned how to use magic, I made a vow that my hands would always work for good." He paused for a moment and looked at Meowth. "And you were there when I cast the psychic shield and vowed that all evil in my life was done. Those vows were more than just lip-service -- I intend to keep them...."

"....And that means giving up stealing, doesn't it?" I concluded.

"Yes," he replied.

"'re we supposed ta do our job?" Meowth queried. "Givin' up on Pikachu is one thing, but ta quit stealin' altogether?"

James placed his hand on the cat's shoulder. "Meowth, we've already established that the boss doesn't care where the pokemon we send him come from, just as long as we send him pokemon. And there are plenty of ways to catch pokemon that don't involve stealing!"

"That's right! We can just catch pokemon in the wild from now on -- nothing wrong with that!" I added.

"I'm sure the twerps would wanna argue dat point," Meowth snorted. "Dey always blast us off for catchin' wild ones, too!"

"True, but if we're avoiding them, they're less likely to show up and hassle us," James reminded him.

"Less likely bein' the key words," Meowth retorted. "Dat don't mean dey won't show up ta cause trouble!"

"You have a point," James conceded. "But my point is that if we're not trying to catch Pikachu or any of their other pokemon, then they can't attack us and gloss it over by claiming self-defense. And if we're not even stealing, then we're not giving them a reason to hassle us in the first place -- any attack they do make on us would be completely unjustified."

"Since when have they ever needed a reason to attack us, James?" I asked. "Meowth is right -- everything we do is evil in the twerps' eyes! Even if we were as pure as paladins, they'd still think we're up to no good and find some twisted excuse to blast us off! They always do!"

James waggled his finger at us. "I refuse to walk this circular path, so allow me to reiterate. What the twerps think of us is a complete non-issue. If we're avoiding them, then chances are, they won't be showing up to bother us. And if they do show up and attack us for no reason, then we'll be the ones who have every right to beat the living shit out of them!" He winked at us. "Like Meowth said when we kicked Ash's ass last week -- we're through pulling punches with them! And even if Ash is too stupid to remember the last beating we gave him, something tells me the other twerps would think twice about hassling us and make more of an effort to keep him off our case if they knew how badly we're capable of hurting them. I don't relish the idea of doing something like that, but at least we will be able to claim self-defense if the situation ever does arise. Besides, even if doing nothing wrong makes no difference to them, it does make a difference to me...and when all is said and done, our opinion of ourselves is the only one that matters!"

I smiled again. "You're absolutely right, James!"

"Yeah! Screw dose twerps! If dey've got a problem with anything we do from here on out, dey can shove it up dere ass!" Meowth exclaimed.

"Then that settles it!" James said. "No more twerps, no more Pikachu, and no more stealing -- it's time to turn our lives around...for good!"

"So, does dis conclude our team meetin'?" Meowth ventured.

James nodded. "Yes, it does! Meeting adjourned!"

The cat placed a paw to his stomach. "Den let's get some breakfast! I'm starvin'!"

At the mention of food, my stomach began to growl, and I could hear James's stomach growling, too. "Sounds like a plan to me!" I replied.

"And don't forget -- we have a gym battle today!" James reminded me.

My smile grew even wider than it already was. I'd dreamed of winning gym badges ever since I was a little girl, and now that dream was about to come true! "Then what are we waiting for?! Let's go!" I cheered.


Five minutes later, we joined everybody in the common room.

"So, are you two ready for your big battle today?" Chuck's wife asked as she served us our oatmeal, scrambled eggs, milk, and orange juice.

"We sure are!" I told her.

"Thanks again for your hospitality," said James.

"And all dis great tastin' grub!" Meowth chimed in between mouthfuls of food.

"Our pleasure!" Chuck's wife replied.

Chuck nodded. "Yeah! It's always an honor to do battle with talented young trainers!"

I couldn't help but smile again. After all the insults we'd suffered over the years, it felt especially good to be paid such a compliment.


After breakfast, James, Meowth, and I went to the excersise room with Chuck and his students. With all of the weapons that lined the walls and the arena in the center of the room, it looked like an old-style dojo.

"Alright, class, today's first session will be more observation. And after that...lunch!" Chuck announced to his students. Then, to me and James, "Now, which one of you will I be battling first?"

James bowed to me and held out his arm in a sweeping gesture. "Ladies first!"

I bowed back. "Why, thank you, kind sir!" Then, taking a deep breath, I brought out my poke balls and stepped into the arena.

"This will be a two-on-two battle, no time limit," Chuck told me. "Will that be a problem, young lady?"

"Not at all," I replied.

"Then, let's begin!" he said. The two of us bowed to each other, and Chuck tossed his first poke ball. "I think I'll start things off with Primeape!"

A smile made its way across my lips as I watched the pokemon emerge. My Arbok had plenty of experience with these -- back when she was an Ekans, she and Koffing had battled a horde of wild Mankeys and Primeapes that James, Meowth, and I had encountered en route to Celadon City, and we'd been able to capture a few for the boss! And at the Princess Festival, Arbok had defeated a Primeape that one of my opponents was using. I knew that a gym leader's Primeape would be far stronger than one in the wild, or one trained by a little teeny-bopper, but I had every confidence that Arbok could beat it.

I held up Arbok's poke ball. "And my first pokemon will be...."

Before I could release Arbok, however, my other poke ball popped open, and Wobbuffet materialized in the arena and saluted me. "Wob-buf-fet!" he exclaimed.

I felt a drop of sweat rolling down the side of my face. I hadn't planned on using Wobbuffet until later, but I kept my cool. I knew enough about pokemon training to know that you always have to expect the unexpected and be prepared. Not that it really mattered -- Wobbuffet could thrash fighting-types just as well as Arbok could!

"My first pokemon is Wobbuffet!" I replied, the confidence returning to my voice.

Chuck nodded approvingly. "Interesting choice. They say the best offense is a good defense, so let's put that theory to the test! Primeape! Use your Karate Chop!"

"Wobbuffet! Counter!" I commanded.

Wobbuffet saluted me again and began to glow. And when Primeape struck, the attack rebounded and sent him reeling.

Undaunted, Chuck issued another command. "Now try a Low Kick!"

"Use Counter again, Wobbuffet!"

Primeape charged in again and kicked at Wobbuffet. And just like last time, the attack was repelled and sent back.

The battle continued this way for the next few minutes -- Primeape hit Wobbuffet with more Karate Chops and Low Kicks, a few Cross Chops, and even a Seismic Toss...and had all of his attacks turned back by Wobbuffet's Counter. Unable to penetrate Wobbuffet's defenses (or withstand any more of his own attacks), Primeape finally fell when one last Cross Chop scored a critical hit and got sent back on him.

"Primeape is unable to continue! Wobbuffet is the winner!" the student who was acting as the referee announced.

James applauded. "Way to go, Jessie!"

"And way ta go, Wobbu!" Meowth cheered. "Looks like yer good for somethin' after all, ya big, blue punchin' bag!"

Wobbuffet made a face at him. Then, he smiled and saluted me again.

I gave him a thumbs-up, but I wasn't ready to celebrate my victory just yet. That first battle had been easy...almost too easy. I had a feeling the next pokemon was going to be a lot stronger.

Across the arena, Chuck knelt next to his fallen Primeape and gave him a hug. "You did your best, Primeape! Took a lot of hits! I'm proud of you!" He returned Primeape to his poke ball and turned his attention back to the students. "Keeping your guard up is one of the most important parts of this Wobbuffet has demonstrated. But truly strong fighters know how to defend themselves and get through their opponent's I'm about to demonstrate!" He tossed his second poke ball into the arena. "Go, Machoke!"

"A Machoke, huh? Then, let's make this interesting!" I said. With that, I called Wobbuffet back and released Arbok. I knew that Wobbuffet could withstand anything that Machoke threw his way, but I also knew that Arbok was more than capable of fighting this battle on her own.

"All right! This will be interesting!" Chuck exclaimed. "Machoke! Vital Throw!"

My brow furrowed. Arbok would be going first this round, but Vital Throw guaranteed that Machoke's attack would hit once it was his turn. I had to make my first move count.

So, I went with something that would make Machoke lose his turn. "Arbok! Glare!"

"Chaaaa!" Arbok hissed. Her eyes began to glow with an eerie red light, and Machoke became paralyzed.

Now that my opponent was incapacitated, I had time to plan a strategy.

And I had a good one.

"Now use Acid!" I commanded.

My smile became a grin as Arbok showered Machoke with a spray of poison. Acid was an attack that dealt damage and lowered the opponent's defenses -- by the time the paralysis wore off, he'd be a much less formidable opponent.

Chuck nodded approvingly. "I see you were paying attention to the lesson." Then, to his pokemon, "Focus, Machoke! You can break out of that paralysis if you stay calm!"

When Chuck said this, Machoke concentrated for a moment and slowly began to regain his motor control.

But he hadn't recovered yet -- I still had time to make another move! "Arbok! Wrap attack!"

As Machoke started to move again, Arbok bound him in her coils and began to squeeze...which effectively kept him from attacking for another few rounds!

Once Machoke finally was able to attack again, however, he was back with a vengeance! "Machoke! Cross Chop!" Chuck commanded.

Machoke nodded and slashed downwards with his muscular arm. When he struck Arbok, he scored a critical hit and sent her flying.

"Hang in there, Arbok!" I called to my visibly shaken pokemon.

"Now hit it with your Dynamic Punch!" Chuck shouted.

I shivered. If Machoke's Dynamic Punch hit, Arbok would be confused...and then, she'd be in big trouble!

Luckily, it was such a forward attack that it left his defenses wide open...and I planned to take advantage of that!

"Arbok! Double Edge attack!" I cried.

When Machoke charged forth and swung his fist, Arbok evaded the punch. And once she saw the opening his attack had created, she lashed out and slammed into him. The force of the impact sent him reeling. Arbok was knocked backwards by the recoil too, but she made a quick recovery. Machoke, however, looked like he was on the ropes.

I grinned again. "Now finish him off with Poison Sting!"

Arbok nodded and fired a barrage of poison darts at Machoke, and as the attack hit home, Machoke fell to the floor with a jarring crash.

"Machoke is unable to battle! Arbok is the winner!" the referee cried.

When I heard this, I felt myself going numb. "I...I just won a gym battle...I just very first badge!" I stammered, placing a hand to my mouth. As the words passed my lips, a wave of euphoria washed over me. "I won...I WON!!!"

I raced to Arbok's side and threw my arms around her. Tears were streaming down her face as she nuzzled into me.

"We won, Arbok!" I exclaimed as I began to cry, too. "We just won our very first gym battle! I'm so proud of you!"

After a moment, Wobbuffet popped out of his poke ball and wrapped his arms around me.

I reached down and placed a hand atop his head. "I'm proud of you too, Wobbuffet," I told him. "You both did an excellent job. Thank you...."

"Well, they did an excellent job because they have an excellent trainer." I looked and saw that James and Meowth were now standing next to me.

I smiled at them, too.

"Congratulations, honey," James said, taking my hand in his. "I know it's been a long time coming, but you've earned it!"

"Thanks, sweetie!" I replied. "I hope you do well in your battle, too."

He leaned closer and touched his lips to mine. "I'm sure I will."

When our kiss ended, James, Meowth, and I looked over at Chuck. He was massaging his Machoke's shoulders while some of the students sprayed healing potion on its injuries. "You fought really well, Machoke -- that Arbok was tough," he praised his pokemon. Then, he turned to me and nodded. "Great battle!"

"It certainly was," I agreed.

"Once Machoke is feeling better, it'll be your turn," he said to James.

"Sounds good to me," James replied.

When they were done tending to Machoke and Primeape, Chuck's students gave me some healing potions to use on my pokemon.

"Need any help, Jess?" James asked as I began spraying potion on Arbok's wounds.

I handed him one of the bottles. "Not really, but I'd appreciate it. Arbok's not as badly hurt as she usually gets when we battle the twerps -- just a few scrapes and bruises," I told him.

"Good to know," James replied. "That's another thing I hate about those twerps. It's bad enough that they're always attacking us, but the way they brutalize our pokemon is obscene!"

"Yet they claim to love all pokemon. The little hypocrites," I snorted. "The only thing they really love is winning, if you ask me."

James nodded.

"But if dis plan works, we won't hafta worry about dat anymore!" Meowth reminded us. "If the twerps ain't hasslin' us, dey won't be hasslin' Arbok, Weezing, Victreebel, Wobbu, or any of yer other pokemon, either!"

James's expression brightened when the cat said this. "You're absolutely right, Meowth! And I just thought of something -- if we're not following the twerps anymore, then we can put Growly, Vulpix, Lickitung, and Sunflora back on the team permanently!"

"Yeah!" I exclaimed. "The only reason they're staying with Annie and Oakley is so the twerps won't bother them!"

James closed his eyes and sighed happily. "It'll be so nice to have Growly traveling with us full-time. I really miss him...."

"It'll be nice to have Lickitung back, too...and Vulpix and Sunflora!" I agreed.

The three of us exchanged smiles. This plan was looking better and better all the time!

At length, Chuck cleared his throat and stirred us from our reverie. "I'm ready whenever you are," he told James.

"Is Machoke okay?" James queried.

Chuck laughed. "Don't you worry about my Machoke, son -- he sometimes fights ten battles like this a day! That Arbok was just a warm-up!"

James brought out his poke balls and grinned. "In that case, I'm definitely ready!"

The two of them bowed to each other as they stepped into the arena.

"Good luck, James!" I called to him.

He looked back at me and winked.

"We'll follow the same rules as last time -- two-on-two, no time limit," Chuck announced. "But this time, I'm changing things around a bit and starting with Poliwrath!"

James smiled again as Chuck released his pokemon. "Then, I choose Victreebel," he replied calmly, tossing one of his own poke balls.

Chuck nodded approvingly. "A grass-type, huh? Good choice. But a strong pokemon can overcome type disadvantages! Poliwrath, Belly Drum!"

"Two can play that game," James snickered. "Victreebel! Swords Dance!"

"What's goin' on, Jess?" Meowth asked as Poliwrath began pounding his stomach with his fists, and Victreebel started posturing and flexing his leaves.

"Belly Drum takes a pokemon's attack power to its the cost of half its hit points," I explained. "With Poliwrath's power at its peak, it won't matter that he sacrificed half his hit points or that Victreebel has the type advantage. I just hope Victreebel's Swords Dance can power him up enough to take Poliwrath out before he inflicts too much damage."

Meowth sweatdropped. "I hope so, too."

When the two pokemon finished posturing, Chuck issued his first command: "Poliwrath! Body Slam!"

"Victreebel! Fight back with Vine Whip!" James countered.

Poliwrath charged forth and slammed into Victreebel. The force of the impact knocked him halfway across the arena, but Victreebel recovered quickly and lashed out with his vines. Once he ensnared Poliwrath, he lifted him from the ground and tossed him all the way across the arena.

"Shake it off, Poliwrath!" Chuck called to his pokemon. "And hit it with your Double Slap!"

"Use your Razor Leaf, Victreebel!" James commanded.

Victreebel fired a barrage of leaves that sliced viciously into Poliwrath, but he charged right through them and began buffetting Victreebel with punches. I could see James starting to sweat, but I had faith in him -- I knew that he could win this battle if he kept his cool.

And keep his cool, he did.

When the attack ended, Chuck was quick to issue another command. "Great job, Poliwrath! Now finish it off with Hydro Pump!"

James fixed his pokemon with a calm green gaze. "Victreebel, Sleep Powder," he said.

As Poliwrath began powering up for his ultimate attack, Victreebel sent forth a flurry of luminous blue powder. And as the powder rained down on Poliwrath, he called off his attack and started concentrating instead on trying to stay awake. But to no avail -- in a matter of seconds, he was sound asleep.

"Poliwrath is unable to continue! Victreebel is the winner!" the referee announced as Poliwrath crashed to the floor.

"Yeah! All right, Jimmy!" Meowth cheered.

I began to applaud. "Way to go, James!"

James smiled at us, then placed his hand atop Victreebel's head. "You did all the real work -- the credit should go to you," he said to his pokemon. "I'm proud of you, Victreebel."

Victreebel gave a happy shriek and wrapped his leaves around James. Then, he clamped down on James's head and gave him a love-bite.

"Hey, take it easy, Viccie!" James laughed as he freed himself from the carnivorous plant's grasp. "I love you, too!"

"Your Victreebel is well-trained, and using it against Poliwrath was a smart move," Chuck remarked as he called back his fallen Poliwrath. "But let's see how well it does against Machoke!" With that, he tossed his other poke ball and sent Machoke back into the arena.

"I think he'll do just fine," James replied. "Victreebel! Let's start this battle with a Poison Powder attack!"

Victreebel screamed again and showered Machoke with a spray of green powder. Machoke staggered backwards for a moment, but made a quick recovery.

"That's nothing!" Chuck laughed. "Machoke! Hit it with a Dynamic Punch!"

The pokemon nodded. "Ma-choke!" He then charged forth, balled his right hand into a fist, and slammed it into Victreebel.

James gasped as Victreebel staggered backwards. "Hang in there, Viccie! Fight back with Stun Spore!" he cried.

But the Dynamic Punch had left Victreebel confused, and he was unable to follow James's command.

"It's on the ropes, Machoke! Finish it off with your Submission!" Chuck cried.

Machoke nodded again and picked up the still-confused Victreebel. Then, he slammed him to the floor, knocking him out for the count.

"Victreebel is unable to continue!" said the referee.

James ran a hand through his hair and exhaled loudly. Then, a smile made its way across his lips as he looked back at Machoke and saw him double over for a moment. "Good job, Victreebel -- you did what I needed you to do," he said. His smile grew even wider than it already was as he called back Victreebel. "My pokemon may not be stronger than yours, but they don't need to be -- Victreebel's attack poisoned Machoke...and that'll wear him down enough to bring the odds back into my favor."

Chuck smiled, too. "I like the way you think -- strategy is as important as strength. But will it be enough?"

"We'll see," James replied. Then, tossing his other poke ball, "Go, Weezing!"

"Another good choice," said Chuck. Then, to his pokemon, "Machoke! Cross Chop!"

James reacted quickly. "Weezing! Sludge Bomb!"

As Machoke's attack struck home, Weezing spit out a river of black ooze and hit him in the face. Both pokemon were knocked backwards. However, Machoke looked like he was really starting to feel the effects of the poison while Weezing was shaking off the attack and getting ready for James's next command.

"It's okay, Machoke!" Chuck said in an encouraging voice. "Weezing won't be able to attack you if it doesn't know where to aim its next attack! Use Double Team!"

Suddenly, four mirror-images split off from Machoke and surrounded Weezing. Weezing sweatdropped as he looked around, trying to figure out which of his opponents was the real one.

Fortunately, James had the situation well in hand. "Use a Smokescreen, Weezing!" he commanded. "The illusions won't confuse you if you can't see them! Concentrate and find the real Machoke!"

Weezing nodded and exhaled a cloud of black smoke that enveloped the arena and obscured both him and Machoke.

But Chuck had planned for such an eventuality. "Use your Vital Throw, Machoke!" he commanded. "Weezing can't hide in that smoke if it has to come out and attack you first!"

Luckily, James was prepared for this, too. He folded his arms across his chest and smirked. "I was hoping you'd do that -- if Machoke attacks last this round, it gives Weezing all the time he needs!" Once the smoke dissipated, he looked back at Weezing, and his smirk became a smile. "Do you know where the real Machoke is?" he asked.

Weezing nodded again. "Wee-zing!"

James's smile became a grin. "Then hit it with your Thunder attack!"

Electricity began to radiate from Weezing's body, making him look like a gigantic floating plasma ball. Then, he sent forth a blast of lightning that fried Machoke.

Chuck's eyes went wide as Machoke fell to the floor with a jarring crash.

"Machoke is unable to continue! Weezing is the winner!" the referee announced.

Meowth and I applauded again.

"Yes! You rule, Jimbo!" Meowth cheered.

"I knew you could do it, James!" I exclaimed.

James gave Weezing a hug. "Thanks, buddy. I knew I could count on you."

Weezing's two faces smiled as he nuzzled into James.

"Don't worry, Machoke -- I'm still proud of you," Chuck told his pokemon as he knelt next to him. "You faced some really tough opponents this morning, and you fought well."

"That's right," said James. "Every victory makes you stronger, but every defeat makes you wiser -- there's always something to take from it."

Chuck smiled at him. "Wise words. You fought really well, too. You and your friend. It was a real honor."

"Likewise," I replied, coming to James's side.

As the students brought out more healing potions and antidotes and started tending to Machoke and Poliwrath, Chuck got back to his feet and reached into his pocket. He then produced a pair of brown badges that were round and had a small protrusion on the side. His smile broadened as he held them out to us. "I'm proud to present you with these Storm Badges. Both of you have earned them."

"Thank you," James and I said in unison as we took the badges from him.

The feeling of the cool, smooth badge that was now in my hand -- knowing that this was mine...that my pokemon and I had earned it...and that nobody could take that away gave me a warm feeling on the inside. And knowing that James had one, too -- that the two of us had accomplished this together -- made me feel even better!

"Heh. Are youse guys gonna strike dorky poses and gloat about yer victory now?" Meowth snickered.

"No way!" I laughed as the cat held up one of his paws and made a goofy face, parodying the way Ash behaves every time he gets a new badge.

"That's right!" James chimed in. "If Jessie and I are going to make asses of ourselves, we'll find more dignified ways to do it, thank you very much!"

Meowth gave us a wicked grin. "Yeah! Like dis mornin', when you was...."

James and I quickly clamped our hands over his mouth.

"We don't need an explicit example, Meowth!" I grumbled.

James gave Chuck and the other students (who were all staring at us now) a sheepish smile. "Meowth likes joking around," he said with a nervous chuckle. Then, he shot the cat a warning glare.

"Ah, yer no fun," Meowth muttered once James and I released him.

"So, are the two of you going to be competing in this year's Whirl Cup?" Chuck inquired, changing the subject.

"I'm afraid not -- we'll just be watching," I told him.

"Yeah. We don't have any water pokemon," James added.

Chuck raised an eyebrow. "You don't? Well, maybe you should remedy that! There's lots of water pokemon around these parts -- I'm sure you'll be able to catch a few before next week. After lunch, remind me, and I'll give you a ferry pass that'll take you anywhere you want to go in the Whirl Islands. You will be staying for lunch, won't you?"

"Of course! You'll never hear us say no ta good food!" came Meowth's reply.

"That's the spirit!" Chuck laughed.

We thanked Chuck again for his hospitality. And once James, Meowth, and I had put some healing potion on Weezing and Victreebel's injuries, we joined him and the rest of the students in the common room for lunch. Just like yesterday, Chuck's wife had made enough rice balls, sashimi, steamed dumplings, and vegetables to feed an army, and James, Meowth, and I (and our pokemon) feasted like royalty!

As promised, when we were finished eating lunch, Chuck presented us with a free ferry pass that would take us to the island of our choice. And as an added bonus, Chuck's wife gave me and James a pair of hand-made badge cases covered with green silk that was embroidered with scenes of an elegant Japanese garden. Normally, Chuck's wife gave the badge cases as graduation presents to students who trained full-time at the Cianwood Gym, but she'd wanted to give them to us as well, to thank us for all of our help yesterday and to celebrate us winning our very first badges.

After receiving our gifts, we returned to our room and packed all of our belongings. Then, Chuck and his wife escorted us to the docks so that we could catch the afternoon ferry.

"Thanks again for all of your help yesterday," Chuck's wife told us.

"It was our pleasure," James replied.

"Good luck on the rest of your journey," said Chuck. "Work hard, train hard, and you're sure to go far!"

I couldn't help but smile as I looked over at James and remembered what he'd told us about taking our lives in a new direction. I knew in my heart that he was right -- after all these years, our hard work was, indeed, beginning to pay off! "We will," I promised. "We will...."

When the ferry arrived a few minutes later, James, Meowth, and I climbed aboard, and Chuck and his wife bid us farewell. They also told us that we were welcome to come back and visit them at the Cianwood Gym any time.

My smile grew even wider than it already was as the three of us waved good-bye to Chuck and his wife. With new friends behind us and an entire world of new opportunities before us, it's times like these when I can truly say that life is good.


Now, James, Meowth, and I were en route to Inland City, the main port on Blue Point Isle. Blue Point was the largest of the Whirl Islands and had the most vacation resorts, so that was where we decided to go first. (Besides, we figured that if the twerps were entering the Whirl Cup, they'd be heading to Red Rock Isle.)

I smiled again as I took in my surroundings. Meowth and the other pokemon were sunning themselves by the pool, and the table where I was sitting gave me a splendid view of the ocean. It was a clear, cool fall day, and the water was a beautiful shade of blue-green. The wind had a slight nip as it stirred up the water and made white caps on the waves.

And as I gazed out at the water and felt the chilly sea breeze playing with my hair, I suddenly found my thoughts drifting to my parents. I'd recently read in daddy's journal that he and momma had traveled through the Whirl Islands twenty-one years ago, just as James and I were doing now.

I'd been happy to learn the story of my learn how deeply the two of them had loved each other and that daddy hadn't really abandoned me and momma, as I'd believed for so many years. Yet, thinking of how they'd lived, loved, lost each other, and finally found each other again was always a bittersweet experience for me. Even though I knew now that they were always with me in spirit and that I could visit them in dreams whenever I liked, it still made me sad to be reminded that I was an orphan...that I'd grown up without them and that it had taken so many years to be reunited with them.

And this, in turn, made me start thinking about the time I'd spoken with them last week...the day I'd almost lost my life.

I closed my eyes and shivered. The memories of my conversation with them were vague, but I remember feeling so cold and tired. I remember knowing that I'd been on the brink of death. And then, pain...intense pain after I told momma and daddy that I wanted to live, and they left me to make the journey back to James.

James. If not for him and Meowth...if not for the love I share with them, I may very well have chosen to die and stay with momma and daddy forever. But I could never do that to my friends -- I could never leave them. I remember, before I made that painful journey back to life, momma and daddy had given me comfort and warmth and assured me that I'd made the right choice. They'd reminded me once again that they're always with me, even though I can't always see them. And when I'd awakened to find James and Meowth coming to my rescue, I knew that my friends were always there for me, too...and that I had, indeed, made the right decision.

I opened my eyes again and brushed away the tears that I felt stinging them. Looking back on that night, it's easy to see why James had been so upset. And it's easy to see why he feels it's so crucial to get Ash out of our lives. James can't bear the thought of anything bad happening to me any more than I can bear the thought of anything bad happening to him!

He's right, after all -- we'd needed to make a choice about what to do with our lives now that we actually had a choice. I trust James's judgement...and judging from the day we've had so far, I know we've made the right choice.

"Hey. What's the matter, honey?" I looked up and saw James standing next to me. He was holding a pair of blue coffee mugs.

I wiped away the last of my tears. "Oh, nothing. Just have a lot of stuff on my mind," I told him.

James smiled tenderly and handed one of the coffee mugs to me. "I got us some French vanilla cappuccinos at the snack bar," he said as he sat down next to me. "Maybe that'll make you feel better."

I returned his smile as I took a sip of the sweet, frothy coffee. It instantly warmed me on the inside...and being reminded of what a wonderful man I had lifted my spirits as well. "It does. Thanks, sweetie."

James took a sip of his own cappuccino and dabbed the foam from his lips with a napkin. Then, he slid an arm around my waist. "Care to talk about it?" he asked.

I returned his embrace and rested my head on his shoulder. "I was thinking about my parents...about the journey they made through the Whirl Islands so long ago...."

James held me closer, and I could feel him kissing the top of my head.

"....And then, I started thinking about you," I continued. I looked up at him and smiled again. "I have a good feeling about what we're doing, James. A very good feeling."

A light glimmered in his green eyes. "So do I, Jess."


The ferry arrived at Blue Point Isle late that afternoon. There were white sandy beaches and lush green forests as far as the eye could see, and the large, blue rocks that the island was named for jutted up from the water of Inland City's harbor, though they looked more purple than blue with the crimson light of the setting sun shining on them. And the city was even more colorful than the landscape -- from the boat, I could see banners and flags of every hue imaginable hanging from buildings and lamp posts!

Meowth joined me and James at the table and looked out at the city. "Wow! Dis place kinda looks like New Orleans durin' Mardi Gras!" he remarked.

"They must be getting ready for the Whirl Cup," I told him.

The cat grinned. "Dis competition's an even bigger deal den I thought! It's a shame we won't be catchin' none of the water pokemon all dese trainers are bringin' with 'em, but I been thinkin' about what we discussed dis mornin'." He paused for a moment, and his expression became serious. "And I know dat James is right...about everything."

I nodded. "He usually is."

James said nothing, just smiled.

When the ferry pulled into port, the three of us disembarked and got a room for the night. We ended up staying at the Bayview Hotel, which was right on the harbor. It wasn't nearly as lavish as some of the vacation resorts I'd seen ads for, but it was much more reasonably priced. And with an ocean view, a hot spring jacuzzi, and cable TV, it was definitely a cut above the motels we usually stayed in whenever we spent the night in a city or town.

Once we got settled into our room, James, Meowth, and I freshened up and went downtown to find some dinner. After surveying the various restaurants, we decided on a casual seafood bar and grill called Shellder's.

Even though it was a Tuesday night, the restaurant was packed, and the hostess told us it would be a good hour before a table was ready. We didn't mind, though. Since more tourists than usual were in the islands for the Whirl Cup, busy restaurants and booked hotels were to be expected. We were just happy that we'd managed to get a good room and that we were going to have a nice dinner. It was more than we usually got.

The rest of the evening was sheer bliss. While the three of us waited for our table, we spent the time talking about all of the different things we wanted to do on our vacation. We then enjoyed a delicious dinner -- I had the grilled mahi mahi with teriyaki sauce, James had the marinated swordfish, and Meowth had the variety shrimp platter -- and ice cream sundaes for dessert. After dinner, we went for a walk on the beach, and James and I danced for hours beneath the stars while Meowth played his guitar and serenaded us. Then, we returned to the hotel, where James and I enjoyed a relaxing dip in the hot spring.

Yes, life is definitely good.


It was almost midnight by the time we got back to our room. Arbok, Weezing, and Victreebel were all sound asleep, but Meowth and Wobbuffet were watching South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut on one of the premium movie channels, and little Articuno was sitting between them.

James buried his face in his hands. "I can't believe you're letting the baby watch that movie," he groaned.

"We're not lettin' him -- we just didn't wanna lock Arti in the bathroom or put him out on the balcony while we watched it!" Meowth said defensively.

Yeah! It's not our fault he wouldn't go to sleep when the movie came on! Wobbuffet added.

"Fine," James sighed. "But if he starts cussing...."

Meowth waved a paw at him. "Aw, lighten up, Jimmy! Ya gotta start dese kids off with a good vocabulary! How's little Arti gonna be able ta fully describe people like Ash if he don't know any good cuss words?"

I covered my mouth with my hand and snickered. "He has a point, James."

Meowth grinned and placed his other paw atop Articuno's head. "Besides, he's gonna pick dis stuff up from us eventually anyway," he continued.

Articuno flapped his little wings and cheeped happily.

"Another good point," James conceded. "But you're the one who's going to have to lecture him on when it's appropriate to use those kind of words, and when it isn't."

Meowth saluted him. "Got it, Jim!" Then, to Articuno, "Ya hear dat, Arti? Yer only supposed ta use dose colorful expressions ya learned tonight when yer talkin' to or about somebody like the twerp. Never in parlor room conversation, and never about daddy-bird, or mommy, or uncle Me-owth, or anybody else ya love. Capiche?"

Articuno cheeped again and nodded.

"Problem solved!" Meowth said.

Now James was smiling, too. "Alright, alright. Enjoy the rest of the movie, you three."

"Hey, aren't ya gonna watch it with us?" Meowth asked.

"I'd love to," James replied. He knelt down and brought a white bathrobe and a clean pair of boxers from his backpack. "But I need to take a shower."

"And so do I," I said as I dug a clean pair of panties and a nightgown from my own backpack.

James leaned closer and whispered into my ear. "Do you have your white bathrobe, Jess?"

I nodded. "Yeah. Why do you ask?"

"Because you'll need it when we get out of the shower," came his reply.

I raised an eyebrow.

He winked at me. "You'll see why."

I had no idea what James had in mind, but I did as he instructed and brought out my white bathrobe. "Come on, James. What's going on?" I prompted as the two of us headed for the bathroom.

"I see you're getting impatient again," he said mischievously.

I smirked. "Yes, and I have ways of making you talk," I said as I reached down and closed my hand over his butt.

His emerald eyes twinkled with merriment. "Is that a promise?"

"Oh, yeah!"

He took my free hand in his and kissed it. "Then, let's just say it's more good news that I want to share with you...all of you."

"But what do the white robes have to do with it?" I asked.

"I said you'll find out soon enough, honey," he promised, giving my nose a gentle tweak. "But for now, let's get our shower, wait for Meowth to finish watching his movie...and finish what we started this morning!"

My heart skipped a beat when he said this. With all the excitement of the day, I'd forgotten all about our amorous encounter that Meowth had interrupted!

I leaned into James and rubbed noses with him. "You know, I'm starting to feel a little more patient."

James pressed his lips to mine. "Then, what are we waiting for?"


After shampooing our hair and scrubbing each other clean, James and I did, indeed, take care of our "unfinished business." By the time we got out of the shower and dressed in our matching white bathrobes, Meowth's movie was over, and little Articuno had finally gone to sleep.

James couldn't hold out on us any longer!

"So, what's the big news you have for us tonight?" I asked once more as we returned to the bedroom.

"It's team meeting time again!" James announced. He seated himself on the bed and gestured for us to join him.

"What's goin' on, Jim?" Meowth queried.

James answered the cat's question with one of his own. "Do you and Jessie remember what I told you about the dream I had last night?"

I nodded. "You said your grand-mama showed you all kinds of horrible things that would happen to us if we kept following the twerps."

James smiled. "Yes. And one of the visions she showed me has been prevented!"

Meowth and I exchanged looks, then turned our attention back to him.

"The first vision I saw was one of us stealing the Whirl Cup competitors' pokemon from the Inland City Pokemon Center...and subsequently getting blasted off by Professor Elm and the twerps," he informed us. "And as you know, that's not how our day went! Now more than ever, I'm convinced that we made the right choice today, and that none of the terrible things I saw in my dream will come to pass if we keep following the new path we've set ourselves on!"

My eyes went wide as I listened to him. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that we would've been blasted off again if we'd tried to steal pokemon and run afoul of the twerps in the process -- for once, we'd actually averted a disastrous situation! "Oh, my god!" I heard myself whispering.

"Which leads me to why we're wearing the white robes," James went on. "Since our day went so well, I'd like to perform a ritual to expel all of the negativity from our lives and ensure that we keep heading in the right direction. And since this affects all three of us, I'd like you both to participate in the ritual with me."

Now I was smiling, too. "That sounds like a good idea. What do I have to do?"

He took my hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. "All you have to do is believe."

My smile widened. I'd seen firsthand how powerful James's magic was -- there wasn't a doubt in my mind about his abilities. "That shouldn't be a problem!" I told him.

"Then, let's do this!" he exclaimed.

"So, what all is involved in dis spell?" Meowth inquired as James got off of the bed and started bringing out some of his magic supplies.

"Like I said, it's a ritual for ridding our lives of negatives," he informed us. "I think it's appropriate after what happened today. And the timing is perfect, too. Decreasing magic like this is best performed during the waning moon, and tonight is the night of the new moon -- the time when waning energies are at their strongest!"

"Another sign that this was meant to be," I remarked.

James nodded. Once he'd set his cauldron between two white candles on his makeshift altar and arranged a few other odds and ends, he gestured for me and Meowth to join him again.

As the two of us knelt next to him, James got to his feet and took his crescent moon wand in his hand. Then, he pointed the wand at the floor and drew an imaginary circle around the three of us. After that, he burned a cone of incense in his censer and sprinkled a bit of salt water around the edges of the circle, uttering blessings all the while. As the fragrance of frankincense filled the air, he lit the two white candles and seated himself between us again.

"Now, close your eyes and relax," he told us as he took our hands in his. "Just breathe slowly and deeply until you're perfectly calm and centered...."

Doing as I was instructed, I closed my eyes and went into a meditative state, concentrating on the feeling of James's touch and reflecting on the day we'd had.

"Keep concentrating," I heard James whisper a few minutes later. I opened my eyes again as I felt him leaving my side and watched him return to the altar. He took the cauldron in his hands and held it aloft for a moment, then he brought it down to chest level and seated himself between me and Meowth once more. "Now breathe into the cauldron and whisper the names of all the people and experiences we want removed from our lives," he said. "I'll start. Ash Ketchum."

James then held the cauldron out to me. "Misty," I whispered into it.

"All dose other annoyin' twerps," Meowth whispered as James held the cauldron out to him.

"Butch," he whispered, taking the cauldron back.

"Cassidy," I whispered when it was my turn again.

"All dose other back-stabbin' Rockets," Meowth whispered.

"Going hungry."

"Financial hardships."

"Gettin' blasted off."

"Needless persecution."

"Relentless insults."

"Bein' hassled by the boss."

On and on the three of us went, whispering the names of all the people and things we hated and didn't want to deal with anymore into the cauldron. As we said the names, I felt a strange energy coursing through me. An energy that seemed to be cleansing my mind and spirit and exorcising all of the negativity I was harboring within myself. And with each name we whispered, I could almost see the cauldron filling with black venom.

"Is that it?" James asked at length.

"I can't think of anything else," I replied in all honesty.

"Yep. I think dat was a pretty comprehensive list of everything dat sucks about our lives," Meowth agreed.

"Good," James chuckled. "I think we've filled this poor cauldron to overflowing!" With that, he got back to his feet and turned the cauldron upside down on the altar. Then, he held out his hands and said, "The contents of this vessel I give to thee, Great Ones. Exchange these experiences for better."

Once the ritual was complete, James burned an offering of herbs in the censer. Then, he dismissed the powers he'd summoned, thanked them for their help, and opened the circle once again.

I took another deep breath and smiled once more as James turned his attention back to me. "That was amazing!" I told him. "I feel so...clean! It feels like the night you rescued me from Ayesha and helped me forgive myself for all my past mistakes."

"That's why I performed this spell -- I think we all needed a bit of spiritual cleansing tonight," James commented. He blew out the candles and started putting his supplies away. "We've been carrying a lot of pain, sorrow, and anger with us over the years, and we needed to let it go in order to move forward."

"Ya got dat right, Jim!" said Meowth. "I feel great! Like we can do anything now!"

I nodded. "Same here. I feel like we're finally free."

"That's because we are," James replied. "All of our old circumstances and behavior patterns created a prison around us. But with a lot of hard work and a little luck, we finally overcame our circumstances. And that, in turn, gave us the power to change our actions. Now, there's nothing holding us back -- we can finally live our lives the way we want and be the people we're supposed to be!"

I wrapped an arm around James and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "I like the sound of that!"

"So do I," he agreed as he returned my embrace. "I like it a lot."

"Heh. Ya think the world is ready for a kinder, gentler Team Rocket?" Meowth ventured.

"They'd better be!" I said. I balled my free hand into a fist and laughed. "And I've got five rebuttals for anybody who's got a problem with it!"

Meowth grinned. "Can't argue with logic like dat!" Now he was laughing, too.

"You know, I don't think the three of us have ever been real villains. We played the role for awhile, but it wasn't who we really were," James told us. He walked over to the window and looked up at the starry night sky. "Now it's time to be true to ourselves...."

I returned to James's side and gave him another hug. "We can finally find a role that we're better suited for...and be stars in our own right!"

James snaked an arm around my waist. "Exactly! It's our time to shine!"

The two of us looked into each other's eyes for a moment before going back to stargazing. Then, Meowth jumped onto our shoulders and joined us.

A sense of peace came over me again as the three of us shared our embrace and looked up at the stars, shining brilliantly in the dark night sky. I knew in my heart that James was right -- we'd finally cast off the darkness that had been holding us back for so long, and now our light was free to shine! We were going to extend our reach to the stars above, and nothing was going to stop us!

I cuddled closer to my love and gave him another kiss.

His green eyes glittered as he looked back at me and saw that I was smiling at him. "What is it, honey?" he asked.

I reached up and played with his rogue wisp of blue-violet hair. "Just thinking again about how lucky I am to have you," came my reply. "I love you, James."

"I love you too, Jessie," he echoed.

Meowth jumped down from our shoulders as James held me closer and rested his forehead against mine. The cat sounded like he was muttering something about giving us "horny teenagers" our privacy, but I couldn't hear him. And I don't think James heard him, either. When we looked into each other's eyes again, the world seemed to narrow down to just the two of us. And when we twined our fingers and James lowered his mouth to mine, I was lost.

Yes, I'm definitely lucky to have a best friend, a lover, and a soul-mate in James. He's always given me hope and comfort during the dark times of my life and multiplied the happiness and joy of the good times. He's always given me friendship and unconditional love. He's saved my life and even my eternal soul on more than one occasion. And now, he's just given me more priceless gifts -- a bright future that's so close I can practically feel it, and a present that holds the promises of happiness, peace, and prosperity.

To be Continued....

Author's Notes

The ritual to exorcise negativity that James performs is from Celtic Magic.

And a very special thanks to Tara for the beautiful illustration of Meowth serenading Jessie & James! *_*


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