Illustration by Shigeru1313.

New Directions

by Cori Falls


Chapter 9 -- Reaping the Rewards


I placed a paw to my forehead to shield my eyes from the sun's glare. There couldn't have been more than an hour of daylight left, but the western sky was still ablaze with the red and gold light of the setting sun. I cast a quick glance back towards our camp and saw that the eastern sky was quickly darkening to the somber purples and blues of night.

"How much farther is it, James?" Jessie asked as we picked our way along the mountain trail.

James looked over his shoulder and grinned at us. "Just over this next ridge, if I recall correctly."

"I hope so," Jessie replied. "I don't want to have to find my way back to camp in the dark."

"Don't worry about it," James assured her. "If I don't find the place within the next few minutes, we'll head back to camp and look for it in the morning instead."

"Sounds good ta Me-owth!" I remarked.

It was a chilly fall evening in mid-November. Jessie, James, and I had spent the past month on vacation in the Whirl Islands with our friend, Gary, but when the first cold snap of the season had come last week, we'd returned to the mainland. We'd spent our first couple of days in Olivine City holed up in our motel room during the storm, but luckily, the weather had cleared up by Saturday morning, and we'd been able to enjoy a weekend in the city.

Shortly after breakfast on Saturday morning, Mondo showed up to deliver our paychecks, and he had his new girlfriend, Felicia, with him. Felicia was the granddaughter of our friends, Sofia and Marcello Calvetti. They'd introduced Mondo to her after Jessie and James's "fake" wedding, and the two of them had hit it off immediately. Felicia had also hit it off immediately with me, Jessie, James, and Gary. With her grandparents' sense of humor and an abundance of common interests (she, too, loved sci-fi, fantasy, anime, and role-playing games), she fit right in with all of us. She was also very beautiful -- with her long auburn hair, luminous green eyes, and delicate facial features, she looked a bit like Catti-brie, the warrior woman from the Drizzt Do'Urden stories. It was easy to see why Mondo had fallen so hard for her!

Following the old principle of the more, the merrier, Mondo and Felicia decided to stay on for awhile and spend the weekend with us in Olivine City. We all went to the Olivine Gym that afternoon, and Mondo and Felicia helped me and Gary cheer Jessie and James on to victory when they challenged the gym leader, Jasmine.

The battles that ensued were intense, but in the end, Arbok's Acid and Mega Drain prevailed over Magnemite's electric attacks. And when Jasmine sent out her Steelix, Jessie decided to give her Vulpix a workout. Knowing that steel-types were weak against fire, Jasmine got Steelix to defend himself with Sandstorm and fight back with Iron Tail. But Jessie got Vulpix to dodge Steelix's attacks and counter with Confuse Ray. Once Steelix was disoriented and unable to defend himself, Vulpix knocked him out with her Flamethrower and Fire Spin. After Jasmine healed her pokemon and let them rest for awhile, it was James's turn. He got Victreebel to take Magnemite out of commission with his Razor Leaf and Vine Whip attacks, and when Jasmine sent out Steelix again, James got Viccie to paralyze him with Stun Spore before he had a chance to obscure the battlefield with another Sandstorm. And for the grand finale, James called back Victreebel and got Growly to give Steelix a meltdown with his Flamethrower and Dragon Rage. Once the battles were over, Jasmine healed her pokemon again, congratulated Jessie and James on how well they fought, and presented them each with a Mineral Badge.

I felt like jumping for joy as I watched my two friends put their new Mineral Badges in their badge cases and admire their ever-growing collection for a moment. I was happy that they were finally getting the opportunity to prove what great trainers they are...and that they were finally getting the respect they deserved. At the rate they were going, I had a feeling that they'd be earning even more badges soon!

We said good-bye to Jasmine and left the gym, and Jessie and James took Arbok, Victreebel, Vulpix, and Growly to the pokemon center. Gary, Mondo, Felicia, and I then celebrated their victory by taking them out to lunch. After we finished our lunch, Jessie and James got their pokemon back from Nurse Joy, and the six of us spent the rest of the afternoon shopping and sightseeing. Then, we went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. When we returned to the motel, Mondo and Felicia rented the adjoining room, and we all spent the evening playing Dungeons & Dragons. Gary, Jessie, James, and I had been playing D & D while we were stuck in our motel room the previous day -- we'd been using the characters we'd created for our initial adventure in August, so bringing Mondo's character, Alaric of Mystra, back into the party was a simple matter. Since this was Felicia's first session with us, however, she had to create a new character (she ended up being a neutral good elven cleric named Varda of Hanali Cenanil). Our party continued their adventures along the Sword Coast of Faerun for awhile, and once the campaign had reached a good stopping-point, we wrapped up the game and said our good nights.

On Sunday morning, Gary took all of us to Olivine's Battle Tower. The Battle Tower was a place where trainers could test their mettle and compete for cash and prizes. Trainers needed a minimum of three badges to be eligible to compete in the Battle Tower, so Jessie and James's Storm, Vortex, and Mineral Badges and Gary's set of nine badges got them in the door, no problem. Since Mondo and Felicia didn't have any badges yet, they just came along to watch and help me root for Jessie, James, and Gary.

After the three of them presented their badges and registered, the receptionist told them the rules. All challengers had to use three pokemon of different types and fight a series of battles against seven of Battle Tower's expert trainers. They had to use the same three pokemon for each battle, but the pokemon would be revitalized and have time to recover between battles. For each match they won, they were entitled to a prize of their choice, and the prizes got better with every victory. When the receptionist finished explaining the rules, she asked which pokemon they were going to use. Jessie decided to go with Arbok, Lickitung, and Wobbuffet. James chose Weezing, Victreebel, and Growly. And Gary picked Umbreon, Blaze, and Rhydon.

Once they were ready, Jessie, James, and Gary went to an arena in one of the upper levels of the tower, and Mondo, Felicia, and I seated ourselves in the stands. One by one, the three of them fought against Battle Tower's seven trainers and emerged victorious each time. When the battles were all over, Jessie had won a Fast Ball, a Blizzard TM, and a Fire Blast TM, James had won a Love Ball, a Solar Beam TM, and a Fire Blast TM, Gary had won a Fast Ball, a Friendship Ball, and an Iron Tail TM, and all three of them had won substantial cash prizes. After their pokemon were revitalized, Jessie and James used their new Fire Blast TMs to teach the attacks to Vulpix and Growly, James taught Solar Beam to Victreebel, and Gary taught Iron Tail to Rhydon. Mondo, Felicia, and I congratulated our friends on their victories, and the six of us spent another afternoon on the town and another evening playing D & D.

On Monday, Gary decided to head back home to Pallet Town. His fifteenth birthday was in another eleven days, and he wanted to spend some time with his family before then. Shortly after breakfast, he gathered his belongings, said good-bye to us, and flew away on Smaug.

Once Gary had left, Jessie, James, and I decided to leave Olivine City, too. Jessie had promised her grandma and grandpa Parker that we'd come to visit them the next time we were in Kanto, so we decided to spend a few days with them at their home in Opal Ridge before heading to Pallet for Gary's birthday. Since Mondo had brought us the Jeep when he'd come with our paychecks, we could get to Opal Ridge by the next evening, but we weren't in any hurry, so we took the scenic route through Johto, using the roads less traveled, passing through small towns, and making stops whenever something caught our interest.

Mondo and Felicia came with us on the first leg of our trip. Felicia wanted to take Mondo to meet her parents, so we volunteered to drive them to her home in Sunflower Fields...which was just a few miles from the Sunflora Lodge! We arrived in town around midday, and Felicia suggested that we make a quick stop at the Sunflora Lodge to visit her grandparents and have lunch with them. Sofia and Marcello were happy to see us again, and over a delicious lunch of eggplant parmigiana, we told them all about what we'd been doing since we'd seen them last. They were extremely interested to hear the story of our battle with Queen Ayesha of Yew (we hadn't had a chance to tell anybody about that at Jessie and James's "fake" wedding), and they were overjoyed to hear that Jessie had met her grandparents and uncle. They also supported us in our decision to give up stealing and congratulated us for the new direction our lives were taking. After lunch, we bid farewell to our friends and took Mondo and Felicia to her parents' house in town. Nicholas and Bianca Calvetti were every bit as friendly and fun-loving as Sofia and Marcello, and they absolutely adored Mondo. Jessie, James, and I visited with them for a couple of hours before continuing on our way. (And before we left, Felicia gave Jessie an enormous bag of wool from her Mareep. James and I asked Jess what she was gonna do with all dat Mareep wool, but she simply told us dat it was a surprise.)

For the rest of the afternoon, Jessie, James, and I enjoyed a leisurely ride and took in the sights of Johto. The countryside was ablaze with red, gold, and orange, the sky was a clear crystal-blue, and the weather was chilly, but not too cold. I couldn't imagine a more perfect fall day...or a more perfect way to spend it!

We ended up spending the night in a Team Rocket safe-house a few miles from Goldenrod City. When we got up this morning, we went into the city, where we filled the Jeep with gas and had breakfast at the local Waffle House. After breakfast, we decided to put the new Pokemon League rule that Gary had told us about to the test and went to the Goldenrod Gym so that Jessie and James could challenge Whitney for the Plain Badge. Just as we'd feared, Whitney wasn't happy to see us again, but when Jessie and James explained that they only wanted to compete in a legitimate gym battle, she grudgingly accepted their challenge. In Jessie's match, Arbok paralyzed Clefairy with her Glare attack and knocked her out with Wrap and Poison Sting. Then, Wobbuffet stopped Miltank's Rollout dead in its tracks with his Counter and turned all of her attacks back on her until she was defeated. And in James's match, Victreebel took out Clefairy with a combination of Stun Spore, Razor Leaf, and Vine Whip. And when Whitney called out her Miltank again, James called back Victreebel and released Articuno. James had been doing a lot of work with the baby bird over the past month, and he'd recently learned Agility. He used his new move to dodge Miltank's Rollout, and then he fought back and froze her with Powder Snow. While she was frozen and unable to move, Arti finished her off by blasting her out of the arena with his Gust attack.

Once the battle was over, Whitney presented Jessie and James with their Plain Badges, and she even admitted that they'd fought well and that she was impressed with how they'd trained their pokemon. Since she'd decided to be gracious, we apologized to her for trying to steal her Clefairy the previous spring and explained that it had been an honest mistake. (Which was true -- we hadn't known dat Clefairy belonged ta anybody since she'd been wanderin' around on her own when we'd found her, and the only reason we hadn't given her back was because Ash had been with Whitney at the time, and we knew dat he'd blast us off whether we gave Clefairy back or not. Runnin' away had been our only chance ta escape dat fate!) We also apologized to Whitney about raiding her uncle's dairy and told her that we'd only done it because we'd been starving and needed something to eat...and that we'd only attacked the dairy later that day to get back at the twerps for blasting us off. Whitney accepted our apologies and told us that we were welcome to come back to her gym anytime...and that if we wanted anything from her uncle's dairy in the future, then all we had to do was ask!

After Jessie and James added the Plain Badges to their collection, we said good-bye to Whitney and continued on our way.

At noon, we arrived in Azalea Town and stopped for lunch at a local delicatessen that was known for its ham salad sandwiches. The sandwiches were, indeed, delicious, and with some honey mustard pretzels on the side, they made for an excellent midday meal! After we finished eating, we went to the Azalea Gym to see if Jessie and James could continue their hot-streak and win the Hive Badge. The gym leader, Bugsy, was a nice kid, and he was all too happy to accept when Jessie and James challenged him. The battles were to be three-on-three, but with all of the training they'd been getting lately (not ta mention dere new Fire Blast attacks), Vulpix and Growly were more than a match for Bugsy's Ariados, Butterfree, and Scizor. When we left the gym, Jessie and James thanked Bugsy and added their new Hive Badges to their collection as well.

After leaving Azalea Town, we headed back to the north and east. We reached the city of Florando later that afternoon and had some chicken bowls for dinner at the local Maui Teriyaki. Then, we got back on the road, hoping to make a little more time before calling it a day.

We ended up making camp for the night in a forest near Donphan Valley. After unloading our things from the Jeep, James decided to show us the place where he'd found the amberite chip that he'd used to make Jessie's promise ring. He was now leading us up one of the mountain trails at the southwestern edge of the valley, hoping to find the location before dark.

James paused for a moment and surveyed our surroundings. "Yes, this is definitely the place! At the top of this ridge, there's a little path that leads down into the valley. I found the amberite chip at the bottom of the cliff."

"Then, what are we waiting for? Let's go!" Jessie exclaimed.

With that, the three of us broke into a run. When we crested the ridge, however, the road came to a dead end, and there was no trail leading into the valley!

My brow furrowed. "Are ya sure dis is the right place, Jim?" I asked.

Now James was frowning, too. "Of course I am. There must've been a rockslide since we've been here last."

"Wouldn't surprise me -- we got caught in a rockslide the last time we were here, too," Jessie remarked. "I imagine it happens all the time, with all those Donphan ramming the cliff faces to break out the amberite."

"You're right," James sighed. "I guess I won't get to show you where I found the amberite, after all...."

Jessie placed a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry about it, sweetie. Maybe we can find another way into the valley tomorrow morning. We'll have more time to look around then, and I'm sure we can still get to grandma and pop-pop's house in time for a late lunch."

This made James smile again.

As the three of us turned and started heading back to camp, however, we heard a low, moaning sound coming from the base of the cliff.

Jessie and James sweatdropped and exchanged nervous looks. "Wh-wh-what was that?!" they stammered.

I closed my eyes and listened for a moment. "It sounds like a pokemon...though I can't tell what kind."

James winced when he heard the sound again. "Whatever it is, it sounds like it's in pain."

Jessie turned on her flashlight and peered over the edge of the cliff. She trained the beam of light on the place where the sound was coming from and slowly shook her head. "I don't see anything...."

James and I came to her side and looked as well. All we could see was a massive pile of boulders on the valley floor.

"Yeah. I don't see nothin' either," I concurred. "Maybe it's just an echo comin' from another part of the valley...."

Suddenly, James's emerald eyes went wide. "Or maybe a pokemon got caught in the rockslide, and we can't see it because it's pinned under all those boulders!" he speculated. "That's definitely not an echo -- it sounds too muffled."

"Well...whadda we gonna do?" I queried.

"We have to help it, of course!" came Jessie's reply. "If a pokemon is trapped down there, we can't leave it to die!"

James nodded. "I agree. Give me the flashlight, Jess. I'm going to need Arbok, too."

Jessie arched an eyebrow as she handed the flashlight and Arbok's poke ball to James. "What's the plan?"

James hooked the flashlight and the poke ball to his belt and called out Victreebel. "I need to climb down there and see if I can't dig the pokemon out from under those rocks."

"Be careful, honey," Jessie said as Victreebel wrapped his vines around James's waist.

"I will," James promised as he began his descent.

James's climb down the cliff face was a percarious one -- he lost his footing on loose rocks in several places. Each time he slipped, Jessie and I tensed, but Victreebel's vines held him steady and kept him from falling. When he reached the bottom, we saw him call out Arbok, and the two of them began clearing away the rocks.

After a few minutes, James stopped and shined the flashlight into a gap in the boulders. "Shit!" we heard him curse.

"What is it, James?!" Jessie called down to him.

He looked up at us. By now, it was too dark to see the expression on his face, but I could tell that it wasn't a happy one. "We were right -- there's a Donphan trapped under these rocks! And it's in really bad shape!" he said. With that, he and Arbok redoubled their efforts.

At length, James and Arbok had cleared enough rocks away that I could perceive a small, gray elephant lying on the ground.

"Hold Victreebel steady!" James shouted. With that, he freed himself from Victreebel's vines and wrapped them around the Donphan instead.

Jessie and I nodded and braced ourselves against Victreebel to keep him from slipping.

"Okay, Victreebel! Take him up! And be careful!" James commanded once he was satisfied that the two pokemon were secure.

Donphan moaned again as Victreebel started hoisting him up. Jessie and I tightened our hold on Viccie and helped him pull the injured pokemon up the cliff, taking care not to jostle him or cause any more damage.

The next several minutes seemed more like hours. It was now completely dark, and I could feel our apprehension mounting with every passing second. At length, we finally succeeded in getting Donphan to the top of the cliff. Once we freed him from the vines, Jessie began feeling for broken bones, and Victreebel sent his vines back down so that he could pull James up.

I placed a paw atop Donphan's head. "Yer safe now, buddy," I said quietly. "Yer gonna be okay."

Donphan looked up at me and shivered.

A grim look crossed Jessie's face. "I wouldn't say that just yet, Meowth. I don't think anything is broken, but Donphan may have internal injuries. We need to get him to a pokemon center as soon as possible."

"But the nearest pokemon center is thirty miles away in Florando!" I pointed out.

"Then, I suggest we hurry!" James cried as he joined us again. "We don't have a moment to waste!"

"I'll go get the Jeep," Jessie told him. "The road is too narrow and unstable for me to drive all the way up here, so you'll have to carry Donphan down part of the way."

I saluted her. "You got it, Jess!"

As she started racing back to camp, James got Victreebel to steady Donphan with his vines again. Then, the two of us gingerly lifted him and began picking our way down the trail. It was slow going, but after about ten minutes, we made it to a part of the trail that was wide enough to drive on and found Jessie waiting there with the Jeep.

When she saw us, she jumped out and helped us load Donphan into the back seat. "I packed up all of our stuff while I was down there, so we can go straight to the pokemon center from here," she informed us. She held up her first-aid kit. "Why don't you drive, James? I'll stay in the back with Donphan and see what I can do for him."

James nodded and gave Jessie a quick kiss on the cheek. "Good thinking, angel."

Once he'd called back Victreebel and returned Arbok's poke ball to Jessie, James got into the driver's seat and revved up the Jeep. And once I'd gotten into the passenger seat, and Jessie had climbed into the back with Donphan, he threw the vehicle into gear and began driving back towards Florando as quickly as he could.


We pulled into the parking lot of the Florando Pokemon Center a little over thirty minutes later. Jessie had sprayed healing potion on Donphan's superficial injuries and bandaged them on the ride over, but he'd since slipped out of consciousness. Now more than ever, time was of the essence.

"Oh, my god! What happened?!" Nurse Joy gasped as Jessie, James, and I rushed Donphan into the lobby of the pokemon center.

"We found this pokemon in the mountains -- he was caught in a rockslide," James explained.

Nurse Joy frowned. "That's terrible...but I'll see what I can do!" With that, she pressed an intercom button. "I need a stretcher for a medium-sized ground-type pokemon! Stat!"

A moment later, two Chanseys came from the back, wheeling a large gurney. Jessie and James helped Nurse Joy and the Chanseys lift Donphan onto the gurney.

"I'll let you know as soon as I have any news," Nurse Joy promised as she started wheeling Donphan into the emergency room.

"Thank you," James called after her. Once Joy was gone, he slumped into a chair and buried his face in his hands. I could tell from the way he was shaking that he was beginning to cry.

I seated myself in the chair next to his and gave him a pat on the back. "Hey, it's okay, Jimmy," I told him. "It's okay...."

James sniffled.

Jessie sat in the chair on his other side and gently massaged his shoulders. "Oh, sweetie," she said softly.

At length, James brushed his tears away and looked up at us. "I'm sorry. I'm just worried about Donphan...."

"We all are," Jessie assured him. "But we've done everything we can -- it's out of our hands now."

"I know," he muttered. Tears welled up in his eyes again. "But what if we were too late getting him here? What if he doesn't make it? I've never had to deal with a pokemon dying before...."

"And what if he survives?" I countered. "If Donphan lives, it'll be cuz of you, James!"

He raised an eyebrow.

Jessie smiled. "Meowth is right -- it was your idea to show us the place where you found the amberite chip. And you're the one who climbed down the cliff and dug him out of the rocks when we heard him crying. If not for you, he'd still be trapped down there! Thanks to you, he has a fighting chance!"

James let his gaze drift to the ceiling. "I guess I was thinking about our last visit to Donphan Valley, too," he sighed. "Even if he didn't help us find any amberite, I really liked that little Donphan we caught -- it was so cute, the way he ate all those shrubs I fed him and did his best to lead us to some amberite, even though he didn't know how to look for it. I've wanted a Donphan of my own ever since." He looked back at us. "Maybe that's another reason I'm so worried -- the Donphan we saved tonight reminds me of that little guy. I don't know what I'd do if...."

Jessie rubbed his back again as his voice trailed off. "Try not to think that way, James." She gave his shoulders an affectionate squeeze. "I have a feeling Donphan will be just fine. I think we made camp where we did tonight for a reason...."

"Yeah!" I agreed. "We was meant ta be dere sos we could find Donphan and rescue him!"

Jessie nodded. "I'm sure this is yet another thing that was meant to be."

James's green eyes lit up when she said this. "You know, I think you're right!"

For the next couple of hours, the three of us sat together in the lobby of the pokemon center, waiting for news about Donphan's condition. James still seemed tense, but I knew in my heart that Jessie was right -- I knew that things would work out exactly the way they were supposed to.

At length, the emergency room doors slid open, and Nurse Joy stepped out. We all looked and saw that she was smiling.

She made a vee-sign. "Donphan is doing fine!" she announced.

Jessie, James, and I heaved a collective sigh of relief.

James mopped away the sweat that had formed on his brow. "Thank goodness...."

"I ran some tests on him -- he doesn't have any broken bones, and you did a good job bandaging his cuts and scrapes before getting him here, so patching them up was a simple matter," Joy told us. "The only real concern I have is that some of his internal organs were bruised, but it's a miracle he wasn't hurt worse than he was!"

The three of us exchanged smiles.

"I'd like to keep Donphan here for awhile so that I can monitor his condition and make sure that no complications arise," Nurse Joy continued. "But with a few days of rest, he should be as good as new!"

Jessie gave James a hug. "See! You had nothing to worry about! Donphan is going to be okay thanks to you -- you're a hero, sweetie!"

James blushed and gave us a modest smile. "Well, I couldn't have done it without all of you," he said. Then, to Nurse Joy, "Our Victreebel and Arbok were a big help when I dug Donphan out from under the boulders, and Jessie is the one who tended to his wounds on the way here. And Meowth's moral support helped a lot, too!"

Nurse Joy nodded approvingly. "You all did a wonderful job. I can say without hesitation that your efforts saved that pokemon's life -- you should be very proud of yourselves."

We smiled again.

"Why don't you stay here for the night?" Nurse Joy suggested. "We have some vacant rooms."

"Sounds good to us," James replied. "I'd like to stick around until Donphan is feeling better." He paused for a moment and looked back at Jessie. "If it's okay with you, that is."

"Of course it's okay, James," she assured him. "Having you around might even make Donphan get well sooner!"

"You think so?"

Jessie gave him a kiss on the cheek. "I know so. You always make me feel good, don't you?"

James put his arms around her. "Point," he conceded. "But I know how much you were looking forward to visiting your grandparents, Jess. And we won't have time to do that before Gary's birthday if we stay here."

"Then we'll just visit them after Gary's birthday," Jessie answered. "I'll give them a call when we get to our room and explain the situation. I know they'll understand."

"Yes, but...."

Jessie placed a hand to his lips and silenced him. "Not another word. It's not a problem, sweetie."

James kissed her fingers and gave her another smile. "Thank you, honey," he whispered.


After speaking with Nurse Joy for a few more minutes, the three of us went back to the Jeep and got our stuff. Then, one of Joy's Chansey aides showed us to our room.

Once we got settled in for the night, James went to take a shower, and Jessie called her grandparents. After a couple of rings, the vid-screen flicked on, and an image of a man with graying crimson hair that was pulled back in a ponytail appeared.

The man's blue-green eyes lit up when he saw Jessie. "Hello, angel!" he exclaimed.

Jessie smiled. "Hi, pop-pop," she replied.

"How are you and your friends doing?" he inquired. "Still planning to come see me and your grandma?"

"That's actually what I wanted to talk to you about," she told him.

He raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"What's going on, love?" another voice asked. After a moment, I saw a Japanese woman with sparkling amethyst eyes and purplish-black hair that had a few white streaks in it seat herself next to the man. She smiled, too. "Oh, it's Jessie!"

"Hi, grandma," she said.

Jesse Parker gave his wife a kiss and turned his attention back to his granddaughter. "So, you said there was something you wanted to tell us?" he prompted.

Jessie nodded. "James, Meowth, and I are at the Florando Pokemon Center. We found an injured Donphan this evening and brought it here. James wants to stay until it's feeling better, so it looks like our visit will have to be postponed," she explained.

A look of disappointment crossed Jesse and Musashi's faces, but it quickly passed.

"That's okay, dear -- stay as long as you need. We certainly don't expect you to leave an injured pokemon behind for our sake," said Musashi. The smile returned to her lips. "Your mother was like that. Miya cared so deeply for all pokemon. It was one of the things that made her such a great trainer...and I see that in you, too...."

Jessie blushed. She opened her mouth to say something, but her voice got caught in her throat.

So, I took the liberty of saying what I knew she was thinking. "Dat's right! Miyamoto was a remarkable woman." I smiled up at my friend. "And she's got a remarkable daughter!"

Jessie brushed away the tears that were welling up in her sapphire eyes. "James was the real hero tonight. You should've seen the way he went down that cliff to rescue Donphan! It was amazing!"

"Sounds like it!" Musashi chuckled.

"James is wonderful," Jesse remarked. "Your grandma and I were so happy when we learned that you were alive and well...and that you were with such a nice guy."

"You'll like James even more when you meet him in person!" Jessie told them.

"Speaking of which, when will you be coming to see us?" Musashi asked, getting back to the original subject.

Jessie thought for a moment before replying. "Well...we're going to be here for a few days...then we're going to head over to Pallet Town for a couple of days and go to our friend, Gary's, birthday party. It'll probably be at the end of the month or early next month...definitely before Christmas, though!"

Now Jesse and Musashi were grinning.

"You know, that actually works out better," Musashi commented. "If you're here in December, we can celebrate your birthday!"

Jesse draped an arm around his wife's shoulders. "And your grandma's birthday is in December, too -- the second. We can celebrate that while you're here as well!"

"That sounds great!" Jessie exclaimed.

"What's going on?" We looked and saw James coming from the bathroom. He was wearing his blue silk pajamas and drying his blue-violet hair with a towel.

"Jess was just tellin' her grandparents about the change in plans," I informed him. "Dey're cool with it. And it actually works out better -- if we visit 'em in December, we can celebrate Jessie's birthday and her grandma's birthday with 'em!"

This made him smile. "I'm glad to hear it. The last thing I wanted to do was screw up anybody's plans."

Jessie took him by the hand and pulled him down onto the bed. "You did nothing of the sort," she assured him.

"She's right," Jesse concurred. "Whenever you want to come for a visit is fine with us...just as long as you do come for a visit!"

Musashi's amethyst eyes twinkled. "And we heard you were a hero tonight, James! We'd love to hear more about your daring Donphan rescue!"

Now James was blushing.

Jessie planted a kiss on his burning cheek. "What did I tell you, sweetie? Everything worked out exactly the way it was supposed to!"

Jessie, James, and I spent the next couple of hours talking to the Parkers. Since James was too modest to go into details, Jessie gave them the full account of how he'd saved Donphan. She also told them about our time in the Whirl Islands and the badges that she and James had won.

Once we said good night to the Parkers, Jessie took her shower, and the three of us went to bed. Jessie and James were alseep within a few minutes, but I remained awake. It had been an eventful day, and I was too restless to sleep!

So, I decided to get online and check our e-mail. Gary had promised to drop us a line once he got home (and he shoulda been in Pallet by tonight), and I wanted to make sure he'd arrived safely.

Sure enough, when I booted up our laptop, logged onto the internet, and accessed our e-mail account, I found a message from Gary in our inbox. He had, indeed, made it home safely, and since his parents were now home from their latest archaeological dig, they'd taken him, May, and Professor Oak out to dinner. Now, he and his family were getting ready for his birthday party next week. He was happy to be home, but after nearly a month of traveling with me, Jess, and Jim, he really missed us.

I smiled as I read our friend's message. Then, I hit the reply button and began to type....

Hey, Gary!

Thanks for the e-mail! I'm glad to hear that you made it home okay and that your party preparations are well underway! Jess, Jim, and I miss you too, but we'll see you again really soon. ^_^

It's been an exciting couple of days for the three of us. After you left, we decided to take a trip through Johto. We took Mondo and Felicia to her parents' house in Sunflower Fields and visited with Sofia and Marcello for awhile yesterday. We spent the night near Goldenrod City, and this morning, we went to the Goldenrod Gym, and Jessie and James won the Plain Badge! (You were right about that new Pokemon League rule, btw -- I got the impression that Whitney didn't want to accept Jess and Jim's challenge, but she did anyway. We straightened everything out with her after Jessie and James won their battles, though, so it's cool now.) And this afternoon, we made a stop in Azalea Town, and Jessie and James won the Hive Badge! You should've seen the way they battled this morning and this afternoon, Gary -- it kicked ass! I'm so proud of 'em, and I know you would be, too! I'll let Jess and Jim tell you all about it the next time we get to talk.

And then, something else interesting happened to us tonight! We made camp near Donphan Valley, and James decided to show us the place where he found the amberite chip that he used to make Jessie's promise ring. Unfortunately, the road had been blocked by a rockslide...but when we started heading back to camp, we heard a pokemon crying for help! James went down the cliff and found a Donphan trapped under the boulders. He and Arbok dug it out, and we brought it to the pokemon center in Florando. Nurse Joy said the Donphan is gonna be okay, but we're staying here at the pokemon center while he recovers. I'll let Jess and Jim give you all the details about that, too. James's rescue mission REALLY kicked ass (though he'll be the last to say so -- you know how modest he is).

Guess that's all for now. I'll be sure to keep you posted on everything. In the meantime, take care!

Talk to ya soon! >^__^<

-- Meowth

After sending the message, I disconnected from the internet and shut down the computer. It felt good to know that Gary was safe at home, and it made me feel better to tell him about everything that had happened today. When I got back into bed, I curled up in the blankets and finally found the sleep that had been eluding me.


When we woke up the next morning, Jessie, James, and I went to the pokemon center cafeteria and had some cereal and hot tea for breakfast. Then, we went to Nurse Joy's office and inquired about Donphan.

Nurse Joy smiled. "He's doing a lot better this morning! He just ate a big breakfast, and he's resting again. Would you like to go to the recovery room and see him?"

James's emerald eyes lit up. "You bet I would!"

"Right this way," she said.

Nurse Joy led us down a long hallway. When she reached the end of the hall, she pushed open a door on the left and revealed a small Donphan sleeping on a pokemon bed. The three of us tiptoed into the room, and Nurse Joy closed the door behind us. As we gathered around the bed, Donphan slowly opened his eyes and looked up at us.

James held out his hand and smiled. "Hey. How are you feeling, Donphan?" he asked quietly.

Donphan tentatively reached up with his trunk and sniffed James's outstretched hand. After a moment, his dark eyes lit up. It''s you! he exclaimed.

"Hey, Jimmy, dis Donphan seems ta know ya!" I remarked.

James studied the elephant for a moment, and his eyes went wide. "Can it be?"

Jessie arched an eyebrow. "James, is this...the same Donphan we tried to catch last year?"

"I think so," James replied. "Why else would he recognize us?"

Donphan gently wrapped his trunk around James's arm. Yes, I remember you...I remember....

I told James what Donphan was saying.

"I...I don't believe this," James stammered.

"It is a pretty freaky coincidence that we were just talking about this little guy last night, and he turns out to be the Donphan that we rescued," Jessie agreed.

I smiled up at my two friends. "Are ya sure it's just a coincidence?"

Knowing what I was hinting at, Jessie smiled back.

James turned his attention back to Donphan. "What happened to you?" he queried. "How did you get caught in that rockslide?"

A sad look crossed Donphan's face. Well, when you caught me last year, I was the youngest Donphan in Rochelle's herd. That's why I hadn't been able to find any amberite for you -- I hadn't been trained yet, he began. I'm not the youngest Donphan anymore, but I am still the smallest. Even the Phanpies that were born last year turned out to be bigger than me when they evolved! I get pushed around a lot by the bigger Donphan...and I don't find as much amberite as the bigger Donphan, either....

"What a shame," Jessie muttered as I translated Donphan's story.

James placed his hand atop Donphan's head. "I used to get pushed around a lot when I was a boy, too."

Donphan closed his eyes and smiled for a moment as James scratched behind his ears. Anyway, that's what led to the rockslide. I wanted to find some amberite for Rochelle -- she's a good trainer, and she's proud of me no matter how much I find, so I wanted to find a lot for make her happy. I went off by myself so that the rest of the herd couldn't interfere, and that's when it happened -- I smelled a huge vein of it in the cliffs at the southwestern edge of the valley! I got a running start and used my Rollout on the cliff face. I rammed the cliff over and over again, trying to break the amberite free. But when I hit the cliff with one last Rollout, I knocked loose some boulders overhead...and then the whole cliff collapsed -- it came down on me before I had a chance to run away....

I felt tears stinging my eyes as I translated the rest of the story, and I could see that Jessie and James were welling up as they listened.

Jessie gently stroked Donphan's trunk, which was still coiled around James's arm. "You poor thing. That must've been terrifying." Tears rolled down her cheeks as she closed her eyes and shuddered. "Seeing a whole mountain come crashing down on you...knowing that you can't escape...."

James wrapped his free arm around Jessie's shoulders and held her to him. Doubtless, she was thinking about the avalanche that had killed her parents. "But you're okay're safe," he said reassuringly.

Jessie sniffled and brushed her tears away. "Yeah...."

The next couple of minutes passed in silence, but then Nurse Joy came into the room. She was carrying a bottle filled with some kind of green liquid. "It's time for your medication, Donphan," she announced.

Donphan sat up and let Nurse Joy pour the contents of the bottle into his mouth. He winced as he swallowed it.

"Yes, I know it tastes awful, but it'll help you heal," Joy chuckled. "I promise lunch will taste a lot better."

Once he was finished drinking the medicine, Donphan nodded and laid back down. His eyelids seemed to be getting heavier and heavier with every passing second.

"Maybe we should let him get some more sleep and come back later," Jessie whispered.

James nodded in assent.

"That sounds like a good idea," Nurse Joy told us as we followed her from the recovery room. "He needs to get lots of rest these next few days, but it seems like having you around really is helping him -- he looked much better just now than he did a couple of hours ago!" She smiled at James. "He especially seems to like you -- I think you'd make a wonderful trainer for Donphan, if he doesn't already have one!"

James returned her smile. "Thanks."

As Nurse Joy continued her rounds, the three of us returned to our room. Once we were inside, James's expression became serious again.

"Whatsa' matter, Jim?" I asked.

"I know," Jessie replied. "It's Donphan's trainer, isn't it?"

James nodded. "Yes. If he were a wild Donphan, then I'd definitely keep him. But he said himself that he already has a trainer...."

"....And keeping Donphan would mean breaking your promise to give up stealing," Jessie concluded.

"Yes," he repeated. "And I can't do that. Rochelle is probably worried about him...she's probably looking for him. I'd never be able to live with myself if we kept Donphan for ourselves and left her wondering what became of him."

Jessie took James's hands in hers and smiled tenderly at him. "Then, how does this sound? Once Nurse Joy gives Donphan a clean bill of health and releases him from the pokemon center, we'll take him back to Donphan Valley and give him back to Rochelle."

"Heh. If she remembers us, she prolly ain't gonna be too happy ta see us again," I remarked.

"True," James conceded. "But maybe doing the right thing this time will make up for how we tried to steal Donphan last time. I know it'll ease my conscience." He closed his eyes and nodded again. "Maybe that's another reason we were meant to find Donphan last night -- so that we could have a chance to atone for one of our past mistakes and prove that we really can stick to our new path!"

I had to admit that James was making a damn good point. A lot of the things that had been happening lately seemed to be tests. Between all of the achievements Jessie and James were making as trainers, all of the opportunities to steal pokemon that we'd passed up, leaving Ash behind and making peace with Brock and Misty, and even moving beyond Butch and Cassidy's imagined rivalry with us, it really did feel like we were now fully committed to the new direction our lives had taken.

Suddenly, I found my thoughts drifting back to the ritual that James had performed almost a month ago -- the ritual to rid our lives of negatives. I remember, as we'd named off all of the people, events, and patterns that we'd wanted removed from our lives, it had felt as if we were purging our systems of filth and venom. When it was over, I remember feeling so clean...and I still feel that way now. Ever since James performed that ritual, we haven't once slipped back into our old destructive patterns, and every time we'd had the misfortune to encounter one of our enemies, we'd walked away relatively uncscathed. We truly had changed ourselves and our lives for the better!

"Anyway, that sounds like a good plan, Jess," James said, getting back to the original subject. "We'll definitely take Donphan back to his trainer once he's recovered, and if she comes here looking for him, then we'll explain everything to her."

"Definitely," Jessie echoed. She leaned closer and touched her lips to his. "I'm proud of you, James...and I have a feeling you will be getting a Donphan of your own someday soon. It'll be one lucky pokemon, to have a sweet, caring trainer like you."

I couldn't help but smile. Jessie's feelings almost always turned out to be right...and I had a feeling that this time would be no exception!


While Donphan was resting that afternoon, the three of us went out to lunch and did some shopping in Florando. First, we went to a craft store, where Jessie bought some black fabric and had all of the Mareep wool that Felicia had given her dyed and spun into yarn (though she still wouldn't tell us what dat yarn was for), and then we made a stop at the local poke-mart to stock up on supplies and so that James could get some treats for Donphan. (Even if he was givin' Donphan back ta Rochelle, he was gonna spoil dat pokemon rotten in the meantime!)

When we returned to the pokemon center later that day, Nurse Joy had more good news for us -- Donphan was still on the mend...and he was doing well enough that he could actually get out of bed!

"Would you like to take him out to the excersise yard for awhile?" she asked. "I still don't want him exerting himself, but I think some fresh air and a little physical activity will do him good."

"Sure!" James replied. He held up one of his shopping bags from the poke-mart. "I picked up some alfalfa cubes for him while we were out. Would it be okay to give some to him?"

Nurse Joy smiled. "Of course it's okay, James!"

Jessie placed a hand on James's shoulder. "Why don't you go ahead without me, sweetie?" she said. "I need to put my stuff away, and I think I need a nap, too."

A look of concern crossed James's face. "Are you okay, honey? If you're not feeling well, then...."

"I'm fine. Just tired, that's all," she assured him. "Now, go on. Go have fun and enjoy your time with Donphan."

The smile returned to James's lips. "Alright. Have a nice nap, Jess."

She leaned closer and planted a kiss on his cheek. "I will," she promised.

Once Jessie had taken her leave, James and I followed Nurse Joy out to the excersise yard, and she brought Donphan to us. For the next couple of hours, James played with Donphan, fed him alfalfa cubes, and let him hang out with Weezing, Victreebel, Growly, and Articuno. The four pokemon seemed well on their way to becoming fast friends with Donphan. It was a shame that he wouldn't be staying -- he seemed to fit in better with James's pokemon than he did with the rest of his herd.

As the afternoon wore on, Donphan was still feeling good and was reluctant to go back inside until he absolutely had to. Since I was starting to get hungry, I volunteered to go out and pick up some dinner so that James could stay with Donphan awhile longer and not have to worry about cooking anything.

"That's really nice of you, Meowth," James said when I told him my plan. He brought out his wallet and handed me some money. "You know what I like and don't like -- anything you want to get is fine by me."

I nodded. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

"Oh!" James called after me as I turned to go. "Would you mind going back to the room and checking on Jessie for me? I know she was taking a nap, but I thought she would've been up by now. I'm starting to worry about her." He blushed. "I'd check on her myself, but I need to keep an eye on the pokemon."

"Not a problem, Jimmy," I replied. "I'm wonderin' why she ain't up yet, too."

When I got to the room, however, I discovered that Jessie was doing anything but taking a nap! Her cutting board was on the floor, along with her scissors and pin cushion, a tissue paper pattern, and fabric clippings. Her sewing machine was set up on the table, and a length of finished black fabric was hanging on the back of the chair. And Jessie was sitting on the bed, knitting something from the Mareep wool yarn that she'd had spun. Wobbuffet was at her side, a length of yarn wrapped around his hands as he fed it to the knitting needles.

Jessie looked up from her work and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw me. "Oh! You startled me, Meowth!"

I looked around the room. "What's goin' on here, Jess? I thought you was takin' a nap! James is worried cuz ya ain't come out yet."

Jessie set down her knitting and smiled at me. "I just told James that I wanted to take a nap so that I could have a few hours to myself. I can't make his Christmas presents while he's around, you know!"

Now I was smiling, too. "Christmas presents? Is dat what all the Mareep wool and fabric ya bought is for?"

Jessie nodded. "I remember, earlier this year, James told us that he had a lot of clothes made from Mareep wool when he was a little boy." She blushed, and her smile grew even wider than it already was. "I bet he looked so cute in his little Mareep wool sweater, scarf, stocking cap, and mittens!"

"So, you decided ta make him a new set of Mareep wool clothes for Christmas?" I surmised.

"I've wanted to make him a set ever since he told us that story," she replied. "And when I found out that Felicia had a Mareep, I knew it was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up! I asked if I could buy some of the extra wool, but she was all too happy to give it to me for free!"

"Dat was nice of her," I remarked.

"It sure was," Jessie agreed. "The wool made a lot more yarn than I expected, so I can knit lots of stuff for James -- I'm working on a scarf right now, and I'm going to make him a sweater, a pair of gloves, a pair of socks, and...." She paused for a moment and blushed more brightly than ever.

"And?" I prompted.

"And a pair of...unmentionables," she muttered.

Those'll come in real handy in the winter time -- they'll keep him nice and warm and prevent shrinkage! Wobbuffet laughed, as if he could read my mind.

"Hey, dat's what I was gonna say!" I told him. "But yer right, Wobbu -- dose snuggly shorts oughtta keep both of 'em happy dis winter!"

Jessie smacked the two of us over the head with her paper fan. "Knock it off!" she snapped. Her face was even redder than her hair now. "This is why I didn't want to let you in on the secret!"

I rubbed the sore spot atop my head. "Alright, alright! No more filthy jokes! I won't tell James what yer up to, either," I promised.

"You'd better not," she warned me. "Because if you do, you'll be getting mallet-whacked clear into next week!"

I shuddered at the prospect. Jess hadn't used her mallet in ages, but I had the feeling she could still wield it with deadly skill. "Got it! Mum's the word," I told her.

The sweet smile returned to her lips. "Good."

"So, what's with dat black fabric?" I inquired, changing the subject.

"Another present for James," she replied. "You know that gray cloak Gary wears?"

I thought about Gary's gray traveling cloak. It always kept him warm and safe from the elements while he was on the road, and it kind of made him look like an adventurer from a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. "Yeah, I know it!"

"I've always thought it was cool, so I decided to make one for James," Jessie told me. She got up from the bed and took the length of black fabric that was draped over the chair. "Of course, I made his a different color and added a personal touch."

I reached up to touch the fabric as she held it out to me. It felt warm and durable, but it was also incredibly soft, as if it had been made from shadows. I examined the cloak and saw the personal touch that Jessie had been talking about -- she'd embroidered tiny ruby-red roses with emerald-green leaves all around the edges! My eyes went wide as I admired her handiwork. "Oh, Jessie! Dat's beautiful!" I breathed. "James is gonna love it!"

She smiled again. "I hope so." She neatly folded the cloak and placed it in her backpack. "I hope the knitting turns out as nice as this did."

"I'm sure it will," I assured her.

After picking up her sewing supplies and putting those away as well, Jessie showed me the scarf that she was working on. It was black, just like the cloak, and it felt every bit as soft and luxurious. "I can see why James loved dis stuff so much when he was a kid -- it feels more like cashmere den wool!"

"That's why Mareep wool is so expensive -- it's not scratchy like regular wool, and it's warmer and lighter weight," she explained. "Remind me to thank Felicia again."

I looked at all of the yarn the wool had made. "Yeah! Dis woulda cost a fortune if you'd bought it!"

"It made so much yarn, I have enough to make some stuff for Gary, too," Jessie continued. "You think he'd like a sweater, scarf, and glove set for Christmas?"

"I know he would! The stuff you make is way better den anything you can buy in a store!"

She beamed proudly when I said this.

"Anyway, I was gonna go pick up some dinner," I told her. "You in the mood for anything specific?"

"Not really. Anything you want to get is fine by me," Jessie replied as she resumed her knitting. She took the yarn from Wobbuffet's hands and got Lickitung to hold it for her instead. "Why don't you take Wobbuffet along?" she suggested.

I nodded. "Yeah. I could use the company...and an extra pair a hands ta carry all the food back!"

"That's what I was thinking," she chuckled. "Just try not to get into too much trouble while you're out!"

Wobbuffet smirked. Hey, we're not making any promises that we can't keep!

She shook her head and sighed. "I should've known...."


After promising that we'd be back with dinner as soon as possible, Wobbuffet and I said good-bye to Jessie and went back outside to let James know that she was okay. We had to lie and tell him that she'd been asleep all afternoon, but once we'd convinced him that she'd simply overslept and that she was now just freshening up, he seemed less worried. We then said good-bye to James and the other pokemon and set out to get dinner.

"So, whaddaya wanna eat, Wobbu?" I asked as we surveyed the various restaurants in the downtown area.

Wobbuffet shrugged. I dunno. Anything you want is cool with me.

"Dat seems ta be the definitive answer tonight," I groaned. "I guess it's all up ta Me-owth."

Well, there's no shortage of stuff to choose from, Wobbuffet remarked. There's pizza places, submarine sandwich shops, Mexican, Chinese, Caribbean....

When Wobbuffet said this, I suddenly remembered something -- when we'd been passing through Florando the previous night, I'd seen a Caribbean restaurant that I'd been eager to try out. I'd been outvoted last night (not that I minded -- the chicken bowls we'd had were delicious), but tonight, I was in charge!

"Why don't we go ta Pollo Tropical?" I suggested. "I hear dey make really good citrus grilled chicken!"

Wobbuffet's mouth began to water. That does sound good!

With that, the two of us went into the restaurant, and I ordered four grilled chicken sandwiches (with no mayo), black beans and rice on the side, four sodas, and a large order of fried plantains for dessert. A talking cat and a Wobbuffet ordering food attracted more than a few stares, but our money was just as good as any human's so we were able to get our dinner without too much hassle.

As we were on our way back to the pokemon center, I inhaled the sweet aroma of the plantains and the fresh citrus scent of the marinated chicken and felt my stomach growling. I'd definitely made a good choice.

Suddenly, however, I heard Wobbuffet groaning. Aw, man! We should've gone to Burger King! Check out what they've got!

I looked to where he was pointing and saw a large banner hanging in the window of the local Burger King -- a banner which announced that they were selling glass goblets with Lord of the Rings characters on them. Jessie and James had been looking forward to the first movie of the trilogy coming to theaters for ages, and the book had always been one of their favorites.

"Aw, man! Yer right, Wobbu," I sighed. "Dose goblets would be the perfect Christmas present for Jess and Jim!"

That's what I was thinking, too, he said.

"Hmmm...what should we do?" I wondered. "I ain't got enough money for 'em tonight...."

Then, why don't we go there for lunch tomorrow? Wobbuffet suggested. The movie doesn't come out until next month, so they'll probably have the goblets for awhile -- we'll have plenty of time to collect a set for each of them!

I considered this for a moment. "Yeah! And dat actually works out better -- if we got the goblets tonight, we'd of been payin' for 'em with James's money, and it wouldn't of been a real present."

Wobbuffet nodded. You're right. I guess it does work out better this way. The smile returned to his mouth. And I guess I know what we're having for lunch tomorrow!

"Oh, yeah!" I laughed. "And the day after dat, and the day after dat, and...."


When we returned to the pokemon center, we found Jessie and James waiting for us. Jessie had put her knitting away so that James wouldn't find it (she later told me that she'd finished the scarf and started on the sweater), and James told us that the fresh air and excersise Donphan had gotten this afternoon had done him a world of good and that Nurse Joy was pleased with how he was healing. After dinner -- which was every bit as delicious as I'd expected -- we got online to check our e-mail and ended up having an IM conversation with Gary for a couple of hours. He was overjoyed to hear that Jessie and James had won two more badges, and he was interested to hear all about their gym battles. He was also extremely interested in the story of how we'd rescued Donphan, and like Nurse Joy, he told us that we should all be proud of ourselves for saving the pokemon's life.

The rest of the week passed in a similar manner for us. Jessie feigned illness so that she could have privacy while she finished her knitting and told James to go spend time with Donphan while she remained in bed. (It didn't take James long ta catch on ta what she was doin', however. I could tell from the knowing look in his emerald eyes and the way his lips turned up at the corner in a little smile whenever he spoke to her dat he was aware her illness wasn't real and dat she was workin' on some kinda surprise for him. James has always been able ta tell when Jess is genuinely sick and when she's just exaggeratin' ta get attention. He teased her for awhile by insistin' on stayin' by her side til she was feelin' better -- his little way of lettin' her know dat she wasn't foolin' him -- but in the end, he did let her have the room ta herself and spent most of his time with Donphan for the next couple of days.) During that time, Jessie finished all of the stuff that she was knitting for James (needless ta say it turned out beautifully -- the scarf and shorts, like the cloak, were black with red roses on 'em, the sweater and socks were black, and the gloves were red, and dey all felt more luxurious den cashmere and warmer den wool). And with Nurse Joy's care and James working with him, Donphan continued to get stronger every day. Meanwhile, Wobbuffet and I went to Burger King for lunch on Thursday and Friday and collected a full set of Frodo, Gandalf, Strider, and Arwen goblets.

On Saturday, Nurse Joy wanted to run some more tests on Donphan to see how well his injuries were healing. She planned to have him in the lab for most of the day, so Jessie, James, and I decided to take a break from our routine and made a day-trip over to Violet City. James had made sandwiches before we left the pokemon center, so when we arrived in the city at midday, we were able to enjoy a picnic lunch in the park. After lunch, we went to the Violet Gym so that Jessie and James could compete for the Zephyr Badge. We were confident that we wouldn't be turned away, but that didn't stop Falcner from being snotty with us and complaining about how "disgraceful" it was that Pokemon League would allow "a bunch of low-life pokemon thieves" the opportunity to win gym badges. It wasn't the first time we'd heard such shit said to or about us, but it still hurt...especially since that part of our lives was over, and we'd been doing our best to leave it behind. But in a way, Falcner's nastiness to us made Jessie and James's victories that much sweeter -- the look on his face when Lickitung defeated his Noctowl with her Supersonic and Lick attacks, Wobbuffet turned back all of Dodrio's attacks with Counter and Mirror Coat, and Arbok knocked Pidgeot out of the sky with her Poison Sting, Bite, and Wrap...and then, when Growly roasted Noctowl with Dragon Rage and Fire Blast, Articuno eluded Dodrio with his Agility and took him out with Powder Snow, Peck, and Gust, and Weezing blasted Pidgeot away with Sludge Bomb and Thunder was priceless! (I also got the impression dat Falcner -- who claimed ta be the master of flyin' pokemon -- was pretty damned jealous when he saw dat James had an Articuno in his line-up.) There was no doubt that my friends had battled valiantly and honorably, but Falcner refused to admit it or apologize for giving us attitude, even after seeing firsthand how we'd changed since the last time he'd seen us -- he just gave Jessie and James their Zephyr Badges and sent us on our way.

After leaving the gym, I treated Jessie and James to dinner to celebrate their victory and cheer them up. Even though they should've been proud of themselves for their latest accomplishment, Falcner's closed-mindedness had disheartened them. It served as a painful reminder that no matter how much good we did from here on out, there were always going to be people who'd be prejudiced against us because of our affiliation with Team Rocket or use it as an excuse to treat us like shit. Still, the people who were willing to look beyond our Team Rocket uniforms and see us as we truly are...or at least give us the benefit of the doubt or forgive us for our past actions were starting to outnumber the people who instantly condemned us or refused to let go of the bad first impressions (most of which had been influenced by Ash and his asshole aura) they'd gotten of us. I reminded Jessie and James of this and told them that whenever they looked at their Zephyr Badges from now on, they shouldn't think of how badly Falcner had treated them. Rather, I told them that their badges should serve as a reminder that the positive changes we'd made in our lives were going to hurt the small-minded jerks of the world a lot more than they were going to hurt us. This knowledge did, indeed, make Jessie and James feel better about what had happened at the Violet Gym...though I knew that it would still be a long time before they felt like going to the Ecruteak Gym to compete for the Fog Badge -- Morty had been even worse to us (and more impressed with Ash, ta boot) than Falcner had the first time we'd encountered him! (Not dat it mattered anyway -- Jessie and James didn't really have any pokemon dat was strong against, or at a high enough level, ta stand up ta Morty's ghost-types yet. Dat was one Johto League badge it was gonna take a lot more time and trainin' ta earn. But in my heart, I knew dat Jess and Jim would earn dat badge someday...and dat when dey did, dere victory would be a sweet one, indeed.)

When we returned to the pokemon center that evening, we called Gary and told him all about our day in Violet City. He was happy to hear that Jessie and James had won the Zephyr Badge, but he also hit the roof when he heard how rude Falcner had been to us. Just as I'd done earlier in the evening, he told Jessie and James not to let people like that get them down and that they had just as much right to compete for badges as anybody else. We assured him that we weren't going to let the prejudices of a few people (or anything else, for that matter) deter us from our life's new course and promptly changed the subject. Telling him about the gym battle itself (and how Falcner looked like he was ready ta shit and fall back in it when Jessie and James beat him...and when he saw James's Articuno) put all of us in good spirits again. It also made Gary happy when we passed on the news that Nurse Joy had given us earlier in the evening -- Donphan was still healing nicely and not suffering from any complications! She still wanted to keep him at the pokemon center for another couple of days, but Donphan was definitely well on the road to recovery...and we'd be back on the road to Kanto soon.

On Sunday and Monday, Nurse Joy allowed Donphan to stay outside for longer periods of time and engage in more physical activity. James let him fight some mock-battles with his pokemon so that he could regain his strength and motor-control, and Jessie finally came out of our room and accompanied James to the excersise yard. She let Donphan play with her pokemon while she and James spent some quality time together, and she worked on knitting Gary's Christmas presents -- a gray scarf with black oak leaves, a black pair of gloves, and a gray sweater that were every bit as beautiful, warm, and comfortable as the things she'd knit for James. Wobbuffet and I also went to lunch at Burger King a couple more times and got another full set of Lord of the Rings goblets.

On the whole, it had been an exciting, eventful, and productive week, and with Gary's birthday, Jessie's birthday, visiting Jessie and James's grandparents, the new Lord of the Rings movie, and the holidays soon to come, things were only going to get better and more exciting!

But before any of that, there was still one thing we had to do. One very difficult thing.


After a hearty breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and hash browns in the pokemon center cafeteria on Tuesday morning, Nurse Joy finally gave us the news we'd been waiting for.

"Donphan has made a complete recovery from his injuries!" she announced. "As soon as I fill out a bit of paperwork, I'm releasing him from the pokemon center...and I can't imagine a better trainer for him than you. I said it before, but I'm saying it again -- you saved his life last week. And you've done such a wonderful job working with him and helping me rehabilitate him."

James hung his head. "Actually, while we were here, we found out that Donphan already has a trainer," he said quietly. "He wasn't hurt due to any negligence on her part -- it was just an accident. She's probably really worried about him, so we're going to find her and take Donphan back to her. I'd love to keep him for myself, but it wouldn't be right...."

Nurse Joy smiled tenderly at us. "In that case, I think you'll be very happy to hear what I have to say next."

James looked up at her again.

"Donphan's trainer showed up while you three were out on Saturday -- a nice lady named Rochelle," Joy told us. "She'd been searching for her littlest Donphan for days. She said it wasn't like any of her Donphan to just wander off, and when she found the site of the rockslide, she was worried that he'd been hurt. She came here to ask if anybody had brought him in. I told her all about you three finding an injured Donphan in the mountains and bringing him here in the nick of time, and when I showed him to her, she confirmed that he was the one that had gone missing from her herd."

Our eyes went wide when we heard this. If Nurse Joy already knew about Donphan having a trainer, she wouldn't have said we could keep him unless....

Nurse Joy was beaming now. "I told Rochelle how wonderful the three of you had been to Donphan. She spent the afternoon with him, and before she left, she told me that she'd made a decision. She said that Donphan had always been the misfit of her herd, but when she found out how happy he was with you and how well he was getting along with all of your pokemon, she thought it would be for the best if he stayed with you...."

James looked over at me and Jessie, then back to Nurse Joy. His emerald eyes were filling with tears.

"Rochelle said she'll miss her little Donphan, but she also said that if he leaves the herd and goes with you, he'll have a chance to get bigger and stronger and live up to his full potential," Nurse Joy continued. "She also wanted me to tell you that she'd always be grateful to you for saving Donphan's life...and to consider letting you keep him as her way of saying thanks. After all, she knows that he'll be in good hands with you."

James's tears were now flowing freely. " really mean it, don't you?"

At that moment, one of Nurse Joy's Chansey aides led Donphan into the lobby. He trumpeted happily and bounced up and down when he saw us.

I went to Donphan's side. "Is it true?" I asked. "Did Rochelle really say we could keep ya?"

Donphan nodded. Yes. I talked it over with her when she came to get me on Saturday. She figured out who you were when Nurse Joy told her that I'd been rescued by a red-haired woman, a purple-haired man, and a talking Meowth, but she wanted you to know that she's not mad at you for trying to steal me anymore. And then, I told her how kind you'd all been to me and that you and your pokemon were my friends. She knew that the other Donphan in the herd had been bullying me, so she asked me if I wanted to stay with you. I said that I did.

I grinned. "Hey, dat's great! But why didn't you and Nurse Joy tell us sooner?"

He winked at me. What? And spoil the surprise?

"Of all the sneaky, devious things ta do, leavin' us in suspense like dat!" I chuckled. I winked back at him. "I think you'll fit in just fine with us, Donphan!"

Now Donphan was laughing, too. I know so!

I turned my attention back to Jessie and James. "Donphan sez it's no joke! Rochelle really did give him to us...and she forgives us for what we did last year!"

Nurse Joy nodded approvingly. "That's right. He's yours now."

Jessie placed a hand on James's shoulder. "Go on, sweetie. You worked the hardest to save his life and rehabilitate him. You should have Donphan."

"I couldn't have done it without you, Jess," he reminded her.

"That may be," she replied. "But you said yourself that you always wanted a Donphan, and you really deserve this one."

James brushed his tears away and smiled again. "Thank you. Thank you all," he whispered. He knelt next to Donphan and placed a hand atop his head. After petting him for a moment, he brought out an empty poke ball and drew Donphan inside. "Welcome to the team, Donphan." Then, to Nurse Joy, "I'll take good care of him. I promise."

"I know you will, James," she replied. "You and your friends are good trainers, and you've raised excellent pokemon. I wish you all the best of luck."

Jessie put her arms around James and gave him a kiss. "Didn't I tell you that you'd be getting a Donphan of your very own someday soon?"

James returned her embrace and kissed back. "Yes. And you also said that everything would work out exactly the way it was supposed to."

"And she was right on both counts!" I said.


Once we shared the good news with the rest of the pokemon, Jessie, James, and I returned to our room and packed our belongings. We also called Gary and told him that we were leaving Florando and hoped to be in Pallet by that evening (we were savin' the story of how James got ta keep Donphan as a surprise for later, though). Then, we bid farewell to Nurse Joy and thanked her once again for all she'd done for us.

Now, we were back on the road to Kanto. Gary's birthday wasn't until Friday, but he'd invited us to stay at his house for a few days before and after the party, and he'd promised that he and his parents would have the guest rooms ready when we arrived.

A sense of peace came over me as I admired the countryside from the window of the Jeep and reflected on everything that had happened over the past week. It hadn't been without its rough times. Not knowing whether or not Donphan would survive on the night we'd brought him to the pokemon center, the way we'd been treated when we'd gone to the Violet Gym, the heartbreaking prospect of giving Donphan back to his trainer after befriending him -- each of those situations had challenged us in its own way, but in the end, everything had turned out just fine. Donphan had survived and made a complete recovery from his injuries, Falcner had been obligated to accept Jessie and James's request for a gym battle and to award them with the Zephyr Badge when they'd beaten him, and Donphan was now James's newest pokemon!

There wasn't a doubt in my mind that James would have returned Donphan to Rochelle if she hadn't come to the pokemon center or decided to let us keep him. It wouldn't have been an easy thing for him to do, but I knew that his promise to give up stealing was one that he intended to keep. James is a man of his word, after all.

Now more than ever, I'm convinced that the changes we've made in our lives have all been good ones and that we're doing the right thing. Our experience with Donphan must have been another test...and the fact that Rochelle had forgiven us for our past indescretion and allowed Donphan to stay with us seemed to be proof that we'd passed with flying colors. We really could stick to our new path (no matter how challenging it could be at times), we weren't going to let anybody or anything deter us or keep us down...and we were finally reaping the rewards of all our hard work and dedication.

My smile grew even wider than it already was as I turned my attention back to Jessie and James, who were sitting together in the front seat and singing along to a song that was playing on the radio. In a few hours, we'd be in Pallet Town with our friend, Gary. In a few days, we'd be celebrating his birthday. In a few weeks, we'd be visiting Jessie and James's grandparents and celebrating Jessie's birthday and the holidays. And after that...who knows?

I'm not sure what's in store for us, but I do know that as long as my friends and I stick together and remain true to ourselves and each other, then we'll be able to overcome any obstacle that we find ourselves faced with...and things will just keep getting better for us.

James is right -- that white tomorrow we've been striving for really is closer than we thought. And Jessie is right, too -- everything is working out exactly the way it's supposed to.

To be Concluded....

Author's Notes

A very special thanks goes to Shigeru1313 for her technical help with this chapter. (She decided which prizes Gary should win at the Battle Tower.) I'd also like to thank her for the adorable illustration of James with his little Donphan! ^__^


Back to the Library

@->->- 1