To Extend Our Reach to the Stars Above

by Cori Falls



You know, it never ceases to amaze me what a strange thing love is. It's so uncontrolable...yet at the same time so irresistable. It can be has a hurtful side (the evils dat Jess is always denouncin')...but it also has the power to melt the coldest heart, bring courage to the most frightened spirit...even turn a villain into a hero. Just look at what it's done for me -- my love for my friends has awakened so many strengths in me that I never even knew I had!

And so it is with Jessie and James.

Don't get me wrong, Jess and Jim have always been great, and I don't think there's ever been a time when I didn't love them. But they've changed so much recently that I can hardly believe they're the same people I got partnered with almost three years ago.

You see, Jessie and James have been in love with each other for about a year now. (Well, dey've always been in love with each other ta be more precise, but it was only a year ago dat dey finally found the courage ta tell each other so. Dey been a cozy couple ever since!) And since then, they've changed in ways that I never thought possible! I've seen the proud and hardened Jessie remove the mask of callousness that she wears for the rest of the world and reveal the sweet and loving woman that she really is. And I've seen the peaceful and easygoing James become a fierce warrior and transform from a boy to a man. And the reason they've changed is because of the love they have for each other! James's love for Jessie has allowed her to open her heart and awaken the love that's always been inside, and Jessie's love for James has allowed him to find the courage and confidence that he's always had. They've become better people because of their love for each other, and I've become a better person as well because they love me. (Dey treat me like a fellow human, and I feel like I have a human soul now. I don't really see myself as an outcast or a freak anymore because dey make me feel accepted.)

And yet, no matter how much we've all changed and how much better off we are now, we still have the occasional moments when we regress to our old selves. I guess that's a normal part of love -- to fight with your loved ones every now and then. Every family has its squabbles, after all. But ironically, that's when love is at its strongest -- when it's put to the test. True love always manages to endure, no matter what.

As a matter of fact, our love for each other was put to the test once again just recently. And once again, we all pulled through and saw just what a powerful force love can be....


It all happened about a week ago, if my memory serves me right. Jessie, James, and I had found the brats taking a day off from their journey and relaxing by the shores of a placid lake in the depths of a beautiful green wood, so we decided to hassle them. You see, it was another few days until we got paid, and we were all outta money. (Dat seems ta be a common tale of woe for us lately -- ever since dat time last summer when Jess thought she was pregnant, she and James have been settin' aside money like crazy so dat dey can be ready when dey finally do get married and have kids. Plannin' for the future is a smart move, but I tell ya, havin' less money in the meantime is a real bitch!) We were also outta food and weary from being on the road for such a long time. It had been at least a week since we'd eaten a decent meal or slept in a cozy cabin, and it was starting to grate on our nerves. And seeing how happy and care-free those kids were only made matters worse! (I tell ya, it's not fair dat dey always have such an easy time and win in every single episode while all we ever seem ta do is suffer and get blasted off!)

We had to even the score...or at least try.

Unfortunately, just as we were about to do battle with the twerps, we were all attacked by a bunch of wild Ursarings, and we were forced to retreat. In the confusion, our two groups got mixed up, and poor Jessie ended up with Ash and Brock while James and I got stuck with Misty!

Poor James. I know he said that he wasn't worried about Jess, but he was only pretending to be tough in front of Misty. I could tell from the look of sadness in his green eyes that he missed Jessie and wanted her back, and I missed her just as much! It wasn't as simple as having swapped one red-head for another -- it was like replacing an angel with the devil! True, Jessie may have a short temper and be kind of bossy at times, but she's a lightweight compared to Misty! I swear, that kid can be such a bitch!

And that's exactly what she was to me and James. The whole time she was with us, she acted like she was better than we're trash, just because we're Team Rocket. All she could do was insult us and order us around, even though I was the self-proclaimed leader of the group! (James was too preoccupied ta be in charge, and I sure as hell didn't want dat twerp ta be our leader -- I was the only cat fit for the job...not dat it mattered.) I'm actually surprised Misty lowered herself enough to give us a bite of her sandwich when she saw how starving we were, but that didn't make up for the way she hogged all the space when we got stuck on a mountain ledge and said that all we deserved was a tiny space because we had such tiny brains! I tell you, I had a good mind to Fury Swipe the living daylights outta that little brat, but I forced myself to be civil to her because we still had to work together with her in order to find Jessie again.

And it was no different for James. He was just as upset as I was about all the shit Misty was putting us through, but he didn't complain. He was too worried about Jessie to be concerned with anything else. Besides, he knew that we had to try our best to cooperate with the brat, too.

Fortunately, the separation anxiety didn't last long -- we met up with Jessie and the other twerps again the next morning. Unfortunately, we also met up with those Ursarings again. We almost fell to our doom when the suspension bridge we were crossing broke, but all of their pokemon managed to work together long enough to pull us to safety, and we were all reunited with our rightful group members once again.

I wish that I could say it was a moment of true friendship between the six of us when the ordeal was finally over. The pokemon seemed to be getting along with each other, James forgave Misty for being so mean to him and did a little victory-dance with her, and Brock even picked me up and gave me a hug! But sadly, that didn't last long either. Once the euphoria of being safe from the Ursarings faded, the brats saw us as a threat once again and promptly blasted us off.

And I honestly don't know what possessed Jessie to say what she did to us when we landed....


I honestly don't know what possessed me to do it.

Maybe it was the stress of being separated from the only two people in the world who matter to me and worrying that I might never see them again. The things that I love have a nasty habit of disappearing on me, after all. Or maybe it was seeing how much better those twerps have it than we do. They always seem to have plenty of food to eat and a warm, cozy place to sleep. I'm willing to bet three months' salary that they don't know a goddamned thing about being on the brink of starvation or having to sleep on playground equipment and bus station benches when there's no place else to make camp for the night! I'm surprised that Brock was nice enough to share his food with me and loan me one of his blankets (he always was the least detestable of the twerps) and that Ash was actually kind of civil to me, but it wasn't enough to make up for the fact that they treat me and my friends like garbage the rest of the time. Seeing how easy they have it and that it gives them the idea that they're somehow better than us really pissed me off! Besides, James and Meowth weren't there to cheer me up, and nothing ever seems to make me happy when they're not around. Maybe the loneliness was getting to me, too....

Oh, who am I kidding? I did it because I'm a bitch! I did it because I'm bitter about the way my life turned out, and I have too much pride to admit that I don't have anybody to blame but myself! I've ruined my life, and I ended up paying the ultimate price for it -- my friendship with James and Meowth...the only two people I love.

I wasn't always such a wreck. I suppose I had some potential when I was little. When I was a child, I always had such high hopes for my future -- I remember, my kindergarten teacher once asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told her that I was going to be a doctor, an actress, and a pokemon trainer. I wanted to do something that mattered, but all I ever seem to do is fail.

All of my failures...all of the just makes me so angry sometimes! And having those brats remind me of what a failure I am and that I'm never going to win (even if it was only unconsciously this time) just made me even angrier! I guess that's why I did what I did to James and Meowth, but that's not really an excuse.

Nothing can excuse what I did to them. Maybe I deserved what I got....


"You know, I just figured out why my life is so terrible," I said to James and Meowth after we landed back in the Ursaring forest. "It's because of YOU!!!"

The two of them exchanged looks. There was no missing the expressions of sadness and confusion on their faces. They didn't know how depressed I'd been, so they obviously didn't know why I was angry with them...and James looked like he was wondering what he'd done to upset me. The poor sweetie probably had just as rough a time as I did last night -- the last thing he needed was me yelling at him for no reason!

That's when I realized that I was out of line with the remark I'd just made. I know that I was depressed about my life, and I was pissed about those stupid kids blasting us off yet again (I'd only challenged them to a pokemon battle to save face after all we'd been through! Why couldn't they just accept my challenge and play fair?! Why do they always have to be so mean?!), but that was no reason to say such an awful thing to James and Meowth! As angry as I was about everything, I had no right to take it out on them.

But before I could apologize, Meowth leaned closer to James, and I heard him whisper, "And we knew from the moment we met her dat she was gonna make our lives terrible, too."

James nodded. "Yeah. She's been making us miserable since day one," he agreed.

WHAT?! What the hell does that mean?! I wondered as I listened to them whispering about me.

Well, now I felt justified in being angry with them. If they were going to act like such jerks, then I didn't want to apologize to them anymore!

Just as I was about to give them a piece of my mind, however, I heard a growling noise. Turning around, I saw that the Ursarings were back...and they didn't look too happy to see us again. Suddenly, the argument we'd been having seemed downright petty, and I forgot all about how upset I was about everything else (the survival instinct has a tendency to trump things like that, after all).

When the Ursarings charged, James, Meowth, and I grabbed onto each other and ran for our lives.

"Looks like Team Rocket's dashing off again!" the three of us cried in unison as the bears gave chase.


We spent the whole afternoon running from those damn Ursarings. I didn't think we were ever going to lose them, and there were even a couple of times when we almost got blasted to Kingdom Come by their Hyper Beams! Fortunately, we're used to being chased by packs of angry wild pokemon, so we were eventually able to tire them out and make our escape.

By the time we reached a minimum safe distance from our pursuers, it was almost dark. We still didn't have any food or a good place to make camp for the night, and the shadow of that argument we'd had earlier was still looming over me, but at least we were relatively safe now. And now that I was thinking more clearly about everything, I resolved to talk to James and Meowth in the morning. We could straighten things out once we were feeling less grouchy, but now we needed to get some rest and put this rotten day behind us.

When I looked over at James and Meowth and saw the pained expressions on their faces, however, I realized that they were still upset about what I'd said to them. My words had hurt them more deeply than I thought.

Maybe I should apologize to them now instead of waiting until tomorrow, I said to myself. This day's already been pure hell -- I can't let it have a bad ending, too....

As I approached the two of them, their looks of sadness gave way to anger.

"What the hell do YOU want?!" Meowth demanded.

"You going to bitch at us some more about how much your life sucks because of us?" James sneered.

"N-no!" I stammered. "I just wanted to...." I couldn't believe they were talking to me like this when I was trying to make up to them! Suddenly, I found myself becoming angry again. "I wanted to apologize, okay?!"

Meowth rolled his eyes, and James turned away from me.

"What?! I said I'm sorry! What more do you want from me?!"

"Why don't ya try THINKIN' before ya open yer big trap?" Meowth growled.

"But I didn't mean it!" I cried.

James turned and looked at me again. Tears were streaming down his face. "Then why did you say it, Jessie?" he asked.

I tell you, seeing James cry...and knowing that I was the one who'd made him cry nearly broke my heart! How could I be so mean to such a wonderful man? Taking a deep breath, I brought my anger back into check and lowered my voice. "I'm sorry, sweetie. I was just having a bad day, and...."

"You're always having a bad day, Jessie," he sighed. "You always take it out on me when you're feeling bad, and no matter how many times you apologize and say you didn't mean it, you always turn around and do it again!"

"Then you should know by now that I'm just blowing off steam and that you shouldn't take it to heart when I say mean things," I said softly as I placed a hand on his shoulder.

James frowned and pulled away when I touched him. "No! I'm sick of it!" he shouted. "I'm sick of always being your goddamned scapegoat when things go wrong!"

"Yeah! And Me-owth is sick of it, too!" the cat chimed in. "Did ya ever stop and think dat maybe we was havin' just as bad a day as you was?! Ya think we LIKED bein' stuck with Misty?! Dat kid gave us so much shit it ain't even funny -- the last thing we needed was more of the same from you!"

"Please, guys! Please try to understand!" I said. "Being alone for awhile got me to thinking about my life -- all the things I've lost, all the dreams that never came true. I don't know what the hell I'm doing with myself, and I feel like a complete failure! I'm just not happy...."

"And ya think me and James are?! Ya think our lives are a freakin' picnic, or somethin'?!" Meowth snapped. "Life sucks, Jessie! Join the goddamned club!"

"Jessie, do you see this?" James said, pointing to the red R on his jacket. "Do you think I WANTED to choose this? No! But do you know why I did?"

I hung my head.

"I did it because I love you," he continued. "I joined Team Rocket because I wanted us to stay together...because I couldn't bear the thought of life without you! I chose this life because of you, Jessie...and I hate this job as much as you do, but I have NEVER blamed you for that!"

As he said this, my thoughts drifted back to what he and Meowth had said about how I'd done nothing but make them miserable since day one, and my temper flared once more. "Oh, spare me the guilt trip, James!" I growled. "At least you HAD a choice about joining Team Rocket! I never had that luxury! Hell! I even tried to stop you because I KNEW you'd be miserable! I knew I was going to ruin your life, and I did everything I could to keep it from happening, but you let me do it anyway! So you'd sure as hell better not be blaming me for any of this!"

"Jessie, that's not the point!"

"Then what is?!" I demanded.

James took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. "The point is, I never really cared about how much my job sucks because being with you is more important. No matter how screwed up my life may be, loving you is what makes it all worthwhile." Tears welled up in his emerald eyes again. "I just wish that you felt the same...."

Now I felt worse than ever for losing my temper with him. "But I do feel the same way, James!" I said, putting my arms around his shoulders. "You mean everything to me!"

"Do I?" he asked coldly, not returning my embrace. "I'm not so sure anymore...."

As I looked into his eyes, I could see again just how profoundly I'd hurt him today. I could also see that for the first time in his life, James doubted me.

"Please," I whispered. "Please believe me, James. I love you!"

"I love you, too," he sighed. "That's why I don't want to be an albatross around your neck anymore. I don't want you to spend the rest of your life resenting me or holding me responsible for the dreams you've never realized."

I felt myself going numb when I heard this. "J-James, what are you saying?" I asked, almost not wanting to know the answer.

"I want you to go and make your dreams come true," he replied as he took my hands in his own and removed them from his shoulders. "You're missing something from your life...something that I obviously can't give you...."


He held up a hand and silenced me. "Go on, Jessie. Go and make yourself happy. Don't let me and Meowth hold you back anymore." With that, he turned away from me and began heading down the trail.

Meowth looked at him in disbelief, but James whispered something to him, and he nodded his head in agreement. Then, he looked back at me for a moment and followed James.

The realization of what was happening hit me like a slap across the face -- my friends were leaving me! "So that's it?!" I called after them. "You're just walking away from everything we've shared because I made one stupid remark that I didn't mean?! Is that how little what we have means to you?!"

James looked over his shoulder at me. "No," he replied. "I'm not doing this because I don't care, Jess -- I'm doing it because I care about you too much to stand in the way of your dreams."

I felt tears stinging my eyes as he said this. "But, James...."

"Good bye, Jessie," he said softly.


Without another word, he and Meowth turned away again and disappeared into the forest.

"James come back!"

No reply.

"Please, James!"

Still no answer.



I don't know how long I stood there screaming his name, but he and Meowth never came back. I was alone. And knowing that it was all my fault, that I'd driven them away with my cruelty was the worst feeling imaginable. It was like the time I stole the badges from them, only this time, I really had made them angry enough to leave me behind. History was repeating itself...but why couldn't I ever seem to learn from it?

I wanted nothing more than to follow the two of them. I knew that if I wanted their forgiveness, I was going to have to crawl back on my hands and knees and beg for it...maybe even do something to prove myself to them, but once again, my foolish pride got in the way and wouldn't allow me.

What the hell is their problem anyway?! I wondered. I say mean things all the time, and they KNOW I'm not being serious when I do! Why are they so upset about it all of a sudden?! What made today so different?!

I pondered this for several minutes, but I just couldn't figure it out. And the more I thought about it, the angrier I became, and the more I started to think that they'd been more out of line than I had. We'd all said and done stupid things today, so why was I the only one who was being punished for it?!

I scowled and kicked a stone that was embedded in the trail, sending it flying the way James and Meowth had gone. "FINE! TO HELL WITH YOU BOTH!" I shouted. "I THINK I WILL GO AND MAKE SOMETHING OF MYSELF! I'LL BE THE BEST DOCTOR...AND ACTRESS IN THE WORLD! I DON'T NEED EITHER OF YOU!"

It felt good to scream and get all of that out of my system, but in my heart, I knew that they hadn't heard me. And I was glad of it because nothing I'd just said was true. I was only lying to myself.

"You'll see...." I whispered as I shouldered my backpack and started walking in the opposite direction that my old friends had gone, doing my best to choke back my tears all the while.


I can't believe it! I can't believe I'm actually doing this! I said to myself as Meowth and I headed down the trail, leaving Jessie behind.

I didn't want to do it, I really didn't, but Jessie really hurt me with what she'd said. I was so happy to be reunited with her after worrying about her all day yesterday and being stuck on a cliff with that rotten little bitch, Misty, all night, and all she could do was blame all of her misery on me! Normally I can handle it when Jessie loses her temper and says mean things, but I couldn't handle that. I honestly don't know how she could even think of saying something so terrible to me after all we've been through together!

Which is why I'd walked away.

It broke my heart to be so cold with her, even after she'd apologized and swore she hadn't meant to hurt me. But no matter how much it pained me, I knew that we needed more time apart. I needed to give Jessie her space so that she could think about what she really wanted from life. The last thing I want to do is stand in her way or keep her from doing something that will make her truly happy. I love her too much for that.

Still, hearing Jessie screaming my name and begging me to come back as Meowth and I headed down the trail was more than I could handle, and after her voice faded away, I began to wonder if I'd just made an even bigger mistake than she had.


Meowth and I spent the next hour in silence as we made our way through the forest, looking for a place to camp for the night. There's an old saying my grand-papa used about traveling -- two shorten the road, he'd always say. And now I realized just how right grand-papa had been. Because without Jessie, that hour seemed to stretch all the way across eternity, and the two or three miles we'd covered might as well have been as vast as the ocean! I know I wasn't alone, that Meowth was still there, but it just wasn't the same. Without Jessie, it felt like there was an empty void in my soul. Without her, this team, and I, could never be complete.

"Meowth?" I whispered, breaking the silence when it finally became unbearable.

The cat looked up at me with tear-filled blue eyes. "Yeah?"

"Do you think we did the right thing?"

Meowth closed his eyes and pondered the question for a moment. "Well," he replied, "I didn't wanna do it any more den you did, James -- I love her too, ya know. But dammit, Jessie's gotta learn ta stop takin' us for granted!"

"She doesn't, Meowth!" I said, coming to Jessie's defense. "And she's been getting better about showing us how much she loves us, too! Haven't you noticed all of the compliments she's been giving us lately? How much more laid-back she's becoming?"

"I know," he sighed. "But she still has the occasional backlash. James, can ya really look me in the eye and tell me dat what Jessie said today didn't hurt ya?"

I looked into Meowth's eyes. "No, I can't tell you that," I replied. "Because it did hurt. It hurt a lot."

He nodded. "Dat's what I thought."

"But she realized that, Meowth," I continued. "She knew she was wrong, and she apologized. I think we overreacted. I think we hurt her a lot more than she hurt us today."

Meowth hung his head and sighed. "I guess yer right...."

I could see more tears streaming down his face. He regretted leaving Jessie behind as much as I did.

"I miss her, James," he whispered.

I could feel tears welling up in my own eyes as he said this. "I miss her too, Meowth," I echoed. "I miss her, too...."


The two of us continued down the winding forest trail for a few more minutes until we came to a clearing. Too tired and too depressed to travel any further, we decided to stop for the night and make camp.

I sighed as I seated myself on a rock and pulled off my boots. My feet were throbbing from all of the battling, running from Ursarings, and walking I'd done over the past couple of days, but that's not really what I noticed. For some odd reason, all I could do was look at my big toes, which were poking through the holes in my socks. And as I looked at the wretched condition of my socks, I couldn't help but notice how shabby the rest of my uniform was -- the left knee of my pants had a big hole in it too, and the right sleeve of my jacket was coming apart at the seam.

Damn! This job is even harder on my clothes than it is on my body! I mused as I ran a hand through my tangled hair and sighed again. I still don't have any regrets about it, though. Jessie was worth every ache and pain...every rip and tear....

"Aw, shit!" I heard Meowth grumble, derailing my train of thought.

I looked up and saw him unrolling his yellow sleeping bag a few feet away. "What's the matter?" I asked.

"My sleepin' bag. It's got a hole in it," he moaned. He then held up the end of the bag and pointed to a frayed area at the bottom -- it was coming apart at the seams, just like the sleeve of my jacket. "Can ya help me sew it up, James?"

"Meowth, you know I'm not good at sewing," I told him. "Besides, Jessie has the sewing kit...."

His face fell. "Oh, yeah," he sighed. "Jess used ta do all the mendin' and stuff. She woulda helped me fix my sleepin' bag."

"And my clothes," I added as I looked again at my ragged uniform.

At that moment, my spirits sank even lower than they'd been before -- without Jessie, our team was coming apart at the seams...just like all of our stuff.

"Ya know, I never thought I'd hear myself say dis, but I ain't all dat hungry tonight," Meowth said, changing the subject. "I know we ain't had a decent meal in ages, but I just don't feel like eatin'...."

"Neither do I," I confessed. Truth be told, I was starving, but the ache in my heart had made me forget all about the ache in my stomach. I was so depressed about Jessie that I just didn't have the impetus to eat anything, let alone cook. Now that Meowth had brought it up, however, my hunger was back with a vengeance, and I knew that we had to get ourselves some dinner whether we wanted to or not. "We should still find something to eat, though."

"Yeah, I know," he sighed, placing a paw to his growling stomach. "Don't do us no good ta be runnin' on empty."

Slowly, I got to my feet once again, stretched out my arms, and arched my back. "Why don't you go find some mushrooms?" I suggested. "I'll build a fire and boil some water so we can have soup."

"Sounds good ta me," Meowth replied. He then grabbed a little reed basket from his backpack. "Ya want me ta pick the 'shrooms with red caps and white gills, right?"

I couldn't help but chuckle at his attempt at humor. "You can pick them if you want...just don't expect me to eat them," I told him.

Meowth smirked and waved his paw at me as he headed back into the woods. "Yeah, yeah, I know not ta pick the poison ones. I was just testin' ya, Jimmy-boy."

"Sure you were!" I called after him.

Meowth made some kind of remark, which I'm sure was rife with sarcasm, but by then, he was so far down the trail that I couldn't hear him.

I smiled weakly and shook my head as I seated myself again. "That cat. What would we do without him?"

I'll admit, Meowth's poison mushroom joke really did lighten the mood and make me feel a little better for a few minutes. But thinking about what a good friend Meowth was and how lucky we were to have him with us only served to remind me of Jessie and how much I missed her...and I promptly became depressed once more.

For the life of me, I still couldn't figure out why Jessie had been so upset. Granted, having to camp with Ash for the night couldn't have been any fun -- that stupid twerp probably treated her like shit! (I know I was still fuming about how rude Misty was to me and Meowth when she got stuck with us. I swear, if it weren't for my scruples...and the fact that we needed to cooperate with her, I probably would've kicked her scrawny ass seven ways to Sunday!) The separation had been stressful for both of us, but why hadn't Jessie been happy to be reunited with me? Why did she think her life was so terrible all of a sudden?

Things had been going so well for us least where our relationship was concerned. The initial turbulence of our changing roles had settled down considerably, and the passion and romance had really heated up! Jessie often told me that she was always happiest when she was in my arms, and I'd never seen her laugh and smile so much in her entire life as she had since we'd become lovers. I thought that my love for Jessie and the trust she placed in me were finally helping her overcome the pain of her past and move on, but now I wasn't so sure.

"Jessie, what's wrong?" I whispered into the darkness. "What is it that you're still afraid of? What is it that's still causing you so much pain? And why can't I do anything to help you? What do you need that I can't give you?"

I tell you, I felt so useless as I sat there, trying to figure out why Jessie had been so sad. Thoughts of my parents came unbidden to my mind...memories of how they always criticized me and told me that I could never do anything right. I always did my best to ignore them, but at that moment, I found myself wondering if they were right. What if I really had been keeping Jessie from accomplishing something that would make her happy and give her a sense of fulfillment? (God, I'd never forgive myself if I'd done something like that to her! Even inadvertently!) But by the same token, what if she took what I'd done this afternoon the wrong way? All I'd been trying to do was offer her a chance to make herself happy without any interference from anybody else, but I had to walk away in order to do that! What if she thought I'd left her?! I'd rather die than end what Jessie and I have, and I've always promised never to leave her, but I know that deep down, she can still be really insecure. I only wanted to help her today, but I got the feeling that all I'd really done was make her think that I'd broken my promise and abandoned her. And all of the anger and frustration I'd felt earlier certainly hadn't done anything to help -- after the way I blew up at Jessie, it wouldn't surprise me if she thought I hated her!

I'm sorry, Jess, I said to myself. I really made a mess of things, didn't I? Maybe I really am the reason why you're so miserable....

Unable to stand being alone with my thoughts anymore, I got back to my feet and began to gather some firewood. Building a fire and cooking dinner were at least two things I knew I could do without screwing up. Once I'd ignited the kindling, I poured some water into a pot and set it on the fire. All that was left to do was bring it to a boil, add the mushrooms (when Meowth returned with them), and we'd have mushroom soup.

While I was waiting for the water to boil, I brought out a washcloth and a bar of soap, stripped off my uniform, and filled my wash-basin with more water. Once I'd bathed myself, brushed my hair, and put on a clean shirt and pair of jeans, however, my mind became troubled again. No matter how much I tried to tell myself that I was helping Jessie with what I'd done, I still couldn't convince myself of it. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that I'd made a mistake!

That was when I made a decision.

"I can't do this anymore...I just can't," I said. "I can't turn my back on Jessie like this! I need to find her again...and I need to find out what's really bothering her! Once Meowth gets back with those mushrooms, we'll have a quick dinner and go back to find her! I don't care how long it takes -- I'm not going to rest until this team is whole again...until Jessie is happy again!"


I felt as if I'd gone numb. People sometimes say that when they get seriously injured, they don't really feel any pain at first because of the shock to their system. And so it was with me...only the injury wasn't physical this time.

I knew that my heart was broken. I knew that I should've been in pain, that I should've been crumpled on the ground, screaming in agony, but I wasn't. All I felt was the numbness...the emptiness. And with each step I took...each step that took me further away from James and Meowth, the emptiness only seemed to intensify.

It's ironic, really. The last time I'd had my heart broken was when my ex-boyfriend, Antonio, left me. Even though that bastard had done me a favor by walking out of my life, it hadn't felt like it at the time. I still remember how he told me that I was a mean, nasty, evil bitch and that I'd be alone forever. It felt as if my heart had been shattered when he told me that, and as I watched him walking away, I'd made a wish...a wish that I could enclose my heart in ice...a wish to go numb and never feel love again. For the longest time, I was afraid to love because of that. I hurt James so many times because I was afraid of my feelings for him -- I was afraid to admit that I was in love with him...that I could be so foolish as to fall in love again after being hurt. But fall in love I did, and when I finally admitted it to James and learned that he felt the same, that ice around my heart melted, and I learned how to feel again. His love was so beautiful and so pure -- he lifted my spirit higher than all the stars in heaven!

But now I'd lost him, too. I'd lost him because I'm nothing more than a mean, nasty, evil bitch. And my wish had been granted -- all I felt now was the numbness.

Funny how that wish didn't come true until after I didn't want it anymore.


I seemed to be in a haze as I walked along the trail, not paying any mind to my surroundings. Normally I like to maintain a level of awareness so that I can be prepared if the situation suddenly becomes dangerous (not a bad idea, considering how dangerous those Ursarings are...and that they seemed to be everywhere), but my mind was lost in thoughts of James, and it made me oblivious to everything else. Not that it mattered -- if the Ursarings showed up again, I wouldn't care if they tore me limb from limb. I'd already lost my friends...what great loss would my life be?

But they never came. Nothing came to me as I made my way through the forest -- I was utterly alone, my sole companion the emptiness that consumed me.

I'm not sure how much distance I'd covered, but it must have been a couple of miles at least. The last rays of the setting sun were quickly fading away, and the moon was beginning to peek above the eastern horizon. It had only been about an hour since James and Meowth had left, but it seemed more like an eternity to me. The longest journeys always seem to be the ones made alone.

My wanderings eventually brought me back to the ravine we'd crossed that morning to escape from Ursaring territorry. In the distance, the broken bridge was dangling from either side of the cliff. It seemed as if there were no way out of this god-forsaken forest now, but when I looked ahead, I could swear I saw the silver moonlight outlining another span across the ravine. Drawing closer, I saw that it was, indeed, another bridge. So, since I didn't really care which way I was going to begin with, I decided to cross it and follow wherever the path on the other side led.


It wasn't easy to gague distances in such a dark, thick forest, but I'd probably walked for about another mile when I happened upon a cabin nestled in a hidden clearing. It looked kind of run-down, and there were no lights in the windows, so I figured that nobody was living there and that it'd be a good place to stay for the night. My suspicions were confirmed when I approached the cabin and saw a small red "R" painted on the door -- it was a Team Rocket cabin!

When I walked inside and turned on the light, I finally realized just how tired I was. Lacking the energy to do anything else, I dropped my backpack and seated myself on the couch.

I sighed as I surveyed the room. The cabin seemed so empty with only one person. Normally, Meowth would've been flipping through the channels on TV, deciding whether to watch Son of the Beach or repeats of Match Game PM, and James would've been in the kitchen, making something for us to eat. But they weren't here now -- it was just me. The coziness of the cabin was small comfort to me without them.

Even sleeping on playground equipment and bus station benches with James and Meowth is better than this, I said to myself. Anything with them is better than being alone....

I looked down at the remote and the channel guide, but I didn't really feel like watching TV. It just wouldn't be any fun without Meowth making smart-assed remarks at the shows. I then looked over at the kitchen. I knew there was probably food in the cupboards, but I didn't feel like making anything. James had been teaching me how to cook, but he's still way better at it than I am -- all I really know how to do is make toaster waffles and add hot water to ramen noodles without screwing up. I hadn't had anything to eat since last night, when Brock shared some of his stew with me, but I wasn't really all that hungry. Truth be told, my stomach felt kind of jittery, like I was going to throw up.

Unable to bear being reminded of how alone I was, I decided to just take a bath and go to bed. But even then, I couldn't escape from my emptiness.

As I stripped off my uniform and got into the bathtub, I just couldn't stop thinking about James. The two of us had often bathed together when we were children, playing with toy boats and having splash-fights after we'd scrubbed each other clean. And bath-time only got better when we became lovers...because there were new kinds of fun to be had!

I closed my eyes and submerged myself in the water as I formed a mental image of James. Normally, he would've been there in the tub with me, water dripping from the ends of his silky lavender hair and soap suds slowly making their way down his muscular chest and stomach. Damn, was he sexy! And I always loved how slick his skin felt against my own when we were wet and soapy -- the bathtub and shower were some of my favorite places to make love with him!

But James wasn't was just me. Taking a bath wasn't any fun without him either.

As I got out of the tub, dried myself off, and put on my nightgown, I found that I still couldn't stop thinking about him. Ever since we met eight years ago, it was a rare occasion when James and I spent the night apart. He was always either in the sleeping bag next to mine or cuddled at my side, holding me in his warm embrace. And even when we didn't sleep together, he was almost always in a neighboring room...I'd at least know where he was and that he was nearby if I needed him.

Not so now. Tonight was the second night in a row that James wasn't here with me, and I had no idea where he was. Having to sleep without James had been one of the reasons why I became so depressed the night before...and as I found myself faced with another long, lonely night without him (and who knows how many more?), the numbness in my soul finally wore off.

There are no words to describe the pain I felt at that moment. To know that James was somewhere far away, and I wasn't with know that it was all my fault he'd know that I was completely alone and that I'd brought it upon myself...and to not know if I'd ever see him again, or if he even wanted to see me was more than I could bear. The pain of my broken heart had finally caught up to me -- all I could do was crumple to the bed, screaming in agony as I buried my face in the pillows and wished with all my heart that this was nothing more than a bad dream from which I'd soon awaken.

But I knew that it wasn't -- it was real, and I was going to have to face up to it....

Oh, James...what have I done?


I ran a hand through my hair and sighed as I paced impatiently about the campsite. Meowth had been gone for almost an hour. Where the hell is that cat anyway?! I wondered. Doesn't he know that the longer he takes, the harder it'll be for us to find Jessie?! No, of course he doesn't. He doesn't know that I've changed my mind. Still, I wish he'd hurry....

Knowing that getting stressed out wouldn't make Meowth come back any sooner, I decided to try and take my mind off of it by playing some music. When I reached into my backpack to get our new Stabbing Westward CD, however, I saw that it wasn't there. That was when I remembered that Jessie had been listening to it the other day. She probably still had it with her.

I frowned as I looked at some of our other CDs -- Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, Staind, Black Sabbath, A Perfect Circle, Tool, Garbage, Nonpoint...even the other Stabbing Westward albums. I liked all of them, but I just didn't feel like listening to any of them at the moment. I'd had a certain song stuck in my head for the past couple of days, and it was the only thing I was in the mood for. Nothing else would do.

"So much for that idea," I groaned, zipping up my backpack once again.

As I seated myself by the fire and watched the soup-water begin to boil, however, I suddenly found myself humming the tune of that song. It was So Far Away -- the first track on Stabbing Westward's new album. And as I hummed the song, I formed an image of Jessie in my mind's eye and suddenly found myself singing....

Each night I feel the distance that has grown between us
Open up as lonely as the space between the stars.
I wish that I could find a way
To smash my fist right through these walls
Of ugliness and emptiness,
And gently touch your face.

But every time that I touch you,
You feel so far away.
And every time that you need me,
I feel so far away.

As you lie silently beside me, choking back your tears,
I wonder if you recognize the silence now defines us.
Desperately I try to fight
This overwhelming sense that I
May never find the strength to change
How hopeless we've become.

But every time that I touch you,
You feel so far away.
And every time that you need me,
I feel so far away.
Yeah, I feel so far away.

We need to find a way to break this silence.
We need to find a way to break this silence.
We need to find a way to break this silence
That's between us,
So I scream your name,
I scream your name,
I scream your name,
I scream your name!

But every time that I touch you,
You feel so far away.
And every time that you need me,
I feel so far away.
And every time that you reach out,
You feel me pull away.
And every time that I touch you,
I touch you,
I touch you,
You feel so far away....

When my voice trailed off and the song came to an end, I opened my eyes again and felt tears streaming down my face. Now I knew why I couldn't get that song out of my head -- it was because I knew exactly how it felt! All I wanted to do was make Jessie happy, but she'd been distancing herself from me...and when she'd reached out to me, I'd pulled away from her. (I swear, the music tells the story of our lives sometimes!)

Now more than ever, I knew that finding Jessie again was the right thing to do. Breaking down the walls...breaking the silence was the only way for us to overcome whatever it was that was upsetting Jessie so much. She had to face her troubles head-on if she wanted to be happy again, and I needed to be there for her when she did. Even if there was nothing I could do, Jessie needed to know that she could still count on me. Just like practically everything else in our lives, this was something we had to do together.

As I thought about finding Jessie, I felt my hope renewing. I knew that everything would be okay once we were together again, and for the first time that night, I smiled a genuine smile.

While I was brushing my tears away, I heard footsteps approaching the camp. "Is that you, Meowth?" I asked.

"Nice song," a voice replied. "Do you know the new one from N'Sync, by any chance?"

I looked up and saw Misty emerging from the forest. Before I could ask what she was doing at our camp, however, she smiled and seated herself next to me.

I honestly didn't know what to make of the kid. At this time yesterday, she'd been screaming insults at me and Meowth and didn't want us anywhere near her. Now she was following us. What was going on?!

All I did know was that I was still angry with her. Really angry. Meowth and I had done our best to be polite to her -- I'd even called her a peach for grudgingly sharing a bite of her sandwich with us, and all she'd done in return was call us names and hog all the sleeping space! I couldn't think of any possible reason why she'd want to come back unless it was to make fun of us and boss us around again...but tonight, I wasn't feeling so gracious. I wasn't going to let her get away with it.

"Two things you should know about me, kid," I said curtly. "One, I don't do requests. And two, I sure as hell don't sing any of that N'Stink boy-band crap!"

Misty frowned. "Well you don't have to be so rude!"

"Oh, like you're such a shining example of politeness," I snorted.

"What's that supposed to mean?!" she demanded.

"You know damn well what that means...unless you're as stupid as that twerp you're always tagging along with," I replied. Then, muttering under my breath, "Ah, what am I saying? You probably are...."

"What's your problem anyway?!" Misty snapped. "I was trying to be nice!"

I raised an eyebrow as I turned to face her. The brat had no self-awareness, whatsoever! "Nice?! You call the way you were acting nice?! I think you need a dictionary, kiddo!"

"Yeah, twerp! You wouldn't know nice if it walked up and bit ya on the ass!" I looked and saw Meowth standing behind us. His reed basket was filled with mushrooms.

"M-Meowth?" she stammered.


My search for dinner had been a fruitful, if uneventful, one. Thankfully, I managed to find plenty of mushrooms and no Ursarings, but not even that bit of good fortune was enough to cheer me up. All I could think about was Jessie and how much I missed her. Normally, either she or James would help me forage for food and firewood while the other made camp -- I was lonely without somebody to talk to.

Once my basket was filled to the brim with fresh mushrooms, I seated myself on a rock and looked up at the moon, peeking through the canopy of trees overhead. Jessie's somewhere under dat moon, I said to myself. And she prolly misses us as much as we miss her! James was right -- we made a mistake leavin' her behind!

I felt tears stinging my eyes as I thought about my two friends. Jessie and James are only eighteen, but they've seen enough sorrows and hardships to fill an entire lifetime! I know how rough it can be sometimes -- I've been down that road myself, you know. I'm surprised it hasn't broken us...that after all we've been through, we still have enough strength to endure. But then, I guess that's why we're so close -- we seem to give each other strength. When one of us falters, the other two are always there to lean on. When two of us are mired in depression, there's always one who can look at the bright side and cheer us up again. That's what makes us a team...a family.

But we weren't a team now. One of us had faltered, and we hadn't done anything to help her up again -- we just left her. James had definitely been right -- Jessie may have hurt us with what she'd said, but we'd hurt her even more with what we'd done.

"What the hell are we doin'?!" I asked as I got to my feet once again. "Why are we havin' such a big fight over somethin' so unimportant?! Poor Jessie prolly thinks me and James don't love her anymore...and poor James is so lonely without her! I can't let it go on like dis -- it's stupid!"

That was when I made a decision.

"Once we eat dinner, I'm gonna tell James dat we should go back for Jess!" I said. "He don't wanna spend another night without her any more den I do...and we need ta find out what was buggin' her!"

With that, I started heading back to camp so that James and I could pack up again and go look for Jessie. The sooner we found her and set things right, the better!

But nothing could have prepared me for what happened next....


When I was returning to camp, I heard James's voice. I couldn't make out what he was saying, but he sounded really stern, like he was angry about something.

What the?! Who could James be talkin' to?! I wondered.

As if in reply to my question, I then heard a high-pitched voice that sounded every bit as angry.

Oh, no. Dat better not be who I think it is....

My fears were confirmed when I approached the campsite and saw Misty. James was sitting by the fire and scowling, and she was sitting next to him, scowling right back. They were obviously arguing about something, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why Misty was even here! Hadn't she had enough of us yesterday?!

As I watched the two of them, James turned away and grumbled something under his breath. This only seemed to make Misty even angrier than she already was.

"What's your problem anyway?!" she snapped. "I was trying to be nice!"

James gave her a quizzical look. "Nice?! You call the way you were acting nice?! I think you need a dictionary, kiddo!"

Well, I had no idea what this was about, but I did know that Misty didn't have any business being here. All she was doing was making James even more upset than he already was, and she had no right to do that, no matter how much she may hate us!

"Yeah, twerp! You wouldn't know nice if it walked up and bit ya on the ass!" I said, unable to resist the urge to add my two cents to the argument.

James and Misty turned and looked at me when they heard my voice. James seemed relieved that I was back, but Misty just seemed nervous.

"M-Meowth?" she stammered.

My animal instincts could sense that she really had been taken off-guard by my if I'd caught her red-handed at something (which I had). It was time this little brat got what was coming to her....

I frowned and shoved the basket of mushrooms into James's hands. Then, I turned to Misty once again. "You got a lotta nerve showin' yer face around here after what ya did ta us!" I sneered, unsheating my claws and waving them menacingly in her face.


"SHUT UP!!!" I shouted. "Just shut the hell up, you goddamned bitch!"

Misty gasped.

"Whatsa matter, kid?" I asked sarcastically. "You can dish out the insults, but ya can't take 'em? It's okay for you ta beat us up and talk shit about us, but it ain't okay for us ta get upset about dat?!"


"Well I got news for ya!" I interjected. "We're people, too! We got feelins, hopes, dreams...and I am sick and tired of you and yer stupid friends not understandin' dat! I'm so goddamned sick and tired of you assholes thinkin' yer better den us and dat we don't matter...just cuz YOU don't hafta work a sucky job ta keep yerselves alive! Did ya ever once stop and think dat maybe we don't like what we're doin'...dat we only do it cuz we don't have a choice?! Did it ever occur ta you dat the way ya treat us really hurts?!"

Misty said nothing, just stared at me as if I were insane.

"What?! Is it really dat surprisin'?!" I asked. "Are ya really so shocked ta find out dat we're human?!"

She turned away from me.

"Oh, no you don't!" I snapped, jumping in front of her. "Yer the one dat started dis fight -- you can't ignore me now!"

Misty frowned. "I didn't come here for this...."

"Den you shouldn't a come here at all," I retorted.

"Why don't you just shut your big meowth and let me explain?!" she shouted.

"Cuz dere's nothin' TO explain!" I shot back. "Yer always pickin' on us and hurtin' our feelins, and now ya just wanna rub it in dat yer better den us! Yer a bitch, Misty! A BITCH!!!" She tried to speak again, but I cut her off before she could get a word in edgewise. "So why don't ya just piss off?! We already had more den enough of you and yer shitty attitude yesterday!"

Misty staggered backwards, her mouth hanging open and her eyes wide with shock. In this battle of words, it was obvious which one of us had emerged victorious.

Looks like I can beat those twerps at something, after all!


While Meowth was busy ranting at Misty, I washed off the mushrooms and sliced them into the soup. I didn't really want to get involved in the argument -- Meowth was pretty much saying everything that I was thinking (and he was much more blunt about it than I would've been), so there wasn't really a need for me to join in. Besides, somebody had to finish getting dinner ready.

As I sat there and listened to Meowth, I formed a mental image of him singing Kyle's Mom is a Bitch...only replacing "Kyle's mom" with "Misty." I'm surprised that he didn't do it for real -- it would've been perfect! Still, hearing him cuss that kid out and seeing her reel with shock at the fact that we were actually standing up to her was pretty damned funny.

Heh. Dinner and a show! Maybe this day isn't a total wash, after all! I mused.

Then, Meowth delivered the final blow. "....So why don't ya just piss off?! We already had more den enough of you and yer shitty attitude yesterday!" he shouted.

Yeah! You tell her, Meowth! I silently cheered.

When Meowth was finished, he breathed on his claws and buffed them on his chest. Then, he leaned back and admired them, a smug grin spreading across his mouth. "Heh, heh, heh...."

Misty slowly turned to face me. Her mouth was agape, and her eyes looked like they were ready to pop out of her head!

I couldn't believe it -- the brat thought I was going to defend her! She actually thought I was going to take her side over Meowth's! Boy, did she have another thing coming....

"What the hell are you looking at me for?" I asked. "Meowth just took the words right out of my mouth! You want an encore, or something?"

Her jaw dropped even further when I said this.

"Hah! Good one, Jimbo!" Meowth snickered.

"You weren't so bad yourself!" I replied as the two of us, high-fived.

Misty folded her arms across her chest and scowled. "Hmmmph! Stupid Team Rocket...."

"Oh, I can't believe this," I said when I saw her reaction. "After all the shit you've put us through, don't you DARE act indignant! You have no right!"

She gritted her teeth and screwed up her face. "How dare YOU?!" she shouted, kicking a clump of dirt at me.

Okay, that did it -- I was through being civil. If she still insisted on causing trouble, then she was going to get that encore! Now it was my turn....

Slowly, I brushed the dirt from my jeans and got to my feet. I was several inches taller than Misty, and I probably outweighed her by at least fifty pounds, too. A look of fear crossed her face as she saw how much bigger than her I was and that I was quite capable of beating the living daylights out of her if I so desired. (I was also still holding the chef's knife that I'd been using to slice the mushrooms.)

Keeping my temper in check, I set the knife aside and leaned down so that my face was level with hers. "Sit down, and SHUT UP!" I told her.

Finally understanding that I'd been pushed to my limit and that I wasn't going to take any more crap, Misty did as she was told. She trembled as she looked at me and Meowth, glowering down at her. She was at our mercy, and she knew it.

"I already know what you think of me," I began. "You think I'm stupid. You think I'm ugly. You think I'm an evil, inhuman monster. But you know what? I don't give a good goddamn what you think about me...."

"Then why....?!"

I held up a hand and silenced her. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't I tell you to shut up?"



"Yeah!" Meowth growled, unsheathing his claws again. "Shut up, or we'll mess ya up!"

Misty grabbed Meowth by the scruff of his neck and lifted him over her head. "Get away from me, you mangy flea-bag!" she cried, tossing him across the campsite.

Well that was the final insult!

It's bad enough when those twerps are mean to me, but I hate it even more when they're mean to Jessie, Meowth, and our pokemon. They're my friends, and nothing makes me angrier than seeing my friends get hurt. And as I watched Misty, that brat who was trespassing in our camp and had no right to be here in the first place, hurting and insulting Meowth again, I finally lost my temper.

"Alright, I've had enough of this!" I shouted as I grabbed Misty by the arm and seated her roughly on the ground. "I'm warning you right now, if you EVER touch Meowth or speak to him like that again, I swear, you're going to be walking out of here with a bloody nose!"

Meowth smirked as he returned to my side and rubbed the lump that was forming on his head. He knew that hitting girls goes against my code and that I was only bluffing, but he played along. "Yeah, twerpo! Believe me, you do NOT wanna see James when he gets pissed!"

"Sorry," Misty grumbled.

I balled my hand into a fist and held it up to her face. "Shut it. I don't want to hear another word out of your goddamned mouth. You got that?!"

Misty closed her mouth and nodded.

"Now, as I was saying before I was so RUDELY interrupted," I continued. "I don't really care what you think about me. However, that doesn't mean I'm not pissed about all the things you say about us and all the things you do to us, because I am. I am so boiling mad at you, it's not even funny! So now it's your turn, little missy. You're going to sit there, you're going to keep your hands to yourself and your mouth shut, and you're going to listen while I tell you exactly what I think of you!"

She crossed her arms and snorted again. "My names's not Missy, it's Misty," I heard her grumble under her breath.

"You, Misty, have got to be, without a doubt, one of the most whiny, inconsiderate, petty, spiteful, conceited, vindictive, hypocritical bitches I've ever had the misfortune of meeting!" I told her, ignoring the snotty remark.

Misty looked up at me with an expression of utter shock, as if I'd just slapped her across the face.

"Why are you so surprised?" I asked. "All you've ever done since the day you met us is give us trouble. What did you expect? That I'd like you, or something?!"

She turned away from me.

"I can't count the number of times you and Ash have left us in dire straits. My friends and I have ALWAYS helped you in life-or-death situations! We can set aside our differences and work together with you when it really matters, but when the tables are turned, more often than not, you don't give a shit whether we live or die...."

"That's a lie!" Misty cried, jumping to her feet. "We've saved your slimy lives on more than one occasion...and it was more than you deserved!"

I rolled my eyes. "Now this is exactly what I'm talking about. I didn't say you've never helped us. I'm just saying that the rare occasions when you actually do give us a hand don't make up for all of the times you've hurt us or left us to die. And you're always such wankers about it when you are bothered to help us! You're always passing judgement on us and acting like you did some big, heroic thing, lowering yourselves enough to do something nice for Team Rocket! Jessie, Meowth, and I don't gloat when we do a good turn for you, and we always thank you when you help us, but we never get those same courtesies in return! And by the way...SHUT UP!"

She frowned and seated herself again.

"And I can't stand how full of yourself you are," I continued. "For all the bitching you do about how vain Jessie and I are, you're a million times worse! Always bragging about how cute you are, what a wonderful trainer you are, how nice you are -- you're such a little prima donna, it makes me sick! Because you know something? You're not any of the things you claim to be -- you're mean to your Psyduck, you're a total bitch to your friends...and don't even get me started on how bad you are when it comes to people you DON'T like! That kind of behavior makes you ugly, no matter how cute you think you are!"

Misty hung her head.

"But you know what pisses me off more than all of that combined?" I asked. "It's the way you treat Jessie like shit and act like you're better than she is when you don't even KNOW her!"

"I know enough," she sneered. "She's an evil, heartless witch!"

"No!" I retorted. "You're just taking everything you hate about yourself and projecting it onto Jessie! You don't know anything about her! You don't know a goddamned thing!"

"Dat's right!" Meowth chimed in.

"Take the tournament at last year's Princess Festival, for example," I said. "I bet you think you beat Jessie because you were a better trainer...."

Misty stuck her tongue out at me. "I AM a better trainer! Jessie's never won a pokemon battle against me, and neither have you, for that matter! You're BOTH pathetic losers!"

I folded my arms across my chest and snickered. "You'd like to think that, wouldn't you? You really like to think that you're a better trainer than Jessie and that you won those dolls fair and square. But let me tell you a little story about what REALLY happened on that day."

She raised an eyebrow.

"And by the way, what part of shut up don't you understand? I keep saying it, but you still aren't doing it!"

She frowned again.

"Anyway," I continued. "Think back on that tournament. You were using Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Vulpix, Starmie, and Psyduck, weren't you? A large, well-balanced team. And you made it all the way to the finals, too...."

Misty gave me a haughty look, as if to confirm what I'd just said.

"And now think about Jessie. All she had were Arbok, Weezing, Lickitung, and Meowth. Not only did she have fewer pokemon, but she had way less variety, and for the most part, she only used Arbok and Weezing. But you know what? She made it to the final round, too...and she almost beat you. Now I ask you, who's the better trainer? The one who makes it to the final round with a balanced team, or the one who makes it just as far with only two poison-types? And how, exactly, did your victory in the final round make you a better trainer than Jessie? Psyduck getting a headache and blasting us off didn't have a damn thing to do with your skills as a trainer -- you won that tournament by dumb luck, and you know it."

Misty sighed.

"And what's more, you didn't even deserve to win!" I told her. "I heard you after the tournament -- you only wanted those Princess Dolls so that you could lord it over your sisters and make them jealous! That's a pretty damn spiteful reason to want something, if you ask me...."

"You shut up!" Misty snapped. "You have no idea what it's like to have three big sisters who always gloat about how much prettier and more talented they are than you and always get all the best toys and clothes! I NEEDED to win those dolls to show them that I'm just as good as they are! What would YOU know about it anyway?! You were rich -- you always had everything handed to you on a silver platter...."

"All the money and material possessions in the world don't make up for unloving parents and a life with an abusive fiance. Besides, that part of my life is over -- I walked away from it a long time ago. And I chose never to return to it because I found something better than money -- friendship," I replied. "But this isn't about me -- this is about you, and I don't need to know what it's like to have siblings to know that your reasons for wanting the dolls were petty and selfish.

"You may have been stuck with your sisters' hand-me-downs when you were little, but at least you HAD good clothes and Princess Dolls!" I said. "Why don't you try having nothing?! Why don't you try having to wear rags from a thrift store and having other kids make fun of you and beat you up because you can't afford to dress like they do?! Why don't you try eating snow in the winter because there's nothing else TO eat?! Why don't you try having your only toy stolen from you on Christmas?! Try living like that for awhile and see how well you like it! See how well you like watching your mother accept a dangerous job because it's the only way she can possibly support her daughter, and all it does is send her to an early grave! See how friendly and well-adjusted you are when all you know is abandonment and abuse! Bitch about your terrible sisters and your deprived childhood after you've been through THAT!"

Misty's eyes widened. "Y-you mean Jessie....?"

"That's right," I told her. "Jessie wanted those dolls because she never had anything! She wanted to win so that she could finally have something...something that she earned and that nobody could take away from her! She didn't want to hurt anybody -- she wanted those dolls so that she could prove her worthiness to herself. You just wanted them to make your sisters jealous. Now who do you think deserved them more?"

"I...I had no idea," she whispered.

"You're damn right you had no idea!" I snapped. "You don't know what Jessie has been through, so you have no right to judge her and condemn her the way you always do! She has been through more shit than any normal person can be expected to deal with! True, she has a temper, and there's times when she lashes out at the people she cares for, but who can blame her? Sometimes she hurts inside, but in spite of it all, she is still the sweetest, most gentle and loving woman I've ever met! You have no idea what Jessie is really like -- you just see the Team Rocket uniform she wears and assume she's evil!"

Misty bit her lip and turned away from me.

"Jessie is ten times the trainer you are. She's ten times the person you are. And she is infinitely more beautiful than you are...on the inside AND the outside!"

She began to fidget when I said this. I knew I was really getting to her now, so I pressed the issue.

"You know, I bet that's why you were such a bitch when Jessie got her hair cut off by that Scyther," I remarked. "Because for all the comments you made about how ugly she was, she still looked better than you! Even then you couldn't hold a candle to her, and you just couldn't stand it, could you? So you just dealt with it the only way you know how -- by being insensitive!"

Misty's face contorted in anger. Oh, yeah! I'd definitely hit a sore spot with her on that one -- I was on a roll! Still, no matter how good it felt to get all of the anger I was feeling towards her out of my system, I knew that I had more important things to do...namely, finding Jessie again and working things out with her. So, I decided to drop one last bombshell on the brat and finish the job.

"And you know what? Even when you think you're being nice, you're STILL a total bitch!" I said.

"What the?! What's that supposed to mean?!" she cried.

"Does the day we were out searching for Salvea Weed ring a bell?" I queried.

"But I WAS being nice!" she insisted. "I shared my Salvea Weed with you! I helped you get the cure for Jessie, and if I recall correctly, you were the ones who turned on me!"

"Oh?" I asked. "That's funny because the way I remember it, you beat me and Meowth up and made fun of us for trying to catch a wild pokemon! Since when is trying to help a sick friend a crime? Since when is it wrong to catch wild pokemon? Or is it only okay for you and your friends to catch pokemon? Seems pretty damned hypocritical if you ask me."

"But Poliwag was afraid of you!" she said. "I had to protect him!"

"And what made you think that?" I retorted. "Is it because Meowth and I are Team Rocket? What did you do? Just look at us and assume we were up to no good?"

"Well...yes, but I helped you when you said you just wanted some Salvea Weed for Jessie."

"True," I admitted. "But the point is, you still automatically condemned me and Meowth before you even bothered to find out what we were doing and why we were doing it. If you'd just left us alone, we wouldn't have hassled you at all -- I would've gotten Poliwag to find some Salvea Weed, and we'd have been on our way...and Jessie might not have gotten hurt...."

Misty gave me a quizzical look. "Got hurt? What do you mean?"

I frowned. "The Vileplume that poisoned Jessie wasn't there by chance -- it belonged to Jessiebelle. She was following us."

Misty covered her mouth with her hand.

"She wanted to poison me, but she got Jessie instead," I continued. "And while Meowth and I were out messing around with you, Jessiebelle attacked her...tried to get rid of her and take her place so she could capture me. Jessie fought back...and won, but it was a close match since she was so sick, and she got cut up really badly when Jessiebelle whipped her. If I'd been there, I could've protected her, and we could've fought that bitch together. But because of you, I wasn't there, and Jessie paid the price for it. She got hurt because of you...because you had to give me and Meowth a hard time."


"You know, I bet you didn't even check your goddamned e-mail!" I told her. "As pissed as I was at you, I still wrote a nice letter, thanking you for sharing your Salvea Weed with us. I even made Jessie apologize for attacking you after we cured her! I did my best to be courteous, but after that you started acting even meaner! I didn't think it was possible, but you did! Seems like the nicer we try to be, the shittier you treat us!"

She looked up at me again.

"And that, Misty, is what I think of you," I concluded. "You're a rude, thoughtless, selfish person, and you make me sick. I HATE you!"

When I finished my rant, I turned away from Misty and breathed a sigh of relief. Damn, that was cathartic! I said to myself. She probably doesn't care what I think of her any more than I care what she thinks of me, but no matter. It sure did me a world of good to get that out of my system....

"Hot damn! You rock, Jimmy!" Meowth exclaimed. "I didn't know ya had it in ya!"

I smirked at him. "I guess you're finally starting to rub off on me."

Meowth put his paws together and bowed. "You have learned much, Grasshopper. Me-owth is proud."

I returned the bow. "Thank you, o Master of Sarcasm. You have taught me well."

The two of us laughed and high-fived again.

"Say, is dat soup ready yet?" Meowth asked, changing the subject. "I'm STARVIN'!"

Before I could reply and let him know that I wanted to find Jessie after we ate, however, I heard the sound of crying. Turning around, I saw that Misty had her face buried in her hands and that she was sobbing uncontrollably.

I tell you, even though she'd had it coming, I started to feel guilty for yelling at Misty when I saw her crying like that. I just don't enjoy hurting people, even when I don't like them.

"Oh, please," Meowth grumbled when he saw the pained expression on my face. "Don't tell me ya actually feel bad about what ya said -- it was just the truth!"

"I know, but...."

"No buts, James!" he hissed into my ear. "Misty deserved ta be brought down a few notches! Don't let her lay a guilt trip on ya!"

"Look, just lay off okay?" I whispered. "I think we really hurt her feelings."


"At least let me talk to her, Meowth. I'm not as good at this as you are."

He rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Just don't wuss out on me."

"I won't," I promised. "But there's a difference between being a wuss and being nice." I smirked and patted him on the head. "This is a lesson you have yet to master, Grasshopper."

"Yeah, but sometimes yer just TOO nice, James," Meowth sighed.

Ignoring the cat, I seated myself next to Misty and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Oh, come on, kid. Turn off the water-works. Please?"

Misty slapped my hand away and continued to cry.

Undaunted, I brought a handkerchief from my pocket and handed it to her. "Here you go," I said softly.

She grabbed the handkerchief from me and blew her nose in it. Then she looked up at me and sniffled.

"Jeez. Why are you so upset anyway?" I asked. "I'm just stupid, ugly, evil James from Team Rocket. Since when do you care what I think?"

Misty turned away from me and began to cry once more.

"Look, I'm not sorry for what I said," I told her. "But I am sorry for being so tactless about it."

She gave no reply, just sniffled again.

"What are you doing here anyway?" I asked, changing the subject. "Didn't you get enough of us pea-brains yesterday and this morning?"

Misty looked back at me. Tears were streaming down her face, and her eyes were red and puffy. "I came to apologize, you big jerk!" she shouted after a long pause. "I know I was really mean to you guys yesterday, and I felt awful about that! Plus, I was worried about you because you got blasted back into Ursaring territory, and I wanted to see if you were okay! If I knew you were gonna go ballistic on me, I wouldn't have wasted my time!"

I stared at Misty in disbelief as her voice trailed off, and her crying began anew. She'd never apologized to us once in her entire life, and she'd never been worried about us before either. I found it really hard to believe that she'd had a sudden change of heart. As she continued to cry, however, I realized that she wasn't kidding -- she really had been concerned about us. She wouldn't have been so crushed by what we'd said if she were being insincere.

"Y-you really mean that, don't you?" I whispered.

"Yes, I mean it!" she sobbed.

"Why?" I asked. "I thought you hated us. What makes things different now?"

"I...I don't hate you," she muttered.

"You don't?"

She shook her head.

"Well, dat's news ta us," Meowth remarked.

Misty sighed. "I actually stopped hating you a long time ago, James," she told me.

"Could've fooled me," I said.

She frowned and brushed away more tears. "Well, I did hate you at first. Because like you said, all I saw was the Team Rocket uniform. But then...I think it was that day we got to meet your family. I still hated you at that point...didn't think there was anything more to you than Team Rocket...and then I thought you were just some spoiled little rich kid on top of that! But then I saw the way your parents treated you and that horrible girl they wanted you to marry. I think that was the day I finally started to understand that you were a person, too and that you had reasons for making the choices you did."

I nodded. "People don't just wake up one morning and decide they want to be evil. I do have my reasons for choosing this life...and I don't consider my reasons to be evil ones."

"I know," she whispered. "Because when you had to choose between your inheritance and your teammates, you chose your chose friendship over money. When I found out about that, something happened to me. Brock said he really respected you for making the decision that you did...that it spoke volumes for your integrity and where your priorities are. That's what made me realize that not only are you a person, but that you aren't a bad person. That was when I stopped hating you."

I couldn't help but smile.

"And you didn't have to remind me of the Princess Festival," she said. "I know who the real winner was...."


She looked up at me. "After I shipped the dolls to the Cerulean Gym to spite my sisters -- I'll admit it, you were right about that -- I saw you and Meowth and your pokemon dressing yourselves up like a Princess Doll set. I thought it might be part of some scheme to crash the festival and steal everybody's pokemon, so I followed you to see what you were up to. But then I saw Jessie crying because she'd lost, and that you'd just dressed yourselves up so that you could make her happy again."

I felt my cheeks turning pink as I remembered how Jess had called us a bunch of living dolls, and my smile grew even wider than it already was.

"That had to be one of the sweetest things I'd ever seen," Misty continued. "You guys all looked so happy, and it got me to thinking. Ash and Brock wouldn't have done anything like that for me if I'd lost...and it really looked like what you did for Jessie meant more to her than the Princess Dolls would have...."

"It did," I said. "Jessie told me that she got the best prize of all on that day."

"She also got the best prince of all!" Misty giggled. "She wouldn't have wanted her picture taken with Fiorello Cappuccino...because she already had you!"

A drop of sweat rolled down the side of my now burning face. Does...does she know about me and Jessie?!

Misty frowned. "I actually felt pretty bad after the tournament," she confessed. "Seeing you guys together made me realize how hollow my victory was. I guess...I guess it made me resent Jessie because even when I beat her, she still won...she still got a better prize than I did.

"You were right about why I treat Jessie the way I do," she sighed. "I've...I've always been jealous of her. I mean, look at her! She's tall, people don't call her scrawny, her eyes are a nicer shade of blue than mine, her hair is so long, and it's a nicer shade of red...she's so much prettier than I am, and she knows it! I guess it reminds me of my sisters when I see her -- they always throw it in my face that they're more beautiful than me...."

"Well that's your sisters, not Jessie," I replied, placing my hand on her shoulder again. "You mustn't compare her to them or project them onto her. Yes, Jessie is a beautiful woman, but she's not as vain as you think she is. That's just an act she puts on -- the Jessie I know is actually quite humble."

Her eyes widened. "She is?"

"Yes. The real Jessie is nothing like the Jessie that always fights you and your friends. She may be a little rough around the edges, but she's a wonderful person once you get to know her."

"I think I misjudged her, then."

"I know you did."

"You know," she said, "I think another reason I was so jealous of her is because of you...."

I raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

Misty smiled at me and scooted closer.

Uh, oh. I could see where this was leading.

"Well," she began, "after I stopped hating you, I started...liking you. I mean, really liking you...." Her face turned pink when she said this.

I could feel another sweatdrop forming on my temple.

Misty covered her face with her hands for a moment before looking back at me. "It was that day we were looking for Salvea Weed that I finally realized it," she said. "That was the first time I ever looked into your eyes. I finally noticed what pretty green eyes you have...and then I saw the rest of you for the first time -- I mean really saw you -- and I couldn't help but notice how dreamy you are. And the fact that you were out doing something to help your friend just reminded me of what a nice guy you are, too...."

Oh, no, I said to myself. The kid has a crush on me. No wonder she's always insulting me -- she knows I don't feel the same way about her!

"Heh. I'd love ta see how ya get outta dis one, James," I heard Meowth mutter.

"....That's why I always give you such a hard time and tease you so much," she sighed. "It makes you pay attention to me, and I really like that...." With that, she reached down and took my hand in her own. "And that's why I came to apologize tonight. I know that I crossed the line with how badly I treated you yesterday, because you really are nice, and you deserved better...." Her face turned even redder than it already was.

Oh, boy. Talk about an awkward situation! I thought. I'd love to see how I get out of this one too, Meowth....

Suddenly, Meowth jumped onto my shoulder and began to laugh like a maniac. "HA, HA, HA!!! I KNEW IT!!!" he shouted. "I KNEW YA HAD THE HOTS FOR HIM!!!!!"

Misty gasped and covered her face again.

"Cut it out, Meowth!" I said, pushing him off of me.

Undaunted, the cat stood proudly in front of Misty and grinned at me. "I saw her yesterday when she was followin' us! She was SO checkin' you out, Jimmy! She was makin' dese goo-goo eyes at ya, and she had dis big, dopey smile on her face. I thought it was kinda weird at the time, but now it all makes sense! She's got a crush on...."

"STOP IT!!!!!" Misty screamed, clapping her hand over his mouth. Her face was redder than ever now.

I raised an eyebrow. "Is this true?" I asked. (Like I didn't know -- I just wanted to hear her say it aloud.)

Misty squirmed.

"Mmmmph-imp-ufff!!!" Meowth exclaimed.

"That's enough out of you, you little hooligan," I said, picking him up and putting him in a headlock. Meowth made a face at me. I made one right back and gave him a noogie. Then, I turned my attention back to Misty. "Well, is it?" I asked again.

She still gave no reply.

"Look," I said. "Meowth is a lot of things, but he's not a liar. He may joke around, but this cat always tells it like it is. So tell me the truth, kid."

Misty hung her head. After a long pause, she looked at me again, and her lip quivered. "Y-yes, it's true. I...I have...a crush on you," she muttered. "There. I said it. I've got a crush on you, James. Go ahead...laugh at me. I know you want to...."

"I'm not going to laugh at you. I'm quite flattered, actually," I told her. "But I'm not going to jerk you around or play games either, so let me just say this right now -- I don't like you like that. I never have...and I never will."

She hung her head again and sighed. "I know you don't. That's another reason I'm always saying mean things to you -- I keep thinking that if I tell myself enough times that you're ugly, and stupid, and evil, that maybe I'll start to believe it, and I won't feel like I'm missing out on anything."

"I figured as much," I replied.

Misty shook her head as more tears welled up in her eyes. "I know I'm too young for you...that I'm not your type...."

"Right on both counts," I told her. "But more important than that -- I'm already in love with somebody."

"I know that, too," she muttered. "You're in love with Jessie, aren't you?"

I couldn't believe it! She'd actually figured it out! Jessie and I had never admitted our feelings for each other in the twerps' presence! Hell! Sometimes we even said and did stuff to try and convince them that we weren't a couple! (I still remember that time Jess told Ash and Misty that getting involved with the opposite sex always leads to trouble, and I'd added that it was the kind of trouble I liked to stay out of. I thought we'd thrown them for sure with that one! Meowth hadn't even blown our cover when he made that remark that we didn't need the opposite sex because we had each other -- he'd as good as told them that Jessie and I are lovers, and they still didn't get it!)

"Aren't you?" Misty asked again.

I could tell from the look she was giving me that she was going to keep pressing the issue until I answered her. I hated how the tables had turned so suddenly on me, so I decided to get it over with and tell her the truth.

Before I could say anything, however, Meowth covered my mouth with his paw. "My client has no comment at dis time," he said.

I pried the cat off my face and held him at arms' length. "Knock it off, Meowth!"

Misty giggled.

I took a deep breath. After a long, uncomfortable pause, I finally replied. "Yes. I'm in love with Jessie...and she's in love with me. We're a couple."

She gave me a sad smile. "I knew it."

"How did you find out anyway?" I asked. "We never said anything...."

"Maybe not in words," she told me. "But your actions gave it away. You're always touching, and hugging, and holding hands, and looking at each other with those goo-goo eyes. And then, you know, the whole choosing Jessie over your inheritance, the Princess Dolls, knocking yourself out to help her when she was sick, sticking up for her just now, and everything. I mean, it's the kind of stuff a guy only does when he's in love."

I blushed.

"I guess I was kind of hoping it wasn't true, know," she said. "That's why I'm really jealous of Jessie -- she's got this smart, sweet, charming guy in her life, and I don't have anybody...."

"How old are you, Misty? Thirteen?"

She nodded.

"Then why are you even thinking about love and relationships?" I queried. "You're still a kid. Right now, you need more time to be a kid. Love will come later...when you're older. Jessie and I have known each other for eight years now, but we were just friends for seven before we became romantically involved. Well, actually, we'd been in love with each other for years, but we didn't realize it until we were seventeen."


"Really. You have to give these kinds of things time, Misty. True love doesn't just happen -- I believe you really have to know have to like them, and then love will grow. You'll find somebody like that may even know him already. It's just not me, that's all."

Misty smiled weakly. "I know...but I still think you're a great guy, and I really am sorry for the way I treated you."

"You're forgiven," I said. "And I'm sorry for yelling at you. It's just been a rotten few days, and I've been really upset about a lot of stuff. I didn't mean to be so harsh with you, but you really do have to try and be more considerate of other peoples' feelings."

Her smile grew even wider as she leaned forward and put her arms around me. After a moment of awkwardness, I returned her embrace.

"James?" Misty said after a moment.


"I know you don't like me...that way, but do you think we can at least be friends?"

I pulled away and smiled at her. "Yeah. I'd like that. Good things always happen when we all work together."

She extended her hand. "So, no more temporary truces? This time, it's permanent?"

"Sounds good to me," I replied as I shook her hand.

Once we'd finished shaking, Meowth offered Misty his paw as well. "Hey, sorry for cussin' ya out, kiddo," he said.

"And I'm sorry for throwing you," she replied.

"Apology accepted."


I smiled again as I watched Misty shaking hands with Meowth. It felt good to finally bury the hatchet with one of those kids. I'll admit, I really don't hate them all that much -- I actually like cooperating with them. I just wish we could all cooperate more often...that we could all be friends. Who knows? Maybe someday we will. Stranger things have happened, after all....

"Say, where's Jessie, anyway?" Misty asked. "I haven't seen her, and I really want to talk to her...."

When she said this, I felt my spirits sinking again. I still needed to find Jessie, and I'd already wasted too much time here!

"What's the matter?"

"Jessie isn't here," I told her. "She...."

Misty gasped. "Were you attacked by Ursarings again? Did she get lost, or something?"

"Not exactly," said Meowth.

"Jessie and I...had a fight," I sighed.

"A fight?! About what?!"

"Now that I think about it, I really don't know," I admitted as I got to my feet and began to gather my belongings. "Something happened to her when she got separated from us yesterday...something that really upset her...."

"Maybe she missed you," Misty offered.

Meowth hung his head and sighed. "She sure didn't act like it -- after youse guys blasted us off, she said her life is terrible cuz of us...and...we told her dat our lives were terrible cuz of her. Den James told Jessie dat if we was makin' her so miserable, she needed ta go and make herself happy...stop lettin' us hold her back. We...we left her...."

Misty frowned. "Oh, no."

"Neither one of us meant what we said though," I told her. "Jessie apologized to us, but Meowth and I were just so upset about everything that we didn't even want to hear it."

"I can't help but feel partially responsible," Misty said, hanging her head again. "You were upset because of the way I treated you. If I'd been nicer, this might not have happened...."

Once I'd put all of my clothes into my backpack again and rolled up the sleeping bags, I brought out a thermos and filled it with the mushroom soup I'd just made. "No, this is all my fault," I replied. "Jessie needed me, and I turned my back on her. No matter how angry I was with you, I had no right to take it out on her the way I did. I made a terrible mistake tonight, and I need to make it right."

"Is dat why yer packin' up again?" Meowth asked.

I nodded. "Yes. We're going to go back and find Jessie. I just hope we're not too late...."

Meowth grinned at me. "Ya know, I was gonna suggest the exact same thing -- I guess great minds think alike!"

I smiled at him. "Guess so!"

Misty gave me a knowing look. "I don't care what you said yesterday -- you really were worried about Jessie...and you're worried about her now, too."

"Can't hide anything from you tonight, can I?" I sighed.


"Jessie is a strong woman, and she can take care of herself," I said. "But yes, I still worry about her. I want to protect her knight in shining armor, you know? It's just that it's not always easy to do that with a woman like her. It's harder to be a hero to an Amazon than to a damsel in distress." I could feel tears welling up in my eyes, but I quickly brushed them away. "But then, that's what makes Jessie so precious to me. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy."

"Dat's right!" Meowth exclaimed. "Ya know ya got somethin' special when a tough girl like Jess opens her heart and falls in love!"

"And that's precisely why we have to go back for her, Meowth!" I told him. "I don't care what she said earlier...and I don't care how long it takes to find her -- Jessie is worth it!"

Misty became starry-eyed as she listened to us. "Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked.

Meowth chuckled as he put away his sleeping bag and extinguished the campfire. "I still can't believe you actually wanna help us."

Misty closed her eyes and smiled. "I guess I'm just a romantic at heart. It's a beautiful thing when two people are in love, and nothing should stand in their way." She opened her eyes again and looked up at me. "And Team mean, you and Jessie are no exception."

I returned Misty's smile. "I'm glad you finally understand," I told her. "And I appreciate that you want to help us, but I don't think there's really anything you can do. This is between me and Jessie."

"And Me-owth!" the cat added.

"Yeah," I said. "We need to sort this out on our own. Thanks for offering, though."

"Good point," she admitted. "Jessie is probably still upset. I don't think seeing me would do anything to make her feel better. I should get back to camp anyway -- Ash and Brock are going to wonder what happened to me if they wake up and see that I'm gone again."

Meowth and I nodded.

"I know. Why don't we walk you back to camp?" I suggested. "We'd appreciate the company."

"Sounds good," she said.

"Where is yer camp, anyway?" Meowth asked.

"There's another bridge a few miles up the trail that we took -- one that the Ursarings didn't destroy," came her reply. "Ash, Brock, and I made camp just a couple of miles past that bridge. We wanted to get as far away from Ursaring territory as we could before dark."

"I don't blame ya," said Meowth. "Dose sons a bitches are vicious!"

Misty shuddered. "Tell me about it."

"Never mind that," I said, shouldering my backpack and heading back to the trail. "Let's just go -- we don't have any more time to waste!"

"Right!" Meowth and Misty said in unison as they followed me.


I tried as hard as I could to fall asleep, but sleep just wouldn't come. My mind was too troubled. Instead, I kept tossing and turning in that big, empty bed, wishing that James were there next to me.

James. As I laid in bed and thought about the man I love, I realized just how selfishly I'd been acting these past couple of days. I'd been acting like I was the only person in the world who knew what it was like to suffer. I always seem to be complaining about my shattered dreams...about everything I've lost, and I lost sight of the fact that James probably hurts on the inside every bit as much as I do. I guess I tend to forget how much pain he's in because he doesn't complain about it like I do -- he just takes it in stride and keeps looking for the best in everything. It's kind of ironic. James always says that I'm the strong one...that I'm the tough one...but I know in my heart that he's a stronger person than I am. He must be, to hurt as much as he does and not let it destroy him.

Poor James. He's been through more shit than any normal person can be expected to deal with. I know he had money and never wanted for food or clothing the way I did, but in a way I had it better. At least I had a mother who loved me. I swear, when I saw James's parents and how little they cared for him, it blew me away! How could parents not love their own son...especially when their son is such a sweet, handsome, intelligent guy like James?! He's the closest thing to perfection there is -- how could he not be good enough for them?! It must have been terrible for him to grow up in a house where nobody loved him...where nobody cared when that psychotic bitch they wanted him to marry locked him in a torture chamber and whipped him senseless! (I tell you, when I saw that Jessiebelle actually had a torture chamber in the basement of their mansion, I was mortified! Not even the most brutal Team Rocket agent is that barbaric!) It's no wonder James ran away from home -- I think I would too if I had to contend with that kind of matter how much money was at stake! And then, the people who really did love him -- his grandparents -- died when he was a little boy. James knows the pain of loss as well as I. Losing his grand-mama and grand-papa at such a young age must have been as devastating as when I found out that my momma was dead. It always hurts when a loved one dies, regardless of whether it was their time or not. Yes, James knows every bit as much about suffering and loss as I do. I was a damned fool to lose sight of that.

And as I laid there and thought about James, I suddenly found myself thinking about Meowth, too. That poor little kitty grew up penniless and starving, just like I did...and he didn't even have a family or a home! And like me, he knows a thing or two about heartbreak. He did so much for the sake of that female, Meowsie -- sacrificing his pokemon abilities to learn how to talk and walk upright, risking his life to save her from the Meowth gang -- and what did he get in return? Nothing. Nothing except rejection. Poor Meowth thought he was a freak because of her! Because of her, he's afraid that he'll be alone forever -- I sometimes hear him at night, strumming his guitar and singing a woeful song, wondering if there's another like him somewhere in this world...or if he's just a solitary freak. That song makes me cry every time I hear it! I guess he'll never really be alone because he has me and James (well...just James now)...but he's talking about other pokemon, I suppose. He must be pretty lonely sometimes, when he thinks that there's nobody else like him. At least James and I had each other. I was a fool to lose sight of that as well.

And then, for some strange reason, I started thinking about my momma, too. Momma worked so hard for my sake. She wanted so much for me, and she was always doing without so that I could have food, clothes, school...and she never once complained either. She wanted me to make my dreams come true. She knew that I wanted to be a doctor, an actress, a trainer...and that she didn't want me to have to live the kind of life that she did. That's why she took that mission...that's why she died -- because she wanted to have enough money for me to make my dreams come true. Sometimes I can't help but wonder how things would have turned out if I hadn't wanted so much...or if she hadn't cared as much. Sometimes I can't help but feel responsible for her death.

I rolled over in bed for about the thousandth time and exhaled in a frustrated sigh. Why do I always do this? I asked myself. Why am I always hurting the people I love? Momma sacrificed her life for my sake, and I let her down...and then I blamed it all on my best friends and let them down when they needed me! What kind of rotten person am I, anyway?!

Unable to bear the musings of my guilty conscience any longer, I jumped out of bed and turned on the stereo. I had to do something...anything to get my mind off of my troubled thoughts. Rooting through my backpack, I eventually found one of my CDs -- the new Stabbing Westward album. Normally, James keeps our CD collection in his backpack, but I'd been listening to this one the other day, and I'd never gotten around to putting it back. And it's a good thing I hadn't -- otherwise, I wouldn't have had anything to listen to!

Putting the CD in the changer, I pressed the "Random Play" button and flopped onto the bed again. Maybe some music will make me feel better, I hoped as the riff of a guitar began to fill the room.

While I was listening to the music, an eerie feeling came over me. The song was Wasted...and it was uncanny how the words seemed to capture everything I'd been through and everything I was feeling! Suddenly, I found myself unable to resist the urge to sing along....

I've spent
My life
Running from the emptiness that haunts me.
And I've spent
My whole life
Trying to fuck the loneliness away.
And I die
When I think of all the people I have damaged.
And I'm tired...
I'm so tired.
And there's no one else except myself to blame.

My life's been wasted.
Everything is gone.
My life's been wasted,
And I am all alone.
My life's been wasted.
There is no one left.
My life's been wasted.
It's time I faced myself.

I've spent
My life
Trapped inside a cycle of self-destruction.
And I've spent
My whole life
Trying to numb the pain inside my soul.
And furious,
I cry
When I realized I fought this war with no one.
I'm tired...
I'm so fucking tired.
Gotta find a way to keep my faith alive.

My life's been wasted.
Everything is gone.
My life's been wasted,
And I am all alone.
My life's been wasted.
There is no one left.
My life's been wasted.
It's time I faced myself.

When I reach the end,
Will anything I've done mean anything?
When I reach the end,
Will anything I've done mean anything?
Will anything I've done mean anything?
Will anything I've done mean anything?

My life's been wasted.
Everything is gone.
My life's been wasted,
And I am all alone.
My life's been wasted.
There is no one left.
My life's been wasted....
My life's been wasted.
Everything is gone.
My life's been wasted,
Now I am all alone.
My life's been wasted.
There's simply no one left.
My life's been wasted,
Now it's time I faced myself.

"Oh, my God!" I whispered as the song came to a close. "!"

Every word of that song was the truth! My life had amounted to nothing -- all I'd ever done was hurt my loved ones...and because of it, I was alone now. My mother was dead, and my two best friends even said that all I did was make them miserable. I'd destroyed the lives of everybody who mattered to me, and they'd all left me. And no matter how hard I tried to succeed, everything I did had a way of just falling apart on me. My life really was a waste!

I can't do this anymore...I just can't go on like this, I said to myself as I got out of bed and began to pace around the room. I can't keep living my life the way I do and having nothing to show for it. I can't keep ruining everybody else's life just because I'm such a screw-up....

At that moment, I found myself passing the mirror that was hanging on the wall. I paused and studied my reflection for a couple of minutes...and I hated what I saw. As I looked into that mirror, I saw a cruel, selfish, pathetic woman who couldn't do anything right looking back at me. I despised myself.

That was when I made a decision.

"Maybe...maybe I should do something right for a change," I muttered. "Maybe they really will stop being miserable if I never come back. Maybe they're better off without me...maybe this whole goddamned world would be better off without me. Who's going to miss a loser like me?"

As I said this, I suddenly found myself thinking about that ravine I'd crossed to get here. The cliffs had been steep, and the river below, cold and deep. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to jump into that river and never do the world a favor by ridding it of me.

And that's precisely what I set out to do....


"So, why did ya really come back?" Meowth asked Misty once we'd broken camp and set out again. "I know what ya said about wantin' ta apologize, but I just find it real hard ta believe dat you'd come all the way back ta the middle of Ursaring territory after dark for somethin' like dat."

"I know it sounds crazy, but it's the truth," she said. "I...I did a lot of thinking after Ash, Brock, and I made camp. I just couldn't stop thinking about you, James." She blushed as she said this. "I thought about the times we've all worked together before, I thought about that nice e-mail you and Jessie sent me after I gave you the Salvea Weed -- yes, I checked my e-mail...and I saved that message, too -- and I thought about how nice you and Meowth were to me when I got stuck with you yesterday. I just did a lot of thinking about what a nice person you are and how unfairly I've been treating you...and then I thought about how you were still lost in Ursaring territory and how much danger you were probably in, and I just couldn't stand it anymore. I had to find you again so that I could let you know how sorry I was -- it was the least you deserved. I know it was a big risk for me to take, but I owed it to you."

I smiled and tousled her hair. "That was nice of you -- I guess you really are a peach."

She giggled and blushed again.

Another awkward silence ensued. Meowth snickered.

", exactly, did you and Jessie become a couple?" Misty asked, changing the subject. "I mean, did it just happen one day? Or did you plan something romantic, and sweep her off her feet? Or...."

I raised an eyebrow as I turned to face her once more. Even though she was our friend now, I still wasn't really comfortable talking about my love-life with her. "I don't believe that's any of your business. Quite frankly, I'm surprised I told you as much as I did!"

"I know," she sighed. "I was just curious, that's all. I'm a sucker for a good love story."

"Even when it's a love story about Team Rocket?"


I smiled again. I guess there's no harm in telling her how we became a couple, I said to myself. It's not like I have to tell her everything, after all.... Then aloud, "I loved Jessie ever since the day I met her at Pokemon Tech all those years ago...and I fell in love with her shortly after that. But like I said before, it wasn't until about a year ago that I was able to tell her...."

Misty returned my smile.

"Do you remember the Pokemon League games last spring?" I asked.

"How can I forget?"

"Do you remember how a couple of days before the games began, we took a set of badges from a guy with a Marowak?"

"Yeah, I remember that," she said. "Didn't Jessie turn around and steal the badges from you?"

I nodded. "Yes, she did. And I was really angry with her about that."

She frowned. "I remember how sad you looked while we were going through your things to find Otoshi's badges. That must've really hurt, what she did to you."

"It did. I missed her so much. I thought she didn't want to be my friend anymore."

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"After we got blasted off, Jessie and I had a big fight," I continued. "She realized that she'd made a mistake, and she was heartbroken about what she'd done to us. Meowth and I gave her the cold shoulder though, and that only made things worse."

"How sad," Misty muttered.

I smiled again. "But once I realized how sorry Jessie was for hurting us and that she really did love me, I realized that it was finally time for me to tell her how I felt. So, the next morning, I made French toast for her and gave her a rose. Jess still felt really bad, and she didn't think she deserved to be forgiven, but we got to talking, and that's when it happened. That was the morning I told Jessie that I was in love with her...that she told me she was in love with me, too...."

Misty became starry-eyed again. "That's so sweet!" she exclaimed. "Did you kiss her?"

"Yeah," I replied. "Yeah, we kissed." I could feel my cheeks turning pink.

"Awwwwwww!!!!!" she cried.

Meowth began to laugh. "Hey, kid, if ya liked dat story, you'll LOVE dis one...."

I blushed even more and felt my face begin to burn. "Meowth!"

Misty covered her mouth with her hand to stifle a fit of laughter.

The cat winked at me. "Don't worry, Jimmy-boy." Then, lowering his voice to a whisper, "I ain't gonna tell her any of the R-rated stuff."

"You'd better not!" I whispered back.

He grinned and turned to face Misty again. "Ya wanna hear about how Me-owth found out dey was in love?"

Misty gave him a suspicious look.

"Don't worry! It's clean!" he promised.

I buried my face in my hands. Oh, Meowth....

"It wasn't til a few weeks later," he began. "Ya remember dat day we stole all dose poke balls from everybody in Pokemon League?"

She nodded.

"Well, we was drivin' away in our van, and Ash jumped right inta the middle of the road!" he said. "James didn't wanna hit him, so he swerved, and our van spun outta control and went over the cliff. James was knocked unconscious durin' the crash, so Jess had ta take the wheel and drive us ta safety."

"Yikes!" she said. "Ash really ran in front of your van?! I swear, he can be so...crazy sometimes!"

Meowth smirked. "Crazy ain't the word I was thinkin' of. But anyway, Jess was really worried about James after dat crash. When she thought she was alone with him, I saw her cryin' and beggin' James ta wake up...and den I saw her kiss him and say she loved him. And den James woke up and said he loved her too, and dey kissed again."

"Just like a fairy tale!" she sighed.

"Yeah!" Meowth agreed. "I always knew dose two belonged tagedda, and findin' out dat dey finally was...dat was one of the best days of Me-owth's life!"

"It's all so romantic!" Misty exclaimed.

I was glad that Misty had enjoyed the stories and thought Jessie and I made a good couple, and as I reflected on everything that had happened between me and Jess, I realized that history was repeating itself. Just like last year's badge incident, Jessie and I had both made mistakes with each other today, but we weren't going to let it ruin everything. Our love for each other was too precious for anything to destroy, and now more than ever, I was confident that everything would be okay once I found her again.

"Hey, look! We're gettin' close!" Meowth exclaimed.

Snapping myself from my reverie, I looked ahead and saw the bridge that Misty had been talking about. Once we crossed the bridge, we'd be out of Ursaring territory. I knew that Jessie had gone this way when she left us. Hopefully, she'd found the bridge as well and crossed it.

As we got closer to the bridge, however, a flash of white light erupted from the depths of the forest and shattered several nearby trees.

"THE URSARINGS ARE BACK!!! RUN FOR IT!!!" Meowth screeched.

As the three of us ran towards the bridge, however, more Ursarings stepped onto the path and cut us off.

"Shit! Dey've got us trapped!" Meowth cursed.

"What are we gonna do?!" Misty cried.

"No way around it now -- we have to fight them!" I replied. God, I hope Jessie didn't have another run-in with these things! Please let her be okay...please....


Once again, I felt like I was in a haze as I wandered through the dark forest. My whole body felt numb from the prospect of what I was about to do, but the pain in my heart was more acute than ever. It was the worst feeling in the world...fortunately, it wasn't going to last much longer.

When I finally did get to the cliff and peered over the edge, however, my resolve began to waver. Holy shit! I forgot how long that drop is...and I'm afraid of heights! Figures I'd pick the worst possible way to off myself -- I can't even do that right!

While I was trying to find my nerve once again, I suddenly heard a noise behind me. But when I turned around, I didn't see anything. Still, I knew that somebody...or something was there -- I could sense it.

Well, now my curiosity was piqued. I had to find out what was going on. "Who's there?" I called into the darkness.

For a moment there was no reply. Then, something jumped out of the bushes and tackled me. I closed my eyes and screamed, thinking that a wild Ursaring was about to rip me to shreds and that I wouldn't have to worry about jumping off of the cliff, after all...but then I heard a familiar voice....


Opening my eyes again, I saw that it was just Wobbuffet. "What the?! What are you doing out of your poke ball?!" I demanded as I got to my feet and shoved him off of me.

"WOBBA!!! WOBBA-WOBBA!!! WOB-BUF-FET!!!" he cried as he began to jump around and tug on my arm, pulling me away from the edge of the cliff.

"Hey! Stop that!" I shouted. "Cut it out, you miserable blue blob!"

But Wobbuffet ignored me -- he just kept tugging my arm and yelling at me. When I looked closer, I saw that he was crying...and it sounded like he was begging me not to jump!

Seeing how upset Wobbuffet was, I suddenly realized what a terrible thing I'd almost done. If I'd gone through with it, I would've been abandoning him and Arbok (and Lickitung and Vulpix, for that matter)! How could I even think about doing that to my pokemon?!

Ekans and Koffing had been rejects -- they often said that James and I were the only two humans who ever cared about them. They'd even evolved into Arbok and Weezing for no other reason than because they loved us -- a friendship evolution! After I captured Lickitung, she said that she'd been abused and abandoned by her old trainer and that she chose to come with me because she saw how happy Arbok looked and knew that I was a good trainer. She even escaped from that kid in Palmpona and fought against all odds to come back to me after she accidentally got traded away! Vulpix came with me because she loved me for saving her from Bonnie and Clyde. And even Wobbuffet had his reasons for being here -- on the night of that accidental trade, after Lickitung had returned, Wobbuffet cried and begged us not to send him back to Palmpona. He'd told us that his old trainer didn't love him (that much was obvious, seeing as how the damn kid was so desperate to trade him away) and thought that he was ugly and useless. Wobbuffet had said that he'd never felt so alive as the moment he first came out of his poke ball and saw that I was his new trainer -- he'd said that he could sense that James and I were different...that we wouldn't throw him away or love him any less if he wasn't the best or the strongest. He'd said that battling for me was the best thing he'd ever done. He loved me...and James because we'd given him a chance. I'll admit, sometimes Wobbuffet's overzealousness tries my patience, but it's also kind of endearing. I love him because he loves me...because he's one of my pokemon.

And now, as I looked at Wobbuffet, I realized that I'd been wrong about a lot of things tonight. I was wrong to think that I've ruined everybody's life -- all of my pokemon loved me because of the love and acceptance I'd given them. I was wrong to think that I've never realized my dream of becoming a pokemon trainer. Granted, I may never be a pokemon master, but that doesn't matter as much as the friendships I've forged with my pokemon. I guess the reason Ash always beats us is because all he cares about is winning -- that kid is so uptight and obsessed with pokemon's like he and his pokemon don't even know how to have fun! James and I may not train our pokemon as hard as he trains his, but I don't think that makes us bad trainers -- we just think having fun with our pokemon and being friends with them is more important than winning. Besides, our pokemon always come through for us when it really matters. The fact that Wobbuffet was here now was a testament to that.

"Okay...okay, Wobbuffet," I said softly, dropping to my knees. "I won't do it...I'm not going anywhere."

Wobbuffet leaned forward and put his arms around me. "Wobb!" he cried, his voice beginning to crack.

"I'm sorry," I whispered as I returned his embrace. "I'm sorry I scared you. I'll never do anything like that again -- I'll never abandon you or Arbok...I won't leave you. I promise."

"Wobb," he said again.

Now that I was thinking more clearly, the gravity of what I'd almost done hit me, and I began to shake. How could I?! I asked myself. How could I even think about wanting to die?! If I died, I really would be letting momma down -- at least if I'm alive, there's still hope that I can make something of myself! And if...if I died...I'd never see James again!

As my thoughts returned to James and the fact that I might never see him again anyway, I found myself consumed by despair once more, and I started to cry.

"Wobba-wobb?" Wobbuffet asked sadly.

I looked up at my pokemon. "What's the matter? James is mad at me, that's what's the matter!" I replied.


"Didn't you see the way I yelled at him and Meowth this morning? We had a fight because of that -- they left me. And I don't blame them for leaving -- I was just awful! I don't deserve them...."

As my voice trailed off and my crying began anew, Wobbuffet reached over and brushed my tears away. "Wobb," he said softly.

"Thanks for trying to cheer me up, Wobbuffet. You're sweet," I muttered. As I reached up and closed my hand over his, however, something caught my attention.

I was wearing a ring on my left ring finger. A ring with an Amberite chip carved into the shape of a heart in the setting and the words Together forever, and that's my oath to you! inscribed on the golden band. It was the promise ring James had made for me last fall! And as I looked at that ring, I remembered something he'd said to me while he was placing it on my finger. James had told me that he wanted me to wear the ring and keep it as a constant reminder that no matter how rough things may get, he'd always love me and still want to ask me to marry him someday. The ring was a promise of his unconditional love, and as I gazed at it and thought about him, I found my spirit rekindled.

I thought about the morning that James and I had finally confessed our feelings to each other. I'd made a terrible mistake then too, but it hadn't mattered to James -- he cared about me too much to stay mad at me for long. He accepted that I wasn't perfect, and he forgave me.

I thought about the night we made love for the first time. After I'd given my consent, I'd been nervous, realizing that I was about to lose my virginity and that once I gave it to James, I could never have it back. But all of my fears were laid to rest when he put himself inside of me. He was as gentle and wonderful with loving as he was with everything else, and as I gave myself to him, I realized that I'd made the right choice. He was the man I'd been saving myself for...the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. It was only natural for us to share our bodies with each other the way we shared our souls! My virginity was a small price to pay for such a wonderful man. And besides, just as I'd given my virginity to James on that night, he'd given me his in return -- that had been the first time for him as well. He'd been saving himself for me!

Then I thought about the night I told James about my ex-boyfriend and how he'd hurt sometimes I was afraid of my feelings...afraid to love because of him. But James hadn't let me down then either. He didn't think that I was weak or foolish because I'd let Antonio hurt me -- he made me realize that I hadn't done anything wrong...and that breaking out of the cycle of abuse had made me stronger. James had also promised that he'd never hurt me the way Antonio had and that he wanted to marry me.

And then I thought about how I'd almost gotten pregnant shortly after that. I'd been worried that James wouldn't be ready for the responsibility of having a baby, but he'd proven me wrong. He promised to do everything he could to be a good dad, he took such good care of me, and he fell in love with the baby we thought we were going to have. It absolutely crushed him when we found out that it was just a false alarm...even more than it had crushed me! But I still remember those few days I thought I was pregnant like they were yesterday. To think that I was carrying his baby inside of me, that I was going to give birth to his child, and what a wonderful father he was going to be...well, it was one of the best feelings in the world! Even when we found out I wasn't pregnant after all, it was comforting to know that it would happen for real someday.

And then I found myself thinking about a weird dream I'd had last summer. In the dream, I lived in a world where I'd never met James. Everything was different in that world...different and frightening. But James's love for me had been so strong that he still remembered me, even though we'd never met. And when the two of us finally found each other, everything went back to normal. Most of that dream had been pretty scary, but it had ended on a positive note, and I remember having a sense of total peace when I awoke from it. It was like...the dream had been telling me that our love for each other transcended space and time and that I'd never have to worry about living a life without James because his love for me was too strong to ever let anything come between us. And the strangest thing of all about that dream was that when I told James about it, he told me that he'd had a dream exactly like it...and that it seemed to be telling him the same thing about me! It's funny how the subconscious mind works.

And as I sat there, staring at that promise ring and thinking about everything James and I had been through together, I finally realized just how foolishly we'd all been acting today. All I'd done was yell at him...and all he'd done was yell at me! We always have our little arguments, but the two of us had been having such a rotten day that we'd been too wrapped up in our own misery to care about each other's feelings. It was a mistake...but it was hardly something serious enough to break us up! James's ring was proof of that -- he wouldn't have made it for me if we didn't have a love that could endure!

For the first time that night, I smiled.


Snapping out of my reverie, I looked back at Wobbuffet. An expression of concern was on his face.

"It's okay," I said, placing my hand atop his head. "Everything is going to be okay -- James still loves me!"


"How do I know? Because of this," I replied, showing him the promise ring. "James made this for me because he wants to spend the rest of his life with me. I wouldn't be wearing it now if he didn't. I guess I didn't notice it sooner because...well, I haven't taken it off since the morning he gave it to me. I always have it on my finger...or a chain around my neck when I'm in disguise. I've just gotten so used to it that sometimes I forget I'm even wearing it. That and...I was so preoccupied with the little things that I lost sight of the big picture."

Wobbuffet smiled. "Wobb!"

"Yes, James is the best. He makes me happy," I told him.

As I said this, I found myself looking up at the stars, thinking about why I'd been so miserable last night and why I wasn't miserable now. I might never be a doctor or an actress, but I don't really care, I said to myself. I'm not a kindergartener anymore -- I've grown up...and so have my dreams! Being with my friends is more important than anything else in the world. I want to be with James! I want to marry him and have children with him! No matter what we do with our lives, I know I'll be happy as long as he's there! And he even said that we won't be thieves forever. That's why we're starving and miserable now -- so we can save up enough money to make a better life for ourselves! It was stupid to be so upset about my old dreams...because I have different dreams now, and all of them are going to come true!

A feeling of peace came over me as I sat there, gazing at the stars and thinking about my future with James. But then I remembered that if I wanted that future with James, I had to go back and find him!

"Come on, Wobbuffet!" I said, getting to my feet. "I've been really stupid today, and I've made a lot of mistakes...but I don't think it's too late to set things right!"

Wobbuffet's smile grew even wider than it already was. "Wob-buf-fet!"

I nodded. "Yes. I'm going back for James. I don't care how long it takes -- I have to find him again! And I have to apologize for the way I treated him! He has to know how much I love him and that he's not standing in the way of my dreams...because he is my dream!"

With that, I started heading back towards the cabin. Just as I was about to break into a run, however, Wobbuffet stepped in front of me and blocked the path.

"Hey! What are you doing?!" I demanded.


"No, I'm not going the wrong way -- I have to go back to get my stuff! At the very least I have to get Arbok! You don't expect me to leave her there, do you?"

Wobbuffet smirked and tossed a poke ball to me. "Wob-buf-fet!"

"You brought her along in case you needed reinforcements?" I said as I caught the poke ball.

He nodded.

I smiled again and patted him on the head. "Well you're just prepared for everything, aren't you?"

"Wobb!" he replied, tossing me another poke ball.

"Okay, then! I guess we don't have to waste time going back to the cabin -- we can go find James now! Thanks, Wobbuffet!" I said as I called him back.


It felt like a great weight had been lifted from my spirit as I started heading back the way I'd come. And as I crossed the bridge and returned to Ursaring territory, my thoughts started drifting to another song on my Stabbing Westward album. It had started playing after Wasted ended, but I'd been so upset at the time, that I hadn't paid it any mind. I was thinking about it now, though. The song was called Angel, and every word of that song seemed to describe James...what he'd done for me...and how I felt about him. When I found him again, I was going to tell him how I felt. I wanted to serenade him with that beautiful song and tell him that he's my angel!

While my mind was lost in thoughts of beautiful angel and how I was going to make up to him, I suddenly heard the sound of roaring and trees being ripped apart. When I looked, I saw that I was being charged by a pack of Ursarings.

Panic seized me, but only for a moment. Normally, I would've run away, but I was through running. I'd be damned if I let these bastards stop me from finding James and Meowth again!

"Oh, no you don't!" I said, holding my ground. "You're not going to scare me away this time!"

The Ursarings roared again and continued to charge.

"You want to fight me?!" I shouted defiantly. "Then come on! Come get some!"

As the Ursarings drew closer, I lobbed my poke balls and released Arbok and Wobbuffet. Arbok put the squeeze on one of them and brought it down with her venom, but there were still four left. I wasn't worried, though -- I had a plan.

"Get ready, Wobbuffet," I said.

He nodded.

When the Ursarings prepared to attack, Arbok and I ducked behind Wobbuffet.

"Counter attack! Now!" I commanded.

Wobbuffet nodded again and began to glow. As the Ursarings unleashed their Hyper Beams at him, they all bounced harmlessly off of his body and went back the way they'd come. Unprepared to have their own attacks sent back on them, the Ursarings weren't able to get out of the way in time, and they were all blasted away.

I didn't have time to relish my victory, though. Before I could thank my pokemon for a job well done, I heard screams coming from another part of the forest. Following the sound, I found myself back at the cliffs and saw James and Meowth. They were surrounded by Ursarings, and Weezing, Victreebel, and Meowth were losing the battle! It looked like Misty's pokemon were there too (though I don't know why they would be), and they weren't doing too well either.

I covered my mouth with my hands and gasped. Oh, no! I bet James and Meowth were coming back to look for me! I said to myself. This is all my fault!

Knowing that I had to stay focused, I quickly regained my composure and turned to face my pokemon. "Go, Arbok! Go, Wobbuffet!" I shouted.

And as I watched them charge into the fray, I silently added, Please be okay, James...Meowth. Please don't let me be too late....


"ARE YOU CRAZY?!" Misty shouted. "We couldn't beat them last time -- what makes you think we stand a chance now?!"

I gritted my teeth and brought out my two poke balls. "We have to try!" I told her. "I have to find Jessie, and I'm not going to let these bastards stop me! I'm not going to lose her! Not tonight...not ever!"

Misty nodded and brought out her own poke balls. Meowth's fur puffed out as he bared his teeth and unsheathed his claws.

The Ursarings in front of us roared. Undaunted, I lobbed my poke balls at them. "Weezing! Victreebel! GO!!!"

Sensing the urgency of the situation, Weezing charged into the fray and hit one of the Ursarings with a Sludge attack without even being commanded to. Even Victreebel decided to forego the love-bite he always gives me and joined Weezing in the battle, lashing at the Ursarings with his vines.

"Go, Me-owth!!!" Meowth shouted as he followed my pokemon.

Misty, meanwhile, turned to the side and threw her own poke balls at the Ursarings that were attacking our flank. "Staryu! Poliwhirl! I choose you!" she shouted. When Psyduck emerged along with them, she clutched her head in her hands and groaned. "Noooo!!! Not you, Psyduck!"

Normally, I would've laughed at Psyduck's overeagerness, but I had more important things to worry about at the moment. "Weezing! Hit them with another Sludge attack! Victreebel! Use your Stun Spores!" I shouted.

As the Ursarings powered up for another Hyper Beam attack, Weezing hit a second one with his Sludge. Victreebel pumped out a cloud of Stun Spores and paralyzed another.

"Meowth! Fury Swipes!" Meowth shouted as he leapt onto a fourth Ursaring's head and began to bite and scratch for all he was worth.

Enraged, the bear began to flail about in an attempt to throw Meowth from his head. And while he was thrashing around, he accidentally hit three more Ursarings with his Hyper Beam and knocked them out.

Confident that our path would soon be clear, I turned to Misty so that I could signal her to get ready to run. As I looked, however, I saw another group of Ursarings coming up from behind -- they were getting ready to attack us, too!

Misty, however, didn't see them -- she was too busy fighting the Ursarings on our flank!

She was going to get blasted to Kingdom Come if I didn't do something!

"Misty, get down!" I shouted, lunging forth and tackling her. "Heads up, Meowth!"

Misty screamed as the two of us hit the ground and went skidding. A Hyper Beam then shot by, missing our heads by mere inches. From the corner of my eye, I saw Meowth, Weezing, and Victreebel duck for cover as the beam slammed into the Ursarings they'd been fighting and sent them flying over the horizon.

Misty looked up at me once the air had cleared. "You saved me, James! Thank you!" she said.

Before I could reply, however, I saw that the Ursarings that had attacked us from behind were now charging us, and so were the ones that Misty had been fighting. Then, to make matters worse, five more Ursarings emerged from the forest and began to charge us, too.

"Thank me later," I told her as I got to my feet again.

"Yeah! We ain't outta dis yet!" Meowth cried.

As the Ursarings drew closer, Weezing and Victreebel met their charge, and so did Staryu and Poliwhirl. Weezing Sludged and Smogged for all he was worth, and Victreebel paralyzed a few more with Stun Spore and cut some down to size with his Razor Leaf and Swords Dance attacks. Meanwhile, Staryu and Poliwhirl took out a few more with their Swift and Double Slap attacks. Psyduck, however, just stood by Misty's side and stared blankly at the meelee.

"Grrr!!! Why don't you get a headache already, you dumb duck?!" Misty shouted. As she prepared to punch him in the head, however, she screamed again and collapsed to the ground.

Turning around, I saw that one of the Ursarings had skirted the battle and snuck up behind us while we were busy commanding our pokemon. His claws were coated with Misty's blood, and he was bringing up his paw again so that he could strike me as well.

Just as the Ursaring was about to attack, however, Meowth lunged at him and latched onto his face. While he was blinded by a face full of Fury Swiping feline, I took advantage of the moment and delivered a roundhouse kick to his abdomen. It probably wasn't enough to do any kind of damage (what can one little human do to hurt a gigantic rampaging bear, after all?), but it was enough to knock him off balance and allow Meowth to get in a few more swipes. Before long, the Ursaring succumbed to the pain of Meowth's razor-sharp claws and fell to the ground with a jarring crash.

Once the Ursaring was down, I knealt next to Misty. She was still alive, but she was unconscious, and she had three large cuts on her shoulder.

"Hey, is she okay?!" Meowth asked.

"She'll be fine...if we survive," I replied.

Meowth shuddered. "Yeah, dat's a pretty big if, James," he said. With that, he pointed to the battle that was still raging between the Ursarings and our pokemon. Weezing, Victreebel, Staryu, and Poliwhirl had taken out several of the bears, but no matter how many they defeated, more kept coming!

"Shit! These things are like Hydra heads -- you destroy one, and two more appear in its place!" I growled.

"We can't do it," Meowth groaned. "We're gettin' too worn down, and dere ain't no end ta dese things!"

"But we have to!" I insisted. "I won't let them stop me from finding Jessie! I won't let it end like this!"

No sooner than I'd said this, a large Arbok appeared behind the Ursarings and fired a barrage of Poison Stings at them.

"A-arbok?" I whispered.

The Ursarings were momentarily stunned by the surprise attack, and the rest of our pokemon took that time to rally and redouble their own attacks. And as the pokemon attacked, they began to drive the Ursarings back. Once Arbok was close enough to the battle, she joined in and bound one of them in her coils. One by one, the Ursarings began to fall, but there were still too many for Arbok and the others to handle.

Above the din of the fighting, I could hear Arbok hiss something to the other pokemon. "What's she saying, Meowth?" I asked.

"Arbok's tellin' 'em ta lead the Ursarings back the way she came and let 'em use dere Hyper Beams," he translated.

I couldn't help but smile. "Let them use their Hyper Beams? That can mean only one thing!"

Meowth returned my smile.

"Wobbuffet!" we said in unison.

Sure enough, as we watched the Ursarings unleash their Hyper Beams once again, Arbok, Weezing, Victreebel, Staryu, and Poliwhirl ducked for cover and revealed Wobbuffet, who was standing calmly among the trees. As the Hyper Beams drew closer, Wobbuffet began to glow.

"Here it comes!" Meowth cried. "Hit the deck!"

As the beams bounced harmlessly off of Wobbuffet and went back towards the Ursarings, I grabbed Meowth and pulled him to the ground with me. I then heard an explosion and saw a flash of white light through my closed eyes. A fraction of a second later, I felt a rush of air above us.

When I opened my eyes again, I saw that the Ursarings had all been blasted away and that Weezing and Victreebel were doing a victory dance with Staryu, Poliwhirl, Psyduck, Arbok, and Wobbuffet. And as the adrenaline rush wore off, I found myself staring at Arbok and Wobbuffet, and the realization of what was going on finally registered with me....

"Jessie!" I cried. "Jessie is here! She's come back!"

Meowth's smile became a grin as his gaze drifted to Arbok and Wobbuffet as well. "Yeah!"

"Meowth! Stay here with Misty!" I said, leaping to my feet.

"But...." he protested.

"She can't be left alone!" I told him. "Besides, I have to talk to Jessie in private!" With that, I took off in the direction that Arbok and Wobbuffet had come from. "JESSIE!!! JESS, WHERE ARE YOU?!" I called as I sprinted into the dark forest.


It felt like my stomach was in my mouth as I watched the battle unfold. Even with Arbok and Wobbuffet, the Ursarings still had us outnumbered. All I could do was hope that strategy would prevail over greater strength and greater numbers...and that James and Meowth would be okay. God, I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to them!

Fortunately, seeing their friends again gave Weezing and Victreebel a morale boost, and they all rallied together and started beating back their opponents. Once enough of the Ursarings were down, I decided it was time.

"Okay, Wobbuffet! Tell Arbok to lead the Ursarings back this way and let them use their Hyper Beams! Then get ready for another Counter attack!" I commanded.

Wobbuffet grinned and saluted me. Then, he relayed my orders to Arbok, and she relayed them to the other pokemon. After a moment, the bears began to charge. Once they were close enough, the pokemon scattered and revealed Wobbuffet, who was glowing with his reflective coat once again. And just like before, when the Ursarings unleashed their Hyper Beams, they all ricocheted off of Wobbuffet and got sent back the way they came. The Hyper Beams slammed into the Ursarings at full force, causing a tremendous explosion and a blinding flash of white light.

Once the air had cleared and my vision came back into focus, I saw that all of the Ursarings had been blasted away. I also saw James and Meowth lying face-down on the ground. let them be okay! Please....

After a few of the longest seconds of my life, the two of them slowly got to their feet and looked around. When they saw that the battle was over and that we'd won, they began to cheer and do a victory dance, just like all of the pokemon.


Suddenly, however, the two of them stopped and stared at Arbok and Wobbuffet for a moment. Then they grinned and started talking amongst themselves.

They know I'm here! They really were coming to look for me! I said to myself.

But as I watched James start sprinting towards me and calling my name, I found myself losing my nerve once again. Seeing the look on his face and knowing that he'd put himself in danger for my sake made me realize just how inadequate any kind of apology I had to offer would be. How could mere words or a song ever show him just how sorry I was and how much I cared? My tongue felt like it was tied in knots, and I knew that if I did try to say something, I was just going to end up sounding like an idiot again.

So, I hid myself among the trees and remained silent as James continued to call for me, hoping that I'd have enough time to collect my thoughts.

Suddenly, I saw James fall to his knees and bury his face in his hands. "Jessie, I'm sorry!" he cried. "I...I never meant to hurt you -- I just wanted you to be happy! I love you, Jess. I'm sorry if I've ever done anything to stand in the way of your dreams or make you miserable. I'm sorry if I've failed you...."

As his voice trailed off and he began to cry, I knew that I had to come out and say something to him, whether I was ready to or not -- I couldn't let that poor sweetheart think for another second that he'd done anything wrong!

And as I emerged from my hiding place and approached him, an idea came to me -- I knew what I had to do now. I had to show him just how sincere I was when I apologized...I had to show him all of my imperfections and all of my vulnerability and let him know that hurting him is the last thing I ever want to do. All I could do was hope that it would be enough....


A thousand different thoughts raced through my mind as I raced through the forest. At first, I was overjoyed that Jessie had returned. However, my euphoria soon gave way to panic as I thought about why I hadn't seen her yet. Had she been attacked by the Ursarings, too?! Had she been hurt, and Arbok and Wobbuffet had just come to look for help?! Was she lying somewhere unconscious...or even dead?!

Unable to bear such frightening thoughts any longer, I began to scream her name again. "JESSIE!!! JESSICA!!!"

But the only answer I received was silence.

"Jessie, please!" I cried. "Please come back!"

Again, silence.

I buried my face in my hands as I sank to my knees and tried to hold back my tears. "Jessie, I'm sorry! I...I never meant to hurt you -- I just wanted you to be happy! I love you, Jess. I'm sorry if I've ever done anything to stand in the way of your dreams or make you miserable. I'm sorry if I've failed you...."

When I still received no reply, I really did start to cry.

Suddenly, however, I heard footsteps approaching and felt a hand on my shoulder. "You don't...and you haven't," a voice whispered.

Slowly, I opened my eyes again. Even through the tears that blurred my vision, I could see who it was. "Jessie...."

Jessie gently brushed my tears away and rested her warm, soft hand on my cheek. "James...." she whispered again.

"Jessie, I'm so sorry," I said, getting back to my feet and reaching out to take her in my arms. "I...."

She pulled away slightly and silenced me by placing a finger to my lips. "No, James. You don't have anything to apologize for -- I'm the one who should apologize. You had every right to be angry with me for what I said."

"No, I didn't," I protested.

Jessie closed her eyes and shook her head as tears streamed down her face. "Yes you did!" she cried. "James, I had no right to say what I said to you today! It doesn't matter how bad I was feeling -- I had no right...."

"Speaking of which, what happened to you, Jessie?" I asked. "Why were you so upset?"

"I...I guess I just got to thinking too much about my life," she replied after a long pause. "There was so much I wanted to do -- I tried to be a doctor, but I failed...I wanted to be an actress, but it never happened...I tried to be a trainer, but I'm a flop at that, too...and the last thing I wanted to be was a criminal, but that's presicely what I am. I just can't seem to do anything right. None of that is your fault, James, but I just didn't want to face up to the fact that I don't have anybody to blame but myself, and I took it out on you. I guess that makes me a bad friend, too...."

"Jessie, that's not true," I told her. "You...."

"I...I wanted to do something special to show you how sorry I am for the way I treated you," she said, cutting me off. "But when I saw you again, I realized that nothing I can say or do would ever be good enough."

"How can you say that, Jessie?!" I asked. "You saved our lives just now...and you came back! I couldn't ask for anything better than that!"

She hung her head. "But it doesn't feel like enough...not to me, anyway."

I cupped her chin in my hand. "You're too hard on yourself, Jess. And you underestimate yourself -- I've never met a more amazing person than you!"

Jessie took a step away from me and ran a hand through her hair, which was hanging loose and cascading down to her knees. "No," she said. "No, I'm not."


She held up a hand and silenced me again. "I don't really know how I can explain myself or make this up to you...but let me at least try." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. After a moment, she placed her hands on her shoulders and slid off the straps of the sheer, white nightgown she was wearing. Then, she let the nightgown drop to the ground and her white lace panties along with it.

I swear, Jessie never looked more beautiful to me than she did at that moment. Her sapphire eyes were filled with love as she gazed at me, and the silver light of the moon was casting a pale glow onto the smooth skin of her naked body, making her look like a statue of some pagan love goddess. If not for the night wind playing with the loose strands of her crimson hair and the barely perceptible movement of her chest as she breathed, I would've sworn that's what she was.

I felt my heart fluttering as I looked at her. Wow! This is one hell of an apology! I said to myself.

"I don't know if this helps or not," she began as she knealt before me. "But I want to show you how sincere I am. I can't hurt you while I'm like this, James. Not while I'm baring my soul...and everything else to you...."

My cheeks started to burn.

"James, I'm so sorry," Jessie whispered as more tears welled up in her eyes. "It hurts so much when I think about all the mistakes I've made and everything I've done wrong in my life. Being your friend and Meowth's...that's about the only thing I don't regret. But I can never seem to show you how much I really care -- instead I'm always hurting you...always taking out everything I hate about myself and my life on you. I'm so bad at bad at being a friend. Can you please forgive me, James? As terrible as I am, can you still love me?"

I knealt next to Jessie and gently brushed away the tears that were now spilling down her cheeks. "What kind of questions are those, Jess?" I asked. "Of course I forgive you! Of course I still love you! I love you no matter what!"

Jessie put her arms around me and rested her head on my shoulder as she continued to cry. I pulled her closer and stroked her hair.

"Jessie, honey, I know you have a bad temper. I know that you get upset really easily, and I know that when you're upset you take it out on the people you love," I told her. "But I wouldn't still be here if I couldn't handle that. I wouldn't care about you as much as I do if it were something I couldn't forgive. It's just a part of what makes you Jessie. I'll admit it's not my favorite of your traits, but it's still one of the reasons why I love you."

Jessie sniffled.

"And you know what? You're not nearly as bad as you think you are," I continued. "Jess, you have changed so much in the past year! You don't lose your temper nearly as often as you used to. It's easier for you to say and do nice things now. I've noticed...even if you haven't. I've always loved you, Jessie, but I love who you've become even more. Every day I love you more and more. You're're gentle...and you're selling yourself short by trying to convince yourself that you're not."

Jessie looked up at me, and a weak smile made its way across her lips. "You mean that?"

I nodded and kissed her forehead. "Yes."

Slowly, Jessie reached up and caressed my face with her hands. (It never ceases to amaze me how soft her calloused hands become when she touches me.) "I love you, James. I love you more than anything else in this world," she whispered. Then, she leaned closer and gently touched her lips to mine.

We held our kiss for several minutes. When it ended, I pulled away slightly and unbuttoned my shirt. Then I pulled off my boots and unzipped my pants. Jessie's face began to turn as red as mine as she watched me undress. She'd done a tremendous thing by making herself naked and vulnerable to me when she apologized and asked for my forgiveness, and I knew that I could do no less for her. I'd made my share of mistakes as well, after all.

Once I was naked too, I took Jessie's hands in my own and gazed into her beautiful blue eyes.

"James...." she said.

"Shhh," I whispered. "Now it's my turn."

Jessie shook her head. "But...."

"No," I said, cutting her off. "Today I lost my temper and said and did a lot of stuff that I didn't mean...just like you did. I owe you an apology too, Jess."

She gave my hands a gentle squeeze and began to caress my palms with her thumbs. My fluttering heart started to race when she did this. I love the feeling of her touch.

"Jessie, I didn't mean it when I said that you make me miserable...and Meowth didn't mean it either, for that matter," I told her. "We were miserable without you!"

She smiled again.

"We were so happy to see you again this morning," I continued. "So when you said that we were the ones who were ruining your life, I didn't know what to think! And...I guess I didn't think. I should've blown it off, just like I always do, but I was so caught up in how bad I was feeling that I never stopped to wonder why you were so upset. Instead, I just blew up at you and made things worse. I'm sorry for doing that to you, Jess."

"It's okay, James. Really," Jessie whispered as she reached up and ran her fingers through my hair. "I don't blame you."

"After you left, I tried to convince myself that I was doing you a favor...that I was just giving you what you wanted...but it didn't work," I said. "I was so lonely without you, Jessie, and knowing that I'd done something to hurt you...I just couldn't stand it!" I clasped her hands in my own once again. "Can you please forgive me?"

Jessie's smile grew even wider than it already was. "Of course I forgive you, James!"

I brought her hands to my lips and covered them with soft kisses. "I love you," I said.

Jessie chuckled as I kissed her. "Look at us! Sitting together naked in the middle of a dark, Ursaring-infested forest, begging each other for forgiveness!" she mused. "We're pathetic, aren't we?"

"We sure are," I agreed. "But I wouldn't have it any other way!"

Jessie put her arms around me again, and I pulled her closer. For several minutes, we sat together in silence, enjoying the feel of each other's embrace. Jessie's bare skin felt so warm and soft against my own, and her hair was like silk as I ran my fingers through it. Holding each other was so relaxing...yet at the same time, so invigorating. In that one, simple embrace, it felt as if our spirits had been renewed and our love reaffirmed!

Soon, however, I was gripped by a desire for more, and I began to caress her back and shoulders. Jessie sighed contentedly as my hands moved lower and lower until they were finally touching her butt. Then, I felt her hands start doing the same to me! Our two hearts pounded in unison as we tightened our hold on each other, never wanting to let go.

After a moment, Jessie lowered her head, and I could feel her sweet, moist breath tickling my chest as she began to kiss me. Her lips lingered for a moment on one of my nipples, and I gasped with pleasure as my heart began to race faster than ever. As she slowly continued to move upwards, covering my chest, shoulders, neck, and face with her velvety kisses, I felt myself becoming aroused. When our mouths finally met, I welcomed her kiss with fervor, parting my lips and licking gently at hers, beckoning them to part as well. When they did, I thrust my tongue between them, and she opened her mouth wider, letting me inside. Our tongues mingled and played together as our embrace deepened, and I could feel Jessie trembling with the same desire that consumed me.

When we finally broke from our kiss, Jessie gazed into my eyes and began to run her fingers through my hair once again. Her face was flushed, and her breathing was shallow and rapid. The light burning in her sapphire eyes told me that my instincts were right -- she wanted the same thing that I did!

I put one of my arms behind her knees and the other behind her back and gently lowered her to the ground. She spread her legs apart and trapped me in another tight embrace as I laid myself on top of her.

"James...." she whispered.

"Jessie...." I whispered back.

I followed the curves of her beautiful body with the tip of my finger, tracing patterns along her hips, waistline, belly, and finally her chest. Jessie made a fluttery sound somewhere between a gasp and a sigh as my hands remained there, gently caressing her breasts and feeling her nipples respond to my touch. The fluttery sound became a moan of pleasure as my mouth closed over one of them. I lingered there for several minutes, enjoying the salty-sweet taste of her skin and listening as she whispered my name over and over again. Jessie's hand closed over the back of my head, and she pressed me closer to her, not wanting me to stop. When I finally did draw myself away from her breasts, my lips found hers once again, and our tongues invaded each other's mouths, just like before.

Just as I was about to put myself inside of her, however, Jessie pulled away from our kiss, and I felt her body tense beneath me. Shit! What did I do wrong?! I wondered.

In all the time that we've been lovers, I've never once done anything to disappoint Jessie in bed (believe me, Jess wouldn't hesitate to make it known if she had any complaints about my performance!), and tonight I wasn't doing anything differently from what I usually do. So why was she turned off all of a sudden? I was at a loss!

Despite every urge I had to press on and make love to her, I stopped myself. No matter how frustrating it was for me, even now she had a right to change her mind and refuse me, and I had to respect that. I'd never do anything to my Jessie without her permission.

"What's wrong, Jess?" I asked, unable to hide the disappointment in my voice. "What did I do?"

Jessie reached up and caressed my face with her hand. "It's not you, James -- I want this! You can't imagine how much I want you! It's just that...." A nervous look crossed her face. "....I think I heard something."

I raised an eyebrow.

"I...I heard a rustling sound in the bushes -- there's something out there, James!" she whispered.

I listened for a moment, and sure enough, I heard the rustling sound, too. I was relieved that I hadn't done anything to turn Jessie off after all, but at the same time, I felt my body tensing with apprehension at the thought of being attacked by wild pokemon while we were naked and completely defenseless.

"We can't do this, James," she said. "Not here, anyway -- it's not safe!"

"You're right," I agreed as I reluctantly got off of her and reached for my clothes. "We have to get out of here. Besides, Meowth and the pokemon are waiting for us -- I left them at the bridge."

Jessie nodded and grabbed her nightgown and panties.

The two of us got dressed as quickly as we could. Once we had our clothes back on, we started to make our way out of the forest.

We didn't get very far before we heard the rustling sound again. Jessie grabbed onto me, and I protectively wrapped my arms around her. "It sounds like it's coming from up ahead!" she said, trying her best to hide the fear in her voice.

"W-well, what are we supposed to do?!" I stammered, barely able to conceal my own fear. "We can't fight anything without our pokemon!"

As the two of us stood together in our fear-hug, trying to think of a way out of this latest predicament, the bushes rustled again, and a large pokemon jumped into our path. "WOBB!!!" it shouted.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Whew! It's just Wobbuffet!

Jessie, however, looked more annoyed than relieved when she saw who it was. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Wobbuffet?!" she snapped. "You scared us!"

Wobbuffet frowned and waved his arms about. "Wobb! Wobba-wobba! Wob-buf-fet!"

"I think he's saying that he was just worried about us and wanted to come and find us, Jess," I ventured.

Wobbuffet nodded.

Jessie folded her arms across her chest and blushed.

"Well, we were gone an awfully long time," I said. "Wobbuffet loves you just as much as the rest of us do, Jessie -- he doesn't want anything bad to happen to you either!"

Jessie smiled in spite of herself and patted Wobbuffet on the head. "I know...believe me, I know. I'm sorry for yelling at you, Wobbuffet. Just don't sneak up on us like that again!"

"Yeah!" I chimed in. "You kind of interrupted us in the middle of a...delicate moment!"

Wobbuffet smirked and nudged me. "Wob-ba, wob-ba!"

I felt my face start to burn once again. "I think he just said Way to go, Jimbo!" I said.

Jessie's cheeks grew even redder than they already were, and she buried her face in her hands. "He's been spending WAY too much time with Meowth!" she groaned.

Wobbuffet looked like he was laughing when he heard this, and I couldn't help but laugh, too. Oh, yeah. He's definitely one of our pokemon! I said to myself.

"Alright, alright, enough of this!" Jessie grumbled. "Let's just get out of here!"

I nodded and put an arm around her waist. "We'll...uh, pick up where we left off later, right?" I whispered into her ear.

Jessie smiled seductively at me. "Count on it!" she whispered back, giving me a playful nip on my ear.

My heart started racing again. "Heeeee!!!" I squealed, unable to contain my excitement.

Jessie chuckled and kissed my cheek. "God, you are so CUTE when you make that sound!" Wobbuffet smirked at us again, and her smile quickly became a frown. "And no more smart remarks out of you, mister! We already get more than enough of that from Meowth!" With that, she returned him to his poke ball.

Once we were alone again, Jessie and I joined hands, and she rested her head on my shoulder as we continued on our way. After a moment of silence, she spoke again.

"James, I hate to change the subject, but...."

"But what?"

"Well...was I seeing things earlier, or was Misty with you and Meowth when you were fighting those Ursarings?"

Oh, crap! I'd completely forgotten about Misty! She was still hurt and needed our help! "Nope, that was her," I replied.

Now Jessie looked confused. "What was she doing with you guys? I thought she went back with her twerpy little friends this morning!"

"She did," I told her, "but believe it or not, the kid actually felt bad for the way she acted towards us -- I don't think I got the chance to tell you, but she treated me and Meowth like shit when we got stuck with her yesterday. But she regretted it, so she came back to apologize to us."

Jessie raised an eyebrow. "You mean one of those brats actually apologized for being mean to us? Did I miss something? When did hell freeze over?"

I laughed. "I thought it was kind of strange, too."

She nodded. "Very strange."

I squeezed her hand. "You should've been there, Jess -- you missed all the fun!"

Jessie gave me a quizzical look. "Oh, really? Do tell!"

"When Misty showed up, I swear, Meowth cussed her until he was blue in the face!" I began. "And then once he got done with her, I read her the riot act, too...mostly for the way she was treating you. We actually made her cry!"

Jessie laughed.

"But then something amazing happened," I continued. "Misty told us that she regrets being mean to us and that she doesn't really hate us!"

"She doesn't?"

"No. And...she even let it slip that she has a little crush on yours truly!"

Jessie's eyes widened, and she broke out in peals of laughter. "Oh, my God! No wonder that kid is always picking on you! It's just sour grapes!" When she finally stopped laughing, she looked up at me and smiled again. "Well, I can't say that I blame her -- you are quite a catch, after all!"

I returned her smile and placed my hands on her waist. "When she told me that she likes me, I told her that I don't feel the same way and that my heart already belongs to somebody else." I hesitated for a moment before going on. "When I said that...she...kind of figured out...that I was talking"

Jessie gasped. "You mean she knows?!"

I nodded.

She covered her face with her hands and took a deep breath. "Oh, jeez. Now we're never going to hear the end of it from those kids...."

"I don't think so, Jess," I told her. "She's actually happy for us!"

"She is?"

I nodded again. "As she said, she's...." Then in a falsetto voice, "....A romantic at heart!"

Jessie snickered.

"She thinks we've got a good thing going here, Jess."

"Well, she's right!"

I put my arm around her again. "And she's our friend now. Jessie, she finally understands!"

Jessie closed her eyes and sighed. "That's good to know. I get so sick of those kids giving us hell and not having the slightest clue about who we are and what we're going through!"

"I have the feeling that's all going to change one of these days, Jess," I said. "I think there might be hope for Team Rocket and Team Twerp, after all!"

"I hope you're right!"

"I hope so, too."

The two of us smiled and rested our heads together. Then, we embraced once again. We remained that way for a long time afterwards, and no more wild pokemon (or unruly Wobbuffets) assailed us for the rest of our walk out of the forest.


I felt a wave of relief wash over me as I watched James running off to get Jessie. I was glad that we'd found her so quickly, but at the same time, I couldn't help but feel a little guilty. Jess may have started the fight we'd had earlier, but I'd been the one who provoked her...and James, for that matter. If I'd just kept my big meowth shut, James probably would've been able to ignore her rude remark, and Jessie probably would've cooled off a lot sooner.

I guess we were all to blame in some way. It never ceases to amaze me how foolishly people act when they're in a bad mood.

At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to go with James and help him find Jessie. I owed her an apology for the way I'd treated her...a big-time apology! And what if she'd been attacked by Ursarings, too?! What if she was hurt and needed our help?!

Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry about Jessie -- she's fine."

I looked and saw Wobbuffet standing next to me.

"She was upset for awhile," he continued. "But then she looked at a ring that she said James made for her, and it reminded her that he still loves her."

"The promise ring?!"

He nodded. "She feels bad for yelling at him, but everything's going to be okay, Meowth. I haven't been with this team for very long, but if there's one thing I've noticed, it's that things always work out for us in the end. All it takes is a little patience."

"Yer right about dat," I agreed. "We always land on our feet...eventually."

"Well, what about her?" he asked as he looked down at Misty.

I knealt next to Misty and placed my paw on her neck. She still had a pulse, and she was breathing, but she was out cold. Examining the cuts on her shoulder more closely, I saw that they weren't deep.

"Hey! What happened to Misty?!"

"Is she okay?!"

It was Staryu and Poliwhirl. They'd just noticed that Misty had been hurt, and they looked like they were worried sick.

Psyduck, meanwhile, was still standing off to the side with his head clutched in his hands. "Uhh...what's going on?"

I rolled my eyes at him and turned my attention back to the other pokemon. "One of the Ursarings got her, but it ain't nothin' ta worry about," I told them. "I think she just fainted. Some bandages and antiseptic and a little rest, and she should be just fine."

Staryu breathed a sigh of relief.

"Thank goodness!" said Poliwhirl.

Suddenly, a troubling thought crossed my mind. "Say, where's Togepi?" I queried. "I don't see him anywhere -- did he wander off?!" (I guess after all dis time, I still feel kinda "maternal" towards the little guy. Raisin' his egg ain't somethin' I'm gonna forget anytime soon, ya know!)

"Togepi already went to sleep for the night," Staryu replied. "Misty left him back at camp with Ash and Brock."


"So, what are we gonna do now?" Poliwhirl asked, changing the subject. "We need to get back to camp, and Misty can't travel like this."

"Don't worry," I told him. "When Jess and Jim get back, dey'll patch her up."

"Well, when ARE they going to get back?" he demanded.

"Yeah, they've been gone an awfully long time," Staryu remarked.

"Hey, give 'em a break! It's only been about thirty minutes!" I replied. And to myself I added, If I know dose two, dey're prolly "making up" right now...we may be here awhile longer....

"They're right, you know -- Jessie and James have been gone a really long time," Wobbuffet said, breaking in on the conversation once again. "This forest isn't very safe, Meowth. They shouldn't be out there alone."

"I know, but...."

"What if more Ursarings show up?" he asked. "I have to go and find them!"

I grabbed him by the arm. "Listen ta me!" I hissed.

Wobbuffet smirked. "Meowth, I know what they're doing. I'm not blind, you know," he whispered. "But I'm telling you it's too dangerous for them to be out there...especially in such a...vulnerable position! They can always make love later, but right now we have more important things to worry about!"

"Point," I conceded as I released his arm. "Alright den. Go get 'em. Just don't embarrass 'em too much, okay?"

He smirked at me again. "I'm not making any promises!" With that, he headed back into the forest.

I shook my head and smiled as I watched him take his leave. Dat Wobbuffet. He's been spending WAY too much time with me.


After another fifteen minutes, I saw Jessie and James emerging from the forest, their arms draped around each other's shoulders and their heads resting together. Leaves were tangled in Jessie's long mane of hair, which was hanging loose, and the straps of her white nightgown were falling off of her shoulders. James's face and neck and part of his chest were smeared with lipstick, and his shirt was buttoned crooked. (It didn't take a "rocket" scientist ta figure out dat dey'd been havin' some super-hot make-up sex...and dat dey'd been interrupted!)

"Hey! What the hell took youse guys so long?!" I snapped as they approached me. (Like I didn't already know!)

"Well, hello to you too," Jessie said sarcastically.

"Sorry. I was just worried about ya," I sighed. "And Wobbuffet ran off ta look for ya!"

"Yeah. He found us," she grumbled, holding up a poke ball.

I covered my mouth with my paw and snickered. Heh. I'll bet ol' Wobb walked in on 'em just when dey was gettin' hot and heavy! I guess it's a good thing he did -- otherwise, dey'd a been goin' at it all night!

James chuckled, too.

"Well, I'm glad yer back -- we still need ta find a place ta make camp for the night...preferably somewhere far away from dose damn Ursarings!" I told them. "And Misty still ain't woke up yet!"

Jessie looked down at Misty, who was still lying unconscious on the ground. "What happened to her?"

"She got hurt in the attack," I replied. "I don't think it's anythin' ta worry about, but she still needs help."

Jessie nodded. "I'll take a look at her when we get back to the cabin."

"Cabin?" James and I said in unison.

"Yeah! When I left this afternoon, I found a Team Rocket cabin a few miles into the forest on the other side of the bridge," she explained. "I was staying there...until I decided to come back and look for you. It's a pretty safe distance from the Ursarings' part of the forest, and it's pretty cozy, too...."

"Den whadda we waitin' for?!" I cried, jumping onto her shoulder. "Let's go!"

"Yeah!" James chimed in as he called back Weezing and Victreebel and scooped Misty into his arms. "The sooner we get there, the better!"

Once Jessie had called back Arbok and gathered our belongings, we all set out once again.

"Hey, Jess?" I said after a few minutes.

"What is it?" she asked.

"I just wanted ta apologize for the way I acted today," I told her. "I didn't mean what I said. I really missed ya yesterday...and tonight. Misty might be our friend now, and everythin', but yer still a million times better! We love ya!"

Jessie smiled and gave me a hug. "I love you guys, too," she said. "And I missed you just as much!"

I returned her embrace and began to purr. She felt so warm and soft...she really is sweet!

"I think the reason I was so upset was because you guys weren't there to cheer me up when I got depressed," she continued. "I was so lonely without you and James...but when I found you again, I was still feeling bad, and I took it out on you. I'm sorry. I know it's a nasty habit, but I'm trying to do better...."

"It's okay," I told her. "We're just gettin' spoiled by how much nicer ya are to us now, dat's all."

"That's right," James added. "Like I said before -- we know that you love us and don't take us for granted. It shows."

Jessie smiled again and put her free arm around James's shoulders. Then, she hugged me more tightly with her other arm.

"Welcome back, Jessie!" we said in unison.

"It's good to be back!" she replied.

"We just wasn't a team without ya," I said. "It really sucked -- it was like Larry and Curly without Moe!"

"Being alone really sucked, too," Jessie agreed. "I need you guys too much -- you're not the reason my life is're my reason for living!"

"We all need each other," James told us. "We wouldn't still be together after all we've been through if we didn't love each other. We wouldn't be a family...or a team if we didn't care!"

"You're right, James," said Jessie. "I guess today we just had another family squabble."

He nodded. "Jess, remember what I said about fights and how nobody's perfect on the morning we finally admitted our feelings?"

A light glinted in her eyes. "Yeah...yeah, I do."

"That's all that happened today -- we just ran out of maple syrup again," he said. "Something so inconsequential isn't enough to break up a family...and whatever doesn't break us up only makes us stronger!"

I couldn't help but laugh. "Well, with all the crap we been through, we must be indestructable by now!" I mused. "We can always take a beatin' and keep comin' back for more!"

"Yep. That's us -- the indestructable Team Rocket!" said James.

"Together forever!" Jessie exclaimed.

"Forever," he echoed.

The three of us laughed again as we continued to make our way through the forest, and a feeling of peace came over me as I watched Jessie and James gazing into each other's eyes. Everything was back to normal.


When we finally reached the cabin, it was past midnight. It had taken about an hour to get there, but it didn't really seem like that long a walk. (I guess grand-papa's saying about two shortening the road really is true!)

Once we were inside, Meowth flopped onto the couch, and Jessie and I took Misty to the bedroom and laid her on the bed. Jessie then examined the wounds on Misty's shoulder.

"These scratches are pretty big, but they're not deep. I think it was probably just the shock that got to her -- those kids aren't used to the kind of punishment we take, after all," she remarked. "She should be fine once we get her cleaned and bandaged."

I nodded.

"Could you please get me the first-aid kit, James?" Jessie asked.

I nodded again and dug the first-aid kit out of my backpack. As I was handing it to Jessie, Misty slowly opened her eyes and looked up at us with a dazed expression on her face.

"Unnnh...Team...Rocket?" she muttered.

"Shhh," Jessie whispered as she placed a hand on Misty's forehead and smoothed back her hair. "You're going to be okay."

"Wha-what happened?" she asked.

"You were on your way back to camp when we got attacked by Ursarings, remember?" I told her. "You got hit by one of them, and it knocked you out."

"Don't worry," said Jessie. "It doesn't look serious."

Misty closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again, she looked at me. "So you found Jessie, huh? Did you guys work everything out?"

I put my arms around Jessie's shoulders and rested my chin atop her head. "Yeah! We were just about to be slaughtered by those Ursarings, but she came back in the nick of time and saved us all...and yes, we did work things out." With that, I leaned down and kissed Jessie on her forehead.

Jessie blushed. "James!"

Misty giggled. "Awww!"

Jessie smirked and put her hand over my face. "Okay, okay, boys have to leave the room now -- I need to get her patched up!"

I gently pried Jessie's hand off of my face and managed to kiss her once more before she playfully shoved me away. I then winked at her and took my leave. I could hear Misty's giggles become all-out laughter as I closed the door behind me and went back to the den.


"Alright, that's enough!" I said, smacking Misty over the head with a pillow as she continued to laugh.

"Sorry," she chuckled. "It's just that...I've never seen you guys so playful before -- it's cute!"

"There's a lot of stuff about us that you don't see, kid," I told her.

"I know," she replied. "I guess that's why I never really understood you guys...until now."

"Well, better late than never, I suppose."

Suddenly, Misty winced and placed her hand on her shoulder. "It hurts," she groaned. "Are you sure I'm going to be okay?"

"," I replied. "I was just saying that so James wouldn't worry. Those cuts are pretty bad -- it looks like I'm going to have to amputate!"

Misty's eyes widened, and she gulped nervously. But her fear quickly gave way to annoyance when she saw the smirk on my face. "Grrr! Don't scare me like that!" she shouted, grabbing the pillow away from me and hitting me with it.

Now I was the one who was laughing.

"You're mean," she grumbled, sticking her tongue out at me.

"Same to you," I replied, making a face right back. Then, becoming serious once again, "Okay, enough joking around. Let me take another look at your shoulder."

Misty nodded and took off her shirt. Then she turned around so that I could see her wounds.

I took some cotton balls from the first-aid kit and soaked them in antiseptic. "This is going to sting," I warned her.

She nodded again.

Misty trembled as I dabbed her cuts with the antiseptic and cleaned them out. Then she began to moan. (She obviously wasn't used to getting hurt. James, Meowth, and I get more and worse injuries than that all the time -- a little alcohol in an open wound is nothing to us! I guess always being the losers has its advantages!)

When I was finished cleaning her wounds, I put some medicine on them and wrapped them in gauze. "All done," I said. "You should be as good as new in no time."

Misty smiled as she put her shirt back on and moved her arm around. "You're right -- I feel better already!" she exclaimed. "You're a pretty good doctor, Jessie!"

I couldn't help but smile. Maybe I wasn't such a flop at healing, after all! "Thanks," I said.

An uncomfortable silence descended upon the room for a couple of minutes after that, but as I went to put the first-aid kit away, Misty spoke again.



"Uh...can I talk to you?"

"Isn't that what you're doing now?"

"Well, yeah," she said, "but I mean really talk to you."

"Sure," I replied. "What's on your mind?"

"It's just that...I guess James told you why I came back, right?" she began.

"Yeah. He said you finally felt guilty for the way you treat him."

Misty nodded. "I did. I was really mean to him for a lot of stupid reasons...and he made me realize that my reasons for being mean to you were really stupid, too." She paused for a moment. "He, uh...he told me some things about you, Jessie. Don't be angry with him -- he only did it because he was mad at me...."

I raised an eyebrow. "What kind of things?"

"Well...he told me about some of the stuff that you went through when you were a kid and how you had it worse than I did," she said.

"I see."

After another uncomfortable pause, she continued. "And, it true about your mom? Did she really die because she didn't have enough money and had to take a dangerous job?"

I bit my lip and turned away from her. I wasn't mad at James for telling Misty about my momma, but it wasn't really something I wanted to discuss with her either.

"It is true, isn't it?"

I took a deep breath and got to my feet. If I said anything, I knew I was going to cry...and I did NOT want to do that in front of Misty -- that was the last thing I wanted to do! Instead, I just went to the mirror and started brushing my hair.

"And that flashback Jynx showed us...about when she took your broken doll for Santa to fix," she continued. "It looked like you were in some kind of Team Rocket compound. Your mom was in Team Rocket, wasn't she? You never had a choice about joining, did you?"

If Misty wanted to torture me, she was doing a great job. This subject was a knife in my heart, and every word she spoke was a twist of that knife. I couldn't take it anymore....

"STOP IT!!! JUST STOP IT!!!" I cried, slamming down my hairbrush and wheeling around to face her again. "Yes, my momma was a Team Rocket agent! Yes, she took that job because she needed money to support that I wouldn't have to be like her! And yes, she died because of that! Does that answer your question?! Are you happy now?!" Unable to control myself any longer, I fell to my knees and began to shake.

"Oh, God. I'm sorry, Jessie. I had no idea," she whispered as she stepped closer.

I buried my face in my hands and took another deep breath. I hadn't started crying yet, thank goodness, but I was on the verge of tears, and I was too humiliated to look at her.

"I...I always thought you were just some spoiled, snotty diva who joined Team Rocket for fame and fortune," Misty continued. "I guess I was wrong...."

"Gee, you think?" I muttered sarcastically.

She put her hand on my shoulder. "Jessie, I...."

"Don't touch me!" I growled, pulling away from her.

Misty backed away. "I'm sorry."

Slowly, I got back to my feet and ran a hand through my hair as I looked at my reflection in the mirror once again. My face was red, and my eyes were dull with tears that were ready to fall.

"I wish I'd known about this sooner," she sighed. "If I'd known, I might not have been so judgemental...."

I laughed bitterly as a tear rolled down my cheek. "Somehow, I doubt it, kid. You saw with your own eyes how James's family tortured evil that bitch fiance of his was. And that didn't stop you from treating him like shit. Why would it be any different with me?"

"I guess you're right," she conceded. "But seeing what James went through really did change how I felt about him, even though I didn't act like it. I guess if I'd known about you, I might've thought twice before saying some of the mean stuff that I did...or at least felt bad about saying it instead of congratulating myself. I know that doesn't make much of a difference to you, but it does to me.

"Jessie, if I could take back all the stuff I've said about James being stupid, about you being a bitch, about both of you being ugly and evil and pathetic, then believe me, I would," Misty continued. "I'm not proud of the way I've acted, and now that I see who you really are, I'm ashamed of myself. I know this is probably too little too late, considering all that's happened, but...."

"No it isn't," I said, cutting her off. "Misty, if there's one thing I've learned, it's that it's never too late for an apology...especially when it comes from the heart. It may not be enough to undo all the damage that's been done, but it helps. Nobody's perfect, kid. Everybody makes mistakes now and then, but friendship is about being able to forgive those mistakes. Sometimes there really are things that can't be forgiven, but this isn't one of them...."

Misty looked up at me as I turned to face her once again.

"James and Meowth told me that you're their friend now," I said, extending my hand. "You're not going to leave me out, are you?"

Misty smiled and shook my hand. "Of course not!"

I laughed. "Good! Because the three of us are a package-deal -- if you're friends with one of us, you're friends with all of us!"

"Sounds good to me!" she replied.

"You know, I never thought I'd see the day I became friends with a twerp," I mused.

"And I never thought I'd see the day I became friends with Team Rocket!" she said. "Man, if Ash knew about this, he'd probably freak out!"


"I don't think I'll tell him just yet."

"Sounds like a good idea," I agreed. "That other guy, Brock, seems pretty reasonable. I think he might understand. But not Ash...not yet anyway."

"Yeah," she sighed. "I hope he does someday, though. I'd really hate for him to spend the rest of his life thinking that you're his enemies...just because he hasn't looked beyond the Team Rocket uniforms to see who you really are."

"You and me both."

"I won't tell him about your mom or anything either," Misty continued.

"I appreciate that," I said. "I don't think it'd have much of an impact on him at this point...and as you can see, it's a really touchy subject for me."

"I'm sorry for bringing it up. I didn't mean to upset you."

I nodded and resumed brushing my hair.

Misty smiled as she watched me. "I'm sorry about all the things I've said out of jealousy, too. Like the times I called you an old hag and an old witch...and the time I laughed at you because the Scythers cut off your hair -- I didn't mean any of it. I only said stuff like that because I was mad at you for being so much prettier than I am. I...I told James that you reminded me of my sisters and how they always pick on me because I'm not beautiful like they are. But he made me realize that you aren't anything like my sisters...and that I was wrong to think you were."

I returned her smile.

"Truth be told, I've always thought you were beautiful, Jessie," she said. "I just love your hair -- it's so long it makes you look like a fairy tale princess! And it's so much redder than mine is. I've always liked your eyes, too -- that sapphire color that's so much bluer than mine. I was always jealous because I feel so plain compared to you...."

"Misty, you're not plain," I told her. "You're just a kid, that's all. Give yourself a little time. You'll grow into your looks, and you can always grow your hair, or cut it, or style it. Besides, you wouldn't look good with hair and eyes like mine. You love the ocean and water, so the coral hair and aqua eyes work for you! Just accept yourself the way you are, and you'll always be pretty."

Misty smiled again. "I guess you're right! I never thought about it that way!"

"Don't worry -- it took me a long time to learn that lesson, too," I said. "I always got picked on and made fun of for not having the best clothes and stuff. I was always being told that I was second-rate. I had to crawl a long way before I had the strength to stand proud. I guess James had a lot to do with that. He's the first person who ever bothered to look beyond the surface. He's the first person who accepted me just the way I was. He loves me for who I am, and that makes me feel beautiful!"

"Awww!" she sighed. "He really is great, isn't he?"

"Yes, he is," I said. "I can honestly say that having James as a part of my life is one of the best things I've ever experienced. I don't even want to think about where I'd be without him."

"He...he joined Team Rocket because of you, didn't he?" she ventured. "I'm not trying to pry, or upset you, or anything, but...."

"It's okay," I told her. "And yes, he did. He stayed with me after we flunked out of Pokemon Tech, even though he knew I was on the run from Team Rocket. We stuck together in the bicycle gang, too. And when Team Rocket finally caught me, he still stayed by my side. I wanted to leave him he wouldn't get hurt, but he knew, and he came with me anyway. He did it because he loves me...he even said that having to live without me would be the worst fate imaginable. I swear, that man would follow me to hell and back if he had to...and I love him for it!" Tears were beginning to well up in my eyes.

"That's so romantic!" Misty cried. Tears were filling her eyes, too!

After a moment, the two of us dried our eyes, and Misty began to chuckle.

"What's so funny?" I asked.

"Oh, nothing. It's just that...I finally came up with a good comeback for something you and James said awhile ago," she replied.

"Oh, really?"

She nodded. "Remember last summer when Brock stayed behind on Valencia Island, and Ash and I were on your blimp, and you guys were making fun of us about being a couple?"

I snickered. "Yeah, I remember. James and I weren't being serious, by the way. You and Ash are way too young...."

"I know," she said. "But listen -- I just thought of what I should've said when you and James were saying all that lovey-dovey stuff about us."

I raised an eyebrow.

"I should've said, Yeah, it takes a couple to know a couple!"

I couldn't help but laugh. "Oh, my God! You would've seen me and James turn every shade of red imaginable if you'd said that!"

Now Misty was laughing, too. "Then I really should've said it!"

I shook my head and smiled. "You'd have nailed us with that one -- we'd only been lovers for a couple of weeks at that point, and...."

"Lovers?!" she interjected.

I covered my mouth with my hand and blushed. Oops!

"Don't worry -- I kind of assumed that you were when I figured out you were a couple," she said elbowing me playfully in the ribs.

"Well, you assumed correctly," I told her. "But I'd rather not discuss that with you...not at this point, anyway."

"I understand."


"Hey, Jessie?"


"This is nice," she said. "I mean...talking. I don't really get a chance to talk to other girls that often, you know? Don't get me wrong, Ash and Brock are my best friends in the world, and I wouldn't trade them for anything...but they're boys. There's just some things I can't talk to them about. Sometimes I get lonely being the only girl."

"I can't really say that I know how you feel, Misty," I replied. "I know I'm the only girl, too...but it doesn't bother me. Meowth may be a guy, but he's also a cat, so I don't really feel outnumbered by him. And James may be a man, but for as long as I've known him, there's nothing I haven't been able to talk to him about. I can talk to him about girl stuff all day, and he'll I don't really feel like I'm missing out on anything."

"You're lucky," she sighed. "Not many boys are mature enough to listen to girl-talk without getting bored or grossed-out...or acting like complete jackasses."

"Well, my James is extremely enlightened...and yes, I'm very lucky," I replied. "But yeah, it is nice to talk to another girl."

This made her smile again.

"You know, if I ever get some spending money again, we should go shopping sometime," I said. "That's one thing James does get bored doing for long periods of time. The man may have a great sense of style, but he doesn't enjoy the day-long shopping sprees. He just likes to go in, get what he's looking for, and leave. No trying a million things on, no browsing, no nonsense...unless he's shopping for power-tools or electronics -- then he'll spend all day at the store!"

Misty laughed. "Yeah, that sounds like a typical guy, all right -- Ash and Brock would probably spend all day playing with power-tools and electronics, too! And...yeah, I'd love to go shopping with you, Jessie! Man, I haven't been on a decent shopping spree since last year's Princess Festival!"

"Me either," I chuckled. "You know, we seemed to like a lot of the same stuff at that festival...maybe you have better taste than I thought!"

She smirked.

"Well, like I said, it may be awhile before I have that kind of money...but we'll definitely go shopping one of these days," I told her.

Misty nodded. "Yeah! It'll be fun!"

The two of us smiled and shook hands once again. James was right! I said to myself. It really does feel good to be friends with these kids! There's definitely hope for Team Rocket and Team Twerp!

We probably could have stayed there and talked awhile longer, but suddenly, I smelled the aroma of miso soup and cooked rice coming from the other room. My stomach began to growl.

"Hey! That smells good!" said Misty.

"James must've made dinner -- he's a wonderful chef...when we actually have food, that is!" I told her. "Hell! Even when we don't have food he's good at improvising!"

She smiled again. "Sounds a lot like Brock. You know, maybe we all have more in common than we thought."

"Maybe," I echoed.

Before I could say anything more, however, my stomach growled again.

Misty giggled. "I guess I should get going now," she said. "I need to get back to camp...and it sounds like you need to eat dinner."


"Well, it was nice hanging out with you guys tonight...even though I did get cussed out and almost killed by a wild Ursaring."

"Hey! Welcome to our world, kid!" I laughed. "That's just a typical day in the life of Team Rocket!"

"I don't know how you guys do it," she remarked.

"Neither do I -- it's just one of life's mysteries," I told her as I opened the door and headed for the kitchen. And to myself I added, But I think love has a lot to do with it....


"So, it's just the girls in dere now, huh?" Meowth asked when he saw me leaving the bedroom.

"Yeah," I replied.

Meowth smiled at me. "Normally, I'd be worried about a cat-fight breakin' out, but I don't think we hafta worry about dat anymore," he said as he unsheathed his claws and examined them.

"I don't think so either," I told him. "Those two will be just fine."

Meowth's smile quickly became a frown. "Aw, dammit! I broke some a my claws durin' dat fight!" With that, he got out an emery board and proceeded to give himself a meowthicure.

"That reminds me," I said, "the rest of our pokemon need to be patched up, too. I should probably do that while I'm waiting for Jess."

"Yeah, good idea," he agreed.

Once I'd let Weezing, Victreebel, Arbok, Wobbuffet, Staryu, Poliwhirl, and Psyduck out of their poke balls, I sprayed some healing potion onto their wounds and gave them all a dish of pokemon chow. (I was surprised that Misty's pokemon were actually letting me help them -- they're usually beating the crap out of us!)

"Hey, James, ya still have dat mushroom soup ya made earlier?" Meowth asked as he watched the rest of the pokemon eating. I could hear his stomach growling as he placed a paw to it, and I was suddenly reminded of how hungry I was, too!

"Yeah, it's in my thermos," I replied. "I'll put it on the stove and heat it up again."

"Good! I ain't had a thing ta eat since dat bite a sandwich last night!"

"Me either!"

With that, I wasted no more time in getting out my thermos and pouring its contents into a pot. The earthy scent of the mushrooms emanating from the lukewarm soup made the biting pain in my stomach all the worse, but it also reminded me that I was cooking in a real kitchen now and that there was probably more food in the cupboards! And sure enough, when I looked in the pantry, I found a variety of sauces and spices as well as some rice, dried onions and seaweed, and even tea! We didn't have to settle for plain mushroom soup now -- I could jazz it up and make rice-balls and green tea to go with it! It'd be an actual meal!

Once the soup started heating up, I added a bit of soy powder and some of the onions and seaweed, transforming it from mushroom soup to miso soup. Then, I started boiling two more pots of water, adding rice to one and tea-bags to the other. After the rice had absorbed all of the water, I added some soy-sauce, scooped it out, and wrapped it in the rest of the seaweed.

While I was putting the finishing touches on dinner -- pouring the soup into bowls and the tea into cups, and putting the rice balls on plates -- Jessie and Misty finally came from the bedroom. Misty's shoulder was bandaged, and the two of them were smiling.

Jessie's eyes widened when she saw all of the food that I'd prepared. "James, this looks fantastic!" she exclaimed. I could hear her stomach growling as well.

"Why, thank you," I replied, walking over and putting my arms around her waist.

Jessie returned my embrace and rested her forehead against my own.

Misty sighed dreamily as she watched the two of us. "I'd love to stay," she said, "but it looks like you guys need some time to yourselves."

Jessie reached up and ran her fingers through my hair. "Yeah...yeah, we do."

My heart fluttered at her touch. You can say that again!

"I really need to get back to camp anyway," Misty continued. "I don't want the guys to worry about me."

Meowth slurped down his soup and his tea and grabbed an armful of rice balls. "Good idea -- don't want 'em ta think ya went and joined Team Rocket now, do ya?" he said as he shoved one of the rice balls into his mouth.

She laughed.

"I'll walk ya back, kiddo," Meowth told her. Then, he turned and winked at us. "I'm used ta givin' dese love-birds dere privacy."

Misty nodded as she grabbed her backpack and called back her pokemon. "Thanks again, guys...for everything. I really appreciate it," she said.

"Don't mention it," I replied.

She nodded again and followed Meowth to the door. Before taking her leave, however, she turned and looked at us once more. "Don't worry about a thing, you two -- your secret is safe with me. I promise I won't tell Ash that you're in love with each other -- he's not mature enough to understand...."

"Yeah!" Meowth snickered. "We'd prolly hafta draw charts and diagrams and stuff for him, and the kid STILL wouldn't get it!"

Misty laughed again and buried her face in her hands. "The sad thing is, you're probably right. I swear, he is so clueless about love and romance it drives me nuts!"

Jessie and I exchanged looks.

"Anyway," she continued. "Don't worry about it...and from now on...if I say or do something mean to you guys, don't take it to heart. I guess...we still have to keep up appearances and stuff...but we'll know the truth, right?"

"Right," Jessie, Meowth, and I said in unison.

Misty smiled at us one last time. Then, she turned and followed Meowth outside. "Goodbye!" she called to us as she headed back into the forest.

"Bye!" Jessie and I echoed.

"See youse guys later!" Meowth said slyly.


Once we were alone, Jessie and I gazed into each other's eyes again. Her face was flushed, and I could feel my face burning, too. She wanted to finish what we'd started earlier every bit as much as I did!

But as hard as it was for us to ignore the hunger we had for each other, it was even harder to ignore the hunger we had in our stomachs -- we had to have dinner first.

As the two of us seated ourselves at the table and began to eat, however, Jessie suddenly became pensive.

"Hey, what's on your mind, Jess?" I asked, reaching over and taking her hand in my own.

She smiled weakly at me. "'s just that...when we were talking earlier...I didn't really tell you everything, James."

"What do you mean?"

"I didn't tell you everything about why I was depressed...about what happened when I was alone," she explained.

I gently squeezed her hand. "But you're going to tell me now, right?"

She nodded.

"Well?" I prompted after a moment of silence.

Jessie closed her eyes and sighed. "I...I was thinking about my momma again, James," she whispered. "I thought about all the things I wanted to do with my life and how none of it ever happened...and then I thought about her...."

"Oh, Jess...."

"James, my momma died because of me! She gave her life because she wanted me to make my dreams come true!" she cried. When she opened her eyes again, tears were spilling down her cheeks. "Sometimes I can't help but feel like I killed her...and that I let her down by not making anything of myself...."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing! How could she think such a terrible thing about herself?! How could she blame herself for something that wasn't her fault?! "Jessie...."

"....And then I thought about how I let you down, and I just couldn't handle it," she continued. "I felt so bad about all the people I've hurt and all the lives I've destroyed...that I started thinking...that maybe this world would be better off without me...."

I couldn't take it anymore! I couldn't sit here and listen to Jessie saying such awful things about herself! "Jessica, that's not true, and you know it!" I shouted, grabbing her by the arms and pulling her into me. "You're my best soul-mate! You're the love of my life, Jessie! How could you possibly think that I'd be better off without the most important thing in the world to me?!" Now I was starting to cry, too!

Jessie smiled weakly at me. "You didn't let me finish, James. I know that what I'm saying sounds really bad, but trust me, it isn't. I wouldn't be here otherwise. You see, just when I'd hit rock-bottom...something amazing happened...."

"What?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.

She covered her mouth with her hand and laughed a little. "Silly old Wobbuffet came out of his poke ball and started bugging me. And he made me remember something that I'd missed before...."

"And what would that be?"

"This," she replied, holding up her left hand and showing me the ring I'd made for her last fall after our stint as the Black Arachnid in Katalia City. "James, when I saw your promise ring, I suddenly remembered everything you just said...and I remembered what you told me on the morning you gave it to me. I remember, you said, every time things get rough, I want you to look at that ring and remember my remember how much I love you.... And I did."

I breathed a sigh of relief.

"And while I sat there and looked at this ring, I started thinking about everything we've been through together and how much you love me...and I realized that I couldn't hurt you like that. I finally realized that I had to swallow my pride and make things right for you again," she continued, drying my tears and kissing me on the cheek. "I also realized something else...that even though my childhood dreams never came true and probably never will, it doesn't matter...."

I hugged Jessie closer than ever and ran my fingers through her hair. "Why is that?"

"Because those aren't my dreams anymore -- I have different ones now, and all of them involve you!" she explained. "James, even if I never do anything with my life, I know that I'll be happy as long as you're by my side. But if I did become a doctor or an actress or the world's greatest trainer...none of it would mean a thing if you weren't there for me to share it with. I...I want to share the rest of my life with you, James. I want to be your wife someday...I want to be the mother of your children. If I can have that, nothing else matters!" Tears were streaming down her face again as she said this.

Words can't describe how happy I was at that moment -- Jessie really did understand how important she was to me! And I was every bit as important to her! "We'll have all of that and more, Jessie. I promise," I told her as I brushed her tears away and kissed her forehead. "Those are my dreams too, you know. As long as I have you in my life, there's nothing else I need."

Jessie nodded. "I know. But I still feel really bad about the way I treat you sometimes...."

"It's okay. Really," I said. "I know that everything you've been through still hurts. I've been there, myself. We both came into this with a lot of baggage, but that's part of what true love is about -- it's about helping each other carry that baggage and easing the burden. Jessie, that's exactly what you've done for me. Before I met you, I didn't feel like I could deal with anything. I was always so afraid. But as burdened as you already were, you helped me anyway. Jess, you can't imagine how much it means to me that you're a part of my life! You've given me strength...and courage -- you're the brightest star in my sky!"

"James, you've always been strong...and brave. Much more so than you've ever given yourself credit for," Jessie replied. "Making the choices that you've made -- that's not anything a weakling or a coward could ever do. If anything, you're the one who's made me stronger. You give me the will to keep on when I feel like giving up. You give me hope when everything feels hopeless. You're everything to me, James. I love you."

As I held Jessie in my arms and listened to her, I suddenly found myself thinking about our motto. Every line is filled with a special meaning for the two of us, but at that moment, the meaning of one of my lines seemed to have even more significance. "Jessie?"


"You know how I always say To extend our reach to the stars above?"

Jessie smiled at me again. She knew where I was going with this.

"That's exactly what we do, Jess," I told her. "When we're together, our strengths seem to multiply, and our weaknesses diminish. When we're together anything is possible -- we really can extend our reach to the stars above!"

Jessie's smile grew even wider. "You're right, James! You're so right!"

I placed a hand to Jessie's cheek and caressed her face. More tears began to fall from her eyes when I did this, but I brushed them away again. "Always remember that, Jessie," I said. "No matter how hopeless things may seem at times, never forget how much you mean to me and how much I love you."

She nodded and closed her hand over mine.

"And never doubt that your mother is proud of you either," I continued. "She loved you so much...and still does. Didn't you once tell me that one of the reasons she took the mission was so that you could have a beautiful wedding dress someday?"

Jessie closed her eyes and trembled. "Y-yes," she stammered. She was beginning to cry again.

"Well, doesn't that mean one of her dreams was for you to find true love? Somebody worth wearing a beautiful wedding dress for?"

After a long pause, Jessie opened her eyes, and the smile returned to her lips. " does," she replied. She then took my hands in her own again and brought them to her lips. "That means I made one of her dreams come true, after all -- you're my true love, James! You're worth it!"

I rested my forehead against hers and returned her smile. "Thanks, Jess."

The two of us embraced once again and gazed into each other's eyes. After a moment, Jessie began to gently sway from side to side, as if she were coaxing me to lead her into a dance. Taking the cue, I lowered my hands until they were resting on her waist and started to sway along with her. Then she brought her arms up and wrapped them around my shoulders.

"James?" she muttered.

"What is it, sweetheart?"

"When I was alone earlier, I was listening to our new album," she told me.

"You mean the new Stabbing Westward?"


I smirked. "That's funny. I felt like listening to it earlier, too."

She chuckled. "Well, I was really depressed at first, but after I saw your promise ring and got to thinking about how much I care about you...I don't know how to explain it, but...I just started thinking about one of the songs on the album, and it sounded so perfect! It sounded just like what you mean to me and how you make me feel. I wanted to sing it for you when I found you in the woods, but I never really got the chance. I...I'd like to sing it now, though...if you don't mind, that is...."

"Of course I don't mind, Jessie," I said. "You have such a beautiful voice -- you sound like an angel."

Jessie blushed. "That's exactly what the song was called -- Angel," she told me. She then took a deep breath, and after a couple of minutes, she began to softly sing:

I believed that love was sacred
As I dove blindly into his sea.
You see, that warm embrace felt more like drowning
As endless waves crashed over me.
He was an insatiable black hole,
Feeding off my mind and off my soul.
I found love humilating,
Sick and desperate need that drains me.
God, I hoped I'd never feel again.

But I've never been loved by an angel,
I've never felt anything so pure.
I've never been loved by an angel,
Until the night when your heaven filled my world.

You showed me love could lift me higher.
With a kiss, you repaired these broken wings.
You revived my fading spirit,
Restored my faith in everything.
I had never felt I had a home.
Even in a crowd I felt alone.
I'd almost given up on life,
I believed it was all a lie,
I never thought I'd ever feel again.

But I've never been loved by an angel,
I've never felt anything so pure.
God, I've never been loved by an angel,
Until the night when your heaven filled my world.

I believed in nothing,
But you believe in me.
I thought that I was worthless,
But you told me I'm a star.

I've never been loved by an angel,
I've never felt anything so pure.
God, I've never been loved by an angel,
Until the night when your heaven filled my world.

When Jessie finished the song, her voice was cracking, and she was on the verge of tears once more. "Th-that's what you are, James," she whispered. "You're my angel."

As I listened to her, I was ready to cry, too! That was one of my favorite songs on the album because it was exactly how I felt about her. I couldn't imagine anything more wonderful than hearing her sing it about me! "You're my angel too, Jessie," I whispered back. "I love you so much."

Jessie tightened her hold on me and smiled. "I love you, too."

I could feel her breath on my lips as I placed a hand under her chin and brought my face closer to hers. I paused for a moment to study her beautiful features, and when I saw her mouth begin to quiver, I pulled her completely into me and gave her the kiss she'd been anticipating.


It was soft. It was warm. It was everything I wanted. It was James.

I parted my lips as he kissed me and felt my heart fluttering when his tongue pushed its way into my mouth and gently began to caress my own tongue. His fingers felt like fire as they brushed across my cheek and down the side of my neck. I opened my eyes the tiniest bit and reached up to run my fingers through his silky blue-violet hair. James trembled as I caressed the smooth skin on the back of his neck.

"Jessie?" he muttered after a few minutes.


"Don't we...have some...unfinished care...of?" he asked, punctuating every couple of words with a soft, velvety kiss.

My heart fluttered once more. "Yes, James...yes, we do," I whispered into his ear.

James trembled again as my breath tickled him, and his emerald eyes began to glitter. "Now, where did we leave off?" he asked innocently, placing his hands on my shoulders and sliding down the straps of my nightgown.

I grinned as I cupped his face in my hands and brushed my fingers along his cheeks, making him blush. "I believe we were!" With that, I pulled him down until his head was resting on my bare breasts.

Now James was grinning, too. "Yeah! That's where we were!" He was blushing more brightly than ever.

I wrapped my arms around James and rested my head against his own, savoring the sweet fragrance of roses that permeated his hair and the wonderful feeling of his lips kissing my breasts.

"James?" I muttered as I planted a kiss atop his head.


"Make love to me. I want you more than anything...."

James looked up at me. His gorgeous green eyes were sparkling again, and I could feel his heart racing. "Jessie, I thought you'd never ask!" With that, he swept me into his arms and carried me into the bedroom.

Our lips met in another kiss as James kicked the door shut and laid me down on the bed. Then, he laid himself at my side and took me in his arms again, continuing to kiss me all the while. His hands worked at my nightgown and pulled the rest of it off. After tossing the nightie aside, I felt his fingers brushing against my thighs, and a wild chill of anticipation coursed through my entire body. I lifted my hips and arched my back, pressing myself closer to James and making it easier for him to slide off my panties.

I slowly unbuttoned his red shirt and ran my fingers down his muscular chest and stomach. It never ceased to amaze me what a beautiful body he had. His heart pounded faster than ever at my touch, and he began to whisper my name over and over again as I loosened the buckle of his belt and unzipped his pants. His voice caught in his throat for a moment as he gasped with pleasure at the feeling of my hands pulling off his pants and boxer shorts.

Once the two of us were finished undressing each other, James produced a red rose from the pocket of his pants, which were now lying on the floor along with the rest of our clothing. Then, he took my hands in his own and brought my arms over my head. He brushed the rose down one of my arms, tickling me with the soft petals. When he reached my face, he brushed it across my lips and cheeks and held it to my nose, allowing me to inhale the sweet fragrance. I closed my eyes and smiled as he brushed the rose along my neck and shoulders, and I gasped when I felt it moving slowly across my breasts and down my belly.

James closed his mouth over mine and wrapped me in another tight embrace as I began to moan with pleasure, and I returned his embrace, caressing his back and moving my hands lower and lower until they were resting on his butt. Our kiss deepened, and I could feel him pressing against my thighs as he became aroused. I'd been ready for this since the moment he'd first kissed me, and now he was ready, too...and this time there was nothing to interrupt us!

"Make love to me, James," I whispered again. "Please make love to me...."

James brushed the tip of his nose against mine and smiled tenderly at me. "Jessie...." he whispered back.

"Lift my spirit higher than all the stars in heaven," I told him as I pressed my lips to his once more and opened my legs, welcoming him inside.

And that's exactly what he did!


James and I spent the rest of the night in each other's arms, kissing and caressing as we made love. Every movement he made filled me with pleasure, and every touch made me burn with more desire than the last -- I never wanted him to stop!

It's uncanny how well James knows my body. He always knows exactly where...and how to touch me. But then, I seem to know his body just as well as he knows mine. That's the way it is with soul-mates -- they inherently know what their other half loves and inherently know how to make each other happy. And so it is with me and James.

Ever since the day I met James, it felt like he was my soul-mate. Before I met him, I always felt like there was something missing from my I was only half a person. But the emptiness in my soul went away when I found him. When we're together, it's easier for me to remember that my past is over...that the pain I sometimes feel is only temporary and that the present and future are filled with so much happiness to embrace. I don't know how long it will take before I completely get over the pain of my past, but I do know that a lot of my old wounds are finally starting to heal...and it's all because of James.

He's taught me so much over the years. He's a kindred spirit who knows just as much about pain and loss as I do. Because of him, I've learned that I do have the strength to overcome the adversities I've been faced with and that I haven't been destroyed by them, after all. Because of him, I know that I am capable of loving completely and unconditionally...and being loved completely and unconditionally in return (even though I don't always act like it.) Because of him, I know that I'll never be alone again...because I have a soul-mate.

I especially feel that way at moments like these, when we share our bodies as well as our souls. Being as close to him as possible...sharing a complete union with him, it's like we become one person. It's the closest thing to perfection that I can imagine...and I can't imagine a more perfect person to share that with than James!

I must be the luckiest woman in the world, to be able to share my life with such a wonderful man, I said to myself as I gazed into my lover's beautiful emerald eyes and savored the feeling of his gentle touch. He was gazing back at me with such an adoring expression on his face -- it made him look even more handsome than he already was!

"I love you, James," I whispered. "You make me so happy -- you really are my angel!"

"I love you too, Jess," he echoed. "I'll always love you!"

James kissed me again as we continued to make love, and I tightened my hold on him, never wanting to let go. I am the luckiest woman in the world!

At that moment, I felt more happiness than I ever thought possible. I felt like the brightest star in the sky -- all of my dreams were within my reach, and all of them were going to come true...all because of James!

He's right -- we really do extend our reach to the stars above!

The End

Author's Notes

Wow! This sure was a long one, wasn't it? This was my first experiment with shifting POVs, so I guess that's gotta be expected. I was originally going to do it in two parts as a James version and a Jessie version, but I changed my mind and did it this way instead because it seemed to fit together better. I don't know if it actually worked, but I don't think this was too bad for my first try at this type of fic.

Hmmm...I also used a lot of music in this story. All of the songs -- So Far Away, Wasted, and Angel (I tweaked the lyrics of Angel a little bit so that it sounds like a woman singing rather than a man) -- are from Stabbing Westward's new self-titled album. I swear, I'm beyond obsessed with that band, and they just seem to keep getting better and better! After I got the album, I kept thinking "OMG! That's TR!" when I listened to a lot of the songs. And so many of the darker songs on it that aren't shippy really sounded like TR in "Forest Grumps!" It's uncanny! O_o

And now, for something completely different. The scene where Jessie thought about jumping off the cliff was there for a reason. I wasn't originally going to write it, but while I was working on this story, somebody sent me a horrible fic where James leaves Jessie, and she commits suicide by jumping off a cliff. >_< I just put a cliff scene in my own story to show why something like that would never happen. (It was sort of theraputic for me.) James loves Jessie, and he'd never leave her, and Jess is a strong woman who's capable of finding better solutions to her problems than suicide!

And last but not least, I'd like to give a very special thanks to my friend, Chaos, for the illustration of Jessie contemplating her life, my friend, Mo, for the illustration of James thinking about Jessie (which was inspired by and has imagery from Stabbing Westward's So Far Away video!), and my friend, Jupiter, for the illustration of Jessie & James reaffirming their love! ^_^


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