To Unite All Peoples Within Our Nation
by Cori Falls
I knew it was going to be a bad day. Just like the day before it. I knew from the moment the sun rose that anything we did was going to get screwed up somehow.
Such is the story of our lives.
First of all, none of us got any sleep last night. The knowledge that slumber would only bring death by hypothermia is quite an incentive to stay awake, after all. Still, we were all exhausted, cold, and starving, which made the temptation of sleep pretty damned hard to resist. So, the three of us ended up spending the whole night pinching and slapping each other in a desperate attempt to stay awake.
And then, to make matters worse, our balloon was stolen by those little twerps! It's bad enough that the blizzard blew it away last night, leaving us stranded on this mountain, but seeing the Brat Pack flying away in it and not even offering to help us was too much!
James, Meowth, and I gave chase, screaming at them not to leave us behind, but I doubt they even heard our cries. (Either that, or they pretended not to -- they're such mean little pests, after all!)
We ended up falling into a hot spring when we followed them, and that's where we still were. The water was boiling, and if we stayed in much longer, we were going to get stewed, but every time we tried to climb out, an icy wind began to blow. The fact that we were wet only made the mountain air seem even chillier than it already was.
"Oh, great! I'm gettin' hot feet and a head cold!" Meowth groaned.
"We're all washed up," James whimpered.
So what else is new? I said to myself.
Well, we couldn't stay like that forever -- somebody had to find enough gumption to get out of the water and head back to our makeshift igloo to build a campfire. And since James and Meowth seemed to be more bothered by the cold than I was (never mind the fact that Meowth had a fur coat, James had a nice warm uniform, and I was stuck with the skimpy, revealing outfit!), I guess that somebody was going to be me. Oh, well. Had to take one for the team, I suppose.
Once the wind had abated some, I leapt from the water. And I tell you, I never felt so cold before -- not once in my entire life! The slightest breeze cut through me like a knife, and the water on my skin turned into ice crystals. Even my sopping-wet clothes became frozen as they clung to my body! Fortunately, the cold was so intense that after a few minutes, my body went numb, and before long, I couldn't feel anything anymore.
James and Meowth looked at me like I'd gone insane.
"Whaddaya' think yer doin', Jess?" the cat cried.
"Saving our asses! What do you think?!"
"But, Jessie, you're going to freeze to death out there!" James protested.
"Like boiling to death in that water is any better?!" I shot back. "I don't know about you two, but if we're going to die anyway, I'd rather die trying to get off of this goddamned mountain!"
Before either one of them could reply, I turned away and headed for a nearby hammock of trees. I couldn't chop any firewood because our tools were still in the balloon, but I could at least try to gather some fallen branches to use as kindling.
Why did Giovanni send us to this God-forsaken place anyway? I wondered as I picked up some twigs and pine fronds. What's so important about that stupid little kid's stupid little Pikachu that it's worth putting us through this? Doesn't he know how I feel about mountains? About snow? Wait a minute...what kind of question is that?! Of course that son of a bitch knows! He sent us here on purpose, just so he could torture me! God, I hate him! I hate him, I hate my goddamned job...I hate my whole goddamned life....
My thoughts were broken when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and saw James and Meowth standing next to me. They were shivering, but they were also smiling.
"Need some help?" Meowth asked.
I nodded, and they leaned down to help me gather firewood.
"You're right, Jess," James said. "We can't just give up. We've been in worse situations than this, and we always manage to make it through. That's why we're such a great team!"
I couldn't help but return his smile. I stand corrected -- I don't hate everything about my life.
Once our arms were loaded with branches and twigs, we returned to our igloo. We were still freezing, but at least we were out of the wind now. And soon, we'd have a fire, too!
It took forever, but we finally managed to light one of the matches we had with us. (Not an easy task, considering the fact that the matches had already been used and our hands were so numb we could barely feel what we were doing!) Once that tiny flame was dancing on the end of the match, however, it seemed like luck was actually with us for a change! Still, we didn't want to tempt fate, so we wasted no time in putting the match to the kindling and setting it ablaze. Before long, the cold, dark igloo was illuminated by the rosy glow of a warm campfire.
Meowth snickered as he watched me and James strip to our underwear and hang our uniforms, which were still wet from our dunk in the hot spring, over the fire to dry. "Hehe! Don't youse kids be gettin' no ideas, now! Keep dat hanky-panky to a minimum!"
"Shut it, flea-bag!" I snapped, my face turning as red as my hair.
"Yeah! Knock it off, Meowth!" James cried. He was blushing, too!
An uncomfortable silence descended on the igloo as James and I looked away from each other, and Meowth attempted to supress his giggling.
What was with that cat anyway? Did he think that something was going on between me and James? I know we can get kind of touchy-feely at times, but that's just because we've known each other since we were kids, and we're best friends. But that's all we are! Friends. Aren't we?
Suddenly, I heard the sound of our three stomachs growling. We hadn't had a thing to eat since I made momma's special snow rolls (which weren't very filling...especially without the soy sauce) the night before, and we didn't have any real food. What were we going to do?
"I'm hungry!" James whined. "I want something to eat!"
I was in a foul mood to begin with, and his complaining wasn't doing anything to help, so I grabbed my paper fan and smacked him upside the head. "Quit your belly-aching! We're all hungry!"
"Hey, Jess! Why doncha' make us another snowgasbord?" Meowth jeered.
Now it was the cat's turn to feel the wrath of my fan. "Shut up!" I shouted, smacking him even harder than I had smacked James. "Don't make fun of my momma's cooking!"
"Hey! It ain't Meowth's fault yer momma's so pathetic she had ta cook snow ta keep from starvin' ta death!"
Well, that did it. I know he always pokes fun at me, and I can tune it out sometimes, but nobody insults my mom! Sure, we may have eaten nothing but snow during the winter, but we were poor, and we had to make do with what little we had. How dare that mangy alley-cat call momma pathetic because of that?! She was the best mom a girl could ask for! She may not have had enough money to buy me toys or new clothes...or even food at times, but she always gave me plenty of what matters most -- love. She was the only person in this world who ever cared about me, and now that she was gone, I had nothing left. Where did he get off?!
This time I hit him with my mallet instead of my fan and sent him flying into the wall of the igloo. "I TOLD YOU TO SHUT UP!!!!!" I screamed. "Don't you EVER talk about her like that!"
Suddenly, I felt dizzy. My vision blurred as the inside of the igloo began to spin around, and my mallet became too heavy to hold up. I guess going so long without food and sleep was starting to take its toll on me.
I broke out in a cold sweat as I sank to my knees and began gasping for air. Why was it getting so hard to breathe?
"Jessie? Are you okay?" I heard James ask. He was right next to me, but it sounded like his voice was miles away.
"I-I'm fine," I replied, getting to my feet and reaching for my uniform. "I just need some fresh air...that's all...."
As soon as I was dressed again, I staggered outside so that I could clear my head.
Jeez! I'm just trying to keep all of us alive and get us off of this damned mountain in one piece, and how do they repay me? By making fun of me and insulting my mother! I said to myself. I'd expect something like this from the brat and his little friends, but James and Meowth? Never! How can they speak that way about momma?!
Momma. As I thought about her, unpleasant memories of the snow came flooding back into my mind, and I began to cry.
I turned around. James was standing behind me.
"What the hell do you want?!" I demanded. "Did you come to laugh at me, too?!"
He stepped closer and put a hand on my shoulder. "Jessie, I just...."
At that point I was so upset that I didn't even want him anywhere near me...let alone touching me! "Go away, James!" I snapped, shoving him to the ground. "Leave me the hell alone!"
"Jessie, what's gotten into you?!" he cried.
I grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and hauled him to his feet. "I said leave me alone!" I hissed.
James's eyes grew big and wobbly, and his lip began to quiver. Suddenly, I realized just how terribly I was acting, and I released him.
"Please. Just go away," I whispered, a tear of regret rolling down my face and freezing before it could drop to the ground.
His expression softened from fear to sadness, and he slowly nodded. "Okay," he said softly, retreating back inside the igloo.
Once he was gone, I sank to my knees and buried my face in my hands. God, why did I blow up at James like that? I said to myself. He didn't do anything wrong...he was just trying to help. I should apologize to him....
But as I got to my feet and prepared to do just that, I saw something in the distance. Squinting my eyes and shading them from the sun, I saw that it was a woman. She had long, purple hair, and she was dressed in a black Team Rocket Elite uniform. Could it be....?
"Momma?" I said.
The woman looked down at me and disappeared over the ridge.
I know she was really far away, but I swear she looked exactly like my mother! But that was impossible -- momma died ten years ago! Who, then, was this woman?! I had to find out!
"Wait! Come back!" I called, running after her.
When I crested the ridge, I saw the strange woman in the distance. She was walking up a steep trail that led deeper into the mountain.
"Come back!" I called after her again. "I just want to talk to you!"
The woman stopped and looked at me.
Good. At least she heard me this time.
I ran as fast as I could to catch up to her, but I swear, no matter how much ground I covered, she just didn't seem to be getting any closer. That's the thing about mountains -- it's so hard to gauge distances.
It took forever, but I finally made it to where the woman had been standing. However, once I got there, she was gone again!
"Hey! Where did you go?" I said.
But if she was still there, she gave no reply.
Suddenly, I became dizzy again. And if I thought I'd felt bad before, it was infinitely worse now -- I was so lightheaded I could barely stand! Lacking the strength to do anything else, I seated myself on a rock and hung my head.
That's when I saw it -- a glint of gold protruding from the snow. Picking it up, I saw that it was an earring. A gold earring just like the ones momma used to wear.
Now I understood.
This wasn't just any mountain -- this was the mountain! The accursed mountain that took my momma away from me! I knew something seemed strange about this place! And that woman...it must have been her spirit!
Quickly, I jumped to my feet again. "Momma!" I cried. "Momma, where are you?"
No reply. She was gone.
Once again, I became consumed by my anger and despair. Giovanni knew about this place, and he still sent us here! He was probably sitting in his office, stroking that Persian of his and laughing his ass off at this very moment! I hate him so much!
And as much as I hate him, I hate this goddamned mountain even more! The mountain that killed the one person in the world who truly loved me. The mountain that ruined my life.
I looked up towards the summit and clenched momma's earring in my fist. "I HATE YOU!!!!!" I screamed. "DO YOU HEAR ME?! I HATE YOU!!!!!"
But that's the thing about nature -- it doesn't care whether you hate it or not...and it doesn't care whether you live or die.
I knew full well that it wasn't going to bring my mother back or help us escape, but venting my rage felt so good. I just had to do it again. Even though I still felt like I was going to faint and my throat was getting scratchier by the moment, I took a deep breath and let it out....
"HATE YOU...Hate you...hate you...." was the only reply the mountain gave.
Suddenly, I heard a rumbling sound coming from overhead -- my screams had shaken the snow loose from the side of the cliff!
And it was coming straight for me.
I started to run, but I was so weak and dizzy that I could barely move. Even if I were at my peak, I doubt I could have outrun the raging snows. Nobody could.
And so they caught me.
As the snow barreled into me, I felt myself being pushed off the trail and over the precipice. I fell for what seemed like hours until I slammed into an outcropping of rocks. Most of the falling snow bypassed the rock I was lying on, but there was still enough left to bury me in an icy shroud.
So, this is how it ends, I said to myself. Killed in an avalanche. Like mother, like daughter....
Then, everything went black, and I knew no more.
"Jessie, can you hear me?!"
Slowly, I opened my eyes. All of my surroundings were white, save for a blurry figure kneeling over me. I had vague memories of getting caught in an avalanche and falling from a cliff. Was I dead? Was this Heaven? Was that thing hovering above me and calling my name an angel?
"Come on, Jess! Wake up!"
Once my vision came into focus, I saw who it was.
His eyes widened when he heard me speak. "It's okay, Jessie! You're going to be okay! I promise!"
I looked around and saw that I was half-buried in a large drift of snow...and that James was digging me out with his hands.
"James...." I said weakly, closing my eyes again.
"NO!!!" I heard him cry. Then, I felt him grab me by the front of my jacket and start slapping me across the face. "No! You stay with me, Jess! Wake up! Wake up!!"
James had never stuck me before. Not once in the entire time we've known each other. So, I didn't quite know what to make of what was going on. My eyes fluttered open, and I tried to pull away from him.
But then, I looked into his eyes and saw the worry in them...I saw that he felt now how I had when we were shipwrecked on the St. Anne and he'd gone hysterical with fear. I wasn't hitting him to be mean then -- I was only trying to keep him calm so that he could have the presence of mind to cross the inferno. And he wasn't hitting me to be mean now -- he was just trying to bring me back to the realm of consciousness so that I wouldn't freeze to death.
When he was sure that I was going to stay awake, James grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me gently. "Can you move, Jessie?" he asked. "Try and see if you can...."
It took me a moment to figure out what he wanted, but once I did, I started moving my legs and wiggling my fingers and toes. "Can't...feel...a thing...." I told him.
"Shit!" he said. "Hang on, Jess! I'll have you out of there in a second!" With that, he started digging again.
Once he'd cleared enough of the snow away, he put his arms around my waist and pulled me completely out. I felt so cold and numb that I was afraid I'd shatter if I tried to do anything, but with a tremendous amount of effort, I put my arms around him, too. He smiled when he saw that I could move, but it quickly became a frown when he placed his hand on my forehead.
"God, Jess! You're burning up! I've got to get you out of this weather!"
"James...how did you find me?" I asked in a slurred voice.
James pulled me closer to him and took the poke ball from my pocket. "I'll tell you in a minute," he replied. "Right now, we need to find shelter -- it's getting dark, and it looks like another blizzard is heading this way."
With that, he tossed my poke ball to the ground and released Arbok. "Dig a hole into the side of the cliff and make a cave for us!" he commanded.
Arbok nodded and burrowed into the stone face of the mountain.
When she returned a few minutes later, James called Arbok back into the poke ball and pulled me into the tunnel she'd made.
And I've got to give my pokemon credit -- she made one hell of a cave for us. She'd burrowed into a subterranean grotto where one of the hot springs on the surface had its source! But unlike the last hot spring we'd encountered, this one was out of the elements, and the entire cave was toasty-warm because of it!
"You feeling better now?" James asked as he carried me into the cave and set me on the ground.
The sudden change from cold to warm was a little too much for me, and my extremities, which had previously been completely numb were now burning. "It hurts...." I muttered.
"That's a good sign -- means it's not too late," James said as he pulled off my boots and socks and began to rub my legs. "I'm glad I found you when I did...any longer and you may have gotten frostbite...."
"How did you find me anyway?" I asked. "You never did tell me."
James continued to rub my legs and feet. Before long, the blood started circulating again, and the burning sensation gave way to a prickly pins-and-needles one. "I was worried about you," he replied. "You weren't acting like yourself, so even though you told me that you wanted to be alone, I knew that you shouldn't be. But when I came out to try and talk to you again, I saw that you were gone.
"Fortunately, you left a trail of footprints in the snow. I followed them over the ridge, and when I got to the top, I saw you in the distance, heading up the trail. I called out to you, but I don't think you heard me, so I just kept following."
Once the feeling in my legs had returned, James took off my gloves and jacket and started rubbing my arms.
"You stopped after a little while," he continued. "And it looked like I was finally going to catch up to you...but then you started screaming. Screaming that you hated me."
I hung my head. "It wasn't you I was screaming at, James," I told him, tears of guilt welling up in my eyes. How can James possibly think that I hate him?! "It wasn't you...."
I shook my head. "I'll tell you in a minute."
He nodded and continued his story. "Well, now I was more worried than ever. I didn't care whether you hated me or not -- I just wanted to get to you as fast as I could...but I was too late. As soon as the echoes of your scream died away, I saw all of that snow on the ledge above you collapse.
"God, Jessie! Words can't describe how terrified I was when that happened -- I thought you'd been killed...I thought I'd lost you forever! I-I kept running until I got to where the snow had caved in, but I didn't see you anywhere. Then, I started worrying that you'd gone over the cliff, or something.
"And I am so glad that I decided to look -- when I peered over the edge, I saw you lying on an outcropping about ten feet below. Well, it wasn't really you -- just your hair sticking out of the snow. So, I climbed down as fast as I could and started digging you out...."
By now, I had the feeling in my arms and hands once again, but James was still rubbing me. Well, actually, it was more like he was caressing me. And there was this look on his face -- such a gentle, adoring gaze. He smiled tenderly at me and took my hands in his own. I felt my heart flutter as he began leaning closer to me. Was he going to....?
"I know you love the snow, Jessie, but I think you went a little overboard today!" he chided me. "Don't ever scare me like that again!"
When I heard this, I began to cry.
James put his arms around me. "Shhh...it's okay, Jessie...it's okay," he whispered. "It's over now."
"It's not that," I muttered, returning his embrace. "It's just that...I don't love snow...."
He raised an eyebrow.
"I hate the snow, James! I hate it!"
"But just yesterday you were dancing around and singing about how much you loved snow," he protested. "I swear, Jess, I'd never seen you so happy before!"
"I...I was just trying to be strong!" I sobbed. "I was pretending that everything was okay so you and Meowth wouldn't know how much it was bothering me!"
James cupped my chin in his hand. "Jessie, if something was wrong, you should've told me! Why didn't you?"
"Because I was afraid, James! I still am!"
"Of what?" he asked. "That we'd make fun of you? Look, Jessie, I know that Meowth was out of line with what he said about your mother -- I even told him so before I came to talk to you, but that's no reason to...."
"It's not that," I told him. "It's just...if I tell you what's going on, you're going to be upset...and...you'll probably end up hating me...."
"Hate you?!" he cried. "Never! Now tell me what it is!"
I turned away from him and continued to cry. How was I going to get out of this one?
I felt James place a hand on my shoulder. "Please, Jessie," he said softly. "I'm your friend. Whatever it is, you can tell me."
I looked back at James. He really did want to know. I guess I had no choice but to tell him....
"James...we've known each other for a long time now," I began.
"Almost half our lives."
I nodded. "But I'm not the person you think I am...I haven't been completely honest with you."
"Jessie, what are you saying?"
I closed my eyes and felt fresh tears rolling down my cheeks. "My mother is dead, James...."
"Is that it?!" he said in disbelief. "Why would I hate you because of that, Jess?!"
"No. It's how she died," I continued. "Do you remember when I was telling you about the snowgasbord momma made for me?"
"It happened a couple of weeks after that," I told him. "It was on this very mountain...ten years ago...there was an avalanche...and nobody ever saw her again...."
Now he was confused. "But, Jessie, we flunked out of Pokemon Tech seven years ago, and I heard you talking on the phone with your mother on the day we left. How could your mom have been dead for ten years if you were on the phone with her seven years ago?"
"That's where the lie comes in," I explained. "James, I knew you were there, but I didn't want you to know who I was really talking to...I just called that awful woman mom so you wouldn't suspect. And besides, I didn't want you getting involved...."
"Who were you talking to, then? Who is this awful woman?"
"My mother's boss...the woman who sent her on the mission that got her killed...the leader of Team Rocket."
"Your mother was a member of Team Rocket? That's your big secret?" he said. "Jessie, I still don't see why you think I'd hate you because of that!"
"It's not just that, James!" I cried. "It's bigger than my mother! Team Rocket is who I am -- it always has been! Madam Boss paid for my education at Pokemon Tech after momma died because she wanted me to join Team Rocket and follow in the great Miyamoto's footsteps.
"And that's precisely why I flunked out. Once upon a time, James, I was good and innocent like you -- Team Rocket scared me, and I didn't want to have anything to do with them! I partied all night instead of studying because I wanted to fail that exam! I flunked out because I didn't want them to use me the way Arianna had used my mother...the way her son is using us now....
"....And that's why I lied to you on that day. I knew that once Arianna found out I'd run away, she was going to send her agents after me. After all the money she'd spent, she wasn't going to let me escape...she wasn't going to leave me alone. That's why they were following me...and that's why I didn't want you to come with me, James! I didn't want you to be in danger because of me!"
"Jessie, I knew you were running from Team Rocket from the start, but you know what? It didn't matter to me -- I stayed with you anyway! And it doesn't matter to me now, either!" James told me. "Besides, you weren't the only one who was running from your past. We both have things that scare us...that we'd rather not have to deal with again. And if I recall correctly, you also said you wanted to make your mother proud of you...your real mother."
I hung my head. "But I've failed, James!" I cried. "Just look at me! I'm still nothing!" I picked up my white Team Rocket jacket and held it out to him. "Even worse...I'm THIS!"
"That's not true!" James interjected, taking the jacket away from me. "Jessica, there is more to you than this scarlet letter! Every time I look at you, I see the light that shines in your soul...."
"My soul," I snorted. "Do you remember the day Team Rocket finally caught me...that day in Sunny Town? I remember...you told me that nothing was worth selling my soul for, but I never had one to begin with, James! Team Rocket already owned my soul -- they've owned it since the day I was born...and they'll probably own it until the day I die!
"Now do you see why I didn't want to tell you about this?! You always hated Team Rocket, but that's always been who I am...and now because of me, it's who you are, too! James, I will never forgive myself for what I've done to you...and I don't blame you if you hate me now. God knows, you have every right to...."
"Never, Jessie! I could never hate you!" James said, putting his arms around me. "Don't confuse what we do with who we are! We may work for Team Rocket, but that's not all there is to us -- last time I checked, we still had thoughts, feelings, and dreams of our own...we're still Jessie Parker and James Woodson, who want to be pokemon masters someday! Isn't that what you want, Jessie? Isn't that still your dream?"
I nodded and returned his embrace. "But I want more than that," I whispered, my voice becoming scratchy again. "I'm so sick of everybody thinking that we're monsters just because of the uniforms we wear. I'm so sick of our best-laid plans always ending with us blasting off again. I'm so sick of always putting our lives on the line and ending up with nothing to show for it. I want out, James!"
"I know, Jess. I know. I want out, too," he replied, rocking me back and forth as he cradled me in his arms. "But we won't be doing this forever. We'll find a way out someday -- a way other than death. I promise!"
"I just don't want to make the same mistakes my momma did," I continued. "I don't want to leave my child behind when I become a mother...if I become a mother...."
"I don't want to repeat my parents' mistakes either," said James. "And you know what? We won't! We know what they did wrong, so we'll know what not to do with our children...."
When he said this, he blushed and turned away from me.
Our children. Did that mean what I think it meant?! Did James really picture the two of us having children together?! Judging from the embarrassed look on his face and the way he was fidgeting, I could only conclude that he did. (And to tell you the truth, it sounded like a pretty appealing notion to me!)
But before I could ask him if that was what he'd meant to say, I was seized by a violent chill, and I started coughing. And not just any cough, either -- this was a thick, wet cough from deep inside my chest. Suddenly, it was getting hard to breathe again...just like earlier when I was in the igloo.
"Jess, are you okay?!" James asked, turning to face me once again.
I couldn't answer him because I was still coughing, so I just shook my head.
He placed a hand on my forehead. "You've still got a fever, Jess! You feel hotter than ever!"
"C-cold!" I gasped once I'd stopped coughing. "S-so cold...."
James wrapped my jacket around my shoulders and held me closer to him. "Fever...chills...coughing spells...this is really serious, Jessie! We've got to get out of here...get you to a hospital!"
"What ab-bout the blizzard?" I asked weakly.
"You're right," he said, a look of frustration crossing his face. "We can't go out in that storm...and you can't go out there, period! Shit! What are we going to do?!"
It didn't matter how warm the hot spring was making that cave -- I was still cold, and I began to shiver uncontrollably.
Now James looked really worried. "We've got to keep you warm!" With that, he took off his jacket and wrapped that around me as well. "Here. Take mine, too."
"W-won't you be cold?" I asked.
"That's not important," he replied.
I pulled our two jackets around myself and huddled into a ball while James paced about, trying to think of a way to get us out of this predicament. But no matter what I did, I just couldn't seem to get warm -- the cold had seeped into my bones, and no amount of covering was going to get rid of it. I needed something more....
James must have heard my teeth chattering because he suddenly stopped pacing and knealt by my side again. "Are you okay, Jess?"
"Y-y-you w-want me to s-say yes, or do you w-want the t-truth?" I asked as another coughing-fit came on.
He frowned and patted me on the back until I stopped coughing. My chest was starting to feel heavy, making it harder to breathe than ever before.
Too out of breath to reply, I simply nodded.
James seated himself next to me and pulled me into his lap. "Then I'll keep you warm myself."
"B-but I might be contagious, James," I protested in a faint, scratchy voice. "I don't want you getting sick, too...."
"I'll be fine," he insisted. "Just trust me. Okay?"
"Okay," I replied.
"Just relax, Jess," he whispered into my ear as he held me to him and began to caress my body. "Just take it easy."
His voice was beautiful...so smooth and calming, and his touch was every bit as gentle. As I put my arms around him and rested my head on his shoulder, he continued to whisper soothing words to me and move his hands down my back. And slowly but surely, the coldness inside of me started to go away.
But it still wasn't quite enough.
And somehow, James knew. I guess he could still feel me shivering.
"Jessie," he said tentatively, "if you still need to be warmer...there's something else we can try...."
"What is it, James?"
But as soon as my eyes met his, he began to blush, and he quickly turned away. "N-no. It's stupid. Forget I even said anything...."
He was really blushing now! At that moment his face was redder than when Meowth had laughed at us for undressing in front of each other...redder, even, than when he'd intimated that he wanted to have children with me some day! What could he have had in mind that was so embarrassing?
I had to find out, so I persisted. "No! I really want to know, James -- I'm cold, and I'll try anything!"
"Well...." he said, turning to look at me again. "I once read somewhere...that when two people want to stay warm...they can...share their body heat...."
"Isn't that what we're doing now?"
"Uh, yeah, but...clothes...sort of...get in the way. I mean...um...uh...."
"So what you're saying is, we both take off all of our clothing, huddle together, and cover ourselves with the clothes like a blanket?" I said, finishing the thought that he was too shy to complete.
He blushed again and nodded.
"James, that sounds like a great idea," I told him. "Why are you so ashamed?"
"Because...I didn't want you to think I was...."
I smiled at him. "I don't think you have a dirty mind, James! I've read about stuff like that in survival guides, too!" I said. "Besides, it's not like we've never seen each other naked before -- we used to bathe together all the time!"
"But that was when we were kids," he replied. "Things are different now...."
"....They just are!" he said, turning away from me.
"James, our bodies may have matured, but we're still the same people on the inside...we're still the best of friends!" I told him. "I'm not embarrassed for you to see me naked...and you shouldn't be embarrassed for me to see you, either."
He was still blushing, but he turned to face me again. "Jess, it'll be more than just seeing each other naked -- we're going to be touching, too. Are you sure you want to do this?"
I nodded. "We touch each other all the time -- I don't have a problem with it!"
"Not like this, we don't. Are you really sure?"
I smiled at him again. "Yes, I'm sure, James," I said, pulling off my shirt to show him that I meant what I was saying. "Now come on. We'll keep each other warm."
James smiled shyly at me and pulled off his own shirt.
My heart skipped a beat as I watched him undress. He had such a nice body.
Once all of our clothes were off, James laid down next to me. I put my arms around his waist as he covered us with our uniforms.
"Don't worry, Jessie," he said, cuddling closer and taking me in his arms. "I won't do anything just because we're...."
"You don't have to tell me that, James," I replied. "I know you're a gentleman. I trust you."
A look of surprise crossed his face when I said this. Why was it so hard for James to believe that I respected him? That I had faith in him?
And I did -- when I looked into his eyes, I could see that making sure I stayed warm was all that mattered to him. For the first time ever, I found that I could trust somebody with my very life. I'd never had to place so much faith in James before, but in all honesty, I never felt safer than I did at that moment.
I laid my head on his chest and listened to the beating of his heart. It was racing because he was still a little nervous, but he relaxed after a few minutes.
And those survival guides were right -- now that there was nothing between me and James, the heat our bodies were generating intensified, and the layer of clothing on top of us insulated that heat, keeping us doubly warm.
All of my troubles seemed to disappear as we laid together in a tight embrace. The unpleasant memories of the snow, my deception, my illness...everything became meaningless. Only James and I existed. Only the two of us mattered. Never before had we been so vulnerable with each other, but it felt good. Sharing this vulnerability only made me feel closer to James, and once he'd gotten over his initial nervousness, I knew that he felt the same way about me. We weren't just surviving -- we were bonding.
For the first time since we'd arrived on this mountain, I felt truly warm...on the inside and the outside. I felt so safe and warm, in fact, that I was finally able to do something I hadn't done in days....
James ran his fingers through my hair and kissed me on the forehead. "Get some sleep, Jessie," he whispered into my ear. "I won't let anything happen to you."
I know, I said to myself as I closed my eyes and let his warmth and the gentle rhythm of his heartbeat send me into a peaceful slumber.
When I awoke the next morning, James was still holding me in his arms, and I still felt safe and warm. Unfortunately, I still felt sick, too.
"Hey, Jess," he said softly when he saw me open my eyes. "How're you feeling?"
"I'm not cold anymore...but it's so hard to breathe," I replied.
"You've still got a fever," he told me. "We really do need to get you to a hospital."
I nodded. "Yeah...I've got a feeling this is more than just a cold or the flu."
James frowned, and I could see that he was beginning to worry about me again.
"You think that storm's passed?" I asked, changing the subject.
"I'll go and check," he said. With that, he pulled free of our embrace and put his pants on again. He left his jacket and his black thermal shirt with me for extra covering. "Be back in a second."
He headed down the tunnel that Arbok had burrowed the night before and returned a few minutes later.
"All clear," he said through chattering teeth. "But it's cold...colder than it was yesterday!"
"Well...you are wearing a little less than you were yesterday," I said playfully, wrapping his jacket around my bare chest and adjusting his shirt, which was draped across my hips.
He smiled for a moment but quickly became serious again. "Even so, it's still colder. Jess, you're not going out in that. If I'm right and that's pneumonia you've got, the chill in that air will kill you!"
Pneumonia. That's what I thought, too. "Then what are we supposed to do, James?" I asked. "We can't stay here forever -- we don't have any food, or supplies, or...." My voice trailed off as another coughing-spell began. I was starting to get the chills again.
"I don't know," James replied, coming to my side and pulling me into another embrace. "I don't know. I guess I could go and find Meowth...get him to bring help, but I really don't want to leave you alone here, Jessie!"
"James, if that's what you've got to do, then don't let me stop you," I told him once I could speak again. My voice was so weak and scratchy now that it was barely audible. "Besides, I won't be alone -- I've got Arbok. And you could always leave Weezing or Weepinbell to keep me company, too...."
When I said this, a light sparked in his emerald eyes. "That's it!" he exclaimed. "Jessie, you just gave me a great idea!"
I raised an eyebrow.
James smiled at me and took one of the poke balls from his belt. When he tossed it, Weezing emerged.
"Weezing, can you please do a favor for us?" James asked his pokemon.
"Jessie's sick, and she can't travel," he explained. "So we need you to go back and find Meowth. Tell him where we are and that we need help."
Weezing nodded and nuzzled against him for a moment. "Wee-zing!"
"Good luck," James called after him as he headed for the tunnel.
Once Weezing was gone, it was a waiting game. Waiting and worrying. What if Meowth hadn't stayed in the igloo after James left? What if he'd come looking for us and gotten lost in the mountains, or what if he had gotten caught in last night's blizzard? And what if another storm blew in while Weezing was out there, and he ended up getting lost, too? What if help never arrived? What if....
Somehow, James sensed how agitated I was. "Take it easy, Jess," he said softly, pulling me closer to him. "Meowth is smart -- I'm sure he didn't wander out in that weather last night. And Weezing's tough -- he's a cloud of poisonous vapor, so he can take the cold. It'd take a lot more than that snow out there to freeze him!"
"I guess you're right," I replied. I wasn't worried anymore, but all of the talk about cold and freezing was making me shiver.
"While we're waiting, why don't we keep each other warm again?" he suggested.
I smiled at him and nodded.
James and I spent the next couple of hours cuddling together and keeping each other warm. Even though the two of us were trapped inside the mountain that killed my mother, and I was sick with pneumonia, I felt safe. There was just something about being close to him....
Suddenly, we heard voices echoing through the tunnel.
"Hurry up! Weezing sez dey're in here!"
"I'm coming! I'm coming!"
"Looks like the cavalry's arrived," said James. Then, he looked down at our naked bodies, which were still entwined, and he blushed.
"We should probably get dressed," I remarked.
James nodded. "Yeah. If Meowth sees us like this, we'll never hear the end of it!"
We pulled on our uniforms as fast as we could. By the time Meowth arrived, we were both fully dressed.
"Hey, youse two! Glad ta see yer still alive!" the cat said when he saw us. "And you'll never guess who I ran into...."
Just then, another of our friends crawled through the tunnel. He was carrying a load of winter blankets with him.
"Mondo!" James exclaimed.
"Bout time ya got here!" Meowth said sarcastically.
"Well, Weezing said Jessie was sick!" Mondo retorted. "We can't take her outside without bundling her up first!" He came over to me. "How're you doing?" he asked softly, his cheeks turning pink.
"I've been better," I replied. Then, I looked up at James and smiled. "But I've been worse, too."
Mondo wrapped the blankets around me. "Come on. Let's get you guys out of here. The balloon is just outside."
"You got our balloon back?!" James said happily as he scooped me into his arms and began heading towards the tunnel. "How did you manage that?"
Mondo smiled. "Well, I heard that the boss sent you this way, and I figured you might need my help, so I came to the town at the foot of the mountain," he explained. "Well, when I arrived, I saw the Meowth balloon coming in, and I figured that you were returning from a successful mission. So imagine my surprise when I saw the Twerp Trio in the basket instead!"
"Yeah! Dose little bastards stole it from us when the blizzard blew it away!" Meowth growled as we climbed into the basket of the balloon, which was waiting for us on the ledge.
Soon, it was filled with hot air again, and we took to the sky. "Don't worry, guys. I took care of 'em!" Mondo continued. "Before they touched down, I got out my slingshot and busted a hole in the balloon."
"Did dey blast off?!" Meowth asked eagerly.
The four of us couldn't help but laugh. Finally those little brats got what they deserved!
"Anyway, when I went to get the balloon, those kids were gone, so I fixed it and came to look for you. I found Meowth in an igloo last night, and we stayed there until the snowstorm blew over. Then, this morning Weezing showed up and told us what happened to you. So, we came to pick you up!" Mondo said, concluding his story.
"Good work, Mondo," I said.
Mondo blushed again. "Thanks," he said shyly.
"Is there a hospital in that town down there?" James asked.
"Good. We need to get Jessie there as soon as possible!"
James held me closer than ever when he said this. Looking up, I saw the worry in his eyes. He was afraid I'd get a chill again, but I knew that he'd do anything to make sure I didn't.
I sank deeper into his warm embrace as we left that cold mountain behind us. Laying my head on his chest, I slowly closed my eyes and knew that everything was going to be okay.
When I opened my eyes again, everything around me was white. For a moment, I thought I was still trapped beneath the snow, but for some reason, I still felt warm. What was going on?
That's when she appeared -- the woman I'd seen on the mountain.
She nodded. "Hello, Jessie."
Tears began to stream down my face. "Oh, momma!" I whispered, throwing my arms around her.
"Jessie," she whispered back.
"Why did you do it, momma? Why did you leave me?" I sobbed.
Momma cupped my chin in her hand and gazed into my eyes. She was crying, too. "It wasn't by choice," she told me. "But everything happens for a reason, Jessie...."
"What reason could fate possibly have that would justify taking you away from me?!" I cried.
She hung her head. "Jessie, I couldn't be the mother you deserved...."
"What are you talking about?! You were the best!"
"But I couldn't give you the things you needed from life," she told me. "You were such a wonderful child, and it killed me to always have to dress you in rags...and feed you snow! You deserved so much more...."
"But you loved me, and that's all that really matters!" I protested. "You were the only person in the world who cared about me. Now there's nothing left...I'm so alone!"
"That's not true, and you know it!" momma exclaimed. "You have James. And he cares about you very much."
"You're right...you're right," I said. "I couldn't ask for a better friend than him. But I still miss you."
"I miss you, too," she replied. "But believe me when I say that this is for the best."
"I still don't understand why!"
"Jessica, if I were still alive, you would have followed in my footsteps anyway," she explained. "And worse, you wouldn't even know that it was the wrong path. My death at least opened your eyes to what they really are -- now you know the truth...that this isn't what's right for you and that you want to make something more of your life.
"Besides, if I were still alive, you wouldn't have gone to Pokemon Tech...." she continued.
I closed my eyes and thought about what she'd just told me. That means I wouldn't have met James! What would've happened to me if James and I never met?! I wondered. I honestly didn't know. To tell the truth, I couldn't picture my life without him! Still, life with Team Rocket wasn't right for him either, and it was all my fault that he'd joined....
"Don't worry -- no matter what path you may have taken in life, you still would've met James. The two of you were destined to be together. He'd be lost without you, and you'd be lost without him," momma said, as if she could read my thoughts. "And don't blame yourself because he joined Team Rocket. It was his choice to make, and he chose to be with you. He's your partner because he wants to be."
"Don't underestimate him, Jessie," she said. "James has more strength and courage than you...or even he knows. You may have led him to this life, but at the same time, you saved him from something even worse. And if you have faith in him, he'll be the one to lead you both to a better life. I know it won't be easy -- you've been hurt by so many...myself included. But don't reject your own heart because of that. Don't be afraid to open your heart to James. If you do, he can save you the same way you saved him."
"What are you saying, momma?" I asked.
Suddenly, her spirit began to fade away. "That's something you'll have to figure out on your own, Jessie. I have to go now," she said. "Just know that I'll always love you, and that I'll always be with you. And take good care of James -- your unity will one day be the key to your salvation...."
And then she was gone.
"I'll always love you, too, momma," I whispered into the empty whiteness that surrounded me. "I don't understand...but I'll do what you say...."
When I awoke, I found myself lying in a hospital bed. Meowth and Mondo were on either side of me, and they were each holding one of my hands.
"Hey! She's wakin' up!" Meowth exclaimed.
Mondo smiled at me. "How're you feeling, Jessie?" he asked.
"A lot better. Thanks," I replied. Looking around the room, I noticed that the one person I wanted to see more than anybody else wasn't there. "Where's James?" I asked.
Meowth rolled his eyes. "Great! He don't leave yer side for three days, and ya pick the moment he steps out ta take care of some personal business ta finally wake up!"
"Don't worry. He'll be back in a few minutes," said Mondo.
"I hope so," I said. "I really need to talk to him."
Meowth smiled at me. "Uh, Jess?"
"I just wanted ta say dat I'm real sorry for what I said about yer momma," he told me. "It was real rotten a Meowth ta insult her like dat."
My frown became a smile, and I gave his paw a gentle squeeze. "It's okay. I'm not mad at you anymore."
"James told us all about what happened to Miyamoto," Mondo explained. "We're so sorry."
I leaned back on my pillow and exhaled loudly. Much to my surprise, I found that I could breathe again.
"Jessie...she sounds like she was a real great mom," Meowth told me. "She musta been, ta have a daughter like you...."
"Thank you," I whispered as I felt tears stinging my eyes.
Just then, the door to my room creaked open, and James stepped in. He was carrying a bouquet of red roses.
I quickly wiped my tears away and smiled when I saw him.
"Meowth, Mondo, I need to speak with Jessie. In private," he said.
The two of them nodded.
"I'm glad you're feeling better," Mondo said as he and Meowth got up to leave. "Take care, Jess."
"Thanks, guys," I said.
Once they were gone, James set down the roses and seated himself on the bed next to me.
"We got you here just in time, Jessie," he told me. "They put you on antibiotics and got the infection cleared up before it was too late, and you've been sleeping for the past three days. It'll probably be a few more before you're strong enough to travel again, but...."
"But at least I'm going to survive," I said, finishing the thought for him. "Thanks to you, James."
He smiled at me. "I'm so glad you're okay. When we were back on that mountain, I was afraid you weren't going to make it!"
"Well, I wasn't worried," I replied in all honesty. "I knew that as long as you were with me, I'd be just fine. You made me feel safe."
This made him smile even more.
I reached over and took him by the hand. "Why did you do it, James?"
He raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"Why did you save me?" I asked. "James, I was being so mean to you, but you still followed me when I wandered away...you even thought I hated you, but you still risked your life for me after that avalanche. And you could've gotten sick, too, but you still kept me warm. Why?"
James placed a hand on my forehead and smoothed back my hair. "I know that wasn't the real you pushing me around," he said. "That place was bringing back some really bad memories for you. Besides, you're my best friend, Jessie! You've saved my life plenty of times...so how could I do any less for you?"
Now I was smiling.
"Jessie," he continued, twining his fingers with mine. "You're more than just my friend -- you're the best thing that's ever happened to me. My life was so empty before I met you, and if you really had died back there, I don't know what I would've done."
"You're the best thing in my life, too," I told him. "After my momma died, I didn't think I'd ever be happy again...but then I met you."
"Same here," he replied. "I wasn't truly happy until I met you, either."
Suddenly, I remembered my dream, where momma told me that when I came into James's life, I saved him from a terrible fate. I didn't know much about his past, but I had the suspicion that it wasn't much better than my own. James was usually really open with me -- his memories must have been pretty disturbing if he couldn't even share them with me.
"James...what was your life like before you met me?" I asked tentatively.
"Well," he began, "my family wasn't poor like yours...not by any stretch of the imagination. But in a way, you had it better than I did. You may have lost your mother, but at least you made the most of your short time together -- you loved, and you were loved in return...and that's the greatest gift a parent can give to their child...."
Now I was beginning to understand why James had never talked about his past...and what momma had been talking about. "Your parents abused you, didn't they?"
He turned away from me. I couldn't see his face, but I could tell from the way he was trembling that he was crying.
"They did!" I gasped. "Oh, James...."
"It was psychological, mostly," he said when he was able to find his voice again. "Whenever they weren't playing mind-games or telling me how worthless I was, they were strangers to me."
"I'm sorry," I whispered, sitting up and placing a hand on his shoulder.
James sniffled and wiped his tears away. Then, he turned to face me again. "Don't be," he told me. "Jessie, that part of my life is over. It all went away when I met you!"
I couldn't help but smile at him. I felt the exact same way -- when I found him, it was like a new beginning for me. He gave me hope for the future.
Now James was smiling, too. "That's why I had to come for you, Jessie," he continued, putting his arms around me. "You're the only person in this world that makes me happy! I'm lost without you, but when we're united...well, anything is possible!"
As I returned his embrace, I started thinking about our partnership, and I found my thoughts drifting to one of his lines in our motto. To unite all peoples within our nation. He was talking about more than just peace and unity -- he was talking about us! Every time he said that line, he was telling me how much I mean to him...how important it is that we stick together, no matter what.
I looked up and gazed into James's beautiful emerald-green eyes and knew that it was true. Our friendship was the most important thing in the world to him, and he'd do anything to make sure that we'd always be a team.
Now I found myself remembering how we'd kept each other warm the other night. I'd never been so intimate or vulnerable with James as I had then, but I trusted him completely, and he didn't let me down. Maybe momma was right, after all. Maybe it was possible for me to open my heart and learn how to love again. Suddenly, my feelings for James overwhelmed me, and I found that I just wanted to be close to him.
"James?" I said.
"What is it, Jess?" he asked.
"I still feel a little cold," I told him. "Will you keep me warm?"
James smiled at me. "Of course."
With that, he climbed under the blanket with me, and the two of us embraced. Even though we were both fully clothed this time, I'd never felt closer to James than I did at that moment. And I could tell that he felt the same way about me.
I ran my fingers through his soft blue-violet hair and smiled as he pressed his body against mine and kissed me tenderly on the forehead. Yes, being close to James was definitely one of the best feelings in the world.
United in pain. United in friendship. United forever.
James and I can do anything...as long as we do it together.
I originally wrote this story before I knew the exact details about Miyamoto and her fateful mission. As it turns out, the mountain that Team Rocket was trapped on in "Snow Way Out" isn't the same mountain that Miyamoto died on -- she died in the Andes. So how do I explain what was going on with Jessie in my WYDS? She was delerious because she was coming down with pneumonia, and she was hallucinating. She didn't really see Miyamoto's spirit on the mountain, and the gold earring she found was just a rock. She didn't know any of this, though, so she can't really offer an explanation in the story. (Dat's what author's notes are for!)
I also did some research and read a wilderness survival guide while I was writing this story. The scene where Jessie & James keep each other warm is an actual technique to prevent hypothermia.
And finally, contrary to what some people think, the scene with Jessie's dream about Miyamoto's spirit was NOT stolen from Majestic Arcanine's story, When Tears Melt the Snow. I'd NEVER plagiarize anybody else's work! EVER! (Yes, I was accused of plagiarism when I first posted this story. Somebody who was also using motto lines for story titles got bent out of shape and felt the need to "have a little talk" with me about taking other people's material and passing it off as my own. >P) Do I sound angry? Well, I am! This is something that's been pissing me off ever since I posted my story. I put a lot of work into my stories, and I don't appreciate when people accuse me of ripping off other authors' ideas. I may have used a similar plot device as another author, but I used it in a completely different capacity. (Dat ain't plagiarism, folks!) The scene with Miyamoto in my story isn't about Jessie achieving closure with her mother -- it's a cryptic dream where somebody from her past foreshadows something that's going to happen in her future. I will admit that in the original draft of this story, I gave Madam Boss the same name that Majestic Arcanine did (Rosalita), but that was an honest mistake. Since I wrote this before I'd seen the Birth of Mewtwo drama, and I'd come across several fics (by several different authors) where Madam Boss was named Rosalita, I mistakenly believed that this was her "official" dub-name. However, when I learned that I was in error, I apologized to MA and changed Madam Boss's name to Arianna in my story. The point is, I wasn't even thinking about fics that other authors had written while I was writing this, and it was never my intention to rip anybody off or copy anybody else's work. I simply wanted to write a continuation to "Snow Way Out," showing how TR got out of their predicament...and explaining why Jessie was acting so strangely in that episode. Okay, have we got that cleared up now? Good! This concludes my little rant!
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