Jessie wandered sadly through the trees. She had started looking for James full of determination and excitement but now she was tired, hungry and beginning to feel a little defeated. Part of her wasn't even sure if James would want to see her again.
Above her, the tops of the trees were whispering as they moved in the wind but down amongst the bushes the air was cold and still.
She was following a little stream as it wound its way through the forest. She knew that James always liked to stay near streams; he said the running water helped him get to sleep at night. But Jessie had no idea if he was even still in the forest, let alone near water. She trudged along, grateful for the first time that she had no other belongings with her beside her Pokéballs.
She gave a little shriek of surprise and disgust as a big spider-like Pokémon whisked out in front of her and back in to the undergrowth. She felt a little embarrassed for being so easily startled and was extremely glad that no one had been around to see it. She had a reputation to uphold, after all.
The whooshing noise of the trees seemed to getting louder as she carried on but when she looked up, the treetops had gone still. She stopped and stood motionless, listening hard. The whispering of what she thought was the wind was actually coming from ahead of her. She moved through the trees more quietly until she found the source and it made her blood run cold.
Her breath caught in her throat when at least a hundred black bug Pokémon came into view, each of them at least as big as a Pikachu. There were so many of them that they had become an almost indistinguishable mass of black. The hiss of eight hundred furry legs moving around was revolting, but this wasn't what made Jessie gasp out loud. She had caught sight of a flash of lavender hair amongst the inky, swarming waves.
As soon as the gasp of horror escaped her lips, the creatures fell silent. Every one of them turned to look at her with their shining yellow eyes. A little voice in her head murmured run. But she stood completely still. RUN the voice said, more forcefully this time, but she ignored her instincts. Very slowly, she moved her hand towards her belt, trying to fight the panic rising in her chest.
The second she laid a finger on one of her Pokéballs, the mass of bugs readied themselves to attack. A hundred barbed tails shot up in to the air and they advanced on her, rustling and clicking.
Throwing caution to the wind, she grabbed her Pokéballs and threw them in to the fray. Her Arbok burst out and immediately started tackling, poisoning and biting any of the bugs that came near it. Then her Wobbuffet emerged. For a minute, it looked confused.
"Protect James!" Jessie shouted and immediately Wobbuffet began wading through the mass of bugs and planted itself firmly in front of her apparently unconscious companion. Every time one of the black Pokémon tried to get near James, Wobbuffet would use Counter to keep it at bay.
While the swarm of Pokémon was occupied by the attack, Jessie crept around the black mass until she reached James.
He was deathly pale and wasn't moving. Jessie couldn't even work out if he was breathing. She fumbled around his belt for his Pokéballs and sent out his Weezing and Victreebel to join the battle.
"James!" she whispered. He remained still. With a sinking feeling, she knew what had happened to him. There was no doubt in her mind that he had been poisoned by the same thing that she had. Jessie had no idea how long James had been in this condition.
Knowing she only had seconds before the swarm would notice her, she grabbed her partner by the arm and heaved him off the ground. She swiped up an empty Pokéball that he must have dropped and began to drag him away from the little stream and deeper in to the woods. Using both arms to drag James, she couldn't reach her Pokéballs to call back either her or James's Pokémon.
She only stopped when the hiss of the horde of bug Pokémon had disappeared and so had the sounds of her own Pokémon. They were too far away now to call back to their Pokéballs. She lay James on the ground and placed her hand on his chest. She could feel the gentle rise and fall of his breathing, but it was weak and ragged.
"James," she said, giving his shoulders a shake. "Wake up, James. Please." But he still didn't stir. She had no idea what to do.
"Oh God, James, what do I do?" She had to get him back to the hospital as soon as possible, but his slender body was more muscular than it appeared; he was deceptively heavy. Jessie had barely managed to drag him away from danger before her legs were getting weak. She couldn't even send for help; neither her nor James's Pokémon would be able find their way back to Hearthome City fast enough. Ideally, she needed a flying Pokémon. She dearly wished she had brought the Staraptor she had caught with Jasper, but her ex-partner had kept it.
As if on cue, a little Starly hopped out in to the open. Jessie's hand automatically went to her belt before she realised she had no empty Pokéballs. She took the Pokéball that James had dropped and threw it at the small bird. There was a flash of light but instead of the Starly going in to the ball, something came out. One of the horrible black scorpion Pokémon emerged. The Starly let out a horrified screech and Jessie couldn't help but join in. The bird shot in to the air and had vanished within seconds.
"You caught one?!" she yelled at her unconscious partner as she watched the bug walk around making little clicking noises. It seemed considerably more tame than its wild counterparts but she still didn't trust it as far as she could throw it. She had no idea what to call it, so she just said "return" and placed the Pokéball very far away from where she stood.
"What did you catch one for?" she asked in disbelief.
She began pacing in front of James, starting to panic. She had no plan and absolutely no idea what she was supposed to do now.
"I should never have left you," she said suddenly, covering her mouth with her hands. "I'm so sorry." She tried to take a few steadying breaths and think of a plan, but all she could think of was James and how different things would have been if she had just stayed with him.
She paced for a few more minutes before saying, "Jasper asked me to marry him." For the first time, James stirred a little, but remained unconscious.
"I said no," Jessie continued. "All he talked about was how profitable and advantageous our career would be. Overall, I'd say the whole situation lacked a little romance," she sighed, talking more to herself now. She looked around through the growing darkness, finding the complete silence a little unnerving now. She desperately wanted to go back and find her Pokémon but she couldn't leave James.
"I didn't love Jasper," she continued. She found talking out loud was the only way she could stay calm. "Turns out he could be pretty mean." She still felt a little hurt by Jasper's angry outburst, especially the things he had said about James.
"God, James, would you just wake up!" she burst out suddenly. "I don't know what I'll do without you!" She felt dampness on her cheeks and realised she was crying. She angrily wiped the tears from her face and fell to her knees beside James, putting her hands on his face. "You have to be okay," she whispered. A moment later, she heard movement behind her and leapt to her feet, half expecting another group of angry Pokémon to jump out at her.
But when she turned, she saw that it was her Arbok slinking out of the bushes with Weezing and Victreebel just behind. She let out a shaky sigh of relief.
"Where's Wobbuffet?" she asked suddenly. "The one time I actually want it to appear, it goes AWOL," she muttered. She spent the best part of her days irritated at Wobbuffet, but she couldn't help the surge of affection she felt towards the hopeless thing. Just then, Wobbuffet came waddling from the bushes. All of the Pokémon looked a little worse for wear, but they seemed relatively unharmed.
"You guys did great," she said, with a weak smile and returned them to their Pokéballs for a well earned rest. Now slightly less frantic after the return of her Pokémon, she sat down beside James. She put a hand on his forehead, pushing his hair off his face. He felt cold. She let her poor, battered Arbok back out of its Pokéball to keep an eye on James while she hurried off to grab some firewood.
A short while later there was a small campfire beside James but when Jessie felt his temperature again he was still cold. It was beginning to get dark so any hope of moving on was quickly disappearing. The chill air was beginning to get to her too, so she made a decision.
"Look, James, I'm sure you can hear me," she said matter-of-factly, "it's getting pretty cold so I think we should do what the Piplups do and... you know... huddle up." Even though he was unconscious, Jessie still felt a little embarrassed. "You understand," she continued, "that this is purely a common-sense arrangement."
She curled up beside James and put a tentative arm across his chest. This felt oddly familiar and comforting. She realised that this was the position in which she had woken in the hospital just a few days before. She could feel James's chest rise and fall. His breathing was deeper now; he sounded a little better so she let the rhythmic sound of his breathing lull her to sleep.
Jessie awoke when she felt breathing on her face. She snapped open her eyes and let out a shriek of shock when she saw a Pokémon staring at her, just inches from her face. The Pokémon yelled too and took a step back. Since when did Pokémon yell? Then Jessie realised who it was.
"Meowth?!" she exclaimed.
"That's right," he said, grinning.
"You scared the hell out of me!" Jessie exclaimed, feeling her heart pounding against her ribs. "Why were you watching me sleep?!"
"You just looked so peaceful," Meowth joked. "And you look a damn sight better than Jimmy here. What did you do to him?"
"Hey, I didn't do anything!" Jessie said, a little more aggressively than she had intended. But she saw the humour in Meowth's eyes and said, more gently, "It's good to see you."
"Yeah, you too."
"What are you doing here?"
"I heard through the grapevine that you and Jimmy had got yourselves in to a bit of trouble."
"That's an understatement," Jessie muttered, glancing over to her partner who still hadn't moved. "I nearly died, abandoned James and got proposed to. James left Team Rocket to find me, got abandoned and then poisoned."
"So what's the plan?" There was something about Meowth's composed, methodical demeanour that made Jessie feel a little calmer.
"I need a flying Pokémon to get a message to Hearthome City."
"Coming right up," Meowth said, and ran off out of sight. Within seconds he had returned with a Crobat in tow. Jessie had forgotten how useful it was to have a companion who could talk to Pokémon. "Now what?" he asked.
"We need to get a message to Dr Redhill at Hearthome Hospital."
"But how?" Meowth asked.
Jessie pulled off her Team Rocket top, leaving only her plain black cropped shirt on underneath. She rubbed her fingers in the dirt at her feet and wrote as best as she could on the white material.
"We're still somewhere on Route 209, right?" she asked.
"Yeah," Meowth confirmed, "I just don't know where exactly."
Jessie rolled up her Team Rocket top and gave it to the Crobat. Meowth asked the bat Pokémon to take the message to Dr Redhill in Hearthome City and off it flew. Jessie watched the Crobat until it had vanished behind the treetops. Now all they could do was wait and pray that Dr Redhill understood the message and could get here before James got any worse.
"If you don't know exactly where we are, how did you find us?" Jessie asked finally, sitting down beside James.
"I ain't just a pretty face, you know. I got one heck of a sense of smell!" For the first time in days, Jessie felt the hint of a smile on her lips.
"What was it like working at Headquarters?" she asked.
"It was just like I imagined it would be," Meowth said. "Except I hated it."
"I ain't the kind of cat who likes to do what he's told."
"And all they did was boss me around, I never got any praise or nothin'!"
"That's how it was when you were with us, too," she reminded him, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, but at least when I hung out with you guys we were always up to something interestin'."
"Why didn't you leave sooner?"
"When you work for the Boss, you're in it for life, you can't just leave," he said dramatically.
"So how did you get out?"
"Well, I... uh, left," he said. "But the Boss ain't gonna be happy! I don't think I'll be allowed back in to Team Rocket."
"That makes three of us," Jessie said with a sigh.
They sat in comfortable silence for a little while. Jessie sat watching James, wishing he would just wake up.
"You... love him, don't ya?" Meowth asked, a little awkwardly.
"Well it's about time you admitted it."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, you two love birds have been crazy about each other for about five years. I should know, I've had to put up with it."
"That's not true!" Jessie said, feeling her cheeks flush.
"Puh-lease," Meowth said, half of Team Rocket are betting on when you'll get together. I've got ¥10,000 on you two hookin' up before August." Jessie flashed him an irritated look. This whole time, she had been subconsciously listening to James's steady breathing but just then, something changed. She turned to James to see that all the colour had drained from his face, even his lips were turning a faint blue colour.
"James?" she said. She put her ear to his chest and heard his heartbeat, weak and slow. "No, don't give up yet James!" Meowth stood on the other side of his old friend, wide-eyed.
"C'mon, Jimmy," he said. "I didn't come all this way for you to go dyin'" Jessie looked desperately to Meowth.
"How long is that Crobat going to take?" Meowth just shook his head.
"James," Jessie said, putting her hands on his cold face. "You have to hold on, the doctor is coming, you'll be fine, we'll all be fine."
"Jess, look," Meowth said, pointing above them. She looked up and saw the Crobat hovering over them.
"What's it doing?" she asked frantically.
"I think it's leading someone to us!" Meowth exclaimed. "I'll go look!" But Jessie couldn't hear anything, nothing that would suggest help was coming, anyway.
"You have to be okay," Jessie whispered. "Please, James." Without even thinking, she leaned down and kissed her partner, willing him to be all right.
At last, she heard it, a low rumbling sound. It was the sound of a Jeep steering through the trees. She looked around and saw the headlights shining through the gloom.
Jessie gasped and looked down to see James had woken up. His green eyes looked dull and exhausted, but at least he was conscious.
"I'm here," she said, grabbing hold of his hand and fighting back tears of relief. "You're going to be okay."
James frowned a little bit and touched his fingers to his lips.
"Did you just... kiss me?" he asked slowly.
"Nope," she lied abruptly.
"She's lying Jimmy, I saw her," Meowth called as he came back in to view, Dr Redhill and Officer Jenny following just behind.