"Look at that Sandshrew, mummy! It's so cute!"
"Make sure you look at all the Pokemon before you decide what one you want."
The child turned her attention to the cage below the Sandshrew's. She poked her finger through the wire and giggled.
"I like this Meowth even better! Look, it's licking my finger!"
The two turned their attention to the cage it lay in.
"Ekans," read the mother. "You don't want this type, darling."
"Yeccch, no way. That's a real ugly Pokemon. Nobody'd wanna Pokemon like that."
It closed its yellow eyes and tried not to listen.
"Come on, stop teasing me, James!"
"Don't open your eyes yet!"
"Where are you taking me?"
"Hang on... almost there. Now, open your eyes!"
Jessie opened her eyes and found herself staring into a pair of yellow ones.
"Ekanss," her new Pokemon greeted her cautiously, a large green bow fastened around its neck.
"Oh James, that's the best present I ever got!"
Ekans looked surprised, but happy, at this statement, as its new trainer picked it up and held it to her.
"Heh, you're always so playful."
Jessie lay on the grass, watching her Ekans slithering quickly across the ground, bright eyes alert. It was chasing a butterfly.
The snake dove at the butterfly, missed, and crashed down into the grass in front of its trainer.
"I'm so lucky to have you," said Jessie, patting the snake on the head, "I think you and James are my only friends in this whole stupid Pokemon Tech."
Ekans smiled and flickered its tongue over her hand.
"Don't worry about losing that battle today. We'll win some day, right? No point in crying about loss."
Her Pokemon nodded happily, relieved that its trainer wasn't mad.
"Ekans, you did it!"
"I don't believe it!" gasped her opponent.
"Sorry, Giselle," smirked Jessie, "looks like your Cubone needs more training, huh?"
"But poison types shouldn't be able to... my Cubone's level was... your Ekans wasn't even strong!"
"Of course it is."
Jessie stuck her tongue out at Giselle before turning and walking away. Ekans mimicked her and stuck its own tongue out, before slithering away behind her.
"That was fabulous, Ekans!" squealed Jessie, as the two got a safe distance away.
"We sure showed her! We'll be unbeatable, right?"
Jessie rode along the road, swinging her chain above her head.
"Wooohooo! This is the life! No more stuffy studying or cramming for useless exams!"
Ekans, reflecting her mood, closed its eyes, perfectly happy, as the wind whipped past it. It was coiled around the handlebars of Jessie's bike.
Red energy materialised into her familiar Pokemon.
"Ekans, I gotta talk to you."
Ekans coiled itself around her arm. "Ekanss."
"James and I have decided to join Team Rocket."
Ekans looked alarmed. "Ekans ekans?"
"I know, but do you really think I have a choice? I mean, stuck with a Pokemon that loses 90% of the time, and this bike gang's going nowhere. We need cash."
Jessie ignored the sad look on her Pokemon's face as she recalled it into her Pokeball.
"Jess, what's that rattling sound?"
Team Rocket was walking through the forest, lost as usual. Such was a common occurance in the lives of anyone who would spend much time stalking people like Ash, Misty and Brock.
It was James who spoke, and it caused Jessie to stop suddenly. Meowth, riding on her head, obviously stopped too, and twitched his ears.
"Seems ta be a sorta rattling," said the cat, thoughtfully.
Jessie sweatdropped. "Yes, brilliant deduction, Meowth. And will you get off my head?!"
Jessie tried to pry the cat off, but ended up getting thoroughly clawed, and gave up.
"Hah, I'm stayin' here and dere's nuttin' ya can do 'bout it!"
"Fine, you win round nine," scowled Jessie, "you know I'm only letting you stay there because you claw my hair otherwise."
"The rattling sound is getting louder."
Jessie and Meowth paused in their arguing and looked at James.
"Jess, you aware dat ya hair's shaking?"
Jessie sweatdropped and yanked Meowth's tail. "Don't make sensitive comments!"
"Uh... Meowth's right, Jessie."
Finally, Jessie realised the two were right. She reached into the mass of pink hair and pulled out one of her Pokeballs, which was vibrating madly.
"I would've noticed sooner if you hadn't been being so annoying!" snapped Jessie.
The ball suddenly leapt out of her hand and landed on the ground, button side down. It cracked open and red energy quickly materialised into the outline of an indigo cobra. Indigo? Its coat did seem a bit duller than usual.
Arbok looked frenzied and it seemed to be looking for something. It was continually twitching and hissed loudly.
"Arbok!" yelled Jessie, worried, as she saw her Pokemon blinking continually, as if it were in pain. Its eyes were slightly glazed.
"Ick," muttered Meowth.
"What's the problem, Arbok?" asked Jessie, really worried now.
"It looks sick," said James nervously.
It didn't reply, but still looked tortured. Finally it turned and slithered off into the forest.
Jessie ran after her Pokemon, Meowth grabbing onto her hair for dear life. James looked after them, blinked, then picked up Arbok's Pokeball.
It sat innocently, still, in his hand, free of its captive.
When Jessie caught up to her Pokemon, it was behaving in an odd fashion, hitting its head continually against a rock.
"It's lost it," said Meowth, a bit nervously.
"Great, very reassuring," scowled Jessie, aiming her fist at the cat, missing, and smacking herself on the head instead.
"Shaa," hissed the snake, striking its forehead against the rock.
"What's it saying, Meowth?"
Meowth shrugged. "Ya expect me ta undastand Arbok dialect?"
"Hey, most Pokemon languages are universal, but whateva Arbok's sayin' right now ain't nothin' known ta any Pokemon but dem."
"Fabulous," muttered Jessie.
At that moment, James came crashing through the bushes carrying Arbok's Pokeball.
"You left this- woah. Arbok's lost it!"
Jessie smacked him. "Can't everyone stop saying that?"
"It's beating its own skin off!" continued James in horrified fascination.
"Yes, thank you James, I can *see* that... wha?"
Jessie focused her attention on her Pokemon again, and realised that James was right.
"Maybe it's tryin' ta kill itself," said Meowth, helpfully.
"Thanks, Meowth," growled Jessie.
"Don't most snakes shed their skin?" contributed James.
"Shed their skin? Is *that* what Arbok's doing?"
"If it's talkin' in da language dat nobody else can undastand, I dun think it wants us standin' around watchin' it," suggested Meowth.
"Would you like it if someone watched you getting changed?"
Jessie blushed slightly. "Ehh, let's go into this patch of bush, shall we?"
James obediently followed Jessie and Team Rocket waited.
"Woah, would you look at that!"
Arbok lay in the sun, looking much more relaxed now that it had shed its skin. A scaly mass of paper-thin violet skin lay on the ground nearby.
Team Rocket wasn't focusing on that, however. They were staring at Arbok in disbelief.
Arbok blinked its eyes lazily and looked at Team Rocket.
Its new coat of skin was pitch black.
"Woah, Arbok, lookin' good!" said James, with a grin.
Jessie just gaped.
"I never heard of a black Arbok b'fore," commented Meowth.
A line she had memorised from a textbook at Pokemon Tech was suddenly floating through Jessie's head. Of course, she couldn't remember it during the exam, but now it came back.
"After they have been working together for a time, Pokemon tend to somewhat adapt to the personality of their trainer until the two are almost of one mind."
"What was that, Jess?"
She pried the cat off her head.
"Pokemon Psychology class. Look, I wanna be alone for a few minutes."
Jessie took Arbok's Pokeball from James' hand and walked into the forest by herself.
Her Pokemon and friends stared after her.
"Okay, I've decided what I'm gonna do," announced Jessie, walking back into the clearing. James and Meowth, lying on the grass, looked up in surprise. They hadn't even realised there was a decision to be made.
Arbok looked at Jessie curiously.
Then, to everyone's surprise, Jessie held up Arbok's Pokeball, before hurling it into the stone Arbok had used to shed its skin.
It smashed into dozens of plastic splinters.
"Arbok, you're a wild Pokemon again now."
"Maybe you can win out now that I'm not your trainer any more."
Jessie gave Arbok one last glance, before running into the bushes again. Arbok wasn't about to take this, and quickly took off after her.
Jessie sat with her back against a tree, looking blankly into the forest. She wasn't crying, her face was impassive.
Arbok rested its black head in Jessie's lap. She looked at it in surprise.
"Arbok, I thought you'd have taken off as soon as you could."
"Arbok, you know it's true? That a Pokemon reflects its trainer's personality?"
"And now you're totally black, just like I've become inside."
Her voice cracked, but still she would not cry.
"Of course it's true. You know why you could never win? I never thought I could succeed at anything."
"But one of us believing wasn't enough. If we were a team, we should've both believed in ourselves and each other."
Arbok looked up at Jessie sadly. "Shaaboka."
"Of course you want to leave me. I'm a lousy trainer."
"You never wanted me to join Team Rocket. I should've listened to you."
"Shaa. Shaabok, bokka."
"Go, Arbok! You shouldn't be black! You can stay in this forest!"
Arbok shook its head. Jessie felt angry.
"Arbok, I don't want to be your trainer any more! Don't follow me!"
Jessie pushed Arbok's head off her lap, jumped up, and ran away.
James and Meowth watched silently through the trees, hidden from sight.
The cobra did not follow.
It always obeyed its orders.
"Team Rocket blast off at the speed of light."
"Surrender now or prepare to fight!"
"Meowth, dat's right!"
Ash and his friends sighed simultaneously.
"What do you want NOW?"
"I think Pikachu would do nicely."
"Don't be ridiculous."
Jessie and James looked at each other, and nodded. In unison, they threw down Pokeballs. From them, Lickitung and Weezing materialised.
"Lickitung?" said Misty, surprised, "what happened to Arbok?"
"Finally got fed up with it losing, did you?" added Ash.
"Pika pika," laughed Pikachu.
James and Meowth took a step away from Jessie. It was dangerous to be right next to her when she was angry. But she didn't react as they expected.
Her harsh expression crumbled and James realised in amazement that she was fighting back tears. He had never seen her cry before. Misty, being slightly more sensitive than her two friends, narrowed her eyebrows thoughtfully, but Ash and Brock were oblivious.
"I... don't know where... it is," she said finally, in a low voice.
"Did you trade it? Another trainer has it?"
Ash said it in a fairly insensitive voice, and Misty trod on his foot. Jessie bit her lip.
"Oh? What if it's got a new trainer? I don't think I could deal with that. I don't even know if it knows how to look after itself. Oh, of course it does, it's a wild Pokemon. At least, I guess it was."
Ash eyed Jessie, who was muttering to herself. "Uh, James? What's she talking about?"
"Arbok's black!" said Jessie.
Ash blinked. "Uh, okay...."
"You're the good guy! You have to help me find Arbok! I have to make sure it's okay."
Jessie smiled brightly, and Ash blinked. He hadn't even realised that he had agreed to anything.
"Tell me again why we agreed to this," groaned Brock, crawling through some thick scrub on his stomach.
"And tell me again why we're crawling through this scrub like snakes," groaned Misty.
"To find a snake, you have to think like a snake," said Jessie easily. She was having no problems crawling through at all. This was largely due to that she was leading, so all the branches she pushed out the way smacked Ash, behind her, in the face, and nobody got in her way.
"How about hear like a snake?" questioned Meowth.
Pikachu, who was not demeaning itself by crawling, was instead jumping from bush to bush. He stopped and looked at Meowth, ears twitching.
"Meowth, snakes don't even have ears," whined James, "and I'm sick of this."
"Y'were listenin' ta me, James. You humans are all so unobservant. Pikachu noticed it."
Jessie stood up, and the others, relieved, followed suit.
"You're right. I hear something."
She started pushing through the bushes, annoyed at herself for taking such a ridiculous route in the first place. She reached the end of the scrub and peered over the final row of bushes.
Her eyes widened.
In the clearing before her was a sight that any snake phobic would've run screaming from. A huge collection of Arbok and Ekans, some fighting each other, others just standing watching the battles.
Jessie just crouched, watching, for a few moments. She could see her Arbok, which seemed to be watching the others warily, as if uncertain as to what it should do.
A ping to her left startled her. She saw that Ash had his Pokedex out.
"Around September is the snake Pokemon's mating season. Dozens of Arbok or Ekans can fight over a single female. The victor gets its pick, and the others must choose another mate."
"I wonder what's gonna happen now," said Misty, a bit nervous of all the fierce-looking Arbok.
"Your Arbok seems to be looking for something," said Brock.
"Must be looking for the perfect girl," said James.
Brock got a slightly dopey look on his face.
"Ahah! Perfect," muttered Jessie. Her eyes landed on one Arbok in particular.
"Wow, look at that Arbok," said Ash.
She was a perfect specimen of snakedom. A flawless lavender coat with shimmering opal scales and markings that could be interpreted as black hearts.
"Looks like you're not the only ones who think so," said James, pointing to a huge writhing ball of Arbok who were fighting for it.
"Bah," said Jessie, "Arbok can beat all of them with one hand tied behind its back."
"Snakes don't have hands," said James, and got thwapped on the back of the head.
"Trust me," said Jessie, "Arbok will go for that gorgeous lavender Arbok. It's a Pokemon of impeccable taste. After all, I raised it."
Meowth made a face. "Dose Arbok fightin' over her are idiots."
Meowth nodded at Pikachu. "Snob doesn't start to describe it!"
Jessie ignored them. "Look, I know my own Pokemon."
"So you're saying that Arbok will choose a mate based just on appearances, like you would?"
Everyone stared at Misty strangely, and she sweatdropped. "What?"
Jessie narrowed her eyebrows in thought.
The black Arbok slithered, a bit self-consciously, weaving around its fighting comrades and cute girl Arbok. It did get a few interested looks from female Arbok, due to the unusual shade of its coat, but he wasn't looking at them.
"Shaa," it sighed, thinking that it could never find a mate after being a trained Pokemon for so long. It raised its head to the sky in despair. It wanted its master.
What was that snake Pokemon curled up in the tree branches above his head?
Suddenly, a beautiful lavender female Arbok moved in front of him and blocked his path.
"Shaa?" asked the female, blinking its long lashes at him.
"Bokk," replied Arbok, backing away slightly and shaking its head.
"Shaa," she continued, butting her head against his hood.
"Bok!" Arbok could see the cruel slant in her eyes. He glared at her, irritably, and she shrank back, a little paralysed.
Before Arbok knew what was happening, about twelve of her would-be suitors dove onto him to avenge her pride.
Ash said it, but Jessie was already on her feet and charging towards the battling Pokemon.
"Jessie! Come back!" squawked James.
Had she heard, she would not have responded anyway. The Arbok and Ekans all fell silent and stared at her in shock as she marched furiously towards the snakefight in which her Arbok was a part.
Grabbing her mallet firmly in both hands, she leapt into the fray with no hesitation. Her friends (and foes) from the bushes stared at this in shock.
"She's suicidal," muttered Brock.
"She's Jessie," replied Meowth.
"I gotta go after her," said James, moving through the bushes. Misty grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him back.
"Not yet! Wait until she needs help before you ruin things!"
He stared at her.
"Well, this has nothing to do with you."
"What do you mean? Jessie's in there, fighting for her life, and -"
"Uh James, maybe you should have a look," said Ash.
Jessie stood with a manic grin on her face, and mallet in one hand. On the ground around her feet lay a dozen and one battered Arbok - pretty lavender one included.
"Arbok," she said solemnly to her former Pokemon, "find a nice girlfriend."
Arbok craned its head up and saw the snake in the tree it had seen before. When it noticed him, it jerked its head back, trying to hide. Then Arbok looked back at Jessie. She was gone.
But again, it always followed orders. If Master - and Jessie would always be its master, to it - wanted it to find a girlfriend, it would.
Around it, the snakes went back to their rituals, but Arbok was interested in the figure it had seen above it. It easily ascended the tree and poked its head through the branches, looking.
Arbok saw it. It was a female, a nervous-looking Ekans. It looked about as out of place as he did, because it, too, had an unusual colouring. The ring around its neck, which should have been yellow, was a dark green.
Seeing that, Arbok knew immediately why the Ekans was in a tree instead of actively seeking a mate. Green was considered an unlucky colour for snake Pokemon.
The Ekans stared right at Arbok, with dull, pale yellow eyes. Arbok knew that no snakes would ever fight over this female. But he extended his tail to her anyway.
"Ekans ekansss," she hissed, not believing him.
He wrapped his tail around hers.
"Arbok found a girlfriend," said Ash.
"Where?" Jessie craned her neck to see.
"An Ekans? Arbok's marrying beneath itself?"
Pikachu and Meowth rolled their eyes. Then Jessie saw her Arbok.
"That is one ugly Ekans. Surely Arbok isn't serious!"
"You told it to find a nice girlfriend," said Brock, "so it did. Maybe that Ekans is nice."
"But... that's not... she's... hm."
Jessie didn't say anything else. But she was thinking about what Misty had said before.
"Arbok will choose a mate based just on appearances, like you would?"
She glanced at James from the corner of her eye.
A month passed, two months. Jessie used her Lickitung, although it was never quite the same as her first Pokemon, especially when James used Weezing, his. But they did fairly well, and from sympathy, James used his Victreebell more.
"New assignment from da boss," said Meowth, one day; any day. "We gotta go to Celadon Forest and look for bug Pokemon."
"Bugs?" James wrinkled his nose. "What does he want bugs for?"
"Somethin' about his enemies using psychics 'cos dey're good against poison."
"Well," said Jessie, "what are we waiting for?"
The trio marched cheerfully into the forest, keeping a sharp ear out for any desirable Pokemon.
"Wouldn't Viridian be better for this?"
"Idiot," hissed Jessie, "we don't want WEAK bugs."
Something purple suddenly flashed past the trio.
"What was dat?"
Team Rocket chased after the purplish blur, and it finally came to rest, fluttering its wings gently as it sat against a tree.
"A Venomoth," said James, "that would be great."
"My thoughts exactly. Let's go for it. Go, Lickitung!"
Lickitung appeared and looked for its opponent.
"There it goes!" yelled James, as the Venomoth flapped its wings and rose into the sky.
Suddenly, to everyone's shock, a volley of gunshots sounded. The Venomoth fluttered to the ground, lifeless.
"What on earth was that?" squawked James.
"Someone just KILLED a Pokemon?" guessed Meowth, also outraged (and a little nervous).
The forest seemed still.
"Pokemon poachers," muttered Jessie, "Arbok's in this forest, so it'll know its way around pretty well. It'll help us out here!"
Meowth and James glanced at each other. They hadn't mentioned Arbok since it had left.
They walked through the forest a little way and found where the Venomoth had landed. Blood was matted through its translucent wings.
"What a waste," said James.
A dead Pidgey also lay nearby. Whoever had shot them seemed to be doing nothing with them.
Jessie began to call. "Arbok! Arbok! Hey, where are you?!"
James and Meowth followed behind, less boldly, more apprehensively. Meowth looked all around, somewhat paranoid. Finally he just jumped onto James' shoulder and hid as best as he could under his hair.
She thought she heard a rustle, perhaps footsteps running, and turned in that direction. She pushed through a couple of bushes, and then she saw who she was looking for.
They looked much different from when she had seen them last. But she recognised them. Arbok's mate had a brilliant light indigo coat, with no trace of green markings. And her own Arbok... was truly free of a master.
"Arbok," she said quietly. "You can help us, right."
She knew it would.
"Come on, let's get those Pokemon poachers. Protect your forest!"
Her Arbok did not respond.
This was one order it would not obey.
It, too, was dead.
The fate of a free Pokemon?
Jessie stood still, eyes dry.
It lay, coat glittering, protectively over its mate, who was also lifeless. James could see something beneath the female Arbok. He gently pried her hood up a little, and pulled out what was there.
Five snake eggs, near hatching. They would not hatch with a parent any more. They would not hatch in the wild.
Again, later, a few weeks into the future.
Jessie put her hand into her pocket just to make sure nobody had stolen her Pokeballs. In crowded places such as this, it was easy to get pickpocketed. But no, all six were still there. One Lickitung and five Ekans. She smiled slightly. She and her friends were at a marketplace, admiring different pieces of bric-a-brac. James noticed something.
"Hey Jessie, come and see this!"
She went over, but soon realised it wasn't necessarily something she wanted to see.
A small collection of finely crafted snakeskin baskets lay on one of the stall tables. All were in shades of purple, with the notable exception of one. That one was twice the price, but Jessie paid it without a word.
She sat on the ground, against a cold brick wall, away from everyone but James and Meowth. She looked at the snakeskin basket in her hands. From its colour, she knew that it had once been her favourite Pokemon, who she had set free to die.
And finally, she cried.
The basket was pure white.