August 15

"Da moon's beautiful tonight," Meowth thought to himself, his view of the silver sphere broken only by the dark wisps of cloud that darted past his field of vision. "I wonda if Meowsie's lookin' up too?" It was a question he had asked himself at every full moon he saw; a question that still remained unanswered — and would likely remain that way for as long as he lived. She not only demolished the relationship, she burnt its foundations; he was never to be with her.

So why do I still tink of her?

The years had seen fit to dull the parts of his mind that held the details of her face. Piecing her visage from memory alone was like trying to paint on water. Within him, his emotions battled: part of him begged to know what she looked like; while the other part shouted it down with the simple retort "Who cares!?"

It wasn't the first time he'd started to forget what she looked like and it wasn't until the trip back to that town that his memory of her had been refreshed. "It's been three years," he reminded himself, as if to justify his own struggle to dig up her image.

Three years since his duel with Persian for Meowsie's love and eventual rejection.

Four years since they started following one kid and his electric starter.

Four years of failure and involuntary flights across the regions they traveled.

The thoughts were automatically shifted to the back of his mind, joining the dark closet where other negative thoughts languished until they're forgotten. It was a coping mechanism the team had learnt early on; dwelling on their failures was a weight they didn't need to carry to fulfill their missions.

It was better to simply forget their losses and focus on the next scheme; it was easier on their morale and spirit. Meowth imagined they'd all have quit long ago if they hadn't come up with that type of mental discipline.

There were times where they wouldn't even wait to land to start plotting. Tonight was not one of those nights. Tonight was silent, save for the wind rushing past their ears. Nights were some of the better times to blast off, if only because of the chance they had to see the moon and stars in their infinite beauty. Daytime blast-offs only promised a blinding sun beating down on them with its oppressive heat.

But not tonight. Tonight we got dis view.

Meowth sighed and opened his eyes; a soft smile touched his lips when the stars winked back at him, almost cheering them on.

We should do our gig at night more often.

Blasting off had been rough at first. Over time they grew accustomed to — even reveling in —their temporary weightlessness. Their acrophobia and discomfort at their inability to control their speed of flight and launch had long since vanished. Instead, they focused on the positive part: being the rare few privileged to fly without machines or Pokémon.

Unfortunately, one flaw remained. Without any sort of guidance system, they had no idea about when or where they were going to land.

Enough time had elapsed to be able to laugh about the old days. Newer members to their group were snapshots of the past. Indeed, blasting off had in some way been co-opted as a rite of passage for the group

Meowth turned his head to his teammate, soaring through the sky at his side. Periwinkle locks fluttered in the wind that tugged at his white jumpsuit, windblown ripples formed over the white plain. Jade green eyes gazed into the night sky; his face was serene as he drank in the starlight.

While the sight of moon brought him memories of Meowsie, Meowth had no idea what it invoked in Jessie and James. The years had brought them somewhat closer but his partners weren't entirely keen on divulging what had gone on in their lives. For each member of the trio, the lives of the others were like a jigsaw puzzle with the majority of the pieces missing; you could make out a few distinct images but there were large blanks and single puzzle pieces between those images.

A look to his right brought Jessie — crimson hair resolute against the raging gale — into view. While James had sported a determined stare, Jessie's eyes were somber and blank. It was a look that Meowth was unaccustomed to seeing; in fact, it was downright disturbing.

There was always flame within her eyes. Sometimes it blazed like the Firebird herself. Still other times, it guttered and wavered under an invisible wind. But regardless of what happened, that internal blaze never, ever went out. Whenever their motivation weakened, her blazing glare rekindled it. But now, her burning gaze was just a mere cinder. Her half-lidded and unsettlingly calm eyes gazed into the sky.

"Jessie…you 'kay?" Meowth sputtered out.

Muted blue eyes slid over to look at him. Her lips opened to form words, only to have them stillborn in her mouth. Her stare bore the tinges of uncertainty; her lips pressed tightly together into a thin red line, almost as if she feared their betrayal.

"We're coming up on a mountain," James announced in the bored manner of a taxi driver. Unaware of the moment between Jessie and Meowth, he grabbed the Scratch Cat Pokémon by reflex. Jessie brought out her pokéballs, a flash of light marking the release of her Yanmega and Wobbuffet. Six black spindly legs wrapped around James' waist as Wobbuffet maneuvered himself beneath his trainer. Despite being routine, James still felt a small surge of adrenaline as the ground rose up to meet them.

Yanmega's wings hummed as she plunged towards the earth, lifting up just before they hit the stony mountain road. A plume of dirt rose into the air to mark Jessie and Wobbuffet's landing zone. James' feet were dangling just a few inches off the ground before Yanmega released him onto the road that wound along the mountainside. Meowth hopped out of his grasp and made his way towards the settling dust cloud.

Jessie lay at the edge of the crater Wobbuffet had made. Her eyes were closed and her arms at her sides with the earth against her back. From all appearances, it appeared that she was sleeping. But since they had just landed from one of their blast-offs, the truth was likely to be far less pleasant.

"What happened?" Yanmega demanded, the buzzing of her powerful wings increasing in pitch and tempo. She stared daggers at the eyes on Wobbuffet's blue body.

"I-I don't know! She was fine when we landed and then she just fell over!" the Patient Pokémon cried back.

James was already kneeling over his partner. Unaware of the conversation being held around him, he scanned her body for any wounds. His confusion mounted when he found none.

"Jessie, are you okay? Come on, talk to me!" he pleaded.

A weak smile flickered on her lips before she opened her eyes. Shimmering blue met green. "I'm not hurt," she said, her voice a petering breeze that brushed aside dead leaves.

"Jessie, what's wrong?"

Her gaze was aimed straight up, shifting slightly as if studying the clouds and night sky for her next words."…I'm tired," she replied, her look turning piteous when the words didn't seem to register.

"I know we were up pretty late tonight but it's nothing we haven—" James went on until the tips of Jessie's fingers gently touched his lips.

"That's…not what I'm talking about, James." She pulled her fingers back and gave him a searching look.

Layers of emotion lifted over his eyes in the silence that deepened between them. Realization gave way to shock, then disbelief, then confusion, until it hardened into disapproval. Entire years were conveyed through extended stares and blinks; memories and phantom conversations wordlessly passed between them.

"Jess, I know it's been rough lately, but we can't give up now. Not after all we've been through. We'll catch the twerp's Pikachu for sure next time, I know it."

That familiar fire roared to life within the blue pools of Jessie's eyes once more. She sat up and shoved him aside, already on her feet when he lost his balance and fell back. Yanmega buzzed angrily until Meowth held up a paw and motioned for her to sit this one out. The Ogre Darner Pokémon was new to the group, so she hadn't gotten completely accustomed to the team's dynamic. She noticed Wobbuffet made no move to intervene and the look on Meowth's face said all she needed to know.

"And what if you're wrong, James? What if we fail again? Are we going to do the same thing we always do? Are we just going to try again the next day? And the day after that? Just like we've been doing for months? Just like we've been doing for years!? When does it end, James? What do we have to show for all the years we've been after that twerp?" Jessie snapped, each word slashing the night like a razor blade.

"Where is this coming from?" The bluenette dusted his pants as he stood back up.

"Where do you think!?"

"We've had this argument a hundred times and we've never gotten anywhere with it." James was a few feet from Jessie now. He had positioned himself so his height served not to intimidate but to convey that he wasn't going to back down this time.

"That's the problem! We're not getting anywhere doing this! We haven't gotten anywhere for years! Aren't you tired of being a loser? Aren't you sick of getting so close to success and then just having it torn away from you over and over again?" Jessie's face was flushed, the piercing blue of her eyes dimming once again.

"Of course I'm tired! Who wouldn't be? I…I thought we should've stopped ages ago, but…" James trailed off.

"But what, James!?"

"You still kept going. We always followed your lead, Jessie. There were plenty of times I wanted to quit, plenty of times I wanted to cut our losses and do something else. But you kept pushing us to keep tailing that twerp."

The silence that ensued was almost worse than the yelling.

"Is that what you think?" Jessie's voice was low and icy-calm. "Is that what you both think?"

Jessie's fiery glare now turned on the cat pokémon. Jessie watched his eyes lower, wringing the fur around his wrists with his paws. Meowth had learned long ago that his input meant nothing when the arguments degenerated to this degree; in fact there were times where his words only served to inflame already hurt feelings.

A bitter and icy laugh emanated from the redhead. "Oh, so it's all my fault! You two are perfectly innocent, is that it? Fine, it's all my fault. I've been pushing you two into doing this entire time!"

She smiled a cruel, mocking smile. "And now, now that I want to stop, you want to keep going? That's rich!"

Her icy gaze locked onto James next. "Rich. Ha! That's perfect. Especially coming from you, James!"

"Where are you going with that?" James growled. His normally calm voice carried tone of menace that went unnoticed.

"If you've wanted to quit all this time, then you should've just left. Why don't you just quit Team Rocket while you're at it? You're the only one on this team with any actual family to go back to," Jessie spat. "Go on! Run back to Mommy, Daddy, and Jessebelle. Get married, be rich again, and maybe, if you ask nicely, they'll even buy you an actual spine!"

Meowth hardly believed his eyes when James slapped Jessie across the face and from the look in their eyes, neither did they. Echoes of her earlier scream were swallowed by the crisp sound of his glove against her face. The sound seemed to carry across the mountain and into the surrounding woods before eventually dissipating into the silence. Even then, some part of the sound continued to echo in their minds. Jessie stumbled back from the blow, her stunned expression aimed to the mountainside.

In all the years they had been together, James had never struck her like that. Part of Meowth wanted to believe that someone else had done it. The James he knew couldn't have pulled that off; it had to be someone else. James had always been placid and compliant, save for those tiny cracks.

He had endured bites from Victreebel, painful hugs with Cacnea and head nibbles by Carnivine without protest. Years of verbal abuse from his own teammates had been tolerated. Even the forced reduction of his beloved bottle cap collection had been somewhat taken in stride. It was then that Meowth realized that despite everything the world had thrown at him, no one had ever actually truly set James off. But when Jessie threw his pedigree in his face, she had crossed the line.

The only sound now left was James' breathing, the angry expression on his face held for a few seconds before dissolving into concern. He stared at offending hand, then back to Jessie, then back to his hand.

"Jessie…I'm sorry! I just…I got so angry I…I wasn't thinki—" James' apology was cut short when his partner's boot slammed into his stomach. Yanmega's wings gave off a hum that Meowth could only assume was satisfaction while Wobbuffet was still gaping from the initial slap. James roared when her heel dug into his gut until he grabbed her ankle, backing away with her leg in tow until she lost balance and fell.

Jessie swiped at his ankles with her free leg, bringing him to his knees. A punch to his face was exchanged for a full body lunge. Soon, the two were sprawled out on the mountain footpath as they furiously wrestled.

"Are we really going to let them do this?" Wobbuffet asked.

"Sometimes ya gotta jus' let'em get it outta dere system," Meowth replied, his face grim as he watched his partners roll across the ground. The fight didn't last long, a few minutes at best. The two weren't fighters by any stretch of the imagination. James sat on Jessie's stomach, pinning her wrists to the ground.

"You're wrong Jessie," he panted; the shimmer in his eyes made her struggles against his grip cease. "I don't have a family to go to if I leave Team Rocket. In spite of everything, you are my family, Jess. You. Meowth. Wobbuffet. Our pokémon. They're all family to me. So don't you dare tell me to leave!"

James's composure shattered with the last word, his hands slid from Jessie's wrists to hang at his sides. An anguished sob left his lowered head, shoulders shuddering with each heave until he teetered and fell onto his side. Jessie lay where she had been pinned, taking deep breaths to calm herself. Whatever thoughts were going through her head seemed determined on cracking her resolve if her glistening eyes were any indication.

"I can't keep doing this." Her voice hitched; the words were like a realization, confession, and declaration all in one. "We can't keep doing this," she hastily added. "I feel like I'm wasting my life on this chase. I've given years of my life to this mission. I know I can't get those back but I'll be damned if I give any more. If you want to keep going at this…I won't stop you."

Jessie blinked back the tears and failed, letting them flow down the sides of her face and mix with her makeup. She didn't care anymore; she was sure she already looked like hell and tears weren't going to make her look any worse than she already felt.

The night air grew silent once more. The sting and aches of the duo's cuts and bruises was their only comfort.

Eventually the silence was broken when Jessie gave a long and exasperated sigh, almost as if she were deflating. "I'm sorry, James. I shouldn't have said that earlier. I know it's a sensitive subject and I'm sorry I brought it up. I guess I just never understood how you could throw it all away. I mean, we saw with our own eyes what your parents and fiancée are like."

The trio visibly shivered in unison at the memory, leaving Yanmega and Wobbuffet to wonder at the horrors they had seen. "But for all that money…" Jessie's voice trailed off, her eyes closing when she spoke. "I think about how my life would've been different if we'd switched places. You didn't want people choosing your life for you but growing up I wish I had someone to point me in a direction. I didn't know what I wanted to do with myself. Everything I tried blew up in my face and sent me back to square one. Life was hard for me; I begged, stole and scavenged just to get by. Even eating snow when things were desperate."

"You're not the only one who knows what that's like. I wasn't always in the lap of luxury," James muttered.

"Right…" Jessie whispered back, clearly having forgotten that James had tasted a bit of what she had gone through. "I joined Team Rocket because I figured I'd follow in my mother's footsteps and in a way I'd feel close to my mother again. They told me that she was the boss's greatest agent and how she never gave up on a mission.

"Those were some big shoes to fill. I wasn't like that at all. I gave up on anything the moment I failed it and I didn't want this to be one of those times. That's probably why we've been at this for so long. In the end, her vaunted tenacity, was what ended up killing her."

Jessie sighed as she recalled her mother's memories. "As much as I love her, I don't want to walk down that same path. I'm not going to waste my life to this mission."

No one spoke for a good while. What could any of them say? James had been trying to run away from his old life and Meowth was just trying to find a way to put food in his belly. By comparison, their reasons for joining Team Rocket shriveled pathetically in the face of hers.

"…Okay." James eventually sighed.

"Okay what?" Jessie half-asked, half-demanded.

"If you want to quit chasing after that twerp and his Pikachu, I quit too. Wherever you go Jess, I'm coming with you. We're a team and I promised I would never let you down if I could help it."

"Me too," Meowth added, "No matta where ya go, I'm comin wit ya too."

"Me three!" Wobbuffet chimed in, which Jessie and James heard only as the cry of his own name.

A trio of weak smiles graced their features when the first fingers of dawn reached into the sky beyond the mountain.

"It's morning," James said wistfully.

"I guess we should get some sleep," Jessie said with a yawn, returning Yanmega and Wobbuffet to their pokéballs.

"We can call da boss fer help in da mornin," Meowth said through a yawn, plopping down next to them and settling down on the stone. They had slept in worse places and part of being a Team Rocket field agent was learning how to catch a few winks in any sort of terrain. Within minutes they were out cold and snoring up a storm, ignorant to the sun's slow but majestic arc across the sky.

It was midday when they awoke. The cloudy skies above spared them the worst of the sun's harsh rays. But old habits die hard; the first thoughts to enter their minds were of the schemes they would pull on the twerps, until they realized they would no longer be pursuing Pikachu. The realization was like a weight lifted, followed by concern with the uncertainty of their future.

"Rest well?" James asked.

"Well enough, but I'm starvin'," Meowth chimed in.

"We left most of our food back where we caught the twerp and his Gligar," Jessie said with a sigh. As if for emphasis, three growling stomachs echoed through the rocky plain.

"I could try russlin' up some food from da berries in da forest." Meowth pointed his paw to the woods below.

"Take Yanmega and Wobbuffet with you, we'll contact the boss and see if we can get a ride."

Meowth nodded, awaiting the twin flashes of his companions before making his way down the mountainside. James fished into one of his back pockets and pulled out a comlink that connected them to command. Usually they phoned a special line to requisition costumes, equipment, Meowth balloons, and mechas for when they entered the next town. Traveling by balloon would be too slow for them to complete their cross-region journey in a timely manner. They had been ordering various materials for years — long enough that Giovanni generally cleared their requests without a second thought. As long as it wasn't too expensive.

Team Rocket R&D loved making and sending them the mechas they used for their daily schemes. They saw it as an opportunity to push their equipment to the breaking point and beyond. As a result, they expected detailed reports with regards to the mechas' performance and failure mechanism. Other methods of transport generally required Giovanni's clearance.

James and Jessie listened and waited while the device rang. Though they didn't voice it, they were grateful that this comlink was voice only; one could tolerate the disapproving and irritated glare that Giovanni transmitted through a vidlink for so long. The device crackled to life, asking them for their password which took the form of their motto. Once their voices had been recognized by the system and verified as being theirs, they were put through to Giovanni's office.

Strangely, what greeted them wasn't Giovanni's deep, electronically distorted voice. Instead, it was a woman.

"This is Sinnoh Team Rocket field agents James and Jessie; I believe we asked to be in contact with the boss," Jessie said into the device's mic.

"I'm his secretary, Matori," the voice replied, her tone cool and clinical. "Giovanni is currently busy with other matters that require his attention at the moment. However, I may be able to assist you in his stead. What is your request?"

"We're requesting transportation to Canalave City"

"What happened to the Gliscor prototype that was sent to you?"

"We found that it couldn't stand up to the real thing."

"I see," Matori replied, dragging out the last word as she perused through their profiles on her tablet. Slow and agonizing seconds of silence ensued, making them wonder whether the call had dropped or the other side had simply hung up.

"Is there any particular reason you do not wish to simply use another Meowth balloon?" she asked.

"We thought it better to get to the other side of the region as quickly as possible. We haven't been having too much luck in this part of the region," James replied.

"Does this have anything to do with a certain electric pokémon?" Matori asked as she scrolled through rows and rows of reports, each attributing their failure to one particular rodent.

"Technically it does," Jessie jumped in, "But we've decided that it would be better for the future of Team Rocket if we pursued something else. We're hoping the other side of the region hasn't heard of us yet and we'll be able to exploit that."

"Please hold while I review your case."

Matori leaned back in her chair and sighed. She was almost afraid to scroll down any further, seeing that many of their reports dated back to before she had even been hired. It came as no surprise that her boss had either forgotten or out and out repressed the existence about these particular field agents. She leaned forward again, adjusting her glasses with the heel of her palm as she looked through their profiles on her tablet again.

"They've been after this one Pikachu for years. Doesn't Giovanni already have several high-level Raichu? Why would he even need one Pikachu? They've repeatedly stated in their reports that this is no ordinary Pikachu…" Matori's eyes flitted back and forth across the lines of text. A list of pokémon the mouse had defeated had appeared, ranging from a Rhydon to a Regice.

"Interesting…though it doesn't really excuse so many years of misused funding. I'm surprised to hear Giovanni hasn't already fired them. Then again, we're not really in the position where we could let go of agents. We still need every bit of manpower we can get.

"There has to be some reason Giovanni is keeping them around. Okay, let's see. Jessie… Miyamoto was her mother? Her results during training were promising but found difficulty working with others until she was paired with her current partner. How about James…" Matori switched windows and brought up James's dossier.

The sheer number of times Matori had raised her eyebrows in such a short period of time practically etched lines into her forehead.

"Son and heir to his family estate and fortune; no wonder Giovanni's keeping him. Knowing him he's considered using this man for ransom should he prove too much trouble to keep or as another way of eventually planting seeds into the Kantonian aristocracy." The woman read off James's dossier.

Matori reviewed the allocation of the team's funds. Unsurprisingly, most of it went to food, transport, costumes, and field equipment.

"Apparently these two played a part in forcing Hoenn's Team Magma and Team Aqua to dissolve. According to the R&D department, their frequent field tests have provided some insight for improvements on the structural weaknesses of vehicles and equipment we actually use in the field. But even if I were to send them a transport, what could quickly make the journey from Kanto to Sinnoh and back?"

Matori minimized the profiles and opened up their inventory, glancing over several aircraft. Most of them were currently in use, either by the construction arm of Team Rocket, for transport or on other missions. Those that weren't being used lacked the range to make the trip. Waiting for one to be freed up would take too long and slow down both parties. It wasn't long before she found one particular model that caught her eye. It was listed as one of Giovanni's personal transports. Mechanically, it was in perfect shape but according to one of the notes on file it was put into storage for somehow reminding him of failure.

"That sounds like him," Matori said to herself. She read the specs of the craft. It was an interesting design — a hybrid of a helicopter and jet that combined the best of both aircraft: the speed and maneuverability of a jet with the vertical takeoff and hovering capability of a helicopter. Unfortunately, it came at the cost of high fuel consumption and maintenance.

"Taking the distance into the consideration, it should be able to make the trip there and back with minimal stops to refuel." The secretary examined the model of the aircraft and nodded. "It's probably too good for this team, but it's fast and should be able to get the job done quickly and quietly. Giovanni hasn't used it in years seeing as Dr. Zager was already designing a new aircraft for future operations in Unova. I doubt he'll miss this one."

Again, Matori examined Jessie and James's dossiers. "Granted, with their track record, I really shouldn't approve their request for this aircraft. But maybe I can send someone to take them where they need to go."

Matori closed the windows, sending a message to ping the first available pilot for a pick-up and drop-off mission.

"Canalave? Butch and Cassidy have reported rumors about a new team surfacing in that region. Most of their exploits have been regarding museum pieces. Its library is well-known for its vast archives of historical artifacts and tomes. These three may be onto something. They have the makings of a great team; this just may be their big break." Matori unmuted herself and took the call off hold.

"After looking through your profiles and history, I regret to inform you that at the present moment there are no available transports Giovanni can spare to send you for your personal use. However, I may be able to send someone to deliver you to your destination. Seeing as you utilized all of your funds on the last prototype you ordered, the cost for fuel and maintenance will be deducted from the next stipend you receive."

"That'll do just fine," James replied, making no effort to hide the relief in his voice.

"How soon can we expect them to pick us up?" Jessie asked.

"It may take some time for the transport to get to you from Kanto to Sinnoh. The earliest I can imagine it arriving would be tonight; the pilot will need to refuel at the coast before dropping you off. Please leave your device on so our satellites can locate you and send the coordinates to the pilot. Will that be all for today?"

"That will be all for now," James said, waiting for the line to go dead before he let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding.

"Things are gonna change for the better." Jessie's hand landed on his own and made him smile.

"I found some grub!" Meowth called out and made their heads turn, followed by an angry buzz and a loud, "Woobb!"

"Okay! Okay! We found some grub," the cat amended, dropping an assortment of berries on the ground before them. "How'dit go?"

"We got a ride, it'll be here tonight," Jessie replied.

"Whaddya wanna do 'til den?"

"We could work on a new motto, or maybe we could go back to the old one? It'll definitely sound new to people who aren't the twerps," James suggested.

"I don't think we've quite worn out this motto just yet," Jessie interjected, picking up a berry and holding up before them. "For now though, a toast to what I hope will be the last time we see the twerps."

James grabbed his own berry and held up as well, "To no longer blasting off after every failure."

"Ta actually bein da best membas of Team Rocket, 'an finally havin da boss be prouda us!" Meowth added, pressing his meal against theirs. Not to be outdone, Wobbuffet added his berry to the mix and ultimately had the last word with the utterance of his name.

"Cheers!" they cried and raised the fruit to their lips.

At some point while they had waited Jessie had fallen asleep, her head resting in the crook of her partner's neck and shoulder. If James minded, he said nothing and rested with his cheek pressed against the top of her head. Meowth's body was sprawled across the ground beside them, snoring softly and masking the distant sound of the rotor blades until it drew closer.

They began to stir once the sound grew louder, but it wasn't until they were sprayed with gravel and dirt that the slumber was truly torn from their eyes. The glossy H-shaped windshield faced them for a few seconds before it turned away to reveal the row of windows on the sides. Two ducted rotors flanking the craft pivoted as it gently touched down on the rocky ground.

The door slid open as they approached, revealing a spacious interior with enough room to comfortably fit at least eight agents. Meowth recognized the model as the type that had chased him and his clone during a siege against Mewtwo in the Johto region. That version was armed with a chin-mounted paralysis turret whereas this one appeared to be unarmed. Once the trio was inside and seated, the side door slid back into place and the whine of the engines spooling up echoed through the cabin.

"Thanks for the pickup." James yawned; the pilot's response was the press of a button that shut the door between their section and his, his back turned to them the entire time. While roomy, the chairs were built with numerous sharp right angles. James had tried several positions before simply giving up and doing his best to nod off while sitting upright. It quickly became a fruitless effort when the slightest rumble shook him back to consciousness.

James wondered how late it was, if only to gauge how long he would need to put up with shifting in and out of sleep. From what he could see there were no visible clocks, leaving only the cockpit with a taciturn pilot. Whether by instinct or choice, Jessie's body had slowly migrated over to him once more. The high altitude and night air made him slightly grateful for the warmth. Slightly, if only because of what her proximity did to him.

It had taken everything in his power to keep his cool when he had first seen Jessie during their Team Rocket training. At first he had thought Jessebelle had found him again. The thought of escaping the premises had entered his head numerous times. At that moment, it seemed as though nowhere in civilized society was safe from his fiancée and parents.

It wasn't until Sergeant Viper prompted Jessie to speak that he felt some of the tension leave his body. Despite her fervent desire to marry into his family, Jessebelle's headstrong personality demanded that everyone else change for her. Taking the time to remove her thick Southern drawl would've been too much effort for his sake. In comparison, molding James to her liking was child's play.

The resemblance was as frightening as it was uncanny, almost enough to make James wonder if somehow the two were related by blood. Even though their similarities were more than skin deep, there were certain differences that made her preferable than Jessebelle.

Jessie's skill with a chain (an artifact from her days as "Chainer Jessie") was much like Jessebelle's mastery of the whip. That said; Jessie had never used that skill against him, unlike his fiancée who saw her groom as a wild animal to be broken to her will. Like Jessebelle, Jessie had a temper that could only be described as "volcanic". As a result, Meowth and James were often the target of her fury. Compared to Jessie's explosive bursts of pique, Jessebelle's displeasure was cold and insidious; she did not lash out but instead, honed her anger into something with purpose and cruelty.

At first James was happy that his partner was his fiancée's spitting image. Not only did it keep the relationship strictly professional, it was a constant reminder of what he faced should he decide to leave Team Rocket. Jessebelle's face became a symbol of servitude and pain but over the years he had stopped seeing his fiancée when he looked at his partner in crime.

"She looks so…calm," James thought, unaccustomed to seeing the fiery woman so subdued and tranquil. Her lips parted slightly when she breathed, the ever-present lipstick was now wiped away.

She really doesn't need it. If she only she left her hair down and…

James shook his head as if to shake the train of thought from his mind.

I shouldn't be thinking about this. I'm not going to make things awkward between us. It's taken us years to be completely comfortable around each other and I'm not going to ruin that. What I have with her right now…it's probably the best thing I've ever had with another person.

"Dese two don't need de opposite sex cause dey got each odda." Meowth's words from years back echoed in his mind. Meowth himself was snoring softly in one of the seats he had sprawled upon, absentmindedly scratching himself in his sleep.

"I guess I just never understood how you could throw it all away." Jessie's words echoed within his head.

If there had been a way to get rid of Jessebelle, if I could have at least chosen who I wanted to marry…as long as I got married… would my parents even care who it was? They picked Jessebelle because they wanted me to shape up, but Jessie's always been the one to give structure to my life, to our missions at least. Would my parents be able to see that?

A part of him knew they wouldn't. Regardless of whether Jessie could be good for him the way his fiancée was supposed to be; it was a choice he had made. And that automatically made it invalid. Jessie wasn't a noblewoman or even wealthy, making her chances at being a potential wife nonexistent.

Would they even need to know it was her? We could get rid of Jessebelle and all Jessie would need to do is change up her hair and her voice. That wouldn't be difficult, it's not like we haven't dressed up and changed our voices to fool the twerps and the rest of the world.

"I gave up on anything that I ever tried and I didn't want this to be one of those times," the redhead's voice again rang within James's head.

"Marrying you…it would be so much easier," James whispered, hoping everyone was too deeply asleep to hear him. A stray magenta strand of hair hung over Jessie's brow until he gently pushed it back behind her ear. She smiled and mumbled something drowsily, but James figured she must've been having a pleasant dream.

If I had to marry someone, I can't think of anyone I would marry but her. Then again I don't really know any women besides her. Would she even marry me?

"But for all that money…" The memory of Jessie's voice taunted him.

She might. She would do it for the money. But we…we could be happy. We wouldn't need to do this anymore. I could inherit my family's fortune and estate and could even fund Team Rocket. We could support them in that way, it wouldn't mean she was giving up!

Meowth's sudden screams derailed his train of thought and roused Jessie from her sleep. Before they could even ask him what was wrong, a flash from Jessie's pokéballs filled the room. When the light dimmed Wobbuffet, Yanmega, and Seviper appeared in the rows of seats behind them. Carnivine and Mime Jr. were next to appear on the rows of seats before them. But there was no head nibble from the grass type. That was the first signal that something was terribly wrong. Instead, what filled the void of the absent ritual were anguished screams straight out of their worst nightmares.

Meowth's claws were extended, carving into cushions with every cry. The stuffing bled out through the rips. His normally calm eyes were narrow slits, unfocused and wild like the raised hair and menacing stance he had suddenly adopted.

They had seen Meowth under the influence of several things over the years, but nothing compared to the feral creature that he had transformed into. Jessie suddenly felt James's arms wrap around her waist before he pulled her to the floor between the rows of seats where he joined her.

James's heart momentarily stopped as he felt the rush of air from a swipe of Meowth's claws that narrowly missed his head.

Yanmega pinballed off the walls, each impact leaving behind a large dent. The grotesque shape of a pokémon slamming against solid metal abruptly stopped when the Ogre Darner crashed into Meowth. In too much pain to stop himself, the Scratch Cat tumbled down the aisle until he collided with the bulkhead at the opposite end of the craft, mercifully rendering himself unconscious. Wobbuffet's lanky arms wrapped around his bloated blue body as he rocked like a demented metronome. Mime Jr. writhed on the floor, caught in the throes of this mysterious affliction. Carnivine opened his spiny maw and began firing Bullet Seeds, every spasm unleashing another salvo in a random direction. Some bounced harmlessly off the bulkhead; others punched holes in the aircraft's thin metal fuselage.

Seviper contorted and writhed, every convulsion caused his razored tail to swing wildly. Yanmega eventually stopped careening throughout the interior and settled for flailing in mid-air, vibrating her wings until it seemed that they had disappeared. The ensuing screech swallowed everyone's screams and blew out every window. The shattered fragments were sucked out into the ravenous emptiness outside and lost to the winds.

Whether an involuntary attack or a simple attempt to make the pain and noise stop, Carnivine unleashed a barrage of seeds at the Ogre Darner pokémon, heedless of whether anyone was in his path.

Unfortunately, Wobbuffet happened to be right in the line of fire. The Patient Pokémon shuddered with every projectile that ripped through him until he eventually succumbed to the barrage. His body teetered and eventually fell over into a pool of his own blood. Yanmega fared far worse. The near point-blank barrage of Bullet Seed had reduced Yanmega's body into something that best described as "chunky green sludge".

Bits of membranous wing fluttered about like morbid confetti, dancing to the raging hiss of air rushing out from the innumerable holes in the cabin walls. Streaks of lavender marked the frantic slashes from Seviper's tail, even his own body bore the scars of the thrashing. James watched as his Carnivine continued firing at random. The bluenette's eyes widened as the gaping maw faced him. He shuddered, awaiting the inevitable barrage of seeds that would tear through his body.

But they never came. A flash of gleaming black and purple bit deep into Carnivine's throat.

Carnivine's ovoid head rolled when it hit the floor, rocking back and forth before its jagged maw limply parted. Seviper's hisses grew weaker and weaker until a heavy thud and a clatter marked his fall. And an end to the chaos.

Jessie's heart was beating equally hard against James's own. While some small part of them enjoyed the other's presence and proximity, a larger part of them wanted nothing more than to stay still and hope the universe overlooked them.

Seconds stretched into eternities while James's mind was still in freefall. Wind whistled through the riddled walls and sparks rained from the remnants of the cabin lights. Jessie was the first to slowly rise off her partner and look around the room.

Meowth lay still against a large dent in the showing where he had hit the bulkhead. There was more red and purple than blue on Wobbuffet's body, his mouth and pseudo eyes unrecognizable with dozens of wet and crimson burrows that marred his body. Blood trickled down the Seviper's sleek obsidian scales, each wound another self-inflicted scar for the future.

Jessie ran over to the cockpit door. Her fear had been replaced by her Team Rocket training. On autopilot, she practically punched the button. The door creaked as its damaged motors struggled to open it. James watched his fellow field agent; he could see the muscles in her body tensed and ready to strike. She already knew which of the pilot's compartments had the medical kit; her worries of who could be actually saved would need to wait until she could try and treat them. It was as the doors began to part that Jessie noticed the holes that riddled the metal.

James watched his partner's initial attempt at a lunge and saw that the distance she traveled could've been measured in millimeters. Her stance shifted when she flinched; the determined look in her eyes faltered and gave way to surprise. One step away from the door became two, then three. When she said nothing James ran to her side, seeing what had stopped her in her tracks.

The clear windshield was covered with a red film and instead of the faint odor of hydraulic fluid and lubricants, there was the overpowering animal stench of iron.

The pilot's body was slumped over and sprawled across the controls; a single red light blinked amidst the cerise coated controls. The fact that the autopilot was still on gave them little comfort as they watched the blood trickle down the sides of his seat, feeding into the growing pool at the base.

James felt as though his blood had left his face the join the pool, his body suddenly cold and his head felt light. It wasn't his first time seeing blood; yet no matter how many times he saw it, any ounce of courage he had drained away with the blood from his face. Bile rose into his throat as he looked up from the pool and saw what had decorated the controls. Bits of plastic from the pilot's helmet were scattered amidst the brain and bone fragments that pasted the console. A series of blinking numbers caught his attention and finally gave James an answer to one of his questions.

It was 12:03 AM.