A/N: Whoops. Got distracted nostalgia binging on old Final Fantasy games. Also moved to a new apartment. Didn't mean to be so horrifically delayed in writing this up.

The Winning Vote

2) Rocket: Rise within the ranks of Giovanni's organization until eventually you're the most powerful member of his inner circle. Maybe even make plans for unseating the crime boss and claiming his vast resources for yourself. This would require going on Rocket missions, growing strong enough for an Admin position, and stronger still if you want to eventually claim 'The Boss's Chair'. Note: This puts you on a direct path of conflict with the ACE trainer organization, the Pokémon League, and various other independent goody-two-shoes that can't stomach the idea of secret labs or the occasional murder.

Chapter 2

Sunglasses, a cheap suit, and a painfully obvious fake beard.

That's all it took. There were wanted signs carrying mine & Jessie's likeness posted in front of every police station from Cinnabar to Cerulean -at least I'm assuming so- and yet not one person even bothered to bat an eye as I walked through the streets in plain daylight. Nurse Joy accepted my Koffing for healing without a single comment about how I looked like a person in a 10 dollar party costume. The cashier at the Poké Mart only had pleasant small talk for me as I purchased supplies for the road, and hell even Officer Jenny smiled and waved as I passed by her little outpost.

It's..hard..for me to wrap my mind around. How do they not see? I thought at first that maybe it would just be Ash and his buddies suffering from...let's call them 'cognitive challenges'...but No. When you get a friendly smile from a cop while she's standing next to a board with your face on it that's when you know there is something wrong with the people here.

Maybe..it's a cultural blind spot? The denizens of this 'HopHopHop Town' -also sidenote, because what in the fuck kind've name is that shit?- aren't giving me any signs that they're more sophont than their cartoon counterparts but..they have to be don't they? If they were truly so dumb that they couldn't connect 'Dot A' to 'Dot B' then society would not be able to function. This town has businesses, skyscrapers, it is civilization in every sense of the word. 'Yeah.. a blind spot. It has to be. They are just..unequivocally bad at seeing through a costume.'

I make my way back to the ostentatious fountain in the town square and plop down to await my.. travel companions to return. Who are also wandering the town in sunglasses and fake beards.

Even the Meowth.

The Meowth is wearing a fake beard.

My face falls into my hands as I groan at the ridiculousness of it. A part of me -a small part mind you- is actually glad that they are.. the way they are. It made it so simple to justify to them why I chose to walk away from 'The Twerp and his Prized Pikachu'. All I had to do was spin a little yarn about how the Pokémon's loyalty was going to make it more trouble than its worth. Add in some half-baked bullshit about how I had a new much better scheme to get us filthy stinkin' rich and they just...believed me.

They didn't even press me on the details of my brand new 'master plan'. Not even when I added in after the fact that I had to run an errand in the countryside first. One cocksure grin and a cliche line about 'telling them when it's time' and they just jumped straight to the celebrating the soon-to-come wealth phase. 'I suppose I probably should have an idea prepared in case they ask again...maybe a Pokémon translation service or something? There's bound to be whole crowds of people willing to throw away their wallets on that sort of thing. It's one thing to be able to ask your pet a question and get it to nod its head yes or no while chanting 'Nidoran! Nido! Nido!', It's entirely another though if the animal can reply in full sentences. We could set our own hours, charge whatever we damn feel like, and the line would still probably be out the door.'

It's not something I'd want to do permanently though. It might be good for a quick buck but it would get stale eventually. Not to mention that we'd have to change cities every few weeks to seek out new clients..plus I'd have to convince Jessie not to try and steal anything rare that's brought in...oh and Meowth will probably get real prickly about being used as nothing but a speech conversion device for days on end..ugh this is getting annoying just thinking about.

Though, since we are on the topic...what do I want to do? I could go for the Championship. Seems like the typical thing to do around here…and the idea's not without merit despite the twinge of banality it possesses. If the majority of trainers in this cartoon universe fight anything like Ash, Brock, or Misty then I bet I could clear the gym circuit without too much difficulty. Once I get a proper team together that is. It's not exactly clear to me what levels of prestige and influence such an accomplishment actually buys me...but it's bound to be something.

Choosing that route almost feels like I'm admitting defeat at the idea of going home though. 'But what chance did we really have of that anyway?' A snarky inner voice chides at me. 'Ultra-wormholes in Alola? Not impossible...not bloody likely. For one, I only know the slimmest details of their surrounding lore and secondly, aren't they filled with alien monsters or something? That has 'stupid plan' written all over it. Palkia up in Sinnoh could be a better bet. He's the Legendary who governs space isn't he? He might be able to open the type of dimensional tear I'd need. Although I haven't the foggiest how I'd convince him to do that, let alone actually arrange a meeting with the creature.'

Jessie rounds the corner with a large tan-colored sack in hand and a smile that's entirely too smug. As she approaches and claims the spot next to me I can only pray that the bag really is full of the supplies she swore to go fetch and not some eight-year old's unconscious Poliwag or something instead.

'There is the..third option.' I realize with a slightly creased brow. 'This body is already a member of Team Rocket. And James hasn't trashed his reputation in the organization yet with a constant unending string of expensive failures. All it would take is two or three successful ventures to raise his position a little in the power structure. Maybe even catch Giovanni's attention who..admittedly is someone I wouldn't mind speaking to. Not to mention all the morally unscrupulous scientists he might employ. They could end up being the only decent conversation available for 100 miles.' The softest grin tugs at the corners of my mouth. 'Yes. We'll stick with Rocket for now. Elevate Jame's role in life for a bit. Besides, there's no reason we can't revisit those first two ideas once we have a little more to our name.'

"Guys! Guys!" Meowth announces as he slides into view with excitement in his voice. "You'll never believe this! While you two's were out wasting time shopping I scoped out a fan club where they have a pair of Drowzee just sittin' around, ripe for the taking! Nothing guarding them but a few-"

"No." My voice stamped out. "We're here to refuel and then move on. Nothing more."

Meowth growled and put up his best glare. "You didn't even let Meowth finish! And what's with this new attitude you've suddenly sprung huh? Forcin' your way, makin' our decisions for us! You ain't in charge! Only the boss can give orders like that!"

As the angry paw points dangerously at my face I notice Jessie shift just a little uncomfortably. A tiny frown telling me that on some level she agrees with the small feline but doesn't want to contribute to any inter-group conflict by voicing it. A surprisingly nuanced reaction from someone whom I'd expect to just brashly charge ahead with whatever thought pops in her mind.

"You're right." I announce as I rise to my feet, catching the Meowth off-guard. "I'm not in charge. If you want to pull the job without me go right ahead. But I'm not about to try and tangle with a pair of Psychic-types -let alone a club of Pokémon enthusiasts- with nothing but a Koffing on my belt. If you two would prefer to try catching up with me later then that's fine. In the meanwhile, I'm getting back on the road. Sticking to the plan I already have."

My shoes softly thump along the cobblestones as I walk away, genuinely unsure if the other 2/3rds of James's trio will end up following. It's probably a rough situation for them. One of their best friends personalities has suddenly...well even calling it flipped would be an understatement.. and it's clear they're pretty flummoxed about what they're supposed to do about it. Their choices are either to adjust to this new dynamic..or the group will split. There's some small twinge of childhood fondness that tells me I'd be disappointed if they end up choosing the latter but I'm not going to work overly hard at preventing it. Life will be what it will be.

The old James is long gone and I am here in his stead. And I refuse to pretend anything less.

"You at least want to give us some more details of where it is we're going?" Meowth huffs as he and Jessie fall into line beside me. "What's so important about this errand?"

A smirk forms. "What have I ever told you about where I grew up?"

"Are you.. sure this is the place young man?" The driver looks at me skeptically, his brow raised and doubt lacing his tone. A sentiment his pet Farfetch'd seems to agree with, what with the queried -though mostly disinterested- expression it's wearing.

I behold the large ornamented gateway and nod my head. "Positive." I announce as I hop out the bed of the rickety old truck. "Can I offer you something for your trouble?"

"Bah." The farmer waves me off. "Don't worry 'bout it. We was headin' out this way anyhow. You all have a nice day now y'hear." With a gentle press of the gas the pickup truck begins rolling away, bouncing lightly along the rocky dirt path.

Bypassing the outer fence proves surprisingly simple and soon enough the three of us are leisurely strolling up the far far too long driveway. A small niggle of uneasiness creeps up my spine at being on the property but I'm unsure as to its origin. Could it be a touch of nerves before doing something brazen or perhaps just an echo of James whimpering at bad memories? Well, either way, better to just put it out of our mind for now.

A glistening lake sits on our right-hand side, sparkling brilliantly as the light reflects off its surface. A flash of red & white briefly catches my attention as a Goldeen crests into the air with a much larger Seaking chasing right on its heel. A second splash signals their return down into the blue and after a moment the lake has returned to its pristine stillness.

'A whole private ecosystem next to the driveway? Wonder how much 'that' little bit of luxury ended up costing. Speaking of, how much do you suppose freshwater environments affect the health of traditionally saltwater Pokémon and vice-versa? Assuming they do at all that is. Maybe Water-types are just 'good' in any type of water. Just one more of the many things I'll have to look into sometime.'

"Master James! Master James! Is that truly you?" An exuberant voice cries from the road ahead. The source being an older gentleman dressed to the nines in classic butler attire with a megaphone held tightly to his mouth.

'Well that was certainly quick. Was there a camera back at the gate I didn't see?'

"Goodness me, Eureka! It is you!" The manservant shouts in joy as he finishes his hurried sprint. "So wonderful for you to have returned to us Master James!"

"Hey hey, who's this fancy stooge in the coattails huh?" Meowth speaks.

"Yes, James." Jessie quickly adds in. "Aren't you going to introduce us?"

I stare at the discount-Jeeves's hope filled face, racking my brain for a name. The few fragments I have of James's actual memories provide no help and as for my own...yeah I've got nothing. I can barely remember one in five episodes of the Original Series let alone the name of some throwaway character-of-the-day. "I really have no idea. Alfred maybe?"

The butler instantly turns crestfallen at my admission. His shoulders slump heavily and his back arches down. "Oh how cruel Master James. Has it really been so long that you've forgotten your ever faithful Hopkins.. and we had such good memories together.. the estate management study sessions.. the memorization of important tax code excerpts.. the evenings we spent in the dining hall practicing with all 14 types of forks! Do you truly not remember?"

Despite my effort to remain impassive one eyebrow raises at his words. 'Jesus that sounds miserable. And he considers those the 'good' memories? Fuck dude. No wonder James bailed on this joint.' "Sorry. Everything before a certain age is.. spotty. Outside of Growlithe..well..It's probably safer for you to just assume I don't remember much of anything of those years."

Hopkins jolts himself upright, rivers of cartoon tears streaming down his face while he bites at the corner of a handkerchief. "So sad! How tragic! To lose so many precious memories! Nonetheless, your return is still a cause for celebration! Quickly Master James, we must bring you and your companions to the main house. The Master and Mistress are most assuredly waiting by now!"

The comfortable pace starts anew as we continue once more up the parkway, this time with just a little more hurry in our step. The now identified 'Hopkins' rambling on about a variety of subjects as we go. Jessie and Meowth -who I remind you had been heavily skeptical of this whole detour- are slowly turning more and more giddy at the prospect of living the good life once we get there and I gain control of James's inheritance.

Not exactly sure how they're imagining me doing that.. I mean.. it's not my money, it's 'Mom & Dad's'. I would only have access to whatever they choose to grant me. Which I'm betting isn't going to end up being a lot since I'm not coming back to play the role of their 'perfect little son'.

Unless of course they're planning for the lord and lady to take an accidental 'tumble down the stairs'… though that seems a little morbid for everyone involved. And I like to think I have higher standards than choosing to neutralize someone for a reason as weak and basic as 'money'.

Y'know, I don't think the show ever actually got into what exactly the source was for James's family's insane wealth did it? Are they just 'old money'? Or is it perhaps a case of them having fingers in all of the worlds largest companies? Heck, maybe James just has a great-grandpappy who invented the 'Super Potion' or something, I don't know. That's going on the list to ask about too.

"Grow! 'row!" The red canine yipped and barked as his tail whipped around in overdrive. Excitement bursting out of him at every pore.

"Who's a good boy Growlie huh! Have you been a good boy! I bet you have!" Yeah, I'm weak to dogs. So what? A lot of people are. You wanna fight about it?

My palm gets practically coated in saliva as the Growlithe laps at my hand and then forces his head in for some non-negotiable nuzzling.

Y'see this is where all the 'hippie types' of this universe lose me. You know the ones. The 'power of friendship' advocates that are always like 'Pokémon are our equals! We need to treat each one of them with love and respect and blah blah blabitty blah'.

I mean that's fine sometimes in theory. I would certainly never disrespect any Legendary and see it as nothing but a wild animal. And I can appreciate that a fair number of the common to uncommon Pokémon species seem to at least be on par with the cognizance level of dolphins and elephants back home. Maybe a bit more in some cases.

Little 'Growlie' here though...is a dog. One that's smarter than any Labrador or Border Collie I've ever met sure, but I feel my point still stands.

Now you can care for a dog. You can pet it and train it and love it with every fiber of your heart. You can even cry wet ugly tears at it's passing.

But never would I ever consider it my equal. Not even for a moment. It's a dog.

"Guess what little guy? I decided I couldn't be without my best boi anymore! Sorry it took me so long to come an' get'ya."

"'Row 'Row?" The animal questions as he looks up past my petting with hopeful eyes.

"That's right! You're coming with me now. We're gonna get you all evolved up into Arcanine too!"

The dog howls in enthusiasm and starts bounding around my legs uncontrollably. Expelling so much happy energy that I can't help but fall into a true genuine laugh for the first time since landing here.

"Our son is certainly boisterous on this fine day isn't he Eugene?" A long elegant drawl announces from the veranda. "Not at all like the timid little thing that ran away from us is he?"

"I have to agree darling." The lord of the manor concurs at her side, twiddling lightly with his mustache. "In combination with the Fuchsia deal its certainly working up to be a rather auspicious evening isn't it?"

I stop my playing with the animal for a moment and rise up to face James's parents fully. And to my great surprise discover something brand new evident in their watchful gaze. Something that has been noticeably missing from every cartoon face I had to interact with on my way to get here. Real intelligence. A razor-like acuity that's assessing, measuring and planning, roaming my form as though judging its very worth. 'Something tells me they're going to be quite a bit 'more' than their animated counterparts were.'

"Hopkins," 'Dad' suddenly calls, making the butler snap to attention. "Get our sons guests settled in to the east wing won't you? And then prepare some tea for the den. My wife and I have quite a lot to discuss with our son."

It's just under 20 minutes later that I find myself sitting cross legged in a chair probably worth more than most individuals cars. Across from me my inadvertent victims birth parents sip quietly from ivory white teacups in what may or may not be some petty power play to get me starting the conversation first. No sign of Jessie's doppelgänger at the moment but I'm sure she's lurking about here somewhere. Though if somehow this universe is one where Jessebelle the red-headed harpy is off doing better things with her life then you certainly won't find me complaining.

My first impressions on the innards of the mansion is that it positively reeks of affluent waste. Although that much was already obvious from the outside. These people don't live in a home so much as a four story cathedral built just to prove -in their own eyes at least- how much better they are than the have-nots of the world. Like anyone else I don't mind splurging on a few luxuries now and again but these two have pictures framed in solid gold. Curtain rods that are solid bars of silver. Diamond chandeliers where I had no doubt every little crystal was the real deal. If I ever do find myself in control of this estate then one of the first items on the docket would be to downgrade the sheer gaudiness of it all.

Although, to their decors credit, I did quite appreciate the display case in the foyer with all five Kantonian evolution stones arranged inside. So if nothing else, even if this meeting goes poorly, those are at least one thing I'll be sure to..commandeer.. on my way out the door.

"And how long should we be expectin' you to stay son?" 'Mother' finally begins the dialogue. "I pray it's at least a week or two. It's just been so dreadful since your wanderin' off."

"Three minimum." 'Dad' asserts in an assured tone. "We have the event in Gardenia Town that weekend and it's only proper that every family member attends. Hopefully that's enough time to figure out just how much damage you've done to your education by running about like a common street hooligan all these years."

"Now now Eugene," his wife chides. "No need to disparage the negatives of our boy's free spiritedness. What matters is that he's all grown up and finally come home again. We can sort all that out after he's rested for a few days."

"Actually.." I speak up, getting both pairs of eyes on me. "My initial intention was simply to swing by and grab Growlithe here." I punctuate the words by scratching softly behind the little pooch's head. "I've no desire to readopt the life of a stuffy little princeling. If you really want an heir who's into this type of garish lifestyle you'd have better luck just starting fresh with a new child than trying to convince me. Mother seems like she could still be young enough."

At this mentioning the noblewoman produces a fan from the innards of her sleeve and subtly averts her gaze away, giving off the impression that for..whatever reason.. that option isn't one available to them.

"Unacceptable." 'Father' takes over. "I thought you had returned because you had finally purged all that childish wanderlust from your system. It seems however that line of thinking was too optimistic so allow me to be clear. You are our son. Just because you don't enjoy your familial obligations does not mean you are absolved of them. You can't run away from responsibility forever James. You owe certain duties to this household, not the least of which is to get married and continue the family line. We will start by announcing your return at Gardenia and see what behaviors of yours we have to work on from there."

'Wow. Dad's a real browbeater isn't he? I wonder if the real James would've folded to this.'"Hoh? And how exactly are you planning on enforcing that little ultimatum? You used the term 'street hooligan' earlier so I''ll assume you've at least somewhat kept a few tabs on what I've been doing. You do know what organization my cohorts and I belong to don't you?"

"An organization?" Mother questions, her accent peaking around the first 'i' in a way only someone with her kind of drawl can. "Eugene what is our son talkin' about?"

Dad meanwhile looks like he just bit into something particularly sour. Possibly rancid as well. "We'll discuss it later Marilyn. Besides, it's not an issue that can't be solved with a few calls and favor or two."

Mother makes a curt hum in acknowledgment and chooses to let it drop by once again retreating behind her fan. Though her posture is now that of someone who's definitely a bit annoyed. 'Interesting. Seems one hasn't been entirely forthcoming with the other.'

"However..." I press on. "Seeing as how I'm already here..I am open to negotiation. What was it you said earlier? Three weeks before this fancy gathering of socialites? I can accede to staying that long..if you make it worth my while."

"A bribe?" The manor lord scoffed. "How pedestrian. But very well, if that is the game you wish to play son." Fingers drummed along the armrest for a moment as the man gathered his thoughts. His eyes idly rolling around as he flitted from one idea to the next. Eventually though a thought seemed to strike him that he approved of and he straightened slightly in his chair.

"There exists a breeder in Johto of notable standing who owes this family a not insignificant sum. I'm sure a simple phone call would find the man eager to offload one of his many creatures in exchange for a lessening of that debt. What would satisfy you? Another mutt as a companion for the one you already possess? Or perhaps a Grass-type instead? As I recall you were always partial to those as a child."

'Mom' haughtily waved her fan in front of her face. "Maybe he wants something a bit more exotic Eugene? An Ice-type maybe? Hmmm? Those are pretty hard to come by here in Kanto after all."

I glanced down at the animal sitting patiently next to my armchair, panting contently as my fingers idly work behind his ears. 'Another dog Pokémon? Is that something I'd even want in my lineup?' James did adopt this one well over a decade and a half ago.

It's obvious that Growlithe as a species is more long-lived than..really any type of Earth canine..but they aren't immortal. 'Growlie' isn't old old but he's not exactly a spring chicken either if you catch my meaning. Already I can see a few lines of age in the corners of his face. Would it be better to just start fresh? A little Houndour puppy that I could raise from the moment it's old enough to be away from mom? 'Growlie' could even act as a disciplinarian. Helping the little whelp grow used to his fire and reigning the youngster in when he gets too rambunctious. Houndooms are a little fragile though. One Brick Break to the side and they tend to crumble like a cheap suit. You know what mostly fixes that issue though? Mega Houndoom. Granted, for that to ever happen it would involve hunting down not one but two incredibly elusive stones. Not a simple task, but one that nonetheless is possible. And that possibility is quite alluring.

On the other hand a Grass-type could potentially be a good investment right now. Though I can't say I'm overly fond of the idea at one being a permanent fixture on my team. Despite how much the person I've body-snatched seemed to have an affinity with the type, I've never much cared for them. Too many vulnerabilities and not enough things vulnerable to it. Buuuut the coverage it does provide serves as a foil for pretty much everything an Arcanine might have trouble with. Water, Rock, Ground, all three have the potential to ruin my dogs day but in turn get shredded by a well placed Magical Leaf. This 'notable breeder' may even have access to Johto's regional starter. I shouldn't let old biases sway me away from what might very well be the best option.

Though...on the other other hand, James's mother is correct. Ice-types are hard to come by in this area of the world. The Original Series has what? Five total? Four if we discount Articuno because...well obviously..that one's not going to happen anytime soon. The most widespread of those four here in Kanto would be...Dewgong I guess? A Pokémon that's almost the physical manifestation of the word 'meh'. Unless I can find a lead on a Lapras or something -a species that isn't exactly renowned for being common- then this might be my only opportunity at getting an Ice-type that's actually worth a damn. Because if there's one word to describe the final evolution of the Swinub-line then that would be it. Damn. An eight foot tall, 600+ pound unstoppable tank capable of bulldozing its way through any and all opposition. Not to mention one of the best Earthquakers in the business.

Hmm. Decisions decisions.

CYOA: What baby Pokémon will be sent over from the breeder in Johto?

1) Chikorita (evolves into Bayleef and eventually Meganium)

2) Swinub (evolves into Piloswine and eventually Mamoswine)

3) Houndour (evolves into Houndoom and eventually Mega Houndoom)