I'm trying something a bit different here. For those of you who read my other stories, I haven't abandoned them. I just wanted to write a Pokémon story. And here it is; a different spin on Team Rocket.

While I don't see this being as long as some of my other stories, I do see it going on for a few chapters. This takes place the night of 'A Poached Ego' and will continue from there.

And before anyone sends me reviews trying to argue - Pokémon canon contradicts itself with Jesse and James' back story. According to one episode, they were in a bike gang prior to joining Team Rocket. According to another episode, they met after each joined Team Rocket separately in 'Training Daze' and were teamed up by Viper. The same goes for Meowth; in some episodes he used to be Giovanni's pet; in other episodes Persian was already there and Meowth simply wanted the position.

I chose to go with the episode 'Training Daze' because I like that episode much better. If, for whatever reason you don't like that back-story or episode, you're probably not going to like this story either. Just warning everyone.

Thank you LittleTigger488 for encouraging me.

And everyone else, thank her for doing this beta on this. She's the only reason most of the words in here are spelled correctly.

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Chapter 1 - The Misfits

"Cacnea…Cac…Cacnea…Cac Cac…"

Sleepily, the young man rolled over on his side, listening to newest member of the team quietly coo to itself in-between loud munching.

He half wished the little creature would be silent; the other half of him rejoiced that the creature seemed content. Content meant he had a happy Pokémon; it also meant he could sleep. With that thought he nestled his head down into his jacket that he had folded neatly and was using as a pillow. He ignored the rocks that were jabbing into his body through the sleeping bag; they were nothing compared to the repeated Hyper Beams he had endured earlier.

Squeezing his eyes shut, he tried to forget, but the images from earlier in the day kept replaying in his head.

It had been an exhausting day and all the young man wanted to do at the moment was sleep. While nothing had been broken, he was certainly battered; all he wanted to do was rest and try to recover. If he was sleeping, not only would his body begin the slow process of recovering, but he could try to forget.

James had had many miserable days in his life. This day would top them all, and any future miserable days that would come.

With a low groan of pain he shifted slightly, hoping to dislodge some of the pebbles that were sticking into him.

He had been beaten before in Pokémon battles and in street fights. Hell, he had been pretty thoroughly beaten today. He really didn't think the pain of loss would beat the pain of having his ass kicked.

Now, this day was definitely at the top of his 'worst days ever' list. After all, it wasn't every day he ordered one of his best friends - his baby - to leave, never to return. Never to hug, and cuddle, and pamper. Never to battle by his side again.

If only he hadn't gotten so…attached…to Weezing. For all his joking and taunts to the poison Pokémon, James had been very fond of it-- him. He would be willing to admit he maybe even loved him. Though he called him 'it' on occasion, James had been assured that his Weezing was male.

The practice of calling all Pokémon 'it' had never found favor with him. Due to the customs of the world James normally referred to all Pokémon as 'it'; everyone did. The Pokémon never seemed to mind and if he routinely went around assigning each one a gender he would be thought weirder than he already was.

He was going to be thought even odder if anyone ever found out how depressed he was right now.

It was his own fault; he got attached to every single Pokémon he had owned. He was never able to help it. Every single one of them frustrated, annoyed or angered him at some point, but one look in their eyes, seeing all the trust they had in him, the dedication, the love, and his heart melted every time even when he was trying to be firm with them.

Even though he had been in the midst of a brutal battle, he hadn't missed Weezing's expression when he floated off for the last time. The tears streaking down his purple cratered face almost had James yelling back at him to return and to hell with the Koffin. They had fought together before; they would now retreat together, lick their wounds and continue on. But no, he had to be 'selfless' and 'noble' and release Weezing to run, because James knew damn good and well that the Tyranitar would have killed him and Jessie - probably Meowth too - before snagging the entire cluster of Koffin's.

Then he had felt guilty for harboring such a selfish thought. Those Koffin - and the Ekans too - needed Weezing much more than he did.

James tried to tell himself he was being ridiculous. Trainers and owners had to separate from their Pokémon for a variety of reasons. He wasn't the first that had to release one and he certainly wouldn't be the last. Pokémon got sick, they died…things happened and there were just times that they had to be let go.

Even he had done it before. Look at Victreebel…damn it.

He gave a shuddering sigh as he remembered the plant. Even though Victreebel constantly tried to eat him in her excitement at seeing him, he had adored the plant. She wasn't the best fighter he had ever seen and her methods of showing affection for her owner left much to be desired, but she had loved him.

He had always been disgusted with himself, letting Jessie and Meowth talk him into getting rid of her. But, he hoped his Victreebel was happier, out in the forest. She had found a mate after all.

That was different though; he could have recaptured Victreebel if he had desired to. But he had sensed, in his heart, that it was about time to let her go.

But she was different. She wasn't cruelly sent off during a life threatening battle. She wasn't being poached. She had a mate to help protect her and care for her.

Yet he still missed her. After her release he had sworn to himself that he would never abandon one of his Pokémon again.

But he had.

Now that he had, he was trying to deal with the heartache it caused, and he was taking Weezing's departure a lot harder. At least with Victreebel, he had Jessie and Meowth to offer some company and distraction, and both had actually been sympathetic. Plus, Weezing had also been there.

Now though, this time, he didn't have anyone and he was finding he didn't know how to handle the pain. If Weezing's face had been any indication, he obviously had the same problem.

Maybe the pain wasn't worth it, for him or the Pokémon.

Every now and then the pain of separation from Growlie, his beloved Growlithe, reared its ugly head and he had to silently deal with it. The last time he had seen Growlie, the Growlithe had howled forlornly as James had jumped over the fences and hedges of his parent's palatial home. That had been bad enough; James had felt like his heart was being ripped from his chest and he had felt guilty for causing the creature pain.

To Jessie and Meowth's credit, they had both comforted him well into that night. After the narrow escape from his parents chosen betrothed for him, he had fallen apart at the thought that Growlie was again alone at the mansion.

James had always wondered if he should have brought the canine Pokémon with him. Growlie had obviously wanted to travel with him, protecting him and being by his side. James hadn't thought it was wise; in that instant he had tried to think of what would have been best for Growlie instead of himself. The Growlithe was used to living at the mansion, never knowing the weariness from traveling great distances, the pain of hunger, or having to engage in a true battle. Especially at the Growlithe's age, James would never put him in such danger. He was safer at the mansion.

James could always take comfort in knowing that Growlie, while off limits at his parents' mansion, was still alive and would always be taken care of. If he wanted to bow down to his parents whims he could see Growlie all he wanted. He always knew where his first beloved pet was.

Weezing though…

James shifted, keeping his eyes squeezed closed, attempting to push the thoughts out of his head while wishing that he had someone to talk to. Jessie wasn't an option, not right now. Meowth was asleep. Hell, he'd even accept Wobbuffet at this point screeching at him, anything would be better than the absolute silence. With no one around though, he had to be content with himself and he let his mind wander, wincing as it flitted upon new ideas he had never thought about before.

It just wasn't worth it, getting attached to these creatures.

Before he began his years of criminal activity, when he was still a small innocent boy, his Nanny and Pop-Pop had always told him that Pokémon had feelings, just like him. Animals laughed, cried, loved, disliked; if treated kindly and with respect, they would flourish in his care. And respect given was returned; treated poorly, any Pokémon would eventually turn distrustful and mean. It was better to have your Pokémon be your friend than your enemy. It also meant he could count on them as much as they counted on him.

Neither of them though had told him anything about the pain that leaving one behind would cause. Not like Growlie; he knew where his Growlithe was. He would never know with Weezing.

After receiving him for a Christmas present from a fellow agent in a gift exchange, James had raised and nurtured the happy but dimwitted Koffin who always tried his best to please him no matter what. He had delighted when Koffin had evolved beside his slithery teammate into a Weezing.

He had fallen into a bad trait for a criminal; he had foolishly done what almost everyone else at Team Rocket had discovered. Don't get attached to Pokémon; they were tools to do a job to further the organization.

If he wasn't attached, if he hardened his heart towards them, when something happened he wouldn't have to experience this crushing pain. Whenever he thought about it he found it difficult to breathe. His bruised ribs were causing him enough problems in that department; he didn't need his anguished mental state helping.

Besides, he was supposed to be a villain. A scoundrel. A criminal in the employ of the feared Team Rocket organization. He had worked hard to get his agent status; they would revoke it in an instant if they ever discovered his inner thoughts. Villains weren't supposed to have hearts, and really, what sort of villain got weepy at the mere thought of a lost Pokémon? There were thousands of Pokémon in the world; simply capture or steal another and get on with the job at hand.

He found that very hard to do.

He also found it very ironic that while he was experiencing this pain, grieving for a lost friend, that he was part of an organization that constantly did it to other people. Half of his and Jessie's attention was focused on snatching the Pikachu from that twerp trainer of his. Until now, James had never thought that perhaps the boy was attached to the electric mouse the same way he had been to Weezing.

It was no matter; no longer would he allow himself to be so emotionally involved as he had been. He had thought that by being their friend along with their master that he was benefiting not only himself but also the Pokémon. Too often he had seen the roughneck methods of some trainers, the ones that abused their Pokémon or ignored them, forgoing even the barest amounts an attention and simply screaming at them to become stronger so they could win more battles.

Those people had sickened him; no animal should have to suffer with such methods. When they weren't pursuing the twerps, he had often dragged a willingly amused Jessie and Meowth on side trips when he saw those scum, beating them in battle before stealing their money and Pokémon. A few times they had actually managed to get a hold of some rare and valuable Pokémon that were sent to Giovanni for his perusal. While most were ultimately rejected, he had actually accepted a few, doling them out to his current favorites in the organization.

Jessie always laughed at him, calling him an anti-hero and Robin Hood for his reasons for attacking the trainers. But even while she had jeered, James noticed that she always went along. Meowth always claimed he had vested interest in the side battles; not only was he there to share in the glory with them the very few times they had managed to please Giovanni, but he was a Pokémon himself. It behooved him to help a fellow creature; he claimed that there might be some positive karma in it for him.

Meowth was a greedy self-centered creature, but he was a consistently greedy and self-centered creature. James mentally added a checkmark next to feline's name. He was extremely fond of Meowth - perhaps more than Jessie at times - but on several occasions now the creature's baser instincts had kicked in, abandoning them, like he had when those silly islanders had thought him the 'Meowth of Bounty'.

In his depression and annoyance and a nagging feeling of guilt that he should have chosen differently with Weezing and then he wouldn't be in this mood, James chose to ignore the fact that Meowth had chased them down to beg forgiveness. The feline had done that several times in fact. Deep down, Meowth did a strong moral core that rose to the surface…on a few occasions.

Normally he was loyal too. Not tonight though.

Meowth usually slept by him. When they all had first met and been assigned together, Meowth had slept separately from them. It hadn't taken long for the feline to start inching his sleeping space closer and closer, until he was practically sleeping on top of him.

It figured; the one night he would have welcomed Meowth's presence, he had decided to sleep somewhere else. James had to say though it was nice to have the extra space on his makeshift pillow.

While listening to the Cacnea happily chortle and coo to itself, James cracked open his eyes wearily to watch. Not noticing it was being observed, the Cacnea was eagerly eating the sugar cookies its new master had put on a napkin for it. James noted that it wasn't a particularly neat eater. He - It - had crumbled most of the treats as it speared them with the forest green thorns protruding from its hands.

If he was any judge of Pokémon - and James liked to think that he was - he believed the Cacnea would be a formidable fighter, given some time. Meowth had already informed him that the Cacnea was young; it would need lots of training and attention before it could really be a champion. James already thought it was; the way it had chased off an entire swarm of Beedrill earlier in the day was nothing short of miraculous and attested to its strength, dedication and good heart.

Unfortunately, it also seemed to be extremely affectionate. James winced as he was still able to feel the small sharp stinging pains where the Cacnea had pricked him with an overly enthusiastic hug earlier. It didn't even seem to understand that it was hurting him; it just constantly leapt at him, trying to engulf him in a thorny embrace.

Well, no more of that nonsense. From now on, a working animal only. Not a friend, not a pet, not a companion.

Maybe those scruffy, ill mannered trainers he liked to go after had the right idea. He was confident that those 'trainers' - if he had to call them that - were upset at the idea of their lost wallets and battered egos. They probably didn't give a second thought to their lost Pokémon other than to complain they would have to buy or capture new ones. That meant they never went through what he was going through right now…he wondered if the pain would ever go away, or if it would simply throb in the back of his mind until the end of his life.

Still studying the Cacnea through his half closed lids, James observed that it seemed happy and satisfied in his company. Even as he tried to close off any feeling of affection for the creature, it's comfort and contentment was one of the few things he wished for at the moment.

That, and to know if Weezing was all right…Damn it why did that keep coming up? He…It…was gone. Forget it and move on.

Closing his eyes tightly to hold back tears, James tried to block his last view of his oldest and dearest friend. For the rest of his life he was sure he would never forget the last glimpse he got of Weezing, crying dejectedly as he floated off into the woods with the horde of Koffins. Even as the branches were being pushed aside before sharply snapping back into place cutting off his view of them forever, James had been able to hear the sobbing wheezes, even over his and his teammates screams and grunts of agony at battling the Tyranitar.

Even as he had ordered Weezing to flee before the poacher overpowered them all, James had briefly wondered if he had made a mistake. Weezing had been with him for almost as long as he could remember.

He pushed the thought aside; he wasn't the only one that had to make a painful choice. Losing Arbok had depressed Jessie almost as much. She had sat silently as he treated her wounds from the battle, several tears leaking a path down her dirty face when the reality had set in. She would not see Arbok again anymore than he would see Weezing.

He had tried to make some small talk as he tended to her, but found he was unable to form any meaningful conversation. His own pain was difficult enough to bear. When he had finally turned from her to tend to his own wounds and Meowth's, he had heard her have a brief sobbing fit. When that was over, she had fallen into an uncharacteristic melancholia, not even eating before building a fire and quietly laying down, still fully dressed on her sleeping bag.

Meowth had exchanged a look with James before going over to Jessie, curling up near her face to share her sorrow. While he had been the most upbeat of their trio, James could tell that even he was somewhat upset.

But not as much as him and Jessie.

As he bent over, wrapping a few of his more severe cuts and burns, James had watched her. Several times she had reached out, stroking Meowth's short crème fur while muttering, causing the Pokémon to arch his back in glee before she had finally fallen into an almost comatose state. Meowth had sighed contently and fallen asleep next to her.

James had snorted at the cat before turning to tend to his own wounds and checking on Wobbuffet who had still been somewhat stunned from the battle and had been walking around, more loopy than normal. Meowth may walk and talk like a human and he was as greedy, willful and sarcastic as one, but underneath it all, he was total feline. He enjoyed the doting attention that Jessie was offering and it seemed to be bringing her some comfort.

James had been thankful. He had wanted to offer her something, comforting words, a reassuring hug, anything, but was unable to. He wanted some comfort himself.

The most horrid part was if he was depressed and Weezing was there, Weezing would have been the first one trying to float in his lap to comfort him or nudge him in the head gently to get his attention. Weezing, Pokémon though he was, had a better heart than most humans he knew. Probably better than his own.

James sighed despondently before gingerly leaning up so he was resting on his elbows. He ignored the various aches and pains that were radiating through his body. While his feeble attempts at Fury Swipes -along with Jessie's - had managed to buy both Weezing and Arbok some valuable time to escape, it had done a number on their bodies. They had barely managed to survive the attack. Out of all of them, Meowth was the one who had inflicted the most damage and seemed to receive the least in return.

At least the twerp seemed to have the common decency to rein in his Pikachu so it stopped short of killing them. Rico didn't share the same character traits as the boy. Even he and Jessie never wanted to seriously harm anyone. Humiliate them, outsmart them, steal from them, oh yes. The thrill of the hunt, the chase, the jokes and puns, escaping with a hard won prize, those were what the game was about.

Killing and murder wasn't his style. And for all of Jessie's hard talk, it wasn't in her heart either. While they both possessed a gun, they were normally hidden deep within their packs, rarely touched. Very few circumstances escalated to the point of bringing in firepower.

The only positive about the entire miserable experience had been knowing that Rico had been captured.

When they had been trudging in the woods, trying to find a place to camp for the night so they could begin to recover, Meowth had gone to scout ahead and to grab their hidden packs, dragging the Cacnea along to help and leaving him to assist Jessie. The cat had stumbled over a few people talking and had overheard one of them say the poacher had been caught and the woods were safe again. That had been the only thing that brought a true smile to Jessie's face before it had fallen back into exhausted despair.

Brushing his cerulean blue hair out of his eyes, James gazed around the campsite, squinting in the dying fire's light.

The Cacnea hadn't noticed his movement and was still cheerfully munching on the cookies, spraying crumbs about. James could hear its pleased cooing and munching over the fire's cracking and popping. He really should put him - it - away in the Poké Ball. His daily practice of letting his Pokémon out of their balls, to relax and play and enjoy themselves in his company needed to stop.

Tonight.

He ignored the urge to go play with the Cacnea and get to know it better as he gingerly sat up, pushing the sleeping bag off his chest. He was the master - the Pokémon was property, nothing more. There was no reason to interact with it unless he intended to battle or train it.

With the constant dull throbbing in his head and the large bruise that was developing on his tailbone from one to many landings on it James didn't see either happening anytime soon. With as bad as he was feeling, he would be delighted if he could manage to hobble and shuffle into town to get food in the morning. On their way in he hadn't noticed any wanted posters with their faces on it. They should be relatively unknown in this region.

Groaning quietly to himself as a few new pains shot through his body, James looked around the dimly lit camp. Jessie was asleep and he indulged himself for a moment, watching the way the dying fires light illuminated the lush curves and hollows of her still form. She was one of the vainest women he had ever met, but he had decided long ago that she had a right to some arrogance. Even in her current disheveled state she was beautiful.

Besides, pandering to her vain tendencies kept peace within the team. She found enough to bitch about.

Not to mention, James would admit he was rather vain himself. He knew was a good looking guy. He didn't even think he was being conceited, it was just a fact.

He had seen Jessie eyeing him more than once when she thought he wasn't paying attention. He was also savvy enough to realize that he was one of the few men she was consistently around. With the constant traveling together, it was inevitable that at some point, one would see the other in some state of undress. They had finally just gotten to the point where it didn't shock them as much as it first had when they had begun their partnership.

James was ashamed to say that sometimes, he took a few seconds longer than necessary to shut his eyes and stammer out an apology. So far Jessie hadn't noticed, but she was usually too busy screaming at him for being a bumbling clod while trying to cover herself to really time his reactions.

Lucky for him. He never tried to spy on her or leer at her, but he appreciated the finer things in life. That included his woman, the few he had.

He had also seen more than one woman looking him over during their travels. Usually, he was flattered and uncomfortable at the same time. He was happy that girls found him attractive, but he had to admit that Jessie was right. He was a bumbling clod.

Secretly, James usually got annoyed if Jessie showed too much interest in another man. He was still deciding if it was because he was interested in her himself or if it was because while she was drooling over another man it was distracting them up from their main goal.

He noticed that rarely did Jessie show any signs of jealousy…at the time he was speaking to someone. In fact she often came over, giggling and leaning on him as she introduced herself to whoever it was.

As soon as they were away from whoever was flirting with him though she turned into a shrew, hounding him with questions on if he was thinking about that girl that he had talked to, or if he thought that person was prettier than her.

A few times he had; he had also wanted to point out that the other person wasn't quite as much of a harpy as she could be. But he always would say that no, Jessie was still the most gorgeous woman he had ever seen and of course he hadn't seriously been thinking about that girl.

Perhaps, one day, if he was feeling particularly cold-hearted and in the mood for a fight with her he would actually say yes. Just to see what would happen.

Maybe when he recovered and could defend himself from the all-consuming rage that would no doubt spring forth from her. He had, after all, resolved to be more hard-hearted about things. Tougher.

Sighing and not sure how to handle the feelings, James continued to look around the camp. Even if they were deep in the woods and away from the town, there was always a chance that someone could stumble upon their camp, human or Pokémon. In their weakened state they wouldn't be able to even defend themselves, let alone run.

With that new worry in mind, he felt himself wake up a fraction more and knew he obviously wasn't going to sleep anytime soon.

Meowth appeared asleep next to Jessie. Every now and then James could see his tail move, an ear flick, the toes on a paw move slightly. The Pokémon was out of it for the movement. Not that James wanted to talk to it or anything. It was better if he - it - stayed away for now.

Besides, Meowth had chosen to go to Jessie tonight, after they day they had. Feeling surly, James sent a half-hearted glare towards the animal, annoyed that it had chosen to go to fall asleep on Jessie's bedding rather than his own.

James coughed briefly as the wind shifted, sending a dark plume of smoke from the fire in his direction. After the coughing subsided he made a mental note to move further away from the fire; his ribs were now hurting more than they were before.

Unfortunately, the noise attracted the Cacnea. It turned and stared at him for a few moments, the bright eyes in its body shining with delight as the dark mouth shot upwards. Then it let out a delighted cry of 'Cacnea-Cac-Cac' as it sprung to its stubby little legs, sending crumbs and cookie chunks flying to the grass.

Feeling his lips turn downwards in disapproval, James watched the plant Pokémon quickly move towards him, it's arms stretched wide and the firelight glinting off the pointy protrusions on its body. Reaching into his pocket and mentally screaming every profanity he knew at the agony he was in for doing so, he felt for the Poké Ball he had assigned to the Cacnea.

Even though all the Poké Balls looked the same, James was able to tell the difference in them instantly. Even through the thick gloves he wore as part of his uniform, he could tell the minute differences. There was only one he kept separate, one special ball he swore to never, ever use without express permission.

His hand brushed against Weezing's former ball and he felt a jolt of electricity shoot through him, stronger and more agonizing than anything Pikachu had ever dreamed of throwing at him. James briefly wondered how the emotional pain of losing Weezing could hurt worse than the physical pain of defending him.

He was being an idiot. Weak. He should reset the ball, so it was no longer programmed to accept Weezing.

Maybe later.

Looking up as he closed his hand around the Cacnea's Poké Ball James firmly said, "Stop!"

It didn't of course. If anything, it looked more excited at the idea he was awake and acknowledging it.

James narrowed his eyes at it. It would have to obey him, especially if he wanted to use it to battle. That would mean training it, making it understand that it needed to obey his commands, and that it would stay in its Poké Ball, only being called out until it was needed.

It wasn't going to just sit on its backside and shovel cookies into its mouth. It wasn't going to just run around and play and have fun and enjoy itself. It wasn't going to be a friend and pet along with filling the role of surrogate child. Maybe if he had met it when he still had Weezing. Not now.

The Cacnea was still barreling towards him, its arms opened wide and James stiffly held the Poké Ball up feeling it expand to full size in his hand as he again ordered it to stop in a harsh tone he rarely used.

This time it did, skidding to a stop so fast it sent dirt flying into James face. He frowned at the Cacnea; the foolish thing didn't even realize that it was helping to put him in a worse mood.

"Cac…Cacnea? Cac-Cac?"

James saw the confusion in the Cacnea, the way it twisted its body and looked at him in bewilderment. No doubt the creature was wondering what it had done wrong to anger him. He supposed he couldn't blame it; a few hours ago he had been asking it kindly if it wanted to join him before gifting it with the last of his cookies.

Now he was yelling at it.

James sighed, unused to having to try to be mean to any creature. But he couldn't allow himself to get attached, not this time…

Why did life have to be so complicated?

"Cac-Cac Cacnea?"

James watched as it lifted its left arm, where a large chunk of cookie was still gripped in a forest green hand. It hopefully looked at him with dark watery eyes as it took one step forward, still chirping quietly.

Pursing his lips in discontent and struggling not to bend down and carefully pick the little creature up, James pressed the button on the Poké Ball, initiating the recall sequence and seeing the brilliant red glow stream out and light the Cacnea up.

"Cacnea?" It chirped quietly, still jabbing its arm in his direction incessantly. After a moment it's eyes wrinkled up and it hesitantly said, "Cac-Cac?"

"Quiet. Cacnea - return!" he ordered firmly.

For a round green plant creature its face could really display a range of emotion.

James found that if he shifted his gaze slightly to the left, he was able to not look fully into the Cacnea's face. If he did that, he could tell himself the creature really didn't have a look of hurt and confusion and worry on its face. And it really wasn't tearing up…its eyes were always that watery.

He could also tell himself he wasn't being a total ass to the Pokémon, taking his anger with himself out on the creature.

If he repeated it to himself over and over like a mantra, he might believe it.

Someday. Probably about the same time they actually managed to catch that one damn Pikachu.

With a final confused wail of 'Cac-Cac', the Cacnea beamed into the Poké Ball, disappearing from his sight. James snapped the containment unit shut with a sharp click, still telling himself he wasn't being a heartless ass. Not really.

After all, it was a Cacnea. Just an animal. A Pokémon. It was to be a fighter, not a pet. Weezing filled a few spots; pet, friend, substitute child along with being his chosen fighter. He had been a fool for even thinking the Cacnea would replace Weezing; he should have just left the damn Pokémon in the forest, found one that was more tough and aloof like he was trying to be himself. This one wanted to cuddle and no Pokémon was going to get tough with cuddling and cookies.

That look though…

James shook his head, angry.

The Cacnea should be happy it was being put in the Poké Ball; how dare it try to look upset? It was a native to desert regions; who knew what it was doing in a forest and how long it would survive had he not captured it. At least now it had a home and purpose and would be fed. Rather than try to guilt trip him, it should be grateful.

Yeah. He had done it a favor. Taught Cacena its place.

So why did he feel like the biggest jerk in the world at the moment?

James' newfound hard-heartedness was reacting violently with his usual passive and kind-hearted nature towards Pokémon in general and he grunted to himself, shoving the Poké Ball deep into his pocket with the empties. Things were going to change.

Maybe if he really changed, become tougher like he always wanted to be, it might be good for his career, moving him up the ranks of Team Rocket.

He and Jessie were known for being above average burglars, perpetrating several brilliant jewel heists and bank robberies. It was the only thing they did that actually managed to please the Boss and allow them to continue with their lifestyle. But they were also known for being bungling idiots when it came to Pokémon thefts, earning themselves chastisement in varying forms for their inability to send him rare and unusual Pokémon fast enough, if at all.

Still though, the Boss was happy if they sent in their weekly cut of their bank and jewel thefts. As long as they continuously sent in money, they were safe.

"You know, if you didn't want a cookie you could have just said no."

James heard the snide voice quietly echo through the clearing and rolled his eyes to himself. Then he groaned, regretting the motion. There wasn't enough aspirin in the world to get rid of the headache he currently had. And now, it was about to get worse; the walking, talking headache of the group was awake.

He turned slowly, not seeing the cat at first. James was finally able to make out the shadowy form, seeing the light of the fire glinting off the feline's sapphire eyes and the golden coin charm atop his head. Even from the distance he was at, he could tell the cat was regarding him shrewdly; its eyes small slits as he watched James over Jessie's slumbering form.

James curled his lip in distaste before turning from Meowth, desperately hoping he - it - was just going to say the one sentence and go back to sleep.

James decided he was a bigger fool for even entertaining that thought. When had Meowth ever shut that mouth? If there was an opportunity for it to run its mouth and shoot out unwanted pearls of wisdom, it was going to jump on the chance as quickly as it would jump on a ball of yarn.

Meowth sat up fully and stretched before leaping over Jessie gracefully and beginning to walk towards James on four legs. James watched as after a few steps Meowth went up to just the back ones and felt a small stab of pity for him.

In his determination to impress that ungrateful female, Meowth had pretty much warped his own body with his struggles to learn to walk upright and talk, making him a freak among his own kind and a bizarre novelty among the humans. He had destroyed his body for love, and yet, in the end, it still wasn't enough to please that ungrateful creature he had fallen for. It just went to show that no matter the species, females were impossible to please.

He had shared with James one time during their late night chats that it had caused considerable pain. Even now, years later, the cat felt aches and twinges deep in his joints from the effort it had taken to work against his body's natural structure.

Despite knowing how to walk on two legs, when he first woke, the cat usually stumbled around on all fours for awhile. At some point he remembered he had trained his body to walk about on his back legs and he would go upright. If he was trying to show off, he would always go onto his back legs and walk as a human. If he was among his friends or trying to blend into a crowd, he would walk on all fours. No matter how to choose to walk though, he always claimed that it caused some pain.

It. It-It-It! Not a he, not a friend, not his usual late night confidante when he couldn't sleep or something was troubling him. Not even something he should be feeling pity for; it was a creature. Not even that, a tool to use, a means to an end.

James gently shook his head in annoyance and hoped that if he ignored the Pokémon it would just go away, return to Jessie's side and stay there for the night. He was well aware that his foul mood wasn't radiating welcome at the moment.

Best to cut ties with it now. That way, in case anything ever happened, he wouldn't have to experience the pain of loss again. Meowth was in just as much danger from their lifestyle as he and Jessie. Not to mention that while they had struggled to make sure Meowth had avoided capture by the authorities, he and Jessie hadn't been so lucky. Jessie had been arrested once; James had been arrested three times, making sure he covered for the others so they could escape.

James did decide that if he was feeling especially magnanimous tomorrow, he would explain all this to Meowth. Surely it would understand and agree, seeing the sense in his words. It, simple creature that it was, wouldn't want to experience any unneeded pain either.

Out of all of them, Meowth was probably the most likely to leave. Giovanni could pull him away at any time if he chose. While the boss didn't seem to like Meowth much except as a rare novelty he could brag that he owned, James was pretty sure that if Meowth requested it, it could be moved to another team. Another team that wasn't known as being the one team that was almost constantly on the boss's bad side.

While he was at it, James decided he might even add Jessie to the list, just make a clean cut of everything. She wasn't a Pokémon of course but he cared for her, more than he would like to admit. But while he had seen the pleasant side of her, the caring warm joking side, he had also seen the argumentative, rash, ungrateful and unreasonable side as well. What if, in a raging hissy fit, she decided to leave one day, to permanently end their partnership? Maybe find another partner, one who she thought would help her rise in the ranks more successfully than him? He didn't want to experience that either. He couldn't.

If he didn't care though, it might not be as tough to get through. Besides, they were teamed together to capture rare Pokémon and help the establishment grow in wealth and power, not to be friends. Most of the partnerships at Team Rocket weren't friendly with each other outside of their duties. Friendship wasn't one of the job requirements.

Meowth was halfway across the camp, wincing as it walked and James grunted, gingerly lying back down on top of his sleeping bag. If he was lucky, there was the chance that Meowth might actually pick up on his bad mood and just return to Jessie.

Of course, he had never been very lucky.

James felt the weight of the small Pokémon walk onto his sleeping bag and he groaned before resting an arm over his eyes.

"Begone Meowth - "

"How are you feeling?"

"You taught yourself how to talk - a sad day indeed for the world. I would hope that you would be smart enough to not ask stupid questions," James snapped, not looking at the feline. If he was overly rude it might go away.

"So…in a bad mood then," Meowth drawled while sitting down beside James' right side.

"If you even look at my ribs, let alone slightly brush against them Meowth - "

"I'm sore myself; I don't want to touch you or anyone else."

"Right," James smirked, a trace of his former joking self rising to the surface at Meowth's words. "Which was why you were whoreing yourself with Jessie. You were purring like a kitten - "

"It made her feel better. I could suffer with it for a while."

Hidden under his arm, James could feel his eyebrows raise in surprise even if he was still annoyed the cat hadn't come over to him.

"Since when do you suffer even a fraction for anyone?"

"Hey, she just lost one of her best friends," Meowth replied, sounding like he was hurt at the implication that he wouldn't bear an occasional hardship to help his friends. "Even I can tolerate a little pain to make her feel better." After a moment he added, "Besides, she was petting one of the few areas on my body that isn't screaming in agony."

"Figures," James muttered quietly, his brief joking mood subsiding. "She bribed you with catnip I bet."

"Be nice or I won't talk to you."

"How tragic that would be," James said, finally taking his arm away from his face to look up at the Pokémon who was staring down at him. "I don't care where you go Meowth, but get away from me."

"Come on James," Meowth said, his usual sardonic tone faltering and a hint of worry creeping in. "Talk to me. It's not good to bottle all those feelings up - "

"I'm not bottling anything up," James said definitely, closing his eyes again wishing the drummer in his head would stop pounding out a rhythm. "I just want you to go away."

"Why? So you can lay here and mope and pout like a kitten denied a bowl of cream?"

James grunted, not acknowledging it. He wasn't moping; he was…sulking. Pouting. No, brooding.

"Or are you going to abuse your Cacnea some more?"

James started before rising up quickly to a sitting position, cursing the cat for his words and cursing himself for moving so fast.

"I didn't abuse him-it!" James spat while clenching his fists. "How dare you? I just put it back where it belonged!"

"Usually you're a bit more pleasant about it," Meowth replied, stepping back a few feet before taking his seated position again. "Look, it's OK, I know you're upset and I just - "

James had no desire to discuss his inner turmoil with the feline and interrupted it harshly by spitting, "There's no need to be pleasant." Slowly lying back down he added, "It's just a Pokémon, a dumb animal - "

"It? A dumb animal?" Meowth whispered, sounding confused as it coolly regarded him.

"Yes - "

"Was Weezing - "

"It's not Weezing!" James snapped, feeling his anger and his headache intensify. "It will never be. I shouldn't have taken it - "

"Since when has anyone in this party not taken a Pokémon when the opportunity arose?"

" - and from now on, things are going to be different," James continued in an emotionless tone, not looking at Meowth. "I'm not going to treat any of my Pokémon as a friend anymore - "

"You're off to a good start."

" - they're combatants, workers, nothing more. And this one needs to learn its place immediately. I'm the master - "

"It's place? That's a new one. So…do tell master; you feel the same way about me now?"

James heard the confusion and hurt in Meowth's voice and sighed. He hadn't meant it quite that way.

Maybe he did.

Damn Meowth and its freakish mouth and its ability to make him feel bad for getting angry with it for no reason.

If it wouldn't take so much effort, James would love to just get up, grab his head, let out one long lingering scream of frustration and run off into the woods for awhile, so he could sit and think and try to get all his conflicting thoughts and feelings in order.

As it was, he would be lucky if he could crawl away into the underbrush with a low moan.

"Look, just go away - "

"But - "

"Now!" James roared, finally snapping his eyes open and pointing. "Shame you can talk but don't comprehend basic words! Even the stupidest of Pokémon could understand that!"

"Of course James. I mean, even a dumb animal can figure out when it's not wanted I guess," Meowth sighed dramatically. Looking over his shoulder at James he added cruelly, "Don't take it out on us because we're not Weezing."

"I'm not!"

"Well, sure seem to be. When were any of us just dumb animals? Come on, you usually talk to me. We're all partners right? A team? You wanted to run your mouth a second ago or am I no longer worthy of being in the great Master James' confidence?"

James clenched his fists tighter but said nothing. Meowth was trying to goad him into a fight. He was the trainer, the owner; he refused to allow it to lure him into an argument.

The Meowth was overstepping its boundaries, like usual.

"I can't believe what you're really like, under the layers of incompetence and blue hair. Cacnea was delighted, thinking he found the best friend and trainer ever?" Meowth said with a rude snort. "And I was an idiot for agreeing with his naiveté. Just wait until the next time 'it' has to come out of the Poké Ball," it scoffed, putting a heavy stress on the word 'it'. "In reality you're as bad as the trainers you love to jump for abusing their Pokémon."

"Meowth…" James said before trailing off warningly.

"Some trainer," Meowth sneered. "You release one Pokémon then take it out on the rest of us left behind. You think you know a guy…what a mistake I made."

James sat up quickly again, anger making him ignore the aches and pains that sprang to life at the sudden movement. How dare it say that? Meowth knew how he felt about those people. And after all he had done for it too.

Narrowing his eyes at the cat, who was now out of arm's reach, James said coldly, "Shut up Meowth. With all that I've done for you, you could try being a bit more respectful - "

"Gotta give respect to earn it," Meowth shot back.

"I do!" James said loudly, not meaning to get his voice that loud. Struggling to keep his voice low he added, "Don't forget you owe me - "

"Oh, I owe you now? If we're keeping tabs James I think you'll find you owe me just as much as I owe you and I don't take bottle caps as payment!"

"Stupid animal," James muttered quietly. "Keep pissing me off - "

"Now I'm stupid?" Meowth asked in a crisp tone.

James cursed to himself. He hadn't meant Meowth to hear that.

With a low hiss and arching his back Meowth asked, "Remember you imbecile how good my hearing is? Seems like I'm not the only stupid animal around here!"

"One more word and you're gonna see how big a mistake you're making - "

"Whatcha gonna do…Jimmy?" Meowth taunted, putting its paws on its hips. "I'm not sure you can act like a bigger asshole than you have already!"

Most people would find a talking Pokémon unusual. James didn't - the shock of that had worn off long ago. Getting called an asshole by one was new though.

Say what he would about Meowth, the cat didn't usually swear much and never at him or Jessie.

And damn it, it just had to call him 'Jimmy'. A despised nickname and it knew that.

James glared, enraged. The cat had pushed too far.

Fine.

Furious, James reached into his other pocket, where one lone Poké Ball always sat, assigned but never used, entrusted to him by one of his best friends.

He had promised to never use it but he angrily pushed that thought aside. Meowth had brought this on itself. Being able to talk meant having to take responsibility for what it said, and as much as James hated to admit it, the cat's words had hurt.

Pulling forth the Poké Ball and holding it up to the surprised Meowth, he said with an unfeeling smirk, "I'll put you in here…partner. Remember, you're just a Pokémon too."

Meowth reeled backwards like it had been hit with a rock thrown by an especially vicious Onix. Landing on its rear end, it sat there and stared up at James in shock, its slitted eyes widened in horror.

"Just a…You wouldn't…"

Twisting his mouth upwards in a cold sneer even as his brain was beginning to cool down and screaming at him to be rational, James said in a mocking tone, "Stuttering…from you?" When Meowth just stared at him in horror he stated, "Cat got your tongue? Finally, something that actually shuts you up."

"James," Meowth whispered, not moving. "I can't believe it, you'd betray my trust?"

Would he?

James twisted the ball in his hand, holding it up in a malicious manner so the cat could see the light reflecting off the red and white orb.

Yes, he could do it, recall Meowth into its Poké Ball.

Perhaps.

"You're a Pokémon Meowth - "

"I thought…I thought I was something more!" Meowth said in a quiet tone. "You guys, some of the stuff you've said - "

"A mistake. Maybe if I - both of us," James clarified, gesturing towards Jessie's still form. "Actually treated you as a Pokémon instead of some faux-teammate you might actually learn the PayDay maneuver and forget how to talk! At least then you would be of some worth to us besides a talking freak!"

He winced at the way the cat cringed back from him, like it was truly frightened. The cat had been frightened many times during the course of their association, but James had never seen that look directed towards him. He had never tried to cause it either.

James decided that he was well down the road to real villainy now, belittling one of his friends - former friends, and something that up until half an hour ago he had regarded as an almost equal. Meowth's face was one of crushed hopes and betrayal with a nice healthy dose of wild-eyed panic mixed in.

Yep. This new totally cold-hearted attitude was really going to help protect him. Meowth too. And any future Pokémon…

James inwardly sighed. He was lying more to himself than the MagicKarp salesman ever had to him.

It would be nice for Meowth to actually learn PayDay even if they had pretty much gotten to the point that they wouldn't need the coins.

But, if that happened, it might really forget how to talk. James really didn't want that despite the cruel words he had just spit out.

Even in his half-deranged state of mind, James thought though that sometimes that wouldn't be all bad. He would give credit to the cat for learning to talk; it sometimes lost points for not knowing when to shut up.

But Meowth's ability to talk came in handy for a variety of reasons…

James sighed, feeling his anger ebb slightly as he glared down at the feline. He really wasn't handling this very well.

"Meowth, I - "

"Look, I'll back off," Meowth said in a panicky tone, crab walking away from him. "Respect - sure! More than the boss even! I just wanted to see if you were OK…No need to resort to that though! Tougher than ever - lean mean Pokémon stealing machine!"

James watched as Meowth rapidly moved away from him, its face pained as it retreated back towards Jessie. He frowned; Meowth had never actually feared him before. He supposed fear was a form of respect, but James was finding that he didn't particularly like it. He didn't even want respect from Meowth; his friendship was enough.

Mostly he had just wanted to be left alone. Then he had wanted to talk. Then he wanted to be an asshole. Then he wanted to talk again. Poor Meowth had just blundered over and caught his wrath full in the face.

Annoyed, this time with himself, James glanced down at the Poké Ball in his hand, flashing back to when he had 'captured' its occupant.

Hardly captured; Meowth had grudgingly catapulted into it. It had been his idea.

One night, after yet another unsuccessful attempt at stealing the Pikachu, he and Meowth had been stretched out by a campfire, talking while Jessie slept. At first their conversation had been them going over the events of day, trying to see where they failed. At some point the conversation had turned to other subjects and James mentioned that no matter how rare and extraordinarily powerful the twerp's electric rat was, Meowth was just as rare and special.

He hadn't meant anything by it, but it was true. One didn't trip across talking Pokémon every day. The fact that he could talk was extraordinary. Even if he couldn't talk though, he obviously had an astonishing amount of intelligence and determination, well beyond what the ordinary specimen of the species had.

In an offhand manner he had said that if Meowth wasn't already affiliated with Team Rocket, he and Jessie would no doubt be trying to capture him. Other organizations that specialized in rare and exotic Pokémon knew about him; James had heard rumors that a few had even made monetary offers or been willing to rent or trade for the Pokémon.

While it secretly scared him, the idea that Giovanni would allow that to happen, he also doubted it would, simply because the boss was so damn possessive. But James also knew he was hardly in the bosses close inner circle. The man rarely spoke to them, seemingly content to let his agents work independently from him so he could keep most of the heat of law off himself.

And while he was not often happy with them, it pleased him that his company had the only talking Pokémon around. That and a healthy fear of slighting Team Rocket and its many entities was probably the only things that kept Meowth out of the other's companies clutches.

Meowth had surprised him by agreeing and pointing out he was well aware of that. James remembered that the Pokémon had further surprised him by falling silent for a long stretch of time, almost unheard of for him.

James had been in a contemplative mood and had shrugged it off at the time, letting his mind turn inwards before Meowth had finally spoke again, asking if James would be willing to do him a favor. As a friend, not as a Team Rocket agent, just to do something decent.

His curiosity had over ridden the urge to make a sarcastic remark and he agreed, asking what Meowth was talking about. The Pokémon was rarely that serious, and if it had him acting like that, it must be dire. James remembered his own eyes had widened in surprise when the Pokémon asked if he would be willing to 'capture' him.

James closed his eyes for a moment, squeezing the Poké Ball and wondering why that scene had to replay in his mind.

After the first few seconds of initial shock he had begun to incessantly question Meowth, demanding he explain himself. He had assumed Meowth was Giovanni's Pokémon, albeit an often ignored and mistreated one. James had found out how wrong he was.

The cat had nervously continued, anxiously looking at Jessie's sleeping form and speaking quickly.

He had been thinking about it for awhile. He wasn't stupid; he knew good and well that others were interested in him, and he was not an official 'capture'. He never had been. At most he could be considered 'protected' by Giovanni.

Meowth didn't trust just Giovanni's protection, not unconditionally despite his reverence for the leader. Not to mention, if Giovanni could get away with it and make a few dollars he would sell his own mother. If offered enough, Giovanni could be persuaded to accept an offer to get rid of Meowth. Not to mention, he could always just be cat-napped.

If he was officially captured though, by someone he trusted, no one could ever take him.

James knew that to be mostly true, though Meowth was in error. On occasion, a captured Pokémon could be captured by another trainer. The capturing and tagging systems were complicated but as they all had found out nothing was foolproof.

There were ways around it but they were difficult and not many people had the time, money, and skills to even think about it. Every now and then he had heard about something malfunctioning in the tagging system and a Pokémon that actually belonged to someone else being snagged into another trainer's Poké Ball, but it was a rare occurrence.

Meowth had continued, saying that out of everyone he knew, if he was going to be 'captured' he couldn't think of another person he would want more to do it.

James had protested. Despite how much of a pain in the ass Meowth was at times he was more than some wild random Pokémon. He was a teammate and friend along with being his Pokémon. Most civilized people didn't shove their friends into Poké Balls.

Meowth had pointed out that Weezing was his friend and he was in a Poké Ball, something James found he couldn't disagree with.

Still in a state of complete shock, James had questioned him for several hours, not believing what Meowth was asking. The cat was taking a hell of a chance, putting it's faith in him. James felt it was only fair to point out any flaws in the plan he saw. Meowth could potentially be giving up his own freedom, and James felt like he himself should know fully what the cat expected of him.

As it turned out, Meowth didn't really expect to much to change from the present situation. He didn't want to battle; he preferred to use his mind rather than his body. He certainly didn't want to stay in a Poké Ball; he pointed out he had never been in one and couldn't imagine liking it. Other than the initial 'capture' Meowth didn't want it to be used again. He didn't foresee obeying 'orders' to battle, though he had before in extreme circumstances.

But he wanted to be protected, be made an official capture by someone, someone who wouldn't abuse him. And he trusted James to do it.

James sighed, opening his eyes to glare down at the Poké Ball before turning his gaze towards Jessie's form, barely able to pick up Meowth's dark silhouette near her.

After a long and unusually serious discussion, he had reluctantly agreed. He would capture Meowth.

Thinking back on it, he had to say it must have been the easiest capture in the history of the world.

Meowth had awkwardly stood, looking at him and telling him to hurry up and throw the ball so they could get it over with, all while begging James to release him as soon as he could and to keep his word. He wouldn't try to order him to battle or ever try to force him into the Poké Ball.

James had solemnly nodded before choosing an empty ball and with a heavy sigh throwing it at his teammate. He had watched as the energy beam turned the cat's crème-colored fur a deep blood red before he leapt at it, disappearing into the ball.

He had stared at the ball for a moment before picking it up and immediately releasing Meowth, not wishing to betray his faith in him. Out of everyone, the creature had stated he trusted James, despite his goofiness and supposed incompetence and weakness. Meowth had confessed that after watching everyone he was around, he didn't trust anyone as much as he trusted James. He didn't even trust Jessie quite that much.

James had always felt strangely pleased at that, the fact that he had one little Meowth's trust.

When released, Meowth had come forth, ungracefully landing on his face as he stumbled out of the energy beam and begged James to never do that to him again as he gagged and moaned. He'd rather die than suffer going in the ball again.

After that night, they had never spoken of it again, vowing to keep it a secret between the two of them. No one knew, not even Jessie. James had no objection to telling her but it had never honestly come up in any discussion with them. They probably should say something one day. They were all supposed to be equal partners.

He desperately hoped that it never came up in any other conversations and Giovanni found out. While the subject had never been broached, it seemed to be an unspoken rule that while Meowth was not a technical 'capture' of Giovanni's, it was still was 'his'. James was doubtful that his superior would be apperceive of him 'capturing' something that he saw belonging to him, even if his doing so added an extra measure of protection that Giovanni himself never saw fit to do.

Meowth had always felt humiliated and degraded because the leader of Team Rocket had never deemed him worthy of a personal capture. Most everyone was under the delusion that Giovanni was his trainer and Meowth had never bothered to correct anyone, to protect himself and to save face.

James never quite understood why; while he had never played the 'master' card with Meowth - any of his Pokémon really - he certainly deemed the feline a worthy capture. Even if Meowth wasn't the strongest battler around, the fact he could talk, along with the companionship he offered more than made up for it.

And if Giovanni personally captured Meowth, he would have undeniable proof that the feline belonged to him. Giovanni was many things; evil, brilliant and possessive were all at the top of the list. He honestly wondered if Giovanni had just overlooked making Meowth 'his', or was to full of himself and thought no one would ever dream of grabbing it.

Meowth still had dreams of being Giovanni's personal pet, to permanently move in on the Persian's territory and have it tossed out into the gutter so he could sit on his lap.

James always rolled his eyes but let the cat have his dream, even if the thought of losing Meowth was upsetting. The cat annoyed him at times, but any time it had gone missing or been in trouble, he and Jessie both would attempt to move heaven and earth to find or help it. And it was not only because they were worried about bringing about the boss's wrath if they lost him.

If Meowth ever managed to accomplish his delusional goal, James would hand over the Poké Ball that belonged to him, reluctantly. As much as it pained him to say so, he'd miss the half witted fur ball, perhaps more than he was currently missing Weezing.

And hopefully Giovanni would be in a good mood if that day ever came and would do no more than have his throwing hand broken in retaliation.

It was something that even frightened Jessie. The few times they had thought of leaving Meowth behind, such as when the foolish islanders wanted to have it lead them, they had both discussed going into hiding.

Jessie; rash, overdramatic Jessie, had thought of something like that happening long before James, and had mentioned she had planned for such an occurrence, if something happened and Meowth went missing. She said out of all the teams, no matter how hated they were, they had still been gifted a rare honor that even Giovanni's favorites hadn't. They had been entrusted with Meowth.

Though James sometimes wondered if it was a gift or a lifetime punishment.

Either way, he knew that if something happened to the Pokémon, he and Jessie both would be facing more than a few docked paychecks. Other's had disappeared for far less. And he had witnessed firsthand a few times now of how Giovanni usually reacted if someone 'stole' from him. The man liked to make examples of people, and pulled in his agents from around the world to watch. The last time was an office assistant who had been caught embezzling from company funds…

Needless to say, her career was over. It was hard to type with no arms, though that Persian had looked like it had enjoyed ripping them off.

Thankfully James had been able to cover for Jessie and told her not to attend the demonstration. Sending her with a wad of cash to the nearest mall and telling her to shop to her heart's desire had managed to get rid of her for the afternoon. All James had to do was tell Giovanni that she was scouting out a new location to rob to cover for her so she wouldn't have to see the display.

Meowth had figured out that something had happened; he picked up the scent of blood when James returned. He had also been wise enough to not mention it in Jessie's presence, questioning James after everyone was asleep.

Shaking his head to clear those uncomfortable thoughts, James moved his gaze from the Poké Ball to Meowth. At the time of Meowth's 'capture', he had felt terrible for entrapping the Pokémon, seeing how uncomfortable it had made him. And here he had just heartlessly threatened to do it again because he was in a bad mood and the furry idiot had only been trying to help.

Rolling the Poké Ball in his hand, James thought. Meowth had covered for them a few times, so much more than just a mindless worker and he was treating him like an enemy slave.

James hadn't minded doing it, officially making Meowth his. He knew the cat would be safe with him. He had told Meowth that he was surprised and a bit pleased that he had chosen him; one third of the most bumbling and laughable teams at the organization. Meowth had said James won by a slight margin over Jessie, simply because he felt James wouldn't laugh at him or try to order him as much as the woman.

That had surprised James. Jessie, even if she would have scoffed at the cat, would probably have done it, given enough badgering and some flattery. And Jessie was a loyal to Meowth as he was, and had as much to lose.

Not to mention that they were a team. A team of criminals, but even among thieves there was some honor and loyalty.

Meowth had said it went beyond teammates and loyalties. He had seen how James treated Weezing, doting on it more than Jessie doted on Arbok which was amazing. Victreebel was a complete spaz in Meowth's opinion, but James had doted on the plant.

James might be a villain, though he hardly fit the stereotypical image of one. Despite his chosen career, he had a kind heart. Even Jessie was nastier than he was at times.

James had sighed at that one. He wasn't ever going to move up the ranks in Team Rocket if word of his 'kind heart' got out.

He might not be one of the agents that routinely used a gun even if he was a quite capable shooter but it didn't mean that other agents didn't rely on their weapons as much if not more than their Pokémon. Giovanni was likely to have him shot in an alley somewhere rather than suffer the embarrassment of having a weakling in his ranks, especially a weakling that had captured the talking Pokémon under his nose.

James sighed. His friends were going to be the death of him.

He had briefly thought about leaving the team a few times, when things got to difficult. He had even thought about it for a second when Meowth had asked him to capture it, assuring it of a life with him instead of living a life of constant worry that it would be snatched when its back was turned.

Things might have been easier sometimes, leaving. He could do it now, just crawl off into the brush. No more Jessie and her insane dreams and plans of wealth and becoming an actress. No more Meowth and his whining and dreams of being the top cat. No more Team Rocket and the constant backstabbing by its vindictive employees and being underappreciated and the threat of being killed should something go wrong.

He had been running for most of his life; it would hardly be new. From his parents, from his unwanted fiancé, from stuffy high society and life in general, almost everything caused him to continue on, searching for something better. If he had left one of the times he had thought about it, he wouldn't have lost Weezing…or gained the Cacnea, or Meowth. Or Jessie.

The few times he had toyed with the idea though, his steps had always faltered. No matter how bitter their fights got at times or many times they insisted he was a whining submissive wimp, he always stayed put. He simply couldn't abandon them.

Under his curtain of tousled hair that was hanging over his face, James glanced at Meowth again. The feline was still cowering beside Jessie, it's eyes two glittering jewels reflecting the fire's light. Watching, wary, but not moving, probably so he wouldn't attract attention.

James felt the wall he had been attempting to brick up around his heart crumbling to dust, falling apart before it was even fully erected. So much for his hard-heartedness to protect himself.

He really was a wimp. His grand scheme had lasted approximately forty minutes.

Once again, another failed plan. If he wasn't so sore he'd kick his own ass and blast himself into the stratosphere for his stupidity. All he had managed to do was bully two small creatures who in their own way were only trying to comfort him, Cacnea with cookies and Meowth with talking. Maybe he wasn't any better than the trainers that simply looked at their Pokémon as a means to an end.

He briefly thought about releasing Cacnea to apologize, almost reaching into his pocket to pull the ball but stopped himself. He wasn't in the mood to do that, not yet. He had probably frightened Cacnea and would have to work hard to regain its - his - whatever's - trust.

Pokémon communicated in their own language, which besides sounds involved lots of body language. If the Cacnea picked up stiffness or hesitation from Meowth - even if he never spoke - it might be more untrusting and wary of James than before.

Yeah. He should get Meowth back over to his side…because of the Cacnea. Not because he just chased off one of his best friends or anything like that.

He sighed, stretching as much as his sore body would allow before slowly shuffling towards the fire. A chill was creeping into the small campsite. Luckily the Cacnea and a very subdued Wobbuffet had grabbed several twigs and branches, stacking them somewhat haphazardly near the fire for fuel. Weezing and Arbok had done the same thing on numerous occasions when he and Jessie had been busy or to sore to do so themselves.

James pushed the thought aside. They were gone, sent off into the cruel unforgiving wild by the owners who had promised to love and protect them no matter what. Time to forget them and move on.

His anger spent for the moment and having been replaced with despair and a bone numbing weariness, James painfully crouched by the fire, tossing in some of the kindling. There was too much green wood in the mix and it caused the fire to belch gray smoke at him. He didn't even get annoyed; they had done the best they could. The Pokémon were as worried about their trainers as their trainers were about them.

He didn't look over at Meowth, but he could feel the cat still warily watching him. James stiffly went back to his sleeping bag, sitting on the end while gazing into the fire. To many scattered thoughts and worries being bogged down by depression and disappointment in himself were causing him to lash out. He wryly thought he was acting like Jessie during one of her more passionate fits. When angered, James usually went silent; Jessie was the one that would lash out violently.

Glancing over and seeing Meowth still watching him, cowed, James finally put his hand on the ground and patted it. He frowned slightly when the Pokémon just blinked at him.

"Come on Meowth, I know you're awake."

James drummed his fingers as he heard Meowth make loud snoring sounds. If he kept that up Jessie was going to wake up, and James wanted her to get her rest. Besides, she would probably be angry with him for the way he acted, and his head simply could not take her screeching at the moment.

"I just want to talk."

"I heard you loud and clear the first time…master," Meowth hissed quietly at him. "Course if you're ordering me I suppose I don't have a choice do I?"

James sent an annoyed glare in his direction. He was perfectly willing to admit that he had likely made a fool of himself. He had every intention of apologizing. Everyone in the team had several quirks and annoying habits that the others had to overlook if they were to function smoothly. Meowth would do well to remember that himself.

Fine. James counted Meowth as one of his best friends - one of his only true friends actually. And he knew the cat well; he was going to be stubborn and make him beg for his companionship.

James never begged…well, he wasn't going to beg this time anyway. There were times when begging couldn't be avoided in this group, but he knew a way around actually having to do it this time. As it was the fickle feline was probably going to make him grovel and crawl to him on his knees for forgiveness, not that he hadn't required it of Meowth a few times. But he refused to beg to get him by his side on top of that.

Hopefully Meowth would just listen to him now and allow him to grovel on his knees in a few days, when he had sufficiently recovered and most of his body wasn't the same purple shade as an eggplant. Before he did though, perhaps he should get very drunk first; that might take the sting out of listening to the cat gloat and preen.

With a small smirk to himself, James carefully reached into his pocket, extracting an almost melted bar of chocolate. He had rarely met a Pokémon that wasn't found of the treat, the only exception being Weezing himself. If he really wanted to treat Weezing all he had to do was let the Pokémon run wild in a trash dump.

Weezing always reeked upon returning and James did his best to avoid having to cuddle the Pokémon until a large portion of the smell dissipated. Usually Weezing was in such a good mood from gorging himself on whatever manner of rotten trash he found that he was content to float a few feet downwind of James. If he found something particularly appetizing, he would even allow James to hose him down some. It was hard to sneak up on targets if the Pokémon announced they were coming with just stench alone.

But other than Weezing, every other Pokémon seemed to go nuts for it, Meowth included. It wasn't good for any of the Pokémon, but it really wasn't good for humans either. James figured that if he limited their intake, it was acceptable as a treat or a bribe.

Anything was acceptable in small quantities though…except soda. When it came to carbonated beverages, there was never enough of a good thing. Despite the many times he had been told soda would likely kill him before anything else, James still guzzled the stuff any chance he could. Not only for the bottle caps he coveted, but also he found he was simply addicted to the beverage.

He wished he had one now. Other people smoked to calm nerves and relive stress. He chugged cola. There were worse vices.

Not even turning to look in Meowth's direction, James held the softened bar up, his hair shielding his face as he waited.

As he predicted, he didn't have to wait long.

Still not looking up and trying to keep most of the self-satisfied grin off his face, James listened, hearing a few leaves crackle as soft paws slowly padded over them. He almost felt bad, bribing Meowth this way. Being in a state of constant starvation much of his younger life, Meowth seemed to crave food as much as attention. If he ever really needed anything of the cat Pokémon and couldn't get it any other way, food usually helped soften him up.

James felt rather than saw Meowth come up beside him, sitting silently on the sleeping bag, just out of arms reach.

"Dirty trick James."

"I'm a villain; I'm full of dirty tricks."

"You're full of something else too, but I'll be polite and hold my tongue."

"That's a first," James muttered, breaking off a chunk of the chocolate and holding it out to Meowth.

When he didn't instantly snatch it James glanced over at him. The cat was angrily glaring back, dark shadows under his big slanted eyes and his lips curled back, showing his small sharp teeth. James felt a chill creep down his spine; Meowth looked exactly like he had when he and the other Pokémon had briefly been hypnotized by a Drowsiee to obey only Cassidy and Butch.

He remembered how much that had hurt, seeing Meowth cuddling up to Cassidy even though he had realized that the cat wasn't in his right mind. And his other Pokémon had no longer even acknowledged him, let alone obeyed. They just openly glared at him before attacking on the other teams' orders with looks of distrust and hostility on their faces.

Meowth wasn't quite that bad now; he didn't have the vacant look of not even recognizing James and his claws were still sheathed. But he wasn't looking at him like he usually did either. And this time, there was no other group to blame it on; he had brought this on himself.

Wonderful; he had lost Meowth's trust along with the Cacnea's. He hoped it wasn't permanent. He didn't want to split up the team, not because he was in an unusually bad mood.

"So, you gonna share that or just tease me? Oh, I know - you're gonna command that I battle first before I get it right? Really put me in my place."

James sighed; half tempted to shove the entire bar in Meowth's mouth. He put the piece of chocolate on the sleeping bag instead, choosing to say nothing for the moment. Let the chocolate sweeten the cat's disposition before he tried to talk to him.

After a few agonizing moments in which James wondered if Meowth was going to take it at all, Meowth greedily pounced on the chocolate. He picked it up, examining it closely before staring at James again.

"You gonna eat?"

"Go ahead Meowth."

"Well…you wanna split it?"

"I got more," James replied, holding up the bar. "Go on, I insist."

Meowth narrowed his dark blue eyes in suspicion for a moment, making James wince. The cat specialized in guilt trips. If Jessie wanted to be an actress so damn bad she should be taking lessons from Meowth.

James hadn't realized he had been holding his breath, waiting to see how the Pokémon would react. When he saw the cat begin to greedily cram the chocolate down his throat, he released it slowly, not wanting to jostle his bruised ribs anymore than necessary.

Meowth only peeked up at him a few times with a distrusting look, like he fully expected James to snatch the treat back or for him to whack him on the head with a Poké Ball. James chose to ignore the stabbing guilt radiating through him, turning his gaze back to the merrily crackling fire while Meowth made pleased noises as he devoured the chocolate.

After a few moments, James heard a satisfied sigh followed by a small belch and turned, directing his gaze down towards the cat.

Meowth looked slightly more pleased than he had, so James decided to not point out that Meowth had melted chocolate smeared in his whiskers. The haughty beast got annoyed when anyone pointed out he had something stuck in his fur.

"Feel better?" James asked.

"A little." Meowth eyed the remainder of the bar and added, "And I'll feel better still if that managed to leave your hand and find its way down to this sleeping bag."

"You get more chocolate than is good for you now," James snorted. "This stuff isn't healthy for you, you know that."

"Fine; you're the boss," Meowth sniffed, making a discontented grunt as he curled his tail around his legs. "Guess you wouldn't want me to get to fat to fit in my Poké Ball."

With an annoyed look, James broke off another soft piece, tossing it on the sleeping bag. He might as well just put the remainder of the bar down then get up and go rob the nearest chocolate factory. The way Meowth was acting, it was going to take pounds of chocolate to get the Pokémon to even listen to him.

"By the way oh wonderful master, this chocolate's melted," Meowth said between chomping and licking sounds. "You smeared it on your sleeping bag and I hate to tell you but there's not a lot of cleaners in these parts. Oh, and no matter how much battling experience I get, the move's called 'Pay Day' not 'Laundry Day'."

Damn. Oh top of everything else that had gone wrong, his bedding was going to attract bugs.

"I'll survive," James said dryly, stretching his legs out before propping one of them up so he could watch Meowth.

"Unfortunately."

"And just so you know," James said sarcastically, annoyed at the jab and deciding to take one of his own. "You got chocolate in those horns you call whiskers."

"Thanks for pointing that out to a poor stupid animal like me." Sitting up stiffly and licking his paw before beginning to scrub at the chocolate Meowth asked, "So, Master - "

"Stop calling me that," James snapped waspishly.

" - resorting to trickery and bribes…that's your usual tactic."

Not always, James thought sourly.

He and Jessie both had learned long ago that trickery and bribes did work on Meowth. True to his species, if something round and shiny was held up at him the cat would almost kill himself to get it, even resorting to self-mutilation if he determined that drastic enough measures were called for.

One time Jessie had been teasing too much, dangling a large golden coin they had stolen from a jeweler and laughing at him because Meowth had been twirling himself in-between her ankles as he begged for it. He and Jessie had already predetermined that it was hardly worth trying to sell, not when they had so much other goods to get rid of. It had been agreed to give it to Meowth as a bonus.

But Jessie couldn't just hand it over gracefully, she had to make the cat beg for it, but she never knew when to quit. Meowth finally determined that cuddling, begging and flattery weren't going to work any longer and he had declared that he was going to cut the charm off his head and offer it as a trade, even unsheathing his claws so he could begin to cut at it.

Jessie had quickly thrown the coin down to him, watching in startled amusement as the cat had snatched it and run to squirrel it away in his pack with the rest of the glittery junk he carried around. James was pretty sure that a few of his treasured but now missing bottle caps were in that pack. He had caught the cat eyeing them when he had seen them, drawn to the sparkling tops; James tried to keep the glitziest ones out of the cat's sight.

But, he had never taken the special pack he and Jessie had designed for Meowth from him to search; one of those trust things they had placed in the feline. Besides, Meowth wouldn't let the pack out of his sight for long; it was too important. Not only for him and his collection of glittering junk but to the team as a whole.

With his love of wealth and shiny objects, Meowth was the perfect one to watch over the teams funds. Whenever they pulled off a robbery, the jewels, gold, cash, Poké Balls, whatever they stole went into the pack.

Chasing after the twerps was a frustrating activity that ate up a lot of their time, but they did have other jobs to do. Giovanni wouldn't keep them around if they didn't produce something worthwhile. While they were complete and utter failures at finding rare Pokémon - hell, they had yet to catch that one Pikachu after all this time - they did produce enough wealth with their other thefts to fund half of the boss's research facility.

And other Team Rocket members knew that, along with other criminal organizations and the usual run of the mill thieves.

If they got ambushed - it happened occasionally - and it looked like Jessie and James were going to lose - which also happened occasionally - Meowth had one order. Take his pack and run, hide until it was safe then return to them.

When they had first begun their odd little team, they had been ambushed several times, constantly losing their funds and supplies. After sleeping several times in bus stations and on park benches, Jessie had come up with a better idea. Have Meowth keep the funds and make sure he was the one that got away. Even if they lost all their supplies, they wouldn't lose their money.

James agreed with Jessie that having the cat keep their funds out of enemy hands was a wise idea. It ensured that they would have money whenever the ambush was over. Not to mention whatever they stole had to be reported to Giovanni so he could determine his cut, and the boss wasn't the type to accept 'we were robbed so we can't pay you your weekly tribute' calmly.

It had always worked out well. Meowth was a resourceful fighter but it wasn't his primary job. When they battled, whether it was the twerps or someone else, Meowth frequently stayed in the rear, mostly on their orders. He watched their backs in case of a rear attack, but he would be the most likely to get away and hide with their funds.

Meowth did the job well and despite his sometimes selfish nature they had never questioned much if he would return to them. They all fought occasionally, they screwed up often, and Meowth was greedier than the entire team combined, but they had to trust each other. In the cutthroat business they were in, the only one's they could truly count on were each other.

But damn did he run his mouth sometimes…

If they wanted to shut him up for awhile they had learned that he would eagerly chase and play with a ball of yarn, distracting him for hours. Or catnip; Meowth was a full-blown addict for it and was in an unusually good mood when the plant's intoxicating aroma finally wore off.

"Figured you'd just order me around. So, what do you want me to do?"

"Nothing Meowth, just want to talk - "

"You sure? I mean I'm just a dumb animal."

Meowth was going to be dining on chocolate and I'm going to have to eat my words…likely for the next several years.

James reached out towards Meowth, intending to scratch behind his charm which always put the Pokémon in a good mood and had him get over whatever snit he was in. Normally, when he reached out to pet him, Meowth would forget he was supposed to be such a civilized highly evolved creature, well beyond wanting that sort of attention. If he was annoyed he usually allowed himself to be coddled and pampered until he got over himself. Then he would practically leap into James' lap like the overly spoiled brat he was.

This time Meowth just stared at him, his paw raised halfway to his whiskers. He wasn't moving away like he had been, but he wasn't making any moves towards James either. He just watched with an aloof air.

James flinched when he heard the quiet sound of Meowth's front claws coming unsheathed, the razor sharp tips glinting in the firelight. The only time Meowth had really truly attacked him was when he was under Butch and Cassidy's control, using Fury Swipes on him and Jessie. He had scratched or clawed them in annoyance or to get their attention and while it wasn't an actual battle move, it was still painful.

Since he had enough cuts and scratches at the moment James moved his hand back. Meowth was obviously angry. He had every right to be and James wouldn't put it past the cat to claw him out of spite and revenge.

Sighing again and rubbing his forehead James said, "Come on Meowth, I just - "

"Come on? Come on what?" Meowth asked, arching his back so sharply that the fur stood on end. "Don't insult the little intelligence you think I do have. I'm not going to get close to you. Thief or not I always trusted you before. Now, I don't trust you."

I don't trust you…How could four little words hurt that much?

Painfully turning so he could look down at the cat James absent-mindedly began fiddling with the Poké Ball in his lap, saying, "Meowth please, I'm tired, I'm hurt, I've got a headache you wouldn't believe - "

"Oh yeah? I have what feels like a second heartbeat thudding in my head but I don't see you trying to help me."

"I just want to- "

"Fine, knew it was too good to be true to last forever," Meowth muttered angrily, forgoing his bathing to glare sullenly downwards. "You'll just do it anyway and I've heard trying to refuse is more painful than just accepting it." He sighed loudly and said, "Fine. Just do it since it seems to be so important to you."

Frowning slightly, James asked, "Do what? I only wanted to s- "

"Don't talk, just throw the damn thing and get it over with."

Still confused and wondering what trick Meowth was trying now, James asked, "Throw…" Following Meowth's gaze he started and said insistently, "No! I wasn't going to do that! Not to you!"

"Right," Meowth drawled nastily and still not moving towards him. "You can't pull this 'you're a Pokémon and I'm the master' crap, start waving that thing around while threatening me then expect me to believe that? I used up most of my smarts learning to talk but I have a few useable brain cells left."

James picked the ball up, shoving it into the pocket of his tattered pants.

"There, it's gone," James said, trying to keep the exasperation out of his tone. "Better?"

"No it's not better!" The cat hissed, visually relaxing now that the ball was out of sight. Standing and stalking around James he raged, "You got some nerve…You swore you wouldn't use it! Never even pull it out but you wave it in my face, pull this shit then expect me to just nuzzle up to you like a friend?"

"Well yes, I had hoped so," James admitted. "But since that's not gonna happen I'm sorry - "

"Yeah, that's heartfelt," Meowth answered, snorting in disgust. "How noble of you to apologize to some lowly Pokémon just because you stated the truth. Some friend. What did I expect from you though? You're just like all the rest after all - I would have been better off going to Butch and Cassidy or one of the other teams"

"Meowth, please, just listen," James said, reaching out to him and quickly pulling his hand back when Meowth swiped at him, just narrowly missing him. "Meowth!"

" - and at least I would have known what to expect with them!" Meowth continued on with a bitter tone, his voice growing louder and having the cat-like yowl it had when James had first met him. With a dry laugh traced with disgust he added, "And I always thought you were my friend but now I see that I'm just a tool to be used! With someone else I would expect it and it would be less insulting than from you…"

James felt his anger starting to rise to the surface as the cat continued to screech and insult him, getting quite colorful with a few of his jabs. He decided to stay quiet.

Besides, his anger was mostly directed at himself. He deserved Meowth's wrath. As embarrassing as it was to admit, Meowth wasn't wrong. He really had just slapped the cat in the face. If venting was going to make him feel better James was content to sit there and let the cat yell at him the rest of the night. At some point his fury would be spent and James might be able to talk to him then.

" - happen again." Crouching low to the ground, lips pulled back from his fangs Meowth added in a cold sneer, "I thought, with you, I might have a chance at controlling my own life. But I made a mistake trusting you before; don't think it's gonna happen again."

James violently fell back like he had been slapped in the face as Meowth continued to glare at him. He had been an idiot to think the Meowth would accept a simple apology. Whining, conniving selfish brat that he was, Meowth had a lot of pride and James had insulted him badly. And likely the cat wouldn't let him forget it.

Frantic, James ran a hand through his thick tangled hair, feeling a few cuts deep on his scalp and wondering how he was supposed to fix this. He had really made a mess of it this time.

Well, bungling something was hardly a new feeling for him. The old desire to just grab his stuff and run again surfaced and he tried to suppress it. Running wouldn't fix this; it had rarely fixed anything before. He wanted to apologize to Meowth; losing Weezing had been bad enough. The thought of losing Meowth permanently left a cold hollow feeling deep in the pit of his stomach.

Chocolate, catnip, coins; none of those objects would make Meowth feel better or regain any sense of trust and loyalty to him. He had permanently damaged their easy going friendship and James couldn't even find words to express how anguished that made him feel.

Meowth had trusted him with his life, putting his safety and well being in James' questionable hands and he had betrayed him. He hadn't meant to let down his friend, he had just been angry and upset and took it out on the one being that had been trying to help him. And he had been selfish anyway, getting annoyed with the cat because he had been over with Jessie comforting her before going to James.

The cat, crook that he was, deserved to have someone better than him being in control of his Poké Ball.

Maybe…he might let me try to apologize and make this right…

"I don't blame you," James said quietly. Reaching in his pocket he pulled Meowth's Poké Ball, ignoring the quiet hiss the feline made. "I wouldn't trust me either."

With a heavy sigh, James held the ball out to him. When Meowth didn't move, just glared at with a look of deep loathing, James dropped it on the sleeping bag. Meowth blinked at it in confusion before turning his suspiciously puzzled gaze to James.

"You're right Meowth, so here." When Meowth didn't move James gently pushed the ball towards him, taking care to keep his fingers well away from the mechanism that would engage the capture sequence. "Take it; I obviously can't be trusted with it."

Meowth's look when from accusing to fully confused as he bristled and asked, "So what are you saying now? I'm not good enough so you're gonna release me?"

"No Meowth." Giving a helpless shrug of his shoulders James said, "I shouldn't have tried what I did - you're right, that was low, even for me. So, you take it. I didn't reset it, it's still an active Poké Ball, you're still a capture. But it might make you feel better, having it in your possession."

Meowth turned from looking at him to regard the ball, a look of surprise on his face.

"I can't believe it…you're giving it to me?"

James nodded, looking down at the cat who incredibly now looked hurt and angry.

"Apparently I'm not a very good trainer or friend. I sent Weezing off, my friend since he was a Koffin, and I…I thought it was the right thing then, for him," James muttered, cutting his eyes to the fire as he spoke. "But me…Now…I'm supposed to specialize in doing the wrong thing - "

"Well, normally you do, but I don't think it was wrong, then or now," Meowth argued, taking his eyes from the ball momentarily to look up at James. "Even we do something right once in a while. Ever heard the saying 'if you love someone set them free?"

"Which is what I'm doing with you," James replied, fiddling with a rip that was in his trouser's leg. "It's yours. Maybe, someday, I'll earn your trust back. But, that's yours."

"No Pokémon has their own ball," Meowth whispered, a look of wondering befuddlement on his face. After a few seconds he reached out, touching the ball with one trembling paw before pulling it close to his chest and cradling it like a small kitten. "I mean, why would they? But still, I'm the only one - "

"You're not exactly like every other Pokémon are you?" James asked. Turning back to the fire he said quietly, "You're special."

"You mean freaky."

"Well…maybe. I can't deny that it's freaky you can talk."

James thought about those words. If he was trying to butter the cat up and apologize, pointing out how much of a misfit he was really wasn't going to do much good. Some flattery - and honesty - would go much further.

"I do admire the dedication it must have taken to learn; it's not like us, where we're born with the ability to learn it is it? I don't listen to you as much as I should and sometimes I don't even want to hear what you have to say. Most times though, I'm happy you can say anything at all."

James paused, hearing the cat make a low grumbling sound. Not a purr, but not the low growl he made before he was going to attack either.

He decided to take it as a sign to continue and hoped Meowth wasn't going to claw him. If he lost any more blood he was positive he was going to pass out.

"I didn't mean anything I said before, about you being a freak or owing me anything. You never have."

"How do I know that, now, after what you said?" Meowth asked snidely. When James turned he added, "Don't even think of denying it - remember - for once, you started this, not me."

Pursing his lips at the question, James thought. He honestly hadn't meant it, though at the time he had been so angry and hurt and frustrated that he had spit out the first insults he could think of, never even giving a thought to how Meowth would take it. Meowth had been a bit dry and sarcastic, but he hadn't done anything to warrant such harsh treatment.

Deciding to be honest, James shrugged feebly and said, "I said the words because they were easy, not because they were true or I meant them. It's not an excuse, but it's been a really bad day."

"Oh, ya think?" Meowth asked, standing and still clutching the Poké Ball. "Because only you had a bad day, right? I mean me and Jessie, our day was just rainbows and sunshine and - "

"Look," James sighed despondently and wondering if he was wasting his time. "I know you got the snot kicked out of your furry little body, and Jessie - "

"Yeah, no kidding," Meowth snarled, stalking closer to James. "I got two of my claws ripped out, I've got bruises covering half my body but I got bigger problems than that. One of my friends is depressed, one's acting like a jerk, and two others are gone! We're hurt, we can't protect ourselves…I can't lose anyone else. You ever think about that when you were having your little fit? You and Jessie lost your Pokémon - I lost family! I never even got to say good-bye."

James started at that, surprised into silence as the cat huffed at him.

He hadn't known Meowth counted Weezing and Arbok as friends or considered them family. He knew of course they talked; their little team was stuck together all the time, it was inevitable that they would talk in their own special language. He just hadn't realized that the furriest member of their group was actually sorry to see them go, or was going to try to protect the camp himself.

If anything happened, they were all doomed.

" - and now I have to worry because they're gone and there's really no one left to fight to protect the group is there? We get jumped, it's just me! Wobbuffet is still so stunned I had to keep him from walking into the fire and yeah, the Cacnea put up a good fight but I don't think I want to trust our lives to him yet. You think those two knew to get firewood on their own? Or knew where the packs where?"

"Meowth - "

"Don't Meowth me," the cat snapped, still keeping his narrowed eyes on James. "I have to deal with a lot too. I know I'm a freak - I don't need my so-called friends calling me one. I have - "

"Meowth, on my honor I - "

"Look who you're talking to James," Meowth moaned, delicately placing one paw over his eyes. "We don't have any honor - "

" - never meant that."

James held his arm out again despite the fact that it felt a thousand Cacnea were stabbing into it, feeling a little more hopeless when Meowth didn't instantly leap into his lap. He lowered it, feeling the muscles relax as he decided to just swallow his pride and try to beg the cat to forgive him, or at least consider it.

Giving the ball to him had been a good will gesture, and it seemed to have placated him somewhat, but he was far from forgiven.

"I'm sorry Meowth. I'm sorry I was a jerk, I'm the biggest jerk in the world for what I said and tried to do. I'm sorry I got so jealous that you went to Jessie and not me even though she's your friend as much as I am. I'm so sorry I broke my promise to you and lost you as a friend. You're the best of all of us and not being able to confide in you, plan heists with you, just hug you crushes me. You may be a freak, but you're my freak, my top cat." With a ragged sigh he added, "I don't know what other words to say - "

"Funny coming from someone who claimed they wanted to be a song writer at one time. Wonder if you should have done that instead of trying to be a criminal; you might mess it up less."

At one time long ago…it almost seemed like a different lifetime.

James had always wanted to help create music. He had no desire to sing, but he liked listening to the music, putting his own words and meanings to the delicate strands of the instruments while getting lost in the melodies.

That was a long time ago, before he had run away from home. Before he knew what Team Rocket was or knew the sarcastic little beast that was still glaring at him.

That goal had been dropped in the new favor of a new goal - staying alive.

But his love of words and rhyming had one positive. It had helped Meowth to develop his vocabulary.

Meowth had taught himself to talk and had a fairly impressive vocabulary when James had met him. In reality, saying anything other than 'Meowth' was impressive enough, and while James had been fascinated with the talking Pokémon, his limited vocabulary was at first grating and his voice had a harsh yowl to it.

Jessie, who had a bit of poet in her as well, had also been intrigued, trying to teach the cat new words. She was surprisingly patient about it, something that had amazed James. He had actually thought she would give up quickly, but she had persisted.

When questioned as to why she was doing it, she had quickly said the cat only knew enough words to annoy her. They mostly had to do with demanding and begging or whining. But James underestimated her; Jessie had proven more than once she could be patient and her teaching and training methods showed that trait.

When she had been teaching Meowth new words she had tried several methods before settling on rhyming. James had jumped in, liking the idea. Meowth had been a fairly quick study, greedily soaking up the knowledge and they had happily encouraged his growing vocabulary.

Their silly rhymes had earned them laughter and looks of annoyance at the academy, but it had served its purpose. Before long they were all rhyming, mostly to annoy the other students, and they had continued the practice and beamed when Meowth's word count grew.

Then Meowth had picked up the habit, throwing in a rhyme now and then himself as they worked. Then he had heard the company motto that all agents loved to say. It was pounded into each new members head when they were finally inducted into the ranks of Team Rocket; it was inevitable that Meowth would hear it eventually. Not only was it their words to live by, but also out in the field it was said to sometimes identify other agents; not all of them wore uniforms. Most wore disguises.

Liking the rhyming scheme they had begun to use that to teach Meowth, inserting their own words depending on the situation, twisting it so it was almost unrecognizable. When James stopped to think, he was actually amazed that the twerps along with everyone else that heard his and Jessie's own version weren't easier to beat. They should have all just fallen on the ground in a laughing heap. It could hardly be considered threatening most times.

Butch and Cassidy, along with almost every other agent, had laughed at them, saying they were so bungling that they couldn't even get the company motto right but James shrugged them both off. He knew the motto well enough; he just enjoyed changing the words, especially if it was for a good cause.

Besides, Butch was a bully along with being a damn moron. James personally hoped a Charizard eventually fried him and ate his innards then went after his partner for dessert.

But James had to admit that not only was the other man a much better Pokémon thief, he was a better kiss ass. Butch and his little witch of a partner were deep within Giovanni's inner circle, a spot that James had at one time wanted.

He wasn't as sure now. After all, with great power came great responsibility, and the favorites had to spend entirely too much time in Giovanni's company. If rumors were true, it was expected that the favorites would perform certain duties that James knew he himself wouldn't be able to stomach.

While he certainly wouldn't mind having access to the larger and more complex weapons along with the unlimited funds they could demand, he would much rather be free out in the field. If nothing else, it gave him a chance to escape should he really bring the boss's wrath fully down on his head.

"Don't insult my old dream," James chided. "You probably wouldn't know half the words you're calling me now if I didn't - "

"Maybe. You should hear some of the things I've been calling you in my head," Meowth answered back, eying him with distain. "And trust me, they're not very poetic. They're creative though."

"I can imagine." Wearily sighing, James said, "Meowth, I don't know what else to say. Tell me what I can do to make this right."

"Try going back to that part where you said you were the world's biggest jerk; that seems like as good a place as any. Or maybe the part where you were talking about how great I was, a noble, brilliant, regal cat because, you know, I love non-fiction stories. Or tell me how you'll let me cram my face full with as much chocolate as I want because you worship the ground I walk on. I'll let you chose cuz that's just the kinda cat I am."

Having a talking Pokémon around was always handy. Why he was cursed to get one that had such a smart mouth and gigantic ego James never understood.

But, it was Meowth. And it wouldn't be Meowth if he wasn't a smart ass and James wouldn't want him any other way.

James rolled his eyes at Meowth's smug expression and words. He had threatened to put Meowth in the Poké Ball? How absurd; he and his enormous ego both wouldn't fit in there.

"I'll buy you one bar. Tomorrow, after I get into town to get supplies and scout out the area better."

"Just one?"

"I'll get you something shiny - "

"This doesn't seem like very regal treatment James - "

"Neither is having the teeth rot from your head or gaining twenty pounds. A toothless overweight Meowth would look bizarre and hurt our suave image."

"Yeah, right," Meowth drawled. "Real suave there James. Do I need to point out your trousers are ripped so high you're showing more leg than a Playboy centerfold?"

"Meowth, no need to be crude," James scolded lightly, watching the cat place the Poké Ball at the far end of the sleeping bag before staring at it with the same reverence that a priest showed an alter. "Besides, they're not that bad."

"For rags they're not." Coming back to his side and looking disdainfully down at his dingy white pants for a moment Meowth added, "Now, about that chocolate…"

"One."

"Five."

"Two."

"Six."

"You don't understand the idea behind bargaining do you?"

"I understand that better than you're understanding the idea behind groveling," Meowth said coyly, standing and circling James. "You wanted to know what you could do to make things right…"

"Meowth, don't push," James warned, already knowing where the conversation was going and rolling his eyes at the gluttonous feline. "Your greed's gotten you on the wrong side of me before."

Stretching out to full length Meowth began to tap on James gently with his tail and added, "Big bars, none of that fun size crap. Nothing fun about a miniature candy bar - "

"Fine," James sighed, feeling himself weakening. No, candy wasn't good for him, but if he could at least talk Meowth down on the massive amount he wanted, James decided he wouldn't feel like a total loser. "Three full size or six of the smaller ones. And you can have half of what I have left now."

"Deal…let's see, what else can you do for me…"

James waited, rather patiently he thought, for Meowth to add to his 'potential to be forgiven' list, drumming his fingers in annoyance, then getting more irritated because he was making a bruise on his thigh throb with pain.

No doubt the furry idiot was going to demand he do something cruel and humiliating, adding to his miserable evening. All he had wanted to do was cry and wallow in misery for a while over losing Weezing, sleep, maybe talk to this little gloating beast in front of him.

How had the trip to this hellhole of a city turned so badly? They had been scouting out the area surrounding the city for a suitable hiding space once they robbed the bank.

Jessie may enjoy attracting a lot of attention with loud bombs, squealing wheels and an all out battle with the police, but James had finally managed to convince her that wasn't the best way to do things. In and out with no attention attracted was the perfect crime to him. They could gloat later, when they were outside the jurisdiction.

Instead they stumbled over the poaching ring, turned into the white-knights of Ekans and Koffins, lost their Pokémon, and now he was being blackmailed by this furry twerp.

Maybe he should just hand over the candy and accept that he'd been had. Again. By a Meowth.

The furry imbecile was going to eat all the candy, probably guilt trip him into giving him more, then cry and moan when he had teeth problems and health issues and a stomachache. Meowth was a brilliant Pokémon, smarter than any that James had ever run into, but his instincts kicked in at times, especially with food. James had accepted long ago that if he was going to be Meowth's grand savior and trainer - even if it was only in name half the time - that he had to occasionally save the cat from himself. The furry fool would eat himself to death if he didn't.

For a self-proclaimed master criminal he sure was a sucker.

Annoyed, he turned back to Meowth, who was still listing things he wanted, most of them quite impossible for James to deliver. He distinctly heard Meowth demand that he buy him a castle and shower him with riches and sighed again. He'd have to curtail the list soon or Meowth would be demanding his soul next.

"A solid gold scratching post - "

"You'd break your claws before sharpening them."

"Hmmm….you're right. I'll let you file them for me…with a gold plated file. And I want a diamond-studded cat-nip ball and - "

"Meowth, keep it reasonable. I don't even think they exist."

"You can make me one; you're crafty."

"No."

"Well then, I guess you aren't too sorry - "

Should have kept the Poké Ball and used it. Then thrown it in a river.

" - so how about letting me go through that bottle cap collection and take what I want?"

Have to start all over again…

"Fine, tomorrow," James sighed wearily. "Can I just go to sleep now before you take anything else? I begged for forgiveness, not to be broken. I've done that well enough on my own."

"Well I'm not done yet - "

"Oh what now?" James asked, exasperated as fatigue started to overtake him. He carefully rubbed his eyes and stated, "I don't have much left that would be useable to you now."

"Wouldn't say that," Meowth said slyly, cutting his narrowed eyes towards James.

James stared back at the still glowering Meowth, wondering what he was going to do now while inwardly begging that the cat not ask to use him as a scratching post. After a few tense seconds, Meowth, with a low purring sound tentatively stepped on James' lap.

Mentally, James was screaming. Meowth had apparently forgiven him somewhat since he was allowing himself to be held, and that was a good thing. Being a sucker and caving to pretty much every silly little whim he had was paying off; he had his Pokémon back.

But, now that he was deemed a worthy lap to rest his furry little self on, Meowth had somehow picked the more bruised of his two legs to use as his resting spot.

The things he went through for his Pokémon…

"I wanted to hear some more of how great I am," Meowth continued, kneading the tips of his sharp claws into James' lap to get more comfortable.

James held back a shriek along with several filthy words at feeling one of the tips prick at a few cuts. The only reason he wasn't picking Meowth up and tossing him straight into the fire was because he detested the smell of burnt fur.

"Oh, now I'm good enough to sleep on," James muttered in a huff, knowing he was sulking like a spoiled two year old and not caring.

Where was the cat hours ago when he needed him? He had almost always been there when the cat really needed him. Even on the rare occasions when they had decided to use Meowth for bait, he was always watching, just to make sure nothing really bad happened to him. He always stopped Arbok and Weezing right before they managed to kill Meowth, even if he deserved it for whatever he had done or said to them.

"Where Jessie's sleeping is harder the back of an Onix," Meowth explained as he settled in. With his tail curling and uncurling reflexively around James' wrist he added, "I just dealt with it because she needed me more then - "

"More?"

" - and I had a better view of the woods so I could watch - "

"Watch what?" James sniffed, delighting in being able to run his fingers through the sleek fur of the cat again and being able to safely pull away all digits. The last time the cat had really shredded him, people could almost mistake his arm for angel hair pasta in meat sauce. "You were just sleeping - "

"Cat-napping," Meowth corrected. "Someone had to keep an eye on us and you two weren't in any condition. I mean you two released our main protectors and fighters didn't you?"

"Thanks Meowth," James sighed forlornly, pausing in his gentle stroking of the cat's back at having that brought up again. With the relaxed banter going on between them, he had started to momentarily forget. "You always know just what to say to cheer me up."

Nuzzling up to him Meowth said, "One of the many reason's you keep me around. Now that we both agree that I'm the most wonderful thing about this team, wanna tell me why you lost it earlier? If you can tell a dumb animal of course."

Damn it. Meowth was never going to let him forget that.

"Nothing, it's over with now," James sighed, putting his arms around Meowth while resting his chin on the cat's head. "Small case of temporary depression. We've got work to do in the morning; we have to scout out the - "

"Small case?" Meowth snorted. "Depression is anger with no enthusiasm. You're still angry."

"My my, aren't you the little philosopher?" James scathingly said, going back to stroking the cat. "After the day I've had, please, spare me any Meowth-logic. My headache is big enough already."

"No need to get cynical; my headache is a permanent part of my family and I'm sitting in his lap." When James stiffened slightly and tightened his grip on Meowth the cat said hurriedly, "No, think about it. You were depressed, than angry, then you opened that big mouth of yours, said the wrong thing like usual, and now you're upset and angry again."

"Meowth - "

"Come on James - you wanted to talk. So, talk. I'm here now - "

"Not when I needed you," James muttered, still annoyed and upset the cat had retreated from him on the one night he really wanted him around.

Standing on his back legs and pressing his full weight into James' sore thighs, Meowth said firmly, "Come on - I know I'm great but ya gotta share me once in a while right? We're all a team and there's plenty of me to go around. Jessie was crying, she invited me over to her sleeping bag which never happens. I sleep there and she complains I get fur all over it - "

"You do. I usually wake up with fur in my mouth. I'm thinking of shaving you while you sleep."

" - and what was I supposed to do; ignore her?"

"Yes," James whined. "I needed you - "

"You had the Cacnea," Meowth answered easily. "Whom you were sort of nasty to. Jessie's missing Arbok and has a half stunned Wobbuffet she's still worrying over even though I told her that you were taking care of him and he'll be fine. Worse case we kidnap a Nurse Joy to tend to him."

James nodded. His medical skills were rudimentary. Jessie's were better; she had wanted to be a Pokémon nurse at one time. But neither of them were experts, nor did they have access to the equipment and tests that would be necessary to heal a badly hurt or ill Pokémon.

All their Pokémon had gotten hurt at one time; it was inevitable. He and Jessie were evil - but they strived to make sure none of their Pokémon got injured or sick. But it had happened, even to Meowth.

He and Jessie had disguised themselves on numerous occasions to get into a Pokémon Center for treatment and medicine for one of their injured Pokémon. Only one time had it backfired. In a panic over a severely ill Meowth, he had rushed him to a Pokémon center in Viridian City, disguised poorly. Nurse Joy had spoken to an Officer Jenny, and before James knew it or could bring out Weezing, who was only a Koffin at the time to help him, he found himself in handcuffs and cooling his heels in the jail.

Jessie was able to get Meowth and bail him out, though she held it over his head for a long time, being even more demanding than normal and practically making him her personal slave. The only benefit had been that while Jessie had been at the Pokémon Center, she had been able to scout the center out so he could bypass the security system and pick the locks, being able to break in and come away with several boxes of Poké Balls to send to headquarters.

Of course, none of them had impressed Giovanni any, but that hadn't surprised them. The boss wasn't impressed with run of the mill Bulbasaurs and Squirtles; he wanted rare, or at least extremely powerful. But, if nothing else, the research center at headquarters probably had a ton of new Pokémon to test on and breed.

But they had learned a lesson from that experience; they tried to keep at least basic medical supplies on hand for humans and Pokémon alike. Despite what anyone may think of them, they weren't total fools. They did learn over time.

"But if you think I forgot about you, you're wrong. Not an unfamiliar feeling for you I know, but give me some credit. And I'm here now," Meowth continued, letting out a contented sigh as James continued to scratch at the top of his head. "So, talk. Or cry - "

"I'm not gonna cry," James snapped.

"No, you'll be angry, then cry. I know you. I'd rather deal with you crying than angry, especially when there's nothing you did wrong to be angry for."

"Not angry as much as guilty," James said. "I should have done something different. I didn't, know I'm mad at myself. And I don't want to talk about it."

"Sure you do; you always want to talk. You do better when you talk, and you haven't said more than three words about what happened and you got pissed off; unusual for you. You cried when Victreebel left. You're miserable when anyone brings her up, same with that Growlithe. I figured with Weezing, you'd be a wreck."

"It's over with isn't it?" James muttered, looking at the fire. "There's no sense in talking about it. What's done is done - "

"Not really. Not until you talk. You don't keep things bottled up inside well."

"Meowth…"

Looking down at the cat James sighed again; the cat did know him well. He was his usual counselor and sounding board along with being his Pokémon and spoiled pet. He was the voice of reason against Jessie and some of her more crazy ideas even though the two of them together couldn't deter her if she was determined enough.

He didn't want to talk, he wanted to sulk and cry and be left alone, especially now that he was somewhat back in Meowth's good graces. That of course meant the cat was going to prick at him until he bled to death or told him what he wanted to hear.

"Come on James; you know I can pester you all night."

"Fine. I'm mad at myself. No matter what's happened before we always got out of it, together. This time it didn't work that way, I'm furious and sad. I thought, if it ever happened, I wanted him to leave, it'd go differently."

"You didn't really have time to plan a going away party did you?" Meowth asked, settling down in his lap in a small ball. "It was a spur of the moment thing, a good decision in a bad situation. Be mad at the situation, not at yourself."

"I'm supposed to excel in making the wrong decision," James pointed out wryly. "I mean, we should have been able to beat one poacher."

"You'd think we could get one electric rat by now; that hasn't exactly worked out like we wanted. Course the Pikachu isn't our only goal. The idiots think we're after just their little pet and we've been robbing the populace blind under their noses. At the end of the day, who's a bigger fool? It's the perfect cover for our main goal; making money."

"I should have been able to do something different," James muttered, not paying attention to Meowth as he flitted off subject. "I thought…if that poacher had taken him - "

"He'd be in a lot more trouble than he is now. Think about it James. He's with Arbok and a whole herd of Ekans and Koffins. Weezing is probably being looked at as a King right now; he's probably got all those little Koffin following him around and asking questions about you."

"Maybe," James answered, inhaling sharply.

"And he's probably telling them all about how great he had it, being with you, and how unselfish and noble you were, sending him to leave and escape and help all of them grow up. The ones in that cage were young."

"I remember when he was that young," James said, resting his chin on Meowth's head as he spoke. "I was surprised when he came out of that Poké Ball at the company Christmas party." Snickering as he recalled the first time he saw his unusual present he added, "I thought it was a joke when I first saw the Koffin come out, this dopey cloud of toxins."

"He was a dope. Akins was the smarter of the two and that's not saying much. Koffin was easier to get along with; way more gullible and easy to manipulate."

Laughing at his memories, James said, "Oh he was just good natured. When I first saw him I thought someone was trying to poison me. He followed me around and kept trying to do sludge attack; all he did was cough up black tar on me when I turned around." Wiping at his eyes he added, "That first week, if he had a neck I would have wrung it."

"Trust me, I was there, remember?" Meowth said peevishly. "I spent most of the time hiding behind you hoping he'd miss me. Let him puke up on you."

"Oh I didn't mind, after awhile," James explained, resting his cheek on Meowth's head as he snuggled with the cat and happily reminisced about Weezing as a young Koffin. "He tried. It just took some work. Lots of practicing and encouraging him and trips to the garbage dump - "

"I know, I know," Meowth said forlornly. "I sleep with you; trust me, I'll never forget the smell. But," he added, sounding happy. "You helped him a lot; he's gonna be fine."

James started, his laughing choking off in a harsh, rib crushing strangle. How could he - he was laughing? What was wrong with him? Weezing was gone and he was sitting there reminiscing and giggling about old times?

Maybe he was going crazy. The constant stress of their lives coupled with the loss of no longer having Weezing, his ever faithful and constant companion around had finally driven him over the edge.

"Don't stop laughing; it's better than what you were doing before."

"No it's not. It's heartless."

"What, remembering the good times? Sorry James, however you chose to grieve for Weezing isn't heartless. If remembering makes you happy, there's nothing wrong with laughing. He's probably thinking about you the same way."

"I doubt it; he's probably thinking if he had a better trainer, that Tyranitar - "

"Is a powerful Pokémon anyway; there's not many out there that would have an easy time beating it. I think, for what we did - two humans and a Meowth - we did pretty good at least slowing it down. Got our tails handed to us, but still, better than being beaten continuously by the twerps."

"True. I hope he's all right," James said quietly, squeezing Meowth tight so that the cat squirmed and began muttering under his breath.

"He'll be fine," Meowth said in a reassuring tone while grunting and pushing at James' hands. "He can take care of himself. Face it, he had one of the best trainers around - "

"Me?" James snorted. "Some trainer. I only had one Pokémon and I let him go." Looking out into the woods he said, "I had thought about capturing more, having a whole arsenal at one time - "

"Why, so you can be like the twerp with his 'gotta catch em all' attitude?" Meowth sniffed disdainfully. "His entire group has a rampaging case of OCD if you ask me."

"They do?" James smirked, shaking his head. "We've been following him how long?"

"True. They probably think we're a bunch of creepy stalkers."

"Let them," James shrugged. "While they think their little pet is our main goal, we're stealing from every safe and vault that has anything of value with no one the wiser. They think they're stopping Team Rocket when in reality they're barely slowing us down. The basically lead us to the next big heist, and it's a good cover, them thinking we're just Pokémon thieves. Following them around has been very profitable for us."

"I'm just amazed no one's caught on yet. One of these days though someone's gonna figure out that a rose is left at the scene of every crime, and you have one half the time when you and Jessie are rhyming a silly threat to them. When they put the two and two together and tell one of those bimbo's of an officer, they're gonna bury you so far under a prison somewhere even Team Rocket with a whole truckload of stolen Digglet's won't be able to break you free."

"It's my signature item," James griped. "I've been doing that since before I met you."

"It's stupid. Leaving evidence behind is sloppy. Or in your case, just plain arrogant," Meowth argued.

"Fine fine," James sighed. "It's conceited, but it's my little way of thumbing my nose at the establishment, leaving them one consistent clue they never seem to get - "

"Stop changing the subject," Meowth snapped. "You're supposed to be talking about Weezing and letting me consol you."

James blinked at the Pokémon, wondering why he was even surprised. Meowth could change subjects so fast that between that and Jessie's questionable driving abilities when they boosted a car he was surprised he didn't have a permanent case of whiplash. He was the one that brought the twerp up, not him. Making fun of the twerp and his gaggle of fans was an instant mood booster, and much easier than talking about Weezing.

"You changed it. And while talking about the twerps and their vast array of Pokémon is hardly a pleasant topic, it's better than the alternative. He does have a lot of them though; makes me wonder how he feels, leaving some behind."

"The subject's boring, could be used to induce vomiting and I don't care how many he's got, he shows favoritism towards that Pikachu. It's always riding around, never in its ball - "

"Neither are you," James pointed out. "Funny, you don't mind favoritism when it's towards you I noticed."

"That's different; you two need me out. Besides, with all the Pokémon he's got, some of them get jealous from lack of attention, even if they don't always show it."

"You got jealous too," James argued while wondering why he was sticking up for the twerp. "If you thought one of the others was getting to much attention you'd cry and howl, trying to push them off of our laps - "

"I can't help it; I'm an attention whore. I crave attention as much as I crave food and shiny things, like an addict I can't get enough."

"At least you're an honest whore," James noted wryly. "Maybe he's better off, the twerp. He always wins - "

"Lots of luck, and sometimes we let him to cover ourselves."

" - and he's well on his way to becoming a master - "

"I thought you were never interested in 'master' status?"

"I was, at one time," James said with a shrug. "Then I figured out it required training and having a large collection of Pokémon, and I wasn't really interested in that. I thought it was better to have two or three Pokémon I was very close to instead of having an entire mob." Resuming his scratching of Meowth with a smirk he added, "Besides, that would mean I would have to frequent Pokémon Centers and use a PokéDec. Let's face it, in our line of work, it's just wiser to stay off the radar." With a sad sigh he added, "Maybe I should have. If I had a larger collection to have battled, had done things differently I could have - "

"Don't start second guessing yourself. We'll be up all night if you do."

"If I had worked harder with him," James said, beginning to rant as he went over the day's events in his mind. "If I had been less of a friend, been a better trainer - "

"Hey, you're a great trainer!" Meowth interjected, turning to stare at him with his wide eyes. "I mean yeah, you're not really the most brilliant at stealing Pokémon but no one can say you're not a good trainer."

"Good trainers don't lose their Pokémon."

"Good trainer's don't let them get poached either. I know it wasn't easy; I liked the big idiot no matter how much I fought with him, but I didn't want to see him get poached. I don't know if it makes you feel better, but I respect you - Jessie too - for doing it."

Feeling a wave of depression begin to slowly wash over him, James was alarmed to feel his eyes stinging. He tried to blink back a few tears as he felt them slowly begin to trickle down his face.

"Don't respect me," James muttered, feeling Meowth's fur getting wet under his face and hoping the cat wouldn't mind much. "Not three hours after releasing him I replaced him. What's that really say?"

"James," Meowth sighed, rubbing his eyes with his paw briefly before batting at his charm. "You didn't look to replace him. The Cacena came to you. He likes you."

"Knew it was dimwitted."

"You need a pep talk on top of grief counseling huh? I gotta do everything. Think about this," Meowth lectured. "We've seen everyone from the twerps to the boss himself have to battle with their Pokémon before capturing them. Most didn't want to go originally. You? Pokémon just walk up to you begging to be captured. Every one you've owned has adored you…even me," Meowth added quietly with an uncomfortable catch in his throat.

"Fine, great. I'm a failure at even battling," James moaned, hearing Meowth's words but enjoying wallowing in self-pity for the moment. Besides, with Meowth this was probably a trick to get more candy out of him. "I'm a terrible criminal, an even worse trainer, a cruel owner for sending him off - "

"Cruel?" Meowth laughed. "No, but you're brilliant. Just sometimes, we don't appreciate it. Look at Weezing; he evolved from Koffin pretty quickly, considering, and he was…mostly useful…occasionally. He probably wouldn't have learned half his attacks if it wasn't for you. Remember how long you had to work with him when he was learning Toxic and Smog?"

True. For a living, floating pollutant, it had taken an extraordinary amount of time for him to learn how to poison the air. It had been worth it though; not only were both moves extremely handy, the Pokémon's self esteem had risen each time he had learned a new move.

Whenever Weezing learned something new, something that made James cheerful and extraordinarily happy he owned him, he had stocked up on Vicks Vapor Rub, slathering it under his nose so he could try to avoid breathing in most of the noxious odor of his beloved pet. New moves meant unlimited trips to a trash heap for him.

It also had meant constant crying and moaning from Jessie and Meowth, who each wondered why he couldn't have a cleaner pet.

"Only a really good, really patient trainer would have bothered. How many trainers out there abandon their Pokémon or trade them when they don't instantly learn moves or catch on quick enough?"

"The smart ones that actually have powerful Pokémon and seem to impress the boss more?"

"Well…maybe. Can't deny that some of the higher ranking agents have more powerful Pokémon. But they don't treat them as friends either…some of those Pokémon assigned to other agents at Team Rocket; think I don't talk to them? Most would turn on their trainers if given a chance. But, when it's the choice of obeying, not eating or becoming a research experiment…" Meowth trained off with a small shudder. "I know what I chose, but I wouldn't like it."

"Appalling," James muttered. "Weezing wouldn't have learned anything if I had - "

"See? You don't have it in you, to crack a whip and start yelling because a new move didn't get learned or you lost a battle. Well, you don't yell long; you mostly sulk and whine - "

"You were doing good Meowth; don't ruin it."

"You have a different training style; it's friendly and easy going and likeable and it works for you and you command respect despite your goofiness."

"How flattering Meowth."

"It's true. Victreebel was a dingbat but she strived to do everything you wanted after you reminded her she was supposed to be fighting instead of eating you. Why? Because she loved you. Weezing controlled himself better by only occasionally knocking you in the head, but he still - "

"And you. You pester me for chocolate, steal my pillow at night, guilt trip me into doing pretty much anything you want - "

"Price you pay for the honor of associating with me," Meowth said haughtily. "But…if it makes you feel any better, I don't think anything could have been done differently. The Tyranitar still would have won against us, it doesn't matter how much harder you might have trained. I don't think having twenty Pokémon would have helped. Maybe it would have, but - "

"Maybe. I just don't want to do it again," James moaned, burying his face in Meowth's wet fur while clinging to him. Enjoying the chance to moan and whine with an unusually patient Meowth he added, "I can't. I was thinking of releasing the Cacnea too."

"Have no Pokémon? Sort of unusual for you. Criminal though you may be, you like having us around," Meowth said, still eyeing him with unblinking eyes. "Besides, it's kinda hard if you get challenged to a battle and you don't have one. And the Cacnea likes you; the little pincushion thinks he's lucky. I'll have to tell him his luck ran out the minute you pulled out a Poké Ball and asked him if he wanted to be your Pokémon."

"My luck I'll just get attached to him and have to give him up for some reason too and I'll have to go through this again. It'd be easier, not having one, or just staying distant."

"But that's not you," Meowth insisted. "Don't change - "

"It should be. You think Butch or Oakley or any of the other agents would be this torn up over a lost Pokémon?"

"No. Which is why I asked you to capture me, not them."

"And I even blew that," James mumbled to himself.

Meowth stiffened for a moment, glancing towards the other end of the sleeping bag before saying, "They wouldn't be; they also wouldn't have released them. They would have allowed their Pokémon to die fighting, or been poached and made a trade for their own lives. You and Jessie risked yours to give your Pokémon a chance to escape."

"So did you," James sniffed but felt compelled to point out.

Meowth was hardly a battle champion, but he had actually done quite well out there, inflicting more damage then he and Jessie combined. Meowth's claws and teeth went a lot further than his and Jessie's.

Since James had actually been training with him, working on several attack moves, he was actually quite pleased despite how the day had turned out.

Originally, Meowth had only known a few of his species attack moves. Over time James had begun working with him, mostly out of curiosity at what the cat could learn and as a backup should they really need him. He wasn't an ideal student; he was prone to bouts of laziness and whining despite the fact he wanted to learn. Meowth might not ever master PayDay, but if they could eventually get him to use some of the dark moves he would be just as happy. Someday, when they had time they would begin working on Night Scratch.

"For anyone else I wouldn't have bothered; I'm not putting my life on the line for just anything," Meowth said in a matter of fact tone. "But, for you guys…Look, don't change. Don't deny the Cacnea the chance to get to know the real you; he's not Weezing, but nothing will be. Get to know Cacnea. And don't take my best friend from me. You think you're a misfit at Team Rocket and really you are, but you fit in just fine here the way you are."

"It's not worth it."

James distinctly heard Meowth muttered 'emotional bastard' before speaking.

"I know it hurts. Even I'll miss the big floating windbag - "

Which was surprising. Originally, Meowth hadn't gotten along well with Ekans or Koffin. Over time their relationship had mellowed out and went from outright hate to a comfortable discontent. It was mostly insults, some battles over food and who was going to sit on whose lap and hog all the attention and who was the most intelligent.

James wasn't sure who he considered the most intelligent. Meowth could talk true, but Arbok and Weezing were much better fighters and stronger than the nine pound feline and had plenty of brains on their own. It really wasn't wise to insult either of them when they could tackle or bind him without breaking a sweat. He and Jessie both had to rescue the big mouthed feline when he eventually had gotten on one of his teammates nerves.

" - but how can you say it's not worth it?"

"Have I been talking to myself?" James asked, to tired and depressed to even get annoyed at Meowth and his stupid question. "I just said - "

"Oh, I heard you, but I thought you loved Weezing."

James nodded after a few seconds.

"I do. Did."

"Do; that doesn't change no matter where he's at. So how was it not worth it? Every moment you spent with him was pretty special right?"

"You sound like a Hallmark card - and a poorly written one at that."

"He's gone James," Meowth said, putting a paw on James' hand to still him momentarily. "But you've got memories of him - "

"Great. Memories. What good are those?"

"Memories are the best legacy after the loss of a Pokémon. Weezing's gone, but he'll always be here, with this group. The protection and companionship he offered along with his depressing disposition and unfortunate smell will forever permeate this group. I know it won't bring him back and it won't make everything better, but it's better than never having known him at all. Memories will always be a source of comfort for you."

"So you say," James mumbled, still not happy but at least taking comfort that the cat was talking to him. "I could do without memories. I'd rather forget, then I feel guilty about wanting to forget him."

"You should feel guilty; he's never going to forget you. Memories are important. It's all we have left, and if you say Weezing was so important to you, you're not showing it, saying you want to forget him."

"You don't understand," James said bitterly. "No one would - "

"Unless they lost one. Think Jessie was happy? And what about me? Weezing was an idiot, but he was a member of this team, which, after all this time, is pretty much our family isn't it? We don't have much, all we got is each other, but I lost two members of this bizarre little group today. I understand more than you think James."

"Sorry," James said apologetically, trying to keep a trace of sarcasm out of his voice. "But you didn't hand raise him, nurture him…with him gone, I'd rather just forget and not go through with it again - "

"Weezing was important to you…for some reason."

"Probably because he couldn't talk," James muttered. "You're not really helping."

"Hey, I'm trying. I look like a counselor? I listened to Jessie cry over Arbok - "

"Figured she would have said something to me. Not like I wouldn't understand -

"For once she was thinking about someone else and didn't want to bring you down more than you already were. Plus, you were busy," Meowth said easily. "It was OK to talk to me though because it's not like I would care or have anything to say."

"Meowth, I'm sorry," James said quietly. "I didn't think - "

"Which is commonplace for you," the cat retorted before falling silent for a few moments. After clearing his throat he added softly, "Weezing said he loved you. Even Arbok said he loved you, right when they were leaving. They said so before too, but this time, it was different. They knew why you wanted them to go, but they weren't happy."

James felt tears start to swim in his eyes, a tight full feeling that he struggled to control. Breaking out into a sob wasn't really going to help cement his tougher stance on life.

He wiped at his eyes, inhaling deeply, hoping Meowth would be quiet. Thinking, he decided that he would rather the cat talk; he could understand Weezing's intelligible sounds. Meowth could translate like usual and turn the poison Pokémon's last words into something coherent for him.

Which would probably make him start crying. Other than a few tears, he hadn't really broken out into a sobbing fit. Yet. If Meowth kept going…

"Meowth, please, don't. I've been struggling not to get upset all night. Just sit here, don't make me start crying…"

"You've cried over less, at least this time it's for a valid reason. It's better than being angry. And I have to say this; I promised them I would tell you guys."

"But I don't want to hear it," James whined, putting his ears over his head. If he tried to blank his mind he could pretend he wasn't acting like a petulant child.

"But they wanted it said!" Meowth snapped angrily. "Not many people are lucky enough to hear their Pokémon's last thoughts before they're gone. Some Pokémon wouldn't have any last thoughts besides 'Finally! I'm away from them'. Embrace the fact that he cared enough about you to want to pass on a message. You accuse me of being selfish, but you're the most self-absorbed person I've ever met sometimes."

James stiffened at the insult before nodding. He wanted to hear whatever Weezing had been trying to say before he retreated. Meowth was right, he could be entirely too self-centered, and the cat had been charged with delivering the message. The way he had acted earlier, Meowth could have not said anything, or bribed him for more goodies before letting him know what Weezing wanted known.

"They both wanted to stay and fight," Meowth said in a quiet voice. "They kept screaming for you two to order them back, that you changed your minds, that they would fight for you so you guys wouldn't get hurt. I could hear them, even after they were out of sight, crying hoarsely while trying to herd all those Akins and Koffin away deep into the woods."

James gave a ragged sigh, struggling to hold his tears back.

"They were screaming at me to tell you two that and, when they knew you weren't going to do it, to thank you for being the best trainers and friends they could have asked for. They never cared that you two were criminals, they were just happy that they both ended up with you guys."

James let out a harsh sob, hiding his face in Meowth's drenched fur as the Pokémon continued to talk.

"He said he knows that sometimes he disappointed you or made you unhappy because he lost a battle, but he said he always tried. And no matter what you did, how you acted, what kind of mood you were in, he always loved you."

"I know!" James sobbed, squeezing the cat. "He tried hard and I'll never be able to tell him I know that, or that I'll miss him or - "

"I told him for you; you were busy," Meowth said. "I didn't really have to tell him, he knew. I think everyone knew. We know how a trainer feels, even if all of us can't put our thoughts into your words. Weezing knew you adored him."

"I know he was a messy, forlorn looking, floating stinky mess of a toxic cloud - "

"I didn't tell him that - I was trying to be nice. But yeah," Meowth said, turning to look into the fire as he idly used one claw to pick at James' pants. "He wanted you to know. And he said he'd try to be as good to the Koffin that you charged him to help as you were to him. He said he wouldn't forget you, so why would you want to do that to him?"

"It'd be a lot easier to get through," James said, wiping at his face. "And this just proves what a misfit I am; bet no one else would be this upset."

"Someone like Cassidy wouldn't be; she wouldn't care. She'd replace a lost Pokémon as easily as a lost shirt. You aren't like that. Look James, I know I'm not good at this and you're gonna do what you want, but I'm not gonna forget him or Arbok. I can't. They were bullies and pushed me around a lot - "

"You play a very bad innocent," James laughed in-between a sob, relieved that the Meowth was going back to joking instead of being so serious. "You usually asked for it."

" - but, I'm gonna miss them." Bristling slightly so his fur stood on end he added harshly, "I hate what happened. Even I hope that poacher never gets out of prison. What happened was cruel, it was sudden, and it took my two teammates from me. I didn't even get a real chance to say good bye; they deserved that no matter what."

"They deserved better," James agreed, feeling more drained now that he had cried and being annoyed with the cat for making him do so.

Talking had helped…some. It didn't fix anything, but at least he knew he wasn't the only one grieving. It helped, knowing that his pain was acknowledged and appreciated by his friends.

"But, I have you; I have Jessie to talk to. And you guys have me, and I'm not judgmental, not about this. If your memories make you happy, laugh. If they make you sad, cry. But stop holding things back; you turn into a jerk when you do that."

"I don't see me not being sad for awhile," James said with a shuddering breath. "I just hope that Weezing, wherever he is, doesn't feel too badly that I replaced him so quickly. Even though I hadn't meant to. Maybe Jessie was right, maybe it was to soon."

"Weezing said something else, right before he got too far away for me to hear him over the roars of the Tyranitar trying to tear my throat out. He said someday, whenever you were ready, that he hoped that more Pokémon are lucky enough to be in your care, to experience what he got to."

James sniffed, reaching in his pocket gently and pulling the Cacnea's Poké Ball and looking at it.

Was the Cacnea lucky? Probably not; James was conceited enough to admit that maybe he wasn't the worst owner in the world, but he was realistic enough to know he wasn't the best out there. He was a criminal; that job title right there probably said he wasn't the best owner in town.

But, for better or worse, the Cacnea was his, it had chosen to be his. And he had chosen to take him in; that meant treating him far better than he had a while ago.

He threw his arm back to call the Cacnea, to apologize to him for the way he had treated him. Arm in midair, he looked down, seeing Meowth watching him with a strange expression.

"No longer content with me?"

"I…fine, tomorrow," James mused, putting the Poké Ball away with a twinge of regret. "Tomorrow I have two Pokémon friends. He's probably resting anyway. For now, for tonight, I have you. Just don't get jealous tomorrow when I start playing with him. Remember, I let you share my bed."

"I'll go to Jessie," Meowth sniffed. "She'll dote on me like I deserve." After a moment he asked, "So you're not going to release Cacnea, or treat him like a little worker and nothing more?" At James's gentle shake of his head Meowth said, "Good. You both deserve better. Weezing didn't want you to be alone."

"I'm never alone, I got you," James said kindly, squeezing the cat gently before resting his forehead on top of Meowth's charm. "My greedy, egotistical, pushy, big-mouthed top cat." At Meowth's pleased grumbling as he pushed his head harder into his hand he added, "You and my memories and despite my best efforts, neither of you are going anywhere anytime soon."

"Not me; even I know no one else would put up with me," Meowth said happily, giving his a toothy grin. "And memories made in love can't be taken away…I can't believe I said that," Meowth moaned quietly, grabbing his head and shaking it gently. "I took to many hits to the head, that's the only reason I'm being this mushy. I gotta lie down or I'll sit around writing poetry and making up dumb rhymes like you two do."

With that, he carefully jumped off James' lap, landing silently on the sleeping bag and padding his way towards the jacket. Pausing he grabbed his Poké Ball, looking over his shoulder as he did so.

"Feel better?"

"A little," James sighed, taking his eyes off the cat as he flushed in embarrassment. He was still upset with himself for blowing it with Meowth; he'd have to do better with the Cacnea. "Better than I did." Painfully unfolding his legs and crawling to the end of the sleeping bag he added, "Thanks Meowth - "

"My payment is another chocolate bar," Meowth purred with a smug grin, waiting until James had lied back before curling up near his face, taking over most of the makeshift pillow. "And you're welcome. Us misfits have to stick together."

Meowth had a deep, contemplative side James rarely saw, and while it delighted him, it worried him. When the cat got to thinking too hard, strange things happened.

Luckily, the old greedy sarcastic Meowth he knew and loved was still rising to the surface to comfort him.

"Right. We'll be blasting off again together in no time," James said, gingerly stretching out and feeling a deep ache in his bones.

He was never battling a Tyranitar again. He had been propelled through the air like a stone from a slingshot and still felt better upon landing than he did now.

He began to consider the idea of stealing a Tyranitar as he watched Meowth curl his tail around his own nose. Before the cat went to sleep James heard him talking, sounding drowsily but still coherent enough to carefully choose his words.

"And I'll never say this again, but since I was getting all sappy earlier…I…thank you…for what you've done for me. I don't say it often, but I do love you, in that Pokémon and trainer sort of way. Those two dolts were right; we were lucky, getting stuck with you guys. I'm sorry things worked out like they did."

James closed his eyes, feeling tears begin to form again at Meowth's words. Meowth had said 'loved'. Not cared, not overly fond, not liked - he loved him. And he forgave him and stayed up with him, even though he was sore and tired himself.

"And I don't know what you're doing with Weezing's Poké Ball; Jessie said she was keeping Arbok's as a souvenir, to remember him by, even though she'll never forget him."

James sighed to himself. He had briefly thought about deactivating the settings, so the ball would not be programmed specifically to Weezing's exact proportions. He had even pulled it out, his fingers briefly going over the reset buttons, so the ball could be used. He had found he couldn't do it though. The ball was Weezing's, and while he would never enter it again, James knew no other Pokémon should be in it.

He would pack the ball away with his other precious memories; Victreebel's Poké Ball, his bottle caps, his ancestor's journals he had stolen when he ran away from home.

He had been reading them to Meowth, on and off around the campfire at night when they were bored. His entire family history, from 'The Event' up to his father's birth. 'The Event' that had made it possible for him to be lucky enough to be able to count a talking Meowth as his best friend and to have been lucky enough to own a Poison Pokémon.

"But, whatever you do with it, I want you to keep mine too. While you're the most incompetent of the Team Rocket males when it comes to Pokémon thefts, you're still the only one I want with my ball. I trust you with it more than I trust myself. I'll sell it for a pizza the first opportunity I get. I want my friend to hold it for me."

James heard the cat gave it a smack with his paw, sending it careening into his face and making his headache start to crash around his head. Despite the pain and fighting the urge to get up and toss the feline into the tree line surrounding their camp, James felt his spirits start to soar at Meowth's words.

With all his bitching and moaning and feeling sorry for himself, James realized he was lucky, having the love of two Pokémon. One was released because of the love he returned for him. The other would hopefully be by his side his entire life, no matter where life took them.

But he always had his memories. And though he would continue to miss him terribly, he hadn't replaced Weezing. Cacnea needed him as surely as he needed Cacnea and he could work on making new memories with him. Meowth was right after all; as insane and differing as they all were they were essentially each other's family.

"Thank you Meowth; I promise I won't disappoint you again." Snuggling in closer to the feline and listening to his contented purr he added, "And I love you too; you're still only getting three bars of chocolate." Hearing the purring stop momentarily he added, "Go to sleep pal; we've got to rest. Tomorrow, we start planning our next job and getting to know our new teammate and family member."

"Glad you're back, James."

End Chapter One