Nonregulation Attire.

Field Commander Tabitha strode down the black marble hallway of what was just one in a long series of secret bases that Team Magma had taken possession of and subsequently abandoned in the last couple of years. There was, as always, much to be done and he had to be able trust his men to be able to get the job done when it counted. He stopped as he reached the training room where Staff Sergeant Warren was teaching the new recruits how to handle the tech side of Team Magma.

"Your headset is your new best friend," Staff Sergeant Warren declared in his usual gruff tones with his hands linked firmly behind his back. "While I'd never send a bunch of amateur lumps like you into the field without backup, there's always a chance of getting separated from the main group. If that happens and you run into trouble, see anything of interest, and even so much as think of being a hero: don't. Use your headset and call for help. If you can't do that, then congratulations: you're a fool. Try at least not to become a dead fool."

The new recruits looked almost Christmassy with their glossy red uniforms and their greening complexions. Tabitha clapped as he entered the room. "Well said, Staff Sergeant Warren. It would be in all of your best interests to listen to this man."

"Sir!" Warren said, turning around at attention to face his commander. "Just giving the basic rundown to the new bunch we picked up in Rustboro," he explained.

"Very good, Staff Sergeant," Tabitha nodded. He looked at the fresh-faced recruits. Doubtless some of them were farmer's sons and daughters who'd lost their birthright to flooding, some were geology nuts, and others were fighters just a little too rough for the right side of the law, and still others were just gangs of kids looking for a new life, identity, cause, and wardrobe. "How many did we get this time?"

Warren consulted his clipboard. "Thirteen, sir; a nice haul, I'd say."

The new recruits didn't appear to like being spoken of like they were fish in a net, but were too rooted to the spot with fear to say anything as Tabitha ran his critical eyes over them.

"There are only twelve here," he said heavily.

"What?" Warren exclaimed, conducting his own count twice, his fury was so great. "I told you all from the start: no bathroom breaks!" He turned to his commander and said: "You just leave this to me, Sir. I'll sort out the insubordinating little—"

"No," Tabitha said. "You stay with the recruits. I'll take care of this."

"Sir!" Warren saluted.

Tabitha couldn't say why, this was probably just some kid who'd joined up and gotten second thoughts, but he had a bad feeling about the whole thing.


The female figured dressed as a Magma grunt hugged the wall, making as little noise and as much speed as possible as she made her way down the abandoned hallway. As she reached the room that most interested her, she studied the number coded entry pad on the wall for a moment, and then pulled out a mechanical device about the size of a chocolate bar. She held it approximately two inches from the entry pad and the device began spewing numbers across its small screen. After awhile the rolling numbers settled into a definite pattern: 1328399903574. She hastily inputted this number with only a small chime from the machine after every key was pressed. When she was finished the door slid open and she entered.

When the door slid shut again, she looked around the small room. It was devoid of human inhabitants and entirely made up of computer terminals. Finally assured that she was alone, she lifted the horned red hood off of her, setting free a voluminous mass of red hair almost too expansive to have fit under the hood. She titled her head left and right to set her hair free and smiled. Now much more comfortable, she took a small disc out of her pocket and fed it into the machine. She was in the midst of frenzied typing on the keyboard when the sound of the door sliding open caused her to freeze.

"You're missing class, Tactical Commander Shelly," the voice from the door said as it entered.

Shelly slowly turned around, giving the interloper a calm smile. "Ah well," she said. "I can't say your Magma indoctrination really interested me much in the first place, Field Commander Tabitha."

"I can't say I'm surprised by that," Tabitha said, with the smile of one quite confident that he'd cornered his quarry. He tilted his head. "Though I was a bit surprised to see you dressed like that. That's not exactly regulation attire for Team Aqua members, is it?"

"Oh, this old thing?" Shelly said, looking over the uniform she was wearing with a shrug. "I can't say that I care for it much. I'm not exactly fond of the little red riding hood look."

"You wear it well," Tabitha said without a trace of insincerity.

"And I thought it clashed with my hair," Shelly said in the same light tone that signified that no matter what the circumstances might look like, she was completely in control. "It is warm though," she said, idly touching the hood of the cloak with a heavily armbanded hand.

"I can imagine, after the… rather exposed uniforms of Team Aqua," Tabitha commented, conjuring up the image of the female Team Aqua uniform. He'd seen more varieties of navel piercings than he'd ever wanted to see.

"This from a person whose female operatives run around in mini-skirts," Shelly countered with a stretch of one of her own bare, athletic legs.

Tabitha's eye caught the movement. "Perhaps we should create a uniform that incorporates both features."

Shelly made a face. "You mean a Team Rocket kind of thing?"

"Not under any circumstances," Tabitha said, shaking his head.

"On that, at least, we agree."

"You do look better in our uniforms than I'd look in your team's," Tabitha admitted.

"Well, I'm not sure if your arms are toned enough for the tight, short sleeved look," Shelly answered sweetly.

Tabitha crossed his arms that were, no matter what Shelly claimed, at least adequately muscular. "A blow at my masculinity when I've got you captured? Do you really think that's a wise idea, Shelly?"

"Well, I must admit that I did always think that Tabitha was a girl's name," Shelly said, mimicking his crossed armed stance.

"And I always thought Shelly was a Clamperl's name."

"Hm," Shelly almost laughed. She leaned against the computer console and said, "So what are you going to do with me now, Tabitha? Are you going to call for backup just for little old me? Surround me with Mightyena and drive me into the cells?" over the whirr of the computer ejecting her disc.

Tabitha was not, under any circumstances, taking Shelly lightly. She was stronger than she looked. She was a diver and a gymnast, graceful both in and out of the water. She'd taken out men head and shoulders above her. He took that seriously, and training said he should call for backup, but… he respected Shelly and did not think his opposite numbers deserved that kind of treatment. She was cornered in a small room and he was standing in front of the only exit. He could afford to treat her… courteously.

"I hope that won't be necessary, Shelly. I'd like to think you're aware enough of your situation to come quietly." He paused and added, "after all, you wouldn't want to damage that lovely uniform in a fight."

"Red does hide the blood," Shelly observed practically. "But if it's all the same to you, I prefer my bandana and jeans."

"Team Magma has always strove for a more… professional look," Tabitha said.

"Professional?" Shelly said with slight incredulity. "With those cute little horns on your hoods? You look like you're on your way to an anime convention. All that's missing is a messenger bag with an Igglybuff on it and an ill-spent disposable income."

"Better than being a wannabe pirate," Tabitha countered letting the comment get to him more than he should. He'd had doubts about the horns too, to be honest. "The hoods, at least, make us harder to identify. Between that and the sunglasses we wear in the field, it's that much more difficult for the Jennys to pin anything on us as individuals. You, on the other hand, have your faces spread all over wanted posters."

"Come to think of it," Shelly said, sliding the disc into her pocket unnoticed, "we two have really spent… so much time together… leading our separate teams in ruin excavations, trading hostages across abandoned warehoused, and engaging in battles that I have a clear advantage in." Tabitha bristled at this last barb. "And yet," she continued, "I don't think I've ever gotten a very good look at your face. That silly hood's always in the way."

She began moving toward him slowly. Tabitha braced himself in case she tried to flee, but made no move to call out his Mightyena or turn on his radio.

She was very close to him, her hand rising up to his face as she pulled off the red hood. He didn't make a move to stop her as the light of the computer room fell on his once darkened face, illuminating his defined jaw line, sharp eyes, and closely cropped light purple hair.

"That's better," she said lightly. She ran a hand idly up his cheek and into the hair that she'd only seen glimpses of. She leaned forward and brushed her lips against his.

Two things happened at once. There was a clatter of Tabitha's headset hitting the floor at Shelly slid it off his head and Tabitha winced backwards in pain. Not from the kiss, but from the fist making sharp contact with his solar plexus. He sank, doubled-over to the ground as Shelly crushed his radio under her boot.

"I hate to be so bad mannered, but I'm afraid I have to run and you're in my way," Shelly said as though she hadn't just sunk her fist into his stomach. She held up the disc. "I'll be taking these. Unfortunately the pass codes won't do me much good as I'm sure you Magma operatives will be busy as bees changing all your codes now that they've been taken. But… what can I say, Tabitha? You're at your best when you're working hard."

"Until next time, Field Commander Tabitha," Shelly lilted, as she jogged from the room.

Tabitha winced against the pain in his stomach and tried to get up. Next time… hopefully next wouldn't end like this time.

Although, I don't know… maybe it was worth it.

He limped over to the intercom built into the room and pressed the red button. "Base Division?" he said in the speaker. "We have a situation."