"Stop it!" cried Jessie, not wanting to see her Pokemon get hurt any more.
The red beam shot from the Pokeball, but missed. There was no way it could've hit Lickitung. Not that day.
"Sssshaa," whispered Arbok. It was becoming weak, visibly so, and now had an effort moving, but it still managed to whip the licking Pokemon away as it tried to attack the snake.
Everyone else was still. James' Pokemon had both fainted, and he'd taken them back into their balls.
"Lickitung, return," she said again, desperately, as she saw blood trickling from Arbok's hood.
Lickitung was weakening too, although at a slower rate than Arbok, yet it still would not allow Jessie to recapture it.
"Lickitung, return! Return! Please, return! Come on!"
She was begging now, eyes swimming, abandoning decorum. She no longer cared what Ash or his friends thought. She just wanted her Pokemon to be okay.
Lickitung leapt into the air and tackled Arbok.
"Stop it," Jessie whispered, and sank to her knees.
Arbok coiled its tail around Lickitung in a feeble attempt at a wrap attack. Lickitung seemed to laugh and it let out a screech that no human could hear, although Pikachu blocked its ears and Arbok cringed painfully. Jessie narrowed her eyes.
She knew that, even though Lickitung was weak, a Pokemon was still much her superior in power, and would surely capture her. But she no longer cared about Arbok's defense of her. She just cared about Arbok.
The red beam struck the cobra, who was too tired to get away, but it was not drawn into its ball.
"Boka," it said. "Shaaboka."
("Not yet, I have to win first, for you.")
Jessie stared at her Pokemon, which hadn't won any battles in the last year, yet was suddenly being so brave. And for her.
The voice boomed out, frighteningly loud and frighteningly close. Everyone jumped, startled.
Dragonite and Alakazam flew down and landed in front of Ash's party.
Ash, who had been watching the scene between Jessie and Arbok with swimming eyes, now narrowed them. "Alakazam... why are you doing this? Not all trainers are like you say."
Alakazam smirked and then replied (translated by Meowth) with "You are wrong. All trainers are like that. You are like that. I'm sure the red head is like that too."
"Pink hair," muttered Jessie, irrelevantly, feeling somewhat numb.
"That Arbok is a disgrace to its kind."
Misty, realising the turn the conversation was taking, silently drew Psyduck back into its Pokeball.
"What's that supposed to mean?!"
"I mean, it's a disgrace to all Pokemon."
Alakazam raised its spoons. Its eyes glittered as it focused its intense gaze on Arbok, who flicked its tail defiantly, albeit nervously.
Meowth cringed slightly. It spoke to Alakazam in its own language.
"Meowth, meeeowth, meowth. Meowth owth."
"Lickitung! Licki! Lickitung tung!" protested Lickitung.
"Meowth. Meowth eowth? Meowth?"
("Those two are the guys I hang around with. Let's just leave them alone."
"My master is horrible! Pokemon thief! She deserves what's coming to her!"
"So what. Can't they be exceptions? As my friends?")
"Kazam zam. Alakazam."
("For the moment. I'll look at the others first.")
Alakazam peered into the shadowed eyes of Brock, the angry eyes of Misty, the nervous eyes of Ash and the confused eyes of Pikachu.
It said, in its own language, to Ash: "I know you. You tried to make your Pokemon go into a battle you knew it couldn't win. You went and captured a Pokemon, took away its freedom, just for the sake of winning a match."
Ash just looked at it, confused.
"You do not remember me? I beat your Pikachu without any problems. You could only win by cheating, when you got Haunter to distract my old trainer."
"What happened, Alakazam? I thought you and Sabrina got along okay."
"I thought that too, but as soon as the slightest problem came up, she sold me to make a few extra dollars. Shows how much a trainer cares for their Pokemon. Huh."
"I don't think that's true," interjected Misty, "there must've been a really good reason."
"Too bad if there was. I assume she's dead now anyway. A pair of Blastoise flooded the gym, and then Raichu finished the job."
"How can you be so cold?" demanded Brock, "don't you care about her at all?"
"I care about my own kind more. I belonged to a gym leader, you know. I saw many trainers. They all treated their Pokemon similarly."
Alakazam produced three Peopleballs. "I've had enough of this. You're the last alive, I think. You have a lot of spirit, arrogant though it is. You should make a fine catch for battles."
"Yes, why not. If people can force Pokemon to battle each other, why not have it the other way around?"
"Because... people aren't made to do that!" protested Brock.
"Neither, Brock, are Pokemon."
Alakazam threw a Peopleball at Brock. With no resilience to such things as Pokemon had, he was soon drawn inside. The ball lay still.
"Brock..." whispered Ash. "Brock! Alakazam, you give him back right now!"
"No need for such melodrama. Girl next. I've no interest in any but you, frankly Ash."
He threw a Peopleball at Misty, who jumped out the way. Alakazam snatched the ball up and threw it again. This time it was about to hit her but was intercepted by...
"Togepi!" gasped Misty.
Togepi was little but it tried to stand in front of its trainer.
Alakazam looked at it condescendingly. "Such a small Pokemon can be forgiven misconceived ideas. Togepi, now you're the 'mother'. No need to rely on a stupid human any more."
Togepi looked up at the large Pokemon hovering over its head and stuck out its tongue in response.
"Forget it... Put it back in its Pokeball now," he ordered Misty.
"It doesn't have a Pokeball," protested Misty.
"I'm not lying."
"Show me your Pokeballs!"
Misty did. Alakazam could see they were all full. He looked surprised for a moment, then shrugged it off.
"Who cares. I'll look after this Togepi myself then. Peopleball, go."
Misty was caught.
Ash looked at the two balls lying on the ground, holding his best friends, bar one. That friend sat in front of him, yellow ears twitching. It had been very quiet.
Jessie and James looked at Ash sympathetically. Whether they were enemies or not was now no longer relevant.
"Ash, let your Pokemon out of their balls."
Ash had no real choice but to obey.
Bulbasaur, Charizard, Squirtle and Pidgeotto assembled in front of Ash. They'd heard Alakazam's message of freedom before. Nobody knew what they'd choose though.
"First, Pidgeotto," said Alakazam in a cold voice, made mocking by Meowth, "what was your situation when you were caught?"
Pigeotto cawed, and was translated as saying "one of my babies was injured when a trainer threw a stone at it. I was trying to find food for it because it couldn't get any itself. But Ash intercepted me."
Ash stared at it in surprise, and no little guilt, remembering his first day as a trainer and his experience with stones and bird Pokemon. "I never knew you had babies, Pidgeotto!"
"Pigeonn, pigee. Pigeooo."
("It was a Pidgey. Probably dead now.")
Alakazam smiled, pleased with its success.
"And you, Charizard," it continued, sensing the rebellious nature of the fire Pokemon, "what was your situation?"
Charizard couldn't remember.
"Misty, Brock and I saved it," snapped Ash, "from a bad trainer."
Charizard looked curious.
"Damien! Don't you remember, Charizard? Don't you remember Damien?" Ash tried to refresh the lizard's memory.
Charizard looked blank.
""Eh Chormender, I been lookin' all over for ya!"" provided James, helpfully, in a pretty fair imitation of Damien's voice.
"Rizard," hissed the Pokemon, meaning "I remember."
Ash thought hopefully that Charizard might obey him now, then realised he mightn't have any Pokemon before long.
"Well, one odd one is to be expected," sighed Alakazam. "But now tell me, Squirtle, how'd Ash get you?"
Squirtle said "he saved my life when those guys" - pause for Squirtle to point at Team Rocket - "tried to kill me."
Alakazam got a sweatdrop. "Okay, Bulbasaur then. How'd Ash get you?"
"He helped save a village I was protecting so I went with him to grow stronger."
"Fine," sighed Alakazam, "so Ash is a big hero, huh. How about you, Pikachu?"
Pikachu didn't want to think about all this.
"How did Ash get to be your trainer?"
"Pika..." (Never mind...)
"You can't think this will go away, Pikachu. Tell me."
"I was his starter Pokemon, by mistake..." said Pikachu reluctantly. "He was inexperienced and expected me to obey him. I was caught when I was going to meet a cute girl Pikachu. She was going to be my girlfriend...."
Ash had never heard this before either. "Pidgeotto, Pikachu," he said quietly, "why didn't either of you say something? I'd have let you go if you had."
"Sure," scoffed Alakazam, "like a trainer actually listens to their Pokemon. Sabrina supposedly did that, and look how that ended up."
"People and Pokemon have a good relationship," said Ash, "there are just a few exceptions. You shouldn't punish everyone and confuse all the Pokemon into believing your lies."
"Huh. As if it matters any more. Ash's Pokemon, do what you KNOW to be the right choice."
Alakazam dropped the last Peopleball.
Pidgeotto swooped to snatch it up in its talons, but was intercepted by Bulbasaur's vine whip and Squirtle's bubbles splashed into its face. Charizard sat by, refusing to either help or hurt Ash.
Bulbasaur remembered how she'd not trusted Ash for a long time. She remembered feeling rejected by Melanie when she gave her away, and in that could identify with Alakazam. But she also remembered Ash diving to protect her from the angry Venusaur, and standing up for her in front of all those angry Pokemon. She attacked Pidgeotto.
Squirtle could also understand what Alakazam was saying. He agreed with it too. He remembered his original trainer hitting him mercilessly and calling him useless. He remembered running away and then being almost-caught by half a dozen trainers. He remembered feeling like an outcast and hating all humans. But he also remembered Ash saving his life, even after he'd attacked him. He remembered Ash encouraging him in battle and congratulating him on victories. Even consoling him after a loss, and Squirtle knew how well Ash hated to lose. He attacked Pidgeotto.
All Pidgeotto could think of was her children. She'd never gotten to see them grow up, and now they were probably caught by trainers as she'd never had the opportunity to teach them how to avoid them. She tried to get to the Peopleball but was constantly intercepted by Squirtle and Bulbasaur.
As the three Pokemon battled, Ash looked at Pikachu closely. Pikachu looked between Ash and Alakazam.
Ash - tried to protect him from some Spearow even after he was so rude to him.
Alakazam - the promise of freedom that he had always dreamed of.
Ash - a great companion and friend.
Alakazam - no more being forced to fight too-difficult opponents.
Ash - the best trainer a Pokemon could hope for.
Alakazam - no trainer at all.
Ash - offered to let him stay in a forest despite that he would miss him.
Alakazam - the prospect of meeting another Pikachu.
Ash - Pokemon battling under the guidance of people.
Alakazam - people battling under the guidance of Pokemon.
Suddenly, Alakazam leapt into the air and dove at Ash. It couldn't wait any longer while there was still a lot of ground to cover in the war against humans.
Instinctively, Pikachu made up his mind.
His cheeks glowed and he began a Thundershock.
James, Jessie and her Pokemon, Ash's Pokemon, Meowth and Dragonite, all stared in a little anxiety. Team Rocket, for their part, felt nervous. This was a strength of Pikachu that even they'd never experienced. He'd clearly made up his mind all the way. The area was lit up, brilliant yellow, for what seemed like hours but was in reality about 20 seconds or so.
When the light faded, Pikachu collapsed, exhausted from the power it'd used.
Behind him, lay dead, the figure of Alakazam.
"Pika, pikachu..." it whispered. "Pika pi, pikachu."
("Neither is right.... Ash, I'm sorry.")
In front of him, lay dead, the figure of Ash Ketchum.
Pikachu's cheeks sparked slightly and then faded. It closed its small black eyes. Its cheeks paled.
It, too, was dead.
Everyone stood and looked, in silence. Jessie and James both looked quite shaken. Lickitung, Charizard and Pigeotto looked confused. Arbok, Bulbasaur and Squirtle looked - defeated. Resigned. Meowth swallowed hard.
"He... killed his trainer," choked out James, finally. "I can't believe that. That's... ridiculous. Stupid. No Pokemon kill their trainer! It doesn't happen! And not Pikachu and Ash! They were best friends! If there's no hope for them... what's going to happen now?"
James was starting to sound hysterical. Jessie was too shellshocked to knock any reason into him, so Bulbasaur obliged instead with a vine whip.
The young Rocket sat down slowly.
"And you, Meowth?" he asked, slightly bitterly. "Are you going to kill us now? We're humans, and you hate humans. You Pokemon all do."
Meowth looked downcast. "Alakazam is dead so I should continue in its place. Pokemon of the world need me."
"And we don't?" James was on the verge of tears. Jessie still said nothing.
"Huh. I remember all the times you hit me or told me I was useless. When you'd throw me a ball of yarn, so patronising, just to keep me quiet. Team Rocket is finished, anyway. The headquarters was destroyed."
"It's over..." whispered Jessie, finally speaking. She still looked shocked, but a small smile crept over her face. "We're free now, James."
"Team Rocket... us three... was never about stealing Pokemon," choked out James, "it was about us being friends."
Meowth looked at James, sceptical, but in the young man's eyes saw no doubt that what he said was the truth.
"I think... dat Pikachu was right."
"What did it say?"
"It said that neither way was good. I don't want to become like humans, training people instead of Pokemon. I think everyone should live without capturing each other."
Jessie and James nodded, and then Meowth smiled.
"It's not too late. Let's start from the beginning."
The two nodded.
"Arbok, Lickitung," said Jessie, "you guys are free now."
She took their Pokeballs and smashed them into the ground where they shattered. Lickitung smiled, much pleased, and ran off. Arbok looked at its trainer, uncertainly.
"You can go, Arbok. You don't have to stay with me any more."
Now Arbok remembered all the times Jessie had yelled at it. It remembered when she'd forced it to wear a dress. It remembered when she'd called him a loser and had no faith in it.
It looked up at its trainer of five years, and slithered away.
"I'll be da link between humans and Pokemon," resolved Meowth. "I can talk. And if we travel with both humans and Pokemon, we can represent everyone."
Jessie nodded, but she was just staring after Arbok.
"I'll let my Pokemon free after they're healed," said James, but it pained him to say it.
"Let's go, then," said Meowth, gritting its teeth. To stop the rampaging Pokemon and thoughtless humans was not going to be an easy job.
"Wait a moment," protested James. "Unfinished business." With a jerk of his chin he indicated Ash's Pokemon and the Peopleballs holding Misty and Brock.
"Well, you guys are free, I guess," said Meowth to Bulbasaur, Squirtle, Charizard and Pidgeotto.
Pidgeotto and Charizard flew off, leaving their trainer and friend behind, leaving everything behind, to live as they were intended to.
Squirtle and Bulbasaur looked at each other.
"Squirtle... squirtle squirtle."
("You were arrogant... but now we're seperating.")
"Bulbasaur... bulbasaur saur. Bulbasaur saur. Bulbaa?"
("You were obnoxious... but I don't want to leave now. But grass and water Pokemon can't be in the same place. Goodbye is it?")
Bulbasaur and Squirtle, good friends, looked at each other with sad faces. They'd been held together by a common goal and dream, but the dreamer was now gone.
Then the two adopted looks of resolve, similar to Meowth's earlier. They both turned to ex-Team Rocket and said in unison "Bulba"/"Squirtle".
"They're coming with us," said Meowth.
Jessie took the Peopleballs and threw them, breaking them open. Misty and Brock, looking slightly dishevelled, appeared, blinking.
"Jessie... James... what happened?" whispered Misty. She could see a huge dark crater in the ground... and then, as her blurry vision cleared, she saw what was in the crater.
"Oh, Ash..." she whispered, and couldn't get anything else out.
Brock's mouth fell open and he just stared, all the while wanting to turn away.
"It was... Pikachu," he whispered.
"He was so full of dreams," said Misty, still in a quiet, almost disbelieving voice, "I don't understand how this could've happened."
"You're still alive though," said James, "and you can follow your own dreams."
"That's a terrible thing to say!" snapped Brock.
"It wasn't meant to be terrible..."
It had meant to be reassuring, comforting. But James wasn't used to playing the good guy.
"Come with us," suggested Jessie.
"Team Rocket is finished. Come with us."
Misty and Brock looked at Jessie, James, Bulbasaur, Squirtle, Meowth...
"I'll come," said Misty. "There's nothing else left now." Her voice was full of emotion with a strength and sadness unbefitting for such a young girl.
Brock nodded. "I have to come as well. To start something new, in place of what's gone."
Jessie and James understood.
The next morning, while the day was untouched by the heat, four unlikely allies patted down the dirt.
"That practise digging traps came in handy, didn't it," said James in a slightly teasing tone, but even that was more serious than it used to be.
Jessie nodded, almost imperceptibly. She couldn't believe that she was standing here burying Ash next to his murderer, his best friend.
Misty, holding Togepi, said "we should get moving now. There's no time to waste."
Brock said "I'm glad we buried him here and now. In the early sunlight. With his best friend."
None of the group cried. They all smiled thinly at one another and set off, on a journey that used to be Ash's but was now drastically altered.
Jessie was thinking to herself, in a kind of daze, that things were happening too fast. She felt uncertain that she was making the wrong choice in such a huge commitment, to reconciliation.
As the group walked, Jessie saw, through a gap in the trees, an Arbok. No, two Arbok. A male and a female. She recognised the male, and smiled to herself. The Pokemon looked truly happy, as it never had with her.
'Yes,' she thought, as she looked at her travelling companions, all lost in their own thoughts, 'there is much value in what we are going to do. Find peace. That peace that Arbok has. The peace of freedom and independance of a master. The ultimate goal.'