“LOOKS LIKE TEAM ROCKET'S BLASTING OFF AGAIN!”
Jessie, James, and Meowth all shouted in perfect unison as they went careening through the air. Earth and sky spinning around them in a dizzying kaleidoscope of conflicting perspectives and shifting gravities. Until, finally, they plummeted downward. Their fall serendipitously cushioned by the blanches of leafy forest trees. There was the sound of snapping wood and shaking foliage, accompanied by many diverse and colorful expletives that were uniquely human. Before, finally, the trio came to rest suspended above the ground. Their bodies draped over the only tree branches that refused to break under their weight.
All three sagged with mingled relief and fatigue.
“I'm tired.” James muttered to no one in particular.
“What I wouldn't give for a bath and nine hours of sleep in a soft bed!” Jessie echoed his sentiments but with her own elaborations.
Both humans sighed.
“Hey, Jimmy, why don't you use that absurd trust fund of yours to get us a decent rest at a nice place.” Meowth suggested.
While it was nice having regular access a near inexhaustible source of liquid capitol. He didn't actually like using his family's money because it was too easy to track. It was too easy for his father to find him. He'd already tried once, getting Croquet to deceive him into returning to the Manor in Kanto and force his marriage to Jessebelle. James cringed at the memory. He preferred his father not know where he was, and so he preferred not to use his father's money.
Jessie slid down from her tree branch with a groan of discomfort. She cracked her back before sitting down on the grass and nursing scrapes and abrasions on her legs.
Meowth hopped down next to her, landing gracefully on his feet, and began licking his own wounds.
James was the last one to slip out of the tree. He crumpled limply to the ground in a graceless heap, before stretching out on the grass. Looking up at the gap in the canopy their landing had made, he contemplated pokemon and children's games. He looked over at his companions. Jessie and Meowth weren't like him. They never got to enjoy privileges and then make the choice to give them up. Meowth had always been a street pokemon, living off the castoffs of others, and Jessie... Jessie lost her mother at such a young age, she didn't have the option to choose anything else. She joined Team Rocket out of necessity, regardless of her own wants or dreams. Of the three of them, James was the only one who actually enjoyed traipsing thorough the woods, fighting monsters you could put in your pocket, and stealing children's pets.
Maybe the other two did deserve a break every now and again.
Just because they were members of Team Rocket didn't meant they couldn't have nice things.
“I think I saw a hotel or something while we were blasting off.” He said. James reached into his back pocket to make sure his wallet with his Platinum Black Infinity credit card was still there. “We can each have our own room, order room-service, I'll even spring for massages.”
Both his companions instantly brightened.
It was great having a rich friend!
It was the Kalos Region's Kaiba Hotel, and, as their unfortunate luck would have it, the hotel was hosting a Duel Monsters tournament.
Jessie gave a snort of derision. Card games were for children who lacked the steel and backbone to train and battle real monsters.
James tried his best to ignore the swarms of small children and grown adults carrying their card decks like mythic swords and wearing some atrociously unfashionable wrist accessory that looked like a batwing with card slots on it. That could not have been an Industrial Illusions original. There was no way in hell Maximilian Pegasus would produce something as unsightly as that. It had to be some kind of third party tech-developer that was licensed by I2. He walked up to the lobby desk to check them in.
“Three rooms, please.” He said. “Your best ones.”
The receptionist gave him her best apologetic smile. “I'm sorry, but on account of the tournament, we're all booked up.”
Darn Duel Monsters! That stupid card game ruins everything!
“The only room we have left available is the bridal suit.” The receptionist informed him. “But I'm afraid its not...” she paused, taking in his disheveled appearance, his scrapped skin, dirtied clothes, twigs sticking out of his hair “...a very economical room.”
Behind him, James heard the distinct pop-werr sound of a pokeball opening itself without a Trainer's permission. “WOBBUFFET!”
With a dejected sigh, he slipped the Platinum Black Infinity credit card out of his wallet and slid it across the counter to her.
The woman's eyes bugged out, wider than her head. This was a credit card with no limit! Only the grossly rich, and super elite could be approved for one of these! “I- I'll need to check your ID... please.”
He passed her his Trainer ID.
She gave him a tight smile. “Your real ID, please. Unfortunately, I can't accept a Trainer ID for a card of this type.”
This time, James was much more hesitant as he took out his Sanfran City issued drivers license. Not only did it identify him as not originally being from the Kalos, or Kanto, or any of the other monster regions pokemon were native to, but -unlike his Trainer ID- it showed his full name. James Crawford Pegasus. He cringed visibly as the receptionist scrutinized the ID, comparing the name to the one on his Platinum Black Infinity credit card.
Finally, she seemed satisfied and handed the ID back to him. She typed in his room reservation and swiped his credit card. Programmed a pair of room keys and handed those to him too. “Alright, Mr. Pegasus, you're all good to go. Please enjoy your stay at the Kalos region Kaiba Hotel.”
James cringed again. He hated it when people called him 'Pegasus'. It was his father's name.
Jessie flopped down on the luxurious -large even for two people and a pokemon- bed. “Ah~h, this is so great! Why don't we do this more often, James?”
He pretended not to hear her as he peeled off the first layer of his Team Rocket uniform and shook it. A cascade of dirt and leaves sprinkled onto the suit's plush burgundy carpet. Both the maid service and the concierge laundry were going to hate them. James thought about explaining to her that he didn't like using his father's money, but -while there was no doubt in his mind that she would understand- he knew that she would view it from a conflicting point of view from his own. Jessie didn't come from money, she and her family never enjoyed the luxuries that he gave up when he left. She knew he didn't get along with his family and spurned their money because of it, but he never really allowed her to see just how deep that rift actually went.
“Do you want the shower first.” He offered instead.
“Mm.” Was her only reply, and a few moments after that Jessie began to snore.
She must have fallen asleep the moment her head hit the pillow. James couldn't help the small smile of affection that pulled at his lips. Whelp, guess he was showering first.
Jessie was still asleep when James came back out. At some point, she had woken enough to strip off her own Team Rocket uniform and crawl under the covers. It was crumpled on the floor next to James'. Meowth was curled up on the pillow next to her, his paws twitching as he dreamt.
Toweling off his periwinkle blue hair, washed to such a shine it look almost silver, James caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, his forelocks, looking silver in the light and falling over one eye, hiding half his face. He frowned at his reflection, making himself look even more like his father. With a slight growl James used his fingers to comb his hair back, away from his face. The last thing he wanted was to be walking around a building full of Duel Monsters fanatics looking like a younger version of the Industrial Illusions owner and CEO.
Slipping one of the hotel's complementary robes on, James gathered their dirty clothes into one of the laundry service bags. He paused for a moment, contemplating just putting the bags outside the door for the maid service to collect. But then he glanced back to Jessie asleep in the bed. If her bare shoulders sticking out from under the blanket were any indication, she wasn't wearing anything under there. She might appreciate fresh clean clothes when she woke up. Heaving what was probably his sixth sigh that day, James decided to brave the droves of Duel Monster enthusiasts to take the laundry down to the concierge himself.
He made sure the sash of his robe was secure, threw the laundry bags over one shoulder, grabbed a room key, and headed out.
It was weird being around Duelists instead of Trainers. Usually, with pokemon Trainers, a person's eyes would look for a belt or vest first, to see how many pokeballs he had. Instead, whenever James passed someone in the hall, or in the elevator, their eyes first went to his wrist to see if he was wearing one of those absurd dueling devices, then to his pockets to see if he was carrying a deck. He never realized the stupid card game he loathed as a child was such a serious activity that Duelists developed instincts similar to Trainers. One would almost think these children -and grown adults- wagered the fate of their world on card games.
In the lobby, he finally got to see what those bulky and uncomfortable wrist accessories were for. The two pieces that looked like batwings came together to form a conveniently portable surface for laying out your cards in play. That was actually rather clever. It might be a grotesquely inelegant little piece of technology, but even James had to admit that a collapsable and easily portable surface for playing on was a neat idea. Almost as cool as pokeballs -almost.
Then one of the Duelist played their first card and, to James' great surprise, a Feral Imp materialized right there in front of the player, almost as if it were a real monster. James blinked at the pair as the first Duelist laid another card face down, and a comically large trading card likewise materialized in front of the player -face down. Some kind projection from the wrist device? Pokemon Trainers liked to joke that Duel Monsters was for people who couldn't train pokemon. It looked like whoever developed this new dueling tech was trying to make the card game more like pokemon battle -at least as far as making the monsters seem real. Curious, he set the laundry bags down and crossed his arms to watch the game.
The second Duelist had his back to James and the Trainer could see all the cards in his hand. He watched as the second player ran his fingers over the five cards, all fanned out so their names could be easily read. The Duelist's hand settled on one card and James' eyes narrowed in disapproval, his hair falling back over his face, covering one eye, making his glare seem all the more intense.
“Don't use that card.” He heard himself say. Both Duelists turned to look at him. “Play your Des Kangaroo and end your turn.”
“Hey! You can't help him! Accepting outside help in a duel is cheating!” The first Duelist snapped at him.
James only shrugged. There was no stigma against cheating among the members of Team Rocket. Goodness knew he and Jessie cheated on countless occasions, and Butch and Cassidy never passed up an opportunity to cheat them whenever their paths crossed. In fact, he was pretty sure Madam Boss and Giovanni never would have even been able to form Team Rocket without some creative interpretation of pokemon rules. Cheating in matches was not something James worried about. What did bother him was how easily the stupid card game strategy came back to him. Even after all these years.
Forcing a casual shrug, the Trainer picked his laundry bags back up and finished his journey across the lobby to the concierge. As he was walking away, he heard the second Duelist announce, “I summon Des Kangaroo, and end my turn!” and he smirked. That card's affect was that when it was attacked, if the attacking monster's attack points were lower than its defense points, the attacking monster is instantly destroyed -and the Feral Imp's attack was, indeed, lower than its defense. Since it was the only card Duelist number two had on the field, the first Duelist would have no choice but to attack it.
He made his way back up to the room. Tomorrow they would leave, back on their mission to capture that Twerp's pikachu, and James would never have to look at another Duel Monsters card again.
Jessie awoke to find herself wrapped around James. She didn't remember him coming to bed, so she was probably already asleep when he did. He lay with his back to her, curled in on himself like he did sometimes when he had bad dreams. She was curved around him like a big spoon, one arm thrown over his shoulder.
Propping herself up on her other arm, Jessie brushed some periwinkle hair out of his face and saw that his brows were indeed knit together from an anxious dream. She hesitated for a second, not wanting the action to wake him up, then bent down to place a chase but comforting kiss on his forehead. She also had bad dreams about her past. She, better than most, understood what it was like to be confronted with your own personal tragedy repeatedly by your own subconscious. Jessie didn't know if on some instinctual level James recognized the action as her or not, but after the kiss his expression softened and he began to snore, getting a proper, restful sleep.
She slipped out of bed and tip-toed to the shower.
It was so rare that they got to sleep in a real bed, or shower in a real shower. James was loaded and could afford to put them up in a swanky place like this every night. But he actually liked the rough and tumble life of a pokemon Trainer and Agent of Team Rocket. Sleeping outside, trudging through the woods, grasslands, deserts, and all other forms of terrain pokemon commonly lived in. For a guy who grew up pampered with a cushy life style, he liked things decidedly not pampered and cushy.
Jessie was the exact opposite. She never wanted to be a pokemon Trainer and she especially never wanted to join Team Rocket. She always had other dreams, other aspirations. She wanted to be a actress. She wanted to be a pokemon nurse. She wanted to get married to a decent guy and have a happy life. None of that involved camping out in the dirt, stalking and stealing from ten-year-old children, and being blasted through the air on a semi-regular basis. But, Jessie's mother disappeared when she was young, leaving her with no money, no one else to take care of her, and no means of taking care of herself. Jessie had no other choice but to join Team Rocket. It wasn't decision of personal preference like with James. It was a decision of necessity -and Jessie always resented it.
She stepped out of the shower, her normally gravity defying hair made heavy by the spray. It hung around her face and clung to her shoulders. She squeezed the water out of it and fluffed it out as best she could, returning some of its sleek bounce. Wrapping a towel around herself, she stepped out of the bathroom and looked around for their Team Rocket uniforms. Sleeping in the nude while sharing a bed wasn't really a big deal for them, goodness knew they had bathed together often enough that the sight of a teammate's naked body was nothing to get excited over. But that didn't mean there was no modesty between them at all, and aside from hot-springs, baths, and the occasional naked nap, they didn't really spend that much time together naked.
But their uniforms were nowhere to be found.
Jessie bit her thumb. She was beginning to debate waking James and asking him if he knew where they'd thrown their clothes last night, when there was a knock at the door.
Making sure her towel was securely wrapped, Jessie padded across the room to answer the door. It was a rather large room, the honeymoon suit, apparently, and whoever was outside had to knock a second time before Jessie could actually get there.
“Concierge laundry service.” Came the over rehearsed voice of a person in the service industry whom was over their job and dead inside.
Jessie opened the door and was pleasantly surprised to see a member of the maid staff accompanied by a Mister Mime wearing the hotel uniform. The Mister Mime held out both hers and James' uniforms, freshly washed, ironed, and starched. She took the cloths from the pokemon. “Thank you.”
And shut the door in their faces.
Separating her own uniform and underwear from James', Jessie slipped off her towel and slipped on her panties. She was in the process of hooking on her bra when there was another knock on the door. Thinking it was the maid staff again who just forgot something, Jessie wrapped the towel back around herself and wrenched the door back open. “Wha'd'ya want?”
But it wasn't a member of the hotel staff and their companion pokemon that stood outside.
This time it was a man. Older, hair a steely gray, combed with a side part. He was wearing a black business suit and sunglasses over his eyes. Who wore sunglasses inside? Still, he did seem somewhat familiar. Jessie was sure she'd recognize him if he weren't wearing the shades.
His chin dipped slightly as he looked her up and down, and Jessie felt a self-conscious flush rise in her cheeks. It was painfully clear that she wasn't wearing much under her towel. He tilted his head, peering behind her into the room, and Jessie likewise remembered that this was -technically- the honeymoon suit. Though James was still under the blankets, it was equally apparent that he wasn't wearing anything under there either.
“Jessebelle?” He ventured, ever-so-slightly hopeful.
“Jessie.” She corrected.
“Ah.” His posture remained stiff, his back straight. He didn't fidget. But Jessie got the distinct impression that the man was uncomfortable for some reason. “Would you mind waking him up? We need to talk.”
Her eyes narrowed. This time it was Jessie's turn to look him up and down. He wasn't a member of Team Rocket. Not only was he not wearing a uniform, but he didn't even have the R insignia visible anywhere on him. Not an R tie, not a lapel pin, not a ring, not even a belt buckle. So, not sent by Giovanni then. But, clearly, sent by someone with enough wealth to afford him such an expensive suit, and enough power to get him here in a timely manner when even Jessie and James didn't even know they were going to be staying here until the checked in last night. She looked back at her teammate.
Rich and powerful, not associated with Team Rocket, and looking for James.
Then it clicked in her mind why the old guy looked so familiar. They had met before. “You're Croquet!” She announced. “You're James' father.”
“Oh. You remember that farce?” He commented, seeming distracted. “Yes. I am Croquet. But I'm not actually Master James' father. I do, however, need to speak to Master James about his father.”
Jessie looked back at her teammate a second time. James hated his family. He never really went too far into specifics, but from the debacles they'd gone through with the fiancee they'd arranged for him, Jessie got the gist that they were stifling and over-controlling. From the new information she'd just learned that the man she'd previously met playing the part of James' father wasn't actually his father, she was able to put together that the family was also manipulative and deceitful. Not unlike Giovanni and his mother Madam Boss. After all, the only reason Jessie's mother left on that fatal mission was because Madam Boss promised to take care of her daughter. But when Miyamoto disappeared, Madam Boss didn't keep her word. She threw Jessie in an orphanage at the first opportunity.
The moment James realized someone from his rich and deceitful family was here he'd probably wanna make a break for it.
“Wait here.” Jessie told Croquet, and shut the door in his face.
She threw off the towel and finished putting on the rest of her uniform, gloves and boots included. Fully dressed, she checked to make sure she had all her pokeballs and the pokemon were still inside them -even Wabbufett. When she was sure she was ready to go blasting at a moment's notice, then she woke James.
One gloved hand on his shoulder, she shook him.
All he did was groan in protest and roll towards her, his face resting in the curve of her palm, his breath warm through her glove.
“Wake up!” She snapped at him in annoyance. In one motion, she pulled her hand out from under his face and yanked the covers off him with the other.
Unfortunately for Meowth, the feline pokemon was still sleeping on top of the blankets and went flying. He tumbled off the bed to the floor in a heap and hissed in protest. The Twerp and his stupid pikachu were supposed to send him blasting off, not his own teammates. “Meowth! What's the big idea!?”
James gasped at the sudden temperature change, one arm groping blindly for blankets that were no longer there. Jessie put his Team Rocket uniform in the path of his searching hand instead. Hand closing over the fabric instinctively, he pulled the shirt up over one shoulder before he realized that it wasn't the blanket he was searching for and he was still cold. Finally forcing his eyes open, James blinked at the bold red R in front of him.
“There's someone outside, looking for you.” Jessie informed him.
He continued to blink at the R, still half asleep. Someone the boss sent looking for them, wanting an update on their progress, or else an explanation for their failure? Some backup and support? Or, more likely, a rival pair of Agents to replace them? “Butch and Cassidy? Tell them to get lost. This is our turf.”
“Its your father.” Jessie informed him. Or, at least, someone sent by his father. Truth be told, she was still a bit confused on that score.
James was instantly awake, practically catapulting out of bed. He knew he shouldn't have used that damn credit card. The moment he flashed his real ID and that stupid magnetic strip was swiped, every accountant, lawyer, and board member of Industrial Illusions knew exactly where he was and what he was doing. Money told a more accurate story than a photograph. He grabbed the rest of his uniform from her and began pulling it on in a hurry.
“Is it actually my father, or is it Croquet?” He demanded.
Ah, so the guy she'd already met claiming to be his father wasn't actually his father. At least that got cleared up. “Its the guy I met back during the whole Jessebelle engagement fiasco.”
“Croquet.” James concluded. He pulled his boots on, then his gloves. “What does he want?”
He was prowling the room, checking to make sure they had everything they came with -not that they came with much. Pokemon Trainers tended to travel light and Agents of Team Rocket were no exception to this rule. James patted himself down, making sure he had all his pokeballs and all his pokemon were in them and hadn't let themselves out in the middle of the night. Unlike Jessie's Wobbufett, his Inkay wasn't in the habit of spontaneously letting himself out. But now was not the time to discover that he'd developed the bad habit.
“He says he just needs to talk to you.” Jessie shrugged. She would never understand rich people.
He cast an appraising glance at the closed door. Then in the opposite direction to the closed window. He was weighing his options. James must have come to some kind of decision. Because without warning, he scooped up Meowth, tucking the feline pokemon under one arm, grabbed Jessie by the hand and made a B-line for the window. Giving it a strong kick with all the force of a traumatic childhood and unhealthy coping mechanisms behind it. The glass shattered and before Jessie could say 'blasting off again' they were careening through the air, plummeting several stories down.
James let go of her hand with just enough time for Jessie and himself to do a well practiced aerial flip, land on their feet, roll forward several feet to spend the rest of their momentum from the fall, and finally come to a full stop on the edge of the woods. After being blasted off by the Twerp's pikachu for the past fifteen years, both Jessie and James had become rather good at mid-air maneuvers and hard landings.
Setting Meowth back on his feet, James looked back up at the broken window of the suit they'd just vacated. Croquet peered down at them, frowning from under his shades. With a smirk of triumph, James flashed him a mock salute and turned to dash into the woods. They needed to catch up with the Twerp anyway and didn't have time to play with his daddy's lackey.
No sooner had James turned around though, then he found that his and Jessie's path was blocked by yet another stern looking man wearing shades over his eyes and a suit. This one with absurd hair that stuck straight up like a spike. So inelegant. James disliked him on sight.
“Attention, Trainers!” He said. “My hair is charged with taking you back to Master Pegasus!”
Jessie snorted. “Uh, wut?”
James looked the guy up and down. He was hired muscle to be sure, but he didn't look like a pokemon Trainer. Reaching for Inkay's pokeball, he muttered, “I'd like to see you try.”
The Hair Guy raised one hand, pointing a finger, not at James, but at Jessie. “I'm afraid my hair must insist.”
The whole Rocket trio looked at the extended finger in confusion.
“Oy, this guy. Meowth.” Muttered their pokemon companion. “What're you gonna do? Point at us to death? Ain't anybody ever told you pointing's rude.”
“What? No. My hair is threatening you!” He seemed almost personally insulted by their lack of intimidation.
Jessie tsk'd. “If you're gonna threaten us, shock us with over a hundred volts of electricity, tangle us in vines, blow us up with a fire attack, send us blasting off through the air. Don't point like a disgruntled child on a playground.”
“I might also suggest adding in some clever rhymes and dramatic poses.” James advised. “No ones gonna care that you're threatening them if you're not eye-catching and bold. You've got no flare! Watch us.”
He straightened his back, making a quarter turn to the left, crossing one arm around his middle, he propped an elbow in his hand and tapped his chin. “Prepare for trouble...”
“That's my line.” Jessie hissed at him from out the corner of her mouth. But it was too late, they'd already started. What kind of decent villains would they be if they ignored basic showmanship. James started it and the show must go on. She straightened her back, making a quarter turn to the right so that she and her partner were almost back-to-back. “...and make it double!”
“To protect the world from devastation.” James shouted.
“To unite all people's within our nation.” Jessie added, her timing perfect to the cue as if it were her own line.
James made a first with one hand, thrusting the other arm out in front of himself, fingers splayed as if warding off an enemy. “To denounce the evils of Truth and Love!”
“I'm gonna stop you right there, Master James.” Croquet had made it down from the destroyed honeymoon suit and rejoined them on the grass. The old man was bent over, hands resting on his knees as he panted for breath, having apparently run to make it to them so fast. After taking several gulps of air, he straightened. “I thought that might be your reaction, so I came equipped with a back-up plan.”
“What, this guy?” James jerked a thumb at the Hair Guy, unimpressed.
“No.” Croquet unbuttoned his blazer and from an inside pocket withdrew a pokeball. “I challenge you to a pokeman battle!”
James only shrugged. “Fine. If you really wanna be embarrassed in front of your phallic haired friend that much. C'mon Inkay, lets get this over with.”
But as soon as the dark/psychic type was out of the ball, Croquet reached into his jacket again and pulled out, not another pokeball or a weapon, but a croissant. Fresh from the hotel kitchen, still warm and buttery. This he tossed it at James' Inkay, whom caught it mid-air and began munching with appreciation.
Confident that his opponent's pokemon was adequately distracted, Croquet finally tossed his own ball. “Now, Growlithe!” Shouted Croquet. “Just like we practiced!”
But the canid fire type that popped out of the pokeball wasn't just any Growlithe. It was James' Growlithe. His beloved pet from when he was a child.
“G-Growlie?” He sputtered, forgetting for a moment that he was supposed to be a ruthless agent of the heartless pokemon yakuza group, Team Rocket, and instead falling back to the neglected, and starved for attention child he used to be that would hide in the attic of the Pegasus mansion among with late mothers things, a single Growlithe type pokemon as his only companion. “Wh-uh?”
With a growl of confirmation, the little Growlithe rushed forward. But it wasn't James' Inkay he was going for. Instead, the canid pokemon darted right past the dark/psychic type and instead closed his jaws around James' booted ankle.
“What the-!?” James looked down, shaking his leg to try and free his boot from the Growlithe's grip. “Growlie, what are you doing? You're supposed to attack the pokemon, not the Trainer.”
Growlie's only response to this was to tug hard enough to pull James off his feet. Very proud of himself, the Growlithe dragged the Trainer back over to Croquet, past the old man, and off to a helicopter that was parked on the hotel's front lawn.
“Hey! Where are you taking him!?” Jessie demanded.
But before she could move to her teammate's aid, she was grabbed from behind by the Hair Guy. “My hair's woman grabbing classes worked out way better than those child grabbing classes!”
“Lemme go, you weirdo!” She demanded.
“You're, of course, welcome to come too, Miss Jessie.” Croquet informed her. “I don't presume to know the nature of your relationship-” sharing a honeymoon suit, sleeping naked together, seemed like more than just teammates to him “-but Master James might need your support.”
“What's that mean!?”
But they were done answering questions.