Pokemon Fan Fiction ❯ Heirloom ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Home Is Where the R Is
by Anna Sartin

~Prelude~

.

Her journey to Team Rocket Headquarters was a silent one.

Led by the hand, seven year-old Anari Gambini alternated between states of numbness and gut-wrenching pain as she walked alongside Giovanni, her last surviving relative. Less than an hour ago her world had completely fallen apart when she’d found her brother Antonio strangled to death by the enraged Arbok belonging to a woman he’d attempted to assault. The image was now burned into her mind.

« Are you all right, Jessie? » she heard the blue haired Rocket ask his red-haired partner for the fourth time. Anari couldn’t recall his name at the moment. Jessie assured him for the fourth time that she was.

« I’m fine, James. »

James. His names was James.

As they waited outside for the private aircraft her uncle had ordered to come and collect them, Anari stared at the door they had exited half-hoping to see her brother emerge from it. She imagined him laughing, living, telling her that it was all a horrible mistake and everything was going to be fine. He hadn’t really died, he hadn’t really done all those terrible things and Anari wasn’t really being led away from her home and into an unknown future.

Don’t be dead… she pleaded in her head with her deceased sibling, despite the fact that she knew full well that Antonio genuinely deserved what had happened to him. At that moment she just wanted him back, whether it was rational or not. Please don’t be dead…

She tried to tell herself that she would forgive everything if only he would come alive again, but that was a lie and she knew it. Her brother’s sins ran far deeper than the act of violence he’d attempted to commit on the red-haired agent standing nearby. His secrets and lies hurt her much worse than the events leading up to his demise. All her life Anari had been led to believe that her mother and father had abandoned her, abandoned them both. They went away and never came back… he’d told her, when in truth Antonio himself had removed them from her life. Had he not confessed to murdering them both, Anari would never have believed it. Still, there was no denying that he had died trying to hurt a woman, or that he had tried to bring down their uncle’s organization. He’d bribed two turncoat agents to kidnap their fellow Rockets to lure Giovanni to his compound where Antonio had planned to kill him. He’d failed miserably, and his sister was glad of it.

« The helicopter will arrive shortly, » Giovanni said, but Anari wasn’t certain whether he was addressing her or the agents accompanying them. She honestly wasn’t paying much attention to the people around her. Her mind and heart were elsewhere.

Most of Antonio Gambini’s employees, people Anari had known for all or most of her short life, had fled. Some had been killed. Twelve surviving men had stood their ground even after they’d been disarmed, refusing to abandon their posts. These had been captured and one of them was currently arguing with the Team Rocket grunt trying to tie him up. Old Henry- a man who’d worked for Anari’s family since before she was born- was attempting to defuse the situation. Anari feared for them. Their fates were now in the hands of the same man who now had charge of her. She didn’t trust this uncle of hers- with her life or the lives of her friends- and she had no desire to go live with a man she’d never met before today. Regardless, she knew she had absolutely no say in the matter. She had no other relatives, and the adults she did trust had either run off, died, or gotten themselves captured. Her uncle had sworn to take care of her, to treat her as if she were his daughter, but Anari took no comfort in this. Antonio had made similar promises. Just because you were related to someone didn’t mean you could trust them. Her brother had been proof of that!

She wanted to cry; to run, to kick and scream, anything other then let herself be taken from her home and everything she had ever known like a helpless, mindless doll, but the little girl’s spirit had been broken both by the trauma of the morning’s events and knowledge that everything she had ever been told was a lie. Her parents had been murdered, and her brother was their killer. She wished she could just go back to bed and start the day over and wake up to find that the universe made sense again.

« Come along, child, » Giovanni said, in a tone that was meant to be gentle when their transportation arrived.

Lost in a daze, the little girl continued to let her uncle lead her by the hand as they boarded his helicopter, barely aware of the fact that she was getting on an aircraft for the first time in her life. Once seated, she stared out the window and watched as the Grunts finished rounding up what was left of her brother’s men. Henry had apparently succeed in keeping anyone else from getting himself killed.

What’s going to happen to them?

Part of her wished she was outside with them, even if it meant she too would have to walk blindfolded with her hands tied behind her back instead of sitting comfortably in a chair next to her uncle. Giovanni was talking on a cell phone, giving orders to one of his agents outside while Jessie, James and Meowth sat across from them discussing their victory. Nobody seemed to remember the fact it was HER brother who had just died, or that it was HER friends who were being tied up and roped together outside while she could do nothing but watch helplessly from the window of the helicopter. Nobody stopped to consider that it was HER home that she was watching get smaller and smaller as the aircraft took flight until finally the building was out of sight, never to be seen by her again.

Nobody understood how she felt- none of them.

Had she been older and more aware of what was going on around her, she would have seen and understood that the adults around her were not as jovial as she perceived. Jessie looked grim and was clutching her partner’s hand so tightly that it hurt him. James made no move to release himself from her hold. His free hand was visibly trembling as he fought to push away the haunting images in his mind of what could and would have happened to them had their Pokémon not come to their rescue less than an hour ago. Jessie would have been violated, perhaps even killed, while he was chained and held at gun point, forced to watch. Meowth was trying to break the tension by cracking jokes and commenting on the team’s victory but the laughter of his human companions was half-hearted. By tomorrow everything would be back to normal again, but right now the pain was still too real; the memories too fresh. James’ stomach was in knots and his wrists were on fire from trying to break free from his restraints to help his partner. Jessie was fighting the onset of what would soon be an intense headache from being knocked around so much.

Giovanni, meanwhile, was barking orders into his cell phone for transportation to be ready and waiting at HQ to take all the rescued agents to a private hospital since there were simply too many for Team Rocket’s medical center to accommodate them all. He was also making arrangements to have a number of bodies, including that of his strangled nephew, discreetly disposed of.

Anari saw none of this, and heard nothing but the occasional strained laughter coming from Jessie or James. The conversation of those around her was like background noise, while her own thoughts were deafening. The reality of the situation only became more pronounced as she flew further and further away from the place that had been her home.

Big brother is dead… he’s DEAD, and he killed Momma and Daddy, too. He killed them! He KILLED them! He murdered them years ago, and I never knew!

She knew nothing but her own pain. Her mind was overcome by her loss and the dreadful knowledge that for the past five years she had been grossly lied to. She would never understand why her brother, who she’d loved more than anyone else in the world, would be a willing participant in making her an orphan.

How could he? I thought he loved me!

« You okay, kid? » Meowth asked, and she nodded. It was a lie, but what else could she say? She certainly didn’t feel like making conversation, and she was still of the opinion that no one could possibly understand her emotions. She didn’t understand them herself. Only a few minutes ago she’d been willing to do anything to bring her brother back, now part of her wished he’d died years ago, so she would never have grown to love her parents’ killer.

I do love him… she thought, as silent tears rolled down her cheeks. I do… and I hate him. I hate him so much!

. . .

Upon arriving at their destination Giovanni ordered Jessie, James and Meowth to join the rest of the Rockets who’d been rescued from his nephew’s clutches. Anari stared after Meowth longingly as he walked away, until Giovanni’s voice called her to attention.

« Follow me. »

For the rest of the day that’s exactly what she did. She trailed behind him like a shadow, silent for the most part as she choked back her grief and forced herself to keep putting one foot in front of the other until finally it seemed like her body was functioning without requiring her mind to direct it. She could not fully recall afterwards how she’d spent the day. She knew that she’d been introduced to various people- all of whom sported the red R insignia of her uncle’s organization- and that she’d responded to each person politely before sinking back into a depressed silence. She would have to be re-introduced to them all over the next few days, after she had re-awakened to the world around her.

By evening Anari’s stomach ached both from the trauma and the fact that she had eaten everything her uncle had offered her despite the fact that she hadn’t been in the least bit hungry. The memory of her dead brother’s corpse wrapped in Jessie’s Arbok was burned into her mind and thinking about it made her feel nauseous. Still, she knew next to nothing about this new relative that she would now be living with and didn’t want to make him angry on their first day together. She had seen him angry earlier that morning and she didn’t want to witness it again anytime soon. So, in a trance-like state the unhappy child accompanied her uncle around her new home, obediently choked down the lunch, then later dinner and dessert, put in front of her and finally at the end of the day retired to her new room. The bed provided for her was softer than her old one and the sheets felt nicer, but the room didn’t have the same smell or feel of her old one. She was still wearing her clothes, as she’d brought nothing with her but the garments she was wearing and an old photograph of her family. Trying to distract herself from her overwhelming homesickness, she stared at the faces of her lost relatives as she lay in bed. They all seemed to stare back, smiling.

Momma… Daddy… Big Brother…

Finally she placed the picture on the table beside her bed and turned away from it. She knew sleep would not come easy, if it came at all. Too much had happened, too much was still happening. She longed for the stuffed Teddiursa she’d slept with since she was five, but it seemed unlikely that she would ever see any of her old belongings again. That knowledge only made her more miserable.

I want my old room… I want my old LIFE!

She lay in bed for an hour, then two, then three. For a while she wept; for her brother, for her lost home, and for the parents she now knew with absolute certainly would never return; but mostly Anari wept for herself. What would become of her now that her brother was gone? What if she hated living with this new uncle of hers, or HE hated living with her? When the child had exhausted herself with crying and given herself a headache to boot, she finally gave up on trying to sleep.

This place is too dark… I want to go home! I hate being alone…

Finally she crept out of bed, trying not to let her imagination run away with her in the dark as she headed for the door. The bedroom was twice the size of her previous one, and to the frightened child reaching the door seemed to take forever. The shadows in this unfamiliar place felt almost alive, and she felt a chill as she imagined dark figures reaching out of the shadows to grab her. Finally she ran to the door, willing herself not to scream. To her relief, light flooded the room when she opened the bedroom door, causing the imaginary horrors chasing her to vanish.

When she stepped out of the room she was surprised to find her uncle lying on the couch, fast asleep. He was dressed for bed and for a brief moment she wondered if perhaps he too had been afraid of the dark and come to take refuge in the safety of the light.

The truth of the matter was that Giovanni had, unbeknownst to her, sat there for the past few hours listening to her weep. He’d heard the sounds of her sobbing from his own bedroom and, while unwilling to intrude on her grief, was determined to be close by in case she needed him. He didn’t know how to comfort her, this child of a brother five years dead who he hadn’t laid eyes on since she was an infant. Five years, he had mused, since his brother and sister in-law had vanished, supposedly murdered at the hands of their own son. Now a little stranger lay in the bed of his spare room, sobbing for the people who had left her behind. For hours he’d contemplated the situation until finally he’d dozed off, slipping into uneasy dreams.

His Persian lay on the floor, still very much awake.

« Hi, » the girl whispered timidly to the Pokémon. « Would you mind if I slept out here with you? »

Persian seemed to have no objection to her presence, so she spent the rest of the night cuddled against it, letting the creature’s purring and her uncle’s soft snoring lull her to sleep.

Home Is Where the R Is
Chapter One – Heirloom

.

« It was your grandmother’s, » Giovanni said, as he placed the necklace around his young niece’s neck.

« This? » Anari asked, fingering the red R. Giovanni nodded.

« It’s yours now. One day all of this will be yours. You’ll take my place, as I did hers. »

Anari considered this. Her brother had wanted to killed the man currently standing in front of her. What would he think, she wondered, if Antonio could see her now? Would he see this unexpected turn of events as a betrayal- as if he had the right to speak to anyone of betrayal!- or would he consider it a sort of victory to see his sister effortlessly obtain what he had not been able to seize for himself? It had been a week now since his death and regardless of what he’d done, Anari still missed him terribly. For as long as she remembered he had taken care of her and she was still adjusting to his absence in her everyday existence. It still felt like some sort of bizarre dream that she found herself dropped into a new life with a relative she’d never known.

« She made me a ring to match it, » Giovanni said, disrupting the child’s thoughts as he held up his left hand to display the red R adorning his middle finger. « It’s the emblem of our birthright. »

Anari had learned that fact quickly. She saw that red R everywhere she went in Team Rocket HQ. It decorated walls, uniforms, machinery- there was even a giant red R on the front of the building. She was too young to know the meaning of the word « overkill », but if she had she probably would have described it as such. Still, there was a certain comfort in the uniformity. There was no fear of outside danger here because everything here was under her uncle’s control. She still didn’t trust him completely, but already she was beginning to feel at home in this place. It disturbed her somewhat that part of what made her uncle feel so familiar was his many similarities to her brother. His quick temper, the way he demanded obedience from those around him with nothing more than a glare, even the way he stood- or sat- perfectly still when he was immersed in thought… all the same as Antonio Gambini.

One thing he did not have in common with his nephew was Antonio’s understanding of children. It had been a long time since Giovanni had had charge of a child and he had no experience whatsoever with little girls. The room which Anari now called her own had certainly not been painted or furnished with a little girl in mind. It was spacious enough, and she liked the large, comfortable bed; but no colorful pictures decorated the walls and no toys sat on the shelves or littered the floor. The grey walls were bare and austere-looking and even the view from the large bay window was dull and uninviting. Why on earth did Team Rocket Headquarters have to be at the bottom of a canyon? she’d wanted to know when she opened the curtains for the first time. « For protection, » was the answer she’d been given. « To keep out of sight of our enemies. » « What enemies? » she’d inquired, to which her uncle responded, « Everyone on the outside is our enemy. They would destroy us if they could. »

Giovanni recognized the look she’d given him then, he’d given it to his own mother countless times when they’d been forced to temporarily relocate to places that provided nothing but boredom for himself and his brother. Madam Boss had been unable to get through to either of her sons that they’d have much bigger problems than boredom if the police ever managed to find them and tear apart their family. Looking back, Giovanni realized that he and Giuseppe had at least had one another for companionship. Anari had no siblings of her own to play with.

« What was she like? » Anari asked. « Your mother? »

Giovanni looked away. « I always thought she was very beautiful. A bit of a skinflint, which was a trait your father inherited. You could purchase something 90% off and she’d still ask if you couldn’t have gotten it cheaper. »

Anari smiled faintly. « Big Brother was that way, too. Do you have any children? » So far she’d found no children her own age here, but that was no change from her previous existance. There had been none at her brother’s compound, either.

« I have a son, » Giovanni replied.

« Where is he? »

« I don’t know. He’s… not interested in my line of work. You are my heir; the future of Team Rocket. It will be your duty to learn all that you can about Pokémon and about our enterprise so that when the time comes you’ll be ready to succeed me. »

« You mean take your place? »

« That’s right. »

« Uncle… what if I don’t want to? » she asked.

Giovanni frowned. « Life isn’t always about what you want, » he told her. « This is your destiny. No one can escape fate. »

Anari stared out the window glumly. Being told she was destined to inherit a large criminal organizion wasn’t exactly comforting.

Giovanni watched the child thoughtfully, considering. He’d done all he could think of to make his niece comfortable. She was permitted to go where she pleased and those who knew who her uncle was treated her with the utmost respect. Orders had been sent down to the cafeteria to make Anari whatever she wanted to eat whenever she was hungry and Giovanni planned on making arrangements to have his most capable employees assist in educating her. He’d placed the child in the care of Domino on the second day of her arrival to go shopping for new clothes, and while they were gone he gave Meowth permission to remain with Anari at HQ for a week while Jessie and James took a much-needed vacation. « Dat kid shouldn’t be alone. She’s been alone too long already, » Meowth had told him, and he was right. Anari clung to the Pokémon for the next six days, carrying him around HQ in her arms half the time (much to the cat’s aggravation) and sleeping with him in her bed at night. Keeping the creature around full time was out of the question- he was far too much of an annoyance- but Giovanni was contemplating eventually getting the child a Pokémon of her own. Something that will grow in power, but not overly difficult for her to train, I think…

« What’s the matter child? » he asked when she sighed heavily. « Don’t you like it here? »

« I miss my brother. »

« I can’t bring him back, Anari. »

« I wouldn’t want you to, » she told him. « He deserved to die. »

Hearing those words from such a small child’s mouth seemed blasphemous, a contradiction to the very laws of nature. For someone in the beginning of her life to pronounce a judgement of death, even to a man deserving of it, felt unnatural, even to a man like Giovanni. There was something most un-childlike about his niece at times, he thought, especially when he would find her staring blankly into space or gazing out the window as she was now. He wished he could change the fact that Anari had learned and experienced things no seven year-old should, but considering the child would be raised to lead a large criminal syndicate perhaps it was best that she was intelligent enough to see reality without the thick veil of innocent delusion that sheltered most children. Anari’s had been torn from her the day her brother died.

« Yes, he deserved to die, » her uncle agreed, envisioning the face of the brother whose true fate he might never learn. « All our enemies must be destroyed to ensure our continued survival. Traitors from within a family are the most dangerous enemies of all. »

« But I still miss him, » Anari confessed. It was more than just Antonio she missed. She missed her old home and her old room. She missed the Pokémon she’d played with everyday. She also missed the presence of the men who worked for her brother. Always in black, they’d been a constant presence in her life. Some were always on the go, running this way and that on one mission or another. Others stood around on guard duty and would talk to her or tell her stories when she approached them. Still others accompanied her and Antonio when they went out. She hadn’t seen any of the twelve men who’d been captured by Team Rocket since the day of her brother’s death and she was afraid to ask her uncle what had become of them. She yearned for her old life, and wondered if anywhere would ever truly feel like home again.

Home.

The word used be comforting. For all her young life she had associated it with peace, familiarity and love. She still did, but now it dredged up memories of a life she could never again reclaim.

This is my home now, she told herself firmly. She hoped that if she could learn to associate that word with where she currently lived instead of the life she’d lost, maybe the pain would lessen over time; but despite the fact that part of her already felt at home here, she still couldn’t think of this place as home. Unlike her brother’s compound, where she had known everyone and could have easily navigated the place even with her eyes closed, she found the extensive halls of Team Rocket Headquarters daunting; filled with skulking grunts and haughty elite officers. The field agents- of which her friend Meowth was one- were more interesting. They often had funny, exciting and sometimes bizarre stories to tell of their adventures out in the field while young Mondo replenished their supplies. But they spent very little time on base, staying only long enough to receive their new orders and whatever equipment they required before heading out again. Meowth himself would be leaving later that day once his teammates returned from their vacation. Anari didn’t want him to go.

« I know it’s lonely here, » Giovanni said gently. « I was lonely too as a boy. »

« Were you? » Anari asked, looking at him.

He nodded. « We were constantly having to relocate to avoid the police, so making friends was rather difficult. We moved in and out of our family estate at least half a dozen times before I was a teenager, when it was finally safe enough to remain there permanently. I caused my mother a lot of trouble seeking her attention and I caused even more when I didn’t get it. Even after I grew up she still referred to me as her « brat boy ».

Anari smiled, and he smiled back.

« What did you do? » she asked.

« I started a gang. »

« YOU did? » the child asked. « You were a gang leader? »

« Oh yes, » Giovanni grinned remembering the days of his youth.

« So what happened? » Anari asked. « To your gang, I mean. »

« Most of them joined Team Rocket when I took over. This organization is like a family, Anari- and you’re now part of it. »

Family.

The word gave her a warm feeling, despite the fact that her uncle possessed a distinct aura of menace. Bizarrely enough, with each passing day she found his presence more and more comforting.

« So, are you ready to start the day? » he asked, and Anari nodded. He grinned. « Good. Go grab that loud-mouthed cat and come on! »

. . .

« Dis is da life, » Meowth purred, sitting in Anari’s lap as she sat on the floor of her uncle’s office.

« You look happy, Meowth, » she said.

« You’re gonna be running dis place someday. Then I’ll finally get to be da top cat! »

« You’re about twenty years ahead of yourself, » Giovanni told him. The Persian at his side yawned, ignoring them all.

« That’ll give you lots of time to evolve! » Anari said cheerfully. « You’ll make a great Persian! »

« I’m not evolving! » Meowth informed her angrily. « I like Meowth just da way I am! »

Giovanni grunted, thankful that Jessie and James would be returning later today from the vacation he’d rewarded them with. Anari might adore that loud-mouthed creature but he certainly didn’t.

« They’re gonna be all over each other when dey get back, » Meowth grumbled. After a week of being the center of attention he wasn’t exactly looking forward to being the third wheel with the new love-birds. Still, he had to admit he missed them.

« Perhaps deepening their relationship will make them more productive, » Giovanni commented. « You’d get more done if the three of you didn’t fight so much. »

« So what do you do at work all day? » Anari asked her uncle.

« I sit around and yell at people a lot. »

Anari laughed.

« It gets tedious after a while, » Giovanni admitted. « But world domination isn’t accomplished in a day. »

« World what? »

« Why don’t you run along and play? » Giovanni suggested to his niece. « I have a meeting in twenty minutes and it gets boring sitting around here all day. »

« All right. »

« Take care of her, » he instructed Meowth, as he did every morning. The severe look on his face told Meowth that if his newly-adopted charge were harmed or in any way made unhappy he’d see to it that Meowth was doubly so when he found out. The Pokémon gave a salute as he and the child vacated the office, leaving Team Rocket’s leader to begin another day of world conquest.

. . .

« What should we do today? » Meowth asked, when the door closed behind them. He secretly hoped their first destination would be the cafeteria. He’d been taking full advantage of his role as Anari’s temporary companion to harass the cook into making him various fish-flavored dishes at all hours of the day.

« I want to go to the jail, » the girl replied.

« Huh? » the cat asked, confused.

« Where do they put people here that they want to lock up? » Anari asked.

« You mean like prisoners? » Meowth asked.

She nodded. « That’s right. »

« People dat really tick off da boss get thrown in da cells downstairs. » he responded. If he don’t fire ’em or and take ’em out…

« Take me there. »

Meowth led her down into the cells where, as the child suspected, her brother’s surviving men were being held.

« Don’t get too close to the bars, Little Miss, » one of the grunts on duty advised her. « These are dangerous men. »

Anari almost laughed. Behind those bars were people she’d known her entire life. She would never have dreamed that some of these same men might have been involved in murdering her family. In fact, she refused to believe it.

« Let me out and I’ll show you dangerous! » one of the prisoners said, and several of his cohorts agreed. The grunt stood further away from the bars.

« Mark’s been terrorizing the guards all week, » one of them confided to Anari when she approached them. It was Kent, one of her brother’s bodyguards. He was the only one left, the others had been shot by Giovanni. His partner Nikolas had taken a bullet square in the center of his forehead. « It was keeping morale up for a while, until we got a guard that was too damned scared to feed us! »

« Hey, I agreed to lay off that one! » Mark said.

« Only after Lou knocked you upside the head! » Kent retorted.

« Hey, I was hungry! » Lou said.

Several men chuckled, and so did Anari. Lou had been Antonio Gambini’s bookkeeper, and was a well-known food addict. It was he who had taught Anari to add and count money, using cookies instead of coins. He was also Mark’s cousin.

The two Rocket grunts on guard duty exchanged uneasy glances, unsure of whether or not the boss’s niece should even be allowed down here. Everyone on base had been told to exceed to her wishes but the fact remained that their new « Little Miss » was only seven years old, and holding cells where dangerous men were imprisoned was no place for a child.

« Where’s Nik? » Anari asked Kent, suddenly realizing that Nikolas was not among the imprisoned men. « Did he get away? »

Kent plastered a pained smile on his face and swallowed the lump in his throat. « Yeah. He got away. »

« How are they treating you? » the man standing next to him asked. He was covered in scars. Anari could not remember his name.

« Fine, » she answered. « My uncle is kind to me. »

« Be careful, Anari. He’s a dangerous man. »

« So was my brother. »

« He won’t harm her, » Henry assured them. « Look what she’s got around her neck. » Anari’s hand moved instinctively to clutch the red R sitting on her chest. « He made the child his heir. »

« Your brother went through a lot of trouble to try to obtain what’s been handed to you, little one, » Kent told her.

« He died for it, » Anari agreed.

Danial, the youngest of the dozen confined men, pushed past his comrades and knelt down in front of Anari. He held his hand out through the bars and Anari took it, much to the discomfort of Meowth and the two guards on duty.

« Dan… » her small voice wavered. Her uncle said Team Rocket was her family now, but what he didn’t understand was that her brother’s syndicate was part of her family, too. Seeing them all caged like rabid animals was unbearable.

« We swore long ago to protect you if anything happened to your brother, Anari, » Dan told her. « But we can’t help you now. All we can do is tell you to be careful, and to be strong. »

Less than two months ago this man had taken her to an outdoor circus. He’d bought her cotton candy and let her sit on his shoulders so she could see past the crowd of taller people in front of her. To Dan it now seemed as if that happy, carefree day was an event that had happened many, many years ago. To Anari it felt like something that had happened in the life of a very different little girl than the one who now stood in front of metal bars that separated her from the people who had protected her her entire life.

« I want to go to the circus again, » she said, struggling not to cry. Dan smiled sadly and patted her hand in a comforting gesture. They’d debated for weeks afterwards over how so many clowns could fit in a tiny little car. How much their lives had changed since then!

. . .

« I missed you mugs! » Meowth exclaimed, when Jessie and James returned later in the day. His human teammates both knelt down to embrace him.

« We brought you something! » Jessie told the cat, holding up a bag. « We did lots of shopping! »

« You mean shoplifting, » James corrected her, his green eyes sparkling mischievously as Jessie sat the bag down on the floor so Meowth could reach it.

« What happened to all da money dat da boss gave yous? » Meowth asked.

« We invested most of it in a new Pikachu-catching machine! » James replied enthusiastically. « I can’t wait to try it out! »

Anari was sitting in the corner, looking rather glum. She watched silently as Meowth pulled out a ball of yarn, a Meowth-shaped figurine, several kinds of exotic food and a jar of polish for his golden charm. Her eyes filled with tears as the three friends laughed and conversed.

« I’ve got a surprise for you, Anari! »

« What is it, Big Brother? »

She shook her head, trying to drown out the memory. Her brother always brought home surprises for her. Candy, toys, a picture book of Pokémon… he always managed to find something to delight her with upon his return.

« Cherry Chews! Your favorite! »

Tears fell from her cheeks as she turned and fled from the happy reunion. None of them noticed her departure.

Antonio had earned his death, she knew that. Seeing Jessie and James was firm reminder of the fact. The last time she’d seen her brother alive he was attacking them. Her mind still struggled to wrap itself around the bizarre and horrifying knowledge that the same man who used to bring her Cherry Chews was the same person responsible for the fact that she had never known her mother and father. Now all she had left of her three lost family members was an old photo sitting in a drawer in the room her uncle had provided for her.

In the corridor she found Mondo sitting against the wall, trying to control tears of his own.

« Boys aren’t supposed to cry, » she told him, wiping her own tears away.

« You think so? » Mondo asked, hastily wiping his face with his sleeve.

« Why are you so sad? » the girl asked.

« Because they’re going to go away again. »

« Meowth and his friends? »

Mondo nodded. « Ever since they were assigned outside of the Kanto region I hardly ever see them. » Next to Anari, Mondo was the youngest person on base. He was more than twice her age, but the two had quickly become fast friends. « Why are YOU crying? » he inquired.

« I don’t want Meowth to leave, » she replied, deciding that she didn’t want to talk about Antonio or the remnents of his men currently imprisoned in the basement. Her young heart was breaking for all of them, and she was frightened of what her uncle might have planned for his captured enemies. Besides, it wasn’t exactly a lie. She didn’t want her Pokémon friend to go away.

« I don’t either, » Mondo responded. « I don’t want ANY of them to go. »

« Why don’t you go with them? » she asked.

« I can’t, » he told her. « I’m a delivery service trainee assigned to the Kanto region. »

« So be a field agent instead. »

« I’m a Team Rocket soldier, I have to go where I’m assigned. »

To an adult, hearing this teary-eyed teenage boy proudly proclaim himself a soldier for a criminal syndicate might have seemed almost comical, or perhaps even sad. To a seven year-old who had never known a life outside of the « family business » and had never had any companions even close to her own age, this boy seemed courageous, admirable.

I wish I were as brave as him.

« Get out! » someone yelled from some distance away. « You aren’t welcome here! »

« Something’s going on at the front gate, » Mondo said, getting up. The two children went to investigate the commotion. They found two people garbed in torn black clothing being detained by the front guards. One of the guards was calling Giovanni for orders.

« Please, just let us talk to the boss, » the teal-haired man beseeched. His female companion was clutching her middle, obviously in pain.

« You’ll get more than you bargained for if Giovanni agrees to see you, » another guard replied. « Treacherous scum. »

« I’ve seen them before, » Anari whispered.

« Butch and Cassidy, » Mondo hissed. « I thought they were dead! »

Everyone in HQ had heard about the pair’s betrayal. They’d kidnapped numerous members of Team Rocket and delivered them to Anari’s brother. Giovanni had dealt with them personally- Mondo was amazed to find them still alive and breathing. He was even more amazed to find them asking to speak to the boss. They certainly had more nerve than he ever would!

« Go back to your work, Mondo, » one of the agents on duty ordered, when he spied the two youngsters watching. Mondo did as he was told. Anari, not under any particular authority other than her uncle’s, approached the man.

« What’s going on? » she asked.

« Nothing to concern yourself with, Little Miss, » he told her. « Run along, now. »

Anari found it both annoying and insulting to be spoken to in that manner. She considered refusing him, until she realized that obedience might be more beneficial in this situation if she wanted to find out what was going to happen. She proceeded to « run along » as she was told- straight for her uncle’s office.

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To be continued.
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Author’s note: This is a project I’ve been working on for a long time. It’s a double-challenge I’ve given myself to write a story including all the Team Rocket characters from the Pokémon TV series, and to write a sequel to my very first fanfics (« Forget Me Not » and « The Rocket Trilogy ») to compare how my writing has changed and (hopefully) improved over the years. This will also be my first fic where the principal character is not an established character from the series. Since Anari was originally well-received in « The Rocket Trilogy » I’ve decided to give her the spotlight so as to thread everyone together and also show a different side to Giovanni than just the malevolent badass we all know and love. Whether this project will succeed only the future will tell, but please let me know which Rockets you would like to see here the most! Some will receive a lot of screen time while others will only have short cameos. The fic opens in the early Johto saga and, if things go according to plan, will gradually progress through the Hoenn arc.

Please review if you have the time, and let me know which Team Rocket members you would like to see more of!

The Return of Butch and Cassidy