The Cost Of Victory

            My name is Ben Gallo, but the world knows me as the super-hero Ariados-Man, and to say I was confused would be the understatement of the century.

            Two days ago, I became involved in Team Rocket's plan to kidnap upstanding citizen and gym leader Giovanni. My personal hero. In trying to stop them I learned some really disturbing and confounding things.

            1) Giovanni founded and was the original leader of  Team Rocket. Though he reformed three years ago, the organization continued and eventually decided that they wanted to bring Giovanni back into power. Whether he likes it or not.

            2) The Green Gengar, my worst enemy, is some sort of Team Rocket super-soldier, second in rank only to Giovanni when he was in power.

            3) GG has a new and improved 'Shadow Ball' weapon that takes away the psychic abilities that I'm dead meat without.

            4) And this is the most bewildering thing of all: The Green Gengar, my worst, deadliest foe, who nearly killed me two days ago, is really my best friend Harry Riffington.

            That last one just rattles my brain. I've known Harry since forever. I love him. He's practically my brother. It's obvious from the way he acts as the Green Gengar and how he talked to me once he knew who I was, that he's insane. His mom's death must have hit him harder than I thought. I can't help but kick myself repeatedly for not being there for him. I just figured that since he left for his journey again so soon he was fine.

            With my spider-Pokémon agility, I jumped from the roof of the Magnet Express and onto the Goldenrod Radio Tower.

            In our battles, I had learned one thing about Harry. After committing a major crime in one of the major countries, Kanto or Johto, he always left for the other until the heat died down, or he committed another one. And since Giovanni was captured in Viridian City, Kanto, it was a very good bet that he was back in Johto.

            I just had no idea where.

            I did have one lead though: Green Gengar was Harry, so I knew where he lived.

            It was weird as hell sneaking into Harry's house. I'd always been able to just stroll in the front door. Crawling silently across the ceiling, I made my way to his bedroom, hoping there would be something there. And there was. It just wasn't what I was looking for.

            Harry's computer was on, so I dropped down back to the floor with the intention of looking for the base's location. What I found waiting for me on screen was a file on the Green Gengar. But it wasn't about Harry. In fact, some of the information was dated to when both me and him were only ten.

            "This is about his dad," I whispered. "All of Mr. Riffington's 'business trips' were really missions for Team Rocket!"

            And that wasn't even the real shocker:

            "He's dead?! But...Harry never said..."

            "I didn't want anyone to know," Harry, or should I say the Green Gengar, said from behind. It wasn't until then that I realized my psychic powers were again nullified.

            I spun around. "Harry!" I shouted in surprise. "Riff! Why didn't..."

            "Let's just say Daddy and his co-workers needed to keep the doings at his job top secret," he replied, giving me the trademark Gengar grin. "We all decided it was best to keep his death hush-hush and just let me take over."

            "You knew?"

            "Since Mom's death. Dad died with her. He wouldn't answer to anything but Green Gengar. It was his dying wish that I take over the family business."

            It was a trap. That should've been obvious. I could tell by smell and taste or the air that the whole house was filled with the chemical that dulls my psychic senses. He was just keeping me distracted, and I bought it. After all, he was telling me what I wanted, what I needed to know so that I could help him. Save him.

            "Riff, I'm not gonna lie and say I understand." I took a step toward him. "But I still want to help you. You just have to let me."

            "I'm so glad you said that, Ben," he said, rasing his arm. Before I could respond, blue powder shot from his index finger and right into my face.

            And everything went black.

            I woke up chained to a steel wall and without my mask.

            "Wakey-wakey," I heard Harry's voice say, right before he slapped me across the face. "How's the head? Venomoth Sleep Powder tends to leave a nasty migraine."

            "Not to mention the mother of all hangovers," I groaned. My eyes finally focused and I saw Greeny...Harry!...standing in front of me.

            "Welcome to the new Rocket Command Center!" he said, spreading his arms to show off the large metal room. It was filled with computers and other lab equipment. "We were forced to relocate to Mahogany Town after that brat Red ran us and Giovanni out of Celadon City."

            "Apparently there's something about this Red guy. After all, he got Giovanni to see the error of his--"

            I didn't get to finish as Harry slapped me across the face again.

            "I admit the kid has to be something to break the great Giovanni," he said coldly. "But it's only a matter of time before he recovers from the blows dealt him. Before he comes back to his full and wonderful glory!"

            "And you call me fan-girl?"

            I winced as Harry prepared to slap me again, but he stopped. "Good point," he grinned, pinching my cheek.

            "So what now, Riff?" I asked as he calmly walked away.

            "Oh, I'm gonna have our scientists run some very painful tests on you and when they've learned everything they can about you and your powers, I'll kill you." He looked at me and grinned ear-to-ear. "So nice of you to offer to help."

            With that, a sliding door opened, Harry left, and a bunch of scientists came in. They began to work at the machines and one came over to me. He looked up at me and wrote something on what looked like an electronic clipboard.

            "So, you guys know a lot about Ariados I take it?" I said, sounding casual.

            "Hmm-mmm," was all I got as a reply.

            "You know about the Spider Web attack?"

            Same response.

            "It's a really interesting ability. It let's the Ariados shoot its webbing already in the shape of a web. Must be a real time saver."

            Same response.

            "Well, did you know that with practice, you can use that attack to form other shapes?"

            And before he could respond to that, I shot out a web-line in the shape of a noose and pulled it tight around his neck. It was hard not to tighten it fatally 'cause I really had to strain against my bonds.

            "Let me go," I said keeping the casual tone of voice.

            Choking and gagging, he reached over to a control panel and pressed a red button. The bonds opened and I landed gracefully on the floor. I quickly untied the poor guy's neck, but I wasn't done with him. I held him close to me by putting my right arm under his neck, my right hand talons millimeters away from his face, and my glowing left fist was pressed against his temple.

            "You're attention please!" I called.

            These guys are really into their work, because it wasn't until then that they all looked at me. They were shocked to see that I was free and that their co-worker was at my mercy.

            "I want two things," I said. "One, my mask. Two, the antidote to the psychic nullifier." I was only assuming that there was an antidote, but I still grazed a talon across my captive's cheek, barely breaking the skin. "And I'd like them now please. Oh, and please note that I can kill you all in five seconds if I suspect you're up to something."

            No smile, but I got perfect service. They injected something into my arm and my brain was back to normal (or what I'd grown to think of as normal anyway). They also handed me my mask, which was neatly folded and smelled as clean as the first time I'd ever worn it.

            "Thank you," I said, pulled it on. "You all have a nice nap now."

            And with my restored abilities, put them all into a nice restful sleep.

            I wanted to help Harry. I really did. But I just didn't know how crazy he was. He might interpret my attempts as an attack. So instead of looking for him, I began to search for Giovanni; the man I came to rescue.

            Finding Giovanni was easier than I thought it would be. Thanks to my restored psychic senses, I knew exactly where he was: locked in his old office. Finding the office in the maze of a base was another matter all together, but I did it. And it was guarded by a single Rocket grunt.

            Fun time.

            "Heya," I said as I dropped down in front of him, upside-down, hanging on a web strand. "Be a pal and open the door, would ya?"

            He looked like he was about to call for help, but I snapped out the talons on my free hand, freezing him in place (and officially ruining yet another pair of gloves *sigh*).

            "We can do this two ways," I said cheerfully. "I can peel off your skin, layer by layer, until you cooperate, and then I can suck the life out of you. Or...you can open the door freely and skin intact. What's it gonna be?"

            Trembling, he reached over to the panel and entered the access code, opening the sliding door.

            "Thanks," I said.

            I then zapped the poor bastard with a Night Shade blast. It's hard not to feel sorry for these guys sometimes.

            I flipped into the office and found Giovanni standing behind the desk, looking like he was in his natural element. He also looked surprised and a bit anxious.

            "Anyone call for a rescue?" I quipped.

            He smiled. "I'm glad to see you survived, lad," he greeted. "When the Gengar returned after the explosion, I feared the worst."

            "I'm touched," I said sincerely. My hero cared about me! Or at least made me think he did...

            I was about to get us both out of there when I noticed the glass case on one of the walls. I stepped closer and jumped out of my skin when something pounced on the glass. After I calmed down, I saw that it was a strange, brightly colored Ariados.

            "A fascinating creature," Giovanni said. "I've passed much of my imprisonment watching it. According to the research the Green Gengar's been feeding me, its venom has the ability to..."

            "Transfer Ariados-like powers to the victim," I whispered.

            "...Yes. But none of the test subjects have survived the process." I could feel him looking me over. "I wonder how you did."

            "Different set of circumstances," I said facing him. "Is it wild or what?"

            "The reports claim Team Rocket troops captured it in the Johto National Park about a year ago."

            "Son of a Growlithe," I muttered.

            "Ben..." came a soft but familiar voice. I turned to the door and saw Harry, without his mask, slowly walking toward me, but I hardly recognized him. Not only was his face covered with slashes from my own talons, but it was also horribly burned.

            "You did this to me," he said, continuing his slow advance. "You ruined my face, Ben. Friends don't do that."

            "Harry," I said, "it was an accident. The slashes, I thought it was your arm because of the Confuse Ray you used..."

            "What about the rest!?!" he screamed. "Your Pupitar did this!!!"

            "You were trying to kill me," I whispered, pleading. "It just wanted to save me. Harry, I'm your friend. Let me help you..."

            "My friend?! My friend would've been there for me when I lost my mother! When I lost my father!!"

            "I know. I messed up. Please...let me make it up to you..."

            He screamed and threw a Thunderbolt at me, but I was already clear, sticking to the ceiling.

            "No way the gas wore off already," he said.

            "Exactly right," I said. "Your scientists gave me the antidote after some....persuasion."

            "You wouldn't hurt them," Harry muttered as dug some Shadow Balls out of his 'bag of tricks.'

            "I know that," I said, jumping from the ceiling. "And you know that. But they didn't."

            Harry just sneered and threw the spheres at me. I simply dodged and kicked one back to the sender, knocking Harry into a wall.

            I watched as Harry got up, and I felt torn. This was my best friend. I didn't want to hurt him. But if I didn't, he'd kill me and wasn't too fond of dying either.

            "Harry, let me help you..."

            "You've 'helped' me enough!"

            "...Riff..."

            "Don't! Don't you dare say it!!"

            "...I love you. You're practically my brother!"

            Harry just screamed, clutching the sides of his head as he fell to his knees. I had to look away. I just couldn't look at him. Especially since what he was going through was my fault in a big way.

            "You just don't understand, Ben," he said. I looked up. He was looking at me, tears in his eyes. Like a lost little boy. "I've lost everything. My Mom. My Dad. My face..."

            "You never lost me, Riff. I know I've been a real crappy friend, but I never left you."

            "I know, Ben, I know. But you just can't understand. It's horrible...the screaming...the crying...the insanity!! I'm insane, fan-girl! There's no denying that!"

            Despite my better judgment, I walked toward him. Nothing else existed. Giovanni...the mutant Ariados...none of it. All I saw was my sick friend. My brother.

            "I know I can't understand, but I can still be there. It's good that you're not in denial." I reached out to him, offering my hand. "Let's get you some help."

            Harry looked at me, his huge, tear-filled eyes unsure. Finally, he took my hand, and whispered. "I'm so sorry."

            Electricity shot through me like I had just stuck a screw driver into an electrical socket while standing in a puddle and hugging a Pikachu. I fell to the floor, unable to move.

            "I'm so sorry, Ben, but I just can't take it anymore!" From the floor, I could hardly see my friend, but I saw that he pulled something out of his bag. "I want to kill you, but I want to hang out with you. I hate you so much, but I love you. I...just can't stand it..."

            He did something, and all of a sudden, alarms and sirens started blaring.

            "SELF DESTRUCT SEQUENCE ENGAGED," said a mechanical voice. "EVACUATE! T-MINUS: 5 MINUTES."

            "Harry..." I muttered weakly.

            "Someone get him out of here," he said, looking away. "Please."

            Everything started to go dark. Before I passed out, I felt someone grab me by the shoulders, and I think I heard someone say "Don't worry, son. I have you..."

            I woke up out of costume and in a hospital bed. Standing by my bed was none other than my hero, Giovanni.

            "Don't worry, my boy," he said. "I don't know who you are, and I don't intend to find out. Your costume and your Pokémon are safe in your hotel room."

            "Harry..." I forced out. It was exhausting just to say that.

            "He didn't make it." Sadness was on his face. "Several Rocket tried to save him, but he killed them. I think he may finally be at peace."

            I closed my eyes. ~I should turn you in,~ I said telepathically. It was tiring, but not as much as actually speaking.

            Giovanni looked shocked, but quickly regained his composure. I was too tired at the time to realize that the power was new to me, too.

            "Yes, you should," Giovanni said. "But I would ask that you don't. I'm already sentenced to spend eternity in a prison unimaginably horrible when I die, lad. There's a lot of good I need to do before then. Many sins to make up for.

            "Your hospital bill is covered," he continued, reaching into one of his suit pockets. "Your family is being flown in, all expenses paid. Your friend's and his father's criminal records have been erased from existence. Their funerals are already paid for. And," -he placed a pokéball on my bedside table- "I'm leaving this in your care. I know you have no reason to trust me, but I'm asking you to. You saved my life. Any and all my resources are at your disposal."

            ~Thanks,~ I said. ~But you'll forgive me if I erase my face and any other evidence of my identity from your memory as soon as you leave. Too risky.~

            "Of course." He then bowed slightly. "You're a true hero, lad. Don't let today's losses get you down." He then left.

            I deleted all the dangerous info from his mind, just realizing that I never knew how to do it before, and then looked at the pokéball.

            I knew what was inside. The mutant Ariados.

            I looked straight ahead, tears flowing from my eyes.

            My best friend, my brother, was dead. I couldn't save him. I couldn't be there for him.

            And I had just let the man primarily responsible for everything wrong in his life walk off scot-free.

            True hero my ass.