cut the air to make your presence permanent
There's nothing better than a job well done, and nothing better than the thrill in doing anything to achieve it.
He's still considered young in their ranks and getting wiser faster than he is older. It takes a modest three years for him and Ariana to swap their Grunt uniforms for the darker, sharper Admin uniforms. The style hardly looks different from the Grunt's, but the color is bolder and cuts into the room cleanly. Archer appreciates cleanliness and a neat atmosphere to his surroundings. At the very least, it balances out the filth that comes from the jobs he so loves to accept from the Boss.
It doesn't take much to disrupt all his efforts to keep the place organized.
"Silver." He looks up from his new Admin-issue desk and repeats the name that tastes like jewels on his tongue. "Silver. Put those back."
The boy is only three but old enough to wise up quickly to Archer's lectures. Even then, rebellion radiates off him as he glares back at Archer, important files still in crumpled his tiny fist.
Archer won't give the child much slack. Soon enough, he imagines confidently, it will be Silver yelling at him, glaring down at him, and Archer will proudly fall to his knees and accept whatever Silver gives him for the glory of their organization.
"That is important paperwork that I left there to file later," he explains. The words may sound big to most children's ears, but they've raised the boy right – as much as they can, at any rate. The responsibility often falls on Archer's shoulders – Ariana claims she's had her fill of motherhood and the Boss has far better tasks to do. Archer doesn't mind so long as the heir learns and develops and takes his rightful place in the world.
The look is still defiant, but eventually Silver gives. He drops the papers in a crinkled mess on the coffee table and returns to his seat on the couch. Archer notices how his fingers twitch against the cushions, childish impulses urging him to cling to something soft against his chest. Archer's signature strays slightly as he remembers Silver asking for a Pokemon plush toy to carry around.
What a weak desire was Archer's response between a smooth laugh. Team Rocket provides far more comfort than any toy.
Archer doesn't reconsider his decision after observing Silver on the couch. The boy will learn and realize for himself, soon enough.
Ariana is a striking presence when sitting on his desk and full of distractions. She files and paints her nails to stench up the room, but few things prevent Archer from signing his name quickly and efficiently. The Boss has suggested Sevii and Lavender as additional bases of operations; any movement likely won't happen for several years, but everything is gradually falling into place. Giovanni's Gym Leader examination is next week, and the League continues to follow his fake profile without a care in the world. They'll never learn.
Ariana adds noise to the room with her filing. "Do you remember when we first met?"
"I could never forget such an event." Another signature, another paper. The pen's ink digs freshly into the paper, cutting out his name in pure black. "You were beautiful, even at a few months' pregnancy."
"Oh, Archer. Such a flatterer." He's forced to stop when a set of hot, red nails drape themselves over his paperwork. The delay isn't an issue – Ariana is a woman who gets what she wants, and Archer is happy to provide.
She leans to the side, arms squeezing in, the red R against her shirt stretching across her breasts. Archer looks at the display before him – it's only polite – and finally sets aside his pen with a sigh.
"You know exactly what to say a woman." The nails scrape delicately up his neck and jaw, still wet with red polish, but Archer can't say he minds being draped in the color.
But he knows others who look far better in it.
His finger hits the telephone on his desk, dialing the Boss' number at the press of a button.
"Please excuse me, sir." The nails swipe against his cheek in shock and Ariana sits up. The stinging on his cheek suggests red marks and possibly blood, but Archer doesn't mind. "I believe Admin Ariana would appreciate your company this afternoon. If I'm not intruding…"
The speaker crackles back with Giovanni's deep laughter. "Is that so? Send her up. Thank you, Archer."
"My pleasure, sir." The speaker crackles and dies. Archer sits back in his seat with his fingers laced. "Well, Ariana? The Boss has asked for you."
He knows he has a talent of flattering and offending women all at once. Ariana bares her teeth between her pretty red lips, but makes no argument. She's young and wild, still breaking free from the restraints of raising a baby for the past three years, and the Boss trusts Archer to help guide her.
It's for her own good. Archer has a talent for saving people, after all.
Archer has an incredible skill in deception.
He was able to prove it on an early job for the Boss during his Grunt years. Team Rocket's name was known by the law but still new enough for the law to continually guess their motives without success. Thus, spying consumed a majority of their missions.
"It's dangerous for a new recruit," his new leader had told him. "But you won't betray me. Right?"
Archer had fallen to his knees and swore his allegiance without a second thought. There is no need for second thoughts in Team Rocket.
He broke into a wealthy household, stole the contents of the vaults, and killed the entire family with no traces in less than twenty-four hours. Child's play.
His current mission is no different on the surface, though he has to admit it has more thrill.
The target is a lovely young lady with long blond locks and a weak spot for white bouquets. Her uncle owns a famous card house in Cerulean with a heavy inheritance weighing down her pale shoulders. The commitment makes her ache for free will and salvation. Few in the city know this and few are quick to approach her for a bite at the profit. It's easy for Archer to sweep in and twist her heartstrings to become her lover in merely a month.
Two months after that, she's spilled the details on where the inheritance lays. The card house has a basement underneath, unsurprisingly. It would be an ideal base of operations for all the worst secrets.
He told Giovanni this the day before and has permission to finish the job – efficiently, quickly, but Archer allows a little mess every once in a while. Her hair is too pristine and the flowers are too clean on the nightstand, where she plays with them.
"They're lovely, Apollo," she says, the fake name sounding like riches on her tongue. Archer laughs lightly and reaches for her under the covers, nails dragging up her thigh. He idly wonders if Ariana was hoping for marks and red lines on her skin, but as far as Archer's concerned, she's untouchable. The woman will understand that one day.
This woman will not, and is therefore useless. The scratches on his cheek from Ariana's nails tingle as he gets out of bed.
"Apollo?" she murmurs into her pillow. Archer eyes the curvy lines of her back, up to her shoulders, up to her neck that's exposed thanks to her long hair draped out of the way.
"Yes?" His hands follow the line his eyes took, but linger less on her back and shoulders. The neck feels far lovelier under his fingers.
"What are you doing? Mm, come back to bed. What are –"
Archer seals her throat before she can finish.
He can never give Ariana marks like this along her smooth neck. He proudly accepts that.
Silver is out of bed in the early morning again.
Archer comes home late from the job but the Boss has waited up for him anyway. It surprises Archer, but he won't turn down the Boss' request to see him. It's quick to explain – a date, a bouquet of white flowers, and all the secrets to the money spilled just before he clamped up her pretty neck. Giovanni praises him, declares that the card house will become their new gambling corner once the uncle is forced to sell off the house thanks to the lack of an heir, and sends him to his quarters.
Archer finds Silver in the hallway before he can reach his room.
His eyes in the darkness are both defiant and betrayed – Archer has a feeling Silver was sneaking around for a while and close to not being caught. He can't say he appreciates the look just now.
"It's past midnight, Silver," he lectures. He keeps his hands behind his back and slips off his gloves into his back pockets, just in case the blood on the gloves is visible in the darkness. "What is your excuse this time? Your father will not approve."
There was once a time when Silver would flinch at the threat of his father's involvement. Now he has no reaction at the warning; Archer supposes he's used it a bit too often.
"…Hungry." Silver's tiny fists twist into his pajamas. They're basic and the bold coloring makes him stand out against the dim light. Archer heard from Ariana that the boy asked for Pokemon-themed pajamas from his father, something with Mareep or Voltorb.
What weak aspirations, he had said. The boy should be thinking about bigger prospects and bigger values.
"I know the Grunts gave you a snack before bed. It won't do you any good to eat in the middle of the night. Go back to bed."
Even in the dark, Archer can see the rebellion that flares up in the heir's eyes. Still, he keeps to his ground.
"I'll take you back to your bed. Is that all right?" He starts walking towards the boy's room without waiting for a response. Silver follows anyway, his bare feet barely making a sound as he rushes to keep up with Archer's long strides.
Archer imagines that one day, he'll be running to catch up with Silver, proudly, lovingly.
Silver stares up at the ceiling as Archer pulls up the basic, bold covers and drapes them over him. He chews on his mouth, looking at everything but Archer.
That's fine. Soon, Silver will be too authoritative, too respected to look down at loyal scum like him.
"Will you tell Father?" he says softly. His voice is nothing like his father's, Archer realizes.
That's fine. The boy will learn.
"As part of my duty, yes." The boy continues to look elsewhere and still doesn't flinch. Archer isn't used to people not cowering before his great leader, but he supposes the heir is an exception.
"But not now. Your father is asleep and I'd prefer not to wake him." Archer stands and flicks off the lights in Silver's room. "Try not to give me a reason to."
Silver doesn't react, but Archer assumes, hopes, it's because he's learned by now.
Archer finds Petrel five years after joining Team Rocket near the power plant. His skills in explosives, fumbling with disguises, and obsession for smoking Koffing eventually cause the plant to explode which, fortunately, was Archer's mission in the first place, but Petrel added an extra thrill to the conclusion.
Archer likes his take on life and Petrel knows how to create the best entertainment. Archer sweet-talks and brings him before Giovanni with the tips of his gloves singed and smoking.
Archer finds Proton the year after. His tests on radios in the forest lead him to hearing rumors in a local town about a vicious threat and the morality behind roasted Farfetch'd with leek. It intrigues him so much that he finds the man (breaks into his house), introduces himself (the man pins him down with knives to the kitchen floor first), and kindly asks if the host has Farfetch'd to serve.
Archer likes his taste, and so does Proton. They burn his house and Archer brings him to Giovanni with the flavor of tortured flesh on his tongue.
Ariana takes a few weeks to adjust to the intrusion. Her make-up goes missing (Petrel always wanted the higher-quality stuff) and Proton has a nasty habit (good habit, in Archer's opinion) of leaving out dishes with his latest cooking adventures piled on top. Petrel eventually purchases new make-up to replace his thefts and Proton wins her over with the finest slice of Slowpoke tail, only because Ariana joked that it's so bizarre they might as well sell it.
Giovanni sees them work best in a group. Archer accepts his reasoning without question and gladly takes missions that involve the others. Four is a clean number, sharp and stable like a square.
Silver sees them all with a unique expression on his face for each. The scent of flesh makes his nose scrunch up when Proton is near. Petrel at least attempts to make the boy laugh, but the smoke from his cigarettes causes Silver to cough instead.
Ariana acts as though she's given up on a proper maternal relationship, but Archer can see how her fingers quiver when Silver brushes her off. She still offers to brush the knots out of his red hair, but her red nails tangle and pull the strands too easily. She keeps him prim and proper, telling him to adjust his shirt and look up when before his father. Silver stares at the ground instead, but that's probably fortunate; he can't see the look on Ariana's face when her words fail to get through.
Archer still isn't entirely sure how Silver looks at him. It always seems defiant, but Silver never rebels and protests. Archer tells himself it's because the boy understands his position and has finally learned why Archer must lecture him, why he declares when to get up and when to fall asleep, why his mother would rather file her nails and do her hair, why his father is away in Saffron for business and too busy to see him.
Why Archer offers to be with him as a sorry replacement for his father, why he willingly stays by his bedside as Silver reads a book to him, why that one time he sneaked an extra cookie onto Silver's plate, why he mentioned in passing that maybe a Pokemon plush toy or Pokemon pajamas may be possible if he obeys his father and asks nicely enough.
All these thoughts are messy. But soon, Archer imagines, Silver will rise and control Archer's beliefs, and he will proudly hand his freedom over on a jeweled platter.
There's no reason that won't happen. Archer has learned that much, he knows it.
Espionage jobs are rarer for him now, seven years into his work with Team Rocket, seven years into the heir's age, but the Boss occasionally asks for it when the target is trickier than the Grunt spies can handle.
Archer never turns down a job, and simply smiles at his leader's warning that this will be the most challenging one yet.
Target women are too easy to capture, he thinks. In his experience, target men bring the best thrills.
The gel and eyeliner Petrel slaps on him look ridiculous, but it outlines him perfectly in the Saffron nightclub. He cuts through the atmosphere sharply, finds the corrupt scientist quickly, and beds him efficiently.
There are marks on Archer's neck the next morning, but his uniform hides them perfectly as he reports to Giovanni. The sting reminds him of Ariana's nails or Proton's knives when he loses his mind over the thrill of the assignments that Archer gives him. It's beautiful and Archer thanks his leader for this great opportunity.
"Did someone hit you?"
Somehow, Silver notices the marks first.
"Hmm? No." Archer tugs his collar up. He almost wants to wear the wounds with pride, immodesty at the lengths he'll go for Team Rocket. "Put those papers back."
Silver moves to do as ordered, but changes his mind halfway through and distorts the room by throwing the files at the wall.
Archer hates to bring the boy before his father over defiance, but the boy should have learned by now.
"Rotten woman," Ariana spats, and she strikes an elderly medium across the face.
The woman screeches and clings to the red marks left behind by red nails, but it doesn't stop her from waving around her cheap paper talismans.
"A curse on those who disrupt Lavender Tower!" she cries. "Your life, your future, your family!"
Archer lets Ariana strike her a final time for that remark, then finally grabs her blistered hand. He'd normally offer to kiss it, but they're on an important job.
"You're too beautiful to bruise yourself over these women," he says. "Let the Grunts take her and the others away."
Ariana complies, but her hand shakes in his hold while the other curves along the flat planes of her stomach.
The Grunts have all the old mediums rounded up like a herd in the lower floors, though it won't be long before word gets out about their presence. Efficiency has been a problem all day, from the mediums to the resident Pokemon. Archer wastes his downtime by reading the headstones of deceased Pokemon laid to rest by their beloved trainers.
He crushes a gravestone's bouquet under his foot. What a weak attachment to have.
"Admin Archer!" A Grunt salutes quickly before pointing at the staircase. No doubt he can see the tick in Archer's eyebrow over all the delays. "We're having trouble with this Marowak…"
He trails off as Archer approaches the problem himself. The fog is horrendous to cut through and blurs his outline in the middle of the graveyard. He forces himself through it anyway, and finally sees it – a young Cubone huddled in a corner, and a Marowak with her bone raised high.
"This is what you can't get past?" Archer knows raising his voice isn't his style, but so help him if they can't hear his words through the blurring fog. "Has Team Rocket taught you nothing?"
He activates his pokegear before the Marowak can react. Even if there are delays, it's a good location to test his custom-built radio; progress can still be made in the end. The Marowak and Cubone screech at the sudden blast of waves that penetrate past their protective skulls. Archer's always been a man who likes to watch, but time is precious here. He pulls out the two Grunt-issue whips he carries and cracks them down upon the Marowak's back.
He can hear Ariana laughing in the background, the sound made fuzzy by the persistent fog. Archer doesn't need clarity to know what he's doing is right. The Marowak will learn. The Cubone will learn from her mistake. And the Marowak will die.
For the glory of Team Rocket, he repeats as the whips slice open the Pokemon's flesh. He wonders how Ariana would comment on the red blood he's spreading over the tombstones. He ponders how Petrel would take this up a notch and perhaps blow the entire building after they're finished. He imagines how Proton would tear apart the ribcage, pull out the heart, and tell him it's a delicacy when cooked with garlic.
He thinks of all the ways Giovanni will praise him for a job well done, if a little late.
He wonders if Silver will one day order him to do similar missions when he takes over as Archer's one and true leader.
He tries to see it before his eyes. The fog burns and blurs his vision stubbornly.
His brittle courtship with the corrupt Saffron scientist is at six months now. The man is stubborn and obtaining inside information on Silph is akin to pulling teeth. Archer never turns down a job and never leaves unfinished, so he bears it.
They're close now, at least. Silph crumbles from the inside-out while Giovanni picks up and reassembles the pieces to his liking. Enough of the staff is aligned with Team Rocket for Giovanni to make the order that Archer may end his dear commitment.
Archer doesn't mind keeping the façade for longer, but the looks Silver gives him at the scratches on his hands and bruises on his neck are cutting in too deeply.
He struggles to keep his office clean when Silver is there. He won't break in front of the boy, though – not until Silver is on the throne and Archer can crash before him devotedly.
"If I disappear, will you be the leader instead?"
Archer pushes aside Silver's words and focuses on pouring whiskey for his companion in their hotel room.
The boy has learned too well, perhaps.
Archer distracts himself with whispered innuendo and bites over battered skin. He takes his time; there's no rush to kill this one so long as it's done by the end of the night. He doesn't even have to be clean about it if he covers his own trail well enough.
Sweat crawls down his neck as he stares up at the ceiling. The scientist slowly plays with the button of Archer's pants; perhaps a little too slowly, but Archer has all the time in the world.
"You know, I thought you were joking when you said Giovanni wanted to strike a deal."
Archer bites the inside of his mouth, swallowing the urge to correct the heretic of calling his dear leader by first name. He manages to breathe out a laugh and a lie instead.
"Would we ever lie to you? It's a perfect combination of technology and control. Our futures are now one."
"We still have our own individual futures, don't we?" The scientist drags his hands up to Archer's bared neck, littered with bruises and scratches from all the time Archer has allowed him to mark. "But I wonder…what happens if your future disappears?"
Archer jerks, and it's almost too late.
"If I disappear, will you be the leader instead?"
He clutches onto the scientist's neck just after the man gets a hold on his. It becomes a struggle between strangling; Archer has experience in it, but the scientist's fingers are thicker and desperate. He wants a clean, well-done job, but has no choice at this point.
Archer releases the other's neck and attacks directly, aiming for all the secret weak spots that Proton told him about. The scientist chokes at his solar plexus being punched and crashes off the bed onto the floor. Archer works as quickly as he can through the haze in his mind – twist a shoulder until it pops, push up at the nose until it bleeds and breaks, return to the neck and clamp, clench, choke, crush until the scientist stops scratching at his face and chest and collapses in a lifeless heap.
Archer wants to sit there and continue shaking over his ripped clothes and split lip, but time is of the essence and the Boss is waiting for him. He pulls himself out, one step at a time, remembering his future prospects and future king.
"The man wanted to kill you for your position?"
"Yes, sir. I believe that was his intention."
Giovanni breathes deeply around his cigarette, lips twisted around it as though it were bitter on the tongue. Archer resists the urge to pull up his collar; there's no way the Boss hasn't seen at least some of the bruises and cuts on him.
He's always felt inferior before the Boss, and proudly so, but this time, it makes him fidget.
"It seems he wanted to remove me to take my position and eventually take your position, sir." Archer avoids outright saying that he would be first in line for Boss if Giovanni or Silver were absent. There are still Rockets who have known Giovanni for longer, but no one has progressed as quickly and efficiently as Archer. Of course he'd become a target.
"Doesn't surprise me, really." Giovanni flips though the scientist's file with disinterest. "Not that we were going to keep him around for long. He may have been the first in Silph to join us, but he was rotten from the start."
"Yes, sir." His hands tingle sharply behind his back, sore from how hard he's squeezing them. Nothing is more divine than being in the Boss' presence, but Archer sorely wishes to hide from his troubled stare.
"Archer…did anything else happen?"
He smiles and bows his head faithfully. "I'm sure I look banged up, sir, but it's nothing permanent. I will have Petrel help me clean these up."
He knows Giovanni doesn't buy it, but is grateful that his understanding leader doesn't question it. There's no need for the Boss to worry about his subordinates willingly accepting all peril that comes from the job.
Archer knows Giovanni worries about them anyway, and it makes him adore him even harder.
The Boss' lips scowl around the cigarette.
"It's a good thing the man is dead. You are excused."
Archer doesn't allow himself to collapse until he's in the hallway leading towards his chambers.
He clamps a hand over his mouth and fights the dry heaves rolling rampage in his stomach. His erratic breathing stretches his neck and sets the bruises over his skin on fire. Resting against the cool metal walls is a fleeting but suitable comfort until he finds his footing. His knees protest against the hard floor, bruised from how the scientist pushed him down and held his hips in place strongly enough to mark. The lack of lighting blurs his figure and makes him feel so, so small.
It never bothered him before until now. He was only pleasing Giovanni and progressing for the glory of Team Rocket.
He's a mess. But that's fine.
He almost collapses again when he hears light footsteps and a surprised gasp cutting through the silence in the hallway.
Silver's figure is sharp and easy to see in the dark. The first thing Archer notices is how much taller Silver is when Archer is hunched over on the ground. Somehow he doesn't have the strength to rise before him properly. Somehow Silver is the one in control long before he should be.
"What happened?" he asks, demands.
"What are you doing up?" Archer fires back. Injuries be damned before his orders. The boy is defying him again, even if the boy is supposed to defy his pleas in the future.
"…I heard a noise." Silver walks toward him, navigating between the dim light easily. Archer would at least feel proud if he were hunched over in fear before the heir. "You're hurt."
A soft laugh. "It can happen on missions for your father."
"So my father made you get hurt?"
The boy really has learned too well. Archer snaps his mouth shut before Silver can make him say more treasonous things.
It's too late, though, and Archer can see how clearly and cleanly Silver's eyes cut into him. The boy's mind is already connecting the pieces: how Ariana obsessively paints her lips and nails with red to fulfill the Boss' desires, how Petrel singes his fingers on explosives and risks arrest by sneaking into office buildings, how Proton can't stop laughing over the remainders of Pokemon he's cut up because he'll only ever be as good as his last art and last meal.
How Archer is a broken mess of a human before him, bowed down on bruised knees, and knowing that Archer would do the same for him with righteous pride.
"It's an honor," his voice cracks out. Silver clenches his bold pajamas and shakes his head at Archer's defense. "We all follow your father for your future position."
"Shut up." The words hit him like an order and he obeys immediately. It's practice, he thinks. "You – take me back to my room and I won't tell Father that you're hurt – if you don't tell him I was out here."
Blackmailing already. The boy has learned so well. "As you wish, Silver."
"I won't let anyone get hurt because of me."
Archer stretches out the white top of his new uniform and observes the new look in the mirror. They're forbidden from wearing these new uniforms outside until the Sevii mission is complete; Team Rocket is in the news too often right now and word of the new Executive position would draw more attention.
It's a shame; Archer likes the pristine white that cuts into his reflection. But he is proud to wait forever, if needed, for Giovanni.
"It's an honor, Silver."
He'll wait forever for Silver, if he must. The heir is only ten but already outstanding leadership material, if a bit broody. That can be fixed with time.
Silver shifts on the couch, glaring at the wall instead of the future Executive. Archer boldly wishes those eyes were on him, cutting out his shape.
"When are you leaving for Sevii?"
"Two days from now. We will be separated for quite a while, but I'll gladly await the day we see each other again."
It may sound lewd, but at least it gets a reaction; Silver flushes and bares his teeth, revealing the animal he craves to release within Team Rocket.
Archer's starting to wonder if any beast can lead them.
What a weak thought to have, he thinks, and he adjusts his uniform again.
Ariana lets her nails chip over the security she installs in their new bases.
Petrel's disguises slip more often and it almost gets him caught by the Johto police.
Proton doesn't complain about the boredom in selling Slowpoke tails, but he's a beast in a cramped cage who has a disastrous outburst every so often that ruins their stock.
Still, none of his Executives ever mention the battle scars they receive for him, because of him.
Archer finally learns what Silver knew years ago.
"Giovanni…can you hear us?"
Archer takes pride in never learning at all.