Notes: My entry for the Pokémon Big Bang 2011. This is a WIP; updates will be made weekly assuming that I have the chapters done in time. Makes use of the theory that Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh and Orre are equivalent to prefectures of real-world Japan and that Unova is the equivalent to the United States. The rating will be elevated with future updates. Special thanks go out to my artist, vargs, and my beta reader, aztecravemonkey, who have stuck with me (and continue to) throughout this adventure. I hope that you enjoy reading this!

Characters: Green, Red, Leaf, Domino, Silver, Giovanni, Archer, Ariana, Proton, Petrel, Professor Oak, Lance.

Pairings: Green/Red, Green/Leaf, Leaf + Red, Domino + Silver, Giovanni/Ariana, Lance/Leaf.

Universe: Games - Generations III - IV

Warnings: language, extreme violence, torture, child abuse and neglect, pokémon abuse and neglect, sexual situations and material, heavy speculation, gratuitous synthesis of real-world and poké-world histories, character death, unethical medical and research practices, heavy AU.

Disclaimer: I do not own Pokémon, nor do I stand to profit from this story in any form. All mistakes are my own.


the harder they come

Prologue

The reports come in early in the morning, and are apparently urgent enough to warrant waking him from his sleep. Sleep is something that does not come easily to him, so when he is fortunate enough to get some he rather enjoys holding onto it for as long as he can.

Dark eyes skimming the text with little scrutiny, it takes him a few moments to process the gravity of what this report actually entails to sink in. When it does, it hits him all at once.

"This intelligence has been confirmed?" he growls without looking up from the report. His eyes are fixated on the words probable specimen containing authentic DNA.

"Y-yes, sir," the grunt splutters.

He swings his well-toned legs off the side of the bed in one fluid motion and reaches for his robe hurriedly. "Have my chopper prepared at once," he orders. "I want to be on-site within the hour."

"B-by your command, sir."

When his subordinate leaves the room, the man makes his way to his closet and goes about the process of folding his body into one of his black, finely-pressed suits (the one with the red insignia emblazoned over his heart proudly). There is no need for subterfuge or façades tonight.

He has been waiting a long time for this, so he allows himself a smirk as he makes his way out of his chambers, nodding at the man who falls in step behind him.

"Your helicopter is ready for takeoff, sir."

"Excellent," he says. "You will be accompanying me, Archer."

"Of course, sir."

In but a few hours, he thinks moments later as he stares out the bullet-proof window of the helicopter and into the sleeping world below them, he will have the final piece of his plan.

He catches sight of his reflection in the glass and smiles darkly at it.

Soon…

— . . . —

Like most of their ill-conceived ventures, this one is all Green's idea.

They sneak in through the window at noon, which seems to be the universally agreed upon time for the researchers' housewives to call for lunch. Green's grandfather is gone too. Despite the fact that he has been a widower for over a decade and had developed the habit of skipping meals to squint at data in hopes of finding some kind of pattern there, Daisy's insistence at playing at being a mother figure ensures that the old man would go home for lunch.

Their shoes, dirty from the half hour they'd spent hiding in the bushes, track mud onto the once pristine white floors. Being little boys, Green and Red don't pay any attention to the mess; being the best friend of two little boys, Leaf smothers down her natural instinct to reprimand them and restrains herself to wrinkling her nose at them behind their backs distastefully.

Leaf had spent the greater part of the morning trying to convince her friends not to go through with the stupid plan. Much to her dismay, threatening not to play with them anymore and tell on them didn't work, perhaps because both boys know that Leaf is no tattle-tale. In truth, she would rather get into trouble with them than be stuck in her little pink room filled with oppressive frilly dresses and a mother eager to relive her contest days vicariously through her tomboyish seven-year-old.

Of the three, Green is the only one without any misgivings. Instead, he is possessed by his insatiable eight-year-old curiosity and a deep-rooted desire to prove himself to his grandfather. Red, though considerably hesitant about the matter, has let his best friend's tales of yellow mice with red cheeks overrule the stern sound of his mother's voice that rings in his head.

Glancing about the lab furtively, Green walks towards his grandfather's desk, eyes locked on the glinting spheres that rest next to a stack of half-read reports and a mug filled with stale coffee. With considerably less determination, Red and Leaf follow.

Taking a deep breath, Green reaches a little hand out to grab one of them –

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Leaf blurts, unable to censor herself any longer. "Stealing is wrong, Green."

His efforts frustrated, Green spins on his heel and crosses his arms over his chest with a huff, glaring at her venomously. "I already told you that it isn't stealing 'cause they're my gramps', stupid. You can't steal from family."

"Yes you can!" Leaf protests. "'Specially since your grandpa told you not to take them when you asked if you could."

Green has no real counter to this, but with Red's eyes darting between him and Leaf anxiously, he finds that he cannot back down. So he forces his body to relax into an uncaring posture, lets his lips twist into a smirk. Already he is learning the value of feigning confidence, of acting like he doesn't care when he actually does.

"Whatever, Leaf," he says with a small shrug. "I should've known that you were too chicken… being a girl and all."

The mockery has its intended effect. Leaf's face flushes with anger, and her hands curl into angry fists. "You – you," she begins, shaking a little with indignation.

"If you're too much of a girl to do this with us," he continues, "then you should just leave." He turns his gaze to Red and smirks at him. "Right, Red?"

Red's eyes tear away from Leaf and focus on Green. "Don't be mean…" he murmurs, and Green frowns, unsatisfied with his answer.

In time Green will learn that he shouldn't phrase such things as questions because doing so always ends up giving the other person more power than he ever intended. In time he will be taught to give orders instead of ask questions, will learn to command respect and compliance with every movement he makes.

But right now Green is just a little boy who misses his mother and father more than he'll ever admit, who wants his grandfather's attention more than he thinks he should. He needs Red as his captive audience too much to be the bully he'll become yet, so all he can do is act like he doesn't care if Red chickens out on him when, in reality, he hates every second Red spends looking between the two of them, considering silently.

"Whatever!" Leaf shouts, breaking the tense standoff, "See if I care when the two of you get in trouble!"

And with that, she stomps back towards the window, climbing onto one of the lab's office chairs to reach the ledge.

"You're not gonna tell, are you?" Green calls over the heady feeling of victory that makes his ears thrum dizzyingly, pleasantly.

Leaf is halfway through the threshold, skinny legs hanging precariously over the edge. Her fingers, slightly pudgy with youth, tighten on the ledge to keep from falling forward.

"I'm not a tattle-tale," Leaf bites out before pushing herself off into the bushes. She does not look back.

It's not a 'no,' but it's enough to make the feeling intensify, make Green feel lighter than air as he smirks at Red in cocky satisfaction.

"You didn't have to be so mean," Red murmurs sullenly, crimson eyes dulling guiltily.

Green just rolls his eyes and says, "You can go too if you're gonna be a girl about it."

Red bites his bottom lip but shakes his head, whispers, "I'm not a girl," and Green knows that he has won.

The thing about Red is that he cares far too much about the people closest to him to disappoint any one of them. It just depends on who he's around at the moment. He is loyal to an extent: he will follow Green anywhere as long as Leaf doesn't protest. Green sees the weakness there, knows that it is something he will have to fix eventually. There are three of them, and that is one too many.

But that is eventually, isn't it, and right now there are more important matters that warrant his eight-year-old attention. Turning on his heel eagerly, his forest-green eyes rest hungrily on the red-and-white spheres – poké balls – again.

Green reaches out, fingers brushing against the cool metal, tracing the black line that runs along its circumference and the button-like circle at its center. This is the stuff of his dreams, and Green takes a moment to imagine himself as a trainer, traveling the world and challenging the gym and becoming Champion, strong and famous and invincible. This is definitely not the first time he has given himself over to such daydreams, but they have never felt more real than they do now, with his fingers resting against an actual poké ball.

He's drawn out of it when Red makes a small sound that is equal parts nervous and eager. Grabbing the other ball in his other hand, he tosses it at Red with a quick shout of, "Catch!"

Red fumbles with the ball, small fingers struggling for purchase on its smooth surface. His eyes widen comically when it slips from his sweaty grasp and clatters to the floor. Green's eyes are just as wide as the ball opens. The flash of white light coalesces into a small ball of brown-and-white fluff, its dark eyes focusing on Red curiously.

They stare at the creature in awe for a few long, drawn out moments.

It makes a small, questioning sound that snaps them out of their reverie.

"What is it?" Red asks softly, almost as if he were afraid to startle it.

"An eevee," Green replies, and the eevee makes another noise, eyes fixed on Green questioningly. The boy smiles in wonderment, crouching and extending a hand to it, beckoning silently. The eevee accepts, crawling forward slowly. It sniffs at Green's fingers almost cautiously for a few moments before licking his fingers in approval, and he giggles uncontrollably. He is sure that this is the best moment in his life, that it will never get any better than this.

"No fair," Red says tonelessly. "It likes you better…"

Green smirks to himself, hand scratching at the back of the eevee's ears. "Duh," he says. "It knows that I'm the better trainer, don't ya?" Eevee pushes its head into his fingers and Green takes that as confirmation, making an indefinable feeling swell in his chest, pressing against his ribcage so hard it almost hurts. When he looks up, he is greeted with the sight of Red's bottom lip stuck out, eyes shimmering dangerously. With a huff, Green rolls the other poké ball across the floor to him. "Trade ya?" he offers, not quite able to keep the twinge of exasperation out of his voice.

Red sniffles, but accepts anyway, crouching when the poké ball collides with his shoe. He picks it up cautiously, turning it around in his hands and inspecting it from every angle. When his finger brushes over the button, the ball expands in his hand, startling him so much that he almost drops it, only catching it at the last moment. Green snorts derisively, running his fingers down the length of Eevee's back, making it arch its spine against his hand.

"Are you gonna call it out or what?" Green snaps impatiently.

He stares at the sphere for a few more seconds. When he nods and makes to open it, the sudden movement makes the red glint of the fluorescent lights against the surface of the poké ball catch in his crimson eyes.

For the briefest of seconds, Green thinks the usual dull red of his eyes erupts into an untamable fire, wild and all consuming, but it was only a second. Soon his friend's eyes are dull and apathetic again, and Green is sure that it had never happened, that it was all in his imagination.

The second poké ball stutters to life when it hits the floor, white light escaping towards the ceiling before careening back to the floor. The creature that is molded from it is mouse-like in appearance, covered in short yellow fur save for the shock of cherry-red on its cheeks. Its eyes had been screwed shut against the light, but after a second, it opens them, staring at both boys in what can only be described to be irritation.

"It's a pikachu," Green supplies, recalling its likeness from the pages of the picture book his sister had given him for Christmas the year before. "An electric type."

At the sound of its name, the pikachu cocks its head to the side, almost reluctantly curious.

"Pikachu…" Red repeats, catching and holding the rodent's eyes with his own.

They're years away from being old enough to be real live pokémon trainers, but that doesn't mean that they can't be friends with pokémon. A lot of kids in Pallet Town already have pokémon companions, but Professor Oak refuses to let Green have one before he's of legal age. It's stupid and unfair, especially since his grandfather won't even let him meet some of the pokémon at the ranch. His grandfather's repeated refusals is the reason why Green had come up with the idea of sneaking into the lab today. He'd just wanted to meet the pokémon, see what type they were and how they reacted to his presence, see for himself how a poké ball felt nestled in his hand.

He has all those answers now, but Eevee is staring straight into his eyes, dark brown eyes filled with loyalty and expectation. Suddenly Green doesn't want to leave and pretend like this had never happened.

Yeah, they'd get in trouble… but there wouldn't be another chance for them to do something like this until they were ten, and two years is a very long time to anyone, especially to an eight-year-old.

With a quick look at the digital clock on his grandfather's desk, Green makes his decision.

"Hey Red," he says without taking his eyes off Eevee, licking his chapped lips hurriedly, "wanna go out to the forest and play with them?"

He expects Red to hesitate, to spend a minute or two weighing the options like he always does. Instead, he nods immediately.

"Yeah," his best friend says, eyes catching flame again.

When the fire in his eyes doesn't die out for a few seconds, Green is almost sure that it isn't his imagination this time.

— . . . —

There's a storm brewing in the distance, dark clouds rolling in from the north, black and ominous. With each passing minute, they blot out the sunlight more and more, leaving the world in shadows.

But Leaf is a big girl, so she's not afraid of storms.

There was a time not too long ago when she was, when she hid under her princess-pink bed covers at the sound of thunder cracking in the distance, of the rain and wind raging against her windowpane. But that was before she met Green and Red and realized that in order to be friends with them she needed to be braver than they were (or pretended to be).

So Leaf stares out the window, waiting for the boys to come looking for her, to tell her stories of how cool it was to meet real live pokémon and how badly she missed out.

She ends up waiting for hours, until the thunder roars and the rain batters the glass, until it seems like there's no trace of sunlight left in the whole wide world.

And when there is finally a knock on the door, it turns out to be Green's sister and Red's mom instead, frantic-eyed and soaked to the bone.

The last image she has of them – Green's victorious smirk, Red's apologetically guilty look – forever etched into her memory, impossible to forget.

That will be the last she sees of the boys for years.

— . . . —

It had been fun for the first couple of hours.

They played freeze tag and hide-and-go-seek, weaving between the trees as the pokémon gave chase, their delighted shouts and yelps echoing through the brush.

It is only after the first rumbles of thunder become audible that Green realizes with a pang that they are lost.

Perhaps running around so aimlessly in their games had been reckless.

Pushing down the dull edge of terror that slices into his mind at the realization, Green forces himself to look around again only to find that every tree and path looks the same as the last.

"G-Green…" Red mumbles, just loud enough to be heard over the whines of the pokémon, "Pikachu and Eevee are getting hungry and tired…"

"I know that," Green snaps, biting at his lower lip harshly. "It's this way!"

Green really doesn't know the way back home. They are lost; he knows this.

But he also knows that if he admits to being lost, he would look stupid in front of Red and Eevee, and he doesn't want Red to get mad or Eevee to question how good a trainer he could possibly be if he gets them lost. So Green just grits his teeth and leads the way.

It feels like they've been walking for hours by the time it starts raining.

Pikachu makes a whine low in its throat from its position in Red's arms, cheeks crackling weakly with static electricity; Eevee, still keeping in step with Green on the ground, tries to no avail to shake the water from its matted fur. The boys are soaked to the bone, the thin fabric of their t-shirts sticking to their clammy skin. Their teeth chatter constantly as they try to find a place where they can hide from the rain.

Unsurprisingly, Red has remained silent throughout the whole ordeal, and Green is more thankful for this than he knows how to express. He doesn't know what he'd do if Leaf was there, whining and berating him for getting them lost, questioning his every decision.

They eventually find cover underneath a thick canopy of trees. The foliage, though thick, does not trap all the water, a few droplets making it through and wiping away any hope of getting dry. The boys rest with their backs against the trunk of one of the trees, the bark biting into the soft skin of their backs with each minute shiver that wracks their bodies. They pressed their sides together, seeking warmth. The pokémon curl up in their laps, shivering violently themselves.

"What are we going to do, Green?" Red asks, voice hoarse with the beginnings of a cold.

Green screws his eyes shut against the rush of helpless tears and refuses to reply.

He suddenly wants to go home, wants his sister and grandfather and mommy and daddy so, so badly.

At least when the first tears push their way through his eyelids, he can blame it on the rain.

— . . . —

The townspeople organize a search party to look for the boys after Daisy and Red's mother had managed to pry out all the information from Leaf and Professor Oak had confirmed that two of his pokémon were missing. One of the Oaks' neighbors owned an arcanine, and using its keen sense of smell, they were hoping to find the boys before the downpour washed away their scent.

So three hours after Green and Red made their way into the forest, the party began searching the surrounding fields. After scouring them for an hour, plagued by the poor visibility and the arcanine's natural aversion to the water buffeting them from all directions, they would make their way into the forest.

By that time, it is already far too late.

— . . . —

The faint sound of voices had Eevee's and Pikachu's ears twitching to attention much sooner than Green's human ones could hear it. Nudging Red into alertness, he forced himself up onto his feet, muscles rigid and tense from the cold and having stayed in the same position for close to a half hour.

"They m-must be l-lookin' for us," Green says shakily over the chatter of his teeth while he held Eevee's small body tight to his narrow chest. "Get up, Red..."

Red, who had gone almost completely despondent an hour before, makes it onto his feet with considerable difficulty, and Green has to grab his hand in his own to help him up. Even when Red is standing, Green doesn't let go.

"C-C'mon… they're waitin' for us…"

They stumble their way through dense bushes, and Green hisses when some of the leg on his skin is cut open by an errant branch, the thin trail of blood mixing with the rainwater in thick, pink rivulets. Sloshing their way through the mud with the pokémon shivering in their thin arms, Green and Red limp their way home, finally breaking through into a clearing…

Only to find that home is the furthest thing from what lies in wait for them.

Instead of finding a group of their neighbors and family members, the boys encounter a pair of strange men in black uniform. With their backs turned to them, the men seem intent on speaking curtly into a small device, which occasionally crackles with another clipped voice.

At the sight of the strangers, Eevee tenses in his arms, some of the fur along its spine bristling. In Red's arms, Pikachu seems to do the same, letting out a low, keening sound. Green dismisses the signs though, stepping forward.

But Red's grip on his hand grows vice-like, preventing him.

"What are you doing?" Green hisses.

Red is staring at the men, alarm and tension written into every feature, just like the pokémon. "They're strangers," the boy states.

He means to say more, means to say that they are dangerous, that they mean them harm. But Red is only seven-years-old and does not know how to articulate what his instincts and pokémon companions are screaming at him.

So Green, far too desperate for food and warmth and dry clothes to listen to his own smothered instincts, ignores him.

Tearing his hand from Red's grip, Green steps forward into the clearing, ignoring both Eevee's and Pikachu's alarmed cries.

The men turn at the sound of crunching leaves, eyes narrowed, white-gloved hands at their belts threateningly. Even when greeted by the sight of two shivering children, their clothes waterlogged and hair sticking to their pale foreheads, they do not drop the posture, eyes intent with something Green cannot quite recognize.

After a moment of staring, one of the men relaxes, stands up straight. He is tall and lean, and his eyes are sharp like the mean old fearow that roosts in his grandfather's barn. The look makes Green feel uncomfortable, and he suddenly understands why Eevee is baring its teeth and growling, why Red seemed so desperate to keep him from making their presence known.

"Well, well," the man says, and his voice is high and reedy, mocking. "What have we here?"

"W-we're j-just –" Green begins, but the words catch in his throat when the second man, large and barrel-chested, answers for him.

"Looks like two li'l boys all lost in the big bad forest," the big man leers, a matching smirk twisting his thin lips. "And with rare pokémon to boot."

Green's eyes dart to the big man's chest, widening at the sight of the scarlet 'R' that is emblazoned over the black fabric. Daisy says he's not supposed to watch the grown-up news, but Green does anyway, watching with bated breath from the staircase when she and his grandfather turn it on at night when he's supposed to be in bed. It's because of this that he knows just what the 'R' means.

There is a hand on his again, and it is Red, speaking louder than he's ever heard before. "We got lost," he says. "We're just trying to find our way back home. We'll go away now."

Red tugs at his hand, pulling him back towards the safety of the shrubbery, but the men both step forward, making Red freeze.

"Now, now, kids," the reedy one says, tone pseudo-soothing, "why are you gonna run off so soon?" Green registers that while the big one walks straight for them, the speaker starts circling around, cutting off their only avenue of escape. "Don't you want us to help you find your way back home?"

"We're not supposed to talk to strangers," Red replies.

They laugh at that, mocking and cruel.

"You can trust us," the big one insists.

But Red shakes his head, eyes narrowed in a manner that a seven-year-old shouldn't know how to pull off. "We can find our way back."

Both men are standing on either side of them now, each about ten meters away. "You aren't going anywhere."

They begin closing in slowly, like a predator closing in on its prey.

Green's heart is in his throat. "W-w-what do you want?" he says, hoping it sounds more like a demand and less like a supplication. "I… I'm – my grandpa is really, really i-important… He can – can – reward y-you if you take us back –"

More laughter.

"But we already have a reward in mind," the big one says, seven meters away now.

From behind them, the other one says, "Hand over your pokémon and we'll let you go."

"No," Red says, "they're not yours."

Where's the boy who can't decide between his friends, the boy who cries at the slightest provocation?

"Then we'll just take 'em!"

Eevee's growl morphs into a guttural snarl, and it is tearing out of Green's slack grip and onto the forest floor in an instant, standing between Green and the barrel-chested man. Pikachu jumps from its perch on Red's arm too, throwing itself in front of the reedy one, cheeks sparkling menacingly.

"So it's a battle you want, huh?" the barrel-chested man says over his partner's laugh. "You're barely old enough to tie yer own shoelaces."

Nevertheless, both men pluck poké balls from their belts, predatory smirks still in place.

A long moment passes, and Red turns around to face the man at their backs, pressing his back to Green's shivering one. He is too terrified to be embarrassed by his show of weakness, too frozen by what he remembers of the stories of Team Rocket to even think about getting away.

Thunder rumbles ominously in the distance…

Then, in tandem, the poké balls are thrown onto the ground, jerking to life and revealing a couple of raticate. "Hyper fang!" they yell.

Behind him, Red jerks spastically, and Pikachu lets out a cry. At the sight of the raticate charging Eevee, fangs bared, Green finally finds his voice, the adrenaline pouring into his veins making his heart beat in his ears, the sound nearly deafening.

"Get outta the way, Eevee!" Green cries.

Eevee tenses and jumps to the side, just barely avoiding the raticate's jaws. Quickly, Green pores over all the pokémon battles he watched on TV.

"Tackle!" he yells, and Eevee responds. She darts forward and collides with the raticate head-on, causing it to let out a startled hiss and is sent reeling to the floor.

The big man roars, "Why you little – use quick attack!"

Before Green even opens his mouth to tell Eevee to dodge, the raticate has already made its move, making Eevee cry out as it's hit.

"Eevee!"

"Now finish it, Raticate! Use hyper fang!"

Red jerks against his back again, his entire body coiling like an ekans about to strike.

Many things happen at once.

The raticate lunges at Eevee, but out of the corner of his eye, Green sees a flash of yellow against the gray sky.

"Piiii… kaaaa –"

"Not in the rain –"

"Chu!"

Lightning strikes, quickly and furiously, jumping from raindrop to raindrop from Pikachu's pouches, igniting the entire area in a flash of blinding yellow light. Both raticate are struck by the attack, and let out cries of pain as the electricity courses through its system. Belatedly, Green turns his gaze upward to see Pikachu in the air, scrunched up in concentration, eyes closed, as the electricity courses out of its tiny body, almost as if it were suspended in midair.

And then it's over.

The light fades as quickly as it appeared, and Pikachu plummets back down to the ground, landing on its four paws but breathing hard, exhausted. Eevee lets out a small whine and makes it onto its feet with some difficulty, staring down the raticate that had, just moments before, been charging at it furiously. Both raticate are on the ground, their bodies nearly buried in the mud.

Green's breath catches in his throat. It's over.

"We won," Red says, and his voice seems to burn with the same intensity Green saw in his eyes, furious and unstoppable, like the superheroes on Saturday morning cartoons. "Now let us go home."

For a few seemingly endless moments, the Rockets do nothing, frozen in shock as they stare dumbly at the little yellow rodent that took down their higher leveled pokémon.

Then:

Another flash of light, and two other raticate appear, snarling at them ferociously.

Green's heart almost stops.

Against his back, Red tenses again.

"You got lucky, you little brats," the big Rocket snarls, "but it won't happen again!"

"R-Red…" Green chokes out.

"Hyper fang! Aim for the jugular!"

But the raticate aren't going for their pokémon this time. They're aiming for them, following the direction of their trainers' pointer fingers.

Green raises his arms against the attack, and both Eevee and Pikachu let out terrified cries, leaping to intercept the charging raticate –

He… he doesn't want to die… he can't die, he can't, he—

There is the single, faint sound of snapping fingers.

The earth rumbles and tears open beneath the raticate, swallowing them whole with a terrible roar that eclipses their cries and the sound of the Rockets' screams of terror. The shaking of the earth knocks both Red and Green off their feet and face-first into the mud. Eevee lets out a strangled cry as the ground around it gives way. Looking around frantically, it sets its eyes on the sturdy patch of earth that Green and Red are on, and with a desperate cry, it flings itself across the fissure, just barely making it over and onto the edge. Its paws scramble frantically for purchase as it hangs over the maw, and the high-pitched whines it makes drills into the boys' ears. Green braces his feet against the mud and throws himself forward. As he lands on his stomach, all the air in his lungs leaves him in a great whoosh, but he reaches forward blindly, hands finding and closing over Eevee's paws and pulling it up and into his arms.

When it licks at his mud-caked face frantically, gratefully, Green finds that he can breathe again.

"W-what the hell just happened?" the big Rocket yells, confused and indignant.

There is the sound of footsteps against the wet ground, and the sound of an austere, authoritative voice, rings clear over all other sounds in the clearing.

"Assaulting a pair of children?" the newcomer says. The way he speaks makes it clear that it's a statement, not a question. "Absolutely disgusting. Such behavior is unbefitting and disparaging of the name of this organization."

Green expects the men to yell some more, to try and hurt the newcomer like they tried with them, but instead there is the distinctive sound of twin, sharp intakes of breath, the telltale sound of knees sinking into the mud.

"S-sir! We apologize sir, we had no idea –"

"Silence," the man says. "You are a disgrace, and I fully intend to have the two of you punished for your actions."

The Rockets fall silent, and when Green looks up, he catches sight of their savior.

The first thing he notices is the enormous, ferocious-looking nidoking that stands beside the newcomer with its fierce beady eyes locked on the men, reinforcing its trainer's threat.

Even beside the behemoth of a nidoking, the man looks tall and broad-shouldered, imposing in a way that that Green has never known was possible. He is nothing like his grandfather, who crosses his arms and yells whenever he is angry. The man didn't even raise his voice throughout the whole ordeal. He had spoken levelly, calmly, yet each word had been infused with measured amounts of venom, each dose equally as paralyzing and lethal as the last.

It is still raining, but he looks impeccable in his dark suit, the wet material clinging tightly to his body and accentuating the sharp angles of his chest, the sturdy muscles of his arms. He does not shiver against the cold, nor does he resemble a drowned rat like Green and Red do. Everything about him speaks of power, control.

The most striking thing about him, however, is his eyes. They are dark and sharp, imposing. They seem to carry the same authority his body does, all the power and venom concentrated in the pinpoints of his pupils, the gravity of his stare.

In that moment, Green is smitten with the man. He registers the 'R' emblazoned over his heart, but it does not alarm him like it did on their assailants. This man doesn't need the 'R' to inspire fear. He can do that with a single snap of his fingers, the briefest of glances from his eyes.

And he is turning those eyes onto Green and Red.

"My apologies, boys," the man says, and his voice mellows into something gracious, almost repentant (except this man never asks for your forgiveness, he simply takes it). "I'm afraid that my men have done you harm."

Red's willingness to speak seems to have disappeared suddenly. Instead, he sits in the grass, Pikachu clutched to his chest, eyes still narrowed. The fire, however, is gone, drowned by the rain.

Green is all too happy to speak in his stead.

"Y-yeah… you should be sorry!" Green replies haughtily (because children always want to see how far they can push adults, even if they are just beginning to worship them as a hero). "You should keep your stupid criminals on a shorter leash."

The man does not seem offended; in fact, he seems amused. "Is that so?" the man asks rhetorically. He nods thoughtfully. "I suppose you are correct in your observation."

Green senses the compliment and beams in response. He feels flushed and proud despite the omnipresent rain, the way his clothes cling to him and sap him of his warmth, and the mud that cakes his skin.

It is unlike anything he has ever felt before yet everything he has always been looking for, better than even the heady rush of schoolyard victories.

The man smiles back, tight-lipped and generous, before snapping his fingers again. The nidoking steps forward, and Green thinks the worst for a second before the man speaks again.

"Allow me to order Nidoking help you out of that predicament." He nods at the fissure surrounding the patch of earth the four of them are on. "You wouldn't want to fall in, I assure you."

Both boys nod – Green enthusiastically, Red much more warily. The nidoking steps over the fissure easily, and with a regal huff, it extends its arm out to the boys, who climb up onto its back shakily. In another moment, it sets the boys and their pokémon companions onto the solid earth gently before making its way back to its trainer.

His dark gaze is on Pikachu now, appraising and considering. Red steps in front of the yellow mouse, meeting the man's gaze with his own, holding it longer than Green would dare.

Something passes between boy and man for a moment…

The latter is the first to look away, turning his gaze onto Green.

"That was an impressive battle. You two have much talent, especially for boys your age."

Green feels the glow permeate every cell in his body again. "We're already pokémon trainers!" he boasts. He hopes that if he lies he can more easily impress this man who has already made such a big impression on him.

He should have known that he could see through them with those eyes of his, though.

"You might as well be," he says after cutting through the lie, dissecting it with a single penetrating stare at – into Green's eyes before he looked away. "You shamed two of my operatives with your quick thinking and persistence. If you were older, I might have offered you a place in my organization. Alas, you are too young."

Green catches himself before he insists that he isn't too young, remembering what exactly he would be agreeing to if he did.

Finally, Red speaks, voice low, cautious. "Will you let us go home now?"

Laughter again, but it is not mocking or cruel this time. It is simply amused.

"Of course, of course," the man says with a nod. "Do you know your way back from here?"

Their silence speaks for itself.

"I'll have someone escort you back, then." He snaps his fingers, and a man appears from the trees, blue-haired and severe in his features, wearing the same black uniform as the first man. Everything in his posture, however, speaks of submission, and it is clear to anyone who the one in command is. "If you tell Archer where you live, he will take you there."

Archer nods and offers the boys a quirk of the lips that is meant to be reassuring but, in reality, is anything but. "By your command, sir."

"Rendezvous at headquarters," he says to Archer. "I will be making my way to Cinnabar Island to see that the specimen makes it to the research team. When I return, I expect a report."

Archer replies with a deferential nod and a murmured 'understood.'

The man turns back towards the boys, gives them another tight-lipped smile. "It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance…?"

Red refuses to say a thing, staring at the man blankly.

Green, however, has no such misgivings.

"Green," Green says eagerly. "Green Oak."

And when the man's look widens in surprise for a moment, Green is almost sure that he was imagining things again, just like he had with the fire that burned in Red's eyes or the way that Leaf looked at him whenever she thought he wasn't looking, because a second later his eyes have hardened, narrowed, become calculating and cold, before turning toward Archer, meeting his azure gaze with his dark one.

Green realizes far too late just what they have gotten themselves into.

— . . . —

It had not been a good day.

All the excitement had been warranted – preliminary DNA testing had confirmed the authenticity of the specimen and had solidified the wavering feeling in Giovanni's chest into something solid and victorious.

The fact that they had finally found a genuine specimen, however, was belied by just how small that specimen was. The excited murmurs and congratulations had halted when one of the scientists Giovanni had brought with him to examine the fossil had concluded that the specimen did not contain a complete copy of the genome.

Giovanni is not a stupid man by any means. Before he stepped into the role his dead mother had left behind, taking the helm of a fledgling criminal organization that was more interested in petty theft, prostitution, drug trafficking and blackmail than anything concrete, Giovanni had worked at Silph Corporation's Research Department and conducted many of the experiments he was now paying an entire department full of the region's best and brightest to conduct. He knows just how unsuitable an incomplete genome is, especially when you try to use it for the purposes he has in mind.

And with only approximately 70% of the genome present in that little fossilized speck – an eyelash, of all things – the cloning process would not go over very well at all.

All at once, the solid feeling of victory in the Boss's chest had sublimated into the air, replaced by a virulent, scalding vapor that leeched out from every pore, threatened to twitch his hand to his belt and call out Nidoking to destroy the excavation site in frustration.

But Giovanni takes pride in being in control of his emotions. It is but one of the many distinctions between him and his mother, who took a sick kind of joy in carving bloody patterns into her subordinates' chests with an ornamental knife as punishment for their failures.

It would not do to get your hopes up, idiot boy, his dear mother often sneered at him affectionately from her crimson throne, because when you hope, you get stupid and make mistakes.

Giovanni may never have had a good relationship with his mother, but he had taken what he could from her – her cunning, her ruthlessness, the organization she had formed to line her pockets. He had learned from her failures, taken all the words and lessons she had ever deigned to bestow upon him and carefully strained them for what was true. He does not like to say it (he prefers that people assume he is a self-made man who pulled himself up from obscurity and onto the pages of history, remembered for the truth that hides behind the teeth of his smiles, the impeccable manners he had carefully cultivated over the years, the finely pressed suits he wears), but he is very much his mother's son. He is aware of this, and it is because of this that he was able to lead Team Rocket out from under the bloodstained shadow that had been his mother's legacy to give it purpose and vision and ambition beyond insignificant street crimes.

Hope is one of the dastardliest of emotions, promising everything and yielding very little in return, if anything at all. The Boss had learned that from experience; however, he learned early on the idea that pragmatism was one of the foremost qualities a man in his position must exhibit. Despite all this, the tendency to find himself hoping beyond reason about certain things was something that he could never quite do way with no matter how much he had tried to learn it from her over the years.

The reason the feeling of victory had crumbled away so easily was that it had never been solid in the first place; the disappointment he feels now is thusly something of his own creation – no one's fault but his own. Armed with this logic, he is able to contain his fury. He nods curtly at the scientist before ordering the excavation team to continue searching for any other specimens, observing watchfully as the scientist carefully prepares the sample for transport.

Discovering the two boys, however, had signaled a considerable upturn in the events of the day, a windfall of good fortune.

(Yet Giovanni does not believe in fortune. Fortune is something for the fools that spend their days sliding coins into the slot machines of his casino).

Green Oak.

Surely finding a boy with the same last name as one of the world's most renowned pokémon researchers within a few miles of the man's residence cannot be mere coincidence?

Giovanni's mind processes the new information and its implications quickly. He thinks of the specimen, the missing 30% of the genome that is standing between him and his ultimate ambition, the significant increase in probability that the experiment, missing 30% and all, could actually succeed with someone like Professor Samuel Oak onboard, willingly or not.

In an instant, he has already made his decision.

And perhaps because his mind darts to imagined images of his own son, Giovanni wants to make this as painless as possible for them.

"We can use my helicopter instead," Giovanni says. "It's on its way here now."

The Oak boy's face lights up immediately with excitement, but the silent one's scrunches with the first signs of alarm.

"That sounds so cool," the Oak boy says.

At the same time his friend points at Archer solemnly and says, "I thought you said that he would take us back."

The sardonic, slightly bitter upward twitch of the Boss's lips is the kind of expression men wear when they've been outwitted, but his frustration is masked easily by the consummate smile. This reaction, cultivated over the years, is nearly always enough to fool even the most discerning of men, but judging by the look on the red-eyed boy's face, he knows.

"Who cares? I wanna go home in a helicopter, not walk there!"

"Green…"

"Shut up, Red. Don't be stupid. You're so not cool."

Giovanni watches the silent exchange for a few moments before the whir of a helicopter's blades in the distance becomes audible. He frowns irritably, his patience suddenly having worn itself thin.

"Suit yourself, boy. We'll just take Green home, then," the Boss says, eager to end this tiresome charade. "Come along, Green. Your friend can find his own way back home if he's so set on it."

When Green's face furrows, Giovanni considers the unfortunate possibility that he may very well have to resort to force to get the Oak boy to come with him, but then he is turning to his friend, glaring at him with all the disaffection a eight-year-old can muster (which for this particular eight-year-old seems to be a great deal).

"I'm gonna go with him," the Oak boy says, nose upturned. "You can walk home, stupid."

Simultaneously, the red-eyed boy and the pokémon tense, the eevee beginning to whine almost pleadingly at its trainer and the pikachu glaring at Giovanni distrustfully. The boy – Red – reaches out for Green, grabs his hand in his.

"They're bad people," he says, strangely monotone tinged with an inflection of pleading. "We're not supposed to go with strangers."

Green, however, refuses to meet his friend's eyes, pulling his hand away and walking determinedly across the short distance between Red and Giovanni, and the latter offers him a consummate smile, extending an arm out to him.

When Green's hand tentatively reaches out to clasp the Boss's in a miniature handshake, Giovanni catches sight of Archer giving him a questioning glance out of the corner of his eye. Giovanni knows what the question is without turning his full gaze on his subordinate.

Should I eliminate the spare?

And Giovanni knows that his mother would say yes because despite the fact that it is just a child, he can still tell others about the men in black with red 'R's on their chests that took his friend away in a helicopter. Blackmail is a fine art, base in practice yet artful in method. The second anyone other than his intended target finds out just who has the boy, things would get infinitely more complicated for him.

Rationally, he knows that he should let Archer handle the other boy. He's an extraneous variable, a confound that could throw a wrench in his plans for the Oaks. Giovanni may be many things, but one thing he is not, nor does he ever intend to be, is a child murderer.

He differs from his mother in that as well.

So Giovanni opens his mouth to give the order, but Red never gives him the chance to.

At the sight of Green's back turned to him, the boy seems to crumple in on himself, the seemingly unshakeable resolve he had been in possession of mere moments ago having disappeared.

And so it is that, biting his lip and ignoring the pleading cries of the pokémon, Red follows Green across the clearing. He comes to a stop a couple of feet away from Giovanni, eyes turned to the ground.

The pokémon follow balefully shortly thereafter, giving Giovanni and Nidoking wary, distrustful looks and settling near the boys' feet protectively.

Giovanni smiles his tight-lipped smile and looks up at the sky as the helicopter appears over them, whipping the rain and air around them in a frenzy. While the boys and their pokémon are herded onboard the sleek black aircraft, Giovanni turns to recall Nidoking, giving Archer a perfunctorily curt nod in the process. With a responding nod, Archer turns towards the two errant grunts, an eerie half-smile on his handsome face.

No, Giovanni thinks as he climbs aboard the helicopter himself, he is not a child killer. He certainly doesn't condone men who do that, however. For animals like that, there truly is no sympathy.

Sitting himself in the fine leather seat nearest the cockpit, Giovanni tells the pilot their destination. Keeping watch over the anxious boys in the seats behind him, the Boss of Team Rocket turns his mind to the future and the fulfillment of his plans.

Perhaps not being pragmatic makes him more prone to disappointment and frustration, but it is also what gives his organization its ambition, its purpose, what separates it from the band of criminals he had inherited from his mother.

Thunder rumbles in the distance, and the boys jump fearfully in their seat, eyes wide as the helicopter makes its way south, towards the odious black clouds that mar the sky and make the sea churn hungrily.

By the time the Oak boy begins asking questions ("Hey, our house isn't this way!"), they are already halfway across the ocean, and the pokémon confined to their poké balls where they cannot do any harm.

Soon…


A/N: The inspiration for this came from a prompt over on the Pokémon Big Bang community on LiveJournal, so special thanks go out to the poster of that prompt. I hope you find what I've done with this piece to be to your satisfaction.

I am currently writing the third installment of this fic (Act II), which is about 85% done. Taking the beta/editing process into account, I should have Act II ready in time for the third update. From there, it gets a bit tricky. RL issues have been the primary cause of delays so far, but my expectations for this fic have played into it as well. I keep layering more and more writing onto it. For example, Acts II and III were originally supposed to be a single chapter... Nevertheless, I'm hoping to be done with this fic by the beginning of December.

While I don't have a pristine track record with actually finishing the long-fics I post on here, I want you to know that I have every intention of finishing this fic. I have never been so serious about a project before, nor have I had one that is quite as demanding. Despite that, I've truly enjoyed writing this, and I hope it shows.

As always, thanks go out to my readers. Thank you for taking the time to read this chapter. Reviews and feedback are always appreciated!

Thank you again, and remember to return next Monday for Act I!

EDIT: Fixed an inconsistency regarding Silver's age here in the Prologue with Act II.