rosejailmaiden: (Persian)
[personal profile] rosejailmaiden
Title: Masquerade
Author: rosejailmaiden
Beta-Reader: nandosagi
Verse: anime, with HG/SS gameverse Rocket executives
Characters/Pairings: Giovanni/Ariana, Petrel, Dr. Zager, Professor Sebastian, Persian
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Alcohol use and a scene of prescription drug abuse
Summary: Everyone wears a disguise at some point. Some wear it to control how the world sees them. Some wear it to hide genius. Some wear it to protect themselves. And some wear it for completely selfish reasons. A twisted tale from the past of how a master scam artist named Francis became a Team Rocket member, where everyone has their secrets, and in which Persian is hungry.

In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.- Terry Pratchett


Zager settled into his office chair after a long day of work. Perhaps he found science while drunk easiest, but science while hung over was complete and utter hell. Sebastian told him he'd found... three bottles?... of vodka littering the bar the day before when he came in to collect him, and Zager could believe it, though he wondered how he managed to down that many without alcohol poisoning.

It's not like you didn't know what you were getting yourself into, Zager thought. He knew his bender would have consequences, but he never expected them to be this severe.

As he picked up a pen to sign a stack of forms waiting for him, he felt something brush against his leg. It felt vaguely like a tail.

Did those new assistants forget to lock the cages again? Zager looked down to the source of the disturbance.

Instead of a Rattata or something else they kept in the labs, however, he was greeted by a pair of red eyes and a meow.

A Persian stared up at him, sitting himself down right in front of his chair and appearing unwilling to budge.

“Don't you have a human to go bother?” Zager asked him. “One that's not me?”

“He'll be bothering us tonight, I'm afraid,” Sebastian said, walking in with several cans of cat food and a dish. “Giovanni gave him to me to look after while he's at the gala for the hospital. He said Persian's no longer allowed to go to such events after an embarrasing hors d'oeuvres incident at the last one he went to.

“So we're stuck with this furball until tomorrow?” Zager asked.

“I'm afraid so,” Sebastian replied. “It's just a few hours, and he spends most of his time sleeping anyway. After a while you won't even notice he's around.” Sebastian felt a strange sensation against his leg and looked down to see Persian rubbing his head against him. “I think he wants food,” Sebastian said, cracking open a can of the cat food and leaving it in Persian's dish. Persian walked up to it and gave it a sniff, then turned his nose up.

“What? It's cat food. Go ahead, eat up,” Sebastian said, using his foot to push the bowl closer to Persian. Persian responded to this prompt by slashing the cat dish with his paw, overturning it on Sebastian's shoes. He growled at Sebastian.

“Prrrrrya.”

“I think he's trying to tell you he doesn't like it,” Zager commented.

“You think, Zager?”

“A Persian like the boss' probably has very refined tastes.”

“You're trying to tell me he won't eat the cheap stuff, aren't you, Zager?” Sebastian asked.

“That's about the long and short of it,” Zager replied. “Let me guess, Giovanni isn't covering the food expenses.”

“I doubt he's planning to, but I'll include them on the next expense report anyway,” Sebastian groaned. “I'm more bothered by the extra trip to the store I'll have to take to accommodate him. Keep a close eye on Persian while I'm gone, will you?”

Zager nodded.

“Thanks Zager, you're a lifesaver,” Sebastian said, leaving the office.

He expects me to do this work when I'm holed in here with a hungry Persian? Zager thought, more than a little annoyed by this turn of events. All he could do now was hope the rumors about Persian eating humans in some situations were simply urban legends...

~

Francis slipped into the venue that night with some faked documents. Invitation and ID, both created on his computer the night before. Together, along with his sharp suit, they created the illusion he was one of the many on the ball's guest list- not his mark, not at the moment, it was too early to reveal that- but another guest. Enough to get his foot in the door- and one very unlucky schmuck's foot out. He chuckled to himself. The dress code for the men was black suit, black tie. Almost too easy. After a few drinks at the open bar, what minor differences there were would be nearly unnoticeable, and Francis knew perfectly well from his performances at other such functions that you didn't pay the $500 a head door fee to go home sober that night. He'd be limiting himself this time, however- tonight he was out for business, not pleasure, as he had been so many times before.

He surveyed his environment carefully. Any time, his mark would arrive, and he would make the vital move to introduce himself and pick up as many details of him that night as possible. Francis had developed for himself a photographic memory through years of hard practice, and as a result, simply interacting with anyone for only a few moments gave him enough information to perfectly replicate their behavior. It made his disguises more believable and once in a while he was able to pick up confidential info from his victims that served as valuable research later on.

Francis found a spot near the food table and camped himself there. All that was left to do now was wait.

~

Ariana never left her apartment unarmed when going to a special event like the gala. Aside from being a cover date, she also served a role as a bodyguard at such functions. Simply because most of Kanto was unaware of Giovanni's “other job” didn't mean he was marked by those outside the loop as well as those who knew and made a point to try and take him out when he was at his most visible, and assassination was always assumed a threat. Rival businessmen, the pettiest of enemies, and those who felt he'd ruined them in some way, all wanted to see him gone at any price.

Ariana preferred knives, herself. Knives were a silent and quick way to take out a potential assassin, and stylish as well. She slipped a few in the garters just above the long slit of her gown and concealed another, sheathed stiletto blade within her silk glove on her left hand. Thankfully, Ariana had only needed to make use of the weapons on one occasion- a Yule party for Viridian business owners, against a drunk who'd found himself in a heated argument with Giovanni and happened to be carrying a gun at the time. Ariana managed to pull one from within her boot before things got heated to the point of tragedy and keep the attacker back long enough for him to be apprehended by authorities- an incident that mercifully involved no bloodshed from either party.

She hoped the same wouldn't happen tonight. Still, she knew her line of work came with certain hazards, and she was ready to take them on. Having to get violent at a party would have messy consequences, but it was better than the messier alternative.

Her doorbell rang, and she rushed down to answer it.

“You look stunning, Ariana.” Giovanni stood at the door of her apartment in his black silk suit with a boxed corsage in his hand. It was unusual to be personally picked up for such a thing, but Ariana supposed he wanted to go all the way with the illusion tonight, even if none of the photographers that swarmed such events would be anywhere near them on the way there.

Or maybe, she reasoned, tonight was one of the nights he was interested in her. She wasn't afraid to admit their affair was on and off more than a lightswitch- their relationship would revert from “closer than professional” back to “professional” constantly and in all honesty, it was most convenient for the two of them. There were simply too many occasions where, given the extremely tight system Team Rocket ran off, a close relationship such as theirs would be messy, and this was a mutual, unspoken agreement between the two.

But those times when Ariana was relegated to office work, when things were boring, and when either or both of them needed companionship of the opposite sex that went a little beyond a one night stand, they weren't afraid to let down their guard a little and have something as close to a normal relationship as they could find.

Considering tonight was more or less a chance to get drunk while pretending to care for sick children, Ariana guessed that tonight was a “dating” night.

“So this is a date, I suppose?” she asked.

“If you want to call it that,” Giovanni replied. “The car's waiting outside and I'm already running a little late. Let's go.”

Giovanni turned and made his way down the steps outside Ariana's door leading to the building's exit, Ariana following behind him.

~

Sebastian wandered the aisles of the Pokémon food store, his mind boggling at the vast expanse of products available. He had always wondered how Giovanni, as busy as he was, put up with Persian ownership- actually the very idea of Pokémon training always confused Sebastian, who could never see Pokémon as anything other than test subjects and means to an end- but always attributed the fact Persian didn't seem to cause his owner much trouble to the wealth and assistants Giovanni constantly had at his disposal. But upon seeing the vast amount of merchandise available for cat Pokémon, Sebastian realized that they were more like demanding, furry humans, who did little more than eat and sleep and maybe battle once in a while.

And a cat like Persian needed a lot of food to fill his large size and matching appetite. Sebastian wasn't sure what brand of food Persian would actually eat, but he assumed it wouldn't be what he found at the grocery store. Most likely, rather, it would be the most expensive brand he could find. He grabbed the attention of an employee who was busy stocking Pokénip-filled plush Rattata on an endcap of the cat aisle.

“Excuse me, can you direct me to the most expensive cat food you sell?” Sebastian asked.

“What species are you shopping for?” the employee asked.

“...Species?” Sebastian asked.

“What Pokémon? Is it a Glameow, a Persian, a Liepard, a Meowth, what is it? Different cats have different nutritional needs, you know.”

“Oh, of course,” Sebastian replied, feeling a little silly for not taking the different dietary needs across Pokémon species into account. After a while all the cats tended to blend together into one composite, however. “It's a Persian. I don't actually own one, a close associate of mine left me his to watch while he's out for the night and he's turning down the food I bought him.”

“Completely understood. Persian are notoriously finicky and God help you if you buy the wrong food, they'll never forgive you.”

The stocker led Sebastian down the cat aisle to a display of food with fancy labels, the brand logo written in exquisite script in embossed foil.

“This is about as expensive as Persian food gets, it's Fine Feline brand. Every ingredient in it is organic, entire batches are mixed and canned by hand, and it's got a proprietary blend of herbs and nutrients to keep the coat shiny and the gem and eyes their most vibrant shade of red. I've never heard of a single Persian turning it down.”

“Say this one does, though. What do I do then?”

“You're pretty much stuck with no choice other than mixing your own cat food by hand,” the employee replied.

Sebastian rolled his eyes. Fantastic. For all he knew Persian's food was prepared nightly by chefs and not even this brand would please the cat.

“Hold on, let me give the owner a call.” Sebastian ducked into the next aisle over and pulled up Giovanni's number on his cell phone from his contacts list.

~

“Good crowd tonight,” Giovanni observed, as he and Ariana mingled about in the group at the benefit. “I'm surprised this many people turned up, usually these charity events everyone dodges out of at the last minute when a conflict comes up and take the donation money with them.”Ariana's eyes, meanwhile, darted around the room.

“I'm sorry, did you say something?” she asked. She had a strange gut feeling about the crowd here- there was one man nearby who she found strangely familiar. “I'm getting so lost in all the sights and sounds.”

“I've never seen a turnout this big for something I organized,” Giovanni said. “Maybe it's just that none of Kanto's esteemed businessmen and politicians wanted to be accused of not caring about children with holes in their hearts. Especially with the elections later this year.” He ran a hand through his hair in annoyance, a nervous habit of his he'd always had. “It's all an act, Ariana. I'm probably the most honest man in this room tonight, and when I can say that without any sarcasm, you know that's not a good thing.” He reached for a glass of wine off a nearby table and was mid-sip when a man walked up to the two of them, looking excited.

“Ah, it's our esteemed man of the hour!” the stranger proclaimed, extending his hand to Giovanni, who was completely caught off-guard by the interloper.

“And you are...?” Giovanni asked.

“Price, Jon Price,” the man replied. “I'm so honored to meet you at last, I never expected to actually be this close to Viridian City's gym leader.”

“Right, right, I read about you in the paper yesterday, seems you lost a lot of money in the bank to that identity thief everyone's talking about. How's that going, anyway?”

“Everything's been fixed right up, don't worry. I managed to get things straightened out with the bank and the police in time to make it tonight.”

“Wait,” Ariana said, “have I seen you somewhere? You look incredibly familiar to me, I can't put my finger on why-”

“Surely you've heard of me, miss. I was champion of the Indigo League three times in a row and now I'm one of Celadon City's most successful investors-”

“No, not that, I swear I've seen you other places,” she said. The gut feeling she had earlier had returned. This was the same man she'd been watching upon her and Giovanni's arrival, and something about him let on that things weren't all as they seemed.

“I've had a few endorsement deals for various products in the past,” he replied. “Perhaps that's where, if you don't follow the League activities much?”

“Maybe,” Ariana finally said, still suspicious.

“Can I just add, you have fantastic taste in women?” the man asked, addressing Giovanni again. “This one you've brought tonight's quite the looker-”

Ariana realized where his eyes were fixed, backed away, and reached toward her dress' slit as Giovanni glared at the man when a cell phone rang.

“That's mine,” Giovanni said, taking advantage of the easy out from the awkward situation and grabbing Ariana by the hand. “I think we should see who's calling, shouldn't we Ariana?” He pulled Ariana away from him. One thing he wouldn't take was seeing one of his best Executives reduced to merely a pretty face. “It's been a pleasure speaking with you, Jon,” he said flatly, as he and Ariana walked off.

“No,” the man said, as he watched the two depart. “The pleasure's all mine.”

Once they were a safe distance from any crowds, Giovanni pulled his still-ringing phone from his pocket and glanced at the name and number on the screen. “Oh, it's Sebastian,” Giovanni said. “Someone probably lit something on fire or something, it's nothing he and Zager can't handle themselves. If it was a real emergency I'd assume he wouldn't be the only call showing up on here right now. I'll let it go to voice mail.” He pushed a button to decline the call, then slipped the phone back in his pocket.

“Someone's had a little too much to drink,” Giovanni said. “I'm terribly sorry for all of that, Ariana.”

“It's not a problem at all sir-”

“-This is a date, Ariana, you don't need to call me that, it makes things awkward.”

“Right,” she replied. “You know how I am, having a tendency to take my work home with me sometimes. Anyway, it's no bother. I deal with worse stuff at HQ.”

“You can do something about it there,” Giovanni replied. “I expect better from anyone who's privileged enough to end up on a guest list to something like this, especially on a date. Let's get back out there, I haven't drunk nearly enough tonight and believe me, I need it.”

~

Outside the hospital, a man argued with one of the security guards.

“You don't understand,” he said, “I'm Jon Price.” He had an identification card and an invitation to the gala out and was trying to show them to the guard. “I'm the real one. Didn't you see me on the news?”

“Yeah, we saw you,” the guard replied. “We saw there's a guy out there who thinks he's you, too. Got an anonymous tip the impostor was probably going to show up tonight and try to get in claiming he was you. And this clipboard I have here says you're already in the party. If that's not suspicious-”

“Did you ever consider that the one who thinks he's me got there before I did?”

“You're going to pull this trick on me? It's not going to work. Tomorrow I'm going to be on the news as the brave hero who bagged the Thousand Faces guy. So thank you in advance.” He snapped his fingers, and a few police appeared out of the shadows. One cuffed the unlucky man before he could even figure out what was going on.

“But I'm him! From the League! You have to believe me!”

“I'll let the Kanto legal system figure that out themselves,” the security guard replied, as the elderly handcuffed man was led off into the police car.

~

Inside the old train station, the man who introduced himself as Jon Price ducked into an empty, now abandoned ticket booth and pulled a bag out from under one of the desks. From it he extracted another black suit, tie, shirt, and wig, as well as a makeup bag and brushes.

He changed into the suit, unzipped his makeup bag and took out a compact mirror, foundation, powder, contact lenses, and a small bottle of liquid latex, then went to work. After finishing, he pulled the wig on and checked himself in the mirror.

His appearance was impeccable. A look of smug satisfaction on his face, he went back out to the room the ball was being held in and began eyeing the floor carefully. Vigilance was most important at this point. One misstep and it'd all be over.

Because unlike unlucky Jon Price, Francis knew for a fact that his latest victim was among the crowds here. And there weren't usually two of a person.

~

“No don't chew that, that ISN'T cat food!” Zager was at his wits' end with Persian. The hungry cat had been destroying the office, pulling everything from the shelves and chewing it in hopes of finding some kind of food to eat. Zager had been spending the better part of the time Sebastian was gone following behind the huge cat, picking up the disaster he left in his wake, only to have an all new mess to clean up afterward.

But there was little he could do. He wasn't about to go and punish the boss' cat, he wasn't that stupid no matter what Sebastian occasionally said in heated arguments. He didn't know how Persian would say much of anything, but Zager always assumed that cats and their trainers were able to talk telepathically and when it came down to it, cat trainers just knew.

More importantly, Zager wasn't keen on picking fights with seventy-two pound balls of fur, muscle, claws, and teeth. He knew enough about Persian to know they were fierce hunters, and that was enough to make him think twice before taking on the cat in an effort to end his reign of terror over the office.

Persian ran for a cabinet, knocking a huge stack of papers off the top. “No!” Zager yelled, grasping at the papers as they fluttered down in a futile effort to keep the carefully arranged document together. Where is Sebastian? Still buying food? He's never going to believe this was all Persian's doing.

~

Sebastian put his phone away in disgust. What if his call was for an emergency? He'd have to risk it and buy the expensive cat food, it seemed. “I'll take a case of the Fine Feline,”he told the store employee.

“Great. Go ahead to the checkout, I'm closing tonight so I'm the only one here. I'll be right up there in a few minutes.”

Sebastian made his way to the checkout, a case of expensive cat food in his cart, dreading what the cash register would ring up when it came time to pay.

This was never in my job description, he thought.

~

The food and drink had long expired when the “ball” part of the gala ball description started at the hospital just past midnight. This was the part of such events that Giovanni always found most awkward- he was never much of a dancer, despite his mother's best efforts to educate him as a child. At that time in his life, being a proper gentleman like his mother wished took a backseat to the usual interests of young boys, and he was focusing more on his plans to climb trees in Viridian Forest just outside the family estate following his lesson than the dance steps the instructor was drilling into him.

Thankfully, Ariana either knew better than him or simply found it easier to get into after a few glasses of wine, and her seeming expertise in matters of the dance floor were more than enough to cover for his shortcomings. It was one of the many reasons she'd become his go-to date for such occasions, though he admitted the view when she wore one of her infamous gowns didn't hurt. Not that he made a point to look there, of course, but some things were impossible not to see, and Ariana was never known for being modest.

Sebastian walked into the office where a resigned Zager sat collapsed in his chair. “Zager, I'm back- what happened when I was gone?”

“Persian happened,” Zager muttered. “I tried to keep up with him. I couldn't. They destroy things when they're bored, I read- or hungry.”

“Well, I brought some food over. As expensive as it is, we might as well just be feeding him Barboach-flavored dollar bills.”

“I'm no expert, but I think he'd turn those down too,” Zager interrupted.

“Be that as it may-” Sebastian started- “PERSIAN NO DO NOT CHEW THOSE WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

Persian was now mauling computer wires.

“Lovely, how much more of a bill is he going to run up on the expense report by the end of the night?” Zager asked. “Seeing as we're going to have to write every other thing in this office he ruined onto it this month. Now we have a new computer to put on there.”

“Stop trying to get me to replace the computers in here, Zager, it's a standard set of cables, nothing a trip to the supply closet can't fix. Still, there's got to be something more to this than food. I'm calling Giovanni.”

The music ended, and the couples on the floor briefly separated for a moment, when Ariana noticed the clasp on her jewel pendant necklace had found its way to the front just next to the huge ruby that hung from the chain. “Excuse me,” she said, stepping aside for a moment to take it off and put it on again, this time with the clasp in the proper place.

As Ariana attended to her accessory emergency, Giovanni heard his phone ring a second time. Not just any ring, but the one he'd programmed specifically for calls from the Research department. He made a mental note of Ariana's location, then retreated off to the coat closet to answer the phone.

~

Francis saw Ariana there, her necklace fixed. Although he realized mistiming this could prove fatal, he couldn't resist getting another look at the gorgeous raven-haired lady he'd spoken to earlier. He crept through the crowd to approach her. As long as no one else knew...

~

“Yes, what is it, Sebastian?” Giovanni asked, hoping this wasn't anything that required leaving immediately and necessitating an awkward cover story the next day. How many loved ones could he possibly have in the hospital in one year?

“Persian is hungry, bored, and destroying everything in our office. Including our computer equipment.”

Giovanni held the phone away from himself for a moment and swore in exasperation.

“Then feed him, Sebastian, you're a scientist and you should know that. As far as the boredom goes... find him something to chase, maybe throw some Pokenip at him, he's easily amused like that. He'll get tired and go to sleep eventually. I was expecting this to be an emergency, Sebastian, not Persian's usual misbehavior.” He hung up the phone, making sure to switch it to off, and left the room.

Another hand took Ariana's.

“Shall we resume where we left off?”

“Of course. Terribly sorry I disappeared like that,”Ariana said, her voice slightly slurred from the libations during dinner.

Ariana's earlier gut feelings returned, for simply a moment, but she shooed them away. She felt that not all was as it seemed, for some reason, but.. how could it be? She didn't remember Giovanni actually leaving at any point.

He'd become better at dancing, though. Maybe her skills were rubbing off on him. And she wondered in this brief moment of increased lucidity if he'd forgotten to wear his signature cologne tonight. As the tempo of the music increased into an upbeat tango, Ariana quickly became lost as always in the sounds and sights around her, letting go and allowing the beat of the band to guide her.

The tango ended and there was a brief shuffle of black suits and brightly colored, sparkling dresses from the crowd.

“I'm sorry I was gone for so long. Persian is proving himself a handful to the professor, it seems-”

“What?” Ariana interrupted.

“Causing general chaos from the sound of it, the usual when he's not with me-”

“No, I didn't know you were gone,” Ariana said. “I went to fix my necklace, and then-”

“I left to answer my phone while you were doing that,” he said. “How could you not know I was gone?”

Ariana's eyes moved about the room nervously in confusion. If he was gone... then who was she dancing with?

“Never mind,” she said. “I think the drinking is finally getting to me.”

Giovanni gave her a slightly alarmed look but took her word for it, remembering just how quickly she seemed to be able to make a glass of wine disappear. He returned to his attempts to dance with her as the music played on.

~

Sebastian put the phone down in disgust. “I ask for help and get blown off... I suppose I should feed him,” Sebastian said, cracking open one of the pricey cans of cat food and dumping it into Persian's dish. “Persian, I brought you new food.”

Persian looked up from his current target of destruction, perked his ears up, and twitched his nose. He ran over to Sebastian and took a sniff at the food on the plate in front of him, contemplating it for a moment before finally nibbling at it.

After what seemed like forever, he meowed gratefully and proceeded to devour it.

“I think that means he likes it,” Zager said, relieved.

The two scientists collapsed in their chairs, exhausted from what seemed like an unceasing evening of placating Persian. It wasn't long before they'd fallen asleep in them, with Persian doing likewise in his plush cat bed shortly after.
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