rosejailmaiden: (giovanni facepalm)
[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.

Perfect paranoia is perfect awareness. - Stephen King


Sebastian was roused from his slumber in his computer chair by a loud knock on his door. “Wha- huh?”

He got up to open the door of the office, noticing the time on the clock on the wall just above it. Noon. Had he and Zager really overslept that much? Sebastian was perfectly used to dozing off in his chair during all-nighters, but never this late.

“Zager, wake up, we've got company, and it's noon,” Sebastian said, shaking Zager awake.

“But what if I want to paint sad trees?” Zager mumbled. “Why can't my trees be sad?”

“Zager, wake UP!” Sebastian yelled, finally getting the bewildered doctor to open his eyes.

“Wha?”

“We overslept and someone's knocking on the door of our office. I think that's simple enough,” Sebastian said.

“Probably boss come to get the cat,” Zager muttered. “Good, I don't want that thing in here anymore, it's a devil cat. Cats are evil, you know. I don't trust them.”

Sebastian glared at Zager then went to get the door.

“I've come to collect my cat,” Giovanni said. His eyes were horribly bloodshot, his hair was somewhat messy, and he seemed to be going through the worst morning of his life.

Sebastian could hear something in the background that sounded like Zager muttering “It's about damn time,” and glared at the doctor over his shoulder.

“Rough night?” Sebastian asked.

“The ball itself was fine, but I have to deal with the mother of all hangovers now. I'm going to lock myself in my office with the lights off and not deal with anything today.”

Sebastian cringed at Giovanni's misfortune. “Persian, your owner is here.”

Persian opened one annoyed eye and raised his head, looking uninterested in anything that wasn't sleep, but when he saw his beloved human, he pulled himself to his paws and dashed over to greet him, nuzzling his leg happily.

Giovanni patted Persian behind the ears, his familiar companion brightening his sour mood. “I apologize for any trouble he might have caused you last night. He doesn't do well with others, I'm afraid. Let's go, Persian.”

He turned before Sebastian could say another word, Persian following behind him.

“I get the feeling we've not seen the last of that cat,” Zager finally said.

“Why is that?” Sebastian asked.

“His behavior last night couldn't have been just hunger or boredom or a mix of the two,” Zager replied. “Something else was driving him to tear the lab up, and especially to go for the computer like he did. Something here, he felt was worth chasing. Even after domestication, Persian don't forget their roots as forest pack cats, and I think he was feeling a bit of the call of the wild himself.”

“A Pokemon?” Sebastian asked.

“I already ruled out the possibility,” Zager replied. “I thought it might be an escaped one from the lab, except that the computers seemed to be a major target of Persian.”

“And that means...?”

“I'm not sure yet. But there's a very good possibility there's more than we think going on in this office at the moment, and we should thoroughly check every area Persian ransacked.”

Giovanni collapsed in his office chair with a mug of coffee and dug around in a desk drawer for something for his throbbing headache He settled on a small amber prescription bottle- leftover painkillers from a root canal a month before. Technically he probably wasn't to be taking these anymore, but they were likely the only thing that would treat the splitting pain that radiated from his forehead down his spine.

He tapped out two of them and swallowed them down with the bitter black brew, waiting for sweet relief to wash over him, wondering how Ariana was faring.

As the pills began working, he leaned back and closed his eyes, sinking into the soft cushions of the chair, then let himself fall into a light slumber.

~

Francis woke in his small, rundown apartment the next day feeling smug and more confident than he ever had before. His experiment at the gala had worked. Both his disguises held up- well, of course his disguise as Jon Price had worked, it worked like a charm at the bank, and quickly enough that he was able to keep a good sum of the money before the bank got wise and cut him off- as well as his second one. The second one, that had gone off without a hitch.

But a ball where everyone dressed the same was a walk in the park compared to really trying to live his victim's life and passing as him. He'd have to prepare himself if he truly wanted to accomplish his plans.

He refused to let even the slightest thing go wrong. This would be the plan that would top any of his previous schemes and identities, and he couldn't afford to let it slip now.

~

Ariana waited patiently at the door to Giovanni's office. She'd knocked several times, and wasn't about to go in without permission, since she knew how bad his average hangover hit. Pissing him off now was a risk she was unwilling to take.

She rapped at the door a few more times. She had the results of the report she'd been compiling to turn in to him, plus she needed to discuss something important about the previous evening with him. She regretted being as drunk as she was that night; something definitely was not right, and the sooner she warned him, the better.

The loud knocks, along with Persian's meows, woke Giovanni from his light slumber.

Too hung over for this, he thought. He could just as easily go to sleep and let whatever problems whoever it was had sort themselves out, but against his best judgment, he decided to see who it was.

“Come in,” he said, his pain gone now but the general feeling of unease remaining.

Ariana pulled the door open and quietly walked in, happy for an end to her waiting.

“Ariana,” Giovanni said, his mood brightened slightly by her bright, firey red locks. “I didn't expect to see you show up this afternoon.”

“I've come to return some reports,” she replied, passing a file folder across his desk. He opened it and leafed through the documents, amazed at her ability to turn in projects in a timely fashion even after nights like the previous one. Everything seemed to be in there.

“Thank you, Ariana,” he said, putting the folder away. “You can go now.”

Despite this dismissal, Ariana stayed. “There was something else I wanted to discuss,” she said. “About last night.”

“What about it?”

“I think I ran into someone who wasn't you there.”

~

Jon Price was sitting in the holding cell the police had locked him in the night before, irritated. It was a messed up world when you didn't even own your identity anymore, to the point you were kept out of events you yourself had been invited to simply because the man pretending to be you had apparently shown up on time and crossed your name off the guest list.

Much of his time in the cell had been spent making threats to the warden and anyone else who might come through about calling his attorney and suing the security and police for all they were worth.

“I will not let this indignity stand! Do you know who I am? I'll call the media, I'll let them all have a piece of my mind! I'll-”

“Calm down, you're getting out.”

“I'll- what?”

“Turns out we DID get the wrong guy,” the prison guard, who was now busy unlocking the cell that held Jon, explained. “We ran a check on your IDs in Forensics and they're the real deal. Which means that little identity thief problem you had is still out there somewhere.”

I could have told you that,” Jon said. “You'll still be hearing from my lawyers about this,” he added, as he left the cell.

“Sure,” the guard said, rolling his eyes.

~

“Are you saying that while I was gone taking Sebastian's call... you were dancing with someone you thought was me?” Giovanni asked Ariana.

“Not just thought, he looked like you. Perfectly, in fact.”

“Ariana, you were drunk. Anyone could have looked like me after that many glasses of wine, to be perfectly fair.” Giovanni was quickly beginning to connect the dots of what Ariana was saying, but... that was impossible. Why would someone attempting to impersonate him for personal gain be attending an event he himself organized? It seemed like an easy way to get caught.

“Everything in that moment convinced me it was you,” Ariana explained. “When I went to fix my necklace, I didn't see you go to pick up that call.”

“The second one from Sebastian, you mean?”

“That one, the one about Persian,” Ariana replied. “So when a man who looked exactly like you approached me, I assumed it was you. Nothing gave me any reason to believe otherwise, at least not at the time it happened.”

“And so you danced with him, I assume?”

“We danced long enough for me to have that feeling I always get when something is off. I blew it off as simply being the alcohol at first,” she said, blushing. She knew that she always had trouble trusting herself under the influence of drink, and admitting such a weakness, especially to someone like him, was somewhat embarrassing, given her reputation in Team Rocket for being quite the skilled drinker.

“Those little things just became more apparent once you were back. The real you. He-”Ariana searched for a way to put it delicately. She couldn't just outright insult Giovanni's dancing skills right there to him. “He was rather skilled at dancing, for one. And I couldn't smell any cologne on him or anything. When you picked me up, you were wearing cologne, I could smell it.”

She searched for any other details she might have remembered, then remembered what to her stood out the most, especially after she'd sobered up.

Ariana stared at the floor. “One last thing,” she said.

“What?”

“He seemed rather interested in what I was wearing. Or what I wasn't wearing, more accurately,” Ariana said. “He had trouble keeping his eyes where they belonged.”

“Was he staring at your-?” Giovanni stopped himself, unsure how to ask the question without being lewd.

“To put it bluntly,”Ariana said, “his eyes were pointed towards my chest the whole time. That was the one thing that struck me as oddest.”

The concept of compliments to one's character wasn't one that could frequently be applied to Giovanni, but at least it could be fairly said that in such situations as Ariana just described, he conducted himself as a gentleman as opposed to a lech.

“Ariana, you can't be going where I think you're going with this.” He could tell already the path this was headed down and maybe it was just utter unwillingness to believe it, but it couldn't possibly be the Thousand Faces con man behind this. He just couldn't see what business he'd have at a party like that when he could be accomplishing much higher marks. “Are you about to tell me you think I'm the latest victim of that disguised man?”

“Normally, I wouldn't jump to conclusions about such things without further evidence.” Ariana's true crime hobby aside, you didn't make it all the way to Executive without some smarts, and outside of her Pokemon and her knives, they were her greatest weapon. “And I would have simply assumed the entire thing was either a drunken mistake or a figment of my drunken imagination had we not encountered Jon Price earlier.”

“Why is that?” Giovanni asked. “Did you notice anything suspicious about him?”

“Didn't you find his behavior unbecoming of a three-time Kanto League Champion?”

“He had a massive ego, but that tends to be a side effect of winning championships,” Giovanni said. He knew quite a few former Champions with massively inflated egos. “It doesn't seem all that out of the ordinary for me.”

“He was also putting the moves on me pretty hard,” Ariana replied.

“I remember that. I had to stop you from gutting him, if I'm remembering last night's events properly.”

“After all that, I didn't see any more of him that night. Then, there's this.” She pointed to a headline sitting on the day's copy of the Viridian City Times on his desk.

Suspected Jon Price Impersonator Apprehended At Hospital Benefit
Attempted to get in door with faked documents

“If that's him, though,” Giovanni pointed out, “they already have him. I would think that renders your entire theory moot.”

“That's because they didn't get him. They arrested the real one. The one we talked to was fake, the one that couldn't keep his eyes to himself.”

Things finally began to click for Giovanni.

“That means if the one you danced with was me, they were the same person?”

“Precisely, sir. And that same person is out there somewhere, still pretending to be you. If you have some time to spare, could you meet with Dr. Zager and I at the Snorlax?”

“That awful bar?”

“I have my reasons,” Ariana said, slipping out of her date from last night persona into her business persona little by little. Dr. Zager has a friend who's an info broker with links to much of the independent Kanto criminal underground. He's a regular contact of mine working missions.”

~

Francis was busy at his computer inputting commands into a password generator program to gain access to Giovanni's personal email account. Email accounts were invaluable to him- with a few clicks, he had access to a world of information that would be otherwise inaccessible to the average person. Hacking an email was one of the simplest tasks to his job, and yet by having an email address, you had access to almost every aspect of that person's life, his schedule, his contacts, as well as every lost password on every website.

The program Francis used was not his own, but rather, one he downloaded from an underground hacker's website. The hacker, who went simply by “drweird,” was notorious for providing other hackers with software to make their jobs easier. While Francis didn't consider himself a hacker of the virtual variety, he did consider himself a hacker of lives.

After a few minutes of the screen filling with code from analysis, the program hit the password- earthbadge08, apparently- and Francis executed the command for input into any relevant accounts. Not only was it his personal email, it seemed it was also the pass for Giovanni's online newspaper subscription.

“Yeah, that's real secure,” Francis laughed. “How hasn't this happened to him sooner?” he asked a Koffing floating over his shoulder. “Something relating to his Gym Leader gig would have been the first of my guesses if I didn't have this handy software helping me.” He clicked to the inbox tab of the email account and began digging through the messages, hoping to find something, anything, to aid him in committing his grand crime.

~

Zager was cleaning up Persian's mess from the previous night when he was interrupted by a familiar voice.

“Zager, you. The Snorlax back room. Six.”

“I've told you before, Executive Ariana, I'm not interested in younger women.”

Zager felt a freshly manicured hand smack him in the back of the head and turned around to find Ariana smirking at him. “Ow...”

“It's for business, not pleasure. We picked up a lead on that Thousand Faces thief and boss and I want to talk to your info broker about it. I figured if anyone can help us in the proceedings, it's you.”

“Why do we suddenly care about that guy? It's not as though he's targeting us or anything,” Zager said.

“Except he is,” Ariana said. “I now have every reason to believe his latest identity is Giovanni.”

“You... what?”

“It's a long story and I'll tell it at the Snorlax away from eavesdroppers,” she said, glaring around the office. She knew very well the way grunts and others around HQ tended to suddenly show up in an area when she was talking to someone, especially someone as high-ranking as the likes of Zager. “But as you can see, it's personal now. And something needs to be done before he digs too deep and we're all in deep trouble.”

“If anyone can dig up dirt on anyone, it's Noah,” Zager said. “Does he know about this meeting yet?”

“I called him this morning,” Ariana said. “He's preparing some info as we speak. I'll see you there,” she finished, making her way to the office door.

“Wait,” Zager said, “You will be providing him payment, I assume?”

“It's been negotiated and I'm covering it,” Ariana replied. “If there's no further questions, I'll see you there tonight.”
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