rocket100 prompt 002. mask

pairing: Airshipping (gio x jiri)

-x-

He steps through the door, and a hush falls over the room. Conversation ceases, the music grinds to a sudden halt, and nearly a hundred pairs of eyes, shrouded by colorful sequins and feathers, turn to stare in his general direction.

At that moment, most all the guests are thinking the very same thing.

Only he would dare attend a masquerade without a mask.

He smiles – an eerie smile, slightly off-kilter but still oh so charming and debonair. "Please, pay me no mind," he says to the silent party guests, his voice echoing through the ballroom. "I assure you that I am the least intriguing sight you will behold on this beautiful evening."

The guests, flustered at being caught staring, all turn back to their conversations (though they sound a little forced), and he must resist the urge to laugh at their simplicity. The girl on his arm, however, is busy preening herself like some sort of exotic bird, trying to position her blonde curls perfectly.

"Did you see them staring?" Domino whispers, and underneath her glimmering blue mask her eyes are alight with excitement. "I always knew I was meant to be a socialite!"

Giovanni does not reply. No need to encourage the girl's ego any more than necessary. He leads her through the sea of gaudily adorned guests, admiring the way the crowd parts for him as he walks. Even in a room full of conmen and black market millionaires, his reputation still manages to precede him.

A sharply-dressed young man in a black mask suddenly blocks his path, grinning from ear to ear. "Pardon me," he says with a quick bow. "But may I ask the lovely young lady for a dance?"

Domino glances at him expectantly. Say no, the look pleads.

But Giovanni has no desire to have the girl attached to his arm all night. Her obvious infatuation with him is helpful at times ("know how to manipulate the emotions of those around you," his mother once said), but easily becomes tiresome. Perhaps he shouldn't have slept with her after all…

"Why of course," Giovanni murmurs, and the young man takes Domino's hand with another flash of white, white teeth. The girl pouts angrily and glares over her shoulder at her boss as she is dragged away.

Giovanni pays her no mind. There is something – or in this case, someone – else occupying his thoughts on this night.

The ornate invitation he received had been signed with a single initial: the letter J, hand written with elegant penmanship. Giovanni likes to believe that he knows all of Kanto and Johto's key players (and keeps files on them as well, just in case), but he has never heard of anyone by this alias before.

His curiosity is piqued. He wishes to meet the host of this extravagant masquerade, and will allow no one to stand in his way…

-x-

The upper floors are empty, and all that can be heard are the echo of his own footsteps and the faint hum of music and voices below. Along the hallways are a plethora of opulent artworks – ancient clay vases on marble pedestals, gilded tapestries depicting battles between Pokémon of legend, gleaming jewelry in glass display cases. Who is this 'J,' he wonders, to have such treasures in his possession?

A door stands open at the end of the hallway, beckoning him in. He steps inside, caring little for the personal privacy of the host, and his dark eyes widen in astonishment.

There they are before him in all their glory: the Legendary Birds. Moltres, with its wings of fire and hard, proud eyes. Zapdos, its anger making the air hiss and spark. Articuno, with its poise, grace, and icy glare.

The bird Pokémon thrash wildly in their cages, throwing themselves against the iron bars with lovely desperation. Giovanni is struck speechless. To think, this mysterious 'J' has the power to capture such majestic creatures, where others have failed countless times before… The Team Rocket boss is a hard man to impress, but this 'J' character has already gained his utmost respect.

"Gorgeous, are they not?" a voice asks.

Giovanni turns to find himself face to face with a tall, attractive man sporting a purple mask and a long, collared robe. The man's lips quirk into a smile both polite and seductive.

"Indeed," Giovanni murmurs, observing the man through narrowed eyes. "And you are…?"

"Most know me as Jirarudan. I am a collector of all things rare and exquisite, Pokémon included."

"I take it you are 'J,' then?"

The smile widens. "Why yes, I am. Very astute of you, my good sir. And may I say that I am terribly glad you were able to join us on this fine evening."

Giovanni searches Jirarudan's face for clues and finds nothing but inscrutable, disarming beauty. A 'collector,' yes, but who is this man really? And why is he seeking the aid of Team Rocket? His motives are unclear.

Somehow, though, Giovanni hardly minds. He hasn't had a true challenge in so very long; it feels like years since he last met anyone who could match his cunning and craftiness. This 'collector' intrigues him far more than he would care to admit, and he finds himself watching Jirarudan out of more than plain suspicion…

He wants to take that mask off, and reveal what is hidden underneath.

"I'm afraid that I've been rude to my guests thus far," Jirarudan says. "I must mingle amongst the party, and keep them guessing as to what the unveiling might reveal… If you think of it, join me in the ballroom, will you? There a few people I would like you to meet, Mr. Giovanni."

Their eyes meet.

Zapdos screeches, as if it can feel the static tension crackling in the air.

The collector turns and walks toward the door as if to leave, but then stops and glances back over his shoulder. "Oh, and you brought a date with you, did you not? When you have a chance to, please dissuade her from stealing the ancient talisman in the first floor hallway. I wouldn't wish any bodily harm upon her person."

With one last alluring smirk, Jirarudan exits the room.

And all Giovanni can think is that he wants this man, in every possible way.