rosejailmaiden: (giovanni coffee mug)
[personal profile] rosejailmaiden
Title: Masquerade
Author: [personal profile] rosejailmaiden 
Beta-Reader: [personal profile] 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.

Prologue+Chapter 1: The Stage is Set

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players
- William Shakespeare, As You Like It

The man walking through the door of the bank that day in Fuschia City was just like any other person who might patronize the establishment. A customer seeking to make a financial transaction.

He looked the place over, ran his fingers over one of the desks, and helped himself to coffee from the percolator in the customer lounge as he pulled a fountain pen and some forms from his satchel, then sat down to his business.

Nothing was out of the ordinary. Just another average day at the bank. The other customers chatted with the tellers and checked the stocks on the tv tuned to a business news channel in the bank's lobby before heading out to go about their daily routines, and the man continued to fill out his paperwork.

Like nothing was out of the ordinary.

No one working the bank had any reason to suspect this man, as he casually walked to one of the staff and slipped them a stack of papers and an I.D card. The employee in question hesitated for a moment when he saw the numbers his customer had written on one of the forms, but upon seeing his signature and identification immediately got up from his seat without a second thought.

The banker returned with a large stack of money. He sat down and counted it out in front of the man, then slipped it into a paper bag and passed it across the desk.

The bank customer thanked the banker, then got up and left the bank as casually as he had entered.

Nothing was out of the ordinary. Just a financial transaction completed, one of many the bank would complete that day.

~

Two towns away, another man, not unlike the man who had just completed his business at the bank, would go to the department store in Celadon City and attempt to use his credit card to buy some Protein. His card would be rejected at the register. The man would later find out that his entire bank account had been completely withdrawn.


At that exact moment, Francis Petrel sat on the subway train out of Fuschia City, a copy of the newspaper in his hands, a brown paper bag on his lap, and a smug grin on his face.

~

Chapter 1

In the basement of a building in Viridian City, a cheap television flickered, brightening the dimmed room with occasional flashes of color. This was the main lab of Team Rocket's research department, where the two directors spent most of their time not in the field compiling data and crunching numbers. It was the unappreciated, behind-the-scenes work that frequently went unrecognized by anyone outside of the boss- and even recognition from him was scarce- but it was essential and the entire organization would be essentially lost without it.

It was also monotonous as hell. And sometimes even the most brilliant minds needed a rest.

A bored, elderly, white-haired scientist, in a rumpled white labcoat with a monocle over his left eye, sat in a chair, staring at the screen. On it were images of various persons and the headline “The Mysterious Man of a Thousand Faces”. An announcer's voice droned on over the graphics.

“These are all alleged victims of the con man known only to authorities as The Man of a Thousand Faces. Their stories, tonight, on Crimeline.”

“You're watching those shows again, Zager?” a slightly younger scientist, this one with hair that was jet-black except for a lone white streak and a pair of wireframe glasses, asked. “You know they're not giving you the whole story on those things and sexing it up for TV.”

“Everyone's a critic, Sebastian,” Zager replied. “What else am I supposed to do to kill time while these results come out?”

“Not watch trash,” Sebastian said, as he focused on the data he was typing into a computer. “Surely there's something better on right now?” He cursed under his breath as an error screen popped up and pressed a few keys to undo his miscalculation.

Just to humor him, Zager picked up the television's remote and lazily flipped through the channels, rattling off what he saw as he went.

“Sports. Sports. Sports. Infomercial. News. Johto League Sectionals. Sitcom. News. Weird religious guy-”

“Thank you, Zager,” Sebastian interrupted, “your point is taken.” Sebastian wasn't one for television and preferred the quiet company of a book in his scarce downtime, but he'd come to accept Zager's more... eccentric... tendencies. It was those tendencies that made him so valuable in the first place.

Zager liked puzzles more than anything else, and playing armchair detective was, to him, just another brainteaser, a way to unwind after a day of serious science and dealing with moronic agents.

“Is this about that supposed impostor?” Sebastian said, glancing over at the glowing box. Footage of victims and witnesses being interviewed filled the screen. “The media is ridiculous giving him so much press lately. It's hard to tell how many of these crimes lately are legitimately his or hers and which ones are copycats at this point.” He hastily returned to his work on the bright computer monitor, his bespectacled eyes quickly scanning over the open charts and lists. Part of him couldn't blame Zager for indulging in such mindlessness. It was junk food for the brain, essentially, but it couldn't be argued that sometimes potato chips went down a lot easier than spinach.

“I say let them,” Zager said. “Any press they're giving this guy is that much less they're giving us. And I'm enjoying it.”

“Coming up next on Crimeline: Man of A Thousand Faces...”

~

Elsewhere in the building, in another room, the same special played on another television, this one nicer.

“...Our experts offer theories to the identity of this mysterious imposter.”

Giovanni lazily stirred some whiskey into a mug of hot coffee. Putting the massive plasma screen TV in the office was, in retrospect, a brilliant idea. It made the late nights staying to read proposals and expense reports that much more bearable, even if most of the time it served mainly as background noise to break the eerie silence that the Rocket headquarters took on late at night.

He'd found himself addicted as of late to sleazy tabloid news shows, the true crime ones in particular. They served as the guiltiest of guilty pleasures to him, with their overdramatic synthesizer music, hammy narration, and grainy, horribly edited photographs. He loved the “expert criminologists” who seemed to have received their diploma as a cereal prize and the way the slightest details of a suspect's life, right down to their choice of soft drink, were treated as evidence. He savored each part of it like year-old stale Halloween candy or a case of cheap beer, enjoying it in spite of the fact he knew very well he'd feel horrible the next morning.

What amused him the most was how every episode of the Crimeline unsolved mysteries episodes seemed to link the mystery in question to Team Rocket, no matter how ridiculous. The leaps and bounds in logic made by their crack expert panel never failed to astound him. Based on some number crunching Giovanni had done in the past, if they were truly somehow behind every last unsolved mystery they'd covered on the show, they'd have to run an average of five totally new schemes at a time every given hour.

He wouldn't neglect that there was a lot he'd got away with under the nose of Kanto's citizens. But not as much as they unknowingly gave him credit for.

Persian slept in a fuzzy ball at his feet, oblivious to the program going on in the background. He was a dependable friend, even if he couldn't speak a word beyond the occasional meow. Giovanni reached down from the plush leather chair he sat in and gave the cat a friendly scratch behind the ears, prompting the sleepy kitty to stretch his claws and make a little combination of a meow and a purr in happiness.

“Come on, get on with it,” he growled at the television. Any time now they'd drop it, every sensationalist reporter's favorite scapegoat when law enforcement was too incompetent to actually hire real detectives and do something other than look cute in miniskirts. “I've waited forty-five minutes, don't let me down now.”

A detective spoke onscreen, looking very smug. “We still haven't ruled all the possibilities for the suspect... he could be a con artist, a master thief, or he may not necessarily be working alone.”

“So are you saying there's a possibility that the suspect may be involved in organized crime?” the reporter for the episode asked.

Giovanni leaned over his desk in anticipation, clutching his mug tightly. Any minute now...

“Come on come on come on say it, say it...”

Persian poked his head up and looked at his human, confused. He always got worked up over the shiny box about this time...

“Yes, we have reason to believe that whoever the perpetrator might be, he's doing it for another group entirely... possibly a smuggling ring, maybe a money laundering operation, possibly even Team Rocket...”

“Took you damn long enough!” Giovanni checked his watch. They were approximately five minutes later than usual pointing the finger at the Rockets, but it was still enough to make him feel secure in the fact that the masses would pin all manner of unusual and fascinating crimes on them. No one ever suspected the very real, very quiet things going on in the background, as their attention was diverted.

As much as some of the executives complained that such conspiracy theories in popular media made them look less intimidating as an organization, and therefore somewhat ineffective as terrorists, Giovanni welcomed every bit of it. The media was making everything so much easier for him.

“Isn't that ridiculous, Persian? Someone with a plan that showy and obvious, working for me? He wouldn't last a minute around here...”

Persian stared at his human. Whatever he was talking about, it wasn't food. Nothing to see here, move right along. He tilted his head, meowed quizzically, then laid it back down in his front paws and returned to his deep slumber.

But despite his initial ridicule, as the late night local news came on and a reporter began droning on about traffic issues at the newly installed roundabout outside the Viridian Pokémon Center, Giovanni couldn't help but to admit to himself that whoever this man of mystery was, he had an impressive, even enviable track record...

~

In a small apartment less than a mile away from the building that housed the Rocket headquarters, a woman with bright red hair and matching lips and nails smirked over a tabloid newspaper. A headline on the cover indicated that it was a special issue about the “mysterious copycat conman.”

The woman's name was Ariana. She savored these rare quiet nights to herself, especially as her recnt promotion to Executive had left her swamped with more troubles than she was used to. Between all the pesky subordinates trying to get in her good graces and the constant meetings with the other Rocket higher-ups she had to deal with, a little me-time was valued more than ever now.

She sipped at the fine wine in the glass resting in her hand as she read through the article “I Thought He Was My Father- But He Was An Impostor!” Lurid true crime stories and a nice drink were among her favorite vices, and they both went best when taken in together. A Murkrow on the back of her chair nuzzled her face with his beak, and Ariana stroked his back in return, prompting a pleased caw from the bird.

“I don't see what's so interesting about being able to impersonate people,” she purred to the black avian Pokémon over her shoulder. “After all, you've been doing it for years, haven't you darling?”

Murkrow cawed back happily.

“Still, this story has had me hooked from day one... there's something so exciting about living your life pretending to be someone else. It's so.. mysterious, don't you think, dear?”

Ariana wasn't exaggerating in the least. Scattered about her apartment were paperback volumes about the various theories behind the true identity of the Man of a Thousand Faces, as well as the multitude of special magazine releases made about him. Ariana would buy them on sight and proceed to devour them, laughing at the overwrought TRUE EYEWITNESS STORIES and overblown speculation. More than anything else reading them made her feel like she did as a girl, getting absorbed in glamorous detective story movies and imagining herself as the femme fatale villain. Now that she played that role herself- and quite effectively, she liked to think- assuming the role of the detective was so much more interesting.

Ariana poured herself another glass of wine as she looked over an article about the latest chain of crimes linked to the con man. Apparently bank robbery was the latest in his repertoire, and whoever this someone was, he wasn't being shy about the number of performances- or the profiles of his victims.

She finished the glass, took it to the sink to wash later, and retired to her bedroom, in need of rest before the next day's work. For a brief moment she entertained the thought of how fascinating it would be to find herself crossing paths with the Man of a Thousand Faces during a mission....

No, that's impossible. What would Team Rocket want with a small-time petty crook like that?

She laughed it off and crawled into bed. A ridiculous thought, but one she wouldn't mind living...

And yet, she had no idea just how close she'd come to it over the next week. None of them, not Sebastian, as he finally shut off the computer and threw a small blanket over an asleep-in-his-chair Zager, not Giovanni, finally free from the drudgery of expense reports to go to bed and get a good night's sleep- oh who was he kidding, such things stopped existing for him long ago- and certainly not Ariana.

Because at that very moment, Francis Petrel sat in a cafe near Lavender Town reading a newspaper, going through with a highlighter pen to highlight his next potential marks. And at that moment, he was going through the business section, when he saw his next mark. A mark he'd been planning and researching for years.

And if he could pull it off, it could possibly be the most profitable crime in history.
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