rosejailmaiden: (Sebastian)
[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.



Work is the curse of the drinking class.
- Oscar Wilde


Sebastian rushed to the main laboratory office that morning faster than usual, skipping his usual stop at the breakroom for a cup of coffee. This was the first sign something was amiss; Sebastian typically found functioning without coffee impossible. Today, the gears turning in his head provided the perk for him.

While filing the data the night before, Sebastian noticed something... off... about some of the numbers he'd been working with. And he couldn't believe for one moment it was an error on his part.

Zager.

It wasn't that Zager was a bad worker, not at all. Zager's intelligence was nearly matched to Sebastian's- though not a child prodigy like his younger superior, Zager was still far better at crunching numbers than your average man or woman on the street. And his scientific knowledge was second to none, particularly on issues of anthropology, paleontology, and geology. It was his attempts to exploit that knowledge that had Zager stripped of his license as a professor at the nearby natural history museum and forced to join Team Rocket for any chance to actually put his scientific studies to good use.

But among Zager's other skills were the ones that he didn't learn in any kind of formal education- he was an expert at getting what he wanted, able to sneak about and pull tricks to accomplish his ambitions. The very traits that made him so valuable, in short, made him a nightmare to Sebastian.

Sebastian suspected that Zager had once again pulled one of his latest tricks- altering the algorithm of the software used to calculate test results to throw them off. This was an old favorite of Zager's. When Sebastian was away, usually to explain something to Giovanni or get a snack, Zager would sneak onto the computer and fiddle with a few lines of code, then go back to whatever he was busy with before Sebastian returned.

It was the perfect crime- minor enough that Sebastian couldn't do much about it, and besides, Zager's value to the Research department was enough to offset any wrongdoing he was complicit in- and with enough plausible deniability that even with camera footage and keylogging, Sebastian could never actually prove such a thing had happened. Keyloggers had no way of telling who was using the computer, of course, and from a camera feed all that could be assumed was that Zager was adding input.

In fact, Sebastian wasn't angry. He was impressed. Why couldn't the other scientists who worked under him display the same kind of quick thinking and drive? Even if he would have to actually punish anyone other than Zager who tried such a thing... it'd still be refreshing to see some minds full of more than just what they could regurgitate from grad school, and such minds could be taught to channel those kind of smarts in far more productive directions.

Sebastian sighed, sitting down at the computer to open the program and revert the code alterations. There was a note taped to the monitor in Zager's scratchy, messy hand.

“Professor- Gone out. I'll be back later.- G.Z.”

“You win this one,” Sebastian said, rolling his eyes. He knew Zager well enough to know that “out” was an euphemism for “drinking”. This was exactly what Zager wanted, wasn't it? An excuse to distract Sebastian long enough to get out of having to be around to collaborate with him on the final report.

At least now he'd have plenty of time to rework the code without having to deal with Zager's pranks.

Zager kicked back at his table at The Sleepy Snorlax, his favorite watering hole for the last twenty-five or so years. It was a relief to be out of the laboratory for once and take a breather from everything.

~

The Sleepy Snorlax- or just the Snorlax, to both the regulars and those in Viridian City who wouldn't dare get within twenty feet of the notorious drinking establishment, was the very picture conjured up by most people when they heard the expression “dive bar”, and “dive bar” was probably too high a compliment for the Snorlax. Dive implied there was a certain point where the descent of the patrons stopped.

Comparatively, the Snorlax was more like a freefall without a parachute.

The patronage of the Snorlax consisted of a mix of some of the most colorful types anyone could hope to find. None of them were the types one would want to meet in a dark alley. Among them were bike gang members, compulsive gamblers, habitual drunks, drifters, and Rockets. The final group was in particularly great numbers due to the Snorlax's special circumstances.
While most in Viridian City were aware that The Sleepy Snorlax was not a place one wanted to go if they wanted to be considered remotely reputable at any point in the future, they weren't aware of the connections the Snorlax had, and it was probably for the best. The Snorlax was a popular spot for a large amount of Rockets and other less-than-savory types owing to its very ownership- like many other businesses in Viridian City, The Sleepy Snorlax was a front for Team Rocket. As a result, the proprietors tended to look the other way regarding the lawbreakers and ne'er-do-wells who populated the bar, occasionally finding a few promising marks for recruitment. In a way, the simplicity of the Snorlax was genius- despite all the other, far higher profile fronts Team Rocket operated, the Snorlax kept a small but steady stream of both money AND new members coming in. It was a lot easier to talk someone into signing their lives away when they were intoxicated, and by the time you had them, they were usually in a better situation than they'd started out in the first place.

More importantly, The Sleepy Snorlax served as an extension of the Viridian HQ's break room, to the point of even having a special back room where deals could be made and new proposals could be discussed without need to worry about eavesdroppers. Any given night in the bar, there were entire missions that could potentially bring ruin to Kanto or the surrounding regions being discussed, unbeknownst to the rest of the patrons. It wasn't all business though- some Rockets simply found themselves in the Snorlax to get absolutely wasted.

Zager was among those patrons. Although a serious man of science, he had his vices, and alcohol was one of them. And there was no better place for a scientific man such as himself to drink it than at the Snorlax. He could walk in at the end of a long day wearing his labcoat and no one would so much as question him about it.

Zager had always enjoyed a good drink once in a while. He felt that he'd earned it after a long day of work, and sometimes he didn't even feel like he needed to earn it, his logic being that at his age, he'd already earned it. He preferred a nice whiskey on the rocks; a gentlemanly drink, he thought it. At this point the bartenders all knew to have one ready to go the moment Zager walked in. Though he was stingy around the laboratory and with grants to his underlings, he was a generous tipper, so long as you gave him quick service.

And so that day, when Zager walked in the door to the Snorlax, the bartender went behind the counter to fetch whiskey and ice, but was surprised to hear, when Zager sat down...

“Not today,” Zager said. “I want something different today. Not the usual. Give me just a straight up vodka.”

The bartender laid the bottle and glass down. “Vodka? Just straight vodka?”

“That's what I asked for, isn't it?” Zager said.

The bartender, taken aback by this, pulled a tall bottle out from the cabinet and got to filling Zager's order as Zager took some money out of his wallet and passed it across the counter. “If you don't mind me asking, Gabe, what's with the change of beverage?” the bartender inquired. “In the mood for something new? You never struck me as the spontaneous type.”

“If you must know,” Zager replied, “things haven't been going great. Workwise. We're nothing but hitting walls with the latest project and no matter how hard we try, things just don't add up. So I slipped away from the office today to come over here and think things over.”

“I didn't know science and drinking were a valid combination,” the bartender replied.

“Sometimes it's all you have to get you through another day,” Zager said. “I find my best thinking is accomplished when my mind is free of the shackles of sobriety, myself.” Zager looked up at one of the two televisions installed over the bar. They were tiny ones, probably a miracle they still worked, and the picture was scratchy and more than a little washed up. One aired whatever cable news channel was favored by whoever currently had the shift, the other aired sporting events- the patrons of the Snorlax loved betting on any event that kept a score, as well as some that didn't, and the two televisions were not mutually exclusive in terms of providing something to wager money on.

It wasn't for gambling reasons that Zager watched the televisions in the Snorlax, however. For him, television served three purposes: entertainment, information, or something to give his eyes something to do when they didn't have anything else. Generally, when out drinking, it was the third purpose. He fixed his eyes on the news channel TV and distracted himself from his troubles with a story about Silph Co.'s falling stocks as he drank down his vodka.

~

At the same moment, one person who wanted a drink that day but was currently unable to get one was currently en route, via helicopter, to the newly opened Kanto Children's Heart Hospital. Such was the cost of security and a good cover for Giovanni. Posing as a legitimate businessman meant doing those things expected of legitimate businessmen, and at the moment, philanthropy was all the rage in Kanto.

And no one could ever question your record if you made it clear you loved children. Doubly so if those children were children with debilitating heart conditions in need of medical treatment. Not only was Giovanni attending the ribbon cutting ceremony for the hospital, he had been there since the beginning, going as far as to put a good amount of funding into the construction of the complex and using his connections to supply a fair amount of equipment.

It was expensive, yes. But a drop in the bucket of the multi-million dollars he made simply in his sleep, and insurance that for just a little longer, the suspicious eye of the public would stay off him. With the Man of a Thousand Faces getting more screentime on news and tabloid shows than any of Team Rocket's activities, and now this, he'd be able to relax for at least a month or two while the public remained diverted.

But ugh. The things he did for cover were so saccharine, so full of fake smiles and gushing with sentiment and above all ridiculous. He knew he didn't really care about the children who'd be treated in the hospital. Neither did any of the project's any other backers, the shareholders, or the companies that would be getting filthy rich off its existence. It was, at the end of the day, a way to fill the coffers a little more all around in the name of the future.

Ultimately, the hospital was as much of a criminal enterprise as Team Rocket or even the Man of a Thousand Faces, but hiding behind enough feel-good sentiment to give even the most jaded observer emotional diabetes.

Persian was wrapped around his feet on the floor of the helicopter and slept happily. He never understood how even a cat like Persian could sleep through the noise of the rotors above- they were his least favorite part of flying in a small, unassuming chopper like he was in now. Instead of sleeping, Giovanni himself read the day's copy of the Viridian City Times, which bore a typical potboiler of a headline splashed across its front page.


Millionaire Investor Loses Everything in Identity Theft Attack; “Man of a Thousand Faces” Con Artist Suspected

Underneath the headline was a photograph of an elderly investor in a sharp suit being questioned by police. Remembering the television special from the last night, Giovanni couldn't help but take a look at the lead story.

Celadon City investor and three-time Indigo League champion Jon Price got more than he bargained for at the Celadon Department Store yesterday when he found at the cash register his account had been overdrawn. Price, 60, attempted to purchase several bottles of Protein to find while ringing up his purchases that his bank account had been overdrawn. Police suspect the perpetrator of the act may be the infamous “Man of a Thousand Faces” con man, due to Price's profile matching that of previous victims...

The article went on to discuss how the bank had shut down Jon's account and how the police had launched a full investigation into the crime. Giovanni had tuned out sometime midway past the “read more” on the front page, distracted by the stock reports on the page the story continued upon, but he too had noticed the pattern of the con man's crimes. Everything he saw on that special the previous night, and now Jon Price, had two things in common: they were somebodies in the Pokémon League or big name trainers, and they were incredibly wealthy. As Viridian's Gym Leader and a multibillionaire, Giovanni fit both those criteria.

He wondered in some ways if he was next on the perpetrator's list, assuming it was even one man. No, he told himself, that was impossible. He appeared far too often in the public eye to impersonate effectively. Perhaps the suspect chose famous figures for that very reason- it was far easier to gather information on them and study their appearance and mannerisms in order to replicate them more realistically and convincingly- but someone who was always in one meeting or function or battle or another like Giovanni would be a difficult sell once there were enough eyewitnesses to where the actual person was at the time of the con.

Besides, any criminal who was serious enough about their trade would know why crossing him was a terrible idea in the first place. Or at least, Giovanni hoped so.

~

Ariana dug through her closet. Tomorrow night was the gala benefit at the new hospital Giovanni was en route to opening right now, and she was going as his date. They'd been seeing each other on and off on the DL for a while, hiding any evidence of their dalliances from prying Rocket eyes- oh, who were they kidding, it was all over the rumor mill anyway, they just lacked the hard evidence- but her status as his “stunt date” so to speak, was strictly about keeping up appearances. It didn't look right for someone like Giovanni to attend a ball alone, and Ariana had the body, poise, and attitude to pass as a wealthy mistress just mysterious enough to keep the media guessing who the mystery lady was. She'd picked up quite the civilian fan following carrying out these most unusual missions.

Not that she minded taking on the role. She got a few things she wanted out of it: alcohol, a chance to mingle with some of the Kanto region's finest and most elite, a sense of adventure that didn't involve potential risk of mortality, and a bit of romance on the side. It was like living her movie star dreams, and she got paid a little extra for it as well.

After much deliberation and feeding her Murkrow to quiet the bird's noisy cawing, Ariana settled on a floor length gown with a plunging neckline. She took advantage of such occasions to let herself loose from her often restrictive role as an Executive, and as a result, chose the most decadent garments she could for the events. Her pay as an Executive wasn't bad either, and she exploited this to the best of her ability by indulging herself in the finest designer dresses. Ariana took her life goal of obtaining the perfect vampy look seriously, and it showed, even while she was in her white Executive uniform.

After a few minutes, Ariana selected the accessories she would wear with the dress and the most important part of all- a long black wig. Going to a ball with her fiery red locks on full display was too risky a move to make when they were her most defining feature, but the wig transformed her enough to keep her true identity concealed.

She finally picked out a bag- a small leather clutch- and laid everything on her vanity for the following evening, then retired to her small bathroom for a relaxing soak in the bathtub.

~

Sebastian walked through the doors of the Snorlax, trying not to gag on the smoke. He had a doctor to collect and if he was anywhere, he was here. The patrons all turned their heads to look at the professor, whose meticulously groomed appearance set him apart from the average customer in the bar. Despite the stares, Sebastian spoke not a word, and instead focused on finding Zager so he could drag him out and drag him back to the lab to actually do his work, as he should have been earlier.

“You,” Sebastian said, putting his hand on Zager's shoulder when he found him at his usual seat at the bar.

“Come to join me, Professor?” Zager said, holding a half full glass of vodka in his hand. “I knew the stress in there would get to you eventually.”

“We both know why I'm here, Gabriel,” Sebastian said. “Break's over. You have work to do.”
“Oh, lighten up, Sebastian,” Zager slurred out, displaying a relaxed attitude around the professor he wouldn't normally have while sober. “Every thinking man needs a break sometimes from his toils...”

“Gabriel, we're going back to the lab and that's fi-” he was cut off noticing that Zager was staring intently at the TV screen.

“Boss is on TV,” Zager said, not looking away from the flickering screen. “What's he up to.”

On the television broadcasting the news channel was coverage of Giovanni at the opening of the Kanto Children's Heart Hospital. The text “Viridian City Philanthropist Opens New Hospital” ran across the bottom of the screen as the anchor talked about the hospital and its founding.

“Opening that hospital he bankrolled from the looks of it,” Sebastian said. “There's a gala tomorrow evening at the old train station, I overheard talk about it yesterday. I heard Ariana's going to it too.”

“Aw, and we didn't get an invite?” Zager said.

Sebastian glared at Zager. “Can you blame him?” he said.

~

Francis was recording the whole thing.

Francis may have been a criminal, but he wasn't a stupid one. Living someone's life without their knowledge or permission took hard work and lots of preparation beforehand, and he knew better than to run something this high-profile without making sure he had the ins and outs of his newest mark memorized. He considered what he did no different from acting; he had a role that he had to get in perfect character for, and then give a performance good enough to leave the audience spellbound. The only difference between his profession and acting was that his involved breaking multiple laws. Francis was a man who truly valued method acting, because the minute the act failed, he was looking at 25 to life.

He'd been planning this gig for months and he wasn't about to turn back now. The clothes had been ordered, the makeup practiced, mannerisms memorized- he had hours, days even, of footage stored on his computer- and now all that was left was to review his act and script before showtime. Before he gave the most stunning performance of his life.

He wondered where he'd come up with this idea. It was without a doubt one of his most high-stakes schemes- he had everything to gain if he could pull it off, but everything to lose if he failed. He had no doubt his mark had a legal team and enough connections in Kanto's political world to assure he never saw the sun again if he got caught, and due to his philanthropy and support of the Pokémon League, Francis wouldn't even have the Robin Hood appeal to fall back on like he would when impersonating other figures of the financial world.

The television screen flashed information about a gala ball the following evening, and Petrel realized he'd hit his first mark. A black tie event, and anyone who was a somebody in Kanto would be there that evening. An easy way for him to observe at the very least, seizing any chance he could to trick unsuspecting marks. He'd have several disguises on hand, but ultimately this would serve as a dress rehearsal of sorts when it was convenient.

A perfect debut, he decided.

Even if it was the riskiest plan he'd ever come up with, it would be one hell of a ride. And Francis never said he wasn't a gambler.
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