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What a pity that I am not an honest man. - Maurice LeBlanc, ‘Arsene Lupin’

 

Feel our bodies breathing as you try to stop believing

There's nothing you can do about your Shadows

You can fight us, you are like us, and your body will betray you

Lay down and die like all the others

- Bruce Dickinson, ‘Accident of Birth’

 

On the day I was born, my father left my mother a note. 'I'm sorry,' it read. 'I can't do this.' As it turned out, neither could she.

 

Exit Interview I.

 

They put you in a box. Everything you are, everything you've ever done or could do, everything you wish you could be, all the love and drive and dreams you carry in your heart, all the things that connect you to others, all of it. For all of it, they put you in a box.

You stare at a white ceiling, mismatched with the dull ivory walls. It is warm, not unbearable, but getting there. The A/C only comes on after six. It's one of the few ways of telling time here, as there's no clock and no window. Your cot is a simple black metal frame with a far too thin mattress, scratchy sheets, a dull gray blanket, and a blocky pillow that provides no comfort.

"Don't think that way."

You look at Rokuro as He speaks. Rokuro is your age, with a familiar mop of uncombed black hair, but the similarities stop there. His face is all edge, jawline thin and straight, and nose hooked downward. Rokuro's eyes seem to dart around, though there's nothing to look at in the cell. There's energy beneath them, but it seems cruel, or at least agitated. You do not know what Rokuro has done to be here.

"Think what way?" You ask. "I didn't say anything."

"Didn't need to." Rokuro’s back is against the wall, and one long arm extends with one long finger to point at you. "You've got the look of a guy that's lost all hope. You're thinking, 'That's it for me. I’m at the end of the very short road that was my life.'"

You look back up at the ceiling. "I wasn't thinking that but now that you mention it..." You trail off.

Rokuro’s arm drops, and a sigh reaches your ears. "You need to open your eyes to the possibilities, man." His words are quick and precise, almost bitten off. "There's always a way out.  You have to take up the responsibility to find it."

We are going to make you understand. One must take full responsibility for their actions.

Your hands fly to your wrists, to your chest, your stomach, your legs. You are unharmed. There is no sensitivity, no bruises or cuts. Nothing.

"What're you doing?" Rokuro asks. "Checking for contraband? An ace up your sleeve?"

Why 'Joker?'

Because you're our 'ace.'

So why isn't my codename 'Ace?'

Do you want to be called Ace?

Rokuro laughs, but you can only ask, "Where are we?"

"Huh? The hell is wrong with you?" Rokuro's face grows serious. "They didn't do anything to you, did they?"

"I-" You start but can't finish. Your mouth is suddenly desert dry, and your words wither and die in your throat. Your head pounds; you ache everywhere. Your hands shake.

"Hey, hey," Rokuro says. He stands beside your cot, though you do not recall witnessing any movement. "Are you okay? You can trust me, you know."

Trust.

"Do you think you can get her to trust you?"

There's something you need to do. What was it? You hear a faint snapping sound. It's sporadic, but the longer it goes, the more of your attention it takes. "This isn't right," you manage to choke out.

Your eyes shift to Rokuro, to the walls, the ceiling, the thick metal door shut and secured from the outside. This isn't where you are supposed to be. This isn't where you are.

You have already been here.

Rokuro's hands grip your wrists. "Calm down, man. Calm down."

A voice reverberates through the cell, heard through thick walls. "Hey! Are you still with me?"

Rokuro leans down, His eyes inches from your own. "Remember. There's always a way out."

And just like that, nameless geometries of memories collapse together within your skull, rampaging their way through your gray matter.

How far are you willing to go, Trickster?

Do we have a deal?

You're not my messengerYou're my message.

Trustisatwo-waystreet.

Long time no see.

TAKE YOUR HEART

Your own palpates.

The bees swarm your mind once more, along with their names. Oberon, Berith, King Frost. Too many masks. They yammer and vie. Your name bubbles up from some anonymous place.

You are Akira Kurusu.

Or maybe not. Maybe your name is whatever phonetical collection you jerry-rigged together on the form they gave you. Maybe you are someone else. Maybe your name isn’t Akira Kurusu.

But for now, here, you are Akira Kurusu.

Your vision grows hazy. Rokuro's smile disintegrates, replaced by a pair of deep brown eyes full of concern. A grin cracks your face. Akira Kurusu’s face. It's her!

It isn't. The face surrounding the eyes grows more distinct. The sound that drew your attention resolves into a set of snapping fingers held just before your face. "Can you hear me?" The woman asks, her voice touched with panic. "Kurusu? Dammit, what the hell did they inject you with?"

Oh.

You are in another box. This box is not the same as the last one with its nondescript sterility. This box is dimly lit, smells wet from dirty water, sweat, and blood. This is the box they put you in this time. This box was full of men not too long ago, but now you are alone, save for the woman.

Only, that isn't entirely true.

Dimensions settle themselves into the walls, ceiling, and floor. The door is locked, and thin light shines from above. Behind the woman, you see the bloody, black, and top-hatted slash that is Arsene.

A thin trail of smoke rises from another corner. The woman will not smell it or see it. A figure perches there, and you do not need to see the rest to know to whom it belongs. The end of a cigarette's ember glows. "Welcome back, son. Want to give it a thought?"

You shut your eyes and double over. You press your damp forehead into the table and groan.

"Kurusu?" The woman asks.

Everyone breaks, kid. Junya Kaneshiro had said that. Or maybe it had been Munehisa Iwai. So hard to remember. So hard to keep it all straight.

Your mouth cracks open. "I-" You lift your head.

Sae Niijima blinks in surprise.

"I don't know what they gave me. Amobarbital, maybe?” You’d made sure to look all this fun stuff up beforehand. “Sodium whatever. Everything is... hazy and weird." Arsene does a loopdeloop behind Sae's shoulder. "More so than you might think."

The prosecutor folds her arms together and leans back in her chair. You wonder if she'll deny it or protest that your teenage status should protect you from such extreme techniques, and by all rights, it should. Really, your basic humanity should, but baby steps.

Sae does no such thing.

"Probably hard to deny when the syringe is right there," Your father points out from the shadows.

"I see," Sae says. "Regardless, I need your focus. If you're back from... wherever you just went, then it's time to talk. I don't have much time with you."

You slump back in your chair and close your eyes.

"Hey," Sae shouts. She slaps the table with her open palm, and a stinging thwack bounces through your skull. "Pay attention! Don't think, for one second, that you're going to get through this without saying anything."

Do you think you can get her to trust you?

I don't like this. It's way, way too dangerous.

Do we have any other choice?

No. No other choice. No other option. There had only been one way forward.

Arsene pivots. THOUGH THOU BE CHAINED TO HELL ITSELF.

Hell, you think. That's right. I'm in Hell.

Your father scoffs. "Don't be so dramatic."

You straighten in your chair and force your eyes and brain to focus. This is Sae Niijima. You know this woman. She is important.

Sae bows her head a bit and leans in, almost conspiratorially. The look she gives you is one of contempt. "You know," she says, ice in her voice. "She's going to hear about this. And it's going to break her heart."

Dread seizes you. Sae calls you a bastard, but your mind spins once more.

That’s right. Better get your shit together.

Chew through the cement in your brain if you must. If you don’t get out of here, you’ll never see her again. You’ll never see any of them again. And you’ll never know what it was all about.

Stay calm, Joker whispers from somewhere behind your eyes. You're where you need to be.

Go ahead. Let yourself imagine Joker’s smile spread across your face.

It’s more appropriate than you may yet remember or realize.

Sae drops a thick beige file on the table. There is a header on the file's tag. It reads 'Phantom Thieves.'

"Let's start from the beginning," Sae says.

"The beginning?" You ask.

You remember two soft hands on your cheeks, lips pressed to your forehead. Now, this is important. When Sae talks to you, you need to tell her everything. All of it. Because if you do, I know she'll believe you.

You mumble into the air. The words are too low for Sae to hear. "I'll come back." You have said these words before. You meant them. You mean them.

Sae opens her mouth, but you cut her off. "Okay," you say, and congratulations, because you are starting to sound just a little bit more like Akira Kurusu. "I'll tell you everything."

Now then, someone, somewhere says. Let us start the game.

You cast your mind back and begin to speak.