"We've been in here for five minutes already and nobody's found even a single note for the combination lock or the laptop password?" Junpei runs a hand through his hair in exasperation. He looks over at Carlos, who is crouched under a desk, feeling the wood over for hidden catches or drawers.
"Nothing down there, huh?" he grumbles. "What kind of office do they call this anyway?"
Carlos draws himself out from the desk's foot-space and rolls his eyes.
"Instead of complaining, why don't you keep looking?" he says, just as Akane's voice floats out from one of the cupboards in the far corner,
"What would you expect a serial killer's office to look like exactly?"
"Not like this," Junpei grumbles. He hasn't forgotten that they're stuck in this room. If he wants them all to get out before their time runs out, he needs to help too.
"You're the detective here," Carlos says, returning to the desk drawers he's already checked twice. "You should be able to get into a killer's mind and predict these things, right?"
"Right," Junpei drawls. "Detective, serial killer, they think so alike. It's uncanny."
"Junpei," Akane slams the cupboard closed and spins, hands on hips and glaring pointedly at him. "You know we need to get out of here. Now's really not the time,"
"Like I don't know that," Junpei sighs. He glances at the office door, bolted with four coded locks that shut behind them the minute the door swung closed behind them.
Junpei casts his gaze around the room. It's pretty tasteful, if a little cramped, maybe ten feet square at most. The walls are wood panelled, easy to hide things behind, and a hideous painting in the cubist style hangs above a desk off to one side, all limbs at strange and unnatural, cut-off angles and jarring colours. Just the sort of thing someone out of his mind would like, Junpei supposes. There's a cupboard and a filing cabinet in one corner, a coat stand with a single bowler hat on it by the door. That's an odd addition but, Junpei supposes, that's what makes it suspicious. He heads over to it and squints thoughtfully at the hat. He pulls it from the stand and flips it over.
"Ah, who keeps a Dictaphone these days?" he says aloud.
Carlos is distracted by a sheet of paper he's found in the desk and doesn't look up but Akane bounds over and snatches the dictophone from him with a wide smile.
"That's great, Junpei! Now we just need to play it and-"
Akane clicks the play button on the Dictaphone and a series of sharp, irritating beeps emit from it in a staccato rhythm.
"That's morse code, right?" Junpei says.
"Probably," she agrees. "Not that I can really remember it very well."
"You two, bring it over here," Carlos waves the paper he's found and they convene at the desk to inspect the clue.
"At least we're finding clues that tie together now," Carlos says. "This sheet has morse code on it. I wondered if it was a message on it's own at first-"
"But it's the alphabet!" Akane cries, clapping her hands together. "Ok, Carlos. Do you think you can take this one?"
Akane takes the recorder from Junpei and passes it over to Carlos, and pushes past Junpei's spluttering to look over the filing cabinet.
"Come on, Jumpy. Keep looking for more clues or we're doomed," she says. Junpei raises an eyebrow at her sudden abruptness but turns to look about again.
On the desk, near Carlos's elbow is a thick box-like coaster with an empty brandy glass on top. Juunpei leans over and takes the coaster from under the glass.
"Looks like a puzzle box," he offers to the room. "I'll try and get it open."
He fiddles with the small wooden box, turning it over in his hands and trying to slide different sections of it. All the pieces refuse to budge and he sits down with it at the desk, trying to block out the repetitive sounds of morse code near him. Junpei puts his head down and determines he is going to open this box - he can hear something rattling inside, he knows he can - even if it kills him.
Carlos departs from his side after a few minutes, and Junpei loses track, still turning the box over in his hands. He hears the tinny strain of a thumb piano, a reassuring cry of excitement from Akane and brief clapping from Carlos. He hears the clunk of a lock, and ducks his head further down to stare hard at the infuriating puzzle box. There's a key there. They're going to need it and he can do this.
He jumps when a hand rests on his shoulder and his gaze snaps up to meet Carlos's calm but tense eyes. Akane places a hand over his own on the box.
"One lock left, Jumpy," she says. He own voice is sharp with tension too. "Any luck?"
"We don't have much time," Carlos says, staring at the door. He can hear movement behind it, but not close. Junpei looks down at the puzzle box."
"Nearly there," he says and just like that, the answer clicks in his head. The third slat down on the top of the box has a slightly smaller gap between it and the others; it's the likely place to start. And once he has the first piece of wood moving, the others quickly follow.
The box opens and Akane grabs the key from the box before Junpei can say a word, and runs towards the door. She turns the key in the lock while Carlos pats Junpei on the shoulder with pride. Junpei huffs that it was no big deal, but mentally he does a little fist bump in the air. The four locks are open and they can escape.
"Wait," he says, "Did we find the location the kidnap victim is being held?"
"Don't worry, got it here," Carlos says, holding up a handwritten note. Junpei doesn't ask where Carlos found it, just smiles a small, genuine smile at him and nods.
And he realises, riding the success high, that now is the best time for it. They're getting out, they've done it together and it just strikes Junpei as perfect.
"Wait a second," he calls as Akane reaches for the door handle. She pauses and looks back.
"What? Let's go," she says. Junpei shakes his head and beckons her over. "I just, uh."
He pulls a small box from his pocket and Akane's eye flicker from his face to the box and back again. Carlos takes a step back, perhaps to make room but Junpei's hand flys up to grab his wrist and pull him back. He's part of this too.
"You know how you always wanted to wear a ring on your left hand?" he says, fighting back a stutter that wants to escape. He takes Akane's hand and puts the silver ring onto her finger. Akane stares unblinking at Junpei's face for a moment. With a teary laugh, she surges forward into a hug, embracing first Junpei, then pulling nearby Carlos into a group hug.
"You guys," she mumbles into Junpei's shoulder.
A loud siren buzzes and a light above the door flashes red. Akane shudders in surprise against Junpei, whose head snaps up along with Carlos's to stare at the door. The moment is gone and a cold horror settles in it's place. Carlos steps forward premptively, in front of the shorter pair. A couple of clicks as the person outside confirms the locks are all open.
The door creaks inwards on it's hinges.
A short girl with dyed-pink hair steps inside. She flicks one of her hair bunches in a decidedly dismissive way.
"Sorry, guys. Time's up." She says. "Better luck next time."
"No, the locks were all open," Carlos chokes out. Junpei and Akane sink to their knees with a groan, Junpei cursing under his breath. Goddamn it.
Junpei orders an extra large coffee with three spoonfuls of sugar in it and doesn't care what that looks like. He has no honour left, anyway. Carlos nudges Junpei's cup with his own Americano.
"We did technically beat it," he says. "And we even got the location clue right. Don't worry about it."
"It's the toughest escape room in the country, Carlos," Junpei mumbles, forehead pressed to the tabletop. "A 3% first-time escape rate. That could have been us."
"Would've been nice to get our picture on the hall of fame," Carlos nods. He shuffles his chair over to make room for Akane to sit down with her Hot-chocolate-whipped-cream-and-marshmallows monstrosity. It's already leaking over the side of the disposable cardboard cup. Akane taps Junpei's head and when he looks up, boops his nose with a single, ring-encircled finger.
"We would have too, if someone hadn't picked that moment to propose," she laughs. Junpei groans and rolls his eyes.
"It seemed like a good way to celebrate," he protests.
"I told you to wait until we got outside," Carlos laughs, reaching to nudge Junpei's shoulder with a friendly pat. "So did I," Akane says pointedly. "Honestly, Jumpy, of all the times!"
"It's not one you'll forget though," Junpei sighs heavily.
"And you won't need to try again," Akane agrees, rubbing a finger gently, fondly, over the ring on her right ring finger. "Now you just need to find a really awkward time that no one expects too, Carlos."
"Don't worry, I'm more of a traditionalist," Carlos grins. Junpei sighs heavily, glaring at both of his partners.
"Just make sure you get the hand right, hm?" Akane says. Junpei's gaze flicks to the hand she's holding up.
"I know my left from my right," Carlos says. "Unlike some, right Junpei?"
Junpei groans at the ribbing and sinks his forehead back onto the table.
"It looked like the left from my side," he mumbles as the others laugh fondly.