“Wake up, mon chéri.”
Arsene’s voice slithered into Joker’s head smooth as silk, and Joker groaned softly, turning over in protest as he felt a hand gently hold his arm, and the Persona’s laughter lulled Joker even deeper into a sweet sense of security.
“Joker, it is time for dinner.” He said, and Joker grumbled, blinking blearily as he looked up at Arsene, who was looking down at him, practically obscuring a dimmed light behind his head.
“Why’re you in Leblanc, Arsene…?” He mumbled, but he let Arsene pull him up to sit. He yawned, stretching, and Arsene laughed fondly, rubbing his back as he fought the urge to go back to sleep again. “I haven’t slept this well in so long… it’s so comfy.”
“I do believe you have forgotten where we are.” Arsene said, and only then did Joker’s vision clear up, letting him realise that he was in a lavish room—his room in the Smash Manor, and his eyes widened, jolting so hard he nearly fell off the bed, had it not for Arsene holding him down. “Ah, finally awake, chéri?”
“I—I—” Joker blinked up at him, slowly straightening up as Arsene still held his hand to stabilise him. “That’s right… we were in Mementos… I boarded that train, and… Kirby.”
“Yes, we had a rather warm welcome.” Arsene nodded, bowing at Joker with a hand to his heart. “However, night has fallen, and I do not wish for you to partake of dinner with that rather rumpled appearance.”
“Huh?” Joker looked down at himself, and winced when he realised he’d fallen asleep in his Phantom Thief outfit. The coat was all creased and his shirt was messy, and Joker shook his head. “Damn.”
Arsene huffed fondly. “I do believe there are a change of clothes in that rather lovely closet.”
“Yeah, I’ll go check it out.” Joker mumbled, and made his way over to the closet, taking note of where he had dropped his shoes at the foot of his bed. He threw the closet doors, and his eyes widened. “What the—my clothes!”
True enough, his clothes from his room in Leblanc were all there, hung up alongside another set of coats of different hues, though of the same design as the one he wore right then. Joker blinked in confusion as he pulled one out—white and gold, with the red accents and lining, and Arsene hummed.
“Are those Monsieur Crow’s colours?” He asked, and Joker nodded dazedly as he gingerly put them back. “I certainly do not hope that is of any significance.”
“Yeah, uh… I’m pretty sure it means all the significance.” Joker sighed, and rooted through his things. “Still… how’d these get here? I don’t think Sojiro-san would have let just anyone get these…”
“I do believe it has something again to do with the fact we currently exist in a pocket of time outside our original one.” Arsene said, settling down on his claimed armchair with an elegant cross of his leg as Joker got to changing to his casual clothes. “As how the same machinations allow me to be with you here, to stave off the loneliness.”
Joker grinned at him as he pulled his shirt on. “Not lonely yet.” He said, and Arsene laughed as Joker made his way to a vanity, where he was pleasantly surprised to find his fake glasses laying there. He put them on, and turned to look at his Persona. “What do you think?”
“Radiant as always.” Arsene replied. “Though your loneliness—you know I feel it too, as I am you, and you are me.”
Joker deflated at that. “I’ll be fine.”
“The moment I am gone from your side, you shall see.”
Joker frowned at that, and the Persona tipped his hat at him, before disappearing into the darkness of Joker’s heart. The teen’s frown deepened, pressing his hand to his heart uneasily.
“You extra bastard.” He muttered, but Arsene’s laughter in his head made him smile slightly. Joker shook his head, and pulled on a pair of sneakers—brand new, just his size—he found at the bottom of the closet, and headed outside. He blinked in surprise to find the corridor as unpopulated as it had been when Kirby took him there, save for a brunet teen dressed in a toga that leaned on the wall across him, who jumped in alarm as Joker gingerly shut the door behind him.
“Um.” He said intelligently, and the boy gave him a wide grin.
“You must be Joker.” He said, and Joker nodded. “I’m Pit! It’s nice to meetcha!” He offered his hand for Joker to shake, and the older teen shook it. “You, uh… look different from your photos.”
Joker tried not to blush. “I dressed down.” He mumbled, reaching up to rub a lock of his hair between his fingers self consciously. He looked at the boy—Pit—pointedly. “You, uh, always have that getup on?”
“Oh!” Pit looked at himself, and Joker did a double-take when he realised the boy had wings.
Honest-to-god straight up wings.
“I, uh, just came back from a match myself…” Pit laughed sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head as Joker continued to stare at him. “Sorry. Lady Palutena put me up to it because we’re around the same age and all… there’s not a lot of us Smashers out there that are teenagers, y’know?”
“Huh.” Joker continued to stare at his wings, and Pit shuffled nervously under his gaze.
“So, uh, I bet you’re hungry!” he said, after a moment of awkward silence, and Joker shrugged. “I should show you to the caf where we all eat and stuff. Uh, except for the big ones, like Ridley.”
Joker nodded, and followed after Pit. The boy—angel?—was mentioning names Joker couldn’t recognise, but he was mostly sure that they would all get introduced to each other when the time came. The two of them walked out of the manor, much to his surprise, and entered a separate building, one that reminded him of the gymnasium back in Shujin Academy.
“It’s actually meant to be a gym,” Pit explained as they entered, chuckling slightly at Joker’s awed expression at the place. “But there’s just way too many of us, so the Mii people moved the kitchen and the dining room to the gym.”
“Mii… people?” Joker echoed, and as if on cue, a creature not unlike the one who took his ticket approached them as the doors shut behind them. Joker blinked at it as it gave them a bow, but Pit didn’t seem to mind, giving it a wide grin and a thumbs-up in thanks.
“Hey, buddy. We’re gonna need an extra seat for the newcomer.” Pit said, and the Mii looked at Joker for a moment, as if studying him. The teen blinked back, not quite withering away from the slightly intrusive stare, but it looked away soon enough, ambling away in a silly little gait that brought a smile to the teens’ lips.
“They sure are… something.” Joker said, and Pit nodded.
“Yeah, well… no one knows where Master Hand got them from, but they’re the help around here.” He explained, and they turned to look at the rest of the gym. Joker realised had it had fallen silent, the bustle of chitchat and activity dying down the moment he and Pit arrived. Joker could feel the stares on him as the room fell quiet, and for a moment, Joker remembered Shujin Academy again, withering slightly at the weight of all the stares on him.
Pit swallowed nervously, scratching the back of his head, at a loss on what to do.
Joker, Arsene’s voice said in his head, Release me.
“No, I…” Joker shook his head. He looked around at the crowd, and swallowed thickly. “Uh…”
“Poyo!” Came a delighted cheer, a hot knife cutting through the thick air as Kirby sprang up from where he was almost invisible on the seat he was standing on. He leapt up into the air, sucking in air as he flapped his arms to fly towards Joker. A relieved bark of laughter escaped Joker’s chest as Kirby jumped into his arms, hugging him delightedly.
Like a dam bursting, voices flowed back into the gymnasium, and the stares turned into welcoming smiles. Joker’s face broke out into a grin as a rush of his co-competitors hurried up to greet him, and the evening went on blissfully.
When Joker went back to his room, carrying an insistent, cuddly Kirby with him, he couldn’t stop smiling, laughing softly when Kirby kissed his cheek as a goodnight before jumping from his arms with a cute little plop. Joker gave him a wave as the pink puffball waddled away, and when he stepped into his room, sighing happily, Arsene emerged from his heart. Joker leaned against the door with a smile, and his Persona chuckled fondly.
“Ah, that was a most wonderful welcome.” He said, “It is unfortunate that we will not be active for tournament fights until the following week, but it is wonderful to see you blossoming like this.”
“Yeah, well…” Joker scratched his cheek, his smile turning small and sheepish. “I heard there’re training rooms here, so I was thinking we could polish up on my knife and gun skills while we’re benched.”
“An efficient use of time.” Arsene nodded. “But for now, it would do you well to get some rest.”
Joker huffed, snorting slightly, but he made his way to the en suite bathroom with a snicker. “Who are you, Morgana?”
Arsene laughed, and gave Joker a bow. “I can be, if you wish me to.” He replied, and Joker blew him a raspberry before heading inside the bathroom to wash up for bed.
The paper with the outline of a humanoid shape drew closer to Joker to let him inspect his work, and the masked teen frowned at the sight of bullet holes scattered about the body, though none of them really hit the marks Joker wanted to hit, mainly the heart or the head. There was even one at the top right corner of the paper, far away from anything that could be dangerous, and Joker frowned deeply.
“Language, mon doudou.” Arsene sighed, but watched as Joker strung up another paper to shoot at in frustration. “Perhaps it is because we are no longer in the Metaverse that you cannot fire your gun as accurately as you once had.”
Joker looked at him viciously, and the Persona laughed.
“Do you take offence to that?” He asked, and Joker rolled his eyes, firing at the paper again. “I am aware that it is your cognition that gave you the accuracy you needed to fire at Pixies—” Arsene didn’t flinch as Joker fired three rounds in quick succession, only to end up with one landing on the hinge that held the paper up, making it drop to the ground. He absolutely did not laugh when Joker stared at it disbelievingly, and Arsene tried his best not to give away his fond amusement when the teen grumbled in frustration, setting his airsoft gun down with a petulant huff.
“This is bullshit,” Joker huffed, “I can’t go out there and face everyone if I’m shooting like this.”
“Indeed.” Arsene hummed thoughtfully, as a Mii hurried over to the downed hinge, already fixing the damage Joker caused. The teen sighed, and ruffled his hair in anger.
“I suppose all you can do now is to practice.” Arsene said, gradually fading away, and Joker watched him petulantly as he returned to the shadows of Joker’s heart. The teen shook his head, and picked up his gun again, holding it out with one hand as he took aim, taking a breath before firing.
Bang. A hole tore into the recently-repaired paper man’s shoulder. Joker clicked his tongue, and took aim again.
“What atrocious posture.” A woman’s voice tutted, and Joker jumped, almost making a move to whirl around when a pair of arms snaked around him, holding his hand steady. The air around him suddenly smelled like roses, and a fierce blush crossed his face when he felt someone stand behind him. He blinked in confusion as one of the hands picked up his free one, wrapping it around his airsoft gun’s handle securely, squeezing it to keep him in place. “I can understand the need for theatrics, sweetie, but a fancy shot of the gun does not make the marksman.”
Joker looked up to see a bespectacled woman smirking slightly down at him, and he blushed harder under his mask.
“That’s not what the Mii told me when I came in.” She replied. Joker could remember her face—she was part of the crowd that hung back while the rest flocked to greet him. He remembered she was wearing an expensive-looking silk nightgown, and now she was in a form-fitting outfit that vaguely reminded him of Panther’s leather outfit. She took his chin and turned his head back to the target. “Now, boy, back to the task at hand. Eyes on the target, and get used to hitting the mark, first and foremost.”
Joker nodded numbly, and took a deep breath.
“Good, steady yourself.” The woman nodded. “Grip your gun tightly—yes, tighter than you think.”
Joker squeezed the handle tight, and exhaled slowly.
“Slowly pull the trigger. Don’t move anything else other than your finger.”
Joker did as he was told, holding his breath and concentrating as he kept his arm steady. It was easier, with the woman’s hands holding him in place, but even her touch felt like nothing as his world came into sharp focus.
His finger moved slowly, pulling the trigger back, and for the longest time, there was nothing—
Joker jumped after he felt the recoil shoot up his arm, but luckily he didn’t let his gun go. Not that the recoil meant much—the airsoft gun didn’t have too much recoil to begin with—but it still surprised him. The trigger had moved almost imperceptibly until the hammer inside the gun had activated, launching a cognitive bullet right into the paper man’s heart.
Joker panted heavily as the woman pulled away, clapping daintily as he put the gun down on the bench, looking at her in surprise.
“Bulls-eye.” She nodded. “You’re looking to be quite the natural, Joker.”
“I… uh…” Joker blinked at her, and rubbed his arm. He couldn’t quite remember her name, but she seemed to realise the same thing, chuckling fondly as she rested her hand on top of his fluffy curls in a surprisingly gentle pet.
“Bayonetta.” She said, “And this time, remember it, little boy.”
“I’m not—” Joker shook his head, as her hand slipped off his head, and Bayonetta laughed at him again, though not as unkindly as he was used to hearing. “I’m not a kid.”
“I beg to differ.” She replied, and picked up his airsoft gun to inspect it. “How curious, an airsoft gun that shoots real bullets…” Bayonetta took aim, and fired several rapid-fire rounds, and Joker jumped when he realised she had shot the paper target in the shape of a heart. She chuckled, and slid the gun magazine out, humming her approval. “And it never runs out, too. Simply marvelous.”
Joker looked down at the ground, preening slightly at the praise—even if it was at his gun, and not at him—and realised she had guns on her feet. His eyes widened in awe, and he looked back up at her to realise that Bayonetta had caught him staring, and smirked at him with a knowing cock of her head.
“Um—” Joker mentally kicked himself, wondering where all the guts he’d built with Takemi and Iwai had gone, and tried again. “Do you fire those shoe-guns?”
“Oh, these lovely things?” Bayonetta asked, clicking her heels together, and Joker nodded. “Yes.” She replied, her smirk turning vicious, and much to his surprise, she flipped back, onto her hands and head, and fired two shots from her shoes through a purple sigil. Joker gaped in awe as the two shots thoroughly burned the paper down, running his hand through his hair as Bayonetta got up again, laughing delightedly at his reaction. “Impressive, isn’t it, my dear?”
“Please teach me to fire like that.” Joker said, the words coming out of his mouth faster than he intended, and Bayonetta crossed her arms, cocking her head at him in amusement as Joker quickly backpedalled, resisting the urge to slap his hands over his mouth. In the end he settled with fiddling with a lock of his hair, and Bayonetta shook her head fondly.
“You need to learn how to talk to a lady.” She said, and the teen flushed deeper, shrinking in on himself in embarrassment. He still had a bit of work to do on his charm, he supposed, but much to his surprise, Arsene emerged from his heart to bow at Bayonetta grandly. The witch looked at him in mild surprise, but the Persona held his hand out for her to take.
“Apologies, mademoiselle,” He said, “My dear Joker has yet to learn the ways of charm and wit, though I will see to it that he blooms into the most dashing debonair with the utmost polished sheen.” Bayonetta chuckled at that, and took Arsene’s hand, smirking wider when the Persona kissed her hand before letting her go. “Bonjour. I am Arsene, the awakened rebellious spirit inside Joker’s heart.”
“A pleasure to meet you.” Bayonetta replied, and cocked her head at Joker. “A much more charming fellow, don’t you agree?”
Joker crossed his arms at that, decidedly not pouting, no sir—but Bayonetta shook her head fondly and patted his head.
“I don’t normally take up little stray kittens,” she said, ruffling his hair, and Joker pouted—frowned—deeper. “But I know a diamond in the rough when I see one. I shall take you on, little Joker.”
Joker lit up at that, and she laughed softly. “Now, let’s start with gun basics. I don’t know what fool sent you out there without teaching you how to shoot properly, but I will hammer the proper way to do it.”
The teen nodded, and she scratched him under his chin. He blinked at her confusedly, and she laughed.
“That’s a good boy.” She said, as if to clarify, and Joker’s shoulders sagged at her. Bayonetta gave him a vicious grin, and turned his chin back around to look at his gun. “Impress me with your improvement, and we move on to more advanced shooting.”
“And then the shoe guns?” Joker asked.
“And then shooting with style.” Bayonetta corrected, and Joker beamed.
“Then I’m in your capable hands.” He said, and Arsene laughed into his hand.
“Alright, poppet.” Bayonetta gave him a kiss to the temple, earning her a little laugh from the teen, and she couldn’t help but smile. “That’s a good laugh. Keep it well.”
Joker smiled back at her, and nodded. “I don’t think it’ll be hard to do that, honestly.”
It took the rest of the week of Joker’s bench time, training with Bayonetta, and by the eve of his first tournament match, the teen was practically vibrating with excitement as he showed up for dinner at the gymnasium that evening. Pit grinned at him from his spot where he had pulled Joker to sit with the other younger Smashers—the kids’ table, Bayonetta had called it, but Joker didn’t mind—and Joker couldn’t help but grin back, settling down next to him while the other Smashers leaned close to chat with him.
“Your first fight tomorrow,” Pit said past a mouthful of chicken, and his twin gave him a disgusted look. “You excited?”
“A little.” Joker replied, tucking into his own dinner, and Dark Pit snorted.
“A little, he says, practically vibrating.” He deadpanned, and Joker looked at him witheringly while Pit waved him off.
One of the Inklings warbled from their spot slightly down the table, and Arsene translated their speech in Joker’s head.
“What’ve you been up to?” they asked, “Heard you were training with Miss Bayonetta a lot.”
“Oh, yeah.” Joker nodded, and Toon Link lit up.
“Did she teach you how to shoot stuff from your feet?”
The table tittered with excitement.
“I can’t wait to see that,” Shulk said into his glass of water, grinning. “I’ve been wanting to see what you’ve got up your sleeves ever since you showed up!”
“You’ll see it soon.” Joker gave him a nod, and looked down at his meal with a little smile. “Tomorrow’s the day.”
“Tomorrow’s the day!” Pit cheered, and the rest of the table cheered with him. Joker laughed softly at that, and the rest of the table dissolved into excited chatter. The brunet slung his arm over Joker’s shoulders and grinned. “I’ll definitely come see you fight tomorrow. This is gonna be so awesome!”
“Please look forward to it.” Joker nodded, and looked over at where Bayonetta was sitting, nodding absently at something Samus was saying. She noticed him looking, and gave him a little smirk. He beamed back at her, and turned back to his meal.
Tomorrow, he’ll make her proud. She worked hard on him, now it was his turn.
After dinner, Kirby insisted on accompanying Joker to his room again, a consistent fixture in Joker’s evenings in the Smash manor. The pink puffball was in Joker’s arms again, as always, cuddling into him in companionable silence as Joker walked back to his room. He eventually found out that his was the last in the ever-growing building, and the rooms after him were empty, explaining why his hallway was almost always empty.
As he approached his room, Kirby gave him a big hug, and Joker laughed, hugging the puffball back.
“Hey, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but I was wondering—” Joker burst out laughing when Kirby rubbed their cheeks together. “Hey! That tickles!”
He certainly loves you dearly. Arsene chuckled in his head, and Joker pulled Kirby away from his face, unable to stop smiling.
“Hey, hey,” He calmed the puffball down. “I was just wondering, why do you always insist on coming with me to say goodnight?”
“Poyo, poyo…” Kirby deflated slightly, and Joker’s smile disappeared.
Arsene emerged from Joker’s heart, and delicately plucked the pink puffball from his master’s hands. Joker blinked at his Persona as he held Kirby in his long claws gently, listening as he explained something to Arsene, whose shoulders slumped slightly after a while of listening to Kirby.
“Ah, I see.” He said solemnly, and let Kirby jump back into Joker’s arms. “The tale I will tell later tonight as you prepare for bed. For now, do bid our good friend goodnight.”
“O-oh, uh, okay.” Joker let Kirby kiss his cheek again, and he gently set him down on the ground, giving him a pat on the head. “Goodnight, Kirby.”
“Poyo!” The puffball said, and waved Joker goodbye, plodding away. Joker watched him leave, turning down the stairs, and he looked at Arsene, who gently wrapped his arm around Joker’s shoulders to usher him into their room.
Later that night, he heard the story of Galeem and Dharkon, and he bit his lip as Arsene finished his story, settling back against his armchair as Joker stared up at the ceiling.
“It must have been hard.” He said quietly.
“I can imagine, yes.” Arsene replied. “Therefore, Kirby kisses all his co-competitors goodnight before going to bed, out of fear of losing them again.”
Joker rolled over to look at his Persona, who cocked his head at him.
“Do you think I’ll end up like that?” He asked, and Arsene huffed fondly. “All alone, trying to get my friends back?”
“Should Mademoiselle Nijima’s Palace infiltration turn out successful, I do believe we will be alright.” He replied, and got up to tuck Joker in properly. “Now, to off to sleep with you. Your first match is tomorrow, and we shan’t disappoint Madame Bayonetta.”
Joker smiled at that, and nodded, settling down to sleep.
Ten minutes before Joker’s first match, Bayonetta came to meet him, and he lit up when he saw her approaching his locker room before the match.
“Hello, sweetie.” She said, and he gave her a little wave. “Don’t disappoint me.”
“I won’t.” He said, and Bayonetta nodded.
“Now, let me see what you have there.” She said, gesturing at his pockets, and Joker pulled out his knife.
Bayonetta’s expression fell. “No!”
Joker held his hands up defensively. “I promise! I promise I’ll use the gun, but this is the other half of my arsenal.” He said, “I won’t let you down, I promise.”
Bayonetta shook her head, but she was finally smiling. “Alright, little one. Go forth and fuck shit up.”
“Will do, mom.” Joker said without thinking, and headed out towards the transporter for the battlefield. Bayonetta stood there, blinking in surprise, but she eventually smiled, shaking her head.
“Oh, little kitten.” She huffed fondly. “So be it, then.”
Joker landed on the stage, internally screaming.
He did not just call her mom.
Arsene was laughing in his head about it, but he couldn’t focus on that now. He could apologise to her about it later.
He had a fight to take care of, and he was going to win.