A/N: the fic contains huge spoilers for the last case of Dual Destinies. If you haven't finished the game, run away and do it now.
I began writing this a bit back, but I decided to post it here now that I'm fairly confident I'm going to finish it. Not sure how many chapters there will be, but it shouldn't be TOO long.
The Phantom's true face is, perhaps unsurprisingly, rather unremarkable.
It's plain, lacking any distinctive features and so utterly ordinary that it's hard to even describe. If asked to describe it, Simon Blackquill wouldn't even know where to start. Pale blue eyes, short straw-colored hair... and a scar, that's all that would come to his mind; the scar is, all in all, the only thing about that face that actually catches the eye. It's on his forehead, a small circle with frayed edges, no larger than a quarter. A bullet wound, Blackquill thinks as he sits down, and a rather old one. The Phantom has had more than just one serious brush with death, it appears. Blackquill wonders whose skin was he wearing when that happened.
"I'll be standing outside," a guard is saying, sounding extremely awkward. Hardly a surprise, considering that no more than three weeks ago Blackquill himself was held there. "If anything happens, don't... uh... call for me, alright?" he adds, eyes shifting from Blackquill to the Phantom – who, on the other hand, is sitting quietly on the other side a metal table and looking almost bored.
There is no glass between them, for the Phantom requested specifically to speak to him and Athena somewhere other than the visitor's room – well away from cameras or anyone's ears. It's a request that wouldn't be even considered under normal circumstances, but nothing about the Phantom is normal and the Interpol is getting really desperate to get any information at all out of him. They took the case from the LA Police Department almost as soon as he was arrested, claiming that the Phantom was theirs to deal with, but they failed to get him to give any information at all about... well, about pretty much anything. They have even tried with a Truth Machine, Blackquill has heard, but the Phantom rigged it at every turn. So, when the Phantom told them he may talk if he got a chance to speak to both Simon Blackquill and Athena Cykes first, they were more than ready to allow it. Anything to get him to speak, apparently.
"We will," Athena tells the guard as both she and Blackquill sit down. She's remarkably controlled, but Blackquill doesn't miss the stiffness in her frame. Not that he can blame her: facing her mother's murderer can't be easy. Still, Blackquill knows she's strong enough to. He turns his attention from her and looks down at the Phantom's shackled hands resting on the table.
"I can't say that I don't appreciate the irony," he finally says.
The Phantom's gaze shifts down on the shackles, and a smirk curls his lips. It looks mechanical, as though some kind of puppeteer is simply pulling up the corners of his mouth with strings. "It is ironic, yes. No offense, but I like to think they look better on me."
"Hmpf. You're hardly an interesting sight overall. I daresay that each and every of your masks showed more personality than your true face. Or is this yet another mask?" he asks. Aside from being unremarkable, the Phantom's face is very pale; the result of keeping it hidden beneath masks for years, no doubt. They still have no clue of what actual age is, but to Blackquill he looks somewhere between late thirties and early forties.
If the remark hits a raw nerve – it does, Blackquill is certain of it – the Phantom doesn't let it show. He simply smirks and lifts one shackled hand to briefly run a hand across his cheek. "I couldn't take this one off, so I'm rather confident it's made of flesh. It may not be that much to look at, but it's mine. I know at least this much."
"And yet your voice is still not your own," Blackquill points out. While quieter and devoid of the almost unbearable cheerfulness, there is no mistaking the voice of Bobby Fulbright.
The Phantom's smirk falters for a moment before he speaks again, a small slip that doesn't escape Blackquill. He wouldn't have slipped like that before, he's certain of it. He may still have enough control on himself to rig the Interpol's Truth Machine, but something is slipping there; Blackquill can feel it.
"Yes, it's his voice. I can't yet recall what my own voice sounded like, so I figured I'd stick to it. For now."
"For now?" Athena asks quietly. It's almost unsettling seeing her so quiet, her face so unusually blank. It reminds Blackquill of the blank look she wore as a child before her mother's corpse, and it almost enough to make him shiver. Almost.
After seven years in prison, paying for a crime he never committed and with the date of his execution growing closer with each passing minute, Simon Blackquill doesn't shudder over much of anything anymore.
The man facing them smiles again, a dreadfully empty smile. "That is related to the reason why I asked for your presence here."
"And you have thirty seconds to tell us what it is, or else we'll be leaving and-" he trails off when the Phantom's expression changes into a pout, a pout he knows damn well. It is the kind that would show on Fulbright's face ever so often, and just seeing it on this... this man's face makes Blackquill grit his teeth. "If you have even one ounce of decency," he snarls, "wipe that expression from your face right now. The mask is off, Phantom, and you will not further insult a man you killed by trying to mimic him."
The pout melts into a laugh, and the Phantom throws back his head. "You certainly are protective of a man you never met, Prosecutor Blackquill," he says once the brief laugh dies down. "How can you be so sure the real Detective Fulbright ever made such a face? You never truly saw him. Never truly spoke to him once. And yet in a way you did. You grew to trust him in your own way, didn't you? Such a well-intentioned fool he was, thinking he could reform even you – a convicted criminal facing death penalty."
Blackquill narrows his eyes. "None of it was real. It was all an act."
"Oh, but was it?" the Phantom smirks, leaning back against his seat. "I had to become him, after all, and acted everything like he would. Everything. He would have been the same, I'm certain. He would have supported you. He would have wanted to think the best of you. He would have believed in you to the very end. Haven't I mentioned what an utterly trusting fool he was? Such big talk of justice, and yet he was just as blind. He never saw his death coming, and it was over before he could even realize it – the trust you speak so highly of made him such an easy target. He was ridiculously easy to kill. So was your mentor, actually. Out of the three of them, the little red attorney's friend was the only one who put up a decent fi-"
Athena moves fast, but not so fast that Blackquill cannot realize what she's about to do. Still, he doesn't move to stop her... and neither does the Phantom. The back of her hand hits him straight in the face, causing his head whip backward, and yet he doesn't make a noise – that of the blow the only sound in the room. For a few moments there is only more silence, with Athena still standing, and her still lifted hand shakes before she lowers it and sinks back on her seat.
It's then than the Phantom finally moves, turning his head back to them. He reaches up to wipe the blood welling from his broken lip and looks down at his bloodied hand with a small smirk. "At least now we can tell for a fact that this one face is not a mask," he muses aloud.
Blackquill scoffs. "Good for your peace of mind, I suppose. You have yet to tell us-"
"Did none of them mean anything at all?"
Athena's voice is higher than usual, the distress obvious even without having to listen closely or look at Widget. Blackquill looks back at her and for a moment he's about to speak, to tell her not to bother asking – because he knows what the Phantom's reply will be, and he knows it will hurt – but the Phantom speaks first.
"Mean... anything?" he repeats.
"You killed Detective Fulbright. You killed Apollo's best friend. You killed my mother," she says, her voice shaking. "Was all of that... nothing to you?"
The pain in her voice is hard to even listen to, and Blackquill can understand ever bit of it; it is hard to even imagine that someone can kill a person who means so much to you and feel absolutely nothing about it. The pain of the loss is still there for both of them, an empty space aching cold in their chests, and yet the monster who took them away can talk about them while looking at them in the eye and still show no remorse.
The Phantom's expression goes back to being vaguely bored. "No. Should they? They were nothing to me. I didn't know them. They were simply obstacles in my way."
Athena clenches her teeth, and speaks again. She sounds a bit firmer now, less pained and angrier. "But you did know Simon. You've known him for over a year. You were going to let him take the fall and be executed even while you pretended to be his friend. Was... was it nothing, even that? Only an act?"
Blackquill is about to put a hand on her shoulder, tell her to go out for a while and breathe some fresh air, that asking such things to a man such as the Phantom will only hurt her – but he pauses when he catches a movement in the corner of his eyes. Was that...?
When he turns to truly look at him the Phantom is absolutely still and calm, but Blackquill is certain he recoiled at Athena's question. It was a small movement, sure, but he didn't miss it... and neither did Athena, for she's now looking at him more intently. She was aiming to see – or listen to – his reaction, Blackquill realizes, and she did get one. He barely holds back a somewhat proud smile and turns to look back at the Phantom. He looks perfectly calm, but he must realize their reaction hasn't escaped them at all.
"I don't quite get what you're asking of me. If I have regrets? If it makes you happy to know it, Miss Cykes, I do have one. I regret leaving you alive. Remember this?" he asks, and lifts a shackled hand. It's gloveless, and there is a scar across it's back – from when he killed Metis Cykes and little Athena stabbed him in panic. "I wouldn't be here hadn't you been alive you had stabbed me. Actually, none of this would have happened hadn't it been for you. I would have had no reason to return hadn't you wounded me and forced me to hide the moon rock. I would have had no reason to retrieve it. I would have had no reason to kill your friend's friend, or-"
"Silence!" Blackquill barks, slamming a hand against the table and leaning forward. He takes some satisfaction in the fact he caused the Phantom to flinch back. The man is going out of his way to avoid Athena's question and make them forget of the way he recoiled, but Blackquill is not inclined to let him control where the conversation goes. "Tell us what you want, or else keep those lips of yours still. Answer to me. And if you say anything that is not that answer we'll be taking our leave."
For a few moments the Phantom just stares at him with unnervingly pale eyes, and Blackquill detects a moment's hesitation before he finally speaks. "I want you to find out who I am."
Blackquill laughs. It's a cold laugh, with very little amusement in it. "You have galls, I'll give you that. Why should we do anything for you? You aren't worth the air you breathe. You aren't worthy the words we're wasting, let alone our efforts. You're a nobody in every sense of the word. You can die as one as far as I'm concerned. Unless..." he sneers. "Unless you can give something in return, of course. As it happens, I want a few things as well. I want seven years of my life back. I want my sister out of prison. I want my mentor alive and well. I want Athena to have a her mother and childhood back. Can you give us any of that?"
"Simon..." Athena says somewhere beside him, but Blackquill barely hears her: all his attention is focused on the Phantom. Who, on the other hand, hasn't even blinked.
"As a matter of fact, I can give something back."
"Which is...?" Blackquill says, but he already knows exactly where the conversation is going.
"Information. All the information the Interpol may possibly want, and more. It seems a fair deal to me," the other man says, leaning forward on the desk. Blackquill's eyes are once again drawn to the bullet scar on his head. "You help me, I help the police. The Interpol is rather desperate for information I just happen to have; all I'm suggesting is an exchange. You find out what my identity is, and I'll give them just that. No holding back. Why should I? I'm not leaving prison alive, as you pointed out. I'll be a good boy. Give me a name I can have on my grave, and I'll talk."
Blackquill chuckles. "How predictable. I should have known information was what you'd offer. It's all you have to offer, after all. And why would you be asking us of all people?"
With a smirk, the Phantom props an elbow on the table and rests his chin on his palm. "Now, Prosecutor Blackquill. You're an intelligent man. I'm certain you know exactly why," he says, and his gaze falls on Widget. "Analytical psychology, of course. And, most important of all, little Miss Cykes' Mood Matrix."
"My Mood Matrix?" Athena repeats, instinctively reaching up to touch Widget.
"Yes. You could quite literally drag information to the surface, even something the person you used it on barely recalled. Why not use it to dredge back my memories?"
Athena frowns slightly. "It can't work starting with nothing. We'd need some memories to work on first, and you said you don't have any... or do you now? Have you remembered anything?"
He seems to hesitate for only a moment before nodding. "Something, I suppose. Bits and pieces that don't seem to belong to any of my... any of the identities I took. But it's so little, and I cannot make any sense of it. Not on my own," he says, and pulls his hand away from his face. "That device may be the key to it all. The Interpol has nothing like it. No one has anything like it but you. That device, and your... special talent."
"A talent that would be entirely wasted on you," Blackquill states coldly.
The Phantom narrows his eyes. "It's information you want, isn't it?" he asks, and turns his attention back to Athena. "Wouldn't you like to know who ordered the sabotage on the HAT-1 mission? Who told me of the sample of my voice our prosecutor here brought to your mother to analyze? Who provided me the means to infiltrate the Space Center to begin with, so that I could get rid of your mother and sabotage the mission in one go?"
Athena bites her lower lip, and Blackquill can tell that she does want to know. How could she not? They both want to know. And they will, he tells himself, they will know all that there is to know – but if they're going to play the Phantom's game, he has to make clear from the start that he's not going to be the one to set the rules.
"It's not enough," he says, reaching under the table to grab Athena's hand and hold it for a moment. She catches his drift right away – leave this to me – and says nothing. "This information is something the Interpol will get out of you at some point, whether you will it or not. The Interpol, or our own police. Your actions classify you are more than a mere spy, Phantom – you're a terrorist. And when it comes to making terrorists speak, they don't shy away from... unsavory methods. They'll make you speak sooner or later, if anything so that you can have in exchange the sweet release of death."
The Phantom's jaw clenches for a moment before he speaks. His voice is still calm, and collected. "You underestimate me, Prosecutor Blackquill. I'd almost say I'm hurt."
Blacquill scoffs. "Or perhaps you're overestimating yourself. You once claimed you had no fear, and yet the little show you put on in court was quite entertaining. So much for a man without fear," he says, and this time he can see his words hit the mark: the Phantom tenses up and works his jaw for a moment.
"That was not-"
"That was the proof you're only a coward, running away from yourself. How amusing that now you want to have that self back. But here's the thing, Phantom – you cannot demand anything if you're not willing to face the truth to begin with."
"I haven't the foggiest idea what you're talking about."
With a sneer, Blackquill leans forward. "Then why don't you tell the truth now?"
"The truth," Blackquill says viciously and with no small amount of satisfaction, "is that you're trying to delude yourself into thinking you have some kind of ledge. And perhaps you do, but it's nowhere big as you make it out to be. You're far more desperate to know who you are than the Interpol could ever be to get any kind of information out of you – and they have the means to make you talk sooner or later. You're trying to come across as someone suggesting a fair exchange of information while you're little more than a beggar grasping for straws. The Interpol could use the information, I'm certain, but you need to know who you are. Do you think that I – I, of all people – wouldn't be able to recognize the eyes of someone who cannot sleep at night?"
For a few moments the Phantom says nothing: he only looks at him, his gaze blank. When he speaks again, he doesn't try to deny the fact he spends most of his nights awake; then again, how could he? The dark shadows under his eyes speak volumes and there is no denying them. "Are you expecting me to beg for your help, Prosecutor Blackquill? I'm afraid you'll be sorely disappointed. I will not. I have no reason to, because no matter what you may claim – I know you want the information I hold. I'm not as desperate as you make me out to be. I want-"
Blackquill stands abruptly, causing the man to trail off. "Enough with this charade. I wasted enough time because of you; seven years of it. I shall not waste a minute more. Come, Athena," he says, and as she stands in silence – still leaving it all to him, as he had asked of her – he turns to give a bored glance at the Phantom. Who, on the other hand, seems just a little paler than he was moments ago. Quite a feat, considering that he's already even paler than Blackquill himself. "Next time we meet it will be at your execution, I suppose. However long it may take for that day to come, I'm certain I'll relish in the sight. It will be like exorcising a ghost. I wonder what they'll even write on your grave," he sneers, and that finally makes the Phantom snap out of his surprise.
"No. No, wait-"
"You wasted your chance," Blackquill cuts him off, and turns to walk to the door. He can hear Athena following him, and then a chair being pushed back and shackled fists hitting a metal table. For a moment Blackquill almost turns, if anything to protect Athena from anything the Phantom may attempt, but but he stops when he recalls that the Phantom is also shackled to the table. He wouldn't be able to harm either of them even if he wanted. So he ignores him, and walks up to the door.
"Blackquill! I'm not done-"
"I am," Blackquill snaps back, not even turning to look back. He reaches for the knob and opens the door. "Officer, we're done here. You can take him back to his-"
Blackquill pauses, and smiles to himself. The cry that left the Phantom now sounds just right, and shows just how close he is to losing it. Indeed, he's not as desperate as he imagined to find out just who he is – he's even more desperate than that, and Blackquill now knows without a shadow of doubt that he can break the Phantom if so he wishes. It's a pleasant thought, he has to admit, and a tempting option... but for now it is enough that he can show him exactly where they stand. If they're to play this game, then fine – but it will be him, and never the Phantom, to make the rules.
"Athena. Can you please wait outside for a few minutes?" he asks quietly, still not turning back to the Phantom. She looks up at him somewhat uncertainly.
"Simon, what are you...?"
"You'll find out soon enough. Now I only wish to speak with him alone. It won't take long," he promises.
She finally nods. "Fine," is all she says before walking out, closing the door behind herself softly. Blackquill is more than certain she'll be listening from behind the door, but that doesn't really matter: the Phantom won't know it, after all.
"Didn't you say, not even a minute ago, that you would not beg?" Blackquill asks aloud, still giving the Phantom his back. There is no reply at first, not one sound – but then there are shifting chains, the sound of a man sitting back heavily. When Blackquill finally turns back he's not surprised at all to see him sitting once again, elbows resting on the table and his head in his hands. Blackquill can no longer see his face, but he certainly doesn't miss the sight. He walks up to the table and sits back down, leaning against the backrest and crossing his arms.
"You have some galls, asking for our help after all the crimes you committed."
The Phantom stays silent for several moments before speaking, his head still in his hands and still facing the table's surface. "I'll pay for all that with my life. A mockery, but still a life. All I ask is having a name to call my own before I die. I already told you what it is I can offer in exchange. It... it must be enough. It must. I can't... I don't... I... no!"
For a moment Blackquill is taken aback by the sudden cry of denial that leaves the Phantom, but realization sinks in as soon as he sees the drops on the table's surface, as soon as the Phantom reaches up to furiously rub his eyes.
"No. No, no, no, no," he keeps repeating, like it's some kind of mantra, but his shoulders are shaking and it's obvious he's on the verge of entirely losing control. It occurs to Blackquill that this is likely the first time since the Phantom seems to remember that he's not filling up someone else's role: no identity to steal, no personality to imitate, no pretense to keep up. Nothing of what he says or thinks or feels is now following a script, so it's no wonder that he's losing it – he's forced to be himself and he has no self, has no idea who he is, no clue how much of what's in his own head is actually part of him. He could keep some control over himself as long as he thought he had some cards to play, but even that illusion collapsed as soon as Blackquill made it clear that the game was out of his hands.
He's a nobody trying and failing to be someone. It's no real wonder the situation frightens him. If it were someone else, anyone else, then perhaps Blackquill would feel some measure of pity.
"... Fool Bright," Blackquill he hears himself saying, and before he can even realize what he said the Phantom takes in a sharp breath and goes silent. The heels of his hands are still pressed against his eyes, and he exhales and then inhales again before speaking.
"That is... not my name."
"But we'll settle for it until we know better. Or perhaps I'll shorten it and simply make it 'Fool'. It describes you quite well, after all. A pitiful, cowardly fool running away from himself. "
"I cannot run from myself!" the Phantom snaps, finally tearing his hands off his face. His eyes are reddened, and has bitten into his already broken lip hard enough to draw more blood that's now coating his mouth and chin. His expression is that of a man on the brink of insanity. "There is no self! There is nothing inside! Nothing at all!"
A derisive snort leaves Blackquill's mouth. "You said the same thing during the trial, and it's as much of a pathetic lie now as it was back then. I don't know how much of this is the real you – you don't, either – but there has to be something. Didn't you say you're remembering something? Bits and pieces that don't belong to any mask you've worn?" he presses on.
He doesn't receive a reply right away, for the Phantom and breathing in and out in the attempt at regaining some measure of control. When he finally straightens himself and looks back at him he looks somewhat stabler, though Blackquill can tell his equilibrium is precarious at the very best. "Yes. I am remembering... something," he finally says, reaching up to wipe the blood off his mouth and chin with a sleeve. "I'm not entirely sure those memories are my own, or rather I'm not sure I was actually... my own self when I got them. I can't recall them being part of any mission I was in, though, so I think they may mine. But I can only remember brief glimpses. Very brief ones. And one of them brings back anything. That's why I thought-"
"That Athena's Mood Matrix could help you uncover more," Blackquill finishes for him. It is a long shot, but not an entirely baseless idea: Athena's ability to read the emotions he felt at the time of his memories, even the emotions the Phantom himself couldn't realize were there, actually may help him remember more.
The Phantom nods. "Yes. It may be... my only chance," he says, and his voice falters for only a moment before he clenches his jaw and leans forward. "Prosecutor Blackquill, you have been chasing me since before your mentor's murder. Why, the reason why she had to be taken out of the picture in the first place is the fact you were already after me and involved her by asking her to analyze a sample of my voice to create a psych profile. And you weren't after me only for me, were you? Of course not. You wanted to stop the whole organization, wanted to know what countries and corporations were involved. You wanted the espionage and sabotage operations to come to an end. I can offer you that now. I know more than enough for you to end it all. I only ask for a name in return. Nothing more."
Blackquill leans back and smirks. He's not at all surprised that it has come to this kind of talk – and even less surprised of the fact the Phantom is forgetting a very important thing. "Very well. Let's say I'm interested. What about Athena?"
Predictably enough, the Phantom frowns in confusion. "What about her?"
"Your bargaining chip may work for me, but less for her. You killed her mother. Tried to make her take the blame. Killed her friend's best friend. Tried to frame her for murder. Has it occurred to you , even for a moment, that your offer for information on whatever organization you worked for may not be enough for her to get past that?" he asks. He actually knows it is – he knows Athena is strong enough to put aside her own feelings to pursue the truth and help bring everything to a close for good – but the Phantom doesn't. "And it's her help you need the most. Not mine. Hers. If you were hoping I'd try to force her into it only to get some closure of my own you're sorely mistaken," he adds, and holds back a smirk when he sees the Phantom's mouth twitching before he turns away.
"What must I do, then?" he asks, his voice quiet.
Rot in hell, Blackquill wishes to say, but he knows better than that. No matter what he said or what points he may have made – he does want that information, even if he's not desperate for it as the Phantom is desperate for an identity to call his own.
"Stop demanding," he finally replies. "As I believe I made clear, you're in no position to make demands. The Interpol may fall for it, but not me. Not Athena. It's our – her – help you need; ask for it. Or beg, whichever term suits you best. It likely won't work, and we just might ignore you and carry on with our lives while you rot in prison first and in a nameless grave afterward. But it would be more befitting of your position, and it might give you a sliver of a chance. Demands will get you precisely nowhere, because there is nothing you have to give her in return. Nothing she wishes as much as you yearn for an identity of your own. Unless you can resuscitate the dead, of course. Can you?"
There is a brief, utterly joyless laugh. "I obviously cannot. Very well," he says, looking back up at Blackquill. "I'll ask her, then, as you said. Beg if I have to. Not much left to lose, after all. Except dignity, but then again I believe I already forfeited a great part of it right before I was shot."
"That would be fitting, yes. Just one more thing," Blackquill says, and leans forward. "If you try once more to hurt her, even with your pathetic and useless words, you'll wish you were never born. Have I made myself clear?"
"Crystal," is the flat reply. Blackquill nods and turns to the door.
"Athena, I think you're eavesdropped quite enough. Come back in."
The door opens almost right away, and Athena's head pops in. She looks at him with a somewhatv sheepish grin. "Heh. Was I that obvious?"
"That obvious and then some," Blackquill replies with a shrug as she walks in and closes the door behind herself. Her sheepish grin vanishes when she looks back at the Phantom, who returns her serious look with a rather blank one. Still, his hands ball into fists on the table.
"I suppose," he finally speaks, "that this is the part where I'm expected to beg. Very well. I-"
"I'll do it."
The Phantom trails off, clearly taken aback, while Blackquill holds back a chuckle. He has known from the start that Athena wouldn't care for some forced plea from her mother's murderer; his whole point, after all, was simply showing the Phantom where he stands – how he's not the one to set the rules, and will never be again.
"You... will?" the Phantom repeats, sounding rather incredulous and somewhat suspicious. "Why...?"
Athena scowls, and reaches up to touch Widget. "For my mother. For Simon. And for Apollo, and Clay, and Aura. For Detective Fulbright. To know the truth at last. You may not deserve my help, but they deserve some closure. So I'll do it," she adds, taking her hand away from Widget. "Besides... I want to know who you are. I want to know the name of the man who took my mother from me."
"... Heh. Do you? Why, isn't that a fortunate coincidence," the Phantom mutters. "It seems we have an agreement, after all."
"For now," Blackquill says, and finally stands up. "Very well. It's high time for us to go," he says, causing the Phantom to frown up at him.
"We'll start the sessions when we feel like it. When Athena feels like it. Beggars can't be choosers, wouldn't you agree? Meanwhile you can sit in your cell and try to remember more. Cells are wonderful places for some reminiscing, especially when you cannot sleep at night. I should know," he says – and, for the last time that day he turns his back to the Phantom.
This time, he doesn't call him back.