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Grounding Deals

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Joshua was certainly, utterly, assuredly annoyed. Not even a week in Shujin and Hanekoma drops by at the end of class without warning! If he didn't have a good reason for this public attempt at “feeding him with sappiness in indefinite amounts”, as Neku once described such behavior, Erasure would seem like mercy on the Fallen Angel.

 

But alas, they will enact The Legal Guardian and his Meek Protege yet again. Hopefully this act will be final.

 

“Hey boss. How’s school doin’?” The soon-to-be cadaver opened the theater of his doom.

 

“Classes were… less than interesting.” A polite smile and a polite answer, keeping the forming plans of the relieving torture that was to come at bay. Was this how Neku felt at Joshua's presence? Most likely. “The contents may be the required for second years, but it's laughable matter for me, I can not believe people struggle with such base material.”

 

As they fixed their vibes to the Underground, the man finally stopped acting like he was a responsible caretaker - no wonder Minamimoto was so easy to take down - and got down to business.

 

“Last night the Reapers got a report.” Hanekoma looked straight into Joshua's eyes. “About a living person who couldn't be scanned. And their possible involvement with the mental shutdowns.”

 

“And why are you, the Producer, telling me, the Composer, something that was clearly the duty of the Conductor to report?” Joshua was by no means overlooking the importance of this information, but he would rather have to deal with another Inversion than not call Hanekoma on any breach of protocol after the underhanded ways he used to interfere on the results of his Game against Megumi.

 

“Because I am to report to you about my doings during the time you were at the RG and figured I might tell it to you before the guy you will only contact when the next Game begins.” He returned briskly. “You argued for my continued existence, set these rules and keeps acting like you care for them. But you don’t really like me being here, do you?”

 

“I abstain from answering.” Joshua shrugged. “As for the main issue, who is this person? I’ll find whatever the loophole that is keeping them from being scanned briefly.”

 

“I already looked into everything I could, boss.” Hanekoma rubbed the back of his neck. “Technically speaking, Goro Akechi doesn’t exist. It’s like there’s something bigger keeping him from being subjected to the normal UG/RG interaction rules.”

 

As they arrive at Shibuya, Joshua decides to ponder these last few words. As the Composer, he could feel everyone within his territory: the entirety of Tokyo. The teenage detective included. If there was a higher power keeping him from being properly subject to the powers of the Player pins, and possibly others, it meant someone equally as powerful as him or Hanekoma must have been interested in keeping Akechi’s existence as an exceptional being from him.

 

In front of 104 was another person of interest for Joshua. Or rather a group. Akira, Sakamoto and Niijima were talking and headed towards a subway station. Given that Takamaki wasn’t among them it is possible they were waiting for her. Unlike Akechi’s situation, he could attempt at reading their thoughts, but given the black haired teen’s heritage that course of action would fruitless. And he might also be unknowingly shielding his friends from scanning too.

 

Their group specifically was why Joshua decided to relive the nightmarish bore that is high school. One second they were all together at one place, the next they would all disappear leaving behind nothing, reappearing later with signs of tiredness so obvious that he wouldn’t be able to ignore even if he wanted to. That was enough to make Joshua believe they were the Phantom Thieves that recently took over all the trends within Tokyo, but if he wanted confirmation he needed to have it coming from their mouths.

 

A man who could lie to the Composer about the very plane he was inhabiting, and a group he had no means of keeping tabs on despite his near unlimited power over the RG. This town never left Joshua bored, that was a certainty.

 

The initial anger towards Hanekoma forgotten, and plans to make him beg for mercy laid to rest, Joshua turned towards his Producer and smirked. “I’m certain I will find a lead soon.”

 


 

Joker found himself fiddling with that pin more often than he would like to admit. When and how he returned to bed that night was unknown to him, the overwhelming feelings at knowing that his father, the man his mother talked about like he was on mortal peril, was in Tokyo and unharmed didn’t let him think straight. But as a diligent Phantom Thief, he knew better than to let it keep him from working properly, an ironic thought given who they were planning to face off against.

 

So far, Kunikazu Okumura's palace had been the most frustrating one. Joker once thought that the one with the least shadows would be the less bothersome. Well, the robots that served as Okumura's cognitive workers begged to disagree. The bigger ones were already more resistant than the average shadow, tougher to everything that wouldn't snuff them out immediately, and hard to differentiate.

 

“Not fair!” Oracle whisper-shouted while they were walking through the Barracks. “When, how and why did you get one of those pins?”

 

“Pins?” Noir looked like she was the most startled by Oracle's outburst.

 

“Yeah! We spent three weeks trying to know why Sojiro always handles the customers with the pins and turned up empty-handed!” Oracle's voice was starting to get louder but a light elbowing from Panther helped her realize it. “Anyways, I didn't find anything about it other than that weird red pin that became a fever some years ago.”

 

“May I take a look when we reach the next safe room?” Noir asked in an even more hushed whisper as they approached their next attempt at getting a key card. “I’m interested as well in thi-”

 

“INCOMING!” Mona shouted as he dashed to avoid a round of bullets coming from behind.

 

“This is why private talks are prohibited!” The robot shaped cognition before them, the one they wanted to go for if their info gathering was accurate, shouted at the group of smaller robots coming from the passageway. “If you keep your focus on your work only, you will not be met with any adverse conditions. Remember this lesson, subordinates! This is for your own good!”

 

“Damn, guess we’ll have to take them all on.” Skull was grinning despite his phrasing. Always loving a good ass-kicking.

 

“Mona, Panther, Skull. With me. Noir, Fox, Queen. Get ready to jump in the fight when I call.” Joker was already in position, silently thanking the leader of the small army for sparing him the trip. “Panther, Mona. Take the small fry out. Skull and I will focus in figuring out its weakness.”

 

“I see you have some sense of duty. But no matter, once I’m done with you my promotion will be assured.” It started to gloat loudly. A shame, his army was going down in 3… 2… 1…

 

“Magarula!” The gust of wind that came with Mona’s voice left all robots around them laying on the ground, the big guy included. Joker smirked as they jumped out of the ambush and surrounded the fallen enemies. Easy.

 

“Oracle. An attack boost, please?”

 

“On it.”

 

Adapting to the boost in strength was an interesting experience. The first time the orange-red light of Tarukaja came upon Joker he almost crushed the handle of his dagger, now it was just second nature to loosen his grip just enough.

 

“Care to make the honors, Mona?” The cat-shaped figure had an all too big grin at that.

 

“Always a pleasure.” Mona jumped, the other three followed suit, making through the fallen robots in a way that would make even the most skilled cook in a sushi restaurant jealous. “And it’s done.” He said picking up the card left on the ground where the big robot once stood… only for Oracle to snatch it from his paws.

 

“H-Hey! I was the one who got that!” Mona cried in distress. Not that Oracle paid any mind.

 

“Aaaaand we have… Section chief ID.”

 

Joker solemnly nodded to Queen’s whisper of “fuck”.

 


 

 

“That numbercrusher did WHAT?!”

 

Sojiro was mildly surprised Minamimoto didn’t break anything after being told that Sanae Hanekoma had a son, even if that self-control was why he called the man in the first place. Though he seemed more surprised that the Fallen Angel met a woman then by the child’s existence.

 

“Does the derivative compute?” Sojiro wasn’t privy to the backstory of any Reaper no matter how much of a legend they may be, but he knew that tone of voice - and enough math to translate that statement to Japanese - to see the sympathy within.

 

“As a licensed salesman to the Game, I may only talk about Game matters to those within the Underground.” Which made Sojiro’s plan the only way to let Akira know anything about his father at all. Hanekoma's status as a fugitive had tied Sojiro's hands entirely, and this new situation was a loophole abuse at its finest. One misstep and both Sojiro and Minamimoto would be erased.

 

“So you want me to solve this equation.” Minamimoto downed the cup in one gulp. “And what do I factor out of this?”

 

“I can't promise too much.” Not that Sojiro needed much. “But Hanekoma wasn't really keen on letting Akira know.” The effect was instantaneous. Minamimoto grinned like a hyena and Sojiro could almost hear the stories about Minamimoto's attempted coup all those years back again. How Hanekoma taught him how to summon Taboo Noise and a psych strong enough to erase the Composer. And how all that support piled up into three major failures and two erasures for the Reaper.

 

“Please, Excuse My Deeply Amused Smile.” Sojiro held back from snorting at that one. This conversation almost made him think that Minamimoto could be a teacher. But it seems to have worked anyways, Hanekoma didn't lie when he said the Reaper was easy to manipulate. QED. “I think this is a zetta interesting proposition.”

 

“You're in, then?” Sojiro asked half-certain of the answer. “Just so you know, I won't accept you laying a finger on him.”

 

“My solutions always fit the conditions. Harming that brat isn't worth a yoctogram to me.” Minamimoto said staying up. “CRUNCH! I'll add that to the heap.”

 

“Good.” Sojiro nodded. “It was a pleasure doing business with you.”

 

The bell by the door chimed, and Akira came in. Seeing him ready to pass out from exhaustion reminded Sojiro of exactly why he didn't want to resort to this. How he wanted to go upstairs and say it. The Game, Hanekoma, Akira's connection to it all. But this agreement with the one Reaper that knew about Hanekoma's status and could probe the holes in the rules was the only way for it to happen. At least it wouldn't be that evening.

 

“Welcome back.” Sojiro greeted. Perhaps the one of the last times he would, if Minamimoto succeeded.

 

“I’ll sleep early today.” Akira said with a yawn. “I’ll help around the cafe tomorrow. Long day.” And headed upstairs.

 

“I suppose this is where I take my leave, then.” Minamimoto speaking like a normal person snapped Sojiro out of his musing on what-ifs and brought him back to the present.

 

“It'll be three-one-forty yen.” Sojiro answered. The joke was a vain attempt at making himself not feel guilty about this.

 

“Here.” Minamimoto dropped the money and left without another word.

 

A few minutes later, Sojiro was leaving Leblanc, whispering “good night” to the boy sleeping at the attic.