"Ugh," Akira threw his head back at the realisation that today was the day, the day that he had been dreading for the past week, because for once in a while, he had free time that he wasn't spending hanging around Yoshida, Ohya, Takemi or his school friends. "You do it."
"I'm a cat!" Silence. "I mean, I'm not a cat, but I'm a cat! No one's going to understand me."
The teen scowled, now feeling even more light-headed than before because he would prefer to be put in a near-death experience in the metaverse over standing face-to-face with the single most terrifying adult man that had ever walked the earth, Iwai. "It's a shame that our weapons and medicine don't pay for themselves. At this point, I'm considering selling my body to pay for them."
"You should ask for a discount, then." Morgana quipped back.
"Easier said than done. You know how terrifying Iwai-san is. I can barely slide our loot to the register when he stares at me with those sharp eyes." Akira sighed, cursing himself for not being a brave enough leader in the face of a supposed Yakuza member. In the metaverse, it was a whole another story since he didn't have to think too much about the impression he made, but in real life, he would sooner turn tail and run the other way before daring himself even to ask what was inside the paper bag that Iwai gave him six months ago. Speaking of the paper bag, he also never found out what was inside. It had been sitting under his bed, collecting dust.
"You're such a Ryuji. Just admit that you have a big, fat crush on that scary shop owner."
"Morgana, what!?" Akira gasped at his partner's suggestion although he didn't completely deny the accusation. From what little time he spent looking at Iwai's face, yes, he was an attractive older man, but it didn't help that the solid five minutes he spent every visit, Akira merely looked at Iwai's boots instead, that at this point he was confident that had memorised every single crease and sign of defect on the soles.
"And leave that sweet boy out of this. I wish I could just talk my way to getting Iwai-san to sweeten the deal, but I freeze up whenever I'm an arm's length away from him." Akira wanted to facepalm himself at the memory of him, clad in school uniform, shakily setting down a few model guns for purchase on the counter right next to Iwai's heavy-duty boots. It took everything in his power to not yelp when the man scowled at him from behind his magazine to process his order. Everyone around him always complimented Akira's charm and looks (courtesy of hanging out with Ohya and Yoshida one too many times. Oh, not to mention all those nights he spent soaking in the hot spring to ensure that his skin was healthy and tight), but what good were they when he could hardly stop himself from wetting his pants? Well, he was getting a little better at handling Iwai's attitude, but he still didn't think that he was nearly brave enough to start throwing out honeyed words to soften the shop owner up.
"Well, go on then! Get some money for your hard work." Said Morgana as Akira grabbed his bag and put it on his shoulder.
"Would you look at that!" Akira all but beamed when he noticed that the shop's sign was flipped to closed and that all light inside was turned off. "What a shame."
"You're grinning..." Morgana protested. "Fine, let's just sort out Mishima's newest request. You've finished studying, right?"
"Hey, what do you think I do during classes? I wasn't about to waste Kawakami's offer to slack off in any class, you know?" Akira said as he whipped his phone out and pressed on the navigation app that transported them into the metaverse.
"Such rebel you are, studying maths while in English class," Mona said, amused, his ears twitching. "Doesn't seem like it's going to be a hard mission. We should be able to grab some more medicine after this if we don't get too absorbed with grabbing junk."
Joker laughed in response before he fixed his eyes towards the railroad where he noticed a small movement in the corner of his eyes. He quickly turned his head, only to see silence and emptiness. That couldn't be his imagination... but whatever it was, it disappeared, so Joker shrugged. "Path of Aiyatsbus, right? That shouldn't be much of a problem, then."
Wrong. Joker sighed as he clutched his sides. He was fresh out of items and this blasted shadow wasn't letting up despite its grave injuries. Just a few more blows should do the trick, but he was running out of steam and the same could be said about Mona. The damn thing used too many underhanded tactics that he didn't account for. If his calculation was right, about three more melee blows should do the trick, but the question was: would he be able to stand two to three more blows when they only had the energy for one diarama left in them?
"It seems that the great Phantom Thieves are mere children not worth stepping on, after all!" The shadow of a man who had been threatening students and minors in shibuya echoed, mocked, its voice edged with an utter lack of respect that made Joker's blood boil. What an inexcusable blunder he made, how uncharacteristic it was of him to let his cockiness got the better of him.
"Should we run?" Mona muttered quietly, voice slightly cracked from fatigue as he stood in front of their foe who was not without injuries.
Joker pursed his lips in frustration. If he turned back now, everything would be for naught, but if he didn't, that was the same as suicide. Swallowing his pride, he glanced at Mona and nodded yes, escaping was the better option for now. Regroup and try again next time. They had just enough money to make another medicine order. Now they only had to find an opening. The shadow was getting cocky, getting careless, Joker thought as he braced himself for another attack while Mona sought for the opportunity to flee.
It never came. Joker felt something whipping past him, almost scratching his cheek but never made contact. When he opened his eyes, he saw that the shadow had melted back into a pile of black goo that revealed a very apologetic man. He exchanged a puzzled look with Mona, but didn't shy away from taking the treasure glimmering in front of them. Mission accomplished, yet the two warily surveyed their surroundings. They were only met with silence even as they emerged out of the distortion and back in the middle of the railroads. What was that?
"I think," Mona, now a bus muttered. "Someone else is here with us. I'm picking up a slight movement that isn't a shadow."
Joker nodded as he placed his gloved fingers on the steering wheel. "I suspected that too when we entered this floor, but I thought it was just my imagination." The curly-haired teen narrowed his eyes behind his mask. There didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary even when he fell back into his third eye, but he could still feel like another persona user was there with them, somewhere. However, Joker could hardly sense it. And now, not at all. All footprints seemed to have disappeared.
The two drove in silence towards the closest platform, being extra careful as to not engage in any meaningless battle while keeping their eyes peeled for a potential threat. The supposed persona user had saved them, but they still didn't have a grasp of their identity. Joker kept his fingers at the ready on his phone. He sensed a presence on the platform which most likely belonged to whomever it was in the metaverse with them. As soon as they ascended to the fourth floor and had a peek at the unexpected guest, they were to leave, he decided. No more heroics. Once was enough to almost get them killed.
"Joker, wait!" Mona whispered when they were halfway up the elevator, his ears twitching.
Joker held his breath and clenched his fists. There was someone in the rest area and he was sure that they had been noticed, expected even. Without so much as a word, he took another step, ignoring Mona's complaints, then another until he reached the fourth floor where he could see a figure sitting down inside the glass box with a sniper rifle on his side. Not a combat stance, so Joker decided that this man wasn't hostile - yet. So much for no more heroics, Joker mused. Someone who saved them surely wouldn't have any ill intent, right? Besides, he had never seen another persona user in the mementos or palace before, so this was something that he badly needed to investigate, and he was certain that despite Mona's warnings, he, too, thought the same.
"The fabled Phantom Thieves, eh?" The man started when Joker stopped just outside the glass box, one of his hands behind his back, ready to exit the metaverse if the situation called for it. "Never thought that I'd see you lots here." With a gravelly, smoky voice that was slightly distorted with static, the stranger stood up with his rifle in his hands. He had a dark red scarf around his neck that covered the lower part of his face while the upper half was clad in helmet visor in the shape of a four-horned bull adorned with magnifying lenses and a light blue glow. He wore a long-sleeved black shirt that was covered with what Joker assumed was a bulletproof vest. His pants had camo-pattern that led to his familiar-looking high leather boots. He would know because that was all he ever looked at when he tried to sell his mementos and palace loot at Untouchable because one glance at the shop owner's eyes sent him to a state of panic.
But this couldn't possibly be Iwai. Right? What were the chances of that?
"Your assistance was much appreciated," Joker answered, his fingers twitching around his phone at the presence of the gun.
The man seemed to notice the tense body language Joker employed. And as if to confirm Joker's belief that he didn't wish any harm, a blue flame enveloped the weapon and it disappeared. It looked like the gun was a persona. Could the visor be a part of it as well? How curious.
"Uh-huh," He shrugged before extending his hand, palm facing the ceiling and fingers moving in a front and back motion, completely ignoring Mona who was standing next to Joker as if he saw a talking bipedal cat at a daily basis. Well, he couldn't be faulted. This was the metaverse that housed many unexplainable creatures. "Give it to me."
"Whatever do you mean?" Joker hummed softly as he shifted his weight in an attempt to play dumb despite knowing exactly what this persona user wanted. The keys that he procured from his target, the very same one inside his pocket which was a vital bargaining chip that he wouldn't give up easily.
"Don't play dumb with me, thief," He grunted. Despite the visor, Joker could envision a glare that didn't faze him, mostly because he couldn't see the man's eyes. "Give me the keys."
"And if I say no?" He asked despite Mona's cries for them to leave right now. Like hell they were leaving without learning this man's motives, be it good or not.
"Then I'll put a bullet through your skull." He scowled, visor glowing brighter blue and Joker could've sworn he saw the three lenses blinking. Upon closer inspection, he noticed two more sides to the visor that made it resemble a three-headed bull.
"You will, will you?" The teen tilted his head, a smirk still plastered on his lips. The metaverse was his playground, and he refused to be outdone in his own field, injuries or not. Besides, he could easily escape if everything turned awry, so that was not an issue. Well, not like the man wished to harm him regardless. If he did, then he wouldn't have gotten rid of his weapon.
"I didn't know the high 'n mighty phantom thief was such a brat. Now, I helped you, so it's only fair if you return the favour," He said impatiently. "Don't force my hands, thief, or I swear, I'll take you out."
"Ah, thought you'd never ask. What about dinner, then?" Joker muttered while twirling the set of keys in his fingers by the ring then threw it up in the air only to catch it as if dangling bait in front of a predator.
"You fuckin' brat," Came the half-amused, half-frustrated response. "Come on, give it to me. You've no need for 'em anyway."
"I'd have to say that you're not sweetening the pot enough," Joker shrugged as he walked closer to the man once he decided that he was not a threat. "What about some sushi?"
"Joker, we have to go!" Mona cried out only to suddenly quiet down when the stranger glared at him. Well, whatever expression he had behind the visor anyway.
"Or maybe if you give me your name and your reason for being here, I'll consider it..." Joker sighed dramatically with his fingers still hovering over the screen of his phone. In real life, he wouldn't dare play with fire like this lest he got burned, but this wasn't real life, and he had the upper hand as well as a secure, unobstructed escape route.
"Brat, I saved your damn life. You should be grateful."
Joker twitched at the second sentence that came out of the man's lips. His head jerked towards the man's only to meet with the unreadable, a rather eerie visor that seemed to stare into his soul. He really wasn't a fan of this persona, he decided. If only he could see more of this man's face, then he would be able to tell if this was Iwai or not, and if he was going to die of shame when he walked into Untouchable next because god fucking damn if he just tried to hit on the mortifying shop owner to get his way. Alas, his whole face was obscured by his get-up, with the only part of silver hair he could see was the portion that Iwai always covered with his hat. And then there was his voice. It was muffled, almost like he was speaking through a microphone.
At this point, Mona was silent but still stood firm behind Joker in case things went south. Of course, it went beyond saying that he wanted to find out more about the strange man who seemingly appeared out of thin air.
"Sure," Joker finally replied with a light shrug. No need to overthink it. What were the chances that this would be Iwai, anyway? Very thin. "But that begs the question of why. Why did you save me, a complete stranger? What's in it for you?"
"What's in it for me is to not watch the Phantom Thieves die and my target slippin' out of my fingers," The man reached out all of a sudden to seize Joker's hand, but the smaller male nimbly sidestepped the approach and avoided the attempt. "You're not plannin' on makin' this easy, are you?"
"Where would be the fun in that?" Joker chuckled before backing up a few steps then proceeded to play with the keys in his hand. "Name and reason."
"Like hell I'm revealin' my identity. That's pure recklessness and you should know it too, brat."
"Mm, I see that you're not an amateur then," Said the teen with a shrug. "Let's see," He proposed, catching the keys and pocketing it. "What about we make a deal? You scratch my back, I scratch yours?"
"I don't need no scratchin'," The taller man scoffed. "I just need my damn keys, I swear to god, brat." This time, he materialised his sniper rifle that appeared from a wild blue flame. Upon closer inspection, he could see that the rope that wrapped around the barrel and ran all the way back to the recoil pad looked like a tail. Some sort of an ox persona, it seemed.
"Joker," Mona muttered as he jumped next to the leader. "Don't do anything stupid."
With a chuckle, Joker whispered in a voice to not be heard, "Come on, I have an exam tomorrow. Kawakami's going to kill me if I don't show up." Then, he cast his eyes back at the stranger.
"I ain't gonna repeat myself, brat," He said sharply as he lifted but not quite pointed his weapon at the unarmed Joker. "The keys. Now."
"Is that smart?" The phantom thief cocked his head with a confident, smug smirk despite the predicament that he was in, all while Mona was sweating bullets.
There was a momentary silence before the man sighed and for the gun to disintegrate once more. Looked like he understood that Joker could and would leave if he was pressed to, never to return. "All right, let's hear this deal of yours, then." He sighed, voice tinted with frustration, knowing that he had no other choice but hear it out unless he wanted to seriously injure or kill the teen.
"I knew we'd be able to see eye to eye," Joker smiled and Mona breathed his relief. He tossed the key at his partner who immediately caught it, then he stepped forward, flow swift and light. In one motion, Joker pressed his body against the man and gloved fingers moved to tug on the scarf around his neck. It was rewarded with a surprised gasp and a tumble back into the glass surface of the shelter, a movement that Joker gladly followed.
No dice, Joker sighed in defeat. Even the lower half of the man's face was covered with the extension of the visor, leaving his nose as the only visible skin. It didn't take long for him, however, to regained his bearing before he could be forcibly removed from the personal bubble he just invaded.
"Tomorrow, same time," He started as he let go of the man's scarf and let his fingers glide down to his bulletproof vest. "Don't stand me up." Then, he pressed the metaverse app on his phone, sending both him and Mona straight back into the backstreet of Shibuya.
"Home sweet home." Akira sighed as he leaned against the wall next to Untouchable and inspected his arms to see that the cuts from his fight remained. He'd need to explain himself to Sojiro, he grimaced.
"I didn't expect us to run into another persona-user." After jumping into Akira' s bag on the floor and dropping the keys inside, Morgana muttered thoughtfully, adrenalin still sky high.
"He didn't seem like he had any ill intent," Slipping his phone into his pocket, Akira shrugged. "You never know, maybe we'll get a third man in our lonely entourage."
"I guess an extra pair of hands would be good in case we need to infiltrate another palace..." Morgana acknowledged, then the two exchanged a thoughtful nod.
Before anything else could be muttered, however, the door was pushed open and Akira jolted on the spot, especially when he saw Iwai emerging with his heavy boots thumping against the ground and fatigue apparent even without Akira having to look at the man.
Akira felt the heavy weight of Iwai's eyes even when he was busy admiring the piece of dried gum on the ground. He slowly shifted to the side as if to make way, but the man never did go past him. Instead, he stood there, arms crossed.
"What're you doin' here, kid? Shop's closed." Oh yeah, he was his usual grumpy self, and Akira considered bolting.
"Uh... g-guns." Instead, he murmured unintelligently as he rubbed the back of his neck followed with Morgana rolling his eyes.
"What?" Iwai frowned, then he sighed, making Akira sink further into the wall thinking that he had somehow managed to offend the shop owner. "Kid, can you do me a favour?"
"Y-yes!" Akira stiffened on spot, his shoulders almost squeezing his neck.
"Hey, relax, I ain't asking you to go kill anyone. Just go buy me some of these. Anything'll do," He said, waving a plastic stick leftover from a lollipop. "I'll make sure to give you a small discount from your next order. Oh, and a large coffee as well. Black."
"Uh, y-yeah, okay," The teen nodded, then scurried off.
Iwai went back into his shop and sat on his usual spot on the counter, then he picked up one of the many magazines in his drawer and opened it, not forgetting to put his feet on the desk as he waited for the squeamish teen to return with his requested items. What an interesting boy. For a gun enthusiast with great eyes for quality, he sure was spineless.
Generally speaking, Iwai hated those who couldn't stand for themselves, but he couldn't find it in him to truly dislike the high-schooler. Those eyes. Those weren't the eyes of someone who fright easy. Iwai might not look like it, but he watched every single move his customers took in his shop, and Akira was anything but a scaredy-cat. There was a certain gleam in his eyes that screamed that there was more to him than the blabbering mess he presented himself with.
"U-um," Came the nervous, fidgety tone from the door as it was pushed open slowly, revealing none other than Akira with a steaming coffee in a takeaway cup and a plastic bag full of sweets.
"Thanks, kid," Iwai said idly with his eyes still focused on the magazine even when the two items he requested were placed on the desk. It was only when Akira was about to leave with that noisy cat of his that he perked up and closed the reading material. Seemed like that was enough to make the teen jump in surprise. "Do you have something for me?"
"W-what?" Akira stammered and whispered, "Morgana!" when his pet jumped out of his bag and left the shop.
"You haven't been selling me any more of those strange treasures." Iwai cut, distracting the boy from complaining to his cat.
"O-oh, right. Yeah, I've got some..." Before he could set his bag down, however, his phone rang, making the teen yelp as he picked it up. "Yeah, I'm in Shibuya... no, not really. I'm just doing some shopping. I'll be back before dinner. Yeah, I'll be right there."
Akira spoke into the phone unaware of Iwai's observant eyes on him. With his arms crossed, Iwai thought back to his encounter with the Phantom Thieves just a few minutes prior. The boy and the strange catlike creature left just moments before he did, and now he had a high schooler with the exact same hairstyle who happened to own a black cat appearing in front of him to sell strange treasures that Iwai didn't know the origin of. This couldn't possibly be a coincidence. However, their attitudes were so vastly different that he couldn't bear to think that they were the same person.
"I... I'm sorry, I have to leave now. Goodbye!"
"Huh?" Iwai only had time to blink once before the boy bolted past the door, leaving him once more to his own devices. Well, at least that cemented Iwai's assumption that Akira wasn't Joker. That thief was far too smooth with his words. With a scoff, Iwai unwrapped a strawberry lollipop and popped it into his mouth.
Still, that damned phantom thief. He had guts, for a brat. Although he was on the verge of passing out, he still found the strength to blackmail Iwai into returning another day even without the knowledge of how he would react when pressured. Well, luckily for him, Iwai didn't wish death upon anyone, not even when the keys he badly needed was being held captive. For now, he had no choice but to play into Joker's hands and see what was in store. It wasn't like the Phantom Thieves were causing anyone harm, despite their label as a vigilante, so Iwai wasn't too concerned.
If Joker refused to part with the keys, however, Iwai feared that he would need to rough him up a little. Not outright kill him, but gave him enough damage to reconsider his decision to mess around with a stranger in the metaverse.
Akira threw himself into his uncomfortable mattress. The worst thing to do after his mementos adventures was to help Sojiro in the cafe. He didn't mind spending time with his caretaker but after a rough, near-death experience resulting in countless cuts and bruises? Not fun. Sojiro eyed him with scepticism even when Akira claimed that no, he didn't get in a fight with anyone. Well, no one real anyway.
And tomorrow was the first day of the exam. Not to mention, he had to go check on the strange persona user to uncover more about him. Ah, he just hoped that he'd be able to get enough sleep tonight because he'd need every ounce of energy he could get.
True to his word, when Iwai entered the metaverse, Joker was sitting in the rest area, his legs crossed and one arm around the backrest of the seat next to him. His cat was sitting on the opposite side. Joker was seated in such a relaxed stance it made Iwai chuckle. Yeah, looked like the kid spent too much time in this hellhole if he was able to lounge like that with the moans and groans of shadows echoing all around them.
Iwai said nothing, but he knew that Joker already noticed him the moment he stepped foot inside this universe. Instead of greeting him, he stood in front of him with his arms crossed in hope that that would be enough to frighten the teen. Expectedly enough, it achieved nothing. Joker twirled his hair as he looked up at Iwai with his infuriating smirk and playful red eyes like he already knew the outcome of their discussion.
What a fucking brat.
At the same time, Iwai had to give him some props for not flinching even for a second. It didn't look like unwarranted confidence either. The kid had seen a whole lot of battle in the metaverse, he could tell. His gaze fell towards his mask and combat attire that wrapped his lithe yet muscular figure nicely. He had seen a few men with that outfit on, especially teenagers running around Harajuku and whatnot, but he had to admit that Joker wore it best. Perhaps it was the catlike aura full of mystery he emitted. Not to mention his occupation as a phantom thief, a group revered by the society as vigilante heroes.
"Good of you to not keep me waiting," Joker started, his voice rich. "Do you have a name I can call you with?"
"Anything." Iwai shrugged, honestly finding it a bit difficult to stay frustrated at him, especially when the pair of red eyes, bursting with conviction and honesty, were staring into his.
"Interesting choice of nickname, but sure."
"Uurgh, Joker!" The cat groaned in distaste while Joker kept his smirk intact.
"Hah!." Iwai snorted, having not expected a joke in this situation.
"You find that funny? Really?" It cried out, but Iwai chose to ignore the remark and instead focus on Joker whose eyes twinkled with mirth.
"So, what do you want from me, Joker?" Iwai asked before they got completely sidetracked.
"Ox," He said. "Can I call you that?" At the shrug, the thief nodded, pleased. "How long have you known about the metaverse?"
"A while, but unlike you two, I can't say that I've been here a lot. Yesterday was the first time I've stepped foot in here in a couple of years." Answered Iwai honestly. It wasn't like he had anything to hide, and besides, he somehow had a feeling that this Joker wasn't someone he could fool.
"Are you familiar with the concept of palaces?" He continued as he gestured for Iwai to sit, a sign that they would be there for a while. With a tired sigh, Iwai could only comply. The plan was to give this brat a beating or two, but now he was here, he felt unmotivated to be the aggressor. He was in the mood for listening now, but he still couldn't promise anything.
"Yeah, but I've got no reason to go there," He crossed his arms, then frowned behind his visor. "Wait, are you askin' me to come along with you?"
"Hm, you're a sharp one, aren't you?" Joker leaned forward, smirk refusing to budge, and Iwai felt like he was being pushed into a corner despite their distance from each other. "If you'll help me to complete this expedition, then I will give you your keys, no questions asked."
"That's a no, brat," Iwai stood up, took a sudden step forward and whispered his persona's name to make his sniper rifle materialise in his hands with a warm blue glow. As he pointed the barrel of his weapon against Joker's face, he hissed. "You will give me those keys right now." He might have played the role of a passive listener for a second, but he wasn't about to get patronised by some kid.
"Joker!" The cat yelled out but did nothing in fear of endangering his friend further. Wise.
The damned kid's smirk slowly faded away although he did nothing to move away from harm's way. His sharp red eyes pierced through Iwai with the strength of a thousand needles. It prickled his skin, making him twitch. Why wasn't he backing away? Instead, Joker pressed his forehead against the tip of the gun and slowly stood up, bringing the weapon along with him until his back straightened.
A few seconds of pregnant silence passed with neither party moving. It wasn't until Joker's smirk returned that his hand, covered with tight, red leather gloves reached towards the barrel and slid it down ever so slightly so it was pressed against his lips.
"What's wrong, Ox? Aren't you going to fire?"
This fucking brat. He knew that his life wasn't in danger. He saw through Iwai's scare tactics and wasn't afraid to mock him. As if to add a cherry on top, he darted his pink tongue across the metal and gave the barrel a kiss before he yanked and threw it across the floor before Iwai could react.
Toying with the keys in his fingers and slipping a digit into its keyring to spin it, Joker smiled. "Sleep on it, Ox. I'll see you in a week." He bowed lightly while keeping eye contact. Then, he vanished.
Iwai stood there for a whole minute even after Joker and his strange cat left. Tried as he might, he couldn't get the fresh memory of Joker handling his gun out of his head.
"Oh? What's wrong, Ox?" Asked his persona with a teasing emphasis on his new nickname, with a tinge of amusement that he hadn't heard in a long, long while. "Cat got your tongue? Or should I say, a trickster did?"
"Shut it, Hakutaku." Iwai glowered at the comment that he couldn't deny.
"That was crazy! What if you get yourself killed?" Morgana's screamed at Joker as soon as they were back in the real world, not afraid to slap the boy on the foot.
"Relax, he wasn't going to kill me." Akira shrugged off Morgana's protests nonchalantly as he picked his bag up.
"It'll be so helpful if you'd stand up to Iwai-san the way you did him. We'll be drowning in cash. " Said the cat with a humanlike sigh that never ceased to amuse Akira.
"Unlike Ox, Iwai-san would kill me if I do so much as a peep. Maybe. I don't know," Retorted Akira. "Don't look at me like that. There's something reassuring about the mask, okay? And if things go south, I can still defend myself in the metaverse. In real life? Psh. The loss of a limb is permanent."
"You know, maybe, just maybe you can discern if he's going to kill you or not if you look at his eyes for more than one second!"
"He's totally going to kill me if I look at him for more than one second! Can't you feel his all-seeing eyes crawling all over you, mentally undressing you? It's like he knows your deepest, darkest secrets without you having to spell it out."
"You're a coward. What good is hanging out with that politician and journalist if you can't charm yourself out of hairy situations?" Quipped Morgana in frustration.
"Morgana, you can't look me in the eyes and say that Iwai-san would take kindly to me flirting with him."
"You still don't know until you try, though. Seriously, just wear a mask and slap on some trenchcoat, then walk up to him. Maybe you can not wet yourself then." Morgana added after a few seconds of silence of watching Akira putting some books into his schoolbag.
"Walking up to Untouchable dresses up all shady? I'll get arrested before I can touch the knob of that shop. Even if I get in, Iwai-san would kick me out anyway."
"Just watch this hopeless guy scoring first on his exam." Akira replied as he reached out to pinch Morgana's cheeks firmly, making the cat squirm and scream.
Kurusu Akira. He was an interesting boy. In the shop, he was nothing but a puddle of fright, much like how most kids his age reacted in front of him, but Iwai knew firsthand that it wasn't the case when he wasn't within Akira's sight. It was curious since he assumed that such a horrified reaction would carry across to his social life outside Untouchable.
It was just a coincidence that he saw Akira the one times he went to Shinjuku, enough to draw the conclusion that damn, the kid loved the risk of being caught inside a bar hanging out with an older woman. To boot, he sauntered the street of the red-light district with his casual wear like he wasn't a day younger than eighteen, and that he had the full right of alcohol consumption. That wasn't the look of a demure, weak kid who always seemed like he was going to piss himself when checking something out from his shop. One of these days, he'd have to drop by to visit Lala and ask her about what kind of mischief the timid, almost nerdy boy was getting himself into.
Well, that was in the backburner. His interest might have been piqued, but he wasn't going to go out of his way to find the latest gossip on one of his most valued customers. He had a much more pressing issue at hand here with Joker, infuriating, frustrating, smirky Joker whom he would love to knock out. He was far too charismatic and recklessly gutsy for his own good, more than Iwai could handle. It had been a while since anyone outside of his 'family' dared to confront him like that, and while it made his blood boil with excitement, it was also irritating.
Even as he was busy stocking up the shelves with new shipments of models, he could feel his persona, Hakutaku bubbling within him, ready to tease him if given the opportunity. It was a mighty good thing that its influence was faint outside of metaverse, or he was concerned that he would never hear the end of it.
It wasn't supposed to be a complicated mission, darn it. All he needed were those damn keys to get access to a pain in the ass's stash of forged evidence against his business that if were to be leaked, would destroy him. He might dislike his job, but he wasn't about to let some asshole fuck him over. For now, there had been no words of lawsuit but Iwai wasn't about to tempt chance. It was either cooperate with Joker or kill him, and both options were equally distasteful.
Playing right into the trickster's hands. He didn't have a choice, did he? He should've been faster at pursuing his target, but after years of not fighting in the metaverse, it was difficult to adjust, especially with his persona screaming at him about being abandoned for so long. What a headache.
He glanced at the clock on the wall and sighed. It was almost time for the confrontation. Iwai had everything planned out, granted that it wasn't an elaborate one, but a plan nonetheless. He doubted that it would mean much against a natural schemer like Joker who probably already read him like an open book, but one was better than none, especially when he knew so little about the man aside from the obvious heroism that the public had branded him with.
With a tap of his phone, he was immediately transported to the entrance of the metaverse where he quickly made his way to the rest area of Path of Aiyatsbus where he saw Joker sitting in the exact same spot as last time, twirling his hair idly still with that godforsaken smirk. This time, the cat wasn't there, strangely enough.
"Evening, Ox," Said the phantom thief without turning his head. "I thought we would benefit from a little privacy."
"Not bringin' your pal? You're awfully cocky, aren't ya?" Iwai muttered, his arms crossed as he leaned against the glass.
"I prefer the term optimistic, or maybe self-assured," Joker's eyes twinkled with playfulness as he threw a smile Iwai's way. "So, what will it be, will you be scratching my back for the keys?"
Iwai inhaled. Straight to business, huh? He could respect that. "Hakutaku," He whispered, and a rifle soon materialsed in front of him, floating in the air before he took it in his hands. "On one condition," He said, pointing the weapon at the curly-haired male who blinked slowly as if uninterested, but Iwai knew that it wasn't the case. "Beat me at your own game."
As soon as those words left Iwai's lips, he knew that he fucked up.
"I thought you'd never ask." The words came out almost wistful, full of ecstasy.
Joker's smirk turned into a grin, a bloodthirsty grin of someone who knew what the outcome would be before it even happened. His eerie red eyes glimmered in the dark as bright red flame enveloped his body, and six different personas appeared behind him, growling and hissing at Iwai simultaneously like they were starving caged beasts ready to pounce on a slab of fresh meat. So, this was the leader of the Phantom Thieves of Hearts.
God, Iwai swallowed. Seemed like he picked a fight with the wrong opponent.