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This Was Just Business...Right?

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Goro Akechi learned to expect a lot of things with his line of work. Work he was forced into, but work none the less.

He expected to come across the scum of the Earth. People who needed to die to keep the world from becoming infected with their filth for any longer. He also expected to come across innocent people who used Shido's name badly. People the bald rat wanted taken out.

Akechi learned to stop caring about their screams a long time ago, but there's always been an ache in his heart when he has to go after the innocent. Or as innocent as a person can get. Morality is grey, after all.

What he certainly didn't expect when he was told to take out this new group of "troublemakers" as Shido referred to the Phantom Thieves as, was to turn one of their own teammates against them all because of their own foolishness.

Truly it was their downfall. It was them letting Ryuji stay behind for just a hint too long that Goro was able to plant the smallest seeds of doubt that blossomed into beautiful backstabbing flowers, their roots infecting the blonde and allowing his mortality to shift to a darker side of the greying spectrum.

Those seeds took much watering, with Goro needing to stay in contact with the blonde over the phone whenever possible and sometimes dropping by to visit or offering to hang out around town with the hopes of not getting flooded by fans. (they were, unfortunately, but the time Ryuji picked the detective up and ran with him was a time he would never forget.)

Either way, Goro knew Ryuji's betrayal would take time. His turning point would need to be long and drawn out until he could truly sink his teeth into him.

But poor, stupid Kurusu did that for him. He left him behind. He let Goro play the hero, while Kurusu simply turned into a villain for the sake of saving his own skin. Truly, he should be thanking the leader. If it wasn't for his need to save himself before anyone else, Ryuji would have never turned to Akechi as his only option of escape.

He cornered his prey, and sunk his teeth in. Loki was so proud.

But Goro swore to himself it was merely trickery. There was nothing past manipulation of the blonde. No emotion, no fear, nothing but a want to rip the rug from underneath the Phantom Thieves and kick them while they're down, abandoned by their own teammate.

But then Ryuji came over a few days after Kaneshiro was sent to prison after confessing "mysteriously" to his crimes.

Ryuji and Goro aren't always able to meet. Whether it be out of fear of running into fans, or the Phantom Thieves finding out about their meetings, they're unable to have a consistent schedule to make their meetups happen properly. So they make do with what time they do have together.

And today happens to be a day Akechi was free, which led to their current position with Ryuji lounging on Akechi's couch, upside down with his legs dangling off the back as he flipped through TV channels endlessly only to settle on one that would work more as background noise then something he'd genuinely want to watch, and Akechi sitting next to him, legs to his chest and side leaned against the cushions as he let himself be comfortable around the blonde (all to keep up his act, of course.), and watch the show Ryuji had decided on.

Just some rerun of an anime the two had already finished. It was pretty old, something they'd watch as children, but it was good enough. TV never had anything good on at this hour.

"Makoto's the worst teammate ever." Ryuji complains, making Akechi let out a laugh covered by a scoff as he nods. "Her sister isn't all that great, either." He says with a roll of his eyes, making the blonde shrug.

"Runs in the family I guess! Bein' stuck up, that is." Ryuji sighs and runs a hand through his hair as he flips over onto his stomach, letting his feet dangle over his head instead as his body practically moves into a sort of C shape. (Akechi doesn't notice how flexible the blonde is. no. not at all. he's composed and calm. he's Goro Akechi after all.)

"Seriously man, you don't know how bad it's gotten since she arrived." He says, then with a single quirk of an eyebrow from Akechi, the floodgates are open. "Like really! She starts stalkin' Akira up and down the halls and outside of school like some kinda creep, forces us to go after Kaneshiro after recordin' me without my consent-!" Akechi suppresses a laugh at that. Ryuji does the exact same thing to the Phantom Thieves, but he doesn't bother commenting. He simply lets the blonde continue his angry rant.

"Then she makes us go on this wild goose chase to get him by her shitty deadline, gets herself kidnapped, I almost got hit by a car for her-!"

"I'm sorry, what?"

Ryuji doesn't answer. He just keeps his rant going. "Sure we found Kaneshiro in the end, but she kept forcin' herself into our team and Kurusu just let it happen! He let it happen like he always does! He let whatever the hell happened just...happen!"

Ryuji finally lets himself stop with a long sigh as he glared at the TV ahead of him. "Honestly, she's so hoity toity. I can't wait to wipe that smug smile off her face." He crosses his arms underneath his chin. "Callin' me funny like i'm some kinda dancin' monkey. Just cause I don't get the highest test scores doesn't mean i'm an idiot!"

Akechi takes this moment to laugh at his comment, patting his "friend" on the back. "Well, they do give people expectations." He says, making Ryuji frown. "Yeah well that's just stupid."

He's not wrong, so Akechi just shrugs. "The Niijima have learned to underestimate people. How do you think i've gotten by in the police force?" Well underestimation, and years upon years of practice to wear masks upon masks.

Ryuji finally twists his way out of his C shape position and leans against the couch cushions, stretching after sitting like that for so long. "Yeah, guess you're right." He says with a lazy shrug, before turning to Akechi. "But that's what I like about you." He admits.

Goro can't help but look at him confused. "Like what about me?" He asks, making Ryuji turn to look at him fully.

"You didn't expect anythin' from me when we met." He says firmly, making Akechi blink. "I was just a guy to you. A guy you decided you wanted to talk to. You didn't know my test scores, or my name, or my past, you just saw me and wanted to talk to me."

He keeps going, regardless of Akechi's current facial expression. One of soft surprise. "Then you kept talkin' to me after that. You texted and called and let me crash at your place and I let you crash at mine. For once I had an actual friend thanks to you. Not some...track team who wanted me for my winnin' status. And certainly not a group of thieves who wanted me for being able to take hits for 'em and be pitiful." He snarls out at the end before turning his attention back to Akechi.

He smiles. Sharp toothed and happy.

Goro Akechi's heart melts.

"I'm just glad we're in this together, Akechi-san!" He says, and his tone is so happy that Goro's heart melts into an even bigger puddle.

"Goro." He suddenly says, surprising himself. He hears Loki laugh in his mind at the sudden emotion he feels. Ryuji looks at him with furrowed brows as Goro quickly continues. "Well I already call you Ryuji, so you may call me...Goro."

He gives the blonde a hesitant smile. "We are friends, aren't we?"

Ryuji just grins, happy and toothy and wow those butterflies in his stomach are new. "Yeah! Friends!"

Yes. Goro Akechi was so sure there were no emotions behind this relationship. This was fabricated. An illusion. Another lie atop the pile. Ryuji was another person to use.

Now Goro can say with, unfortunate, confidence that there is emotion behind this friendship. There is emotion behind this battle. Emotion to get revenge against those who hurt this sweet ray of...of sunshine. Emotion to keep Ryuji happy. Emotion to rip Shido from his throne, but with Ryuji by his side instead of tossed away like he originally planned.

Goro Akechi has a friend now. And he didn't anticipate it, but he does, and now he'll have to work with that.

======

(Somewhere, the Chariot card flickers and fades from on Tarot deck and into another. One labeled blue, the other black.

Caroline looks to Justine with a furrowed brow, only to see her sister copying the expression.

The Trickster just lost a partner. But The Justice gained one.

What a strange game their master is playing.)