"So your entry fee..."
"Was my body, yeah. I was jealous of my best friend... Eri. I had her body because of it."
"I dig," Beat grins, "But you over that, right?"
Shiki blushes, "Yeah. Neku helped me realize it was silly."
Rhyme, strangely quiet, looks up and smiles in response.
"Neku is very kind."
Although his actions were sometimes misleading, she was right.
Shiki is surprised by the conviction in her voice.
"Yeah," she nods, "Even without me pressing him, he made all the right choices... we're all alive, too."
Beat grunts and shifts his weight, "When's phones gonna show up, anyway?"
"He'll probably be late, he said he had just woken up when I texted him,"
"And we're just supposed to sit around and wait?"
"Why not?" Shiki crosses her arms, "What else would we do?"
"Yo, the arcade's just around the corner–"
Rhyme tugs on his sleeve, "It would be rude if we confused Neku by being absent when he arrives. He's expecting us."
Thankfully, Beat's patience doesn't need to be tested any longer.
"Look, it's Neku!"
Rhyme and Beat's head swivel over to the sea of people that the glasses-wearing girl is pointing at.
Wardrobe unaltered (save for the clear lack of headphones pressed between his ears), he walks with his hands buried in his pockets and his face facing straight ahead, his searching eyes darting everywhere–
"Neku, we're over here!" Rhyme waves.
Even amid the cacophony of cars and buses; people talking, chattering, yelling and ambling... Neku easily locates his friends.
It's a strange identifier in his mind. Friends. Before, he couldn't have told anyone the difference between them and enemies... maybe he still couldn't – they knew his deepest weaknesses, his most terrible secrets; any of them could destroy him.
But he trusts them. He is certain of that. Even Rhyme, who he knows hardly at all.
But really – he doesn't really know any of them. Shiki, he knows of her obsession over trends and beauty, an inner quarrel with her best friend...
Beat and Rhyme, their family life filled with conflicts... a delinquent and a diligent.
And himself. He hardly even knows himself. Does he hate people? Does he like them?
His mother finds his recent behavior odd, not that she doesn't want the change.
Has he changed?
And what of Joshua? He had lost the game... and Joshua had taken his collected fee.
They were lucky to be alive. Why did Joshua spare them?
Too many questions. Too little time.
Neku sighs and smiles slightly as he strolls up to Shiki, Beat, and Rhyme.
Doki doki doki.
The beat of his heart... he shakes Beat's hand and hugs Rhyme, trying to fight off the nervousness.
He turns to Shiki.
"Hi," she sniffles.
The four drift off into space, sound and light dying around them. A moment of peace and serenity.
But Beat's not too good with 'moments', peace, and doesn't even know the meaning of 'serenity, "Yo! 'ello? C'mon already. Aren't we going to go eat somethin'?"
Neku laughs, not breaking eye contact with Shiki, "Sure, Daisukenojo,"
"'ey! Who the hell said you could call me that? Huh!?"
"Ohayo," Rhyme chimes.
Beat grumbles. Ramen, this early? Ramen, at all? Why couldn't they have some real food?
They order, and though Beat won't touch his 'surprise' ramen (What the heck kinda food is this?!), Rhyme and Shiki hum to a tuneless tune, slurping and chewing contentedly.
Neku would do the same, but he's too cool for that. No reason to eat with fervor. Enjoy the moment.
He eats painfully slow.
It's half an hour before he finishes, but his way seems to pay off. Even with Beat dissatisfied, they have a lively conversation, coming up with ways to make the skateboarder eat his food.
At Beat's expense, everyone laughs.
"Yo, this is crap. Why is everyone gangin' up on me?"
Neku says smugly, "What, you aren't tough enough to handle two girls?"
"Oi, I don't hit women!"
Neku, having liberated some money from his mother, spots the bill.
Rhyme bows, "Thanks so much Neku,"
"Huh? It's nothin', just some yen,"
"No, I mean... for everything,"
Neku blinks, Beat has a weird expression on his face too, "Uh didn't we talk about this already? If I did help anyone, I also jeopardized them. I could have easily been the reason Shibuya no longer exists today."
"Quiet Beat," Shiki hushes.
Rhyme just ignores him, "It's because of you Beat and I are alive."
Neku flushes, "Alright, if you'll... stop talking about it, I'll accept your thanks. Even if I disagree,"
Rhyme and Beat have to leave early – Rhyme has to study for finals, Beat has to prepare for summer school.
Apparently he's going to try really hard next year.
"I'm sure you want some alone time with Shiki, anyway," Rhyme whispers conspiratorially.
Neku stutters and denies, but Rhyme out maneuvers him.
"Huh? I didn't say anything about asking her out. But maybe you should–"
Beat for once, seems to show some maturity, "We have to go, 'Sis,"
She sighs theatrically, "We'll call sometime this week."
"I'll be waiting."
Neku doesn't know exactly what to say now that he's alone... with Shiki.
She's clutching her stuffed... cat-pig (whatever), protectively.
It makes her look really cute.
Sure, he couldn't lie to himself... Eri's body was sexy. He understood why Shiki had gone green over it. But... she wasn't unattractive at all. Pretty, he'd say even. (If he wasn't afraid of how she'd react...)
A thin waist – actually, she is rail thin.
(He'd have to make sure she ate more...being dead probably isn't good for maintaining a healthy form).
And large eyes – framed by wire glasses... which don't look bad on her.
Short brown hair and long legs... she could use a little sun, but pale was OK. He was pale.
And if he thought about it, he was sure he could come up with a number of nitpickings with Eri's body too, so quite honestly...
Neku didn't mind the change. Sure it was really weird, having to remind himself who he was talking to. Shiki. Not a totally different person with a totally different body and voice.
Maybe it was better this way? They could... start off on a new leaf or something.
Neku looks up, his vision filled with hundreds of roaming Japanese... an endless trail of white cement and gray clouds.
"Are you alright, Neku?"
"It looks like it's going to rain."
"Huh?" She feels a drop peck her nose, "Oh! It is! And I don't have an umbrella!"
"Neither do I..." they could always take cover in a shop... but how long would it rain?
And then it occurred to him.
"My house is only a mile away! If we run we might make it–"
They didn't make it.
Heart racing and water streaming onto the carpet, Neku slams the front door behind him.
"Ah, fuck," Neku grumbles, trying to figure out what to do– shit, his mother wasn't even home!
"I'm soaked," Shiki tries to peel her shirt from her skin, "Where's your bathroom?"
"C'mon, I'll show you," hastily, he snatches her hand and yanks her through the living room and up the stairs.
He launches her into the bathroom and closes the door.
"My Mom is a lot taller than you, so I'll try to find something of mine for you to wear– there should be towels in there!" he's moving towards his room.
"I see them!" she shouts through the door.
One crisis averted, Neku sighs, fumbling through his dresser drawers.
The teen finds Shiki some shorts and a t-shirt to wear – though the colors clash so horribly she won't wear them.
"No one's even going to see you!" Neku laughs, feeling the palpable blush from the other side of the wall.
Maybe it's because she's wet, tired, comfortable, exasperated, frustrated, excited and confused, but Shiki says something she instantly regrets.
"Yeah, no one except you."
The sound of rain against the house.
Neither can see each other, no words, actions, or divinations are possible. Yet each can hear the thoughts and racing heart of the other. It's pulsing through their veins and electrifying every nerve. I like you.
"Um, I-I mean... I..." she had an excuse, it just slipped off her tongue at the last moment–
It doesn't matter because Neku has an epiphany.
It doesn't matter what happened yesterday, because that's dead. It doesn't matter what will happen tomorrow, because that's dead, too.
All that matters, is now.
(Sure, it's no different from what he's already heard from Mr. H– but– somehow, it robs him of his fear.)
What's the worst that could happen?
"Are you dressed in there, Shiki?"
"H-Huh? Well– N-No. I thought I told you–"
"You've got ten seconds to cover yourself, 'cause I'm coming in anyway."
"9," He enunciates each syllable, drawing it all out with a smile.
"Neku! What are you talking about! You're coming–"
"Is this a joke? Don't joke with me like this! I'm half naked in her, Neku!"
He counts a little faster, even though he doesn't mean to, "S-Seven,"
But he recovers his cool, "6."
It sounds like she's jiggling the doorknob.
"The lock doesn't work, Shiki!"
"Neku! What's gotten into you?"
"Neku! Answer me!"
She might be relenting– she's backing from the door.
The sound of someone hastily putting on clothing.
She's still changing–
"Zero–" and the door opens.
Dark heavy hair a mess, a pair of shorts pooled around her ankles, and a massive green shirt dangling a little bit above her pelvis–
She shrieks his name.
And he kisses her.
Of course she slaps him, and of course, he says it was worth it.
They don't speak of it to another soul (though Eri gets all the details in a rushed whisper), though it's no surprise to anybody when Shiki recounts the story of Neku appearing at her school dance– whisking her off the dance floor.
A happy ending? Never. But Neku's pleased.
Shiki thinks he could be a little less spontaneous.