Disclaimer: The World Ends With You is the property of Square Enix; all characters (and occasional quotes from the game) are used here without permission.
A/N: I shouldn't be doing this. I should be studying for exams. And finishing the next chapter of Lost Ground.
And yet, here I am.
-one: see you there-
"Same streets. Same crowds, too. Yeah, Shibuya hasn't changed a bit.
"But still… I don't think I can forgive you yet. You don't see it, but those few weeks were very hard for me. Learning to trust people. Having that trust broken.
"Trust your partner. And I do. I -- can't forgive you -- but I trust you. You took care of things, right? Otherwise Shibuya would be gone, and my world with it.
"Hey. Did I mention? I've got friends now. I'm going to see them for the first time in a week.
"…See you there?"
It had been strange, talking quietly to thin air, speaking words he once -- a few weeks and a lifetime ago -- would not have believed would ever come out of his mouth. Strange, and more than a little awkward; Neku had spent years keeping things so tightly bottled up that he barely knew how to describe his thoughts and feelings to himself, much less to another person. And least of all to a total stranger who might or might not be listening, and who might or might not even care.
But he had turned the words over and over and over in his head for a week, and they had needed to be spoken aloud, gotten out of his mind. So at last he had said them, on the assumption that the one for whom they were intended would probably hear, if he wanted to. And even if he didn't, at least they would have been said. Neku sincerely doubted that he would receive any sort of response, even if anyone had listened, but he was surprised to realise, as he headed across Scramble Crossing towards Hachiko, how much better the brief speech had made him feel.
A tad weird for talking to himself, granted, but better nonetheless… and weird, against the Alice-in-Wonderland backdrop of the last month, scarcely stood out at all.
And now it was later. The afternoon had been bright and sunny and beautiful, full of laughter -- but it had worn on, as afternoons do, and eventually everyone had gone their separate ways. Left to his own devices, Neku found himself wandering along Shibuya's streets until he came back to Scramble Crossing. A little ruefully, he grinned to himself. Whatever I do, I seem to keep ending up here, don't I?
He had intended to head for home, but his feet appeared to have picked up minds of their own, and they carried him on a meandering route through the busy crossing until, once again, he was looking upon Hachiko's plaza. It was a nice evening, really; too nice, he decided, to head straight home. He'd go over to Sunshine Stationside, get himself a burger, sit and eat and watch the world go by for a little while. Then home.
The line at Sunshine wasn't too bad, and a few minutes later he was back outside, sitting on the low wall that ran around Hachiko's statue. He did not take much notice of it when someone else sat down a short distance away; he was busy enjoying the cool evening breeze on his face, and -- somewhat to his own horror, when he realised he was doing it -- amusing himself by trying to guess the brands of clothing that various passersby were wearing.
More horrifying was the realisation that he actually recognised a lot of the individual items, and knew not only the brands but exactly what the styles were called, and where they could be found in their respective stores. And roughly how much they cost.
He shook his head, blinking a few times. Okay. I spent waaay too much time in the Reapers' Game. I think we've established this, thanks. This was followed a few seconds later, however, by a wry, Still, you've gotta admit that's kind of impressive, in a… very… disturbing way. Shiki would probably be proud.
Seeking to distract himself, he unwrapped the burger he'd bought, took a large bite, and nearly choked to death when, at a distance of roughly two feet from his ear, a light, familiar voice spoke in chiding tones:
"You know, Neku, it isn't very polite of you to say "See you there", and then just wander off to have ramen without me. And then -- when I've taken time out of a very busy schedule, mind you, to come and visit -- you come back and don't even bother to say hello. If I didn't know better, I might think you were ignoring me."
There was a pause, and then, "Neku, you're drawing some rather alarmed looks from the crowd. Am I going to have to call a doctor, here? I'm not really familiar with first aid. It isn't generally something I'm called upon to do, you realise." The voice grew thoughtful. "I did take a class, once, but the only thing I really remember is how to do mouth-to-mo--"
Joshua Kiryu, also known as the more-or-less all-powerful Composer of Shibuya, stopped in midword as Neku's hand shot up and seized his collar. "If you--" the orange-haired boy wheezed between bursts of coughing, "even -- think -- about finishing that sentence…"
"Oh, look, you can breathe. Good." Looking down, Joshua cautiously set about prying Neku's hand loose from his shirt. "I was only going to say," he added mildly, "that that isn't what you're supposed to do when someone's choking, anyway, so I doubt I'd be much help. Although, of course, in your case I expect medical intervention would scarcely matter -- death should hold no fears by now, hmm? Run a few missions, fight a few Noise, and you'd be back on your feet in no time."
Neku, temporarily unable to speak, gave his erstwhile partner a sour glare. At last the coughing fit died down, and he said, weakly, "Joshua."
"Quick on the uptake as ever, Neku." Joshua flashed him a friendly smile. "Good to see a few days away from the Game haven't harmed your lightning-quick reflexes."
"Yeah, yeah, hello to you too," Neku mumbled, and sat back, eyeing the other boy warily. "What're you doing here?"
"You did invite me, Neku," Joshua reminded him reproachfully. "More or less. My apologies for being late, of course, but I thought I'd best wait until your friends had gone home." A teasing grin lit his face. "They only met me very briefly, and under the circumstances I doubt they would remember me as fondly as you do."
"Fond," Neku muttered under his breath, "is not really the word."
"Affectionate, then," Joshua suggested, and Neku glowered at him.
"Remind me, again, why I invited you here?"
Joshua's brows rose. "Haven't the faintest. I could only assume you couldn't bear to go another day without looking upon the face of your dear former partner." Again the grin, and the sidelong glance which Neku, during his second week in the Reapers' Game, had quickly learned to dread. "And who am I to deny you?"
Neku shook his head. "Josh, whatever it is you're on, remind me never to try the stuff. Ever. It's clearly made you delusional." One hand rose, massaging his temples for a moment; how soon he'd forgotten, he thought ruefully, the speed with which Joshua's presence tended to give him a headache. "Seriously, why are you here? I'd've thought Shibuya's Composer would have more important things to do with his evenings than hang out by Hachiko and watch the world go by. Particularly after everything that happened in the last month. I mean -- shouldn't you be busy --" He waved a hand vaguely. "Making sure all those red skull pins are gone, or something?"
Joshua's smile faded. "So you've invited me here just to tell me to get back to work? That's not very nice. Anyway," he added, "the last month, as far as the RG is concerned, never happened. Really, Neku, I thought even you would have worked that out by now. You should pay better attention."
Neku ignored the note of condescension in the other boy's voice, and said, quietly, "It's that simple? You just -- what, snap your fingers, and it's all undone? Your damn Conductor brainwashed the entire city."
Joshua gave a dismissive shrug. "Which put everyone in a very… susceptible mental state. I could have managed anyway, of course, but the fact is that Megumi's tactic made it all the easier to put everything back. All I really had to do was tell people 'this never happened,' and their own minds practically rushed to fill in the blanks." He laughed lightly, but his expression grew pensive as he conceded, "Although I'll admit there was a bit more to it than snapping my fingers. You were right about one thing; there are… other places I need to be. I can't stay long."
Neku watched him cautiously. "So why are you here at all?"
"Oh, well, it was such a heartfelt and enthusiastic invitation from you, how could I resist?"
Neku snorted. "Right."
They sat and watched the crowds in silence for a moment, Neku's mind strangely blank. A day ago, even a few hours ago, his head had been full of questions he wanted to ask the boy now sitting next to him. Now that he thought about it, though, most of them boiled down to a simple and embarrassingly plaintive Why? There were, admittedly, a few exceptions to that, but they could basically be summed up with the addition of: And what the fuck is wrong with you, anyway?
In the face of Joshua's actual presence, the chances of getting a straight answer to either of the above questions, however carefully he might phrase them, suddenly seemed laughable. And anyway, what were you supposed to say to someone who had killed you, made your afterlife hell for three weeks, killed you again, and then returned you to life and put everything back exactly as it had been -- only… much, much better -- with never a word of explanation?
Put like that, he wasn't sure there was much that could be said.
Joshua spoke up suddenly, clearly oblivious to the confusion his appearance had caused. "Sanae says to say hello."
"Huh?" Neku had to think for a moment before he realised who Joshua was talking about; it was odd hearing him call the man by his first name. "…Oh. Mr. H?" Now, there's somebody I've got questions for. "How's he doing? We -- Shiki and Beat and Rhyme and me -- tried to stop by WildKat earlier, but it was closed."
"Mm, well, things have been a little busy in the last week, and Minamimoto did trash the shop pretty thoroughly. He hasn't really had a chance to get it cleaned up yet."
"I thought the last month never happened," Neku said shortly. "You fixed everything else; you couldn't have fixed the café up, too?"
"I could have," Joshua said in faintly irritated tones. "But he insists he'll do it himself. Says it'll muck up the coffee if I start messing around with the place -- which I've told him makes no sense, but he won't be budged."
Neku grinned at that, glad to hear that there was one small corner of Shibuya, at least, with which Joshua had not been allowed to have his way. It had been pretty clear that the WildKat Café was Sanae Hanekoma's pride and joy, although the man seemed to regard customers as a sort of optional extra in the whole undertaking. "Well, tell him I said hello back."
"Tell him yourself," Joshua said, nodding at something to the other side of Neku. "He's sitting on the wall right over there."
Neku spun, but the wall was empty, and he ground his teeth as Joshua chuckled at the reaction. "In the UG, I take it?"
"Uh--" Neku grimaced, trying not to feel slightly injured by the fact that the man he'd so recently discovered to be his idol, the artist CAT, had not bothered to show his face in the Realground.
"He's sorry he can't be here," Joshua added, as if reading Neku's thoughts, "but the last week has been a tad… interesting, in the Underground, and he's decided to be boring and follow the rules for a while." That last was accompanied by a level glare at the empty patch of wall. "I think he's mostly come along as a sort of chaperon, to make sure I don't go on another shooting spree. If you call two shots a spree; personally, I hardly think it qualifies -- oh, don't look at me like that, Neku," he added crossly, for Neku, despite himself, had gone a little pale at the offhand remark. "I don't even have my gun."
"Gee, how… almost… sane of you," Neku bit out.
"I do have my moments, Neku. Anyway," Joshua added carelessly, "it was a clean shot -- you should count yourself lucky, really." He held up a hand, pointed at Neku's head, and pulled an invisible trigger; it took the orange-haired boy all of his self-control not to flinch as Joshua tapped him lightly on the forehead. "You barely had a chance to feel a thing. Well, the first time, at least."
Neku tried not to shudder at the memory which the words and motion had conjured. Not of pain -- loathe though he was to admit it, Joshua was right on that count -- but of freezing in place like a deer caught in headlights, paralyzed by fear, as the world had spun and a peaceful afternoon had shattered around him. Aloud, he muttered, "You have a very strange idea of luck."
Joshua gave him a faint, knowing smile. "And you have a very strange idea of who to trust."
Neku's face reddened slightly, and he looked away. "You heard that too, huh?"
"You were talking to me, Neku," Joshua chided, laughing softly. "It would have been rude not to listen." He sighed. "Honestly, though, I do think you're making a bit too much of a fuss over the whole thing."
Neku almost spluttered at this. "A fuss? You shot me."
Joshua's sweeping gesture took in Hachiko's plaza and, by extension, most of Shibuya. "And you're so much worse off for it now."
"In the head."
This received a strange, almost pitying look. "And? As I said, at least it was quick. There are worse ways to die. I do know these things, Neku." The smile twisted. "Trust me on this."
"The second time," Joshua said, suddenly cold, "doesn't count. I offered you a chance. It's not my fault, Neku, if you chose not to take it. I do hope you haven't called me here just to rehash this rather tired subject?"
Neku stared fixedly across the plaza for a few seconds before saying, sullenly, "You're the one who keeps bringing it up."
Joshua shrugged. "And you're the one who can't let a reference to it pass."
"Pass?" Neku's voice rose. "How am I supposed to let it pass? You ki--"
"Neku, dear, I'd turn the volume down a little on that next sentence, if I were you. This isn't the Underground, we aren't invisible, and we are beginning to get some funny looks."
Neku started, glancing around guiltily as, with some effort, he swallowed the burst of anger. "…Right."
"There. Not so difficult, is it?"
"Josh, for once in your damn life--" Neku hesitated, and then amended, "Afterlife, Composer-hood, whatever -- will you quit screwing around? What are you really after, if things in the UG have gotten so bus--"
He stopped abruptly as something Joshua had said a minute or two earlier finally sank in. "Wait. Wait. What did you mean, Mr. H has decided to follow the rules? He's--" Neku swallowed uneasily. "He's not allowed to come to the RG? Why?"
Joshua paused for just a fraction of a second too long before commenting, mildly, "Well, will you look at that: someone was actually listening. I'm impressed, Neku."
"Hooray for you," Neku said flatly. "What's happened to Mr. Hanekoma?"
Joshua was silent for a moment before he leaned forward, rested his chin on his hands, and gave the fuming Neku an unusually solemn look. "Nothing's happened to him. He's fine. As I said, though, the situation in the Underground has gotten a bit--"
"--Interesting," Neku filled in when Joshua once again hesitated. "I heard you the first time. Joshua, remember, please, that I don't have a Player Pin any more -- I can't read minds. And even if I could, I'm really in no hurry to know what goes on in your head, even if you did let me see the whole picture for once. So just tell me: what, exactly, does 'interesting' mean in this context?"
"Hmm." Joshua appeared to be staring at something that Neku could not see -- which, Neku reflected, he probably was. At last he said, unconcernedly, "Unfortunately, I'm afraid I could get into a good deal of trouble for giving you the details. It isn't supposed to be the concern of the RG."
So why did you mention it? Neku's eyes narrowed. I will not strangle him. I will not strangle him. I will not-- "Okay. So now that you've got me really worried -- which I'm sure wasn't your intention with that line at all -- look, I just want to know why Mr. H is stuck in the UG. I mean, he's C--" Neku stopped himself, remembering just in time that in the Realground, someone in the crowds might actually hear him -- and care -- if he said something like that. "He's… got a life here." A belated and horrible thought occurred to him. "He has got a life here, hasn't he? He didn't d--"
Joshua waved a hand, brushing this sudden suspicion away, and Neku let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding. "No, no. It's nothing like that, Neku. I told you, he's fine. There are just some rather tedious formalities we've been forced to observe, temporarily, in the aftermath of my Game with Megumi. It's quite likely that everything will be sorted out soon."
"Uh-huh." Neku eyed him warily, and noted that quite likely was not the same thing as definitely true. "And all of that means what, exactly?"
Again the unsettling smile. "Oh, probably not much at all. Honestly, Neku, you do overreact to things, don't you? You're getting awfully worked up over nothing."
Neku ground his teeth. "If you would actually give me a straight answer for once, instead of hinting at th--"
He stopped. Joshua was no longer listening, if he ever had been; his head had snapped up, and he was watching the plaza's far exit -- the one which led down to the station, and to the Shibuya river -- with something like caution evident in his violet eyes. Aloud, he said quietly, "Ah. Time for me to be going, I'm afraid."
"Huh?" Neku blinked at him. "Why? What's--"
Joshua shook his head as he hopped to his feet, taking a moment to straighten out his shirt and brush a few invisible specks of dirt off of his clothes. And then he turned back. "Well, goodbye, Neku." A peculiarly rueful grin lit his face, and he added, his tone as light as ever, "It was nice knowing you. Seriously."
"What? Hey, what the hell is that supposed to--"
--But Joshua was gone, and Neku was raising his voice to a patch of thin air.
Hanekoma's first words to the Composer, as the latter returned to his usual form in the Underground, were: "Gotta tell you, boss, a little tact, once in a while, would not kill you. Figuratively speaking."
The Composer shrugged, smiling, and did not respond to this. Instead he nodded at the far end of the plaza, and at the two dark-clad figures that stood there. "We've got company, I see."
"Yeah, well, if you hadn't spent quite so much time trying to get yourself hit upside the head -- seriously, boss, what was that?" Hanekoma raised a hand, mimicking Joshua's imaginary gunshot, and gave him a reproving look. "You were kind of asking for it. Phones can't look at life -- and death -- the same way you do, you know."
In his head, he heard Joshua's voice say, unrepentantly, Yes, but it did what it was supposed to do. Very well, too.
Aloud, Shibuya's Composer said only, "Aww, but the look on his face--"
Hanekoma shook his head. "Yeah, well, there's a time and a place, boss." He did not dare to respond to the unspoken half of the message, not when they were being as closely observed as he knew they were. Joshua -- often to the chagrin of the higher planes -- had always had a knack for shielding his mental communications from the prying minds of eavesdroppers, even eavesdroppers far more powerful than he was. Hanekoma could manage that on a lower level, but from the beings presently watching them he would be able to keep few secrets.
"I suppose," the Composer muttered, in a sulky voice far more suited to the stubborn child Hanekoma had once known than to the radiant immortal who now watched over Shibuya. There were days when Hanekoma thought that Joshua had never really grown up at all, that something in him had just… stopped, at his death, despite what his soul had subsequently become.
The angel suspected, though, that Neku Sakuraba wasn't the only one who had learned a thing or two, over the past month, about being human. Better late than never, I guess. He just hoped like hell that those lessons weren't going to go to waste now.
The watchers had left their post at the far end of the plaza, were walking towards Hachiko. "Well," Hanekoma muttered, "here they come."
The Composer tilted his head to one side, watching the approaching figures curiously. "This should be… interesting."
Hanekoma snorted, and said under his breath, "Only you…" A little more loudly, he added, "Just… be good, all right, boss? Behave."
The Composer laughed. "When have I ever done otherwise?"
This is going to be interesting, Hanekoma thought ruefully. "Sir," he said carefully, in the vague hope that the minor formality might actually make his more-or-less-superior sit up and take notice. "I'm dead serious. We've been over this. These are not people to mess with. They're not too happy at the moment, and they're… well, they're tougher than you."
The Composer watched with a faint, fixed smile on his face as the figures drew closer. He said nothing -- but in Hanekoma's head, Joshua's voice spoke:
We shall see, Sanae.
A/N: Reviews would be greatly appreciated!