Disclaimer: The World Ends With You and its characters belong to Square Enix; I'm only borrowing.
A/N: Written for livejournal's 10 themes community. Prompt was 'whisper'... it kind of got sidetracked from that, but it's in there. :\ Short one-shots like this aren't really my forte; trying to get better at them, so let me know what you think, please!
Also, next chapter of Quis Custodiet is on the way, I promise. :)
He can read minds, of course. With the help of a Player pin, so can anyone -- and he and Sanae are the ones who designed the pins. But it's not actually as easy for him as some might expect. Most people simply don't have the senses to see and hear what's going on in someone else's head. The pins grant them that, in a very, very limited way; allow them to pick up on surface thoughts, whatever's at the forefront of someone's mind at a given instant, but that's all. It's little different from hearing someone speak.
For Joshua, who does have the senses, singling out the thoughts of one person is more like trying to make out a whisper on the other side of a large, crowded, noisy room. It's not a perfect comparison; he is capable of reading a person's thoughts, whereas most people wouldn't be able to hear the whisper. He feels it's close enough, though, in terms of the related headache levels and sheer 'why bother?' factors innate to both. In general, he's never taken much of an interest in people. Past the surface, most of them are pretty much alike, and for the most part it's easiest just to tune them all out.
With that said, it's still his first impulse when he actually wants or needs to know something about someone. And he's thus not happy that Neku, without even knowing he's doing it, seems to have picked up a knack for putting up walls around his thoughts that Joshua can't get through.
Angels can do that. Composers can do that. Mere humans aren't supposed to be able to. And it's lovely, really, that Neku's talents have developed so much due to the Game, and it's incredibly clever of him to have picked up a new trick, but Joshua thinks this particular trick would be easier to appreciate if Neku would just learn to do it on cue and then stop when Joshua doesn't feel like dealing with it. Joshua's the Composer of Shibuya. Shibuya's his. Neku's a part of Shibuya, and as such he's Joshua's, and isn't supposed to be able to hide things from him and then just let them spring out of nowhere and ambush him in the middle of a conversation.
As, for example, he's just done.
Joshua's staring at the boy blankly, sure that he must have heard wrong. "You're what?"
Neku shifts uncomfortably, looking away. "Moving. Out of Shibuya."
Joshua knows that his expression has gone very, very dangerously still, and he knows that that's making Neku more than a little nervous. And it damned. Well. Should. Be. "No," he says shortly.
Blue eyes glance back at him, their expression unreadable. "It's not like I have a choice in this."
"Glad we're both clear on that," Joshua says levelly, and Neku's mouth thins to a line as he looks away again. "'No' was not a suggestion, Neku. Nor was it a request. You're staying here."
"Josh, my dad's company is sending him to--"
"That can be taken care of," Joshua says crisply, and Neku's face flushes slightly.
"Don't even think about it," the boy bites out.
"No? It'd be simple enough, Neku. A little imprinting, a few whispers in the right ears." Joshua shrugs, and adds in neutral tones, "Unless, of course, you wantto leave Shibuya."
The range of expressions which crosses Neku's face at this is... interesting, a peculiar mix of hope and exasperation and utter dread, and though Joshua can't read Neku's mind he's pretty sure that at this moment he knows what's going on in there. Neku's not stupid. Or suicidal.
At last Neku opts for honesty, which is good, because if he'd said he wanted to leave Joshua isn't entirely sure he wouldn't have responded by drawing the gun currently hidden under his jacket. And while admittedly that would be oneway to keep Neku in Shibuya, and one Joshua won't rule out as a last resort, a popular ramen shop at lunch hour is probably not the smartest place for even a demigod to murder someone.
Besides, the higher-ups made enough of a fuss over the first two times he killed the boy, and Sanae's threatened to confiscate his gun if he does it again.
"I don't. Of course I don't. All my friends are here. All the people I was finally learning to--"
He falters, and Joshua interrupts again, his tone silky smooth. "Well, then, what's the problem?"
"The problem? Josh, it's a big step up for my dad, and Mom's really looking forward to getting out of the city, I think. And -- look, it's not like I won't come back to visit, or -- you're practically glued to your cell phone, for God's sake. If you seriously cannot live without somebody to insult, harass and make fun of on a daily basis--" and Neku rolls his eyes-- "I can call regularly."
"Anyway, you're the one who keeps teleporting into my freaking home, without invitation, whenever you're bored. What's to stop you from visiting?"
"You'll be outside Shibuya, Neku," Joshua says quietly.
Neku draws in a breath, hesitates, and lets it out again in a tired sigh, comprehension dawning on his face. "Oh. You... can't?"
Joshua smiles thinly. "It wouldn't be wise. My powers extend to Shibuya's limits, no further. Past them..." He shakes his head. "'Walking target' would be, I think, the most concise description."
"...Oh," Neku says again, a little awkwardly. "Well -- still. Honestly, Josh, I can call, if you feel so strongly about--"
"Neku," Joshua begins again, but he stops, shutting his mouth on what he was going to say.
If something were to happen, and you were to die outside Shibuya, your soul would go to the Underground there. And it'd be up to the Composer there what to do with you. And... not all of them would let you come back. It's bad enough on the rare occasions that Neku heads for another part of Tokyo for a few hours, and there at least Joshua's pretty sure he could negotiate something if the need should ever arise.
But Joshua doesn't need to admit to that kind of worry, that kind of weakness, so he says only, sharply, "You're not going anywhere. I'll deal with it."
"I just told you, my parents--"
"If you're worried about them being disappointed, don't be. They don't even need to remember."
Neku's eyes narrow. "Don't you dare."
"Composer, Neku," Joshua murmurs. "I will do exactly as I care to do. Kindly do not try to tell me otherwise. Anyway, it won't harm them, and as far as promotions go -- I'll just arrange something in Shibuya, instead."
"That's not the point. They're my family, and I don't want you messing around with their heads."
"Oh, really?" Joshua laughs softly, letting the corners of his mouth curl upwards into a very specific smile that he knows Neku's seen exactly twice before -- and that he knows Neku remembers. "Perhaps I should undo the changes I've already made, then? I had thought you would prefer it if they didn't recall the day they were asked to identify your remains, but of course, if I was mistaken--"
Neku's face pales. "Is that a threat?"
"I don't know," Joshua says honestly. "Do you intend to keep being unreasonable about this?"
There's a long, dangerous silence, and then Neku glances at his watch, shoves his empty bowl away from himself and stands up, muttering, "I've got to get going. I had... some stuff to do this afternoon."
"Neku," Joshua says, a warning note in his voice.
"Josh, listen," the boy says abruptly. "Whatever the hell you're going to do... you're the Composer, I can't stop you and you obviously don't give a damn whether I like it or not."
Joshua tilts his head to one side, considering this for a moment, and then concedes, "I do believe you're actually learning, Neku. Taken you long enough."
"Yeah, well. Just so you know: if you're going to change things, and erase it straight from everyone's memory?" Neku folds his arms stubbornly over his chest. "You'd better erase it from mine, too."
"Or what?" Joshua asks, soft and mocking. "You won't talk to me ever again? That's a little childish, Neku, don't you think?"
This receives only a disgusted look, and then Neku turns away. He's left his oversized shut-out-the-world headphones at home, today, but he pulls his mp3 player and a pair of earbuds out of his pocket, and there's something very definitely pointed about the way he puts them on and turns the volume up before striding away.
Joshua watches him leave, and gives an exasperated sigh. Well. That could have gone better.
Neku's not leaving, of course. Joshua will see to that, one way or another. But if Neku's soul and imagination are strong enough to keep the Composer out of his thoughts, Joshua isn't sure he'll be able to rewrite Neku's memory, either. This is going to make for some very tiresome arguments, isn't it.
One thing's clear: if he can't read Neku's mind -- and he's really going to have to work on that particular problem -- he'd better start paying much closer attention to the other people in Neku's life. The question 'Why bother?' has just, he thinks, been answered. He doesn't appreciate being blindsided with this kind of thing; if he'd known about the proposed move earlier he could have caught it before Neku ever needed to find out. As is, he suspects there are some headaches ahead.
And keeping constant track of a handful of whispers, amidst the constant, cacophonous chorus of every voice in Shibuya, might be headache enough in its own right...
But it's got to be better than the chance of losing Neku for good.
A/N: Reviews much welcome! As is criticism. :)