Après l'Hiver
Word Count:
2 211
Spoilers for the end of the game.

Nothing is ever completely the same after the winter.

Après l'Hiver
(ah-PRAY lih-VEHR)
lit. 'After the winter'
fig. 'When these troubled times are through'

Yoshiya Kiryuu found himself, twenty-one days later, with one less Conductor and a newfound respect for his Shibuya. He wandered its streets at night, his ephemeral glow filling every inch of the streets; the city was beautiful to him, the dissonance almost holy. Five hundred and four hours lost from the life of dear Sakuraba Neku had been transmuted into the living city.

He enjoyed watching Sakuraba as he slept- they boy was young, and it showed. Three weeks could not be lost in mere days. He perched on a windowsill, fascinated by the path of tears or the whimpers for mercy from relentless nightmares. Soon, he found himself inside the boy's room and seated on his bed. When Neku saw Rhyme die he held him close; when Neku saw Shiki reborn, he dried his eyes.

A dream only exists when its dreamer wakes, of course- soon came the day when Sakuraba woke from a particularly disturbing dream (he had been climbing Pork City, looking for the Game Master, but Hanakoma was there instead) in Shibuya's embrace. His eyes immediately flew open, body arresting, heart racing, a scream caught in his throat.

Sighing, Joshua drew in the essence of Shibuya and pressed ever so slightly on Neku.

"Th-the fuck," Neku hissed, unable to move anything but his mouth.

"Hush," Joshua said. "If you'd like, I could Imprint a dream for you."

"When I wake up in the morning this had better as hell be a dream-"

Shibuya knew that words were the quietest, least sincere form of communication. Joshua drew Neku's head into his arms, pressing the boy's forehead to the center of his.

Neku dreamed that night of painting a giant sea of grass. As soon as the painting was finished, he found himself barefoot in the midst of his own endless field.

x x x

Joshua came again the next night; Neku seemed ready for him, lying flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling. He moved to make room as soon as the sentient light glided through the wall.

He wasted no time. "What did you show me?"

"Show you what?"

"Last night. I had a dream about a field of grass."

"Ah." The light flickered. "A long time ago, a Player had that dream. I kept it with me. It was..."

"Shibuya," Neku breathed.

"Beautiful," Joshua returned. "A vision of Shibuya in a time and world not our own."

Neku exhaled darkly, reminding Joshua why he had chosen him to destroy the place he loved. "I haven't forgiven you, you know. I don't think I ever will."

"I don't need forgiveness."

"I still don't get why you had to be such a total ass about it, though." Neku propped himself up, sitting up against the headboard. "What did you have to gain from acting like a pretentious idiot towards us? Why couldn't you have just said hey, Neku, want to destroy Shibuya for me?"

"Do you appreciate the counter-measures Megumi-"

"Don't." Joshua was startled by the sudden fierce retort. "You have no fucking clue how bad that last week was while you were- you were off slinging pins with Mr. H."

"Oh, I have a fucking clue. I need no Player Pin to see inside the minds of others, Neku."

Neku went white. "Should have known."

"I'll play psychiatrist. Tell me about it."

"You tell me why you were such an ass."

Joshua settled himself on the bed, lowering his glow and removing some of his pressure. "I am Shibuya," he said rather simply.

Neku sort of understood- Joshua was the standoffish, upsetting Shibuya he had once imagined the world beyond his headphones to be. Mr. H had made him see that- the world began and ended with his eyes, and whatever he thought the world was it would be. Joshua was a casualty of the Nekus of Shibuya.

"Besides," he said, "Whether or not I acted that way towards you, my pressure would have set you on edge. Back when I took a greater interest in the day-to-day running of the Game I would appear as a young girl- 'but mother calls me Kiri'- and drove Players mad rather accidentally. Better to be prepared, I suppose. It's easier to take the mental punishment when you feel like there is a reason for it."

"Which one's your real form? I mean, the boy or the girl?"

Shibuya seemed to lean in towards them.

"…I don't remember."

x x x

It became a nightly thing, these little chats, and soon Neku found- despite himself- that he was looking forward to the hour when he was just asleep enough for Joshua to breeze in. There was a sort of separation between the silver-haired boy and the silver-cloaked figure. The thing that sat on the edge of his bed like a shy schoolgirl still had the essence of Joshua, the sly sense of humour and the tendency to be blunt in a roundabout way; yet, at the same time, there was a great honesty and tired simplicity to him now. Neku liked that. It reminded him that there was human even in the rude elbows of Shibuya.

"You've gotten thin," Joshua mentioned one night, eyeing Neku carefully. "Yes, I don't think you were quite so slender when you played the Reaper's Game."

"Thanks, mom," Neku said out of the corner of his mouth. "Want me to clean my room and make my bed, too?"

"Why haven't you been eating, Neku?" There was a definite shadow beneath his proxy's cheeks, a boniness to his shoulders that was not obvious before. He fidgeted with his Frequency while Neku listened to the silence.

"Something's wrong," Neku said eventually. "Something bad is happening, and I can feel it somehow. I just- everything's dull, like food tastes bad and the streets are too grey. Can't explain it."

Joshua knew, but even he harboured some pity for his proxy. The fact that the boy realized that a portion of Shibuya was dying was rather admirable. "Be my Conductor," he said, hoping to surprise him enough to choke out a correct answer.

"Why would you ask that," Neku whispered.

"I can't run the Game without one. People are needlessly dying, Neku."

"Why would you ask that?" This time half a whisper and half a moan, a cry, a broken human struggling to repair itself. "Why? Haven't you toyed with me enough?"

"If you can't do it for me, do it for Shibuya. If I ask the Angels we may even have you act as Producer as well- someone will need to take over for him-"

It was an off-hand comment, really; something on Joshua's mind that came out rather accidentally. It wasn't until he saw Neku's horrified expression that he realized what a mistake he had made.

x x x

He did not bring Neku to the trial, for Angels would not act kindly to an outburst of emotion from a mortal, even if he was the guest of Shibuya's Composer. He sat in that terrible dark room crowded with wings, arms crossed; objected when he could, said that this unholy collaboration was done in self-defence, only to protect the city they loved from his bored whims. In the end the vote was unanimous. The Black Elixir was prepared.

That night he held Neku's head as the boy wailed, raging against the heavens for the injustice and wrongful murder. He cried for hours until his body was so weak his Soul began to flicker. Unwilling to witness another death, Joshua pressed until he quieted down.

"W-will it hurt?" Neku's voice was hoarse, his throat sore.

"I will not lie to you." Joshua took a seat beside the prone form of his proxy. "The Black Elixir is saved for only unanimous votes of death for crimes of the highest degree. It lasts, after drinking, for one hundred sixty-eight hours- a seven-day death during which the Soul is slowly eaten- and is marked by the most inhumane pain and torture."

"I'll kill them all," Neku growled. "Fuck them all. And fuck you, too- why didn't you save him?" Tears began to slide down his cheeks yet again, startling Joshua as to how powerful the boy was if he could break through his pressure.

"I am a small voice in the council. They accused me of being paid by him- after all, what he did was an attempt on my life. That's not something small. Please, Neku, understand why I need you as both my Conductor and my Producer. Shibuya needs you now more than ever."

Neku rolled over, facing away, and would say no more. Joshua carefully arranged himself under the covers and gathered up the boy, who was like clay in his arms. It was as though the physical part of him was wasting away.

When he left in the morning, there was a slight glow to Neku's form. Whether or not he second-guessed his decision, it was much too late.

x x x

"The Producer is assigned by the Angels to observe the Game and report to them," Joshua said, watching Neku paint using the moon as his only source of light. "As well, they attract Players with higher levels of Imagination and Soul to the attentions of the Composers in order to select candidates for Reaperhood. Most use various forms art as their medium for Imprinting."

"S'that's why," Neku mumbled. "Always felt…drawn to it."

For the first time, he sat as Joshua and not as Shibuya on the bed. "There's one who lives in England. Used books as a medium- fantastically successful, that one. Draws in Players from all over the world with stories of wizards and magic…but I suppose that kind of thing would only work over there."


"That looks almost passable. Like something Sanae-"

Neku visibly shook, a bright red splotch of paint ruining the canvas. "I want to see him."

A sudden vision floated behind Joshua's eyes: Sanae in his cell, stripped bare of all clothing, his hands and feet strapped to the cold stone wall to prevent him from taking his life before the seven days were over; the desperate look in his eyes, the all-consuming sound of his voice as he wailed for mercy. Angels were not built to die.

"No," he said.

"Why the hell not? It's been four days!"

There are some things you shouldn't see. "You don't have the ability to shift up to the Higher Plane."

Knowing full well that his Composer was hiding something, Neku returned to trying to incorporate the new red bloodstain into his art.

x x x

"It's wrong," Neku sighed, his weak form deep in Shibuya's embrace. "I don't love you, but-"

"-If it alleviates your mood, to say that Shibuya has a gender carries about as much weight as saying Japan has one."

It did make him feel better. Neku wasn't about to let that on. "I love the idea of Shibuya, you know? This place-"

He couldn't finish the sentence because something inside him snapped, a synapse suddenly broken, a life suddenly ended. Joshua realized what was happening with time enough only to throw up a barrier that prevented the sound of Neku's screams from being heard; his new Producer fought through the transformation without Joshua to lessen the pain, completely on his own.

x x x

Joshua gave Neku a week to get used to his new form before commencing another Game. After all, the direct transformation from mortal to Conductor or Producer, in addition to the fact that both positions had never been held by the same officer, meant that there were some growing pains along the way.

But Neku found the transition, if not easy, to be rather natural; Reaperhood had chosen him, not the other way around. Unlike the lower officers his wings (white: he was an Angel before he was a Reaper) were strong enough carry him aloft, leading to many hours high above Shibuya. For the first time in a while his heart felt light.

Hanekoma was dead- nothing would change that. After considering the situation carefully he re-opened the homely coffee shop and opened up new cans of spray paint. The man he had once adored was only a legacy now, one that had fallen on Neku to continue.

Nothing is ever entirely the same after the winter. Spring is not a rebirth of the old but instead the gift of life from the old to the new, a transformation; Shibuya had weathered three weeks of winter. Just when it seemed like the snow would never melt- when Shibuya's thoughts were only that of one man, when Sanae Hanekoma was sentenced to death for his crimes- the sun broke through the clouds, and life began again.

"You know, Neku," Joshua said as his Conductor and Producer contemplated Imprinting, "There's a rumour going around that if you lose someone close to you, seven days later at Udagawa, CAT's mural will appear to be weeping."

His once-proxy flexed his magnificent white wings and added one more stroke of Imagination to the wall. "Well, some rumours have to be true."

In the distance a bell chimed six times; the Players would be waking soon. A new day had come.

x x x