Title: Things You Don't Do
Genre: The World Ends With You
Pairings: Eri/Shiki, Joshua/Neku
Summary: There were a lot of things that Eri had to learn not to do when she became friends with all of them.
"Today in the blink of an eye, I'm holding on to something and I do not know why.
I tried. I tried to read between the lines, tried to look in your eyes. I want a simple explanation for what I'm feeling inside."
—"Thunder" by Boys Like Girls
There were a lot of things that Eri had to learn not to do when she became friends with all of them.
You didn't touch Beat's shoulders.
You didn't talk to Rhyme about animals, especially squirrels.
You didn't take Shiki's phone—not even as a joke.
You didn't write on Neku's hand.
You didn't ask Rhyme about her future.
You didn't touch Shiki's neck.
You didn't ask Neku about how he met Shiki.
You didn't separate Beat and Rhyme.
You didn't send text messages to anyone of them.
And you never asked about Joshua.
Eri sometimes felt like an outsider.
They had all been laughing, joking, even smiling—but now none of them were.
Shiki touched her phone that sat on her belt, eyes wide and frantic. Rhyme grabbed Beat's hand to keep him from bolting, but Beat had gone unnaturally still. Neku looked far older then his time, but also somehow younger—at once like he was facing a great evil after a long war, but also like a child wanting nothing but someone to make it all go away.
Eri didn't know how to respond to the pale boy who crept towards their group like an albino panther on the prowl, a smirk lighting his girlish lips and violet eyes—really? Violet?—glinting in the setting sun that still peeked over top the 104 building.
"Joshua." Neku's voice was breathless, frightened but also affectionate.
The grey-haired boy—apparently named Joshua—smiled and nearly purred his words, "Why, Neku. I thought you'd forgotten all about me." Those eerie violet eyes flicked along to each of them, the others flinched as they met his eyes, "Shiki, Rhyme, Beat." Then his eyes rested on Eri, "You must be the lovely Eri. Shiki's told me all about—"
"You're not allowed to talk to her." Shiki snapped, snatching up Eri's arm and tugging her backwards.
Joshua's lips evened out in a level look that he aimed at Shiki. She shivered under those eyes but didn't release Eri's arm and instead moved the other girl behind her.
"I see." Joshua said, twisting his gaze back to Neku, a glint of—something—in those bright eyes. "Is that invitation still open, then? Or is it too late?"
Neku frowned, his face flashing through a multitude of emotions. It was rather fascinating to watch. Finally he gritted his teeth and looked Joshua in the eye, those blue and violet eyes mixing in some strange way. "It's been weeks."
"Yes." Joshua stated simply and shrugged, breaking the eye contact and glancing off into the herds of people moving about.
Neku's frown deepened into a scowl. For a moment he just looked over the pale boy, blue eyes studying every detail the way Shiki would examine stitches. Finally he said, "Okay." And began walking towards Spain Hill, where they had originally been headed.
The rest of them were slow to follow, but Joshua seemed slowest. He just stared after them for a long moment before he began to walk along with the group.
Eri still didn't know much about what had happened. All she really knew was that it had left scars, but also made them all so much brighter and lovely to be around.
Shiki was finally growing out of her box she had set herself in for such a long time. Ecstatic to work with Eri where grudging jealousy had only been before—except Eri hadn't noticed that until after the dark feelings were already gone. Some late nights, she wondered if that hidden darkness had driven Shiki to do something that she regretted and that was how they all met.
Beat talked about how he was getting along better with his parents, how he was trying to live life instead of waiting around for Rhyme to dig him out of his holes.
Rhyme didn't say much about herself. She talked about herself a lot, but she never seemed to actually say much of anything that wasn't somehow about Beat or her family—usually about Beat. Rhyme didn't seem to have any extreme force driving her except her love for her brother. She had tons of talent, but she never seemed to be able to decide what to do with it. Beat always looked guilty when it was brought up. Eri wondered if he had done something to destroy her original hopes and couldn't find a way to take back what he'd done.
And Neku… Neku was a mystery to Eri. He was jumpy and muted when she first met him, but the blazing behind his eyes had won her over anyway. He was always thoughtful and said what he meant. Yet, he always looked at Shiki like she was a baby bird who he'd knocked from its nest and now he was trying to beg her forgiveness without letting her know. Those looks made Eri jealous at first, but he was nothing but gentlemanly towards her.
Neku had a habit of light touches, as if to make sure everything around him was indeed real. He'd bop Rhyme on the nose to make her laugh, smack Beat on the head for doing something stupid, but with Shiki his touches were so light as if she would break if he looked at her wrong. Eri came to realize that every touch was a silent 'sorry'—for what, Eri didn't know. Even his taps on Eri's own shoulder were quiet apologies. She was always tempted to ask what he was so sorry about, but the fear deep in his eyes stopped her every time.
He seemed to assume they would leave at the slightest drop of a hat. The first week Eri knew him, Beat and he got into an argument about—something to do with that silly Reaper board game, Eri guessed. Neku flinched from Beat for days afterward, never touching him or looking his way. Finally Beat grabbed Neku in a bear hug, and explained, in his own simpleminded way, that he would never leave Neku's side—unless he hurt Rhyme, which was always the extra note on anything Beat did: as long as it didn't hurt Rhyme.
Eri did know that Neku was full of art. He practically spoke poetry, even the motion of his body could be described as a dance. Every page of notes was covered in song lyrics he'd thought up, sketches of graffiti he was planning, even small doodles of people around him as if he couldn't help but let the talent pour from him all over the place.
When Joshua showed up—and kept showing up whenever they decided to all get together—all of them seemed to recoil from him. Neku's words were short and to the point instead of flowing and rhythmic like before. Shiki always kept a hand on Eri's, her eyes far away in memories Eri couldn't guess. Beat was always between Joshua and Rhyme, although Rhyme seemed to care very little about the pale boy.
Joshua himself was even more of a mystery than Neku. Sometimes he seemed like he could rule the world with a simple word, other times he kept close to Neku and glanced at the others like they were going to turn on him at any second—and sometimes he stared openly at them, curious and fascinated by each word, each movement, each breath. Neku was the one he stared at most, although Josh only did that when he thought Neku wasn't looking, stared like the pale boy had found god in those orange locks. Eri knew that Neku had noticed however, he could see the slight tension in his shoulders whenever Josh flirted—something he only did to Neku—or whenever Josh's eyes met his.
Josh seemed like a decent guy, kind of a bastard sometimes, but okay otherwise. She wondered what the others saw in him that she didn't that made them so nervous around him. She wondered if it was as simple as that she saw good where they didn't.
"Shiki." Eri said slowly, watching her brown-haired friend sort back and forth through fabric samples.
"I think I've found the perfect one for that dress you made last week!" Shiki bubbled carefully unclipping the square of cloth and turning to hand it off to Eri.
Eri sighed, not taking the cloth—although she wanted to, it looked fabulous for that design—and just looked at Shiki.
Shiki paused and frowned, setting the square aside like one would a glass figure. "What?"
The pink-haired girl dropped her eyes, "I…" She had to know, "What happened?" She glanced back up, meeting Shiki's eyes in the middle of the other girl opening her mouth.
Shiki closed her mouth, apparently seeing in her friend's eyes what this was about. "…I can't."
"Why not?" Eri frowned. "I'm your best friend." Shiki flinched, but Eri continued without pause, "Why keep something so big from me?"
Shifting her narrow glasses, Shiki tried to smile but it died like a flower in the winter frost. Instead she bit her bottom lip and let her eyes drop. "I don't know if I'm allowed."
"Who's stopping you?" Eri pursed her lips at Shiki's refusal to meet her eyes. "We're alone here. I wouldn't tell a fly."
Shiki suddenly broke into laughter—laughter that grew more hysterical the longer it went on. It frightened Eri and she tried to rub Shiki's shoulder in a comforting way. "Who would stop me, indeed." She finally gasped, laughter died in the same sudden way it started. "Don't you see? Everyone is listening. I'm sure Josh is just loving this." She snarled with such bitterness that Eri had never seen from her friend in all the years Eri had known her.
"Joshua… would stop you?" Eri frowned, trying to put the pieces together but finding that she was still missing far too much.
Shiki lay sprawled out on the floor with Eri kneeled beside her. "Perhaps not. Perhaps he'd just opt to go back on his original decision…" Shiki paused and gasped for air like just the mere words would bring about some great evil. "Shibuya…"
Eri waited, because she didn't know what else to do. She had prepared herself for whatever bad event Shiki had to tell, but nothing would prepare her for what Shiki would say next.
"You know, that day we had that big fight about me designing things?" Eri nodded, but Shiki continued without really seeing the other girl. "That day, I got hit by a car while passing the road… I died, Eri."
Then the story just began spilling out of her. Being stuck in limbo, everything that Beat told her that happened, everything Rhyme told her about being stuck as Noise. Everything Neku would tell them about what actually happened that second week and at the end.
As the words came pouring out, so did the tears, flowing down her cheeks silently, dripping on her glasses and from her nose and chin.
Once the words drizzled out and grew dry in Shiki's throat, her pink-haired friend could do nothing but gather the poor girl up in her arms and hold her as tight as she could.
"You're here now. You're alive. You're with me." Eri whispered into those tiny ears, her own eyes closed tightly as she rocked Shiki back and forth in her arms.
"Please," Shiki sobbed, her hands twisted into Eri's shirt, "Please, oh god. Don't leave."
Eri wrapped her arms around her tighter and pressed her lips against Shiki's warm, red-blotched cheeks. "I'm not going anywhere."
Shiki only cried harder, her hands gripping Eri hard enough to leave bruises.
A/N: No one writes enough about Eri. Amusingly enough, this started as a fic from Joshua's point of view.. but Eri snagged it anyway... and somehow turned it from a boyslash to femmeslash. Don't even ask me how that happened. Still, I rather like it. I hope you enjoyed it as well.