I noticed that there's only one Neku/Rhyme fic on here…so I decided to fix that! :D But I'm still super-nervous posting this up. I've never, ever, ever, ever, EVER written anything even vaguely resembling fluff before. I'm not sure if I got anyone's character portrayed right, either. But I'm posting it anyway. I hope I got the genre right...

Soft

By FlikFreak


Beat and Shiki were unconscious on the floor, with a familiar red O-Pin split in half and lying on the floor nearby. Neku was the only one awake, and he was thoroughly exhausted, but he knew that he couldn't stop here. He had to keep going.

As he pushed himself through the practically invisible door that he had found by scanning, he recalled the previous few days. The Shibuya he once knew was like Shiki described it: a battlefield. Everyone was trying to come in and make their thoughts and ideas heard, and each of them clashed with one another. Before, Neku had despised it, but he had slowly come to not mind it at all. When everyone's thoughts began to center on the same thing, he knew something was wrong. Those people weren't players, and they certainly weren't reapers. Shibuya was falling apart, he just knew it. If the Composer was the one causing this, he couldn't let it continue. He had to stop him.

Everyone had their own story. Shiki wanted to be a fashion designer, but if it ended here she'd still be stuck in Eri's body, with that blank look in her eyes like everyone else. Joshua…who knew what that kid was thinking, but he had saved Neku's life – or at least his chance at getting the said life back, but it was technically the same thing at this point. Maybe if the composer was taken down he could return the favor. Beat was almost a typical delinquent, but right now he only thought of helping his sister, and if it all ended he'd never get the chance to, and all his effort would be in vain. Speaking of which …

Thoughts of the girl that he had only barely known began to swarm Neku's mind as he glanced around the room. Those hand-me-down clothes that probably once belonged to her brother at some point, the messy blonde hair that poked out from under her hat, her kind smile, those soft blue eyes…if he didn't win, he'd never see that again. Judging from how she and Beat both looked, they didn't exactly come from a well-to-do family. If Mr. H had been right, Rhyme's entry fee – whatever it was – was gone forever, and she'd never get it back, even if she came back to life. When Neku watched as the girl was erased, he didn't know what to feel. His heart had stopped in shock. Back then, he hadn't understood fully what had happened, but now the reality of what occurred slammed into him full force, and he felt himself grow heavy from guilt that shouldn't have been his.

Neku swallowed hard, pulling out a familiar pin from his pocket – the one he had liberated from Konishi. Rhyme's noise pin was the same as any other pin, aside from its image of course. It was monochrome in appearance, detailing a squirrel-like creature, its tail and wing-like front legs detailed in graffiti-like fashion. Though he hated referring to her like that, Neku knew that at the moment Rhyme was only a noise, and this was her form as one. If there were anyone that could fully bring her back, it'd be the Composer. He fingered the pin in his hand, remembering when he had first used it. There was too much focus on surviving the battle against Konishi to fully comprehend what he had been doing. When the reaper commented on his ability, he was ability to summon her, he had been momentarily stunned by his own actions, but quickly covered for it with a remark. It was only now that he began to think about it.

But he still wondered the same thing that Konishi had: how had he been able to summon Rhyme's noise? He wasn't a reaper, and he certainly wasn't the Composer. He had been able to…call on her the same way he used any other pin, and every single pin he had even caught a glimpse of he was able to use properly. Could he do it again? Beat would probably know the answer – or not, considering his unfortunate level of verbal and mental literacy – but there was no time to wait for that. Neku decided to see for himself.

His pact with Beat was still intact; he knew he could still use psyches. He wondered, however, if he could call on Rhyme outside of a fight. Only one way to find out.

Neku took a deep breath, holding the pin tightly in his hand and holding it close to his chest. His eyes closed, and he mentally searched for the energy – or whatever it was – that was locked inside the pin. For a moment, he began to doubt himself. He wasn't a reaper; he couldn't have summoned a noise. The energy faltered, and he shoved his doubt away. He couldn't afford to doubt himself now.

The energy flared to the point where it nearly burned him. Neku shouted something, his voice echoing across the walls. The pin pulsed with power, and an ethereal wind blew from behind him. No, not wind…it was more like a gentle breeze. He couldn't help but close his eyes and let it whisper past, breathing in and relaxing. Something about it was familiar and calming.

There was a tiny, almost inaudible squeak, and the sound of something swooping by made itself known. Neku's eyes snapped open, the breeze halting, and found a familiar creature in front of him. It was the little squirrel that was on the pin – the very same one that had been perched on Beat's shoulder for a good while.

Suddenly it was difficult to talk. "Rhyme?" Neku said, intending his voice to sound strong but somehow it cracked under stress.

The little squirrel tilted its head curiously, blinking, and walked forward. Swallowing nervously, Neku knelt down and reached tentatively forward. "Is that you?" he asked, his voice low enough to be a whisper.

Rhyme just blinked at him again and nuzzled his outstretched hand. Neku stared, eyes wide in mild surprise. Rhyme seemed to still recognize him…that, or her noise form was naturally friendly. The fur on her head was extremely soft, and he felt his hand moving from her head down her back in a stroking motion before stopping himself, pulling his hand back and ignoring Rhyme's curious, slightly disappointed gaze. "Geez, what am I doing?!" He wondered aloud. "If Beat caught me petting his sister he'd go ballistic."

There were a few chattering noises from Rhyme before she hopped closer to him. Neku realized with a start that she was laughing, and he could almost hear her actual voice as she did. When the squirrel looked around expectantly, Neku shook his head. "No one's around to hurt us right now. We're safe." At least for now…who knows how powerful the composer will be. If that Kitaniji was just one of his underlings I'd hate to be up against whatever noise form he's got up his sleeves. He bit his lip. If he's really what I'm up against…

Almost as though sensing his worry, Rhyme jumped upward and glided onto Neku's shoulder. It was a narrow perch – he wasn't quite as built as Beat was – so she made up for it by gripping his widened collar. Not used to having something sit next to his head, Neku arched his neck to the side, but it didn't help very much, given the fact that Rhyme chattered playfully and nuzzled his cheek. Were all noise like this, or was Rhyme just happy to see him?

Neku smiled, patting the little squirrel on the head and chuckling inwardly at the delighted purr she responded with. "I promise," he muttered. "I'll make things right. I swear." Maybe then I'll find my answer.


Night had almost fallen. Neku had long changed out of that stuffy school uniform and into his usual outfit, and had his headphones resting casually around his neck. He hadn't gotten home yet, and for the life of him he couldn't fathom why he ended up in detention. Oh yeah. He had a fight with one of his classmates. On the very first day of school, at that. Nice move there, Neku. Now your conduct report is going straight down the drain.

The Game had given him a stronger sense of confidence, and though Neku wasn't the fighting type, he wasn't about to let one of the older kids pick on one of the freshmen. He had developed a strong distaste of sitting by and watching a beating, and quickly stepped up to intervene. Before long, insults were being thrown and a brawl had started. Luckily Neku could defend himself, but both sides ended up with punishment. He didn't care; as long as the victim got out without any broken bones. Funny…the one they were bullying seemed rather familiar.

After an impromptu trip to a few music stores, Neku stopped by the mural at Udagawa, hefting his backpack on his shoulder more securely. Even after the game, he still came here often, for peace of mind if anything. Even after two years or so, he still didn't find out why he was able to summon Rhyme's noise, and had resorted to believing he'd never have his answer. He offered the pin to Beat, but the skater pushed it away, telling him to keep it and the memories of the game that came with it. Of course, Beat hadn't used those exact words, but Neku knew better.

He placed a hand on the wall and smiled. He had died here once, as an antisocial, selfish boy that cared for no one but himself, hating Shibuya and all that came with it. Now, he was far different. He loved Shibuya, even its faults, and he actually had friends to spend time with. Friends…he never thought he'd even think of the word in a sincere way. It was odd, but in a good way.

"Neku?"

He froze, old instincts kicking in. He dropped his bag and spun around, fists ready to lash out, but paused when he saw a familiar girl behind him. He relaxed. "Oh…Rhyme. It's you. Where's your brother?"

Rhyme smiled back at him. She had grown a lot in such a short span of time. Her hair would have probably been longer, but she insisted on keeping it cut short. It almost reached down past her shoulders, so she was probably due for another trimming soon. She still had that usual innocent spark in her eyes, and her smile wasn't quite as child-like as it had been that time in the game. The school uniform looked somewhat awkward on her, but that was only because Neku was used to seeing her wear more boyish clothing. He felt his cheeks flush red when she spoke, her voice just as light and cheerful as it had always been. "Beat's at the skating park right now," she said. "I'm supposed to meet him around here later, but he hasn't come back yet."

"He hasn't?" Neku replied, thankful for the change in subject. It changed again, however, when he saw something very wrong with Rhyme's appearance. Her uniform was normally a bit dirty – her family wasn't exactly rich, after all – but on her face was… His eyes widened. "Rhyme! What happened?"

The girl blinked. "Huh? Oh, just a scratch." She pushed some of her long, blonde hair out of her face. "I need to get a haircut. I wonder if Beat-"

"Don't change the subject," Neku interrupted sternly, abandoning his backpack and examining the wound on his friend's cheek. His eyes furrowed. "Someone hit you, didn't they?"

Rhyme looked away. "I'm fine," she muttered.

Neku gave her a glare he probably would have reserved for Joshua. "No you're not," he said. "Who did this to you? Answer me!"

Noticing that the music-loving boy wasn't about to let her go, Rhyme sighed. "A few guys at my new school were picking on me," she said finally. "I don't really remember why. One of them asked if I would…if I wanted to…that I'd have…" She shook her head, trying to look away. "Neku, I…"

A strong flare of anger rose in Neku's chest, and he knew precisely how she would have finished that sentence. Those fucking bastards, he snarled inwardly. Rhyme's been through enough already without having to deal with his crap. She doesn't deserve this! "Who said that? Tell me his name!"

Rhyme looked back up at him, her eyes glazed over. "I…I didn't get their names. I think one of them was called 'Nails' or something…that's what the others kept calling him."

Shock overtook the anger. 'Nails' was the nickname of one of the bullies at Neku's high school…the same one he fought off that day in the cafeteria. If what Rhyme said was true, then the victim was…

"Beat has first lunch, so I can't sit next to him," Rhyme continued, her voice cracking. "And I don't know anyone at my school, so…I'm just so…It's really…"

Neku bit his lip. He couldn't bear to see Rhyme sniffling like that. The tears had just started to come when he put a hand on her shoulder. "They're not going to bother you anymore," he said quietly. "I promise."

Rhyme didn't reply. She gave Neku a long, indiscernible look and threw herself at him, holding him in a tight hug. Surprised, his eyes flew open at the gesture, and he felt the girl sobbing into his shirt and mumbling incoherently when she wasn't whimpering. Expression softening, he wrapped on arm on her back and stroked her hair with his free hand. Her hair wasn't quite as soft as her fur had been, but Neku didn't care. He stroked it anyway. Anything to calm down the younger Bito. He wouldn't relax until she did.

I said I'd make things right, Rhyme. I'm not about to go back on my word.

They spent the rest of the night sitting at the mural, and Rhyme eventually fell asleep leaning against Neku's shoulder. Ironically, it was the very same one she had perched on as a noise. As late as it was, fatigue didn't seem to bother Neku as he kept a watchful eye for anyone who came near. The only person allowed to come within two inches of Rhyme would be her brother. He kept his arms around her, eyes scanning the area constantly. Unfortunately, Beat never came. Knowing him, he either forgot to pick his sister up or was running late. Did he even know about the cafeteria incident yet?

Neku scribbled a note for the skater concerning Rhyme and placed it at the foot of the wall, weighing it down with a few rocks and large pebbles. Rhyme's house wasn't too far away, so it wasn't a long walk. Neku started to stand, but after remembering that Rhyme was asleep on him, he sighed. This is gonna be awkward.

He abandoned his own backpack and left it at the door of the nearby record store. The owner knew him, so they'd make sure it wasn't stolen. Then, gently putting Rhyme's bag over his shoulder, he picked her up as well and headed quietly toward her home.

The next day, Neku watched carefully for Rhyme in the cafeteria. He waved her over to his table the moment she entered.