The CopyCAT's Gift
Post-game. Joshua and Neku. Neku aspires to become a "composer," and Joshua seeks to fulfill Neku's wish his own way.
Disclaimer: I do not own The World Ends With You.
Chapter 1: Let the Prelude Begin
"Let's have one last Game to determine who will be Composer. You win, you decide what happens to Shibuya. I win, I decide." A smirk sounded and then a click. "Of course... I've already decided."
Two years passed since the Game. Shiki and Eri had gone overseas to attend university specialized in fashion designing. Beat, despite how he loathed numbers and text, attended college outside of Shibuya but close enough to visit Rhyme during the weekends.
Meanwhile, Neku stayed. He kept his primary residence in Shibuya, commuted to The University of Tokyo, and at one point worked part-time at Jupiter of the Monkey on Cat Street. For the longest time and without failure, Neku visited WildKat when his studies and work did not consume his life. Most of the time, he found Sanae Hanekoma behind the counter or sifting through papers and graphs.
But one day, Neku heard Music, unlike what Mr. H usually turned on in his cafe. This Music, alive and breathing, escaped from the backroom of WildKat. Delicate. Endearing. Neku did not know the words to describe what he heard just then.
"Oh hey, Phones," Mr. H greeted.
When Neku walked closer, the Music ceased. He peered into the room, cluttered with boxes of CAT's artwork and art supplies ranging from paint cans and chalk to rolls of butcher paper and canvas. Mounds of neglected paperwork piled in a designated corner of dust.
In the center, Mr. H stood with a black upright piano behind him.
"I didn't know you can play," Neku said.
Somewhat abashed, Mr. H ran a hand through his hair while readjusting his shades.
"That eh...That's not my expertise..." he said.
"Gee, Mr. H. You're CAT, a barista, and a musician." Neku grinned.
"I wouldn't say that."
"What song was that? Or is it one of your new compositions?"
Neku hopped onto the piano bench.
"Com' on, Mr. H. At least show me how that last part went."
"...Right, right," Mr. H said.
For some time, Mr. H sat on the bench beside him... as if waiting for something. He observed the keys for the longest time before he started playing the last few lines of the tune Neku heard him play. It came out somewhat off and rigid, lacking emotion and grace.
"Let me try."
When Mr. H finished, Neku tried repeating the tune just like how Mr. H played it. What he played sounded like what Mr. H just played. Nothing like what he heard earlier.
Mr. H smirked. "Say, Phones. You like Music, right? Why not pursue it?"
Neku nearly jumped to his feet.
"What? I can't play!"
"Weren't you playing just then?"
Neku's face paled. He looked up at the ceiling and put a hand against the back of his neck.
"Ah, that. Mr. H, you see I..."
"You shouldn't let that good ear of yours go to waste."
Neku's eyebrows curved with excitement. "You mean you'll teach me?"
"...I can only teach you the basics, but the rest is up to you," Mr. H said.
Neku had no ability to say no to CAT.
Slowly but surely, Neku spent more and more time tapping the ivory keys than he did with his charcoal and paint. He still obsessed about CAT's artwork and about every Tin Pin game. But with the piano, he could spend countless hours sitting on the piano bench at WildKat, weaving together little bean sprouts in his head, and creating what the world knows... as Music.
But when it came to learning music theory, Neku swore he warded off every possible WildKat customer like a bug repellent. Including Mr. H.
"We should be able to breeze through the basics," Mr. H declared.
"I think not, Mr. H."
Mr. H yanked out the first music sheet in his folder and pointed at the first thing on the page just after the song title, composer, and the words in italics.
Neku remained silent.
"Aw, com' on, Phones. You should know what clef that is."
Neku stared. He gulped.
"Well?" he asked encouragingly.
"...Uh, chief of staff?"
Mr. H choked on his coffee. Neku spent the next two or so minutes just polishing the keys and simply going over the clefs. Treble clef. Bass...treble. Bass. Tremble...
"Hey um. What do they mean again?"
Ever since the Game, Neku never met with Joshua. Never spoke. They avoided each other, refusing to clash like oil and water. But when Neku started practicing Music, Joshua appeared right after Neku had gone over the same verses over and over again for several days straight.
That afternoon made Day Eight.
Neku tried again.
"What's wrong with these notes?" Neku exclaimed.
Sounded like an upset stomach to him.
"Maybe it was flat? Wait, maybe this is B flat not E..."
A bit better this time. Like a broken bagpipe.
"But that looks closer to a pound sign. What was this note again...?"
He dug for his torn notebook stashed within the pile of books beside him. He started flipping through the notebook, until he came to a page and squinted at his handwriting in disbelief.
"All Cows Eat... Gas?" he read.
No way. A nasty squawk erupted when Neku's face hit the piano keys.
"I may have the ear, but there's no way I can ever read a darn page of this."
Neku was Music illiterate. No wonder he never passed a single sight reading or music theory test while playing the recorder during his elementary school years. But when it came to performance, Neku simply memorized the keys, the tune, and fingering and mimicked how the best of his class played.
It always worked. Until now anyway.
"That's it. That's it. I'm calling it qu..."
A cool breeze touched him as a gentle breath tickled his hair and left ear. Neku sat up straight on the bench. He saw a familiar hand--unworked, slender, and just a little smaller than his. With little effort, the pale, almost transparent hand played the little group of notes in such a way that put every note Neku ever produced to shame.
Neku lowered his head. Anger and frustration rushed through his head. "You really are despicable. You know that?"
The hand disappeared. Neku swerved around in hopes to catch a glimpse of Joshua's entire form, but Joshua made himself scarce the moment Neku said his name.
Within a few days, Joshua returned but remained distant. Neither communicated with the other. But Neku easily picked out Joshua's presence just by listening to the way the magazines crinkled and how the little bell on the glass door jingled. Every time the other came, Neku sensed a chill crawl up his spine and nip him gently. If Joshua approached within a certain radius near him, a rush of emotions-- anger, hurt, relief and even longing-- overwhelmed Neku every time.
"...That other day. You were helping me," Neku said at last.
Neku was sitting on the piano bench again. He pressed the keys just like Joshua did that one time. The same notes. Same rhythm. Perfectly.
"You know. I don't think... Mr. H can really play the piano, can he?"
An amused giggle echoed in the otherwise empty cafe.
Another two years passed, and Neku had just turned nineteen. In black formalwear and a tie, Neku waited behind the heavy maroon curtains, hidden from the audience. His hair was less spiked, kind of flattened. All eyes were focused on the bespectacled announcer standing at center stage of the largest concert hall in Shibuya. Behind the announcer was a shiny grand piano and bench. The microphone squeaked once before the announcement came.
"Let us welcome Neku Sakuraba to the stage!"
As Neku walked forth, his heart pounded as he waited for a certain person in anticipation. He bowed and proceeded to play his first piece.
At WildKat, Joshua had just returned from his work in the UG. He was sitting on the piano bench and drinking coffee as Sanae rushed from one side of the cafe to the other. Sanae was hurriedly stacking and stapling some paperwork and photos scattered on the counter. Joshua waved his hand with great disinterest.
"You're his idol, Sanae. Of all people, you should be there. Not me."
"You're more of a mentor to him than I am." Sanae pulled the toothpick from his mouth. He frowned deeply after staring at the wall clock. "It has already began, Boss. Why aren't you there already?"
"I told you. I'm not going."
Sanae narrowed his eyes. "Look, J. I can't babysit you every day. Right about now, I really need to send these up to the Planes and see if they've any idea what's messing with the UG. I'll really appreciate some cooperation."
Joshua crossed his arms. He said coldly, "I can take care of myself just fine, Sanae. Now go on and have your little tea time in the Planes."
A dark shadow cast over Joshua. Joshua's nerve twitched when he realized that Sanae was holding his arm and yanking him to his feet. The last bit of coffee spilled all over the piano bench and dripped onto the tiles of WildKat.
"Let go of my arm, Sanae."
Sanae's grasp tightened.
"If you were fine, I could care less, but the fact is, J, that you aren't, and I don't have time for your nonsense. That's why I'm going to make you put on something decent and drop you at that concert whether you like it or not."
Joshua scoffed. "You wouldn't."
Sanae raised an eyebrow in warning.
And drop him off Sanae did just when Neku's performance was concluding. In a way, Joshua let Sanae push him around just this once. After all, Angels were bad company.
Behind the curtains and in darkness, Joshua sat on a black, folding chair in an isolated corner just off stage. Wearing a white suit, dress pants, and a navy tie, Joshua was in the RG, yet nobody saw him.
Neku's listeners, including 777 and band, were encouraging him to play an additional piece or the same one again.
Joshua remained silent. He already heard what Neku played many, many times. It made no difference to him. Joshua pushed his hair back away from his eyes and waited for the painfully slow decision. Either way, Neku would do a fine job; Joshua would have it no other way.
"I'll play another piece tonight," Neku said.
At first, Joshua's mind spaced, thinking about the Game, about Angels and the Noise, and about the unusual disturbances brewing in his city. But Neku's powerful voice in the once boisterous hall captivated him, and all the chattering and rustling in the audience quieted.
"This last piece is dedicated to someone...someone who changed my life." Neku paused. He bit his lower lip for a moment to stop his voice from trembling. "Though I may never see this person for a long time... I hope that wherever you are that you'd..."
He stopped abruptly. With no warning, he lifted his head and looked directly at Joshua, whose eyes widened, but otherwise remained expressionless. Neku's voice softened.
"I hope that you'd hear this," Neku finished.
He bowed his head a little. As Neku readied his hand, his fingers poised, he glanced at Joshua once more and waited. After letting out a quiet sigh, Neku started playing. He played a few notes but then stopped abruptly. An empty, almost sad echo escaped the concert hall.
Then, Neku played the same notes again but this time a few notes more than the last. When Neku stopped abruptly again as if he had fumbled the keys, a steady frown formed on Joshua's face, and his eyes met Neku's once again.
Neku smiled at him innocently before continuing onwards with his piece. Everyone believed he done it on purpose. And in fact, Joshua knew he did.
Neku wanted his attention.
Any amateur with two brain cells to rub together could compose what Neku was playing. But that night, nobody could copy the raw emotions that Neku's Music gave. For Joshua, memories of his week with Neku in the Game flashed before his eyes like the analog of a pocket watch running backwards. The Music made Joshua's surroundings fuzzy and his breath shaky. Neku's Music caressed Joshua's back. It breathed hot air against his bare skin.
"Let me tell you a story. It's a story about us," the Music beckoned.
Joshua frowned. "...Us?"
"Heh. You heard me."
Minutes later, Neku's fingers stopped playing, and the music ended with a distant echo like raindrops drizzling. For a good half minute, Neku looked down at his shoes before pushing the bench back. With his hands clasped, he went to his feet and bowed deeply. His eyes widened as the audience stood and applauded feverishly. Tears glistened in some of their eyes, while others cheered and whistled in reply. As he stood upright, Neku turned to Joshua, who was standing like everyone else. Joshua's gaze remained somewhat averted and distant.
"...Long time no see," Neku said.
The words came as a surprise to both Joshua and the audience. Joshua looked at him curiously.
Neku's face flushed a bit. Shrugging his shoulders, he offered his hand and smiled faintly, as if beckoning Joshua to walk forth.
"Well?" he asked.
For that moment, Joshua remained glued to where he stood and slowly pocketed his hands. His heart raced, and the serene smile on his face even wavered a little. Everyone in the whole concert stage quieted. Everyone waited in anticipation, curious about who Neku was speaking to.
But before Joshua made a single step. Before he even opened his mouth, loud footsteps sounded behind him. He gasped softly as one individual rushed pass him. Wearing high heel blue sandals, another person also walked pass him. Neither noticed Joshua's presence.
Also in formalwear, Beat slung an arm over Neku's shoulders and ruffled his hair into a mess.
"...Hey," Neku greeted.
"Didn't think I'll make it here too, huh Phones?" he asked.
Beat gave the widest grin and stepped back to let someone else through.
The spotlight moved and focused on a girl, wearing a halter top white dress. She had round blue eyes and an especially beautiful smile. Her hair was long and straight, going pass her shoulders. At that moment, she looked nothing like Skulls Junior or Beat's kid sister but an innocent girl named Raimu Bito. At that instance, Neku's eyes softened at Rhyme's presence.
"...ah, so you told him?" Neku asked quietly.
"I knew it was important to you." Rhyme beamed.
He opened his arms and embraced her carefully. He was smiling.
"Glad you two made it," he said.
The announcer roared, "Give another round of applause for Neku Sakuraba!"
As the audience cheered, the announcer and even a few reporters hastily crowded around Neku and the Bito siblings to conduct short interviews with Neku, the rising star of Shibuya.
Neku lifted his head, trying to see pass the crowd around him. Behind the heavy curtain, the black folding chair tipped and clattered to the ground.
Joshua had left. His final words were...
Comments are absolutely welcomed! Currently, the actual title of this story is in pending, but it'll be finalized by the second chapter. This will be an ongoing story.