Hello there! This fic is the result of a self-challenge created from a fanfic questionnaire. I was supposed to write a summary for a Joshua/Shiki fic, and I ended up liking the summary so much I was compelled to write the fic itself XD. I'm not sure if I succeeded...I wouldn't really call this a pairing fic...

Thanks to James Firebrand for beta'ing this for me. I hope you like the final result.

For those reading Noise of Regalement (all five of you), the final chapter will be up in a few days, probably early next week.

Disclaimer: I don't own TWEWY. Like I could run a whole city of people and its god anyway...

"All generalizations are false, including this one." -Mark Twain

The Cat and the Mink

Shiki loved to create. Her petite room was crammed full of her designs and conceptions of clothes, hats, handbags, even buttons and pins, and lastly, stuffed animals. Projects lay about in various stages of creation, ranging from sketches pinned on the wall or stuffed into folders, to objects half-sewn, to labors of love fully realized.

She fell onto the bed, yet another exhausting day of school completed. Civilized education wasn't nearly as strenuous as the Game, but it could still be rather draining. All the more fatiguing, perhaps, because it was not nearly as invigorating as fighting for one's survival…

Shiki looked up at the ceiling, where a few sketches were taped when she ran out of room on her walls. Then she scanned the toys scattered on the shelves, dresser, and wherever else she could put them without getting them dirty. Some were radically altered, while others were merely repaired, but all were changed in some way by her hand. There were even some that were created from scratch.

Mr. Mew, the simple black cat, was the first of these originals.

This special toy sat on the stand next to her bed, leaning forward slightly. A stitch in his old ear was coming out. She picked up the false feline for a closer examination, frowning.

"Looks like we're going to have to fix you up tomorrow," she said, holding Mr. Mew above her.

The head tilted, as if asking if she had to. Shiki smiled and laid the toy next to her.

She didn't expect it to immediately sit back up and begin bouncing on the bed like a hyper tyke.

Shiki stared at it. Sure, the toy had been animated when she had been in the Underground, but not in the Real Ground. It just didn't happen, as much as she sometimes wished it.

So why was it happening now?

When it got bored of bouncing, Mr. Mew plopped against her legs, curling up like it was a real cat. It turned its cute face toward Shiki, and she couldn't help but smile despite the strangeness. Mr. Mew was no threat, after all.

"You're a sweetie, even if you are weird."

"Why thank you."

Shiki shrank back, withdrawing her legs.

It wasn't Mr. Mew that spooked her. If the stuffed animal had spoken, she would not only have been fascinated, but delighted. That would have been a step beyond his state in the Game, a step toward him becoming real.

But it was not Mr. Mew that had spoken, though the voice had come from the toy. It was the voice of Shibuya's Composer.

All her previous affection vaporized.

"Joshua," she growled, leering.

"Yes?" he replied, the tail of the black cat waving lazily.

"Get. Out. Of. Mr. Mew."

"Why?" he asked, rolling over and stretching out. "Don't you like me like this?"

"I like Mr. Mew. I don't like you."

There was a sigh.

"Fine. Have it your way."

Mr. Mew's form grew limp, and Joshua's true form appeared sitting beside the stuffed animal.

"What are you doing here?" asked Shiki, snatching back her toy before the gray-haired teen could do anything else to it.

"Oh, just paying a visit," the indigo-eyed Composer answered casually.

Shiki shot him another suspicious look, hugging Mr. Mew closer.

"Why?"

Joshua smirked.

"I dunno. Maybe I just felt like it?"

Suddenly he was sitting beside her, shoulder to shoulder. He was warm, she noticed vaguely. Weren't dead people supposed to be cold?

He summoned a green-and-white teddy with a red skirt to his grasp.

"Naomi, was it?" the indigo-eyed teen spoke, holding the fuzzy little bear out in front of him. "A Christmas present from the your grandmother. She was one of Mr. Mew's first friends. The skirt was a gift you made for her first birthday party."

"Hey, give her back!" Shiki demanded, but Joshua teleported to the other side of the room.

"She doesn't get along with Mama Panda. She thinks she's too fussy," Joshua went on, the said plump panda gravitating over to his side.

"Stop that!" she commanded, scrambling out of bed only to have the indigo-eyed teen vanish with her toys again. This time he materialized in front the door.

"But she loves little ChuChu," he added, as a purple-spotted mouse glided beside Mama Panda. "She was so worried when the neighbor's little dog tore a hole in him. Luckily for him he had you as an owner, and you fixed him up like new."

"Give them back!" she shouted as she dashed over, only to trip over one of her half-finished projects. Why did her room have to be so full of crap?

"Such complex stories and connections everyone has here," Joshua stated, as the rest of the toys lifted into the air and floated about aimlessly. "They all owe their identities to you, like child to parent. Your own little family, your own little Shibuya. And they all adore you."

"Put them down!" she yelled, as she stomped the floor repeatedly. "Put them down put them down put them DOWN!"

"Alright, alright," the Composer replied with a smile, as all the toys in the room settled on and around the bed. "Is that better?"

Allowed to sit back up, Shiki gathered as many of the toys into her arms as possible, and then glared at Joshua. He smiled, and stuffed Naomi in the middle of her brood.

"You are such an innocent."

"Rhyme is an innocent, not me."

"Rhyme only pretends to be an innocent."

"What?"

"Well, I suppose an innocent isn't innocent if they're aware of how innocent they are," Joshua concluded lazily. "Perhaps I should only say you are different."

Shiki glanced at him warily, pulling her toys closer.

"Different?"

"Now now, I don't mean that in a bad way," the gray-maned teen assured, patting her on the head like she was a young child. She slunk back.

"Every kid has those toys that are like friends, seem like they are alive to them. In fact there's no doubt, they are alive to them, and only them. The life of those toys are linked to their owner's belief in them. When they reach adolescence, that belief becomes lost as they learn such things are ridiculous, impossible. And so the life in those toys is lost."

He leaned closer.

"But you didn't lose that belief, that ability. You refused to, even when your parents told you to stop and your peers laughed at you. While others teens - other girls - are eager to shed their childish self and grow up to women, you held onto your past, your original identity, even with your envious issues with Eri. That's why you lost your true appearance as your entry fee for the Game."

The indigo-eyed teen grinned.

"That's an ability even I don't have," he admitted. "The innocent ability to give life to anything, to believe anything can have life."

Shiki blinked.

"You don't?" she asked. "But you're the Composer. I'd think something like that would be easy for you. I mean, you just did it with Mr. Mew a few minutes ago."

"There's a difference between animating a nonliving object and giving it its own life," Joshua clarified, plucking a loose feather from one of her pillows.

He held the white feather between his fingers, as if studying its soft edges, and then let it go. Instead of sinking, the feather began to twist and dance in the air just above his palm like a lonely ballerina. Then it drifted back down into his hand, lifeless.

"I just manipulate the motions," he explained, looking at the still feather in his hand. "You, on the other hand, imprint an identity on the object, and then believe in its ability to live, therefore giving it the right to live. I can't form that belief, or even pretend to. Neither can Neku, with his usual cynicism."

He let the feather fall onto the bed.

"I could use that power of yours."

Shiki narrowed her eyes.

"So that's why you're here. Because you want my power for some scheme of yours."

"It's not as crude as that," Joshua answered. "What I offer is a partnership."

"A partner-" she began, before her eyes widened and she flushed. "Whoa wait a minute, me and Neku-"

"Not that kind of partnership," Joshua interrupted calmly. "I guess I should have been more specific. When I say partnership, I mean a partnership as Composer and Conductor."

That proposal boggled Shiki's mind even more than the Composer of Shibuya asking her out for a date.

"…Conductor?!" she finally blurted out. "But how could I…I don't even…don't you have to be dead first? And a Reaper?"

"Not necessarily," Joshua answered with a languid wave of his hand. "Normally it would be so, but under the circumstances…"

"What circumstances?"

"Namely, Neku and the general situation of the last Game have wiped out most of the potential heirs," he answered, sinking into the pillows. "And I get the impression that Kariya would rather be erased than promoted."

He sat back up.

"So that leaves you and very few others. Not that you're inferior in any way, just alive. But like I said, that can be…how do I put it…overlooked. In fact, it's probably better that way."

Shiki leaned back on the pillows, her grip on the toys relaxing.

"…I still don't see why my power is such a big deal," she said. "I mean, why would you want a bunch of animated toys? Are you that low on Reapers, or is it just that lonely as Composer?"

Joshua laughed, surprising Shiki.

"As I've said, your Soul can give life to objects. It isn't restricted to toys," the Composer explained. "Statues, paintings, computers, spoons, anything normally without life can be influenced by you and given life. Though why you would want to animate a spoon is beyond me, but you could."

"That was your idea."

"So it was."

Joshua smiled, plopping down onto the bed. A couple of toys on the edge fell off.

"Think of what you could do if you refined it," he went on. "You can create avatars, both dependent and independent of you, to serve you or others. You could use them for anything from messengers, guardians, role models for society, or simply as friends on the job. You could even re-create people lost, if you knew them well enough."

He looked up at her, usual smile in place.

"So what do you think?"

Shiki was quiet for a moment, looking up at the ceiling.

"…I don't know what to think," she said, nuzzling her toys. "…But I know you don't treat your Conductors well. Megumi's proof enough of that."

Joshua chuckled.

"Megumi was…too ambitious."

"So if I got too ambitious…"

"It's just a matter of survival on my part," Joshua said. "Overly ambitious Conductors want to be Composers themselves, so they try to erase their current Composers. Merely nipping trouble in the bud."

He closed his eyes.

"The key…is to know your place."

Shiki quietly glanced ahead.

She had little respect for the Reaper system, even if she understood the Reapers themselves a little better now. Neku and Beat were really the ones who got along with the regular Reapers, knew the details of how they worked. And she was far from trusting the Composer who sacrificed his previous Conductor and shot Neku…twice…for the sake of a Game.

Who said she would be any safer?

…Though she couldn't say the offer didn't intrigue her. If she could learn how to refine her power, she could not only look after Shibuya and her friends, but also keep an eye on future Games…as well as Joshua himself.

That might have been the most alluring part of this offer, though the Composer might not know it. For she and Neku had seen Joshua lingering around, occasionally interfering with a Tin Pin game or a food order, or leaving behind cryptic text messages neither of them had figured out yet. Lately he had been meddling more and more.

They thought he would leave them alone, but he wouldn't, she and Neku least of all. If she could put herself in a position to watch Joshua, maybe get a hint about his plans…

Shiki felt a shift beside her, causing her to drop back to reality. She glanced over to see Joshua turned toward her, legs bent, eyes closed.

She stared for a moment.

Is he…sleeping?

Releasing most of her toys, she poked at the apparently snoozing Composer with Mr. Mew. He didn't stir. She drew back, still watching.

Did Composers sleep too? For that matter, did Reapers? She knew Players were forced to sleep, being a previous Player herself, but she didn't know if the dead needed to sleep otherwise. She had never thought about it.

Shiki studied his young face, now appearing even younger in his peaceful state.

Maybe Reapers, even Composers, had set times when they were forced to sleep, just like Players. Perhaps Joshua had miscalculated how much time he would spend with her, and suddenly slipped into slumber when the appointed time silently struck.

Laying there, he looked almost ordinary, would have looked ordinary if he didn't have prematurely gray hair. It occurred to Shiki that she should be more concerned about a sleeping boy in her bed. Please don't let her parents suddenly knock and wake him up, and please please don't let Neku drop in for a surprise visit…which he sometimes did via the window.

…Of all the stupid, impossible things…could she be overanalyzing all of this? There was usually one reason a boy visits a girl, teases a girl…and it had nothing to do with business advantages or Reapers. What if he liked her? Honest-to-God liked her? That the Composer of Shibuya hadn't been stalking Neku but her?

Neku wouldn't take that challenge lightly.

Despite the building disquiet, despite the Composer's presence nearby, she felt herself growing sleepy. But she couldn't doze off now. Letting Joshua nap in her room was one thing, but sleeping herself while the Composer was still in her bed was another matter. He usually showed more interest in Neku than in her, but…

But what if this had more to do with Neku than her? What if, just as she was thinking of keeping an eye on Joshua, Joshua was planning to use her to influence Neku? Neku wouldn't listen to the indigo-eyed Composer, for understandable reasons, but he would listen to her. And if Joshua threatened her…

She suddenly felt repulsed by the Composer's presence. So repulsed, she whacked him on the head with Mr. Mew.

"…That attack would have been more effective in the UG," Joshua answered without moving, without a trace of drowsiness.

He opened one indigo eye, studied the stone-faced Shiki, and smiled.

"I get the message. I'll let you think about it."

He vanished. All was left was residual warmth and an impression on the bed.

She watched the now-vacant spot as if she expected him to rematerialize, and then laid down herself. She placed her wealth of stuffed animals in the empty spot where he had been, where somewhere a white feather still lay.

Perhaps now she could sleep.

IIIIII

So was Joshua sincere in any way, or was he just looking at Shiki from a Composer's perspective? That's up to you.

Cya!