I went on vacation for two weeks, but I'm better now. Here's the longest thing I've posted so far, in one-shot form, because it was too long to go with the rest of It's A Wonderful Life.
Warnings: Spoilers for the end-game. Pretty thorough. But not Secret Reports! Because I'm a good kid. Barest mentions and references to the characters who aren't Joshua or Neku. D: I think more people should warn for a lack of (or excess of) side characters. Some days you just wanna read about the side characters, y'know? And others you couldn't care less.
Pairings: Joshua/Neku (others can be inferred).
Rating: PG. Language.
Notes: Totally independent from the other stuff I've written. Well, mostly independent. I used the same parent names? Really, it's nothing you have to read It's A Wonderful Life for. But you should anyway. Show some love! D:
Joshua is still distant, despite how easily he joined their little group, and how he went from stranger to one of them so quickly. Even during the week that he joined the Game, Neku recalls that he hadn't really come into physical contact with Joshua often, or at all, now that he thinks about it. Neku had at least high-fived and fist-bumped Beat, and he had actually hugged Shiki once or twice. He remembers reaching out one last time as she was returning to the RG just for the feel of physical contact and falling short.
So, naturally, it comes as a surprise when he finds his physical space disappearing around Joshua. When the group goes out to eat, or visits the local shops (the result of Neku and Beat being indecisive when asked "What do you want to do today, boys?") Joshua is always near Neku. Neku suspects he's wary of the others, as if he suspects that they can sense that he shot their friend. Twice.
Neku's trail of thought derails around there and he starts reminding himself that Joshua is dangerous. And an asshole. And just generally a badguy. Then, he remembers that he trusts Joshua and he sticks with that excuse as the reason why he still hangs out with the bastard.
It's no surprise that the loss of personal space is the only change he notices for a few weeks.
That's when Shiki and Eri start acting a little weird: at the Huh, this had been going on a while, hasn't it? mark. Beat and Rhyme must be in on it, too, he thinks. Well, Rhyme, anyway.
Beat and Rhyme suddenly had places to be, things to do that would crop up at the weekly Hachiko meet, and Shiki had a tendency to swear that she and Eri were good up until the last minute when she or Eri would call Neku and tell him about a forgotten interview with a designer or a fashion show they had to see.
Shiki would apologize profusely, and beg Neku not to cancel his plans or let his day be less-than-sunshiney on her account, and Eri would apologize once, very sincerely, then tell him to have a good time, anyway. Invariably, they called Neku, and Neku alone, leaving him to tell Joshua.
A few tries at this tactic, and Neku had their evil plot figured out.
"They're trying to play match-maker, Neku," Joshua explained, taking another bite of ramen in response to Neku's assertation that Shiki and Eri were acting kind of funny lately.
Well, Joshua had it figured out, and it was practically the same thing. Neku just nodded like he'd known all along, and took a self-righteous bite of his own ramen.
"Shall we play along?"
Neku nearly choked. "What? Why?" he demanded, taking a sip of his soft drink to calm his throat.
Joshua shrugged. "Because it might be amusing. Why else?"
Neku rolled his eyes. "That's a terrible idea," he said.
The next Hachiko meeting, Shiki and Eri tried to decide whether they would be free Thursday or Friday, eventually settling on Thursday when Beat and Rhyme said that that was when they were free. They started talking to each other about where to eat.
Joshua stood closer than usual, his shoulder pressed to Neku's.
"So, how about some ice cream?" Neku asked, once he realized that a Thursday meet had been scheduled.
Shiki looked happy, but she hesitated. "Frozen yogurt," she compromised.
Eri rolled her eyes. "You're fine, Shiki. Ice cream."
Shiki looked torn, but she relented. "Okay."
Neku raised an eyebrow. He still wasn't talkative, even if he had become much more social.
"She's trying to lose weight," Joshua informed him, dropping his arms to his sides. His knuckles brushed Neku's.
"Why?" Neku wiggled his fingers a little, bumping his knuckles over Joshua's because he could, because Joshua was close enough.
Joshua shrugged. Neku could feel the entire motion along his side and arm.
"That's stupid," he muttered. Shiki looked fine, even a little scrawny. Underfed. Eri was totally right, ice cream was definitely the way to go. Frozen yogurt tastes weird anyway, he thought.
Neku stared at his phone miserably. It was Wednesday. He couldn't take another day with nothing to do. He could only draw so much before the whole solitude of the activity started to penetrate his creativity with a vengeance. Shiki and Eri were doing some kind of run-around-town-and-bother-every-designer-until-s/he-looked-at-their-work thing, and Beat was taking Rhyme to some kind of skate park, or something.
"Damnit," Neku muttered, pressing speed dial number two.
Joshua picked up before it rang. "Hello?"
"Hey," Neku replied, trying not to feel too creeped out. "You doing anything?"
Neku would swear he could hear the smirk. "No, why do you ask, Neku?"
"Do you want to hang out?" Neku asked. It was too late to turn back, and he would only regret it later when he was staring at a blank page in his sketchbook, alone.
"Is suppose I could. Do you have any place in mind?"
"Not really," Neku admitted. "I just want to get out of the house."
"Well, we'll just have to think of something on the way." He hung up.
Neku picked up his sketchbook and shoved an eraser in his pocket, looking around for a moment before spotting his pencil on his desk. He ran downstairs, calling a quick goodbye to his parents on his way to the door.
Joshua was waiting on the other side. "My," he said, smirking. "In a hurry, are we?"
"That is really creepy," Neku informed him, vaguely aware that Joshua probably felt encouraged by the statement. He probably kept up a tally of how often he creeped out Neku against how often Neku bothered to voice this.
They wound up at the Wildkat Café. Neku was sketching wings. Lots and lots of wings. He got down the outline of some Noise ones, first. The bat thing from A-East was complicated, and he was pretty sure the line or two in the middle was supposed to maybe be a few lines, or maybe no lines. Big, downy wings were next, and in painstaking detail. Joshua watched his hand move, adding details to the feathers bit by bit.
"I sketch better around people," Neku said, noticing Joshua's attention. "Ideas come easier, I guess."
"Hm." Joshua got up suddenly. Neku barely picked up the movement until Joshua was next to him, leaning close to get a better view of the sketches. "Those are really good, Neku," he said without a hint of sarcasm or mockery.
Neku looked up, meeting his eyes. "Thanks," he said, at last. The universe suddenly felt odd, as if Hell had frozen over, or as if at any moment a pig would fly by the window with a pair of Neku's freshly-sketched wings.
Joshua smirked and took a sip of his coffee. "You're welcome."
Things only got weirder after that. Neku kept glancing over at Joshua, looking somewhere new each time he did. First, Joshua's neck, then the sunlight glinting off of his lashes, or the shine on his probably-over-priced shoes.
"Are you imprinting on me?" Neku asked, suspicious.
"No," Joshua replied, a bit of disappointment seeping into his tone. "You've got your Player pin."
"What's that supposed to mean, you've been trying?" Neku demanded.
Joshua shrugged. "I was going to get you to pay for my ramen. I don't typically have money, and all this running around with your lot is bleeding me dry."
Neku's eyes narrowed. He watched Joshua's eyes for a few seconds, as if waiting for some sign that he was lying.
When they were done eating, Neku paid for Joshua's ramen, as well.
"Did it work?" Joshua asked interestedly.
"Hell no," Neku snapped. "You know, you could have just asked."
"Ah," Joshua replied. He was smirking. Of course he was. "Thank you, Neku."
Neku forced himself not to blush or demand his money back. "Yeah."
Friday, Joshua called Neku. They went shopping, first. It was better than spending forever in D+B with Shiki, at least. And Neku was never forced to enter Lapin Angelique or the girl's section of anything. On the other hand, he was still receiving Oh, what a cute couple! looks from half the girls in the stores they visited.
Joshua kept asking Neku's opinion of various clothing items, too, making Neku feel more like a world-weary husband than a teenage boy.
Neku picked up a blue button-up, not unlike the one Joshua wore for the duration of the Game, recalling something Shiki said about Joshua's complexion and eye color. He realized it was too bright the second Joshua picked it up, and a few minutes later, when Joshua stepped out of the dressing room, Neku had a dimmer, friendlier lavender.
Before Joshua could protest that the blue wasn't quite right, Neku held out the other shirt. Joshua smiled. Neku resolutely refused to meet his eyes. There was something to be said for hanging out with girls with a fashion fetish. Neku couldn't imagine any of it being good.
A moment later, Joshua stepped out again. Shiki had been right about the color. "Yeah," Neku said.
Joshua looked down, tugging at the hem. "You think so?" He seemed to see something in it, as well, though, because he changed back, taking it and one long-sleeved gray shirt to the counter.
Ken Doi began making two bowls of ramen as soon as the boys stepped through his doorway. One shio, one shoyu.
Neku grabbed a window seat in the corner. Joshua sat on the opposite side of the table after checking their order at the counter.
Neku flipped to an empty page and began sketching the rough outline of a person. The lines were awkward, showing his distinctive style much more than most of his other drawings. He was unaccustomed to drawing anything remotely humanoid.
He'd started on another figure next to the first when Ken Doi set their bowls on the table. Neku suddenly dropped his pencil, setting his sketchbook to the side in favor of food. "Are you sure you're not imprinting on me?"
Joshua nodded, swallowing a large bite of hot ramen before speaking, "I'm not even trying today. Are you getting paranoid, Neku?"
Neku took a bite of his ramen, deciding to take Joshua's word for it.
"Is there something on my face?" Joshua asked as Neku looked at him for what had to be at least the tenth time. They were early for the weekly Hachiko meet, which was unusual for Neku, and unprecedented for Joshua.
Neku looked away. Joshua wasn't standing close, and it was even weirder than when he did, because Neku was suddenly used to having less personal space.
Rhyme had a concert the following Wednesday. Neku felt slightly intimidated by the prospect of showing up at her fancy private school, but he sucked it up and agreed to go like everyone else. Eri moved an appointment with a D+B agent to Friday, not particularly caring if she had to go through the grueling process of hunting him down again. It was totally okay, for Rhyme, she told everyone.
Rhyme blushed and insisted that the concert wasn't that important, but Shiki pointed out that Eri had already made the call. Too late.
Shiki said she was good for Monday, too, and everyone else agreed that the following Monday would be their obligatory once-a-week hang out.
Wednesday, everyone showed up looking nice. Shiki had a little black dress with a short white sweater, and Eri wore a simple white dress. Joshua had a long-sleeved shirt from Dragon Couture, and expensive-looking pants that Neku suspected were actually from Pegaso. Neku had on some new black slacks and a button-up Joshua may or may not have left at his house once. He wasn't going to admit to anything.
They almost didn't recognize Beat. His beanie was gone and he had a silk shirt coupled with what were definitely higher-end Pegaso pants. Beat's hair was also properly combed and pulled back into a short ponytail. There was still plenty of hair loose, but he looked dressed up enough to put the rest of them to shame. He was trying not to think about it too much.
The rest of the audience was in similar attire. They were mostly bored parents with too much money.
Rhyme was already on stage when the group went inside. She had her hair pulled back, much like Beat's, and a white dress similar to Eri's to match the other girls on stage.
Everyone followed Beat to the row in front of Mr. and Mrs. Bito. The lights dimmed just as Joshua took the last seat next to Neku.
The auditorium seats were crunched together, leaving one arm rest between every pair of seats. Neku rested his arm on top of Joshua's, their hands falling together in the dark.
The music selection wasn't particularly impressive; some pieces by famous composers that none of them had ever heard of. No one could really pick out Rhyme's alto sax from any of the other instruments, but they were all impressed nonetheless. The group stood at the end, with the rest of the audience, smiling with pride for Rhyme. Joshua wasn't as enthusiastic as Shiki or Eri, much less Beat, but he gave his congratulations to Rhyme at the end, and Neku whispered that it was a high compliment to receive any compliment at all from Joshua. Rhyme beamed, vocalizing her gratitude for everyone coming repeatedly.
Joshua called Neku on Friday. "I'm doing some re-decorating," he said as soon as Neku picked up.
"Yeah?" Neku said indifferently.
"Bring your sketch book," Joshua told him, and then he hung up.
Neku stared at his phone. He narrowed his eyes, then raised an eyebrow. "Asshole," he told it emphatically. Joshua could probably hear him anyway, he thought to himself. "Stalker," he added after a moment, just in case Joshua really could hear him.
Neku grabbed his current sketch book, which was half-filled, and his old one, as well, on a whim. Joshua could look at his old sketches. Then, Neku shouted his good-byes to his parents and made for the Shibuya River.
"Have you considered living somewhere less disgusting?" Neku shouted by way of greeting.
Joshua stepped into the room, seeming to materialize in the center. There was actually a hidden doorway there, Neku knew, and he could see it if he scanned, but he figured there was no real point in bothering.
"I had planned to skip the mini-bar and fish floor, actually," Joshua said. "It's much scarier to go from a sewer to a cavernous lair, don't you think?"
Neku shrugged noncommittally. He privately thought that the Composer's room had been much friendlier than the constant threat of falling through the glass floor. He had spent the entire fight with Kitaniji feeling like the whole floor could swallow him at any moment if he use a psych that was too powerful. Kitaniji had glided right over the floor, too. No need for the Conductor to feel fear.
Joshua waved a hand and called Neku's sketch books out of his hand. "Oh, you thought ahead. How uncharacteristic of you!"
Neku rolled his eyes and reached for one of the pins he always kept on his person, just in case. He found a telekinesis pin and called his half-filled sketch book back to his hand. "Huh, that actually worked." He grinned. "You didn't tell me psychs worked in here."
Joshua shrugged, throwing himself down on the expensive-looking white leather couch, practically destroying the illusion that anything he possessed could be expensive by looking like a normal teen for just a few seconds. "You didn't ask," he said reasonably. He began flipping through the sketch book.
The room changed every few seconds to match a probably-imagined theme based on whatever sketch of Neku's Joshua happened to be looking at. The fish floor was gone, replaced by hardwood, carpet, tile. The walls were cabin-like, concrete, covered in one of Neku's sketches. The whole place was changing like the settings on a computer-generated room.
Neku sat down on the other end of the couch after a few moments of watching this. Joshua's feet were stretched out and on his lap before he could reach for his pencil.
"Bastard," he muttered, but the extra few inches given by bearing down on Joshua's shins instead of his own knees meant that he didn't have to hunch over so far to continue working on his sketch of two people that he had begun at Ramen Don several days prior.
Neku looked up at the room, at last, finding it to have mostly settled. Joshua made the occasional hand-wave, having set aside Neku's sketchpad. The colors would alter to a softer hue, then a darker one, then back again. The table shortened a bit.
"You know, I like this better," Neku said.
Joshua flicked his wrist when he realized that Neku was no longer sketching. The couch abruptly became squishier and went from white leather to a worn-out fabric in a vaguely gray-ish purple.
The room looked more like something boys their age might like. It had an old pool table and concrete walls covered in graffiti, and under them, a smooth stone floor. It would naturally retain coolness in summertime, and hold in a bit of heat during the winter. It didn't look ridiculously, unnecessarily expensive like the old room had, either.
Joshua stood, getting pictures of everything with his phone, before letting the whole thing go. The entire new appearance seemed to wash itself away, bleeding out until it was back to being the Dead God's Pad.
"Why'd you change it back?" Neku asked.
"It was just an illusion. It will take much more to completely re-do this room," Joshua explained. He sat back down on the leather couch, closer to Neku. It was just as uncomfortable and expensive as it had been. "Is that supposed to be us?" Joshua asked, pointing at the two people holding hands that Neku had sketched.
Neku looked away, refusing to meet Joshua's eyes. Joshua was practically in his lap, he was leaning so close. "I didn't really have anyone in mind while I was sketching it out," he lied. He hadn't, at first, of course; however, toward the end he had given one figure a pair of over-sized headphones, and the other one received a short-sleeved button-up and pricey pants.
Joshua nodded, leaning back away from Neku a bit. He hmm'ed skeptically in response.
"How are you going to turn this into that illusion?" Neku asked, desperate for an immediate change of subject.
"Extensive rebuilding," Joshua replied. "I'll have some of the lower-level Reapers take care of it in their free time."
"Where are you going to go while they're working on it?" Neku asked. He had meant to sound less interested, more like he wanted to know just because, but his curiosity seeped into the question. "I mean, when they re-do the floor-- How are you going to get all of those fish out of here?" He paused. "How did you get them all in here?"
"I found a Composer with a higher license," Joshua replied, as if that explained everything.
"A higher license?" Neku deadpanned. It was entirely possible that there were different levels of strength among the Composers, he realized. He shuddered inside at the thought of one bigger and worse than Joshua, though.
"One that can legally break more laws of physics," Joshua clarified.
"Right," Neku replied. It wasn't like he had really expected a straight, honest answer, anyway.
Neku was not terribly surprised when Joshua followed him home and conned his mother into inviting Joshua to stay for the week.
"The house is being re-modeled this week," he'd said when Hana Sakuraba asked how he was. "I'll be staying at the café with Mr. H while they re-do the floor." He had long since given everyone some kind of entirely made-up story about how his parents were business people, and often away from home. It was a convenient lie that meant he rarely had to mention them or explain them away.
"Oh, a café is no place for a boy to stay. Who knows what kind of people could come in during the day? You should stay here," Hana insisted.
"I couldn't," Joshua replied, looking a bit embarrassed. Neku could see right through his wide-eyed facade. "I wouldn't want to impose." Neku rolled his eyes and mouthed asshole while his mother wasn't looking.
"It wouldn't be imposing," Hana argued. "We're inviting you! Here, I'll get the spare cot and you can sleep in Neku's room. It will be like a sleep over."
Neku made a face and several threatening hand gestures.
Joshua smiled gratefully and muttered some nicety that Neku blocked out in his rage. Joshua saved the smirk for when Hana left the room.
"Are you sure you're not imprinting on me?" Neku demanded. He had been quietly sketching for the better part of an hour, only periodically making a confused hmm, or growling at a stubborn line. He was lying on his stomach on the floor, while Joshua commandeered his bed and read something that wasn't in Japanese. Neku hadn't looked too closely, but he suspected the language was French or something similar. The letters looked vaguely like the Roman alphabet with too many accents and weird symbols on the letters to be plain English.
Joshua looked up after ignoring Neku long enough to finish the sentence. He placed a finger where he had been reading. "I have been waiting for you to drop your Player pin so that I can send you for a soda, but you cling to it like a toddler with his safety blanket." He paused, folding the corner of his page and dropping to the floor next to Neku. "Is there a reason you keep asking?"
Neku shrugged, moving to a sitting position. "Just making sure my thoughts are my own," he said. He was watching Joshua carefully. He had been doing that a lot lately.
After a few seconds more of staring, he stood, stretching and popping several joints audibly as he did so. "You still want that soda?" he asked.
"Yes," Joshua replied.
"Cool, I'm getting one, too," Neku said. "Be right back."
Neku left, returning a few minutes later with two sodas in hand, condensation already beginning to drip off the sides. He sat next to Joshua, leaning against his bed, and handed him the coke. They were pressed together from hip to ankle, and they could feel the not-quite-cool-enough breeze blowing through Neku's room, not really suppressing the heat, but it wasn't uncomfortable.
"Are you impr--"
"No, Neku, I am not imprinting on you. I am sure. Stop asking."
"It's just that if you are, I'd rather know."
"That doesn't sound like trust, Neku."
"Why do you keep asking?" Joshua snapped, sounding as patient as ever, but still projecting the image of being really annoyed.
Neku got up, moving toward Joshua's usual spot on Neku's bed. He leaned forward, inches from Joshua's face. "Just making sure this isn't secretly your idea," he mumbled as he closed in on the last few inches, his lips brushing Joshua's. He had to use the wall behind Joshua to maintain his balance.
"You do realize that I am quite a bit older than you are, right?" Joshua replied, raising a very discouraging eyebrow.
"The thought may have crossed my mind," Neku admitted with a shrug. He didn't move back or look intimidated like Joshua thought a sane person probably should.
"Well, just so we're clear on that," Joshua said, grabbing the front of Neku's shirt and pulling.
That was when Neku's Uncle Joe walked in. They separated long enough to glare at him.
"Dinner's ready, uh. Whenever you're ready to come down." He covered his eyes with one hand, reaching for the door handle with the other. He flailed and missed no less than three times before making a hasty retreat.