Epilogue: State of Affairs
Day Zero: The Expected Unexpected
Neku was grateful for the existence of Koki Kariya at that moment. He really was.
The orange-haired Reaper had agreed to take the position of Producer for Shibuya. He was, according to the Angel that had listened to Neku's request, "overqualified".
That, unfortunately, left the position of Conductor open. Neku argued furiously with Joshua, who seemed to fancy the idea of him as his second-in-command, but eventually the Composer relented and asked Uzuki if she would take the job.
The female Reaper had spluttered in amazement, unable to comprehend the fact that she had been promoted straight from Game Master to Conductor. It was something she'd never expected to get, and she went at her new job with gusto.
"But who'll be Game Master now?" Shiki had inquired, her brown eyes worried. She clearly didn't want Neku involved with the Game in any way possible.
"I'll find someone," Joshua shrugged, unconcerned. "Though if Neku really wants…"
Neku was adamant about one thing though—he wanted answers. All of them. From the little things to the big things, there were a lot of issues that needed to be resolved. However, Joshua just giggled and told him he would have to find out the truth from Mr. Hanekoma, because his lips were sealed.
"My absence has left Shibuya a little…" The blonde boy tossed a hand as he searched for the right word. "Inconvenienced. So unless you need anything else, I'll be seeing you, dear."
"I'm not your dear," Neku growled, stalking off whilst the Composer merely laughed.
Two uneventful days passed, and after the excitement of the Tournament, Neku found that the monotony was…unbearable. He tugged at his earphones with a frown, deciding to stop by WildKat again in the vain hope that Mr. H was around.
To his shock, when he actually managed to make it through the crowds to the café's glass door, there was a woman waiting for him. She had a cup of coffee in her hands, smiling with an unmistakably friendly air about her. However, Neku had interacted with the Underground and Higherground too much to not recognize an Angel when he saw one.
She was taller than Mr. Hanekoma, probably not by a lot but still, with raven-black hair to her waist and cyan eyes. There was something about her tanned skin that reminded him of someone…
"You're from Los Angeles," he remarked bluntly, closing the door behind him. The scent of coffee and doughnuts wreathed around him, and the shop was a little warm thanks to the sunlight that flowed in through the windows.
Taking a sip of her drink, she nodded cheerfully at him. "That's right."
"What do you want? I'm done with all that Tournament crap now, aren't I?" Neku crossed his arms and leaned against the door, his gaze shrewd and slightly wary. He didn't completely trust Joshua, least of all anyone above him. Except for, of course, Sanae Hanekoma.
"I thought you might want some of your questions answered," she commented with a grin. "Sanae will be here later, but in the meantime…"
"Who are you?"
"Lacey. I'm the Producer of Los Angeles. And you're Neku Sakuraba! That Proxy of Joshua's I've heard so much about. It's great to finally meet you."
Neku studied her offered hand warily before shaking it. She seemed harmless enough. "You're going to answer my questions? Really?" He asked sardonically. "What's the catch?"
"Not a single one. If I know the answers, you get the answers. Free of charge." Lacey took another gulp of her coffee. "So, shoot!"
He hesitated, shuffling through his memories for the most pressing issue. "Why did the Angels let Shiki get Erased? Why didn't they heal her?"
"Ah…you see…" She rolled her eyes, and he saw something like irritation on her face. "The rest of the Angels, they're frightened of you."
"Frightened? Of me?"
"Yup. They're scared out of their wits."
His gaze narrowed. "And you're not?"
"Nope." She paused to get herself a refill of coffee, humming merrily as if they were simply old friends.
"What's that got to do with Shiki?" Neku demanded coldly.
"You're at your strongest when you have your best Partner," Lacey pointed out, placing a spoon in her mug and stirring. "Not counting Joshua, of course, and Beat works best with Rhyme. Now, they're cautious of Rhyme, but you, well…" She smiled. "You're strong, intelligent, and worst of all you are capable of breaking our precious rules. They don't like wild cards, and if you had lost against Artem, they'd probably not have brought you back either on an imagined technicality. Luckily, there are a few Angels on your side."
Neku blinked three times in quick succession. The Angels weren't as good and heavenly as they acted, the cowardly bastards. "But that's just it. What makes me special?"
Lacey checked her watch, her expression amused and her tone excited, as if she found this whole discussion particularly interesting. "Sanae can tell you that in a bit. Anything else I can answer though?"
It was hard, coming up with questions on the spot. Ironic considering the fact that his brain had been buzzing for hours with riddles. "Eri. What makes her special?"
"Didn't someone say her Psyche was 'special'?"
She tapped her nails against the counter. "Hmm…oh, her Imagination fluctuates. A lot. It's such a weird and unusual thing, because normally Imagination either rises or lowers over time. Eri's, it changes depending on her current mood, I think."
"So if she's happy…?"
"Her Psyche is, most likely, stronger." Lacey paused, her head tilted to the side slightly. "Sanae's here, and now I've got to get back to L.A. before Vienna causes some kind of war with someone."
"Has she done that before?" Neku queried wryly, though his head was spinning with the revelations he had just learned.
"Well…later, Neku!" The female Angel waved before disappearing from right in front of his eyes.
"She took the cup with her, didn't she? I lose more cups that way," a familiar voice chuckled behind him.
The Proxy whipped around with a startled gasp to see Mr. Hanekoma standing right next to him, obviously not having had used the door. The barista had his hands in his pockets, and if it was possible, seemed to be even more relaxed than usual.
"Mr. H! I didn't think the Angels would let you come down."
He arched an eyebrow. "I'm their boss, Phones. I'll come down if I want to. Now, if I understand it, you've got a few questions, right?"
Neku collected himself, nodding. "Lacey said the Angels are afraid of me, because I'm 'special'. What does that even mean?"
Hanekoma stroked his chin before sighing. "Josh didn't tell you, did he? It's not that big a secret."
"What isn't?" He growled.
"Simply put, you're an Anomaly, Phones." He said this in a laidback, casual manner. Like they were discussing the weather.
"Anomaly. Irregularity, Abnormality…Glitch." He snapped his fingers. "There we go. You're a Glitch, an error in the program."
"I'm…a Glitch? In the UG?" Neku tried to puzzle this one out. "But how?"
Sanae snickered. "If we knew how, you'd not be a Glitch, Phones."
"…What makes me a Glitch?"
And how in the name of God can I be a Glitch? A Glitch in some crazy ass game over death?
"We think you're arranged differently," Hanekoma replied after a few seconds of thought. "You see, say the world is made out of four colors. Let's use blue, red, white, and black. Everyone else uses that exact pattern—blue, red, white, black. You? You use white, black, blue, and red, or some variation of that. You're made out of the same stuff as everyone else, but…"
"I'm arranged differently, so the same rules don't apply?"
"They either don't apply or have trouble applying. Understand where I'm going with this, Phones?"
Neku nodded slowly. "I think I do…is that why I couldn't read all of the signs in the UG?"
"That's it," Mr. H grinned. "Same energy, unique arrangement. Your corporal self in the UG is entirely set apart from the rest."
"So. I'm a freak?"
Laughing, Sanae ruffled his hair, causing the boy to scowl and try to rearrange his orange spikes. "Not a freak, Phones. Just different. You're your own thing, you do your own thing, and you live your own thing. The Angels don't like exceptions, it makes them feel insecure."
"Do you feel insecure?" Neku asked, completely floored by the new knowledge he had just gained. An Anomaly. A Glitch…he was, truly, one in several billion he supposed.
"Me? Nah. I think it's good to have someone outside of the HG's net, if you catch my drift."
"Why wouldn't Josh just tell me this?"
His irritation apparently amused Hanekoma. "Josh hates explaining things, and he guards his secrets."
"Right…" Neku stared out the WildKat's window, watching the Shibuya streets. "Can I tell Shiki and everyone…?"
"Sure, why not? You tell them what you want, Phones. I've got to get goin' soon, got to straighten out this mess with Rosalie…"
Well at least she's getting her punishment now, he mused to himself.
"Will you be coming back down here?"
Hanekoma chuckled. "Of course I will, sooner or later. Kariya will keep Josh mostly in line, but you know him. He does what he wants. But, can I ask a favor?"
"Anything," Neku answered without a moment of hesitation.
"I can't be here to watch WildKat, but I plan on designing things still…would you keep the place running for me?" His eyes glinted behind their shades.
Neku brightened at the concept. "Of course."
Sanae dropped the shop keys into his hands, smiling widely. "It's all yours then, Phones. Josh has got a tab running up…"
He scoffed. "I couldn't make him pay if I wanted to."
"I wouldn't be so sure." Hanekoma winked and vanished.
"No way!" Eri exclaimed, shaking Shiki, eyes wide. "Neku, I'm special? Oh…my…God. I hope I don't end up targeted by some crazy freak to play another—"
"Calm down!" A rather dazed Shiki yelped, grabbing her friend's shoulders. "It'll be all right, no one will bother you!" She added to Neku, "An Anomaly? Talk about strange! But that does explain a lot."
They were all in WildKat, only a few hours after Mr. H's disappearing act, and Neku had just finished explaining everything he had learned to his friends.
Rhyme, sitting in a stool with her feet kicking the air, tucked her hair behind her ear with a pensive expression. "The Angels are scared of you…this could cause trouble, in the future."
"They want trouble, I'll give 'em some, yo! 'Cause whatever happens; it ain't nothin' we can't handle." Beat punched his fist into his palm, smirking.
"Only fools challenge the mighty, and only the mighty challenge fools," Rhyme said cryptically.
"I'm done with all of this until I die again," Neku muttered, passing the younger Bito sibling a muffin from a tray.
"Don't let Joshua hear you saying that." Shiki cast an anxious look over her shoulders.
"He'll leave him alone. He got what he wanted," Rhyme remarked before biting into her pastry. She smiled brightly. "But I'm glad we made it through all of that!"
"Me too." Eri exhaled, long and slow. "You guys attract all kinds of weird."
"But we make just great friends along the way!" Shiki looked at Neku, dropping her voice. "Thank you so much for everything you did."
"It was nothing." He pointedly glanced away from her, suddenly feeling hot. He clearly recalled the bizarre experience of extracting Shiki from within him, her essence woven into his own Music. It had been something that Joshua could only explain, and Neku wasn't even sure how many hours it had taken him to—
"When are ya going to just kiss her already?" Beat joked, the words coming out muffled since he had a doughnut shoved in his mouth. All of the girls except Shiki began giggling behind their hands, and Neku's skin crawled due to the strength of his embarrassment.
Shiki raised her hands, shocked. "W-W-W-We're n-n-not like that!"
"Oh come on, you two obviously love each other! Neku just fought through angelic Hell for you! It would make such a romantic story." Eri, of course.
"Leave them alone, guys." Rhyme, always the peace maker, said with a vivid smile.
"Either shut up or get out," Neku glared at everyone, his tone serious but his eyes teasing.
Maybe, things aren't so boring after all. I mean…I have friends, and we did it. We got through the Tournament, and we're all together. And alive.
From behind the bar, he watched his companions joking and teasing one another, and he had a feeling that Joshua wasn't too far away either. After all, it was the Composer's city. He'd come join them if he wanted to, since he knew that he was always invited to whatever they did.
I could have been an Angel, but then I'd have been under their rules. Did they want that? Or not? I end up getting tangled in so many dumbass things, and then I put my friends in danger at the same time. But they don't seem to mind.
"What're you thinking about, Neku?" Shiki asked as everyone else was momentarily distracted by Beat. The skater was almost choking, crumbs falling from his mouth, with an exasperated Rhyme reminding him not to eat so much at one time. Eri appeared a bit worried.
"The crap we have to put up with every year." Even to his own ears, his words sounded more amused than annoyed.
He saw indecision pass through her eyes before she put her hand on top of his, their fingers intertwining. "No matter what happens, I believe you'll get us through it. You're a natural born leader, Neku!"
Snorting, he didn't reply, though the edges of his lips turned up in a smile.
What a wonderful world.
Author's Note: Lacey is the OC of RawkstarVienna and clearly not mine.
Well, it's finally over! Thanks for staying with this story for so long! Tell me what you think of this story as a whole, and maybe I'll write another. A very special thanks to James Firebrand for Beta'ing ALL of this, and it's 181 pages on my Microsoft Word.
Thanks to all of my reviewers/readers/alerters! Love you guys!