Shiki loved Shibuya in the winter.

It wasn't snowing, a true pity, but the advertisements sure were. The great neon screens in their flashing colors depicted all the frost she needed for the moment, and besides, it was cold as it was. The girl brushed her brown hair from her eyes and smiled slightly, huddling into her jacket.

Today was the day she would visit Neku's home. It would be the first time since she had met him, and had only just figured out he lived in an actual house, not an apartment like hers, with his mother and father. She wondered if he had any pets. Should she bring like, a gift or something? Was she over thinking?!

Yes. Probably. Shiki sighed and shook her head, dodging the freezing crowd as she continued her walk. Along the way she passed a big clothing shop, and she paused guiltily, her eyes instantly drawn to the bright golden windows and their colorful wares. Shiki's eyes were completely captivated by the sight, (it was D+B's newest line after all), and she didn't sense someone approaching her until after they tapped her shoulder.

She let out a shriek, almost dropping her purse. She whirled around, eyes wide, looking into the amused brown orbs of her friend, Eri. "Holy—Jeesh, you scared the living crap out of me!"

Eri laughed, smiling brightly. "I'm sorry, you always space out though! Aren't those the most awesome outfits you've seen so far?" Her friend was wearing all white today, with a furry jacket and a pair of ivory earmuffs to keep the cold away. Her hair, still as vividly bright as pink carnations, swished with very movement of her head.

Flicking her eyes back to the assortment of new items, Shiki longed to step into the store and do their usual business when it came to fashion. Ask questions, get answers, check people's reactions and take notes…

But not today. She had Neku to visit today. Turning back to her friend, Shiki said, "Sorry Eri, I have to be someplace."

A knowing look entered her friend's eyes. "Neku's?"

"I—I, yeah." Shiki dipped her head and grinned. "Neku invited me over."

Eri clapped her hands, bouncing in place, a cloud of white forming in the air with each excited breath. "He invited you over? That's great!"

"Eri…we're not dating." Shiki sighed. It was always this way between the two girls, and usually Shiki was the most calm of the pair. Usually.

"Sure, sure." Waving her hand, Eri patted Shiki's shoulder and giggled again. "No problem, I'll catch you later, Shiki." With that she walked away into the store with a final flourish that Shiki returned before she headed off again.

The streets of Shibuya were pretty well known by the girl, and she barely glanced at the signs. Several times she took a quick look at the shop windows, but if she spotted The Prince or someone else famous in there she knew she'd never actually get to Neku's residence.

Shiki found his home not far from Udagawa, but in a better neighborhood than Rhyme and Beat's apartment. The house was a white two story place with plenty of rectangular windows and steps that led up to the front door. There were decorative stones in a sort of garden to both sides of the gray stairs and a skinny tree that threaded its way crookedly to the sky, reaching ever higher. Lights were on in the house, glowing dimly in the dull shadows cast by the clouds overhead. She hesitated only briefly before ascending the stairs, and she tried to imagine Neku actually living in such a cheery, nice place.

For some reason, she had imagined, rather guiltily, that his bad attitude had come from his living in a bad home. Apparently she had been wrong. Shiki paused to examine the light wooden door, clear and unblemished. She then pushed the doorbell to the side.

Once more she expected a dark, mournful sound to resonate from within, but was instead greeted with the distant echo of a jolly ring. She stifled a giggle, bringing her hand to her mouth, when she heard Neku say from inside, "Mom, wait, let me—"

Shiki self consciously adjusted her glasses, resisting the urge to straighten her winter khakis or her dark brown jacket as Mrs. Sakuraba answered the door. She had orange hair like her son, but not nearly as spiky, shoulder length also. She had dark blue eyes and strong features, with a sort of world weary look about her. But nevertheless she smiled, and it seemed friendly enough. She was wearing a blue business suit that didn't have a single wrinkle.

"Hello, who are—"

"She's Shiki." Neku growled from behind his mother, stepping out and offering Shiki his hand, ignoring the surprised look from Mrs. Sakuraba. "C'mon, I'll show you around."

Shiki gave a sort of hurried nod at his mother. "Hi, yeah, I'm Shiki Misaki! Glad to meet you!" She took Neku's hand and was pulled into the household. She lifted her head and looked around, eager for some reason to see how he lived.

The living room was larger than her own, with a good sized TV set on one wall. The floor was some type of dark wood, covered in a pale carpet. The general theme of the entire room was bright colors tempered by dark, which stunned her. Mostly yellow, white, and gold, though some unexpected blotches of black and red and ocean blue invaded the scenery. There was an ivory couch and a black armchair that faced the TV, though the chair was to the side slightly. The walls were decorated with family pictures and other paintings, and there were a few CD shelves. The stereo system proved that the love of music seemed to run in Neku's family.

Shiki's eyes were drawn instinctively to something. A picture of a little boy with spiky ginger hair and a silly grin, looking no older than six or seven, bright blue eyes fixated on a carroty orange stuffed animal. A pig. She picked up the frame before Neku could stop her and said teasingly, "Mr. Oink?"

"Give me that," Neku grumbled, taking the picture back. "Embarrassing…"

Shiki gave him a playful tap on the nose, and she giggled again when she saw just a little bit of a blush on his face. "Oh I'm just joking, Neku. But it's cute!"

He shook his head. "Anyway, can I get you something to drink?"

She shrugged in return. "All right, sure! Thanks a bunch, Neku."

Neku gave a sigh when his mother made a sort of repressed happy sound; it was almost like a squeal. Shiki thought she looked just a little less world weary at that moment. Mrs. Sakuraba then ascended the stairs and vanished from sight.

Shiki quickly followed Neku into the kitchen, spotlessly clean and also wooden, with appliances that were old and new. The newest being the stainless steel stove, the oldest the brown microwave. The floor was tiled, with diamond shaped white panels. A sudden sound from the black and gray fridge made her jump, and Neku laughed softly.

"It's making ice. The loudest dang fridge you will ever hear." He opened it and handed her an orange soda can that she took wordlessly and unfastened, taking a sip from the acidic beverage. It was so cold it made her teeth and tongue tingle.

"Where's your dad?" Shiki asked casually as he popped another one himself and leaned against the dark counters to sip it.

"Working. Like usual," was the indifferent reply. She had a feeling his father was on a different level of respect than his mother, because his tone was more acidic than the drink she had in her hand. Shiki said sympathetically, "Do you want—"

"No." He responded stiffly, his fingers tightening slightly around the can until it crinkled with the motion.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know." She reached out and took his arm gently, and Neku didn't move for a few moments.

"It's all right. Let's head upstairs." Neku shrugged her hand off and headed for the steps after placing his soda down, with her doing the same. Shiki hated when he got like this, and she sighed, shaking her head and following. There was a red carpet that hugged the frame of the stairs like a shrunken skin clung to bones. The hallway above had five doors situated on the sides. Two to the left, three to the right. Straight ahead, a window overlooked the streets of Neku's neighborhood. Shiki glanced around curiously, eyes slightly narrowed behind her glasses.

Neku paused, then shook his head and opened the door to his room, one of the doors on the left. It swung open on silent hinges, and Shiki stepped inside.

The first thing she noticed was that half the roof was dominated by a skylight. It let in sunlight and showed the buildings not far away back in the main bulk of Shibuya. It made his room feel broad and wide open, despite it being about the same size as her own medium length room.

Shiki's eyes flicked to the left wall, and the right. Directly across from one another, like lonely sentries made of sturdy wood painted blue, the cases of CDs stared one another down. Though the little containers were thrown sort of helter-skelter on the shelves, it was still a stunning amount of music. Directly across from her, underneath a smaller window, there was a stand bearing the weight of a heavy surround sound system. She was surprised it didn't buckle under the great device.

The room's walls were an elegant royal blue, and a white carpet covered the floor. She was aware, uncomfortably aware, of Neku's silent presence behind her. He said nothing, and she knew he was waiting for her verdict. There was a closet, of course, door closed near the corner, a black TV, and a rather large bed with a checkered black and white bed cover. His room was far tidier than her own overstuffed apartment.

"Why's your bed so huge?" She asked with wide eyes.

Neku snorted faintly in amusement. "It was a bargain deal." He gestured to his room with one hand before stuffing it back in his pocket. "What do you think?" He mumbled into his collar.

"Um—who would come in to insult a room? I think it's a lovely room. It…matches you." Shiki ducked her head slightly to look at his downturned eyes, and he met her gaze for a heartbeat before letting it break. The room had a still, peaceful, but also somehow tense atmosphere. It was a heavily contradicting concept, but it still felt just like that. Almost as if it was the calm before some sort of storm.

Neku was about to speak when the sound of tires rolled up to them from the open window. He stiffened in shock, so still that she thought he had frozen. Worried, she took his arm and shook him gently. "Neku?"

His gaze suddenly became hard as blue diamonds, and he growled from between clenched teeth, "Father's home."

Shiki could tell by the way he said it; the word was a term of forced respect. Father. While his mother was just Mom. There was disdain and cold fury, along with a type of hatred, which made her wince at his dark tone.

"Time for you to go," Neku added, looking her in the eyes again.

"You don't think…your father would like me?"

Hesitation crept across his face, then a smooth certainty. "He'll only hate you because I like you. I'm sure he'd just love Josh," he added dryly. He then took her arm and dragged her down the stairs, and Shiki only just then realized what he had said, and her heart fluttered like it always did.

For you see, Neku had only told her he loved her once. That had been at her house, during his first visit. But all the affection—for it was hard for Neku to open to others—had been clear in his tone. Of course she told him so afterwards, just one day later, and they never brought it up since.

Neku swore under his breath as they descended the red carpeted stairway. "He's here already. Let's just hope he doesn't bother you, but knowing that bastard…"

"Neku," she chided him gently, reminding him of his recent oath to Rhyme that he wouldn't curse.

It was then that Shiki and Neku left the stairs and they saw, in the living room, the imposing figure of Neku's father talking to his mother.

Mr. Sakuraba had an expressionless face, stiller than Joshua's even. Shiki had seen the face of Shibuya's only Composer when he was scheming or mad, his features became dangerously flat. Something about that look on a mortal's face was unnatural. His hair was dyed black, with blonde roots showing at the ends. It was short but smoothed back, just a thin mop on his head, and his pale skin seemed to match the light white business suit he wore. His eyes were similar to Neku's the first time she had ever met him, unfriendly and full of skeptical animosity for everything the human race had to offer.

Except his eyes were a blazing green. Neku's were an icy blue.

He swung around to face them, broad shoulders squared, staring down at his son, then at Shiki. When his gaze locked with hers, Shiki reflexively reached out and grabbed Neku's arm. Her own father was dead, and like her mother, had loved her dearly. Growing up in such a friendly environment, she was uneasy being so near such a hostile adult.

There was a near silent pause; save for Shiki's hitched breathing. Mrs. Sakuraba smoothed back her orange hair and closed her eyes briefly before saying, "Dear, will it be all right if Shiki, the young lady, stays for dinner?"

Mr. Sakuraba growled, "Where's she from? Neku, who is this."

Neku snapped, "She's from Shibuya obviously, a close friend of mine, and she was just leaving, right Shiki?" He gave her a stern look that basically screamed what she ought to do.

The horrible tension in the air, like two great wolves circling one another, suddenly eased.

"No," said his father unexpectedly. He relaxed slightly. "No, she can stay. Dine with us, won't you, Ms…?"

Shiki, unsettled, cleared her throat and adjusted her glasses, using her free hand to clench Mr. Mew's head in her purse. "Shiki Misaki."

"Stay with us," invited Mr. Sakuraba earnestly enough. Neku's expression clearly read, "Who are you and what have you done with my father?"

Sighing, Neku said quietly, "We're backed into a corner. He's not going to let you leave. C'mon, and for the love of God, shut up. Don't say anything unless he speaks, and even then answer carefully."

Shiki nodded quickly, dipping into a quick bow. Unable to stop herself, she asked as politely as she could, "When will dinner be served?"

"Half hour, an hour maybe. You kids can go upstairs until I'm done." Mrs. Sakuraba said with a forced smile. The atmosphere in Neku's house had been nearly peaceful before, now it was almost like a rabid beast had just jumped into their home and encountered a wolf, just as stubborn as it was.

Neku turned on his heel and walked away, with Shiki bowing quickly again before dashing after him. Once they were back in his room, he sat down with a heavy sigh on his checkered bed, rubbing his eyes. Shiki locked the door and sat beside him, and she hesitantly wrapped her fingers around his hands.

"Don't shut me out," she told him in a voice just above a whisper. "Tell me what you're thinking."

Neku sighed so hard that the lowest spikes on his wild mane of ginger hair stirred in the created breeze. There was a brief pause, where she felt his entire body tighten like a bowstring, so tense was he. She gently put her hand out and lifted his chin to meet her gaze with soft fingers.

"Tell me," she pleaded.

Neku moved his free hand up to take hers, gently squeezing it. "Father and I…never got along well." He admitted. Her eyelids closed as she processed this.

"Okay." No need to say anything else, she wouldn't ask for details, except this one. "Was he always this way?"

"…Yeah. Didn't want a son." Neku's tone was bitter, and Shiki hugged him, clutching her small frame to his, leaning her face into his shoulders.

"I'll help if I can, Neku." She murmured. He returned the hug before she sat back and surveyed the rest of his room. The sky above was beginning to become tinged with orange, but the neon lights were as omnipresent as ever. A bird fluttered by on the wind, dodging the great structures that clawed at the sky like hungry animals that had already ripped the stars from their sacred haven. For when night fell, Shiki knew the harsh city lights wouldn't block out only the brightest celestial objects.

"The skylight is a nice touch." She said thoughtfully.

"Mom installed it for me," Neku replied. He rubbed the back of his neck, embarrassed, red dusting his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. Shiki smiled, mostly unfazed herself.

"Why?" She asked. She knew so little of his life; she wished she was as observant as he had been at her home. He had been able to pick out the moment in her life she had started making clothes just by watching her stuffed animals on their little shelves.

"Felt clustered in here. She told me…"He hesitated. "I don't get it. She said, 'I know you can fly again.' That was all; every single time I asked her why she put it there."

Shiki smiled softly. Neku had a loving mother and a father that hated his guts. No wonder he was such a conflicted person, growing up and realizing one of his parents didn't care for him at all. When had the playful Neku in the picture frame, captured forever in fun, become the cold person she had met in the Reaper's Game?

Time seemed to crawl by with neither Neku nor Shiki saying anything. Occasionally he would fiddle with locks of her hair, but whenever she turned to look at him he stopped, and she was puzzled.

If he gets any more stressed, he's going to snap.


Neku grimaced as he heard his mother call from down below. She had been dreading this ever since dinner had been announced. Pushing at his temples for a moment in an effort to relieve his headache, he beckoned to Shiki. "Let's get this over with. Remember what I said." She gave him a quiet nod, her brown gaze distant, worried, still full of all that loving, tender care that had stepped past the Game and manifested itself permanently inside of her.

If it was a quality of Eri's she had kept, then it was a good thing she had.

Neku stepped back out into the hallway, glancing back at her before walking down the steps. They creaked faintly, the wood complaining under their weight. Shiki kept fiddling with her glasses, the corners of her eyes crinkled in something like fear. He walked past the kitchen into the dining room.

It was a small room in comparison to the others, with a half circle window that dominated most of the walls. It looked out over a well kept garden with stepping stones and even a small fountain, almost like a meditation place. There was a table with four chairs positioned around the white clothed object, dishes of white rice and ramen of various dark shades that rested in their soups. As simple as the meal was, Shiki thought it made the whole room smell delicious, and she smiled at Neku's mother, whom had just sat down. The corner of her lips twitched upward, but her eyes, those tired, world weary eyes, were sad as ever.

Neku pointedly didn't look at his father as they sat down opposite of his parents, and Shiki, just to be polite, said, "The food looks wonderful, Mrs. Sakuraba. Thanks."

Neku kicked her under the table—for she was supposed to be silent—but Shiki ignored him. There was no reason to be rude, even if his father was going to be glaring at her all evening. She lifted her gaze to meet Mr. Sakuraba's, a challenging glint like an ember in her stare. She thought he looked amused, but in a heartless way. Once more she was struck by how similar his facial expression was to Joshua, but there wasn't even a teasing smirk to accompany those hard green eyes. Shiki hoped she looked just as fierce.

She ate in silence, especially aware of anything Neku or his father did. As far as she could tell, the two were glaring at one another across the table, making the air so apprehensive she almost expected one of them to suddenly spontaneously combust just by the other's will alone. Occasionally Shiki would look at Neku's mother, and she would only blink at her in return to acknowledge her worry before going back to watching her family.

After a while, Mr. Sakuraba spoke, almost scaring Shiki out of her skin. "So," he growled to Neku, who ignored him. "Still not helping your mother around the house, are you?"

"I am," Neku said shortly, jabbing at the meat in his noodles with a fork. Shiki glanced left then right uneasily.

"Really? Has he, Fumiko?" The skepticism in his voice was heavy.

Neku's mother nodded. "Neku's been very helpful, Takeo."

"Why do I think you're lying? He's never done anything before besides seclude himself in his room." Leaning slightly across the table to stare into his son's frosty eyes, Takeo snarled quietly, "What's brought about this change?"

"It's called having friends," Neku snapped. "Not that you would know."

The tension broke. Shiki gasped as Takeo slammed his fists on the table, causing everything to jump and rattle. A glass fell over but no one bothered to see whose it was. "You will respect me! Don't take that tone with me again, boy."

Neku was utterly unperturbed. "If I do?"

Takeo gave a wordless sound of fury, but said nothing. His green eyes burned like flames, but Neku's were as cold as sapphire ice. "You're worthless; I don't believe a word your mother says. Even if you do have friends, you aren't useful like you should be! Why don't you get a job? What do you do besides go out with your friends and enclose yourself in your room?"

"I do plenty of things you wouldn't know about. On the account that you're never here." Neku looked on the verge of cursing, but apparently wasn't, maybe for his mother's sake. His lips were pressed together into a thin line.

His father snorted. "I think you're just making excuses. You're lazy and depressed all the time, you have anger management, no respect, a filthy mouth and—"

"Shut up!" Shiki screeched, standing so quickly that the chair toppled over. "Neku is better than you will ever be, so why don't you direct your insults at yourself?! I think you're getting confused!"


Takeo blinked stupidly as he tried to process this, the girl he had apparently viewed as shy and helpless, bristling and glaring at him like an angry cat. Neku's eyes were huge, looking at nothing.

Strangely, Fumiko was smiling slightly, hiding it behind her handkerchief.

"You—you can't talk to me like—"

"I can! You need to stop picking on Neku; you're the worst father ever! Fathers are supposed to love their kids, not hate them! If you didn't want a kid, then you shouldn't have…have…" Shiki had never felt angrier, her insides were knotted painfully and her eyes were wild. She was digging her nails so tightly into her palms, fists clenched, that she felt like they would break the skin soon. Neku was a great kid! She couldn't even come up with a proper list to show all of his wonderful personality traits without filling up ten pages! Her own father had been amorous, how different would Neku be if his had cared too? Instead the hatred had festered between them like a disease, once he grew up and realized Takeo Sakuraba had never wanted a son.

The light faded from the room, ethereal fingers drawing reluctantly back. Shadows crept delicately forward, and still there was no sound for a full minute. One of the candles in its holder had flickered out, leaving thin streams of smoke drifting forlornly toward the ceiling, only to fade before ever touching their destination. The red liquid, maybe wine, which had spilled forth from the toppled glass of Neku's mother, had seeped into the white table cloth with a dreadful resemblance to blood. Forks remained in hands, noodles remained submerged in soup, and nothing else changed in the entire dining room.

It was almost like someone had frozen time in place.

Suddenly Neku stood, his gaze locked with his father, and said without looking at Shiki, "Let's go to my room. I have something to say."

"You're not—"started Takeo with vehemence, but Fumiko interrupted calmly,

"You're excused Neku, Shiki."

Shiki blinked, knocked out of her angered reverie as Neku took her hand and dragged her back up the carpeted stairs. They went down the corridor to his room—the window now showed Shibuya at night in a blaze of neon—and once they were safely in, Neku closed his door. Turning to his best friend with a furious glower, he said in a surprisingly exasperated voice, "What were you thinking?"

"That…was verbal abuse?" She offered meekly, standing in front of him about a foot away. She removed Mr. Mew from her bag and held the precious black cat plush tight, glancing at the rows and rows of CDs that lined the shelf. The skylight let in a little flicker of moonlight that struggled through the clouds and imposing buildings.

Neku heaved a huge sigh. "I'm used to it," he growled. "Now there's no way you can visit unless he's not here. I don't even think it's safe for you to leave right now."

"Why? Is he going to stop me from departing his house?" Shiki didn't look away from the shiny cases with a thousand different bands.

"I don't want you to get in an argument again," he retorted. "That's the last thing we need. Fights make Mom unhappy, so I let him 'get away with it'." He made quotations with his fingers, and then took her hand, sitting down on the bed with her. "Father will be downstairs for a while. If he leaves from there, you can get out without a commotion. He'll be gone in the morning."

"If?" Shiki bounced slightly, anxiously, on the bed. The motion caused the mattress to mimic her movement. Neku ran his hands through his hair.

"Sometimes he won't even go to the room he shares with Mom. If they fight, she always somehow gets him out of their space."

Shiki was amused at the prospect of the meek Fumiko Sakuraba forcing Takeo to leave their shared chamber. Maybe she was more stubborn and brave than she had led herself to believe. Running her hands over the checker cover--it felt soft like silk-- she said to him, "Sorry." Her brown eyes were downcast.

"It's okay. Thanks for sticking up for me anyway." Neku said. "I'm sorry this is so dramatic."

"Our life is dramatic," came the reply. Shiki leaned against his shoulder and he wrapped an arm around her. Shiki thought it was all making so much sense now, how Neku was. Maybe…he didn't get people because he could not understand why his father never loved him. Even when her own dad had passed on, Shiki had never had to contemplate whether or not he cared for her. It made his passing both harder and easier.

"I like the CD cases," she said after a full twenty minutes of silence. "Why don't you put a song in?"

Neku shrugged and got up, shuffling through a collection of the discs with a disinterested eye. "Every time I see these," he jerked a thumb towards the two large shelves. "I ask myself, why the heck don't I put the songs on my computer?"

Shiki glanced quickly around and realized that, on a small bedside table that had its legs carved into paws, a silver rectangle rested. A laptop. "I don't know," she giggled a little. "There's nothing wrong with a stereo."

His only reply was a neutral grunt, and then he placed in a CD and pressed play. An upbeat techno rap song blared through the room before he hastily turned the volume down to a bearable, dull roar. Shiki tapped her foot, recognizing the song, and they burned the hours away by talking and listening to the many different songs, and Shiki let herself forget about the threat that prowled the downstairs living room.

If only for a little while.


Neku stomped back into the room with an irritated expression. "He's still down there—and making business calls, with his laptop nearby. It's almost eleven pm!" He fumed.

Shiki shrugged; she had already phoned her mother while he was away and said she might be spending the night at Neku's house. "It's okay; I'll just stay here and leave in the morning."

He looked at her levelly for a few heartbeats before saying, "Fine, but you're taking the bed."

She rolled her eyes. "Your bed is large enough for two people; we'll just sleep together." She stared at the sudden blush that colored his face. Shiki laughed, though her own heart was thudding quickly. "You're being stupid; we won't even be touching each other!"

"If Mom came in…" He mumbled into his collar.

Shiki waved it aside. "Nonsense! Its okay, Neku."

"But why can't you just let sleep on the floor? I have extra covers, you know."

This was an argument he would not win. Shiki thought there was no reason why they couldn't sleep together if his bed was queen sized. "Because I'm not letting you sleep on the floor in your own house."

Neku studied the stubborn set of her face but persevered. "Why don't you sleep on the floor then?"

"Neku Sakuraba," she seethed. "Get. In. The. Bed. Now."

He scrambled to do so, and Shiki sat down beside him, not worried about sleeping in her clothes. I'll look a mess tomorrow, though.

"Borrow some of my night clothes," Neku grumbled. "But I need to get out of bed to change."

Shiki blushed. "Y-yeah, go ahead."

"Thank you Queen Shiki," he muttered sarcastically, getting up again with yet another weary sigh.

Sometimes, Shiki reflected, they were both far too stubborn for their own good.


Neku didn't know what it was that had awakened him from his sleep. He blinked blearily at the neon green letters of an alarm clock. Three in the morning. He had gone to sleep early last night, earlier than usual anyway, but there was still no reason to wake up this early. He tried to think, but his thoughts came to a crashing halt as he realized something.

Someone was breathing on him. Something like fear coiled low in his stomach until he remembered that Shiki was here with him for the night. Instead of calming down, his heart rate accelerated, bouncing painfully against his chest until he thought it would shoot out of his ribs and out into the dark of his room. He turned over onto his back, slowly, so as to not wake her, and then he smiled.

The clouds had vanished from the skylight, and the moon shone its pale radiance across Shiki's features. She was sleeping peacefully, and in her slumber, she had draped an arm across Neku's chest, her face close to his shoulder. It was entirely accidental he knew, because she wouldn't have done this when she was awake. Despite her bullheadedness, she had been just as nervous as he was when they finally decided to get some rest. The gentle rise and fall of her breathing tickled his skin, and he toyed with her hair absently.

I'm sorry for getting you in this mess, he thought. Neku decided that, for once, he wasn't going to let something like this bother him. He instead just held her tighter and closed his eyes, and he heard a soft sigh from her, which led him to thinking she might have actually been awake.


Shiki woke up to see Neku shaking her gently. "It's safe, Father's gone. Mom too. I'll show you the rest of the house, but then you have to go. Okay?"

Suddenly conscious about her appearance, she nodded and brushed her fingers through her hair. The good thing about her straight, short hair was the fact that it was easy to handle. Her brown strands became loose and even, and satisfied, she got up to change back into her outfit from the previous day, at least until she got home.

The bathroom was neat and tidy, the tiles pale and the main color gold. There was a permanent scent of lavender in the air, courtesy of some sort of burning incense thing in the corner. It permeated everything and Shiki thought it would surely cling to her clothes. Removing Neku's dark blue pajamas she had borrowed, she switched her clothes and quickly took Mr. Mew off the side of the porcelain bath tub. She slipped back out into the hallway after depositing the night clothes into a brown basket in the washroom. Shiki found Neku waiting for her, his hair still perpetually untidy. He tugged one orange strand halfheartedly, as if contemplating whether or not it was worth fixing. With a shrug he indicated one of the doors. "That's Mom's room." He said simply, not bothering to open it. Shiki decided not to ask. Of the two doors to the left, they were the family's rooms. Of the three on the right, the middle was the bathroom, but she had no idea what the other two were.

Pushing open yet another, Neku pointed within. There was a library, and this simple fact stunned her. Shelves upon shelves of books, with a large window that dominated one wall. Underneath was a long tan couch. The brown shelves were stuffed with books both young and old, their spines bearing bright letters and titles faded with age. The floor underneath was made out of a shiny, polished hardwood that was as dark as milk chocolate. There were more of the strange incense burners that apparently no one had lit, and this room emanated a powerful scent of roses. Every breath was pleasantly saturated with the smell, and Shiki would have loved to just sit down and read in this sunny alcove that seemed to get little use.

Because the first thing she noticed was the dust. It coated everything but the floor like a second skin, and Shiki asked, "Do you not come in here often?"

"Once," was all he said. "That was a while ago. When I was younger, Mom used to read to me. She said real stories start with 'once upon a time' and end with 'they lived happily ever after'." He snorted contemptuously, though his eyes were curiously blank. She reluctantly followed him as he closed that door and turned another golden knob. It swung open to reveal a study. This had no incense, no pleasant smell, and there was only the rank fragrance of ink in the room. The floor was made of the same dark wood of the library, and the three shelves and the desk were made out of identical material. Globes and other such things one would expect to cluster the walls were everywhere, and occasionally there was a small, mournful "clink" as a faux bird dipped its beak into the water and emerged for the umpteenth time.

There were no windows, and the only light was a steady golden bulb in the crushing shadows. Shiki asked, "Your father's?"

"Yeah." He gestured to her again and he closed the door, descending the stairs carefully. "Only place I haven't shown you is a spare room, there's nothing in there." Neku explained, turning to face her. His blue eyes were calm. "Unless you want breakfast, you can leave, if you want."

"Want me to stay? Or come back? I need to talk to my mother, I guess, so she knows I'm okay." Shiki thought of her mom with a smile, for the single, working woman gave her daughter all the love she possibly could.

"Come back if you want," he said shortly, turning away. "Good bye, Shiki."

She stepped forward and hugged him again. "Stop being so depressed, it'll all work out. Why don't you come home with me? We can work on the garden. I don't feel comfortable with you here all alone."

Neku laughed. "You're not serious, are you? I'm here all the time."

"I know." She caught his hand and dragged him across the room, out through the back door and into the stone garden. She thought the place was nice, and she spared a moment to look at the koi in a small pond and to marvel at the statues of wolves and other animals. She then proceeded to open the gate and pointed imperiously into the side streets as if she owned the place. "We'll invite over Eri, Beat, Rhyme, and Joshua if he'll answer his phone and we'll have some fun. Okay?"

Shiki waited until he stepped out before taking the lead again, and Neku's grumbles only made her laugh more until her merriment affected him, and soon their happiness could be heard in Shibuya's chilly winter air.

Of course, Shiki loved Shibuya in the winter. It was the first time she got to visit Neku's home.


This is dedicated to Midnight Critic for general helpfulness and what not. Hehe~. He's so not zetta slow! That was bad, sorry.

This is a sort of sequel to Monochrome, though mostly with just mentions of it, for those wondering at a few of the references.

Reviews are nice, if you want to pass a few on! If you want to flame then, unfortunately, feel free to.

Roughly thirteen pages on Microsoft Word, with a font of eleven.