Not Quite As Usual
A/N: My first WEWY fanfic. Life after the Game is not exactly business as usual for returning Players…Hope you enjoy it! Warning: May be spoilers for the end of the game, but no side quests (including Another Day); some foul language.
Disclaimer: I do not own The World Ends With You or any of its other rights, characters, or assorted properties, nor anything else lawyers can bill me for.
The first time he ran into someone, it was a shock.
During his time in the Game, Neku had become not exactly used to walking through people as if they weren't there, but he had accustomed himself to the fact that it was often a necessity to literally travel straight through the pedestrian throng blocking Shibuya's streets. When your existence hung on getting from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, you didn't worry too much about the fact that you were essentially passing through someone's insides to get there.
Therefore, when Neku ran headlong into the parcel-laden young man rounding the corner as he exited Ramen Don's (he was late for a meeting with Shiki) and knocked several of the man's packages flying, he was completely surprised.
Neku fell to the ground as the young man cursed. "Hey, watch where you're going you as– dude, you okay?" The dude peered worriedly at Neku from under a mop of bleached blond hair, switching tacks from angry to concerned as Neku just sat there gaping at him, eyes huge, dumbstruck. The guy looked around, trying to figure out what to do with the crazy kid who was just sitting in the street. Seeing nothing, he sighed, kneeling next to Neku as he set his packages aside. "Hey kid, you hurt?" His hand reached out to support the teen.
With a blink, Neku came back to himself.
"I'm fine." he muttered, knocking the offending hand away. He stood up quickly, a light dusting of pink gracing his embarrassed cheeks as he shoved his hands defensively in his pockets. Rattled, he mumbled, "Sorry about your packages. And running into you."
The guy waved him off, collecting his spilled packages. "It's not a problem. Are you okay?" He never got a reply. By the time he looked up, Neku was long gone.
It was – strange – being back in the RG.
It wasn't just having to remember to watch out for pedestrians (And remembering to watch what you did in front of said pedestrians – Neku had really gotten used to the whole invisibility thing much too quickly). It was remembering to go home at the end of the day, to adjust to the fact that you wouldn't simply 'pass out' but that you actually had to find a bed and choose when you clocked out for the night.
The first night back, Neku wandered around Shibuya for hours, expectantly waiting to simply fall into the sleep he never remembered and wake up back at the Scramble once more. It wasn't until one of his neighbors asked him why he was out so late that he realized the time and headed home to spend the night on his futon.
The second night Neku stayed up until dawn stained the horizon, just to prove he could.
That was another strange sensation – being home. That first night, as he relearnt how to fall asleep when actually expecting to do so (it was a lot harder than he remembered) he stared around at his apartment, at the multitudes of CD cases and the state-of-the-art sound system he had been so proud of, at the pristine walls covered by posters of places he had been planning to go as soon as he could break free of Shibuya and the note his mother always tacked on the fridge reminding him of things to do while she was gone on another six-month business trip – and he was struck by how much more the streets of Shibuya had felt like home than this empty collection of rooms. Maybe this apartment had been home once – before everything changed.
Before he changed.
He wasn't sure quite how to take that. For the most part, he had changed for the better thanks to his experience in the Game, but it still felt strange to be more comfortable amidst the hustle and bustle of the crowded Shibuya, stuck with a partner who he would quite literally die without, than he had ever felt when alone in his solitary apartment.
It was odd too, how many more people he knew.
Not just his friends (Neku felt an uncharacteristically warm smile rise to his lips as he thought of Rhyme, and Beat, and Shiki), but others too. Most of the shop clerks at the Player-friendly stores knew him by face if not by name, and the girl at Edoga the Shop – much to Shiki's displeasure - actually giggled and flirted!
It wasn't just the shopkeepers either. More than once he recognized people that he had never 'met' – the two high school girls that had fought over Reaper Creeper, the hopeless salesmen-turned-high-end-sleaze-and-back-to-hopeless-salesman. He's never spoken to them, but he knows them. Even though he can't read their minds anymore, he still knows what they're thinking when the scrunch up their brows just so or stare in just that way after that one particular guy. (And sometimes he wishes desperately that he can get that pin to work again, but then he thinks better of it and decides to be thankful he doesn't have to scan and imprint every time he wants to get a point across.)
And then, of course, there were the Reapers.
Neku had been completely taken aback when 777 had stopped him in the street to thank him for his help with the stage and recovering the band's stolen mike. He keenly felt the stares of curious fangirls boring into his back, and had quickly made his escape after 777 pressed a couple of concert tickets on him in gratitude.
But that wasn't even the worst part. The first time he had hit Ramen Don after his return to life, he nearly had a heart attack fit to knock him right back into the Reaper's Game at the sight of Uzuki and Kariya slurping noodles. Uzuki had scowled at his scrutiny, while Kariya placed a restraining hand on her arm and just winked knowingly at the former Player. (And no way could Uzuki have been blushing at the contact – the Reapers must be screwing with his head. They had to be.)
He had seen others too – hooded, winged shapes flickering in and out of existence for a few moments before disappearing as quietly as they came.
The Game continued, as Neku well knew. Sometimes, he'd go to turn onto Center Street or Molco, and he could feel the wall there. If he concentrated in a certain sort of sideways fashion, he could actually touch it, a barrier as smooth as glass. If he tried to walk through it – well, it wasn't a pleasant sensation. Shiki and Rhyme claimed they never noticed, but he noticed they never complained when he or Beat chose to go a different route. Perhaps they were overly sensitive, spending three weeks in the Game as they had. Either way, he was grateful they went along with it.
It wasn't hard to recognize the Players either.
Neku became adept at spotting partners lurking in the stores, taking comfort in the presence of real people before they had to head out to the face the Noise once more. They were always dressed in a mismatch of clothes, ones that Neku recognized as designed for protection rather than style, and always hoarded food whenever they could, unsure when or if they would eat again. But what identified them most clearly was the fear he saw in their eyes – fear of failure and erasure.
He knew well how they felt. He tried to help wherever he could – paying for a meal here, pressing a small pin into a shaking palm there. It wasn't enough, could never be enough, but he tried. And sometimes, he made a difference. The first time he had seen two he knew to be a Player pair he'd helped walk out of a store without disappearing, he he'd beamed, his smile so wide he thought it might split his face.
Gradually, Neku got used living again. The Game had changed him – had changed all of them – but it was over now, and he planned to enjoy every moment in the sun, in this still-growing-changing-living Shibuya. Slowly, Neku adjusted to his new life with his new friends.
Still, no one ever knew with Joshua. Neku always kept his Player Pin and his favorite battle pins fixed tightly to his clothing, just in case.