Title: Friendly Reminder
Author: Amm (SoulSeeker)
Written for: northeastwind (of LJ)
Fandom: The World Ends with You
Prompt: "If we belong to each other, we belong / Anyplace, anywhere, anytime"
Rating: K - suitable for everyone
The walk to school had been admittedly longer than Shiki remembered. It was hot; and sure, maybe it was a little annoying, getting caught in the huge crowds of people. Being pushed, shoved. Otherwise though, she really didn't understand why her feet were dragging so much that morning. Why she was so reluctant, lagging behind the rest of the group...
It wasn't like she hated school or anything. She hadn't been there in a while, that much was true—but the truth was, she actually enjoyed it. She walked with Eri every morning, and they did everything together. It was fun, and now, she even had Neku, Beat and Rhyme, too. Eri had completely hit it off with them, especially Rhyme; and all seemed well. The events of the Reaper's Game were behind them, she had her body back, and things were finally getting back to normal. She should have been happy, really.
So why did she look like Mr. Mew had just died or something?
The black cat's body did appear limp, hanging by a mere arm out of Shiki's right hand. She still carried him around, as if her life still depended on her ability to control him. He swung freely by her side as she walked. One foot after the other, slowly and steadily. Her head was hung low, and her glasses had fallen to the tip of her nose as a result.
She could hear Rhyme and Eri just ahead of her, giggling about the latest fashion trends of Shibuya. Which brands topped the charts that week, what kind of clothes were in style—just the conversation she would normally be all over. But they seemed so animated, so into it that she just couldn't find it in herself to butt in. It was almost like there wasn't a place for her. Even Beat was struggling to understand them and converse, making a confused comment here or there, and... well, she supposed Neku was quiet as usual.
At least for a little while...
"Hey," she heard him say suddenly—making her jump a little. Her head quickly rose, and she pushed her glasses back up, looking just a little nervous. She forced a smile.
"Oh! H-hey there."
"Last I checked, the 'outcast' was my role," Neku said jokingly, folding his arms. "What are you doing, falling behind?"
Shiki ran a hand through her short, black hair casually and tried her best to look natural. What was she doing? She wasn't sure she actually knew how to answer that one. Stalling, lagging, avoiding...? She couldn't admit to that! She pulled Mr. Mew up to her chest, as she frequently did when she was feeling stressed, and gave him a light squeeze. What was she doing, what was she doing...
"Er, I'm...I'm just walking at my usual pace as always," she murmured at last. "I'm not sure what you mean, Neku."
Smooth move, Shiki. That was totally convincing...
"I thought you and Eri were supposed to be inseparable," Neku clarified slightly in reply. "She's over there...you do realize that, right?" He pointed to Eri's head of pink hair ahead of them, topped with that familiar brown cap of hers. But Shiki didn't even look. She and Neku were walking side by side now. Neku was keeping pace with her, staring at her intently as he waited for some kind of response—verbal or otherwise. Finally, he heard her sigh.
"Yeah—yeah, I know." She answered the question dismissively, though she suspected it had been rhetorical. "I just...well, she and Rhyme were talking..."
"About fashion," Neku finished for her. "About clothes, about the latest trends in Shibuya! It's been a while, but...isn't that kind of your thing?"
Not just my thing, she mentally added. Mine and Eri's thing!
Shiki's head lowered for a moment as she tried once again to think of a response: some excuse as to why she wasn't being herself. She was beginning to discover that she wasn't good at this at all, and she hated trying to lie. Just when she thought her heart couldn't sink any lower however, she caught herself, last minute. She found it in herself to make one last attempt, and in the end, she resumed the charade, turning to that orange-haired boy with the biggest smile she could manage. Neku wasn't the best at reading people, and he knew it; but even he could tell it wasn't genuine.
"Sure. It's right up my alley," she answered with some conjured confidence. "But you don't interrupt people when they're talking, Neku. It's just rude!"
"Come on, Shiki, don't play around," Neku finally grabbed her hand—the one that wasn't swinging Mr. Mew—and they both stopped suddenly. "You've been acting strange lately, and I've known you long enough that I can tell when something's bothering you."
For a moment they just stood there, holding hands. She was at a loss for words, unsure if this was nervousness she was feeling, or surprise, that Neku had seen through her so easily. Mr. Mew had fallen limp at her side, and she noticed that Neku's hand felt warmer than usual. Or maybe it was her own hand; she really couldn't tell. But it appeared her body was taking the phrase "getting caught red handed" literally. She never was that great an actress.
"It's stupid," she murmured, finally. She was slowly giving in, he could tell. Neku let go of her hand when he was sure she wouldn't try to bolt off, and he waited for the right moment before attempting to get more out of her.
"Lots of things are stupid," he replied.
"But this...this is stupid."
"We're human. We do and think stupid things."
Shiki had actually cracked a smile then, folding her arms demandingly. "Is calling me stupid supposed to make me open up to you?" she asked.
"No," he answered quickly, with a smirk. "But it did get you to smile."
She blushed a little, pulling Mr. Mew into a hug again. She hadn't even realized it, but she had already started to feel more comfortable around him. It was surprising, considering when they first met, Neku was the last person she would have gone to for comfort, solace. Things had changed so much since then. She had changed—hadn't she? Yes... yes, she just had to have. Who could stay the same, after all that? She wondered if Eri even realized it.
"Well?" Neku prodded again.
"It's me." The words were soft and swift, but he heard them well. He blinked, trying to process them as Shiki's grip on Mr. Mew tightened.
"You?" he repeated in bewilderment.
"Yes, me." She swallowed, and got those weird butterflies in her stomach that everyone got, when they were nervous. "I know I promised—back in the Reaper's Game, I swore that I wouldn't be that jealous girl anymore. I remember you telling me, how Eri and I are different. How I can't compare myself to her...but when I see the way she's been talking to Rhyme, to Beat...fitting in, with so little effort... I... I just can't help but..."
"Feel a little jealous?" Neku finished her sentence—cutting short her emotional little rant, quickly and painlessly. He knew Shiki well enough to know where this conversation was going, and this came as no surprise to her. She actually laughed a little at his quick response, and shook her head, seeming disappointed in herself for being such an open book.
"Told you it was stupid," she muttered, embarrassed. "Even after all we went through, I... I guess I really haven't changed as much as I thought."
"Hey, change takes time," Neku told her plainly, as he shrugged his shoulders. He began to walk again towards their school, after realizing that they were not only falling more behind, but also probably going to be late. Silently, he wondered how long it would take their friends to notice their absence from the group, as he continued on: "People are stubborn. Not everyone changes in the span a week, or even two or three weeks."
"You sure did," Shiki reminded him.
He smirked; she was right about that. "Well, you know...I'm not the best example," he replied—almost seeming proud of this fact. "I had the help of a certain, pink haired stalker, after all. Otherwise I might have never changed."
"O-oh... oh, right."
Her cheeks flushed red again, as she reflected upon the memories of that one week they spent together as partners. Their first meeting, their first arguments, the first Noise defeated together... and she was beginning to suspect that Mr. Mew was probably sick of being a victim of her nervous habits by now. She didn't quite realize it, but after controlling him in the UG the way she did, she practically started to think of him as a living thing—an extension of her body. She gestured with him, talked to him, carried him everywhere... and now, in her nervousness, she found herself suddenly hugging him again, in her attempt to act casual. Not that it was likely to work.
"Oh, come on," Neku said finally, after tiring of the awkward silence. "What have you got to be jealous of, really? No matter how cozy she gets with Beat or Rhyme or any of us, you're still her best friend in the end. Is it something physical? Her eyes, her body, maybe? What?" He then paused for a moment, rather abruptly, as his demanding eyes stared. "Is it her hair? Because to be honest, the pink always bothered me."
Shiki managed to laugh, albeit a little awkwardly, since she had no idea whether he was serious or joking. He was smiling, so she assumed the latter. "No, no, nothing like that," she assured him. "And... you're right, we certainly are close..."
"It's just that sometimes," she continued, after the smug interruption: "I mean lately... I've been scared. Yeah, Eri's my best friend and all—but she's one of those social butterflies, you know? I'm sure you've seen it. She can get along with anyone..." She stopped to sigh, letting her shoulders slump low as she struggled to keep up with Neku's walking pace. "And a paranoid part of me can't help thinking that as long as she's around... there just... isn't a place for me in the group. Like I'm some lost puzzle piece or something—I just don't fit, don't belong."
"Don't be ridiculous." Neku interjected before she could go on any longer. He folded his arms. "You're my partner, Shiki. And as long as we're together, we belong anywhere. Any time. Any place."
"And we can do what we want, when we want, how we want?" she asked, rather absentmindedly. A faint smile flashed across her face as she recited Cat's motto that Neku so adamantly lived by. She only wished she could believe it.
"Exactly!" He looked surprised, as he turned to face her. "You remembered..."
"Yeah," she replied; though not with nearly the same enthusiasm as he.
Neku really was not sure where to go from there. The conversation fell flat, and he resorted to fiddling with the headphones around his neck, as he tried to think. There had to be something else he could say. Something he could do. But the whole 'cheering people up' thing was already new to him as it was—and though he wasn't exactly doing a bad job, the fact that school was starting in less than ten minutes wasn't making things any easier. Time limits: he really, really hated them.
"PHONES!" a familiar voice finally yelled out. Neku could see the white skull on his hat from a mile away, as Beat ran towards them. He had certainly taken his time. "And Shiki! There you are! Yo, what are you guys doin' all the way back here, man? We're gonna be late!"
"Go on, Beat, we'll catch up," Neku replied. "School's right there, anyways."
"You sure?" He looked back and forth between the two of them suspiciously for a moment, seeming worried.
He took the hint in the end, albeit reluctantly. "A'ight, I get it, I get it. I'm out then," he muttered as he waved, taking a couple steps back. "But hurry up, man! Eesh..."
He darted off quickly towards the school building in front of them, and Neku couldn't help but wonder if he had gotten the wrong idea about the situation. The two of them, alone, and the way he had looked at them... but surely even Beat probably noticed Shiki's distressed state? She hadn't even said a word to him, after all. Surely he realized how upset she was; surely he didn't think anything was going on between—
"He's right, you know," Shiki said suddenly. "We really ought to get going."
"Don't worry about it, Neku. It'll pass." She tried to reassure him, but he looked less than convinced. Concerned, even. "It's... it's just something stupid I have to deal with, that's all. I shouldn't have unloaded on you like that..."
"No, no, don't worry about it. I was just going to give you this to hold on to."
Before he could even think twice, Neku found himself pulling off the headphones that rested comfortably around his neck; the same pair he had identified with and scarcely went anywhere without, for as long as he could remember. He had no idea why, but some inspiration had struck and told him that this would help—somehow. He lifted the headphones up and over his head, just barely avoiding his own spiky hair, and hastily untangled the wires that protruded from them. He presented them to Shiki like a haphazardly wrapped present, and eventually took off the lanyard that had his mp3 player as well.
"Your headphones?" Shiki asked, bewildered.
"You were part of the reason I ever took these off in the first place. The reason I started to really hear and appreciate Shibuya for what it truly was," Neku explained. He nudged her lightly to accept them, and watched as she took the headphones and mp3 player, wide-eyed and stammering. "You, and Beat, and Rhyme...you all had a hand in changing me."
"Just think of it as a friendly reminder that you'll always belong," he told her hurriedly. "Keep it for as long as you need, and return it when those feelings go away. That jealousy, that paranoia..."
Shiki was scrambling for words now. There was a proper response to a situation like this, she knew it—there had to be. But what was it? It wasn't stammering and staring, that was for sure. Would plain words even suffice here? A plain 'thank you'? She waited and waited for something to hit her. Some word of god or some other such entity to tell her what to do. She never anticipated she would ask this question, but: Where was the Composer when you needed him?
Suddenly she smiled. A genuine smile, her first one since she had woken up that morning. She placed Neku's headphones around her neck and wore them exactly as he had, and turned to look at him with confidence.
"All right then," she found herself saying. "In that case—I want you to hold onto this, until that happens."
She had no idea where the words had come from, but she was sure this was the right thing to do. She found herself holding up her beloved Mr. Mew, offering it the same way Neku had just done with his headphones. He took it with a chuckle and examined it, looking unimpressed and yet amused at the same time.
"Your piggy?" he asked teasingly.
"He's not a pig," Shiki rebutted almost immediately, as if upon reflex. "He's a— a—"
Cat, she exclaimed loudly in her head. She kept trying to yell it out: He's a cat! But for some reason, the words just kept getting caught in her throat, resulting in an awkward silence. Even though she had corrected him countless times before, even after all those times she had felt so insulted... all she could do was chuckle. She finally gave in.
"Yeah. My piggy," she repeated with a touch of sarcasm. "Just... think of it as a promise. That one day this jealousy will go away for good, and I'll fully appreciate what I 'value' the most—me."
Neku smiled, nodding as he took Mr. Mew in his hands. He looked at him more closely this time, and to his surprise, that old stuffed animal actually started to look kind of cute. Perhaps he shouldn't have been so quick fun of it all the time after all. He hugged him tightly with one hand and held him just above the stomach—the way she always had—and with his other hand, extended his pinky, the way one would drinking tea.
"All right then. It's a promise," he said; and Shiki linked her own pinky with his, smiling.
"And now, we really should get going." She suddenly saw the time on her watch, and noticed they had only had about five minutes left until class started. After lingering just a few more seconds, their hands separated and fell to their sides naturally.
"I'll race you," Neku challenged her playfully with a grin.
"Last one there faces erasure!"
Before Shiki could even react, he had already run ahead of her towards the school building. He looked back at her for a moment, struggling behind him, and caught a glimpse of his own headphones that he had given her, still around her neck. Meanwhile, he still clutched Mr. Mew in his own hands. He wondered for a moment, how long it would be before they could exchange items back. How long it would be, until she would finally feel comfortable with herself and the special place she had this wacky group of friends they had formed.
Something about her smile told him it wouldn't be very long.
A/N: Oh god FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY! This thing took me forever to write and I worked stupidly hard on it, not to mention it turned out twice as long as I anticipated. I hope the idea came out in fic as well as I imagined it in my head T_T; And personal apologies to northeastwind for this taking so long. Thanks so much for reading!