~*Know You Better*~

At long last, it was finally time.


I had been dreading this.

This had been secretly rotting and festering inside of my soul for quite some time. My parents, desperately pleased to see me back after a few mysterious weeks gone, were just happy I wasn't a ghost and hadn't "sold my soul to the devil" like Dad had joked.

Yes, I was glad for my peppy, happy go lucky parents that never asked too much questions. I was a little more worried about Eri. She alone knew me more than my own parents, probably. She alone knew the old me, and my sudden change from "Envious Shiki" to "Independent Shiki" will not go unquestioned and unnoticed.

But I'll try. I pray to God though she won't ask questions, because I don't know if I'm even allowed to answer them. Did Joshua want me going around telling my talkative friend, kind but very cheerful and animated, about something as important but farfetched as the UG?

I…shouldn't worry at all, really. I've told Eri my fair share of secrets before, and quite honestly she never let a word slip about it. She's that trustworthy and dependable…

I'm nervous right now, actually. I crossed my arms and stared at the door to Eri's home, thinking. Regardless of the constant praise I was lavishing on my dear friend that no, she won't betray the secret, and most importantly she won't think I'm crazy, I was a bit frightened.

I reached a hand out. It was a day after I had gotten back from the Game, and I wasn't scheduled to meet Neku and the others for a while. I had to do this; it was easily the most important thing to me right now. I wanted to be able to hug my dearest friend in the entire world and say I was a new person, and that we were going to start from scratch a friendship that now rested on equal grounds.

It's like it took Death to make me appreciate Life.

I knocked, and the sound echoed dully against the brown wood with its golden rose handle that curved in on itself in a lazy imitation of a vine. There was the sound of footsteps, rapid and quick, and then they slowed down.

A brief pause and someone opened the door. My heart beat faster, (what a wonderful feeling and sound!), and I recognized Eri.

I remember Neku and me seeing Eri while in the Game, and what she had told Mina. It came true, it looked like. Eri almost always wore the clothes we made together, today was a simple outfit from Natural Puppy, which was odd, because I know her favorite brand-and mine-is D+B. Her eyes had a sadness to them, dull but still strong, and her shoulders were slumped as if she felt the weight of something on her.

I smiled. "Hi, Eri." I watched her face change from depressed to a startled, shocked expression.

She sputtered my name unsuccessfully five times before she took a deep breath and touched my hand. "Shiki?" The incredulous, hopeful tone in her eyes and voice made me want to hug her, like that day in the UG when she wanted to drop being a designer because I had died.

I know no matter what, I won't be used to thinking or saying those words.

I had died.

I stood still and let her brush her fingers across my clothes, but I couldn't for much longer after I saw the tears in her eyes. I took her hand off my arm and smiled at her. "I'm here, Eri."

She surprised me again by wrapping her arms around me and hugging me tight. I embraced her back, smelling the familiar citrus perfume she almost always wore that attracted every boy in school to her. Such a soft, delicate smell that I had always associated with Eri.

Why? I had helped her pick it.

"Shiki, Shiki, this isn't a dream…? You're here?" She murmured. "I've had nightmares, Shiki! On you not coming back."

I grimaced, feeling terrible for causing her so much pain. "Eri, I promise, I'm fine." I offered her a smile, and when she pulled away the first thing I noticed was how her eyes flicked to my face, confusion clear on her features.

"…What's happened, Shiki?"

She turned and without another word marched through the hallway of her house and up her stairs, not pausing to pat the mini Hachiko's muzzle like she usually did. That was disconcerting, since I know she always does that.

I hesitated for just a moment, and then followed her. Closing the door securely, I ran up the stairs, Mr. Mew's head bobbing in my purse. I succeeded in scrambling ungracefully through her house and reached her room.

This puzzled me, her sudden reclusiveness. I pried the door open, warily watching her from behind my glasses. The world was fuzzy on the edges the lenses didn't magnify, but I recognized her room as always. Pink, fluffy, filled with designs and many different fashion magazines. Because she always had to know the latest fads, of course. The familiar pop music pumped through her room and vibrated like a second heartbeat, the life to her space.

Eri was resting on a pink beanbag, the sight was familiar and comforting, but unfortunately I also knew she had been sitting near there when she had told me I wasn't meant to be a designer.

In the nicest way possible, of course. Now I see that.

Takes death to open your eyes, a voice seemed to say in my head.

Eri watched silently as I closed the door and sat down opposite my dear friend. Without removing her eyes from me, she turned the music player off.

The silence was disturbing, like someone severing a pulse.

I made an uneasy noise as the first word Eri said to me was, "Spill."

"Sorry," I apologized. I would have stuttered, the old me, but the new me had no such trouble. I had to admit though…Eri's gaze was unusually suspicious. "What do you mean?"

"You're gone, Shiki." She sounded so miserable, I felt guilty again quickly. "Were gone, anyway. Where did you go? And I'm not blind, Shiki. We've been friends too long for me to miss it."

"What?" I couldn't seem to bring myself to form the words I needed to say.

She had every right to know the truth, but I couldn't do it.

"Confidence. You used to be so hesitant, but just now you didn't stutter, and you hold your head high. A welcoming change, of course." Here she laughed a bit, looking more like herself, but she suddenly become serious again. "So tell me, Shiki. Please. I want to know what-or who-made you believe in yourself. Because I couldn't do that."

"You…noticed?" As far as I had known, Eri had been oblivious to my unending jealousy for her back…before.

"I thought about it more and more while you were gone. I was so blind and stupid, Shiki." She sounded disgusted with herself.

I reached out and patted her hand. "Hey, not your fault. I needed to pick myself up, Eri."

She gave me a strange look, as if watching someone different and new, but then she smiled and we hugged again. For a moment I thought she'd let the subject drop, but Eri and I are both stubborn. She crossed her arms, and it was so disconcerting to see her again after a few weeks of looking and sounding exactly like her that I blinked, as if I was simply seeing double.

It was like watching a mirror image of me, and though I saw the girl I still admired, she was no longer so high in my opinion that I felt liked dirt in her presence. She was still, despite everything, my best, my truest, my dearest friend. Rivaled only by Neku.

Dear Neku. I couldn't believe how much he had changed…If I can ever get the words out from their place, somewhere between my heart and my tongue; I can tell her how he was the one responsible for my much needed metamorphosis. He broke the caterpillar from the cocoon, and the late butterfly had finally bloomed…

"Shiki, are you going to tell me?"

I struggled, and somehow despite my new strength I couldn't seem to bring myself to remember those terrible weeks. Some memories were more pleasant, others bittersweet, but I was uneasy about the black stretch between the end of the first Game and before Neku, Beat, and I fought Megumi.

I averted my eyes, and like the coward I still am I lied to her. "Does it matter?"

I felt a soft touch on my face suddenly, and she turned my head. Her eyes flared like hard, dark brown stones that glittered in the light of her room. I stared into her gaze before dropping my eyes guiltily.

"Shiki…I wouldn't-"She began.

"I know. But it's not a big deal."

Once again Eri surprised me. I thought I had known her better than this. She stunned me by saying simply, softly, her voice almost lost in the silence, "It's a boy."


"A boy did this, didn't he? Where is he, so I can say thank you to him for bringing my best pal back?" She didn't remove her hand, and I wondered why. "Don't lie, I know you better."

"Th-there's no boy." I mumbled. Dear God, Shiki! Get a hold of yourself! It's Eri, your best friend in the entire world! Tell her!

Despite my angry screams at myself, my breath was still frozen and I felt uncomfortable. I finally realized what Eri had been waiting for, because as I lied that there wasn't a boy, I felt my face heat up.

Her eyes darkened, and I know she felt the heat rush under her fingertips. She pulled her hand back, crossing her arms.

I took a deep breath, and finally the words emerged. "Eri, would you believe me if I told you there was a Game after death?"

She said nothing, just listened as I told the entire story to her. She was silent the whole time, even as I explained Rhyme's temporary death, Neku's promise to meet me at Hachiko later, and the fight against the Conductor.

It was only after all of that, did she smile. "So, I have two boys I need to thank."

I waited warily, surprised by how easy she had accepted it. "Who?"

"Neku and this 'Joshua'." She replied. "Welcome back, Shiki."

I hugged her again, and I thought about how lucky I was to have a friend that would believe every word I said, no questions asked.

"But Eri…"

"Hmm?" She hummed, releasing me and restoring the pumping rhythm to the room.

"…You might not want to thank Joshua."

"Why not? Who is he, exactly?"

So I explained everything I could about my friends. Beat, dear Neku, Rhyme, and…

"Joshua is basically…the person who controls Shibuya. He's cunning and sly, usually very witty and sarcastic, but he's…changed all of us. Every person that enters that Game of his comes out different, better, you know?"

"But he shot Neku." Eri sounded confused.

"Yes." I squirmed uneasily. "Talk about ruthless."


I laughed, interrupting her. "I said he's cunning, remember? its part of a plot I don't' really know, you'd have to ask him."

"I'm afraid of him, from just what I've heard." Eri cocked her head to the side thoughtfully, and I laughed.

"I am too, really."

I imagined I heard someone giggling, so faintly it could have been part of the music, but I doubt it. Ignoring it, I leaned over, grabbed a fashion magazine, and Eri and I started to talk and chat amongst ourselves once more.

And to me, it was like I had never left.

Author's Note: The awesome thing about this story? I found it in my computer folders, fully written, from...wait for it...almost two years ago. Naturally, there are errors and everything, but I'm not really interested in criticism on this piece. It's a very old one-shot.