sorry for spamming stories, i just want to get them all uploaded. this was written like two years ago, and as of now is a stand alone. just giving you a heads up there.
The bell attached to WildKat's door jingled merrily as Neku entered the café. It had been weeks since the Composer's Game had come to a close, but Neku was still a frequent visitor, despite the overpriced coffee. The draw that he'd experienced when he'd first met Mr. Hanekoma had only grown with time, especially when Joshua had revealed that the quirky café owner was also Shibuya's faceless artist, CAT.
The place was empty, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. Normally, Mr. H would appear from upstairs a few moments after the bell sounded. Neku leaned against the counter to wait.
Nowadays, Neku felt more and more as though Mr. Hanekoma was the only one he could confide in, the only one he could talk to openly and honestly. Sure, he had Shiki, Beat, and Rhyme now, but…
When he had returned to the Real Ground with the others, it was as though their deaths had happened to other people that no one could name. The shooting of a teenage boy in Udagawa was still in the news, but he went unidentified. The flowers were still in the Miyashita Park Underpass, but no name was attached. Their parents marvelled at the changes in their children, but could never figure out what had caused it. Whenever one of them was asked where they had met their new friends, they'd simply respond, "Hachiko," and leave it at that.
Neku was still getting used to the fact that he had friends now. It would throw him off when his phone would ring—previously, no one except his parents would ever call him—and it would be Shiki or Beat wanting to meet up. He had to admit, he liked having friends. It made little things like going to the movies, or going out for ramen, or even just sitting around all day doing nothing infinitely more enjoyable.
But as time passed, Neku began to worry. Everything had happened only weeks ago, but somehow, they were forgetting. It had been their secret, their bond, but for Beat, Rhyme, and Shiki, it was beginning to blur and fade away. Whenever something was mentioned about the Underground, they'd give him a blank stare and struggle to remember. And it was getting worse.
"That's the way it works when Players are sent back to the RG," Mr Hanekoma had told him when he'd asked about his friends failing memories. "The memories of the Game get locked into their subconscious. It's mostly a defence mechanism for barrier between the RG and the UG. Not to mention it ain't easy for the human mind to deal with the idea that it 'died'."
"But, then how come I still remember everything so clearly?" Neku had asked.
The elder man smirked in that familiar way that said, 'I know a lot more about it than I'm gonna tell you, but I'll give you a short version of what I can.' "Your case is kind of a special one, Phones. Part of it's 'cause you played three times. But mostly it's 'cause Josh was your partner."
It had been left at that. Neku still had a hard time talking about Joshua. Mr. Hanekoma must have realized—he didn't mention Shibuya's Composer very often.
Neku glanced at the back door, wondering what was taking Mr. H so long. Maybe he hadn't heard the bell? The teenager poked his head into the back to call up the stairs. "Mr. H?" No answer. He stood on the third step and called louder. "Mr. Hanekoma?" Still nothing. Slightly worried, Neku climbed the rest of the stairs and entered the small flat.
He'd never been upstairs before. He'd never really even thought about what Mr. Hanekoma's living space might look like, but if he had, this would have blown all expectations out of the water.
It was large for a studio apartment, but still just one room. An unmade bed was pushed off near the kitchen area and bathroom; next to it was a nightstand with a half full ashtray, and that was where everything one would typically find in an apartment was left. The rest of the space was a studio. Easels and half finished sculptures, cans of spray paint and art supplies that Neku couldn't even name. There might have been a desk under that mound of paper, but he couldn't be positive. There were pieces of paper—some crumbled, some not-everywhere. The only part of the room that was tidy was a drafting table that was holding a just started sketch for what seemed to be CAT's next wall tag. Neku didn't inspect further, completely distracted by the walls of the room.
Every last inch was covered in art. Pieces of it were in CAT's familiar graffiti style, but he'd honestly never seen so many different mediums jumbled together before. Spray paint, oil paint, and acrylics mingled with crayons, chalk, and permanent markers. Construction paper and coated paper had been glued up there, along with papier-mâché and children's clay extending from the wall itself. Classic figures and abstract designs side by side in a way Neku had never seen before. Clouds and city imagery stretched throughout the entire piece, along with figures he recognized as Joshua and himself. Feathered wings, Reaper wings, skeletal wings, clay arms reaching from the wall, a dark figure composed of feathers…
Neku didn't get it. The visuals were chilling and familiar—obviously alluding to Shibuya's Underground and the Reaper's Game—but he couldn't made heads nor tails of what any of it meant. What it was trying to say. It didn't speak to him the way the wall tags did.
Then Neku realized that it wasn't supposed to. This was Mr. H's apartment, not a public wall. He wasn't trying to speak to anyone. This was the inside of Mr. Hanekoma's head.
The sudden feeling of someone else's presence pulled Neku's attention away from the walls. He turned to see Joshua, of all people, seated on the bed. He hadn't been there two seconds ago, but Neku didn't bother wondering where he came from. It was the first time he'd seen his former partner since the end of the Game. He brought one hand up to his chest, where he'd been shot. Twice. "Where's Mr. Hanekoma?"
Joshua still didn't look at him, something that bothered Neku more than he ever thought it would. Joshua had always enjoyed scrutinizing Neku, watching him closely enough to make the teenager uncomfortable. "Sanae's gone."
"What do you mean? Gone where?"
"I mean he's gone, Neku." The heat behind Joshua's words caught the orange-haired boy off guard. "The Higher Plane must have finally caught up with him. Stupid idiot…" It was then that Neku noticed the Composer cradling something in his hands. It was a pair of sunglasses. Mr. Hanekoma's sunglasses.
The world stopped turning as Neku made the connection.
"You mean erased? But why?" Neku couldn't keep the panic from his voice. Such a possibility had never even occurred to him.
A short, mirthless laugh escaped Shibuya's Composer as he stood. "You mean he never told you? Typical Sanae. Follows the rules so closely—as long as he feels like it." Neku considered snapping off a 'sounds like someone else I know,' but he bit his tongue. He didn't want to derail the conversation. "Neku, didn't you ever wonder who he was? What he was? He obviously wasn't a Player or a Reaper, but he somehow knew all about the Game. More than most Reapers." Joshua frowned at Neku. "Didn't you ever ask him how?"
"I…" Damn it. Joshua was always so good at making him feel like an idiot. Of course he'd wondered how Mr. Hanekoma had known everything he did. But… he'd never asked. He couldn't even explain why he'd never asked. From that first meeting, he'd just implicitly trusted the older man. Neku felt as though he knew Mr. Hanekoma intimately, but he was realizing he hardly knew anything about him.
Joshua held up a hand, forestalling Neku's response. "No, it's understandable. He has that effect on people." He sighed airily. "Sanae was Shibuya's Producer. An Angel, sent from their Plane to monitor the game and assist me when requested. An overseer, if you will."
Neku stared at Joshua as though he'd just grown a set of horns. The dusty-haired boy sighed and folded his arms across his chest. "Please tell me he explained planes and frequency to you."
"Of course he did," Neku snapped back. "It's just… Mr. H? An Angel?"
Despite it all, Joshua giggled slyly and brushed his hair behind his ear. "Yes, hardly a sterling example, but an Angel nonetheless." The familiar smirk faded and Joshua's expression turned serious. "But he broke the rules. Big time. He interfered in the Game."
Neku was almost scared to ask. "How?"
Joshua's voice was frighteningly deadpan. "He was the one who gave Sho the Taboo sigils and showed him how to use them. He also fixed the one in Udagawa that allowed Sho to bring himself back as Taboo Noise."
Mr. Hanekoma… helped the Grim Heaper? Neku's mind reeled, trying to make sense of all the new information. "But… Pi-face was trying to kill you. Why would Mr. H—"
"It doesn't matter," Joshua interrupted, his tone making it evident that the subject was not up for discussion. Neku filed that one in the back of his mind to ask later. "He committed a serious crime against the Higher Plane, making him a Fallen Angel." The Composer's attention again drifted down to the sunglasses in his hand. "I guess they finally caught up with him…"
And there was that fact again. Neku felt as though someone had set a brick on his stomach. Mr. Hanekoma was… gone. Since their very first meeting, Neku had viewed the café owner as one of those benevolent, implacable forces, like God, or… a guardian angel, fittingly enough. Despite the short time they'd been acquainted, Mr. Hanekoma had been more of a paternal figure than his father ever was. There was so much Neku hadn't said—he'd never thanked him for his help during the Game, or told him how much he had inspired him. Neku stared at the floor in a state of shock. His voice was quiet. "I never even told him I knew he was CAT…"
That damned giggle echoed in the studio. "For how much time you two spent together, it seems as though you didn't share much."
Blue eyes snapped up in a glare. "Where the hell do you get off? Mr. Hanekoma's been erased, and you just stand there giggling. Have some fucking respect, Josh. How many years did you work with him? How long was he there for you? Well you're screwed now, 'cause no one else is gonna put up with your bullshit."
Joshua looked away and Neku knew he'd hit a nerve. Good. It was all truth—he'd never understood how anyone could tolerate Joshua for so long. When the Composer faced him again, his expression was serious. "I don't think he's been erased quite yet."
"What? Really?" Neku fought valiantly to not get his hopes up. But if Mr. Hanekoma hadn't been erased yet, that meant there was still a chance, however slim, that something could be done to save him.
Joshua nodded once and put a hand to his mouth, obviously thinking. "If he'd been erased, they would have sent a new Producer to me. The fact that they haven't means he's probably still awaiting trial, or something along those lines. I'm not sure how they handle these types of things. But I'm pretty sure his fate hasn't been decided quite yet."
"There's gotta be some way we can help him."
"There might be. But…" Joshua's words were slow in coming. "It would require travelling to the Plane of Angels. Something I definitely can't do."
Violet eyes were fixated on Neku. The teenager knew what he was hinting at. "And I can?"
"Yes." Joshua extended the sunglasses to Neku. "There's only one way to do it, though."
Neku took them, but hesitated before answering. He turned away from Joshua. One way, huh? He had a bad feeling he knew what it was. Was he willing to make that sacrifice to try and help Mr. Hanekoma on the off chance that he could actually do something? His gaze settled on the wall, on a small crayon drawing. It was an orange human-shaped figure with a pair of feathered white wings.
The better question was would he be able to forgive himself if he didn't at least try?
"I'll do it."
"Are you sure, Neku?"
"Good. That makes this much easier this time around."
Neku heard a metallic click behind him. He whirled around to find himself looking down the barrel of an all too familiar gun.
He'd agreed to it, but he still glared up at Joshua. "You son of a—"