Title: Poetic Device
Fandom: The World Ends With You
Rating: T for teenage ramblings, boy love, and a bit of random swearing
Summary: "You'd better let him know before you start gettin' old and grey like me, kid."
Note: Set in one of the infinite parallel universes alluded to during the course of the game, because I refuse to believe that there is a single dimension out there where Neku and Joshua haven't crossed paths. Blame any OOC-ness or general strangeness on the phenomenon that is AU. ;) On that note, this is much, much lighter than most of my usual fiction, and is written in a slightly different style that melds events in the present with events that have already occurred to help flesh out the characters' history a little better. It's a bit of an experiment on my part and a little difficult to explain, but hopefully it works with the slightly stream-of-consciousness theme. XD
Joshua liked poetry.
Neku wasn't entirely sure why this discovery was in any way surprising – Joshua was, after all, utterly fascinated by concepts and ideas that were foreign to the average teenager (Neku himself included), and there were times when he opened his mouth and seemed to be speaking in a language that only he could understand, pretty, flowy words and dramatic phrases that charmed female classmates while simultaneously baffling (and annoying) their simple-minded boyfriends.
Come to think of it, Neku had always been aware of Joshua's literary inclination, being that their first encounter had actually occurred over the rim of a book – Neku staring just a little too intently and a little too obviously from across the classroom, certain that Yoshiya Kiryu was far too engrossed in his reading to notice that he was watching him again, only to freeze in mortification when one slender arm slowly lifted up to wave at him, the other boy's attention still focused on the pages in front of him though a smile glinted at the corners of his pretty violet eyes – but for whatever reason, he'd never assumed that what Joshua was actually reading was poetry.
In the few months since they'd begun voluntarily spending time together, outside of their shared classrooms and the schoolgrounds where they always seemed to bump into each other – or was that Joshua deliberately showing up everywhere he went just to make Neku feel awkward for having been thinking of him again? – Neku had never bothered to ask about the contents of Joshua's treasure trove of books, the small, cherished pile that he stacked neatly in his school bag and carried with him everywhere he – they – went.
It was only on this particular day that Neku dared to sneak a sidelong glance at his silver-haired companion's reading material, his own face half-hidden behind the noisy, colorful cover of a limited-edition artbook – THE limited-edition artbook, a recently-released, first-press CAT compendium that Joshua had been ridiculously kind enough to gift him with on his last birthday – as they sat silently on the carpeted floor of Neku's bedroom – sanctuary, really –, backs resting against the frame of the redhead's bed and shoulders touching in that light, comfortable way that made Neku feel like there was a quiet, electric hum buzzing along his arms from the brief point of contact.
Joshua didn't seem to notice that Neku was watching him furtively from just a few inches away – although, really, Joshua was eternally acting as though he didn't notice some of the things that Neku did, like lingering too close to the silver-haired boy as they voiced their goodbyes at the end of the school day, or brushing his fingers imperceptibly across Joshua's hand whenever he leaned over his desk to borrow a pencil or a sheet of paper – and Neku, who wasn't terribly observant to begin with what with his hasty, consequences-be-damned nature, squinted and leaned over casually to sneak a peek at the text lined across the open page currently holding his friend's attention.
The first thing Neku noticed was that whatever book Joshua was reading was written in English instead of Japanese, small, neat As and Es and Os running left-to-right along the page farthest from him and continuing onto the page closest to Joshua's eye-level. This in and of itself was an interesting fact – he'd always figured that Joshua knew a fair bit more English than he did, considering the fact that he asked to be referred to by the English variation of his name, but of course Neku had never really pressed him about it because Joshua liked to smile in that secretive way of his and dodge questions that were either too personal or too bothersome to deal with.
The second thing Neku noticed was that he didn't understand terribly much of what he was seeing, whether because of the angle his face was tilted at to glance at the pages or because the text seemed to be written in a different style from what he was used to – and words were a funny thing, weren't they, especially the way Joshua used them, because something in the way that he said, "Come with me, Neku" or "You never cease to amaze me, Neku" made the red-haired boy feel flustered and happy all at once, a little bit nervous and a whole lot confused, but happy nonetheless…
"It's poetry, Neku."
Joshua's casual, relaxed voice flitted over to Neku from beside him, a hint of amusement coloring his tone as the other boy startled visibly and pretended to pay attention to the artbook held between both hands – damn Joshua's ridiculously perceptive nature, the way he always seemed to know exactly what was going on around him without needing to lift his gaze or even really pay attention, or was it the simple fact that Neku was an open book to him with his inability to ever look away in time for Joshua to not catch him staring again…?
"Huh, what?" Neku mumbled in response, hoping that the forced unaffectedness in his voice might throw Joshua off of his trail – after all, there was NOTHING more embarrassing than being caught sneaking glances at Joshua's private stash of reading materials, except, of course, being caught sneaking glances at Joshua's pale, pretty neck when he forgot (forgot, or deliberately chose not to?) fasten the top three buttons of his school uniform shirt… And that, well, that had only ever happened once, or maybe twice, but damn it all if Neku was going to take responsibility because what the hell, Josh? Was that really necessary…?
But Joshua was never one to fall for Neku's feigned ignorance, and a light, airy giggle bubbled up from beside the redheaded boy as his friend thumbed gently at the page he'd been reading a moment ago, contemplating his response before practically humming at him, "If you were curious, you could've just asked what I was reading. Really, Neku, there's no need to be so secretive about everything." Another giggle – because, you know, apparently Joshua Kiryu was incapable of laughing, or chuckling, or snickering like a normal teenage boy, though Neku actually found it quite fitting, fitting and, dare he say it, rather attractive, even, whatever the hell that implied – and Neku felt Joshua's eyes on him suddenly, studying the side profile of his face in a way that made the redhead feel just the tiniest – tiniest, pfft – bit self-conscious.
"I didn't want to bug you," Neku replied at last, pulling his legs up to chest-level so that he could prop an elbow up onto one of his knees, absently rubbing at the back of his neck with his left hand, "You looked like you were really into it." "And I figured I could maybe get away with it just this once, but hey, what was I thinking, anyway? When have you ever not caught me watching you?"
Joshua shrugged delicately, the faint shift causing him to bump Neku's shoulder with his own in a pleasantly familiar way, and Neku wondered absently if his friend had ever really understood the concept of personal space, because as far back as he could remember, Joshua was always physically connected to him somehow – it seemed to Neku like Joshua had an effortless way of maintaining contact with him, like walking just a step too close beside him as they shuffled across the Scramble Crossing together, or hooking his arm across Neku's shoulders to steer him away from the pastry shop that would ruin their appetites and toward the ramen restaurant that they always frequented for lunch on the weekends.
"It isn't the first time I've read this particular volume," Joshua informed him simply, and though anyone else would have taken his reply as a brag of sorts – which would delight Joshua to no end, uncloseted narcissist that he was – Neku knew that his friend was giving him an opening for conversation, perhaps having been waiting for just the right moment to recapture his attention – although, really, Neku's attention was always on Joshua, whether the pale-haired boy knew it or not, and Neku had a funny feeling that Joshua did know it, all of it, the way Neku watched him and listened intently to him and secretly smiled every time their shoulders bumped, and damn it all, how could Josh not know when Neku was being so, so obvious…
Neku felt that the words sounded a bit awkward and anticlimactic, even to his own ears, but he pressed forward anyway because he liked having conversations with Joshua, probably more than he liked anything else – except maybe thinking about Joshua when he wasn't with him, mentally sketching the boy he'd committed to memory more thoroughly than he knew his own face, starting from the soft, girlish sheen of his gorgeous silver curls, down to the clear, all-knowing shimmer of his impossibly violet eyes, lower still to the perpetual curve of his lips, always turned up into a mischievous smile that read, obvious as day, "I'm trouble, but you know you couldn't stay away from me even if you tried."
Joshua's voice held an amused sort of puzzlement, like he'd been expecting Neku to say something more poignant or meaningful, and the redhead cast a sidelong glance in his direction, narrowing his eyes briefly at the other boy before letting a self-conscious laugh escape from his lips and deliberately shoving at Joshua's shoulder. "Shut up," he replied harmlessly, rolling his eyes at Joshua's feigned look of indignation, "I was trying to start a conversation here."
And he couldn't help it, not really, that Joshua was so good at simultaneously flustering and amusing him to no end, that he'd never spontaneously laughed with anyone before Joshua, that he couldn't even remember a time when he'd felt comfortable enough to let anyone near, let alone inside, his personal space, before Joshua… come to think of it, was there anything he'd ever truly felt or experienced or enjoyed, before Joshua…?
"It's fascinating stuff, really," the silver-haired boy informed him after a moment of simply watching Neku's expression and smiling vaguely at whatever he might've seen there, "The style is more sophisticated than what you're probably used to…" – at this he fixed Neku with a pointed look, earning him a huff and another light shove from the playfully offended teenager – "…but it's written brilliantly and conveys such a sense of beauty."
"You're beautiful," was suddenly on the tip of Neku's tongue, and he had to forcibly stop himself from mentally going down that road again because it was nothing but a dangerous, slippery slope of thoughts that he couldn't afford to be thinking with Joshua so close by. It couldn't be helped, really – blame it on the fact that Neku had never been close enough to anyone, let alone anyone as ridiculously attractive as Joshua, to incite these feelings before, and, okay, fine, maybe being 16-and-a-half and a tangled mess of teenaged hormones didn't help, but…
"What's it about?"
But Neku was rather good at this, if he did say so himself, good at handling himself around Joshua without slipping up and saying what he was really thinking, even though there were times when he swore up and down that he couldn't possibly be more transparent and that Joshua had to be a complete idiot – or a twisted, manipulative little narcissist – not to notice. Even Mr. H, owner of their favorite hang-out spot, the WildKat Café, and the one adult figure whom the boys had come to regard as a friend and mentor, seemed to have read Neku's feelings right off his face…
Neku could still remember that one autumn day, not terribly long ago, when Joshua had been called home right in the middle of their Saturday meet-up and he'd been left alone at their usual, tiny table, restless and lonely without his friend's effervescent company. He'd sat there for a good long time, perhaps more than half of the afternoon, cold espresso abandoned and forgotten at one end of the table while an open sketch pad occupied the space in front of him, drawing pencil flying across the crisp, white sheet with the fervency of an artist trying desperately not to lose sight of his muse.
He hadn't even realized how urgent his movements had been, back hunched over the table in concentration with his head bowed almost low enough to touch the paper, nor had he even really been paying attention to what he'd been sketching, knowing only that the image that came to him, the sudden, inescapable inspiration, was as natural and familiar as Joshua's presence – and it was with a start that he realized not only that he actually had been drawing Joshua, but, more importantly (and embarrassingly), that Mr. H was peering interestedly over his shoulder, both eyebrows raised above his sunglasses (who the hell wore sunglasses inside a building, anyway?), busy hands casually towel-drying the inside of a coffee mug as a thoughtful half-smile began to twitch at the corner of his mouth.
Feeling the warning burn of embarrassment start on his face, Neku's arms had flown protectively over his messy, unfinished masterpiece, head snapping up to fix Mr. H with a flustered glare before clearing his throat loudly with a defensively annoyed, "Excuse me!" And Mr. H had only smiled at him, sheepish and apologetic (but also very, very aware of the situation), whistling a slight tune to himself before casually tossing over his shoulder to Neku, "You'd better let him know before you start gettin' old and grey like me, kid."
Neku could only snort in response, still terribly embarrassed and more than a little indignant at being the recipient of romantic advice from Mr. H, of all people, though he had to admit that it was vaguely amusing to hear the older man sigh dramatically and lament, "Ah, young love…" as he shuffled back behind the counter to attend to his beloved coffee machine…
"What else could it be about?" Joshua's voice drifted to him suddenly, and Neku had to forcibly extricate himself from his wandering thoughts to recall what they'd been discussing moments ago, remembering just in the nick of time that he'd asked Joshua what his poetry book was about. Joshua paused for a moment, perhaps for dramatic emphasis – theatrical little drama-queen that he was – before continuing as though it were the most casual thing in the world, "Love, of course."
And if anything was capable of hooking Neku's attention at that moment, it was the sound of Joshua's mouth forming that one, terrifying little word, a word so seemingly simple and insignificant in the greater scheme of things, yet powerful enough to encompass an idea that Neku hadn't dared to even think about, much less discuss with the boy seated beside him. Because, really, what did 'love' even mean? Wasn't it just some silly ideal held by hopeless dreamers, some foreign concept that belonged to the characters in books and movies, and to the delusional, starry-eyed girls who actually paid any attention to them…?
"Love, huh?" Neku found himself repeating after a long moment, not entirely certain as to why he suddenly felt so awkward and uncomfortable. Just a guy thing, he thought absently to himself. After all, "guys" didn't make it a priority to talk about this kind of stuff when they were alone together, and he and Joshua – as close as they were, as inexplicably drawn to one another as they had always been, as much as they fascinated and utterly captivated each another – were still just a couple of guys hanging out in Neku's bedroom on a lazy Friday afternoon. With the door closed. And no one else in the house save for Neku's mother bustling around the kitchen downstairs. And less than God-knew-how-many inches of space separating the two of them…
"What's wrong, Neku?" Joshua's voice was rich with barely-contained mirth, lips quirked into a smile that wasn't as much a smile as it was a delicately placed taunt. He openly seemed to be enjoying the redhead's uncharacteristic discomfort now, and Neku was almost relieved by the teasing tone in his voice, because this… this he could handle – Joshua taunting him impishly instead of talking about "love", Joshua… well, just being Joshua, playful and dangerous and… so fucking beautiful… just being himself.
...Well, all right. Maybe Neku wasn't as grounded as he'd originally thought. He swallowed hard, hoping the nervous gesture wasn't as obvious as he feared it might've been, and fixed Joshua with a flat look before biting out with some annoyance, "You know, Josh, it is possible to have a conversation with me without repeating my name every ten seconds. Anyone ever tell you you've got some really weird habits?"
There it was again, that insufferable giggle that Neku swore haunted him in his sleep – although it was less haunting and much, much more enjoyable when he dreamed about it, for reasons that Neku wouldn't care to share with anyone, thankyouverymuch –, and Joshua finally set his book down onto the carpet, opened towards the floor to mark the pages he'd just been reading, before bringing one knee up to chest-level and letting his other leg stretch out in front of himself, lazily. "You have to understand, dear…" – and here he turned the full force of his lovely violet gaze onto the other boy's face, trapping him with his eyes alone – "That I happen to be a wordsmith. I can't help it if I love the way "Neku" feels in my mouth."
Leave it to Joshua to spew innuendo in that classy, sophisticated way of his, and damn it all if Neku wasn't feeling disturbingly weak in the knees – was that even possible when he wasn't even standing up…? – and more than a little annoyed – aroused…? – at the sudden realization that Joshua was toying with him. Again. Smug, gorgeous little…
"What the hell, Josh?" was all that Neku was capable of at first – then, when he'd had a moment to clear his head and regain his composure, "That pretty little mouth of yours is gonna get you into a whole lot of trouble one of these days."
"'Pretty'?" Joshua echoed, thin eyebrows shooting up in mild amusement at Neku's blurted oversight, and the look in his eyes was nothing short of victorious as he smiled slowly, mercilessly at the other boy, "Why, Neku… I had no idea…"
It wasn't the most eloquent response, of that much Neku was certain, but the direction this conversation was taking was not one that he was terribly thrilled to be forced into at the moment. He'd had enough close calls as it was – wasn't every moment with Joshua a close call as far as keeping Neku's feelings bottled up was concerned? – and the fact that the silver-haired boy seemed so intrigued by his discomfort was more than Neku was able to stand at the moment.
He sighed, exasperated, shooting Joshua a look at the insincere hum in his voice, and finally settled for a clipped, "Just drop it, okay?" Then, after a moment of readjusting himself and lifting his prized CAT artbook back in front of his face, "I swear to God, Josh, you make me say the weirdest freaking things…" He didn't mention those other, more dangerous impulses that Joshua incited in him – thinking, feeling, wanting – because being a teenager was messed up enough without having to factor in all of the additional weirdness that the silver-haired boy made him experience on a near-daily basis.
Still, he should've known that finality was not his strong suit – especially where Joshua was concerned, because, frankly, a topic of discussion was never really over until Joshua decided it was over – and, more than that, Neku should've expected that something particularly dangerous was coming because his friend's voice was silky smooth and suddenly so close to his ear that he nearly jumped when he heard Joshua purr, "Don't think I haven't seen the way you look at me."
Really? Joshua was going to go there now…?
Exasperation turned to something else, something a little less irritated and a little more raw, and Neku heaved another sigh as he dropped the artbook away from his line of vision to let it rest on the floor beside Joshua's book, fully prepared to get this particular conversation over and done with as painlessly as possible so that they could go back to being the same friends-who-were-somehow-more-than-friends-but-who-never-really-talked-about-it-anyway that they'd always been.
"All right. You got me." Neku held his hands up in mock-surrender, hoping that Joshua could read the lack of amusement in his expression and in his eyes, "I stare at you. Constantly. What do you want me to say, huh? It's not my fault you're so damn…"
Oh, what the hell?
"…so damn what?"
Clearly this was not going to be buried as easily as Neku had hoped.
"I don't know." Another frustrated huff of air, and Neku wondered silently to himself if girls were this infuriatingly insistent or if he'd "lucked" out by choosing the world's biggest instigator as a constant companion, "How the hell should I know? You're the one who's good with words. You tell me."
And really, he shouldn't have given Joshua that much leeway because the other boy's face was alight with the thrill of a challenge – was everything a game to Joshua Kiryu? – as he mentally considered all of the conceivable ways he could twist around Neku's unfinished statement, "So… appealing, maybe? Clever? Absolutely, undeniably irresistible…?"
Joshua was just being ridiculous now – ridiculous and maybe just the teensiest bit accurate –, and Neku rolled his eyes at the other boy, nudging him in the shoulder warningly before cutting him off out of sheer exasperation, "I was going to say beautiful, but if you'd rather be dramatic about it…"
The vague smile on Joshua's face, pulling at his lips until even his eyes reflected a hint of dark amusement, nearly brought an involuntary shiver up Neku's back – there was something about Joshua when he smiled like that, something that made him seem infinitely older and more experienced than Neku could ever hope to be, as if he'd seen the universe and all of its infinite possibilities with his own two eyes and was deviously hiding that knowledge from the rest of the world, as ridiculous a notion as it seemed…
And Neku couldn't be blamed for what happened next, couldn't possibly be at fault for his own impulsive reaction to Joshua's expression, his smile, his voice when he glanced into Neku's eyes from beneath lazy, lowered lids and instructed – commanded – softly, "If there's something you want, then take it."
For all intents and purposes, Neku never was one to jump off of dangerous precipices without a reason, despite his usually reckless demeanor and obstinate need to completely ignore conformity – safety was for people who were afraid to take chances, Mr. H had always told them with a glimmer of mischief in his eye, for people who were too worried about what others thought to open their minds, to let themselves go in the name of adventure –, but this…
…this was more than Neku himself knew he was capable of, because no matter how many intrusive dreams he'd ever had, or how many times he'd absently wondered what it might be like to kiss Joshua, closing the space between them in a sudden rush of spontaneous emotion, fueled by the unrelenting challenge in those clear, violet eyes and the pounding of his own heart in his ears, was something Neku had never imagined doing in his entire life.
But that was the funny thing about Joshua, wasn't it, the fact that he pushed Neku to think things that he'd never thought before, feel things that he'd never felt before, want things that he'd never dared to want before…
And it was nothing short of crazy, teenage impulsiveness that spurred Neku on so that he was leaning up and across Joshua's body, one hand braced against the floor to support his own weight while the other traced up along the curve of his friend's pale, gorgeous neck, fingers threading through soft, silver hair to pull Joshua's mouth against his in a clumsy but firm kiss.
To say that he was shocked by what he felt would be an understatement. Never in all of his life would Neku have imagined what kissing someone – kissing Joshua – would do to him – there was a sudden feeling of lightheadedness wrapping around his mind, preventing him from thinking or reasoning with himself, and if he'd ever thought that Joshua could incite electricity with his touch alone, Neku was in danger of completely combusting right on the spot.
Still, despite the sudden feeling of panic that flooded his system – because even this much contact was already too much –, Neku found himself focusing instead on what it really meant to kiss Joshua –
– soft lips that seemed to meld perfectly against his own, warm breath of air as Joshua opened his mouth the slightest bit, inviting Neku in, and it didn't really matter that Neku barely knew what he was doing because Joshua tasted ridiculously delicious, fresh and sweet and, God, he could feel Joshua leaning up into him, slender fingers grasping the front of Neku's shirt insistently, and Neku had no idea, no idea what to do anymore, forgetting that his arm was holding his weight up and practically crushing Joshua beneath him as he threaded both hands forcefully into his beautiful, beautiful hair, tasting Joshua's smile against his mouth and absolutely adoring the way they fit together, sprawled out across the floor in an awkward, disheveled mess of arms and legs and bodies –
And then it was over, much, much too soon, because Neku hadn't bothered to factor breathing into the equation and it became painfully obvious after a few lingering moments that sucking the air in through Joshua's mouth was not really an option. He broke the kiss rather abruptly, too suddenly for Joshua's taste – the hazy-eyed boy made a soft sound of protest in the back of his throat, and Christ, could he please stop being so damn magnetic already, because Neku was halfway through catching his breath when he felt compelled to pull Joshua into another kiss, hard and sweet and breathless, blood pounding in his ears and stars flashing beautifully behind his closed eyes.
This must be what chemistry is, Neku thought absently to himself, because no matter how hard he tried to pull away, for the love of breathing and all that was holy, Joshua's very presence seemed to drag him back down to his mouth again – when the hell had he fallen so fucking hard for Yoshiya Kiryu, anyway?
At last, when even Joshua had to relent enough to catch his breath again, Neku found himself able to draw back along the other boy's body slightly, still leaning over Joshua though his hands were no longer pulling at soft, silver curls and were instead braced on either side of Joshua's head, keeping him close enough to stare directly into the calm, satisfied expression on his friend's face.
Despite already knowing the answer – although not necessarily understanding what it all meant just yet – Neku let himself breathe out with a haughty tinge in his voice, "Is that what you had in mind?"
It was obvious from the sudden, mischievous flash in Joshua's eyes that he had much, much more in mind – how much more, exactly, Neku couldn't even begin to imagine, except there was still one nagging question keeping him from fully acquiescing to the silver-haired boy's wordless invitation.
"Hey, Josh. What… I mean… why now? Why today?"
And Joshua was silent for a long, mysterious moment, holding the suspense out for as long as he could before giggling almost against Neku's mouth, "Don't think you're the only one who takes advice from Mr. H."
End Notes: This actually turned out much different than what I'd originally intended (much longer, too XD), but, as most authors will tell you, the story practically wrote itself. I'm always curious to hear my readers' thoughts, of course, so please do let me know if the format was appropriate, interesting, etc. (still trying to decide on this myself), and if there's anything I should work on in the future. Thank you!