Chapter 2 - Worries

Joshua was a restless person sometimes. He acknowledged that he often couldn't sit still when he needed to concentrate on important things. After years and years of trying to force himself to focus on the task at hand, he found that getting some air usually helped calm his restlessness. High places were the best, letting him look out over the city he governed. This day, however, - this warm summer day, near the end of August - Joshua found himself looking at Shibuya in a different way; not across the skyline of the tall office buildings and department stores, but down into the Scramble Crossing, where a crowd of people had gathered around one lone individual. Despite the distance, Joshua could see the unruly head of orangey-red hair clearly.

Neku's cry of frustration echoed into the air and Joshua felt himself instantly recoil from the sound, ripping through him like a burst of static off a disconnected radio station. It tapered off into the empty space, but Joshua could still hear it, his ears ringing despite the distance.

He didn't really know why he had come to watch Neku awaken after the ending to their game. It was weighing down on his mind, but he couldn't seem to come up with answer that sounded right. It was part of the reason he had taken his perch; to figure out exactly why he was so bothered by what had happened.

"So this is where you've been hiding…"

Joshua didn't even need to look up, not even slightly surprised by the appearance of his company. "I'm not hiding from anyone. That would be you," he snapped, not really in the mood to talk.

"Come on now, Josh. No need to be in such a bad mood."

"Why shouldn't I be? The one person I've been relying on has been interfering with my plans. I don't appreciate the actions you took, Sanae."

Hanekoma winced, the reaction Joshua had been expecting. He only referred to Mr. H by his first name when he was particularly annoyed with the man, which didn't happen too often. Joshua wanted to make it perfectly clear just how upset he was. "Josh, listen. I did what I did. It's done. I figured it would be for the best."

"Giving Minamimoto Taboo Noise was 'for the best'? I'm starting to think you've slowly been losing your mind…"

"I didn't want to lose the city, Josh." Hanekoma's voice was low, serious. "I don't like saying this, but you're expendable. This city isn't. At the very least, Minamimoto would keep the city running."

Joshua glanced over his shoulder. "You preach trust above all else, Sanae, but the one you trust the least is the one you should be trusting. You're worse than Neku…"

"The kid trusts you."

"But you don't trust me, and that's what this conversation is about." Of all things, Joshua didn't want to talk about Neku. He could still see the image of Neku in his mind from the day before, clutching the gun tightly in his hands, tears spilling down his cheeks and onto the floor. It was the last thing he wanted on his mind. "You know how much this city means to me. The last thing I wanted to do was destroy it, but I'm not going to let its evils fester and spread."

"And whose fault is that?" Hanekoma mumbled back, staring off into the sky. "I know how much the city means to you, but I also know what you're capable of when someone pushes you too far. I know you. Leaving it to you without a backup plan would have been stupid."

"Stupidity isn't prudent. Now you've left me with a number of problems. I'm going to be taking a lot of complaints from the Higher Plane, I've lost the support of my Producer, and now I don't have a Conductor or any candidates. I can handle the brunt of the work, but I'd much rather not and you've placed me in a situation where I don't have the luxury of choice."

"You haven't lost me, Joshua. I'm going to help you however I can."

Joshua turned on the ledge, swinging one of his legs up, the other still hanging out over the Scramble. "You've severely limited how much you can help me. If the Angels find out I've been getting assistance from my former Producer, they'll come after me and - in the worst-case scenario - shut Shibuya down. Then all your efforts will be for nothing. I can't fathom that you haven't seen the problem with that already."

"I meant, I'll find you a Conductor. Though, I think you already know who the best candidate is…"

Joshua felt his fingernails digging into the palm of his hand, the mere thought getting his nerves. "No. I brought him into the Game to be my proxy, not scout him for a position. He's alive, not a Reaper. I can't do that."

"You can't, or you won't?" When Joshua didn't answer, Hanekoma sighed. "Josh, you know he trusts you. He'd probably accept the offer if you asked him."

"And I won't ask him."

"Because you're stubborn."

"Because I've changed. I may have done something like this before, but… He trusts me. I… I never thought I could trust anyone but you…" Joshua pressed his hand to his forehead. He felt dizzy suddenly, his chest tight. He wondered if it was the air, but then remembered that he technically didn't even need to breathe. His eyes began to hurt, making him question if he could even cry. "I… I don't know anymore, Mr. H. I used to know what was going on, but I don't know myself anymore. I know what trusting people means now, really know, and I know how much a betrayal of that trust hurts. If I had to… If Neku… I can't face him. I betrayed him. He trusted me and I betrayed him." He took a deep, gasping breath, his chest shaking as he tried and failed to calm his nerves. "What kind of person am I?"

Hanekoma shook his head. "Don't worry yourself about it. You can't blame yourself for it, Josh. You're a lot like he was: you just needed someone to show you the way. Neku did that for you. He changed you, so Shibuya changed. You were stuck in your old-fashioned views, which isn't wrong, but now you've learned. Everyone can suffer a little change every once in a while. You were just overdue."

Joshua took a deep breath, feeling his disjointed nerves starting to pull back together. Looking back down at the Scramble, the crowd had dissipated and Neku's fiery hair was nowhere to be seen. Somehow, knowing that made Joshua feel a bit better. He pulled himself to his feet. "Maybe… I haven't decided yet."

"Got any plans for this week, Boss?"

Glancing over his shoulder, he gave Hanekoma a smile. "I always have a plan."