Summary: "I'll add you to the heap." "This is for the best." "Shibuya comes first." Joshua had thought that once he'd become Composer, the burdens of humanity would no longer effect him- that his days of crying in the dark would be over. Looks like he was wrong.
Genre: Angst, Drama, Hurt/Comfort, Family, Friendship
Rated: T for language, and for tormenting Joshua emotionally :/
Characters: Joshua, Neku (Mr. H, Sho)
A/N: Post-TWEWY. Takes place in the same universe as Wonderful Moments, Ten Seconds, and Perfect. Mentions of a "suspension"- sometime post-TWEWY, as punishment for nearly destroying his district and other collateral damages, Joshua is sentenced to an indefinite amount of time without his powers. Composer duties are temporarily bestowed on someone else. This is not a huge part of the story, I just thought it would be confuse people less if I mentioned it before-hand :P
Two-shot. Second half will be the comfort part ;3
temer: (intransitive verb): To feel fear, to be afraid
He was in the sewers.
He wasn't really sure when he'd gotten down here, or why he was here for that matter, but for some reason none of that seemed like a very big deal. It smelled as rank as it always did. He wasn't really aware of it though. It was more of a background detail, something he was so used to he sometimes forgot it was there until someone else mentioned it.
There was a pile of garbage before him, so tall it nearly scraped the sky. Which was weird, because he was in the sewer, so there shouldn't have been a sky at all. Yet there was. How strange.
Pushing that thought aside, Joshua sat down before the heap of trash- "heap" seemed to fit it so much better than pile -and began picking at it absent mindedly. Empty cans of instant ramen, dented pipes all covered in rust, grody pinwheels and pieces of tin foil... The pieces of garbage varied in size and shape- there was a busted up TV a few feet away from him, and he thought he saw the fender of a car poking out somewhere... He wasn't sure why he felt possessed to dig through the garbage- and with his bare hands, too -but he wasn't really thinking about it. Everything felt foggy. He wasn't really thinking about anything, just acting.
He grabbed for a panel of murky glass, sliding it out carefully so as not to knock anything over. It came out easily, and he just tossed it aside, only vaguely aware of the loud sound it made as it shattered. There was something lying underneath it. Something strange, something that didn't belong.
It was a hand.
Joshua stared at it for a moment. His mind didn't seem to be working correctly. Despite being so obviously out of place, the hand didn't strike him as all that odd, for one reason or another. There was a vending machine sitting in front of him now, lying on its side in the pile, but he wasn't sure if it had been there a few moments ago.
He sat up, poking some of the buttons on the machine. It didn't respond. It seemed dead. He flipped the little slat at the bottom and dug his hand around inside, but he couldn't feel anything. It was cold, and empty, and it just seemed to go on and on, like he was sticking his hand into some bottomless pit...
Suddenly, something seized his wrist, yanking him down through the opening. His shoulder rammed against the side of the machine, and he winced. Something told him it shouldn't have hurt as much as it did.
Then, the machine just sort of disappeared- melting away while he was focusing on the pain in his arm. A hand, identical to the one poking out from the trash, was clenched around his wrist, twisting it painfully, like it was trying to crush his bones.
"Come to visit me, Yoshi?" A chillingly familiar voice sneered. Two yellow eyes stared up at him, accompanied by a fearsome grin. Sho. "You should have checked your math, hectopascal." The grey-haired man sat amongst the garbage, blackness creeping up his arms. "I'm not that easy to erase."
Joshua's senses were returning to him. The world didn't feel so dull and clouded any more. A chill ran up his spine, and he tried to step away, but his wrist was still caught. Sho's grip was like a bear trap.
Jesus Beam him. Kill him. Crush him, like you did before.
Sho was on his feet now, darkened skeletal structures rippling out from his back. Wings. Six of them. Joshua wondered why he couldn't move his legs. He wondered why he couldn't speak. "Aren't you going to shoot me down, Yoshi?" Sho laughed, twisting his arm painfully. Joshua winced again, his knees threatening to buckle. It hurt so much, with a pain that felt so real, too real- he wasn't sure why the reality of it seemed so strange to him. Why didn't he do something? Why didn't he shoot him, crush him, do something?
"Oh, that's right!" Sho twisted harder. "You can't. You aren't the Composer any more." He cackled gleefully, his black wings beginning to glow a blinding white. "I am."
This should have been enough to make him stagger back. It should have been enough to send him sprinting for cover, or at least to reach for his phone and try to defend himself. Except as he stuffed free hand, which felt utterly numb, into his pockets, he realized, quite dumbly, that they were empty. Phoneless. And Joshua knew what that meant. Phoneless equaled powerless. Powerless... Well, that equaled screwed.
"Crunch," Pain like daggers writhed through his arm, accompanied by a sickening shnap sound in his wrist. He let out a cry, his first real sound, and tried to pull away. It only made the pain worse. Sho laughed, his eyes like an animal's, flashing with predatory delight. "Not so powerful now, are you? Just like any other Player." He sneered, finally releasing him. Josh stumbled back, his hand dangling uselessly at his side. He tried to flex his fingers, but they didn't move. He couldn't feel them. Just the pain.
Sho whipped out his gun, shoving the barrel at his throat. Josh swallowed, frustration and rage and fear rising inside of him. He tried to step back, but his thoughts couldn't seem to reach his feet. He couldn't move. It was like his legs were frozen in place. This couldn't be happening. This wasn't happening. Why was this happening?!
Joshua felt his heart leap into his throat (inconvenient, considering the location of the gun). He remembered the last time he'd had a gun this close to his face, touching against his skin. Oh yes. He remembered. The taste of the barrel in his mouth, the cold, smooth texture of metal against his tongue. The crack of sound, the brief explosion of pain, the tang of blood that only lasted a fraction of a second- all followed by complete and utter nothingness. His undead heart hammered in his chest. He remembered it. He wished he didn't, but some things you just couldn't forget. The taste and the pain and the sound, they didn't last long. Neither did oblivion. Not the first time around, any way. The second time would be a different story though.
Something caught in his throat and he let out a whine.
The Grim Heaper grinned, cocking the gun.
"The world's garbage. You're no better." His grin faded into a complacent smirk. Joshua felt light-headed. "I'll add you to the heap."
I don't want to be erased.
Suddenly, Joshua became aware that Sho was no longer there.
The sewer seemed to have faded from existence. Everything was blank and dull now. He couldn't be quite sure where he was, if he even was anywhere. Sho had vanished, along with his demon eyes and his evil smirk. Instead, another boy stood before him, holding the gun.
Two solemn blue eyes stared at him, their gaze intense, as he pushed the barrel harder against his throat. Joshua stared.
Neku didn't blink. He didn't flinch. His finger sat delicately on the trigger, and his gaze was locked on him. Joshua swallowed. He still couldn't move. "What are you doing?"
"What I should have done when I had the chance." Neku replied, in a tone so cold it stung. Josh just stared. His heart wasn't hammering as desperately as it had been before. In fact, it seemed to have stopped altogether. He felt numb.
"What?" His voice came out small, quiet and timid. He couldn't remember the last time he'd sounded like that, if he ever had. It was pathetic. He hated it.
"You put me through Hell. Made me play your sick Game- three times. You killed me. Twice!" Neku's voice rang loud and clear, quivering only slightly with anger. His grip on the gun did not loosen. It did not shake or start to lower, like it had the last time he'd held it. There were no tears in his eyes, no hesitation, no regret. Just determination. Josh's chest was aching. It felt like something inside of him had just broken.
"I thought you said you trusted me." Josh replied silently. "I thought..." His voice trailed off as his throat tightened, making it harder to speak. What had he thought? That Neku would just forget everything he'd done to him? That they could put the past behind them, act like nothing had ever happened? That they could be friends? Joshua swallowed, gagging on the bitter taste in his mouth. Why were his thoughts so childish? He had to stop looking at things like he was seven.
Neku had every reason to shoot him. The question wasn't why was he doing it. It was why had he waited so long?
"You thought wrong." Neku's gaze didn't change, and neither did his grip on the gun. "Life's little crossroads are often as simple as the pull of a trigger." He deadpanned. The breaking feeling continued. All the pain from his arm was gone. It seemed to have migrated, into his chest. Neku pushed the gun even further into the concave of Joshua's throat. There was no pity in his eyes, no mercy. Just ice. "This is for the best."
Joshua closed his eyes and took a shaky breath, waiting for the moment of pain, the first and last glimpse of oblivion- but it didn't come. Peeling his eyes open, he found that once again, his assailer had changed. Neku was gone. Someone else had taken his place. The pain within his chest did not decrease, not even a little bit. If anything, it might have grown. He suddenly felt like he'd been punched in the gut. He wanted to fall to his knees, fade into the ground and disappear, but again, he couldn't make his muscles work.
Hanekoma stood before him, his darkened glasses hiding his eyes. The gun was still in his hand, the barrel still cocked into his throat- no shaking in his grip, no remorse in his gaze.
"Mr. H-" He forced the words past the obstruction in his throat, but they came out as a croak. There was a click. The gun was loaded.
"He's right, J." Mr. H clucked his tongue disapprovingly, a disappointed look on his face. "You're just too dangerous."
Joshua choked, a hoarse, hiccuppy sound escaping his throat. He couldn't move. He couldn't breathe. This wasn't happening. It couldn't be happening.
"Mr. H-" He began again, but he couldn't find the right words. His brain had hit a wall. Of any horrible thought that had ever entered his mind, of all the gruesome fantasies he'd ever had about death- no, about erasure- there was always one he refused to imagine; one that was too painfully real to think about. And now it was unfolding right before his very eyes. He found no comfort in the fact that it was even more terrifying and soul-crushing now than it had ever been in his imagination.
"You tried to destroy Shibuya." Joshua winced at the accusation, because there was nothing he could say to deny it. It was true. The Angels had almost erased him for it- they were still thinking about erasing him for it. They had even considered erasing Mr. H, for the whole Taboo issue.
"But I didn't," He whispered, shaking his head weakly. "I spared it." Yes, that was right. He'd had a change of heart. He'd fixed things. Didn't that count for anything? He tried to say this, but his tongue felt thick and numb in his mouth, and the words just wouldn't come out smoothly. Mr. H's gaze still hadn't changed.
"After you killed an innocent mortal and destroyed your Conductor." Hanekoma replied flatly, his tone that of rather harsh disappointment. "Not to mention all of the collateral damage," he added on, almost casually.
"You sicced Minamimoto on me-" Josh shot back quickly, only to get cut off again.
"Shibuya comes first, Joshua," was his response, as always. Joshua gritted his teeth, an angry, prickling heat rising in his body- stinging at his eyes, burning in his throat, quivering in his limbs.
"What about me?" He rasped, wishing he could just grab the gun and toss it aside. He still couldn't move though. He couldn't do anything. "What's so great about Shit-buya? What is it about it that makes you love it so much? It's just a city! What about me?! Don't I matter?" He seethed, skin rubbing painfully against the barrel.
"Shibuya comes first." Mr. H repeated, nothing in his tone or expression changing. Any piece of hope within Joshua dried up. All that was left of him shattered. Of course. Shibuya came first. Shibuya always came first. He might as well just be there to maintain it. That was pretty much all he did. And now that he'd proved he was willing to put Shibuya on the line, now that he'd proven himself as a threat... He was no longer needed.
Joshua felt number than he ever had before.
"Don't." He whispered, the word weak as it slipped out. Mr. H shook his head sadly.
"It's for the best."
Josh closed his eyes, and with what little he had left, he tried to believe that Neku and Mr. H were wrong, that this wasn't for the best. And when he couldn't convince himself... He really wasn't that surprised.
A crack split the air, and something tore through him-
He shot up, his heart hammering in his ears. It was dark. Pitch black. He could see... Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Panic prickled up his spine and he let out an inhuman sound. Immediately, his hands shot for his throat, groping it violently in search of a hole. He felt nothing, just smooth, sticky skin. A shaky sigh eased its way out of him, and he collapsed against what he thought was his bed. The back of his head slammed against something cold and hard, and he let out a sharp cry, sitting back up.
He was on the floor. Some sheets were tangled around him like a messed up toga. Reaching out blindly into the darkness, his hands hit a rough, fabric-y surface. It felt like a couch cushion. Had he fallen asleep up in the WildKat again? His hair was plastered to his head with sweat, and his clothes were practically soaked through. His whole body felt clammy.
It was a dream. A horrible nightmare, but nothing more. Joshua let out a loud, strangled sigh of relief. His throat hitched in the process, and a mangled sob came out with it. Shaking his head, he squeezed his eyes shut, trying to keep the tears from escaping. He could already feel the hot, stinging sensation behind his eyelids. Reaching up to rub his eyes, he found his cheeks were already wet. And salty. Swearing, he tried to stand up, but found his knees were shaking too violently for him to get to his feet.
Another sob wracked painfully at his chest, and he collapsed against the side of the couch. Tears rolled down his face, and he cursed every last one of them. Thank God Mr. H wasn't here. Or Sho. Sho would never let him live this down, and there was no way he could tell Mr. H what he'd just dreamt about.
Joshua hiccupped, a pitiful sound screeching from him as the details of his dream began to fill him. All he could see right now was Mr. H, pointing the gun at him. Joshua shuddered, another wave of self-pity washing over him, followed by more painful sobs. His chest hurt, and so did his throat. He wanted these images out of his mind, but it was like they were seared into the backs of his eyelids, and every time he blinked, there they were.
I'll add you to the heap.
This is for the best.
Shibuya comes first.
"Shut up." Joshua seethed, shaking his head and squeezing his eyes shut, trying to push the images out. All that came out were more tears, and after a few minutes of hiccupping and sniffling, he gave up, burying his head in his knees and glaring at the tile floor. It offered him no reassurance. Even as his eyes adjusted to the dark, he couldn't see his reflection in it- just a dull, blobby looking shadow.
Not for the first time, Joshua could feel the all-too familiar loneliness starting to creep in around him. Sitting here all alone, in the dark, crying like a pathetic little kid, with nowhere else he could go and nobody he could talk to... He could practically feel it closing in, trying to crush the unlife right out of him. It wasn't quite as bad as the feeling he had gotten while sitting atop 104 with Mr. H, watching Neku reunite with his friends, knowing (or at least thinking) that he would never be able to join them, but he had to say it cut fairly close.
Sniffling, he leaned against the couch. For a moment he wondered why he'd been sleeping on the couch, up in the WildKat, rather than in his own bed, down in the sewers. Then he remembered the whole "suspension of his powers" deal, and how by the time he'd gotten to the WildKat, he'd been so tired and lazy he'd just passed out on the couch. He couldn't warp down into Dead God's Pad or his room any more, he actually had to climb down into the sewers and wander along Shibuya River until he got to his room, and he hadn't been in the mood for a sewage expedition when he'd gotten back. He'd just wanted a few hours of blissful sleep... And hadn't that worked out just swimmingly?
Squeezing his eyes shut, Joshua tried to block out the fragments of his dreams. He couldn't get them out though.
Sho trying to kill him was bad enough. He was used to that sort of dream- he'd had plenty of them, plenty of assassin dreams in general, though the Sho ones were the most reoccurring. What he wasn't used to was how powerless he had felt, how horribly and pathetically weak he had been before Minamimoto. He couldn't remember ever having a dream where he'd been so incapable, where he'd had such little control over a situation. He hadn't been able to move his body. He'd hardly been able to speak. All he could do was stand there and take it, quivering like a leaf and waiting for erasure to come.
Neku... Joshua couldn't say he'd never had a dream like that before. Dreams of their stand-off, of a world where Neku hadn't lowered his gun, where the hatred and the murder hadn't left his gaze. Joshua sometimes wondered what the parallel universe they'd created from that moment was like- the world where Neku had killed him, because, like they'd said in his dream, it was "for the best".
Even now that he was awake, he still couldn't convince himself that they were wrong. He didn't like to think like that- he hated it, really -but he just couldn't shake that awful, pitiful feeling. It made his gut twist just thinking about it.
All he had done was wreak havoc. He hurt people, he made their lives miserable- and for what? Because he'd been having a bad day? Because things weren't going right in his unlife, so why not take it out on everyone else? His own problems were suckish enough, so why not distract himself with someone else's pain? Why not put some poor sap through Hell a couple of times, just for kicks and giggles, because unlife is boring as crap, and nothing has turned out the way it was supposed to, so why the hell not? Hah. Some god he was.
Gods were supposed to be all-powerful. The burdens of humanity weren't supposed to bother them. Boredom, emotions... These things shouldn't matter to him anymore. He'd thought that when he'd become Composer, his days of sitting in the dark and crying to himself would be over. He was above everyone now. Well, maybe not Angels. Or the Big Guy. Still, he was above the Reapers, and the Players, and the mortals. He had all of this power, he had everything he'd ever worked for, everything he'd ever wanted... Yet he wasn't happy. He was as high up as he could possibly get in the UG-
So why did he feel so low?
Joshua hiccupped loudly, flopping his head back onto the couch. His eyes swept around the room. The chairs and stools he hardly paid attention to during the day had been transformed into spindly, skeletal forms, staggered throughout the room and staring menacingly at him. The kitchen light must have gone out sometime during the night- that, or Mr. H had turned it off, probably forgetting he was out here -because the doorway opened to nothing but pitch blackness. Like he was staring into the maw of some demonic beast, bent on devouring him alive...
Alright. It was time to turn some lights on.
Outside he heard a car go by, and his gaze flickered over to the window. The shades were pulled shut. Everything happening out there was divided into stripes. A dull light was filtering in through the slats, and with a pathetic sniffle, Joshua finally stood up, shuffling over to the windows and pulling the blinds open. Multi-colored lights filled the night (or early morning, he supposed), flooding the WildKat with a faint rainbow glow. He turned to look at the empty cafe. If you didn't count the constant drone of traffic outside (which Joshua didn't, because honestly, it was more like white noise than anything), then it was dead quiet. Even in the warm, comforting glow of the night life, the dark emptiness still felt eery.
He hated the dark. Always had, always would. You couldn't see in the dark. You didn't know who, or what, was standing there. As a child who could see all the terrors of the undead world, being thrust into a place where his sight was suddenly cut off had terrified him. As Composer he still couldn't shake off the unease he got from the dark. Joshua always knew what was happening. He was connected to the city- even if he couldn't see things, he could still hear them, or at least feel them. With his powers suspended, however... Well, it was like being a little kid again. Like he'd been stuck in a dark room and left to guess what sorts of horrors were hiding in the shadows. He never knew who was standing there, ready to kill him, ready to send him into oblivion- and that was a whole other kind of darkness, which Joshua feared for somewhat similar reasons.
In the dark he was at a loss. He was powerless. And in the end, that was probably what terrified him the most. That pathetic, weak, helpless feeling he got. That not knowing what would happen next, having no power over his own fate. He wasn't weak. He was not helpless. He was a god, dammit...
So why did he still feel like a scared, confused mortal?
Joshua paced across the cold floor to the lights, and switched them on. They flickered hesitantly to life, filling the air with a dull, electrical buzz. Pulling up a stool, he hopped up and slumped over the counter, gazing miserably at the shelves on the wall. They were littered with mugs of all shapes, sizes and colors. Some were splotched with paint and filled with ratty old paintbrushes. Like everything else in the WildKat, the shelves had been used as canvases- layer upon layer of art had been slathered on them over the years, until their original color was completely lost. Joshua had never seen what they'd looked like before CAT had taken them over. When he was younger, he'd liked to sneak around the counter and see which paintings had been replaced by a new "masterpiece". Nowadays he was so used to Mr. H's incessant usage of any available surface as a canvas, he rarely noticed when another wall or chair was taken hostage. Sometimes he wondered if Mr. H really just wanted to cover the entire city- maybe even the entire world, with CAT's works of art.
Thinking about Mr. H made his stomach feel sick, and he slumped further across the counter, turning his gaze out the window instead. It was raining out. The window was spattered with little droplets of water, and in the lights of the city they lit up like little kaleidoscopes. It was beautiful, really. The sort of thing Neku or Eri would love to sketch. Or Mr. H. He liked colorful things.
Joshua sighed, closing his eyes. Being in the WildKat was not a good way to not think about Mr. H. In fact, it was rather counterproductive. The entire place was covered with his CATness; it was impossible to avoid it, and that was exactly what he needed to do right now.
Sliding down off of the stool, Josh padded over to the door and picked up his shoes from next to the mat (he wasn't supposed to keep them there, but he did any way, just to spite He who shall not be named) and pulled them on. It felt weird without socks, but he didn't feel like clambering down into the sewer to search for a pair. He'd probably just run into Mr. H, and then he'd have to explain why he was down there.
And what would he tell him, exactly? Mr. H was pretty good at knowing when he was lying, and Josh was a bit too tired to come up with an excuse for plodding around the sewers barefoot, at this ungodly hour, looking like he'd just been bawling his eyes out. He wasn't exactly feeling up for a heart-to-heart either, not while images of Mr. H holding him at gunpoint were still flashing through his mind.
The thought of telling Mr. H about his dream made Joshua feel even more sick. Because how could he tell him about something like that? He knew that if he went to talk to him right now, he would just break down again, and he'd feel even worse than he already did. And if he broke down, then Mr. H would feel bad for him, and he would try to comfort him, and then... He would lie.
He would tell him that it was just a stupid dream, and that nothing like that would ever happen, and Josh would probably just sit there and sniffle like a four-year-old, and nod, because even though they both knew what a giant, horrendous lie it was, Joshua wanted to believe it. He wanted to believe, more than anything, that Mr. H would never hurt him or betray him, that he would never do something like that to him, ever. Except he would. If Shibuya was ever in danger again, if Joshua ever lost it, or did something like he'd done with Neku... Mr. H would erase him. He would kill him, because Shibuya came first. Shibuya always came first. It had before he was Composer, and it would continue to long after he'd outlived his usefulness.
Mr. H had proved where his loyalties lied before, when he'd sicced Sho on him. It didn't matter how long he'd known him, or how much he trusted him, or how much they cared about each other. Because at the end of the day, if Mr. H had to choose between him and Shibuya... Well, it wasn't hard to figure out which one would be going down in flames.
Joshua couldn't deal with that right now. He didn't want to go seek comfort, didn't want Mr. H to lie to his face. Knowing his luck though, Mr. H might not even lie. Maybe he'd just give him some spiel about their responsibilities, and try to reassure him that it was nothing personal. Honestly, Joshua wasn't sure what was worse- the truth or a lie.
Grabbing a coat (he really wasn't sure whose it was, but it was heavy and soft, so it would probably keep him warm) off of a hook on the wall, Josh shoved his arms into the sleeves and pushed the door open. He needed some fresh air, some time to clear his head. Most of all though, he needed to get the hell away from the WildKat.
Why was it that, lately, the WildKat was feeling more and more alien to him? Everything seemed that way lately. It was unnerving. Without his powers, he was jolted back to a time before Composerdom, before the Game even. A time when he'd been nothing- just some lonely, pathetic nobody, chasing ghosts and dreaming of death. Even in that life though, he'd had some solace. No matter how cruddy life was, he'd always had... Mr. H. And the WildKat. The WildKat had always been his safe-haven, his home away from home. This feeling of... Of not belonging, of being a stranger in a place that should feel familiar, was bothersome, to say the least. Because really, if Joshua didn't have Mr. H and the WildKat, then what did he have?
Nothing, a bitter, bratty little voice inside his head muttered, as the brisk night began to envelope him. It was drizzling out, just a light rain, but already his hair was starting to frizz. Wonderful. He pulled the collar of the coat up further around his face, trying to keep his nose warm as he stalked out into the night.
You have absolutely nothing.