Sanae Hanekoma was no stranger to Shibuya, to the crowds and noise and chaos, but standing on the rooftops watching it all never grew old. There was always something interesting to watch, no matter what the time of day or the weather--always some bright spark of potential to catch his attention, and maybe even hold it for a while if there wasn't a Game running for him to keep an eye on.
Or if there wasn't the bright-hot form of the Composer beside him, far too quiet, staring at the crowds below for what Hanekoma guessed were very different reasons than his own.
Hanekoma was fascinated by the people, all of them, by their lives and choices and the way CAT's art encouraged the best of them to shine even brighter. But Joshua... it didn't take a mind-reader to notice that Joshua only had eyes for one small group, four kids hanging out by the statue of Hachiko.
It wasn't quiet on the rooftop, not by a long shot, but awkwardness still stretched out between them; it was a rare day when they spent as much as five minutes in each other's company without talking, and Joshua had been silent for almost an hour. It was distracting, uncomfortable--something that needed to be fixed.
"Y'know..." Joshua didn't so much as glance in Hanekoma's direction when he started to speak, but Hanekoma continued on, undaunted. "This mess is gonna have repercussions upstairs. But hey--at least things are back to normal. Right?"
Joshua did look his way then, but only to shoot him a glare that probably should have scared him off. Hanekoma knew Joshua too well to heed it, though, and his only acknowledgment of it was a laugh before he went right on talking. "What? You seem down!"
More than just down, really--Joshua had been watching the group of friends with something that looked an awful lot like envy written all over his face. It wasn't an expression that looked at home there; Joshua usually got what he wanted when he wanted it, and in all the years Hanekoma had known him there hadn't really been time for him to be envious of anyone before things got sorted out to his satisfaction. But the RG wasn't something the Composer could just reach out and change, at least not directly, and the little group of RG teenagers was all but untouchable.
"Hey, it's their world." Another glare that Hanekoma ignored as cheerfully as the first. "They get to decide what to do with it. We just--"
The Composer's form flared suddenly brighter, blindingly so, and when Hanekoma could look again Joshua was gone.
He sighed to the empty rooftop, shoulders lifting in an exaggerated shrug. "Some folks just don't take 'no' for an answer," he mused aloud, letting out his wings and taking to the air as well. Joshua in a snit was someone worth keeping an eye on, even if he probably wouldn't much care for the company.
Or maybe he wouldn't mind so much.
Joshua was nothing if not unpredictable, still every bit as capable of throwing Hanekoma off guard as he'd been when they'd first met, and anticipating his reactions was an unreliable art at best. Hanekoma expected him to go someplace quiet, someplace where his Producer wasn't really welcome even at the best of times, but instead of finding a good place to sulk Joshua headed for a certain deserted cafe.
They landed outside WildKat within a second of each other, and as soon as his feet were on the ground Joshua closed his eyes and changed. The bright-strong light that obscured his form faded as he became shorter, skinnier, and soon he was all but indistinguishable from the rest of Shibuya's teenagers. He downtuned to the RG a moment later, and Hanekoma followed him as soon as he had dealt with his wings, only afterward thinking to look around and make sure that nobody was watching two people appear out of thin air.
"Bein' in the RG won't letcha control it, Josh," he pointed out, and his tone was light but he was only half-joking.
"I'm well aware of that." Judging by the scowl on his face Joshua wasn't too pleased with that knowledge, but his expression seemed to lighten soon enough. His fingers twisted around his bangs and pulled tight, though, and Hanekoma knew that he was anything but content and calm. "It is their world, and I think I've toyed with it enough for the time being. I'll let my dear proxy have his life back. I suppose he's earned it."
He slipped inside the cafe without another word and Hanekoma followed, catching the door before it could slam shut in his face. He knew the drill from here, at least; make coffee, let Joshua rant, and maybe, if he was lucky, manage to get in a few words about how there just might be a middle ground between interfering too much and not interfering enough.
* * *
WildKat was open the next day, but nobody seemed to notice. The crowds moved right past the little cafe as though it didn't exist, and Hanekoma couldn't say that he minded. CAT had more than enough fans for plain ol' Sanae Hanekoma to be content with relative obscurity (though, really, he would have been happy either way. The worth of a piece of art wasn't weighed in the number of fans it had).
He wasn't expecting company, and the door opening was enough of a surprise to make him jump; lost in thought and in art, in scrawling jagged lines over the sketchbook page in front of him, he'd tuned out the Realground entirely. It took a second to snap back, but then--
"Fancy seein' you here, Phones."
Now it was Neku's turn to jump, as though he hadn't seen the barista standing behind the counter. "Hey," he managed in return, a weak smile tugging at his lips as he lingered just inside the doorway.
Silence. Neku scanned the room as though expecting to see someone else, then shifted his gaze back to Hanekoma, disappointment obvious in the slump of his shoulders and the hurt in his eyes. Unlike Joshua, he was spectacularly easy to read.
Neku shook his head, frowning. "I just... I thought Joshua might be here." He blurted out that confession in a hard-to-follow rush, embarrassment tinting his cheeks faintly pink once he'd finished.
"'Fraid not. J's busy with the Game this week. Want me to tell him you dropped by?"
For a moment Neku hesitated--startled by the offer or maybe by his own boldness. Hanekoma couldn't tell, not without prying, and he wasn't about to do that. He liked Neku, enough to respect his privacy at least, and anyway, reading thoughts could get messy. Best not to risk it unless it was important.
"Yeah," Neku finally said, smile brighter this time as though he'd remembered how to do it properly. "Tell him we'll be meeting by Hachiko again this weekend. Me and Shiki and Beat and Rhyme. If he has time..."
The silence wasn't so uncomfortable this time. Neku stepped forward into the cafe; Hanekoma shut his sketchbook and slipped it out of sight under the counter (couldn't let Neku catch sight of CAT's latest project before the rest of Shibuya; CAT's other fans would never forgive either of them).
"Can I ask you something, Mr. H? About Joshua?"
Neku sat down and pushed his headphones down around his neck, an attempt at politeness that Hanekoma was sure he wouldn't have made a few short weeks ago. The Reapers' Game had changed him, as it changed everyone who passed through it, and Hanekoma couldn't help but be proud. Neku had learned something, had grown, and that didn't make what he'd gone through okay but Hanekoma could see how Joshua might justify it.
(Then again, though, Joshua rarely tried to justify anything. He was the Composer, and to him, that was enough.)
"Does Joshua even want anything to do with me anymore? I mean, it's not like he needs a proxy now." The words were bitter, but Neku's tone was soft, uncertain. The Game had changed him, if he wanted to be able to open up to someone instead of being content to ignore them and shut them out. "I want to talk to him again. I want him to come hang out with us. But if he doesn't want to..."
"Like I told ya before, Phones, Josh ain't a bad kid." Hanekoma sighed, rubbing at the back of his neck as he tried to find the right words. Joshua had a way of making things really damn complicated. "He's just..."
"Kind of an ass?" Neku supplied, not quite able to hide his grin.
"Not quite what I was gonna say," Hanekoma said wryly. "Look--he can be a real pain, and he's fickle as all hell, but he doesn't put up with people he can't stand, and he definitely doesn't partner up with them. You get me?"
"He could've been a little nicer, if he thought I was so tolerable," Neku grumbled, but he was smiling regardless, and he left WildKat in a significantly better mood.
* * *
It stormed all that week, and when Joshua came to WildKat on Saturday, soaking wet and scowling, Hanekoma wondered if Shibuya wasn't picking up on her Composer's mood.
"Phones angry with you?" he asked, once he'd grabbed towels for Joshua and put a "closed" sign out on the door. Joshua didn't immediately answer, busy making a halfhearted attempt to dry his dripping hair. He finally lowered the towel and shook his head, eyes on the floor, making no attempt to hide his bad mood behind his usual sarcastic mask. That, more than anything else, bugged Hanekoma--he knew that he should count himself lucky for being a person around whom someone as fickle and distrustful as Joshua was comfortable, and he did, but it was never a good sign when Joshua was upset enough to really show it.
"Quite the opposite, actually. We spent a very pleasant afternoon at Sunshine." Joshua shrugged, pulling his slightly damp cell phone out of his pocket and flipping it open to make sure the water hadn't killed it. "But... I don't understand him. I can't understand why..."
He trailed off, frowning, and plopped himself down at the counter as though he belonged there (which, really, he did). Flicking his phone open again, he stared at the screen, pensive--still dripping all over the floor and the edge of the counter as well.
Hanekoma dropped a towel on his head before moving around the counter to get him something warm to drink.
"Why what? he prompted after several minutes of silence. Joshua snapped his phone shut and bent to pick up the towel that had fallen to the floor, starting another attempt to dry off his hair.
"Why doesn't he hate me, Mr. H? And more importantly--why do I care?" He wrapped his hands around the mug Hanekoma set in front of him, and before the Angel could answer he continued, staring down at his coffee, voice barely audible. "He's just another one of the living, now. It shouldn't matter to me what he thinks."
Laughing, Hanekoma sat down next to him and clapped him hard on the back. They'd been through a lot together, the two of them, in the years and decades they'd known each other, but they'd been an odd pair from the beginning. Very rarely had Joshua seemed as... as normal, as human, as this, fretting over an uncertain relationship like any mortal teenager would.
"Nothin' wrong with caring, Josh. RG folk do it all the time. Hasn't hurt a single one'a them yet --"
Joshua scoffed. "Just last month we had those two Players who committed suicide because they were forbidden to date. Don't tell me you've forgotten? Caring about others makes mortals do the most ridiculous things."
"Nah, I didn't forget." Things like that, deaths more interesting or more upsetting than the norm, tended to stay with him for a while. Little reminders that Shibuya wasn't, and perhaps never would be, completely perfect. "But it wasn't caring that was the problem--it was common sense. Brains like yours, J, you know not to go doin' somethin' drastic outta love."
"Hmm." Joshua considered that for a moment, temper soothed by the compliment and by the coffee. "I suppose. Though that doesn't answer the question of why he wants anything to do with me after what I put him through."
"You'll haveta ask Phones that one."
Joshua's nose wrinkled in distaste at that answer, but he let it go. The rain stopped as he finished his coffee, and when he stepped outside the cafe, waving his goodbye before letting the door slam shut behind him, the sun peaked out from behind the clouds.
* * *
Joshua had always been a regular visit to WildKat, but Neku started dropping by a lot more often as well, the coffee and the novelty of knowing CAT taking a definite backseat to a desire to hang out with Joshua. Maybe some people would've been offended, but Hanekoma was firmly certain that Neku deserved a bit of happiness after his trying Game, and if Joshua brought him that happiness... well, who was he to judge?
Besides, it was nice to see Joshua acting, if not his age, the age he /looked/. Under the right circumstances he proved to be perfectly content to sit with Neku for hours on end, playing Tin Pin (and making Hanekoma retrieve KO'd pins between rounds), helping Neku with his homework, or just... talking.
They talked a lot, the two of them. About the Game, both their Game and in general; about Shibuya and its trends; about world peace and politics and other things Neku took to surprisingly quickly, or maybe not surprisingly, because he was smart and was it any wonder that Joshua could get along with him almost as though they were equals?
Sometimes they even talked about themselves, though that was a subject that seemed to come up almost by mistake, like it did on one cold, quiet weekend day.
There wasn't a Game running, and nobody had anything better to do than hang out at WildKat, where it was warm and dry. Joshua was curled up on a well-loved couch with a book, while beside him Neku struggled to get through several days of piled-up homework in one afternoon, looking desperately in need of the coffee close at hand. The quiet nice, not to mention inspiring. Hanekoma had made a date with a sketchbook for the afternoon, and the table in front of him was covered with brightly-colored markers as he planned out a tag that would soon add a bit more color and inspiration to some blank wall.
It wasn't work that required his full attention, and he kept glancing up, expecting some sort of chaos to erupt on the other side of the room. Even though they had proven themselves capable of being civil to each other, Neku and Joshua didn't often go a whole afternoon without rubbing each other the wrong way at least a little.
But there was silence, save for the turning of pages and the scratch of pencil on paper.
Joshua was so caught up in his book that he seemed to notice nothing, and certainly not the way his hair had flopped into his face. Neku wasn't so unobservant, though--in fact, he kept putting down his pencil to stare, and he finally reached out to brush his fingers along the side of Joshua's face, tucking the ash-blond curls behind Joshua's ear in the process.
The Composer flinched away from the touch, startled, and the book tumbled to the floor as he reached for his cell phone on instinct. Neku snatched his hand back as though he'd been burned. "S-sorry," he stammered out, staring down at the notebook full of algebra problems in his lap. "Sorry, I--I just--"
"No, no. Don't apologize." Joshua's tone was light as he bent to pick up the fallen book, and when he straightened up again he was smirking, clear amusement a sharp contrast to the utter mortification on Neku's face. "Haven't you ever lost yourself in a book so completely that you forgot where and who you were?"
"I prefer reality, thanks."
"Oh?" Joshua giggled, reaching up to brush back his bangs. His fingers traced the same pattern Neku's had and paused against his temple, and his expression turned thoughtful as he lowered his hand. "Should I tell you where I lost myself? Perhaps I'll change your mind." He set the book aside and slid a little closer to Neku on the couch. "The fair princess had just escaped the clutches of her evil father, and run into the arms of her lover, the noble prince. In the forest, far from the castle that had been their prison, they were just about to share a tender kiss..."
He moved closer still as he spoke, until his face was mere inches from Neku's, eyes half-closed and a smirk playing on his lips--a challenge. Of course Joshua couldn't do things sensibly, couldn't just ask whether there was anything more than a strange, unsteady friendship between them. That would be too boring for him, too mundane. Hanekoma set down his sketchbook and wondered if this would be a good time to intervene before an argument started.
Neku answered the unspoken challenge before he could say a word, but not by starting an argument. Even though his face was beet red and he looked completely overwhelmed, he closed his eyes and put his lips to Joshua's in a quick, chaste kiss--and when Joshua didn't pull away or laugh at him, he grew bolder. The notebook slid out of his lap as he pushed Joshua down against the couch to kiss him more soundly, and the pale fingers that tangled in orange hair at the nape of Neku's neck suggested that Joshua wasn't complaining.
Hanekoma figured this might be a very good time to make himself scarce.
* * *
He returned a few hours later to a mercifully intact and quiet WildKat. The boys hadn't made a mess, and if they'd done anything indecent they'd covered their tracks well; both of them were still on the couch, fully dressed, though only Joshua looked up when the door opened. Neku was curled up beside him, head in his lap, and clearly too fast asleep to protest against the way Joshua was threading his fingers through his hair.
"I wasn't sure he'd ever let it slip," Joshua said quietly. "Even though he wanted it so strongly I could feel it. I think even a mortal could have sensed it, don't you?"
"Probably," Hanekoma agreed. He perched himself on the arm of the couch, next to Joshua. "Wouldn't put it past those friends of his to've figured it out, but I'll betcha anything Phones didn't. Love's weird like that."
"Mmm." He tipped his head a little to one side, considering that, then looked back down towards the sleeping boy in his lap. "Are they all like this? Mortals, I mean. I've forgotten..." He sounded almost sad, then, and suddenly much, much older than his chosen appearance made him seem. Had Neku reminded him of his own past, his own discarded humanity? Maybe they could bring out the best in each other, encourage traits long ago forgotten.
"RG folk are different, yeah. None quite like Phones here, though--he's one of a kind, J. Take care of him."
Joshua laughed, the sound bright and loud enough that Neku stirred in his lap. He fell silent until Neku settled back down into sleep, though he kept up the steady pattern of him stroking Neku's hair, only daring to coddle Neku when he wasn't awake to see it. Whether he was afraid of complaints or of being seen as weak, Hanekoma wasn't sure.
"Oh, I will. Neku's been so strong for my sake, hasn't he? Keeping him safe is the least I can do."
And was there anywhere in Shibuya safer than in the arms of the Composer?
"You two plannin' on staying here tonight?" he asked.
"I suppose so. I don't have the heart to wake him." Joshua laughed again, softly this time. "You needn't supervise us. WildKat will be in one piece in the morning--and Neku as well. You have my word."
If Joshua didn't have the heart to wake him Hanekoma didn't have the will to kick them out. He stood up and headed for the door once again; CAT, he decided, could use the extra time to spread his work and influence a few bright Souls for the next Reapers' Game.
"Good night, Mr. H."
It was as calm and quiet outside as it was in, a perfect night for wandering Shibuya, and everything seemed content. The Game between Joshua and Megumi had left its mark in a million different ways, but this felt the strongest, and if Joshua had found someone to cherish and protect, had it really been such a bad thing?