Two hours pass.
Neku's throat is parched.
There's a steaming cup of coffee sitting on the counter in front of him, untouched. Next to it is another similarly untouched cup of coffee, cold from sitting too long. Mr. H had insisted he drink something, and yet he can't bring himself to pick it up.
The café is very warm and filled with the sound of people chatting. He's the only one out of place here, sitting alone at the counter with a terrible headache.
Someone taps his shoulder. "Neku, meet the new Conductor," Mr. H says after he turns. He stares in thinly veiled shock as he looks up into the face of the crazy Game Master from Week 2.
"Hi," Minamimoto mumbles, not meeting Neku's gaze, before scuttling back to his table in the corner. Mr. H slaps Neku's shoulder with a grin.
"He's not a threat anymore, you don't have to worry. Josh made him Conductor after the whole 3-week debacle. I think he's mellowed out, actually. Maybe he's finally realized all the responsibilities that come with being Composer."
Neku makes an incredulous face. "Right." Across the room a familiar Reaper stands and walks over to them.
"Hey, Neku right?" Lollipop (Kariya?) says. "Sorry about whatever happened to your partner. Looks like he was in a lot of pain.
It takes Neku a second to remember that none of the Reapers save Minamimoto knows Joshua is actually the Composer. To them, he's just another lucky Player who made it back to the realm of the living. "It's fine, Mr. H said he'll be okay."
"Well, come on over and sit down." He points over to his seat, where Uzuki sits glaring out the window and Sho, across from her, leans back writing equations in his notebook. "We still owe you and your skateboarder friend."
"Wait, for what?" Neku asks, eyeing the booth. He isn't really liking the idea of sitting next to either Uzuki or Sho, but Kariya's being unusually nice to him, and he wants to learn more about what's going on.
"Don't you remember? In the third week, we all went wacko with those O-Pins. You beat us fair and square, and yet you left us alive, even though you knew we would just come after you again. There's no way we wouldn't owe you after that."
Neku frowns. "You guys weren't yourselves," he says. "Besides, anyone would have spared you. It's not like we're special."
Kariya gives him a rueful smile. "The fact that you believe that is what makes you special," he says. Neku takes his newly made cup of coffee as Kariya ushers him towards his booth. Unexpectedly, Kariya takes the seat next to Sho, nudging him to get him to move. He shuffles over without complaint, engrossed in writing numbers in a notebook. Neku slowly sits down next to Uzuki, who lets out a small huff and refuses to look at him.
He carefully takes a sip of his coffee. It's not bad. Certainly not worth 520 yen though. His head pulses with pain from a newly formed headache. It seems to only be getting worse.
"Can I ask..." Neku starts, wincing a little when all three pairs of eyes focus on him. "Why exactly is everyone here? I mean, shouldn't the Players be completing the missions?"
Kariya cocks his head. "Didn't you hear?" He asks. "The Game's on pause. Not only that, but the UG's on lockdown. Everyone's been kicked down to the RG, and no one is allowed back in."
Kariya shrugs. "I dunno. Composer's decision." He slings his arm affectionately around Sho's shoulder. "Math genius here is trying to figure out how to get around the barrier."
Sho mumbles something and averts his eyes. Uzuki cackles, throwing her spoon at him.
The spoon makes a clattering sound as it hits the table. All of a sudden, Neku's stomach drops, the sensation like falling off a tall building. His headache intensifies until it feels like his brain is trying to claw its way out of his skull. Kariya grabs the edge of the table instinctively, while Uzuki gasps loudly and clutches her midsection. Sho looks stiff as a board, gritting his teeth and clenching his eyes shut. After a few seconds, the sensation passes, and all that's left is the unsettling silence that has fallen over the crowd.
The door to the back hall slams open. Mr. H rushes out, heading directly for the door. He locks it, flips the sign to "closed", and shuts the blinds. He then makes his way around the room, closing the curtains on the windows so that the only illumination comes from the artificial lightbulbs on the ceiling. "Nobody go outside," he says seriously.
"What just happened?" One Player shrieks. Immediately the room bursts into chatter. Mr. H motions for everyone to be silent.
"We're not sure yet. But something is definitely going on. I fear it may be out of our control." He scans the crowd and makes his way over to where Neku is situated. "Hey Phones, Josh wants to talk to you. Sho and I will handle things out here." Neku nods and stands, making his way through the crowd toward the back hall.
He raises his hand to knock on Joshua's door, but hesitates before it meets the wood. He gathers his thoughts, then steels his courage and knocks. A muffled "come in" can be heard from inside. He turns the doorknob.
Joshua is lying on his side, probably to avoid aggravating his back wounds. He looks like he's asleep, breathing slow and deep. Neku steps closer to him, and his eyes flick open, violet meeting dark blue. "You're here," he says, sounding almost surprised.
"Yeah, I'm here. What's going on, Josh? What happened just now?"
Joshua inhales deeply, then exhales. He sits up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, wincing as he goes. "Neku, come here," he says, patting the spot next to him.
Unable to refuse, he sits, sinking slightly into the mattress. Joshua closes his eyes again and sighs, a weary sound. Then he takes Neku's hand in both of his own, turning to face him. "Neku." He starts. He looks him straight in the eye.
"Promise me you won't make this decision for anyone but yourself, okay?"
Neku blinks. This conversation is becoming more confusing by the second. "Okay?"
Joshua gives him a small smirk. "Is that a question or an answer, dear?"
"Screw you." Neku rolls his eyes. "Okay."
Some of the tension dissipates from Josh's body. "Okay." He studies Neku's face, then sighs again. "You don't deserve this, Neku."
"This," He makes a vague gesture, lowering his gaze. "You don't deserve to be drawn back into all of this. You've just gotten your life back, your friends, you don't need all these problems, you deserve to be happy and live in peace."
"I'm... not following," Neku says. "Do you not want me here?"
"I'm saying you have a choice. I know a place, far away from here. It serves as a sort of sanctuary for wanderers. I could send you and your friends there, you wouldn't have to be a part of all this. You could be safe. You could be free from the Game, the Reapers..." he trails off. "Me."
Neku jumps up so fast he almost gets dizzy. "Are you screwing with me right now, Josh?!" He demands. Joshua blinks, then shakes his head slightly. "I cannot freaking believe you. You think I spent a whole month trying to talk to you because I didn't want to see you? Because I wanted to get away from you?"
Joshua tilts his head, baffled. "But Neku, you deserve-"
"Yoshiya Kiryu, you stupid bastard, don't you dare try and tell me what I deserve. You have no idea what I've been going through without you around!" He sighs, voice going hushed and wavering a bit. "You're my partner, and I trust you. But you need to trust me too. Whatever's going on, I'm not about to jump ship just because of a little danger."
Joshua's eyes flick upward hesitantly. "You've only just gotten your life back," he says softly.
"You're part of my life too, Josh," Neku firmly replies. He puts a hand on Joshua's shoulder. "So please, let me help you."
Joshua is silent for a moment, eyes staring somewhere far away.
"It's his choice, Josh." Mr. H's voice makes Neku jump. He hadn't even heard the door opening. Joshua barely flinches.
"Please leave us alone, Sanae," he mumbles, not looking up. Mr. H meets Neku's gaze for a long moment, before making a face and retreating.
When the door clicks closed, Josh tugs at a corner of Neku's shirt, pulling him back towards the bed. "Neku," he says, a brief moment of uncertainty flashing across his face before he slowly relaxes. "I trust you, too. I'll tell you whatever you want to know."
Neku doesn't even have to think. "Are you okay?" He asks. "How's your eyes? And your arm? And... you know."
"I'm fine, thank you," Josh replies dryly. "My eyes weren't injured, I'll have you know. They were simply suffering drawbacks due to the jump from the UG to the RG. Having omniscient vision downgraded to a pair of imperfect teenage eyes takes a while to get used to."
"Right..." Neku pauses, trying to think of a way to phrase his next question. "So why are you here? I heard the whole Game's on pause, what's going on?"
"Someone's jacked Shibuya," Joshua replies, simply. Neku gapes at him.
"Whoever took my wings has power over the city now. Technically I'm still Composer, but I can't do anything without my wings. The person that took it is the one who put the UG in lockdown. I paused the Game so the Players weren't unfairly robbed of their chances." Joshua clenches his jaw. "Everything's going wrong right now."
"And the person who took your wings? Did you see who it was?"
"No. I don't know that person." Josh shakes his head. "But it had to be another Composer. They were pretty strong."
"Another Composer? Are there Games in other cities, too?"
"Some," Joshua admits. "None are quite like ours, though." There's a moment of silence, both of them reliving those fateful three weeks in a couple of seconds.
Neku clears his throat. "So why can I still see the UG?"
"You can still...?" Joshua hums. "It must be due to all the quality time we spent together. Being near my high vibe can have some side-effects, after all." He raises an eyebrow. "Any more questions?"
"What was that weird feeling just now?"
"I believe that is what authors call 'falling in love', dear." Joshua gives him a shit-eating smirk.
Neku snorts. "You wish. I'm talking about the massive headache and roller coaster ride I had a few minutes ago." Joshua blinks.
"Pardon?" He closes his eyes for a few seconds, then they snap back open. "Oh no."
"What? What's wrong?"
"You might want to call your friends and tell them to stay inside. Shibuya's going to turn into a slaughterhouse in a couple seconds."