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Shibuya's Elegy

Chapter Text

It's been four weeks since the Game ended. Three weeks since he reunited with most of his friends. Two weeks since he realized he could still partially see the UG. One week since the skies over Shibuya turned dark and foreboding.

And he still hasn't stopped waiting for Joshua.

It says a lot. After all, Joshua betrayed him, shot and killed him twice over. Regardless, he waits every day at the most famous symbol of loyalty in Japan for a boy who, despite everything, is still his partner. And he's in the habit of trusting his partners.

But something feels wrong. He's waiting and waiting, and there's no response. The Joshua he remembers would not have passed up an opportunity to tease him for being clingy, or at the very least imprint something suggestive into his mind. But there's nothing to indicate he's even there, let alone listening. The feeling creates a pocket of emptiness in his heart, a hollow space only filled with loneliness.

And not only that, Shibuya itself has changed. It's nothing as drastic as the Red Skull pin incident, but it's something. The streets feel tense, charged, like a cup of water filled to the brim and about to spill over. The air is thick, suffocating almost, as though something is pressing down from above and forcing pressure upon everything. It's uncomfortable and fills him with anxiety and dread.

Is everything okay? He asks empty space. Is Shibuya okay?

Are you okay?

~

There's a crumpled mass at the foot of the CAT mural, Neku subconsciously registers. He pauses, hand on the door handle to Cyco Records, and turns to glance at the wall. What he sees makes him stop in his tracks.

"Joshua?" He whispers.

It's definitely Joshua, the pale color palette and ash blonde hair unmistakable. What's shocking is the amount of blood on the ground, a pool of red already forming underneath him. He's curled up on his side, back to the mural, clothes rumpled and torn. Neku rushes over to him.

As he approaches, Joshua looks up, but his grey-violet eyes are blank and unfocused. He can't see me, Neku thinks in shock.

"If you're back for more, I suggest you turn around and go home." His voice is quiet and sounds nothing like the egotistical, haughty voice of Week 2. It's all so wrong.

Neku reaches out and when his hand touches Joshua's shoulder, he flinches away as though afraid. "Neku?"

"It's me," he confirms, and crouches down so he can see Joshua's wounds better. The blood is everywhere, staining Joshua's pale grey shirt, trickles of it peeking out from the bottom and sullying his pants as well. Upon closer inspection, it seems like most of it's coming from his back, dripping, as though his wings were torn from him. He's cradling his right arm, which is bent at an unusual angle, with his left, making sure not to disturb it more than necessary. Keeping his tone carefully neutral, Neku says, "What happened? Why are you here in the RG?"

"What, can't I come and visit my favorite proxy?" He says, a complete 180 from just a moment ago. His nonchalant attitude is fake and practiced. "And here I was thinking you wanted to see me again."

He makes a move to stand, legs wobbling. When Neku puts a hand on his lower back to help him up, he jolts and pulls away, almost falling over in the process. After regaining his balance, he blinks a couple of times, but his eyes still aren't quite focused. "Unfortunately, this trip is more business than pleasure. While you're here, would you be a dear and escort me to WildKat? I'm sure you still remember the way, and it makes me feel much safer to have such a strong, handsome young man with me." He bats his eyelashes, but the effect is negated by the fact that he's looking about two feet to the left of where Neku's actually standing.

"Do you think you can make it there?" A nod. "Josh, you can't even see. My apartment is closer," Neku says.

Joshua giggles, and then coughs, shivers wracking his frail body. "Although I appreciate your desire to spend more quality time with me, I have some rather... pressing issues to discuss with my Producer. I hope you don't mind."

"Okay. Alright," Neku says. "At least wear this, so you don't freak people out with all the blood." He takes off his hoodie. The sky is abnormally dark and the wind raises goosebumps on his arms, yet he hands it to Joshua without complaint. Joshua takes it and gives him a half hearted smirk.

"This is purple, isn't it. My, my, Neku," he pauses as he struggles to find a place for his broken arm, eventually settling for keeping it tucked against his stomach as he pulls his other arm through the sleeve. "I never expected you to be the type to get off on other people wearing your clothes."

"It's blue," Neku says. "And I'm not going to bother responding to the second half of that." He takes a step away and Joshua immediately reaches out for him.

"Wait, wait," he grabs Neku's hand and lets out a relieved sigh, the anxiety draining from his expression. "Okay. Lead the way."

Chapter Text

The little café Mr. H owns is firmly rooted in the UG, Neku has found. For some unexplainable reason he can still see the place, but no one else can. He tried taking Shiki there one day to meet the famous CAT, but she couldn't see the sign nor the door. It's no wonder his café is always empty; it might as well be invisible to the living.

"Watch your step," he says, catching Joshua by the hand as he stumbles over the doorstep. Throughout the entire trip Joshua has refused to let go, and seeing him so emotionally fragile has triggered Neku's protective instincts, to the point where he indulges Josh's spontaneous desire for hand-holding. The smell of freshly brewed coffee washes over them as the bell on the door chimes behind them, announcing their arrival.

Shockingly, the café is full of people; Neku can spot jagged black wings and Player Pins on people gathered around tables or sitting in booths. What sort of disaster must have happened to cause Players and Reapers alike to gather in the same place? Considering what has happened to the Composer, it must be something catastrophic.

They receive glances from the crowd as they enter. From behind the counter Mr. Hanekoma says, "Welcome to WildK-" he turns around and his eyes widen behind his shades. "Josh!" The world slows down and goes silent for a split second as a drop of blood hits the wooden boards of the floor. Then time speeds up, and Mr. H rushes to the back, ushering them inside an adjourning hallway. As they leave, the sound of talking swells behind them.

They take a sharp right into an almost empty room, save for a bed and a generic nightstand. There's a calm, tranquil aura to the room; Neku almost feels bad for disturbing the peace. The walls are covered in a simple, pale blue wallpaper, and the bed is impeccably made, as though it hadn't been used in a long time.

Joshua sits on the edge and squirms out of Neku's hoodie, leaving blood stains on the clean white sheets. He bows his head, staring unseeing into his lap. Mr. Hanekoma kneels down to examine his wounds, running a finger down Josh's twisted arm.

"It's broken," Joshua says in response to the unspoken question.

Hanekoma nods. "Right, right." He closes his eyes as if praying. "Do you still have-"

"Neku?" Joshua interrupts, looking up. Even without sight, his gaze is soul-piercing. "Do you think you could grab some bandages from the bathroom? It's just across the hall."

A pang of hurt lances its way through Neku's chest, but he manages to steel himself. "Sure thing, Josh." He turns to leave, hand on the doorknob.

"Oh, and Neku? If you happen to hear anything... unusual, don't think too much of it. Come what may, I'll be just fine. Alright?"

"Alright," Neku chokes out, not looking back. There are tears pricking the corners of his eyes. He refuses to let them fall.

As soon as the door clicks shut behind him, he presses his back to it and sags against it, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. He breathes out a wavering sigh, feeling slightly ridiculous. Because even though Josh seems to be lacking the fundamental trust that comes with partnership, he's the Composer. Half the Reapers he was working with were trying to kill him; of course he'd have trust issues.

Voices float through the wooden door.

"Josh," Mr. H says. "You should really tell him."

"Now is not the time for this, Sanae," Joshua replies.

And yet, Neku isn't a Reaper. Josh has put his faith in him before, trusted him with the fate of Shibuya, in fact. So what has changed?

A bright flash illuminates the space between door and the floor. Neku's ears pop with the change in air pressure.

"I'm ready," Joshua says, voice strangely distorted. Metallic clinking sounds come from inside the room, and a strong wind blasts through the hallway, slamming doors shut as it passes. The sound snaps Neku out of his trance, and he ventures into the bathroom to find the requested bandages.

The first shrill shriek makes him jump out of his skin.

Chapter Text

Neku feels sick.

He's been crouched in the corner of the bathroom with his headphones almost on full blast in an attempt to block out the screams. It's been about ten minutes since the door closed, yet whenever a shriek pierces the air he flinches. Glances across the hall. Turns the volume up more.

After a while, the screams die down. Neku hesitantly takes off his headphones. He's met with dead silence. Somehow the weight of it unnerves him even more.

By the time the door swings open, he's fidgeting anxiously, staring across the hall with wide open eyes.

Mr. Hanekoma steps out with a gust of wind, shutting the door behind him before Neku can see inside. He's holding a long, thin needle that's crackling with blue energy, which he then vanishes into thin air. Upon poking his head into the bathroom, he sighs in relief when he sees Neku.

"Thanks for sticking around, Phones," he says. "That probably wasn't very pleasant to listen to."

"What happened? Is he in pain?" Neku stands and makes for the door, but Mr. H grabs his wrist.

"You don't want to go in there. That room's tuned up so high it'd shatter your soul from the amount of strain. We just need to let him rest and allow the energy to dissipate."

Neku nods grudgingly. "He'll be okay then?"

"Honestly, the broken arm should heal in a few hours, give or take." He glances at Neku over his shades, then continues casually, "What do you know about Josh's wings?"

"Not much," Neku replies. "They're not like a Reaper's, that's for sure. I've never actually seen them, but Josh told me they're white and made of feathers, like an angel." He looks Mr. H in the eyes. "Is there anything I should know?"

"Someone stole his wings," Mr. Hanekoma says. "That's all Josh wants you to know right now."

"And I suppose you're not going to tell me anything else?"

Mr. H gives an indifferent shrug. It looks forced. "Eh, he'll tell you when he's ready."

Neku sighs but nods. "That'll probably happen after I die. Oh wait," he says in a deadpan voice.

"Well, I'm glad you're still able to crack jokes," Mr. H chuckles, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand. "Let's go, I'm sure someone's anxiously awaiting their coffee out in the café."

Chapter Text

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."

"What!? Why?"

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.

"Josh?"

"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."

"What?"

"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.

"What?!"

"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."

Chapter Text

He calls Shiki first.

"Stay inside," he says as soon as she picks up.

"Neku, what's wrong?" Shiki's voice asks, voice crackling a little with static. "You sound panicked."

"Something's up with the UG. You need to stay at home."

There's a long pause, and then, "I'm at Eri's right now, what should I tell her?"

"Uh... just tell her to stay indoors. She's your friend, right? She'll trust you."

"Alright..." Shiki sounds hesitant. "Neku, stay safe, okay?"

"I'll be fine." He glances over at Joshua, who's deliberately not looking at him. "I met up with Josh again."

"Did he hurt you?" Shiki demands immediately. "I don't care if he's the Composer, I'll give him a piece of my mind if he did anything-"

"I'm fine," Neku interrupts. "Just, stay inside, alright?" He exhales. "I have to tell Beat too, I'll talk to you later."

"Stay safe, Neku." Shiki says, right before she hangs up.

Beat doesn't normally answer his phone, and half the time he's grounded from using it anyway, but Neku sends him a quick text just in case. Then he calls Rhyme.

After four rings, her voicemail picks up. "Hi, it's Rhyme! Please leave a message for me, I'll get back to you as soon as possible!"

"Shit," Neku mumbles, heart thumping. Rhyme almost always picks up when she has her phone on her. A million possibilities race through his mind, but before he can go into full panic mode, Joshua taps his shoulder.

"Neku, we need to go," he says. "The sooner we fix the situation, the sooner your friends will be safe." He heads for the door. "I need to talk to Sho."

"What's actually happening? Like, why is going outside so dangerous right now?"
Joshua sighs. "Apparently the thief has a lot more Imagination than I had previously hoped. Using just my wings, they've... sort of restructured Shibuya." He turns and looks Neku in the eyes. "By compressing all the planes together."

"Repeat that in English?"

They enter the café. Most of the Players and Reapers are gone; only Minamimoto and Mr. H remain, talking to each other. Joshua clenches his fists. "Imagine the first day of the Game unleashed upon a whole city of unsuspecting people. Mass chaos. Noise running rampant. Only the former Players will have even an inkling of what's going on. And even then, only the current Players and Reapers can actually fight them."

"Great. Just what we need. The fate of the city falls upon the shoulders of a bunch of dead people again. Wonderful." Neku sighs. "Well, what can we do?"

"I had a few connections," Mr. H chimes in. "The mayor has put the whole city under lockdown. No one's going to be outside, so we're covered there. Also, Sho and I sent the Reapers and Players out to deal with the Noise. We might need some backup though. Do you think you can recruit your friends to help?"

Neku blinks. "But aren't they helpless against the Noise?"

Mr. H shoots a look at Joshua over his sunglasses. "The UG and RG are technically the same right now," he says meaningfully. Joshua's eyes widen.

"So they're able to make Pacts..." he muses. "Neku, if they were to partner up, you wouldn't have to worry about their safety as much, would you?"

"You don't have to sell me on it, Josh. But, I'm going to have to find them first." Neku thinks for a moment. "We should probably split up. I know where Shiki is right now, so I'll go get her. Do you think you can find Beat and Rhyme? You can still fight, right?"

"Yes Neku," Joshua says dryly. "I'm not so invalid I can't take care of a couple of Noise. My concern is you. You don't have a Pact, how will you fight?"

Neku shrugs. "The house is only a couple streets away. I'll just run from any encounters. I'll be fine."

Mr. H makes a disbelieving noise. Joshua frowns. "Well, keep in touch then," he says, tapping his temple with his forefinger. "I don't like this idea, but..." The words I trust you float their way into Neku's head. He stares at Joshua, who's started talking about plans with Mr. H, until Sho coughs loudly. To be honest, Neku had forgotten he was even in the room.

"Well, I'll get going then," he says to no one in particular and heads out into the dreary weather, skies swirling with dark grey clouds. Putting his hands in his pockets, his fingers brush over some familiar round objects. A wave of energy rushes over him. 

Well, here goes nothing.

~

After a couple close encounters with some frog Noise, Neku reaches Eri's house. Nestled in-between buildings near Molco, it's a decently sized residence painted white with an auburn trim. There's a small driveway leading around the house to the garage in the back, and hedges line the short walk up to the front door.

He rings the doorbell once, looking around cautiously for Noise. The door swings open and Eri ushers him inside.

"Neku, thank goodness you're here!" She says, wringing her hands anxiously. "Shiki's freaking out and I don't know what to do! She's going on and on about some game and-"

"Okay," Neku cuts in. "First of all, calm down. Where is she?"

"She's in the living room." Eri lowers her voice to a whisper. "It might just be me, but I think Mr. Mew is moving on his own."

"It's not just you." Neku heads towards the living room, glancing back to make sure Eri's following. He rounds the corner to find Shiki curled up on the couch, talking to Mr. Mew, who's sitting blank eyed on the table in front of her.

"Shiki," Neku taps her shoulder. She jumps about a foot into the air and yelps.

"Neku! What are you doing here?!" She grabs his hand. "Are we all dead? Has the Game started again?"

"No..." Neku grabs a small stool and sits down. "But we do need to fight the Noise again."

"Mind telling me what's going on?" Eri interrupts, standing behind them with her arms crossed. Neku looks at Shiki.

"We should probably tell her," he says. She takes a breath and nods slowly. "You might want to sit down for this," Neku tells Eri. Shiki pats the seat next to her. When Eri's comfortably situated, Shiki starts.

"So remember about two months ago when everyone thought I was dead? That's because I was dead..."

Chapter Text

"Shiki, are you serious?" Eri's been staring slack-jawed at them for a while, Neku notes distantly. He fiddles with the zipper on his top.

"I'm sorry I couldn't tell you earlier, but... it's so hard to believe, isn't it?"

Eri grabs her hands and looks her straight in the eye. "You were really jealous of me?"

Of course that's what she would take away from the whole story. Shiki turns a shade of pink and ducks her head in shame. Neku casually shuffles away to look at the polished oak desk in the other room. This is a private moment between them and it's not his right to intrude.

He takes a glance out the window. The streets are chock-full with Noise now. They're going to need to fight their way out of here. At least he has pins now. And a partner.

His pants pocket chimes, signaling a new text. Expecting something from Joshua, he flips open the phone and checks it out. Instead of Josh, however, there's a text from Rhyme.

R: be at the scramble 10 minutes

This does not sound like her at all. Rhyme always capitalizes her sentences, and uses text-talk whenever possible. And she never passes up a chance to use a smiley emoji. Someone must have picked up her phone. Neku tries not to think about what that might mean.

N: who is this?

The [...] that pops up shows that the other person is writing, but it closes after a few moments. The feeling of dread clings to the inside of his stomach, growing stronger by the second.

He heads back to the living room. It looks like they've sorted things out, from the way Eri's kissing the hell out of Shiki, hat abnormally askew. He coughs and politely averts his eyes. Despite what Joshua may say, he can be a gentleman when he wants to be. The two girls quickly leap apart.

"If you're all settled we should probably be getting a move on. The Noise won't erase themselves," Neku says. Shiki reaches up to fix Eri's hat for her, earning a beaming smile. She blushes intensely and stands up.

"Right." Then her face twists with worry. "Oh my gosh! What about Beat and Rhyme? Are they okay?"

"Josh's out looking for them right now. Also, I just got this." He shows them the text from Rhyme.

"That's definitely not Rhyme," Shiki muses. "But..."

"Do you think she's okay?"

"...That style of writing definitely looks familiar. But you know, almost anyone could fake handwriting on a phone, so..."

"We don't know, then. I guess we'll just have to go to the Scramble and find out." Neku holds out his hand. "Pact?"

Shiki hesitates for a moment, then shakes it. "Of course."

Nothing happens.

They try it one more time, but the outcome remains the same. Neku's forehead crinkles as he furrows his eyebrows. "Maybe Mr. H was wrong? We can't make Pacts... So how do we get past the Noise?"

The sound of breaking glass interrupts his thoughts. They all whirl around to face the newly shattered window. Amongst the shards of glass, a small, unassuming frog Noise stares them down with beady eyes.

Eri shrieks and Shiki pulls her behind her protectively. There's nowhere to run; they're trapped in the house.

Instinctively, Neku reaches into his pocket for his pins. There's a croak, and then the Noise leaps straight at him. He puts his other hand up to block the attack just as his fingertips brush the surface of a pin...

And the frog bursts into flames. Before Neku can process what's going on, the Noise fizzles into nothingness and the flames die down. Shiki gives him a shocked look.

"Neku! Did you have a Pact this whole time?!"

"Not that I'm aware of..." Neku says slowly, looking down at his hands. He makes a fist, then unfurls his fingers, stretching them out. Then he looks sharply up at the remains of the window. "But what the hell? The Noise aren't supposed to be that aggressive!" He clenches his fists again. "Whoever took Joshua's wings must be influencing them..." He turns to face the girls. "But... if I can fight without a partner, that means you two need to pair up."

"What?" Shiki gives him a pleading look. "Neku, we can't drag her into this! It's too dangerous! She's never been a Player before..."

Neku sighs. "Look, we don't have much of a choice, do we? With that window broken, Noise could come in at any time. It's better to give her a way to fight than leave her alone here, right?"

"But-" Eri taps Shiki's shoulder, having recovered from her scare.

"Shiki, I know you won't let me get hurt. I trust you, okay? As long as we're together everything will be okay. So please... just let me help!"

The worried look on Shiki's face lingers, but after a moment of hesitation she sets her shoulders and sticks out her hand. "Okay."

There's a blinding flash of light as they shake hands, sealing the Pact. Eri looks thrilled, while Shiki is barely hiding a look of sheer terror. It's only reasonable, though. After all, those few weeks weren't just hard on Neku alone.

Neku sighs once more, shaking his bead to disperse the thoughts. "All right then. We're off to the Scramble, I guess." Mentally preparing himself, he walks over and turns the doorknob...

Chapter Text

The door swings open to the sound of shrill caws echoing through the empty city. Occasional gusts of wind scatter small piles of leaves that have accumulated. The almost silence is eerie, as if in a bubble, isolated from the rest of society. Neku peers out, and, when he deems it safe, beckons the girls to follow him. They make it a couple steps out the door before a piercing scream shatters the quiet, followed by some loud shouting, making them all jump.

"W-what's going on?" Shiki asks, trembling like a leaf. Neku takes a deep breath, trying to slow his racing heart.

"Sounds like someone needs our help. Let's go."

In front of them, a rhinoceros Noise stomps down the street in the direction of the Scramble. Two wolf Noise slink in the opposite direction. One of them looks up and locks eyes with Neku, who freezes. It takes a step toward them, before perking up its ears and dashing off down the street after its companion, heading towards the source of the shouting.

With Neku leading the way, the three of them hurry along in the direction of the noise. A loud roar drowns out the sound of their steps against the pavement for a moment, with the sound of a small explosion following soon after. As they approach the main store area, Neku holds up a hand, signaling to stop.

Kariya stands in the middle of the road, fending off a trio of weasel Noise. Behind him, Uzuki and Minamimoto duel with a large dragon Noise, a trail of blood following Uzuki from a large gash in her leg. Off to the side, a swarm of raven Noise attack the phone booth of love as if holding a personal grudge against it. The interior light is on, revealing that there's someone inside.

Neku dives straight into the fray, jumping in to assist Kariya. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Shiki and Eri engage a penguin Noise, Mr. Mew using his non-existent claws to swipe at it. When the penguin dives toward them, Eri jumps in front of Shiki, conjuring up a spring green dress to block the attack.

Together with Kariya, Neku manages to erase the weasels, but some jellyfish Noise take their place almost instantly. Panting, he waits for his pins to recharge, dodging around their extending tentacles.

"Neku!" Kariya shouts, flinging an exploding spark at the Noise. "We've gotta retreat! Uzuki's hurt and we need reinforcements!"

"Got it!" Neku shouts back, before being violently clawed in the back by a bear Noise. Gritting his teeth, he turns and blasts it with a bolt of lightning. Out of the corner of his eye he can see a fin circling around them, his feeling of panic spiking. They're being overwhelmed, they're not going to make it out...

Then a note rings out, coming from the phone booth. The Noise stop in their tracks, allowing Neku to erase the ones he was fighting. Another chord rings out and the rest of the Noise scatter, leaving confused silence in their wake.

The door of the phone booth swings open, and everyone takes a step back. A young man with a blonde mullet pops his head out, then steps outside, carrying a large, stringed instrument.

"What's going on?"

Neku's brow crinkles. Who the hell is this guy? "You a Player?"

The guy tilts his head. "Um... I play sitar?" He offers. "I'm Myde. Is there something wrong?"

From across the street, Neku and Shiki exchange glances. "Well..."

"Look out!" Eri shrieks suddenly. A lone raven Noise swoops down, perching on the top of what Myde had called a sitar. "Hold on, we'll take care of it..."

Myde grins at them. "Why? It's just a bird." To everyone's horror, he reaches up to pet the bird. It flaps its wings at him, then surprisingly settles down, hopping down to perch on his shoulder. It nuzzles against him affectionately. Myde chuckles and pets it. "Aw, you kinda remind me of someone I used to know. I wonder how he's doing now."

Kariya breathes a sigh of relief and walks toward him, still wary of the strange Noise. "This may sound strange, but something's going on in the city. You need to stay indoors."

Myde's eyes grow distant. "Believe me, I've seen a lot of strange things in my lifetime." He shakes his head slightly. "And anyway, you guys seem like you need help! After all, you're bleeding," he says, talking to Uzuki.

"Pfft! It's nothing," Uzuki scoffs, then nearly falls over on her next step. Eri jumps and grabs her arm, helping her stand.

"We need to head for the Scramble," Neku tells Kariya. He nods, gesturing toward Myde.

"You and Sho go. We'll come back once we take Uzuki and this civilian back to the café." He gives Neku a once over. "Where's your partner?"

Neku shrugs. "Hell if I know." Kariya stares at him for a moment before shrugging as well.

"Well, that's reasonable. Take care, then." He walks away in the general direction of Cat Street. Shiki runs over and gives him a hug.

"Be safe Neku. Promise me," she pleads. Neku pats her on the head.

"I'll be fine. You stay safe too. Stick with Eri, alright?"

"I will," she says. Then she runs to catch up with the group, glancing over her shoulder once before they round the corner. Minamimoto crosses the street, dusting his hands off.

"Let's go, then."

Chapter Text

Trudging along behind the new Conductor, Neku thinks back to those gut-wrenching three weeks spent in the Reaper's Game. The danger, the pain, the grief... and yet, it seems it has only made him stronger. Connecting to others has only served to make him tougher, not more vulnerable like he initially thought. The person he was before... wasn't exactly a very good person.

"'Neku!" A high pitched voice distracts him from his thoughts. He looks up to see Beat and Rhyme running toward them. Rhyme stops right in front of him and throws her arms around him.

"Neku, there are Noise everywhere! We're not in the Game again, right?"

Beat claps him on the shoulder.
"Bad memories yo, bad memories. What's goin' on?" He inches away from Sho. "And isn't he a Reaper?"

Neku sighs. "Yeah, it's complicated. But we're working with the Reapers now."

"Are we going to be okay?" Rhyme asks, looking up at him with wide blue eyes.
Neku looks over at Sho, who tilts his head in the direction of the Scramble.

"Yeah," he says, firmly. "Nothing's going to happen to you or your brother. I'll make sure of it." A thought hits him. "Do you have your phone with you?"

Rhyme shakes her head. "No, I think I must have misplaced it."

"Well, someone else has it now. They told us to go to the Scramble. And... we're almost out of time. Just stick with us for now, okay?" Neku breaks into a sprint, Sho following close behind. Beat scoops Rhyme up and chases after them.

The Scramble is disturbingly empty when they arrive. The air feels charged and thick, and when Neku takes a step into the square, a giant column of light energy strikes the pavement in front of him.

Joshua's eyes are frantic when they meet his. He's standing in the center of the Scramble, fingers crackling with energy, ready to fire. Neku takes another step toward him and he attacks again, forcing him back.

"Josh, what the hell!" He shouts, voice echoing across the way. Rhyme hides behind Beat, who hides behind Sho.

"Don't take another step," Joshua says, voice quiet and loud at the same time.

"What's going on?!" Neku asks him, internally freaking out. He wants to scream because Josh isn't explaining again. He thought they had gotten past this...

"Sorry, Neku. But I can't trust you right now."

"Why the hell not?!" He yells. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Sho gesturing to Beat and Rhyme to get out of there. "We're partners, right?" He takes another step forward. 

Joshua looks conflicted, but keeps his hands raised in their direction. "Neku, I'm not going to tell you twice. Stop. Moving."

"Why, Josh?" Neku asks, voice cracking. "What happened to trust your partner? Why has that changed?"

"That would be my fault," a familiar voice says.

Chapter Text

The wings are not black like a Reaper’s, nor white as Josh had described them. Instead, they’re an ugly, foggy grey, blurred around the edges as though being eaten away by an invisible force. There’s bleeding scabs lining the bony parts, and gaping holes where feathers had once grown. As for the feathers themselves, they’re pressed down slickly, matted down enough to prevent flight.

Neku takes this in with a glance, but what catches his eye is not the grotesque proof of Shibuya’s abuse. Because framed by the wings are eyes glaring midnight blue, orange hair gelled up in spikes, and a pair of headphones around his neck.

This other person... is him.

In the split second Joshua had let his guard down, the other Neku has him pinned to the ground, spears of ice erupting from the ground to hold him in place. Stepping back, he stares half-heartedly at Joshua, encircling Neku with a ring of fire when he tries to help.

Neku panics. Joshua’s not moving, immobilized by the sharp edges of the ice. He can hear Rhyme yelling, and he prays Sho knows when to retreat because they don’t stand a chance against someone who can take down the Composer this easily.

The other glances his way, taking a step towards the flames.

“Why do you care so much about them?” His voice is scratchy, hoarse, as though it hadn’t been used in a while, although it seems he has retained the sharp, sarcastic tone. “People are liars and traitors. We could be so much stronger on our own.” His face remains passively apathetic, but the scorn in his voice is obvious.

“Who the hell are you?” Neku shouts, fists clenching.

“I’m you. The more powerful, superior version of you, from a world where everyone is alone.”

“What kind of world is that?!” Neku snaps, fingers inching into his pocket for his pins. Perhaps he can catch the other off guard, make an opening to escape...

“The best kind,” the other shoots back. “No conflict, no misunderstandings, no lying and pain. Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful world?”

“You’re crazy,” Joshua grits out from behind him, face painfully mashed against the paved concrete road. The other Neku kicks him, wings flapping with irritation. A few feathers fall out, spiraling to the ground.

The heat of the flames surrounding him is nothing in comparison to the absolute searing pain of this... other Neku hurting Joshua.

“See? He’s weak.” The other turns to Neku. “But you, you’re not.” He smirks slightly, eyes blazing with intensity. “How about we play a game?”

“What?” Neku asks, startled.

“You have seven days to kill him. Kill him, or let me kill him and inherit the power to destroy this world.”

“Joshua?! I’m not going to kill him!” Neku’s head is spinning a little at the mere thought, of killing his own partner, thoughts of that first week with Shiki swimming through his head.

“Then prepare to say goodbye to your beloved city. I’ll give you a week to change your mind.” The other’s wings stiffen as he jumps up, starting to fly away.

Letting out a cry, Neku unleashes a barrage of nearby vending machines and bicycles. The other simply makes a face as he’s surrounded by a dark barrier, effortlessly deflecting Neku’s attack. He soars up over the top of 104 and disappears from view, the fire and ice vanishing along with him.

As soon as he realizes the path is cleared, Neku rushes over to Joshua, who has gingerly worked his way to a crouching position. His eyes are wide with fear.

“Josh, I’m not going to harm you,” Neku reaches out with trembling hands and a hurt voice, only for Joshua to flinch away.

“I’m sorry, Neku,” he whispers. Then, in the blink of an eye, he vanishes into thin air.

Chapter Text

Myde hums nonchalantly as he follows the others to wherever they're going, his new bird friend perched comfortably on his shoulder. Hat-girl and Plushie-girl are murmuring to each other and holding hands. He can see Plushie-girl trembling (from anxiety?) and Hat-girl is (he assumes) trying to calm her down. The girl who reminds him a bit of Larxene (and that DOESN'T bring back good memories) with pink hair leads the way, even with the bleeding gash in her leg. Just a couple minutes after the battle she had INSISTED she could walk and seems determined to prove it. The orange-haired guy with the bean paste has his hands casually in his pockets, hanging back behind everyone else: a man after Myde's own heart.

He notices the others sneaking glances at him when they think he isn't looking. He doesn't particularly mind. After all, they're all taking a nice walk through the city together! The trip could be better if one of their party wasn't leaving a trail of blood behind her and the others weren't constantly terrified, but you can't have everything!

"Hey." Orange-guy jerks his chin up at him as they lag behind the group. "What's with your instrument?" His eyes are narrowed, suspicious.

Excited by the prospect of sharing his music, Myde jumps around, startling the bird on his shoulder into flying away and perching on a nearby stop sign. He quickly starts talking about how "It's a sitar!! Doesn't she look cool? I made her myself..."

Oranges cuts him off before he can continue rambling. "I mean, how does it tame Noise? I've never seen someone do that before, and I've been doing this a long time."

Myde tilts his head curiously. "Don't all instruments "tame noise"?" He says with air quotes. Oranges huffs out a laugh in response.

"I suppose so." He falls silent, eyes scanning the rooftops for danger. The raven swoops in again to perch on Myde's shoulder. He scratches its head gently and it nuzzles into him in response.

"Do you think they'll be okay?" Myde asks suddenly. The question's been nagging him ever since they split up. He's especially worried about the headphones kid: somehow he reminds Myde of their Number 13.

"If anything Sho's with them, so they should be fine." They finally make it to the entrance to the cafe, and Pink Larxene limps up the steps, helped by the two girls. The bird on his shoulder refuses to go inside, so he pets it on the head, then watches as it soars off into the sky. A wave of loneliness washes over him (faces flashing through his memory), but he staunchly pushes it down and forces himself to smile. Somehow it makes him feel a bit better.

The cafe is warm and smells like home. A wave of nostalgia washes over him seeing it all tiny and cluttered. Something about all of this seems so... familiar...

The man behind the counter stares at him when the door swings closed behind him.

"Myde?!"

"You two know each other?" Plushie-girl asks incredulously.

Cafe Man ignores the outburst. "How'd you get back? After your erasure we looked for the bits of your Soul after, but they were gone. Just disappeared into the darkness."

Myde blinks. "Do I... know you?"

"If I may," Oranges cuts in. "You know this man's name, but this can't be the same Myde you're thinking of. He knows nothing about the Game."

"Weeelll..." Myde trails off. "I mean, it COULD be possible." At everyone's curious expressions he continues. "I don't remember a lot of my past, to be honest. I've been away from this city for a while too, so..."

"I-I see..." Cafe Man sighs. "Well, even if you don't remember it's nice to see you again. You were one of the Players that had a genuine chance at winning the Game."

"Thanks, I think?" There's something at the very edges of his mind trying desperately to get his attention, but he can't figure out what it is. Even so, there's something about this place that feels safe, like a sanctuary. Shibuya is so different from the gloomy dark of the World That Never Was, so bright and alive. And sitting in here in this cafe, even while desperately missing Axel and Zexion and Roxas, he feels comfortable and at home for the first time in his existence.

Chapter Text

Devastated.

It's the perfect adjective to describe what he's feeling right now.

It's already sickening enough knowing that he (or at least another version of him) is capable of such cruelty and indifference. That just two months ago he would have scoffed and sacrificed Joshua in an instant if it meant that he could live in his own isolated world for the rest of eternity.

But what cuts at him even more, what makes salty tears prick at the corners of his eyes and drives him to shout curses at the sky, is that Joshua believes he would do it. Believes Neku would sacrifice him to save the city.

It's not like he's ever had to make that decision before.

(The city can rot, for all he cares.)

~

He can't exactly remember how he got back to the café.

There was a hand on his shoulder and asphalt beneath his feet, and suddenly he was sitting in a booth staring at a steaming bowl of soup like it has all the answers. Sho and Kariya are hunched over the table in the corner discussing what to do next in a hushed but fervent tone. Uzuki is getting her wounds dressed by Mr. H, and Myde... well he's being annoyingly loud and optimistic.

"He'll be back," he chirps, putting his hand on Neku's back. Neku groans and glares at him, then slides down to faceplant onto the table next to his soup.

"Do you just not get it?" He asks miserably. "He left because of me. There's nothing in my life that's worth more than his. He's an omniscient god person, so why the hell can't he see that?"

"I'm sure he knows. It's pretty obvious you care about him, so maybe he just needs time to think?"

"Frickin'... great time to decide that, Josh."

Myde hums and lightly taps his shoulder. "Don't you think he'd want you to take care of yourself? He probably cares about you too, you know."

A wave of irritation flares up within him. "What do you know? You've never even met him."

"Weelll... it seems like you guys are close. So you should eat something! There's a bowl of soup right there. And I'm worried about you too, you know."

"If you had a heart you'd leave me alone," Neku mutters. Immediately he knows he's said the wrong thing, as Myde's expression shutters closed instantly. He backs off without a word and strides out the door to the shock of everyone else in the cafe. A raven Noise swoops down and perches on his shoulder as he rounds the corner and disappears from sight.

"Neku! That was way too mean," Shiki complains. "What if he gets attacked by Noise?" She walks over to the door but Mr. H stops her from going out.

"He'll be back. We all need to calm down." He strokes his chin thoughtfully. "We should spend the rest of today planning. We'll start looking for Josh tomorrow."

"Shouldn't we start looking now?" Neku interrupts, hands twitching in his pockets.

"Look, Phones," Mr. H says. "We all get it. You're worried about him. But it's not going to do Josh any good if you're emotionally unstable right now. All the Players and Reapers are still out erasing Noise, so we don't have any backup until they come back. Without his wings Josh can't leave Shibuya, so we have seven days to scour the city. That's plenty of time." He sighs. "It's been a long day, Neku. You need to rest."

It feels like abandoning Josh, to call it a day. His heart won't let him. But Rhyme gives him her puppy dog eyes and Beat claps him on the back; Eri and Shiki both nod in agreement that he should rest. So he relents, shoulders slumping. "Fine."

Mr. H opens up the back room for him again, and he must have done laundry at some point because the sheets are white and pristine again. After a quick change of clothes Neku curls up underneath the comfortable duvet and lays his head on the pillow. Immediately his body loses some of its tension and his eyelids grow heavy; he hadn't realized how tired he was. The pale blue wallpaper blurs in front of him, and with a reluctant yawn he falls asleep, dreams filled with visions of violet eyes and golden-white feathers.

~

Divisi

~

Silence.

It's the first thing he notices when he calms enough to slow the ascent of his skyrocketing vibe. He carves out a niche in-between two planes and checks to make sure no one is following him before hiding away within. His panicked flight from the RG and subsequent jumping of planes without his wings has given him a headache, and it pounds through his skull like a hammer.

Yet there's still no sound.

It's disconcerting. Shibuya's song has always been audible within the higher planes, and yet... Was this due to the other Neku's interference?

Speaking of him- Joshua flinches as shadowy figure perches in front of his hiding spot. Somehow the other Neku's vibe is distorted and dark around the edges, crackling with energy from time to time. He regards Joshua with a look of detached curiosity.

"Are you hoping he won't find you here?"

Joshua shrugs casually, trying to hide the fact that his heart is racing and his body is shaking. "The Neku I know doesn't like wandering around looking for things."

"Maybe you don't know as much about him as you think you do," the other Neku responds with a smirk.

"Why are you even here," Joshua asks without a hint of genuine interest. His head is pounding. "You should know we can't fight here."

"Well, I know I can't beat you in direct combat. Composer's powers aren't meant to face off head to head with each other. Our mission is one of creation, not destruction. But I still want to see you wallow in despair before your precious Proxy comes to kill you once and for all."

Joshua's lip curls. "My Neku would never do that." He tries to keep the uncertain inflection from his voice.

"And there we have the problem. Why put so much trust in him?" The other sighs, a crackling exhale of static, then focuses his gaze on Joshua. "Everyone you know will end up stabbing you in the back, whether it's now or later." He begins to pace with jerking, swift steps. "Your world... with its attachments and relationships... it's disgusting."

"Unlike you, I have people I can trust," Joshua replies firmly, ignoring the increasingly painful headache threatening to consume him.

The other raises an eyebrow. "Really, now? Are you perhaps thinking of your Producer? Because I can tell you right now that he betrayed you, set you up to fail."

Joshua scoffs. "What are you talking about? How would you have any idea what's been happening in our world?"

"There are countless other universes out there, you know. Let's just say your Producer was trying to find you in another world, and maybe he accidentally jumped into a couple other worlds before finding the right one. And then, is it not possible that he dropped some... classified documents containing some dark secrets?”

”Did you know that he willingly accepts the title of Fallen Angel?"

Sanae... that's not possible. But in the back of his mind, it makes sense. Sanae had always loved their city, and had objected considerably when he had announced his plans to erase it. It's possible, probable even, that he would have gone behind his back to protect it. Why had he never thought about that outcome before?

Because you trusted him.

The other Neku's lip twitches like he's laughing at him. "That's right. He told Trash-man the secret of Taboo Noise to stop you from winning. Which I have to say was brilliant on his part, but it didn't matter in the end because I've bested both of you." He takes a step closer. "He was your first Partner, right? That motto of "trust your partner" has a nice ring to it, but it means NOTHING."

"How do you know that." Joshua's voice is terse. He knows what this other Neku is trying to do. He won't have it.

The other smiles, the first eerie sign of emotion he's seen. "You told me. Right before I put a bullet through your heart."

He snickers in response to Joshua's disturbed grimace. "I'd love to do that right now. But I started a Game, and I always play fair. So I'll hold off on killing you today. I'd rather see my appallingly soft counterpart do that for me." He turns, expression neutral again, and spreads dark static wings, taking off to a higher plane.

Suddenly Joshua’s headache amplifies, a sharp pulsing rushing through his head, and he quickly drops his vibe to escape the pain. He lands on the rooftop of the Jupiter of the Monkey store, and the sounds of wind and faint talking coming from the cafe below immediately soothe his racing heart. There's a pang in his heart, an emotion he thought long gone from his repertoire; loneliness.

He closes his eyes, utilizing the last remnants of his power to focus on Wildkat. It seems like everyone is all right after their encounter a few hours ago. The Reapers and the Players have all returned from their missions, and secretly Joshua is relieved to see two familiar field Reapers safe and sound, talking with his Conductor. Sanae is tinkering with some pins in the back (Joshua tries not to think about what he has just learned regarding his first Partner), and Neku's friends are nibbling at some homemade muffins.

And then there's Neku himself. The poor thing is curled up under the covers of his childhood bed (Joshua sheds a tear at this), tossing and turning in the throes of a nightmare. Seeing his sweet Neku squirming on the bed (although for completely different reasons than he would like), he takes pity on him and imprints a more pleasant dream into his head. After a few moments Neku settles, his breathing evening out to a calmer pace.

It starts to drizzle, clouds above gently emptying themselves of their burdens. And Joshua, sitting on the rooftop watching over his Proxy, his friend, his Partner, makes a promise to himself.

He won't let anything happen to Neku. No matter what.

Chapter Text

Neku awakens slowly amidst the sea of soft blankets, eyelashes gently fluttering open as he takes his first waking breath. In the time between falling asleep and waking up, his dreams had changed from the nightmares involving pigs and skulls and waking up on solid concrete. Instead he dreamed about being enveloped in soft, snow white wings and flying over the city. It's the best sleep he's had in a long while.

He lingers on the line between sleep and consciousness for a while, unwilling to get up and face the day. When he finally musters the energy to sit up and rub his eyes to glance at the clock, he is surprised to find that it's only 8 AM.

There's a small private bathroom at the end of the hall, and as he steps inside he notices how clean it looks, the white porcelain of the sink looking pristine, as if it's been untouched all these years. He steps into the shower, feeling the layer of grime and negativity on him wash away as the water cascades through his hair and flows smoothly down the drain.

There's an emptiness inside of him that he can't quite place. It feels like a cross between guilt, loneliness, and... something else. He stands there in the spray of the shower until the water is ice cold and his flesh is numb, then towels himself off and heads toward the main area of the cafe.

Harsh sunlight is filtering in through the windows when he walks in, a stark contrast to the gloomy weather the day before. Kariya nods at him in greeting, then turns back to haphazardly trying to eat his two syrup-soaked pancakes with chopsticks. The crowd of Players and Reapers has thinned noticeably. Neku tries not to think too much about the implications of that. Shiki stares at him with a wide-eyed, surprised look on her face, and he stares back at her, confused.

"Yo, what happened to your hair?" Beat calls from across the cafe, looking like he's freaking out slightly. Neku frowns, reaching up self-consciously to touch his still-damp, flat hair.

"I didn't bring gel with me," he mutters, turning away a bit. Rhyme smiles at him.

"You look so different!" She chirps. He gives her a small smile back, grateful for her talent of picking out the silver lining. She makes her way over and hands him a plate of cheese omelette. "This is yours!"

"Thank you," Neku says, genuinely meaning it. He heads to a table near the windows and sits down, basking in the warm rays as he takes a bite of the delicate and delicious omelette. It's fluffy like a cloud and the cheese is a tangy complement to the slight sweetness of the egg.

Myde plops down in the booth across from him. "Hey." His already wild hair is mussed even more and he looks absolutely exhausted.

"Hey." A pang of guilt makes itself known in his chest. "I'm... sorry about what I said yesterday. I was just in a bad mood and I-"

"It's okay," Myde reassures him. "I'm sure I would react the exact same way if someone I loved was in danger. Your exact wording just... reminded me of some bad memories, that's all."

"That's still not an excuse for my behavior. So if you ever need me to do you a favor, just say the word." Myde quirks an eyebrow at him, then exhales, grinning.

"Thanks. I think we'd better focus on getting your boyfriend back, though." Eri snorts from across the cafe, then starts coughing as she chokes on her morning coffee.

Flustered, his face flushes scarlet. "Josh is... not my boyfriend!"

"Oh! My bad," Myde chuckles, cheeks reddening as well. "From what everyone was saying about you two, I just assumed..." Neku shoots Eri a look, and she bursts out laughing. Shiki sends a sympathetic glance his way.

"Phones!" Mr. Hanekoma interrupts, beckoning him over. Neku gives Myde an awkward half-smile of parting and walks toward the counter.

"Mr. H, what's the plan?"

The cafe owner frowns. "I've tried contacting Josh but he won't answer me. We'll have to figure this out without him."

"All right." Neku wrinkles his nose. "I don't have a good feeling about this, but okay."

"I've thought of a few different plans," Mr. H continues. "We'll have to start implementing them now, though. No use in waiting until the last second." Out of the corner of his eye Neku sees Sho poke his head in the door and make an okay symbol with his hand. Hanekoma takes a deep inhale and then sighs. "All right, Phones. Plan number one has begun."

One of the Players sitting near the window shrieks as something dark hits the glass. The Taboo weasel Noise screeches back, then slinks off out of view.

"You let him make Taboo Noise?!" Neku turns angrily toward Hanekoma. "Are you crazy?!"

Hanekoma quickly throws his hands up in the air. "Hear me out, Phones. Taboo Noise may not follow all of the Game's rules, but they can still be kept out of buildings, unlike the Noise that other Neku is controlling. And Taboo Noise are taboo because they have no loyalties to Reapers, which could prove useful since the other Neku can't control them." He relaxes slightly when he sees Neku's glare turning slightly less murderous. "Taboo Noise also have a tendency to consume regular Noise, which can keep them preoccupied. Finally, I'm willing to bet the other Neku has never seen Taboo Noise before, since according to Josh he only went through a week before beating the Game."

"He knew the other Composer was me?" Neku cuts in. "Why... why didn't he say anything?!"

"He knew you would beat yourself up over it," Mr. H says gently. "He needed you to be strong for him, not unnecessarily guilty."

There's a hollow feeling in his heart. If only he could have known, he would have given Joshua everything he could to help. They obviously have some trust issues that need resolving...

"...How do we know the Noise won't attack us?" Hanekoma startles at the sudden change in topic.

"I have these." He holds out his hand; four white pins with a feather symbol on them rest in the palm of his hand. "They'll keep us off the radar of the Noise." He hands one to Neku. "Don't lose this, it's pretty difficult to make."

Neku nods. "So we have a distraction; what's the goal?" A small crowd has formed around the windows where people are watching for Noise. Kariya is in the process of dragging Sho away from Uzuki- who looks furious- and Neku remembers that the two field Reapers had almost been killed by Taboo Noise once.

"The goal is to track down the other Neku and get those wings from him. As long as he has Josh's wings, he has control over Shibuya. So we need to ambush him. I've set up a few traps along the border of Center Street, but the main problem is luring him there." He turns to Neku. "That's where you come in."

"He wants you for some reason..." Shiki says, voice quiet with worry. "Are you going to be all right?"

"Whatever happens, we need to get those wings," Neku replies firmly. "I'm willing to do anything to achieve that goal." He pins one of the radiant white pins onto his shirt and nods. "I'm ready. Let's go."

~

The air is thick and heavy with moisture as Neku lingers in the shadow of the nearby buildings and watches the skyline for movement. He can feel eyes on him from where Hanekoma, Sho, and Kariya are scanning the perimeter, making his safety their number one priority.

He keeps tapping his foot, feeling itchy in his own skin while waiting for something to happen. A deep ringing sound reverberates around the area, and Neku takes a step back just as his mirror image materializes in front of him.

"You," the other Neku hisses, eyes wild. "These Noise... they were YOUR doing, weren't they?!" One of the ashy, contorted wings is dragging behind him, leaving oily black feathers crumpled in trails on the floor.

"They were mine, actually," Hanekoma interrupts, then throws a small sphere at him. It expands into a giant luminescent net and snags the winged Composer, pinning him to the ground. Sho approaches with a small glowing blade and grimaces.

"You're sure it will sever cleanly?" He questions. Hanekoma nods.

"Hurry up, he won't stay still forever." A howl followed by several more indicate that they've got company in the form of Noise. But as soon as Sho puts the blade near the other Neku's shoulder a field of energy forces it out of his hand, clattering against the concrete. The net also flies off in a burst of power, and the other Neku lunges at them with bared teeth and dark energy crackling around his fingertips.

Neku! a voice in his head startles him, and he takes a quick glance to his right and left as Kariya engages with the doppelganger. Up here!

He looks up just as Joshua drops down in front of him to block a water bubble that was headed straight for him. They lock eyes for a brief moment, then they're fighting in sync, bright beams of light interspersed with the sharp movement of uppercuts and slashes.

Pass the puck.

He lands a solid hit on an elephant Noise, and as it disintegrates beneath his palm he sends the light puck hurtling toward Joshua. As soon as it touches him Neku clenches his fingers around his Harmonizer pin and speaks.

"Another world awaits."

Joshua gives an electric smirk. "And you're going." He throws his hands down and sends a giant meteor careening toward the other Neku, who makes a shrill, inhuman sound and attempts to warp away. Just as he begins to fade out, Sho throws the glowing blade, and it whistles through the air to slice the wings clean off its target. The meteor crushes the other Neku into the concrete, sending a huge shock wave through the earth.

Joshua snatches the wings from the ground and grabs his arm. "Neku, we have to go!"

"Josh, you came back," Mr. H says, sounding immensely relieved. Joshua snarls at him.

"Don't you talk to me, Hanekoma." Then Neku's hit with an unnatural dizziness as they fade out, reappearing in the room past the Shibuya River. The Composer's room. He closes his eyes and succumbs to the exhaustion just as he hears Joshua speak again.

"Neku, we need to talk..."

Chapter Text

The white ceiling blurs back into focus as he startles awake, head pounding with a dull pain. Across the room Joshua's head perks up. "Neku," he says quietly, sounding immensely relieved. "You all right? I shouldn't have jumped planes like that with you, I'm sor-"

"What happened?" Neku cuts in. Draped over the Foosball table are the wings, feathers shedding like dry flakes of skin and coming to rest scattered on the floor. "Are we even safe here?" And then he notices the wounds on Josh's face and arms, tiny beads of crimson running in thin rivulets to stain his shirt. They look like exposed veins, standing out against his pale skin.

"What the he- Are you okay?"

Joshua lets out a bitter chuckle. "Merely scratched up from the suspicious amount of Taboo Noise running around, is all." He is quiet for a moment. Then, "I need you to do something for me."

"What kind of thing?" Neku asks. "I'm not leaving you, if that's what you're asking."

"I'm touched. But that's not it." His voice is soft, hesitant. For a moment Neku doubts he can fulfill whatever task Joshua wants him to undertake. But then he looks at his friend, his Partner, takes in the light curls of his hair, the depth of his eyes, the fragile thinness of his wrists, and he's overwhelmed with the desire to protect him. Everything about Joshua in that moment screams vulnerable, and if he can do something, anything for him, then he knows without hesitation that he will do it.

"I see you have a Tuning Pin," Joshua finally says. "May I make some adjustments?"

"Uh, sure." Neku undoes the back of the pin and places it in Josh's outstretched hand. Closing his eyes, Joshua closes his fist around the pin and hums a couple of notes. A strange bright light emanates from the spaces between his fingers and then dies away. When he uncurls his fist the pin has changed colors, from a white feather to a golden one.

"First I want you to wear this," Joshua says, holding it out. As Neku's fingertips brush the smooth surface of the pin, his headache fades noticeably.

"What is it?" He asks, holding it up to the light.

"It will protect you from the effects of high Vibe," Josh explains. "I noticed your Soul straining when I was near you earlier, so I thought it was about time you had some resistance to it."

Neku nods. "Thanks. Is... that all?"

"Not quite." Joshua visibly hesitates, then shakes his head. "I'm going to be frank with you. I need you to sew my wings back on."

A beat. "What."

"I wouldn't be asking if it wasn't important." His voice has taken on a pleading tone. "Please."

"Of course I'll do it," Neku responds. "You're going to need to walk me through the steps, though. This may come as a surprise to you but I've never done embroidery on a semi-angelic being before."

Josh snorts, though it sounds more relieved than anything. "Very funny. Just wait one moment." The pressure in the air builds up, but with the pin on Neku experiences nothing but a slight popping in his ears. A small, thin needle glowing blue with energy materializes in Joshua's hand, and he gestures for Neku to take it.

"Will it hurt you?" Neku gingerly grasps the needle, feeling the energy run in pulses up his arm.

"Nothing I can't handle." Joshua pushes a lock of hair behind his ear. "They are a part of me. It's much easier to fuse two things that were meant to be together than sever the bond between them. You'll do fine, Neku. I have faith in you."

He swallows. "All right. You should probably take your shirt off." Joshua raises an eyebrow suggestively and opens his mouth to speak, but Neku cuts him off. "I can see the words forming and I can tell you it's best if you don't say anything."

Josh rolls his eyes. "You're no fun." He slips the bloodstained shirt over his head and drops it in a pile on the floor, then sits down on the plush white couch. He notices Neku staring at the tiny red spots now soaked into the fabric and waves a dismissive hand. "Don't worry, I'll clean it later."

There are two long, pink scars on his back, lying snug along the shoulder blades. Neku brings the pair of wings over and as he approaches the Composer, they tug out of his hands to hover in their correct place.

“What do I do first?”

“Have you ever sewn anything before?”

Neku has to think about it. “Shiki tried teaching me after I got mad at her for trying to mend my pants in public.” Joshua giggles.

“How disappointing. I absolutely thought you were an exhibitionist.” He tilts his head slightly. “Do a line of small stitches on each side. I should warn you, there will be blood, but I will be fine. Just concentrate on sewing.”

“I-I’ll try.” Neku carefully kneels on the glass floor, absentmindedly noting the fish swimming in spirals around his shadow. Hesitantly, he touches the tip of the needle to dying feathers, and it sparks with energy around his fingers. Joshua winces as it enters his skin, and Neku watches in horror as crimson wells up around the entrance site. He hears the needle clang as it drops from his limp hand and onto the floor.

“I can’t hurt you. It…” reminds me too much of that time with Shiki, Neku thinks distantly. Then Josh’s hand is on his, a warm comfort in stark contrast to their cold and sterile surroundings, and when did he turn around?

“You can, Neku. You’re not that person anymore. I’m asking you to.” Reaching out, a slender finger wipes away the tears threatening to fall. “Nothing permanent will happen to me. I promise, I wouldn’t do that to you.” He picks the needle off the ground and places it back in Neku’s hand, the blood that was on it sizzling into nothingness. “We don’t have much time. Please.”

With trembling, numb fingers Neku carefully weaves the first stitch into existence, a stream of energy replacing the thread usually used. After the initial penetration it gets easier, the pooling of blood slowing as the wings work their magic on the Composer’s powers. “Was this what you had to do when I first found you?” He asks quietly, trying not to disturb Joshua’s calm and steady breathing. “Didn’t Mr. H sew the wounds before?”

He feels Josh tense under his fingers and feels a twinge of guilt. “Did you know.”

“Know what?”

“That Game, with the Taboo Noise. That was his doing.” Neku fights his shock and forces himself to continue sewing as Josh continues speaking. “He told Minamimoto how to manufacture them. I can’t believe…” His voice cracks. “After everything we’ve been through together, he would still turn on me without hesitation to save this town. That’s why you’re my Partner now.” He cranes his neck to glance at Neku over his shoulder. “My wonderful, diligent Proxy. You chose me over Shibuya, and I’ve never felt more grateful.” Neku can feel his face flushing warm, but it’s a somewhat pleasant feeling, different from when he’s flushed with anger or embarrassment. “And besides, we ARE technically still Partners, aren’t we? After all, I never really finished the Game we were in. You saw it yourself, we could still use Fusion.” Joshua gives a strange, wistful half-smile. “I suppose our Pact is still alive and well, isn’t it?”

“That would make sense.” He thinks back to when he had tried making a Pact with Shiki. Is this why he couldn’t make a Pact after reuniting with Joshua? He finishes stitching one side and pauses for a moment to let Josh stretch the one wing.

“Are you feeling better now?” Josh asks gently, relaxing his shoulders again when Neku starts the other side. He shrugs in response.

“A little.”

He can see a smile tugging at the corner of Joshua’s lips as he turns his head. “Trust runs both ways, Neku. You’ve learned to let others in; now it’s time to trust the people you care about to tell you their limits. Don’t be afraid of hurting us anymore. From what I’ve seen, your friends are quite resilient.”

“The same goes for you,” Neku comments, gently combing a few feathers out of the way with his fingertips.

“I guess trust issues are just another thing we have in common,” Joshua says thoughtfully, sounding a tad amused. Silence falls over them, not heavy like a snowstorm but a comfortable feeling, like a soft breeze on a warm day.

As Neku finishes the final stitches a golden glow envelops the Composer, travelling from the wingtips to his back and up toward his head. From Neku’s angle it looks like a wreath of light, like a halo. As the light travels it heals the wounds on Joshua’s skin, the scars and scratches, and the wings fill out in bright white plumage once more, the way Josh had described them to him before. The feathers look soft, straight and clean, a stark contrast to the oily curls that had been there only moments before.

Joshua flexes. The wingtips, at their max limit, reach past the ends of the couch. Then he turns, and Neku has to duck to avoid being hit. Soft or not, he doesn’t want a face full of feathers. When he resurfaces, the glow has faded, and Josh is staring at him with a strange emotion in his eyes.

“Neku…” he murmurs, then reaches out to grasp his hand and pull him onto the couch. He scrambles to follow, knees sore from the glass floor, hands trembling from having to focus so hard for so long. Then he’s being drawn into Joshua’s lap, and there are delicate lips on his own, kissing him sweetly yet with a hint of desperation. Josh tastes like salt (shio ramen) and blood (from where he was biting his lip), but it’s not an unpleasant taste. After a moment he returns Joshua’s affections, combing through his hair fondly. When they break apart Josh nuzzles against his face, reminiscent of a cat marking its territory.

“You know we’re going to have to go back at some point, right?” Neku asks quietly.

Joshua sighs in response, arms wrapped around him. “I wish I could keep you here with me forever… but I suppose that would negate all the character development you’ve had, dear.” He leans in and pecks Neku on the lips once more, as if he can’t help himself.

“Why didn’t you tell me who your attacker was?” Neku mumbles, afraid of the answer. Thankfully Josh doesn’t seem to take the question the wrong way.

“I told you I don’t know that person. And I don’t. That Neku is not you.” He cups Neku’s face with one hand. “Remember what I said about life’s crossroads?”

”Yeah, why?”

“He pulled the trigger.” Neku scrunches his nose in response. “He killed his first Partner, and it all went downhill from there. The version of me in that universe is dead.” Slowly Neku tilts his head into Joshua’s hand.

“What can we do, then?”

Josh huffs. “I don’t stand a chance against him, even with my wings. What we need is a large source of Imagination… and the only one who can rival him in that is you, Neku.”

“We should get going, then.” Neku shifts his weight, intending to slip off Josh’s lap, but Josh grabs him by the arm and pulls him back into a loose embrace, resting his head against Neku’s chest.

“Five more minutes.”

Chapter Text

His neck aches from where Joshua bit possession into it only a couple of minutes ago. They stride hand-in-hand through the doors of Wildcat, and Neku opts to ignore the pain in favor of the confused yet relieved looks his friends send his way.

Mr. H rushes over with his eyes wide behind his shades. "Josh! Phones! You're all right-"

"Don't talk to me, Hanekoma," Joshua cuts him off with a disdainful grimace. "You disgust me." The other's face morphs into a distressed expression.

"Wha-what? What are we talking about, here?" 

That was kind of harshNeku thinks to Joshua, who crinkles his nose in contempt.

He should have known better, his answer is clipped. Out loud, Joshua responds with, "I believe it was something along the lines of, "happily accepting the stigma of Fallen Angel", am I correct?" Hanekoma's eyes widen twice as much as before. Behind him, Sho goes white as a sheet.

"You.... you read the report?" Joshua stalks up to him and he instinctively shrinks back.

"We will talk about this little... transgression.... later," he says slowly through clenched teeth, every syllable deliberately articulated. His body language screams of resentment. "For now, let's focus on purging my city of this other Composer." He turns to Sho, a whirlwind of barely contained fury. Sho, to his credit, does not flinch, although he looks close to passing out. "Did you come up with any plans yet?"

"We were thinking about another trap involving the Noise-"

"Too predictable," Joshua interrupts. "We aren't the only ones who can plan strategy, you know. He knows we can't face him in direct combat. He'll be expecting another trap." He taps the bill of Sho's hat down flippantly. "You're the crazy math genius, right? Tell me you have something else."

Sho readjusts his hat nervously. "Well, the other plan is infinitely more... theoretical."

"We can work with theoretical." The blonde grins sharklike down at his subordinate. "What have you got?" 

~

There's a large diagram spread out over one of the tables, and Neku can't make heads or tails of it. It seems to involve a sizeable pentagram, and numerous math symbols and numbers are scrawled along the edges of the paper. 

"So what exactly does this plan entail?" Joshua asks, idly tapping his fingers together. Sho points to one of the points on the star, where a pi symbol is located. Three other points are marked with an infinity sign, a wavy equals sign, and an X. The final one is blank.

"According to my calculations, his use of the Darklit Planets pins, especially Black Saturn, will render our regular attacks invalid. However, when we last fought, the Composer and Hectopascal here did a good deal of damage to him using a fusion. I talked to some of the other Reapers who could use fusions in order to gather data, and have come to the conclusion that it is possible to recreate the energy of a fusion using more than two people. It's likely that by using this, we could distribute massive damage to him. However, there are two catches. First, we'll need five people with incredibly high levels of Imagination. With myself included, we have four."

"And who might those people be?" Joshua prompts.

Minamimoto rattles off the names. "You, me, Hectopascal, and your Producer. None of the other Players or Reapers have a strong enough Imagination for it to work." Hanekoma perks up behind the counter.

"What about Myde?" The blonde's head whips around.

"Wait, what? Who said what now?"

"From what I remember, his Imagination was incredibly powerful. On par with the GM's for sure, and that was a long time ago. By now it should have grown tremendously." Sho rakes his gaze over the other man, who looks away uncomfortably.

"Hmm... you aren't dead, but... you'll do." He draws an integral symbol on the final point of the pentagram. "Good. We have our five."

"What was that about me being dead?" Myde mumbles to Kariya. He shrugs in response, noisily drinking soda from a straw.

Neku looks at the star again. "So who's who?" Minamimoto sighs, defeated, and points at the symbols once more.

"Pi, me. Infinity, the Composer. Approximate is the Producer. X is you. Integral is music boy. Got it?" He follows the lines of the star. "We will use our Imagination to send energy through the chain to each other, and it will, theoretically, trigger a fusion. So then comes the second catch. We'll need to distract him or stop him from attacking long enough for us to build up the energy. Any ideas?"

Kariya raises a hand. "I'll help out. Dunno how much difference I'll make, but..." he shrugs and pushes his glasses up. Uzuki jumps up from her stool.

"Count me in, too. I've been sitting here for too long. I'm ready for some bloodshed!" She snarls, cracking her knuckles.

"Us too, yo," Beat chimes in. Eri, Shiki and Rhyme nod in agreement. "We're ready to kick Neku's ass! But like, the other Neku, ya know." Shiki stifles a giggle as Rhyme hides her face in her sleeves in embarassment.

"Guys... I don't want you to get hurt," Neku says hesitantly. Eri makes a face.

"Are you kidding? Half the time I have no idea what you people are talking about, and I'm still willing to put my life on the line for you. I'm sure the others feel the same." She purses her lips in thought. "You know what? I'll personally make sure everyone stays safe. If things turn sour we'll hightail it out of there, no sweat. You just focus on the job, and we'll take care of things."

Neku makes to protest, but Joshua's voice runs through his mind. Remember what I said, Neku. Trust runs both ways. He makes eye contact with Shiki, and she nods, determined. "All right. Just promise you'll stay safe. I don't think I could take it if..." He trails off.

"You got it, man." Beat reaches over to give him a fist bump. Myde smiles fondly at them and claps Neku on the back.

"I'll send Zexy to cover them, too." At Neku's confused look he elaborates. "The bird? He reminds me of a friend, so I gave him a nickname."

"Raven Noise don't have very high defenses, though," Hanekoma warns him. "A single hit could be enough to take him out." Myde's stare turns distant. 

"He won't get hit. I guarantee it."

"Alright, thanks," Neku responds, then turns to Sho. "How long until we can get this plan in action?"

The mathematician smirks, canines showing. "As soon as the last Taboo Noise are erased, we can go. I sent some Reapers out with a few... special pins, so they should be back any minute. Get prepared, we'll leave soon."

~
He's as prepared as he'll ever be. How the hell his other self managed to get the whole set of Darklit Planets pins he has no idea. His deck, consisting of the three Cat pins, a lightning pin, and a couple of support pins, is well balanced, but probably nothing compared to the Planets. Thank goodness he won't have to actually fight him. Last time that happened it didn't go too swimmingly, so...

They stand in the center of the Scramble. Sho is drawing a massive pentagram with a can of spray paint, making sure the lines are just right. He claimed spray paint was highly conductive to Imagination, and Mr. H had just so happened to have a large stash of cans in the back (courtesy of a certain CAT). He finishes the star and motions for the others to get into place. Neku stands on the point and wonders how the hell he ended up here, looking like a human sacrifice on the world's biggest pentagram. To his right, Myde gives his faithful Noise a little scritch around the neck, and it trills a bit. Next to him, Hanekoma looks stiff, tense with anxiety. He takes off his shades to clean them on his shirt, and puts them back on. Across the star, Minamimoto taps his foot impatiently, obviously eager to test out his theoretical plan. The others are spread out in a circle around them, a strategic defensive position.

To his left, Joshua smiles gently at him, unperturbed by the other's attitudes. There's a clap of thunder (although there's no stormclouds in sight), and everyone but him jolts at the sound, on edge. 

"We should begin," Josh calls. "He's coming." He gives Neku one last meaningful look before they both close their eyes, beginning to channel their Imagination through the spray paint lines. 

Neku, his voice floats into his mind.

We're supposed to be concentrating, Josh, Neku thinks back.

I know. A pause. Monday, at Wildcat. It'll be a date, alright?

What the hell. "Hectopascal, focus!" Sho's voice shouts distantly. Joshua's mental giggles echo in his head, and he blocks him out. There's a tingling sensation running through his whole body as he recieves energy from Sho and sends it back across the star to Hanekoma. There's another thunderclap, and then the sounds of shouting behind him. He concentrates and when the energy returns to him it feels bolstered, a surge of power travelling to his fingertips. There's a shrill caw and cheering, then his own voice terse with fury yelling something.

"Open your eyes!" Minamimoto yells, and everyone's eyes snap open at the same time, sync rate at max. Overhead, the raven Noise circles, a pin shining between its beak. The girls have set up a row of defenses, Eri with a whole rack of clothes and Shiki with a giant Mr. Mew, while Rhyme and Uzuki dash in and out striking quickly and then retreating. Kariya and Beat are on the front lines, dancing circles around the other Neku, evading attacks as quickly as they come. The other Neku seems to be struggling without his ice pillar pin, sending bubbles and bullets in rounds of attacks their way, then keeping his dark barrier up while waiting for the pins to recharge. 

"Here goes nothing," Joshua mutters, voice a bit distorted from the amount of energy running through his veins. His eyes are glowing golden. They all raise their right hand at the same time, and a giant white X appears, marking the other Neku. Then the whole crossing goes white with beams of energy, an inhuman shriek piercing through the air and trailing off as the attack reaches its peak and starts to decrease in intensity.

It's like the fusion they used to defeat Megumi at the very end of those fateful three weeks, he realizes. How fitting. That attack decimated the Conductor, surely...? But even as he thinks this, the light starts to fade, revealing the still standing figure of the other. He's clutching his chest with a pained look, but he's obviously still furious. The raven Noise caws, breaking the silence, and swoops down, pin still in its beak. The other Neku snarls.

"Stupid bird!" He lunges, almost faster than the eye can see. Before anyone can think, Myde jumps in front of the Noise, and the other Neku is holding him up by the sweatshirt.

"Shit!" What can they do, he's going to get himself killed, and he's only a civilian. Neku reaches into his pocket for a pin, but before he can attack something changes in the other's demeanor.

The other Neku squints at the musician's face, then lowers him to the ground, still keeping a grip on his clothes. Then he opens his mouth to speak, and his voice is quiet, broken, confused.

"Myde?"

Chapter Text

"Myde?" The other Neku whispers, and then he hugs him.

Everyone stops and stares. The other Neku is shaking, sniffling into Myde's dirty black sweatshirt, and Myde has a bewildered expression on his face. He hesitantly pats the head of spiky orange hair, which just makes the other cling tighter to him.

"Um... are you okay?" 

Finally the other Neku lets him go, but he reaches up to rub the tears from his eyes. This is the most emotion they've seen out of the other Composer ever, and frankly it's freaking Neku out. "Where did I go so wrong?" He mumbles to Myde. "Look at what I've become." He gives Myde a relieved look. "I thought you were dead?"

"Uh, sorry, but I'm... not quite sure what we're talking about?"

The other clutches his chest again, eyes downcast. "Don't you remember? I asked you to meet me all those years ago in Udagawa, and you... didn't make it. If it wasn't for me, you would have still been alive... but here you are. Did you play the Game and come back to life?"

Myde is visibly confused. "I played game," he says. "Although it involved a lot more darkness and heart stuff. And I do remember dying, but, I'm alive now! Sorry I can't really remember," he apologizes. Neku can see Joshua twitching out of the corner of his eye.

"It's okay. I didn't really remember much after I died, either." He presses his lips together in a small, shaky smile. "You're alive now, and that's what matters." He sniffs again. "You were my best friend. I blamed myself so much for your death, and now... look at me." He turns to face everyone, and Joshua flinches as they make eye contact. "I think... I'm a monster."

"I just wanted to feel better. I wanted to keep others from feeling the way I did. Your world is so... interconnected. I was, I don't know, jealous? And scared. How can a world like that survive? Surely it would be better off my way." He sighs, shoulders slumping. "But now, I don't know what to think. I remember you, by the way," he addresses Joshua, who narrows his eyes defensively. "You... didn't put up much of a fight. You seemed to have a lot of faith in me... I'm sorry I let you down." He coughs, gingerly sitting down on the pavement.

"Myde?" A faint tinge of memory sneaks into the back of Neku's mind. "That friend from so long ago... that was you?" Myde chuckles nervously.

"I guess so?" Neku smiles faintly.

"I can't believe I didn't even recognize you. Your hair is... different." Myde laughs outright at that.

"Neku." Joshua says, and both Nekus look at him. He focuses on the one sitting down. "I can't... can't forgive you. Not yet. This past few weeks have been... exhausting for me. Learning to trust people..." his gaze meets Neku's. "Having that trust broken..." Hanekoma coughs awkwardly behind him and looks away. "But even so, I think I've grown because of it. And you have too. So we'll let you go. Are you still running the Game back in your world?"

"Y-Yeah?"

"Who is your Conductor?"

"Um... Konishi?" Joshua scoffs and waves a hand.

"Fire her immediately. She'll turn on you in a heartbeat." He shakes his head. "Anyway, the point I was going to make was that you're still the Composer. You've had a change of heart, and that'll reflect in the city. The nice thing about living organisms is that they heal themselves over time. It'll take a while, but Shibuya will return to her former glory. I guarantee it."

The Neku sitting down casts his gaze over the others. "T...Thank you. I... really don't deserve your pity."

"Hell yeah you don't," Neku chimes in, walking over. He looks down at his alternate self. "You tried to hurt my friends. You tried to destroy our city. You don't belong here." The alternate Neku shuts his eyes tightly.

"I know."

"You don't belong here." Neku repeats. "Your world is waiting for you to return. You belong there." He stretches out a hand. "We can't forgive you... but we trust you. We trust you enough to rebuild our city."

Aw, Neku... Joshua smiles affectionately at him. I always knew you had a way with words.

Shut up, he thinks back.

The alternate Neku reaches out hesitantly, then draws back for a moment to take the headphones off his shoulders. They're scratched up and worn out, obviously well-used. He leaves them on the cement and grasps Neku's hand. Neku pulls him to his feet.

"Alright. I'll go back. Fix things. Thank you again," he says, eyes watering a bit. "And I'm so, so sorry." The raven Noise swoops down again, depositing the Black Saturn pin at his feet. He picks it up and closes his eyes. The pressure in the air builds a bit, then he blurs out and vanishes, like someone erasing pen off a wipeboard.

"Neku!" Shiki's voice rings out. She runs over and tackles him in a hug. Rhyme and Eri join in, and Beat, not one to be left out, jumps on all of them and brings them to the floor. "I'm so glad you're okay," Shiki cries. Everything that's happened sinks in at once, and a huge grin breaks out over his face.

"Hey, everything turned out all right after all." After untangling himself from the pile of limbs, a wave of relief washes over him as he glances from cluster to cluster of people. The two field Reapers have converged on Sho; Uzuki has him in a headlock, and Kariya is smirking and has an arm slung around his waist. The Grim Heaper himself looks rather pleased that his plan had worked, although it hadn't quite finished the Composer off as he had hoped.

Myde's avian friend has found a new perch on his head, seeming incredibly comfortable among the nest of blonde spikes. Myde himself seems relaxed, although still a bit baffled as to what is going on.

Hanekoma is murmuring to Joshua. It looks like Josh is slightly less irritated with him, although their bond is not as obviously close as it once was. He catches Neku staring and smiles coyly. Then he holds up a hand to stop Hanekoma's rambling, says something short, and walks over.

"Can't keep your eyes off me, can you?"

"Shut up," Neku grumbles with no malice. He turns to Shiki and... oh. Well, they're making out. On the floor. Beat is not only covering his sister's eyes, but his own as well. He rolls his eyes. "Couldn't you two have waited until later?"

Eri flips him the bird. "We almost died, so screw you Neku. We do what we want!" Joshua snickers.

"I like her already."

Mr. H approaches them, politely averting his eyes. "I called the mayor and told him the lockdown is no longer necessary, so unless you two are into public exhibitionism I suggest we go back to the cafe." Shiki blushes hot red.

"Ah! What about Zexy?" Myde asks, raising his hand. 

"The bird," Neku adds by way of explanation. Joshua hums.

"Let me try something." He reaches out and puts his hand on the raven's chest. The markings on its wings and face slowly fade out, until it looks like just another ordinary crow. "Now he belongs to the RG, so you can take him indoors." Myde grins and the raven caws happily.

A murmuring sound starts to build as people begin to exit the surrounding buildings. Hanekoma pushes up his glasses.

"All right, let's head back. Anybody want some coffee? I'll give you a discount!"

"After all we've been through? You're giving that coffee to us for free, Sanae," Joshua retorts. Everyone laughs.

~

In another world, the sound of laughter is heard for the first time in months.

Chapter Text

One Week Later...

The breeze is light and soft against his face as he enters the cafe. The aromatic scent of coffee assaults his senses as he slips into a booth. He checks the time on his phone.

It's been four days since the clouds around Shibuya had dispersed. Three days since Shiki and Eri started officially dating. Two days since Sho gave him his number in binary code, "just in case". One day since Beat and Rhyme invited him over to their house for the first time.

And he still hasn't stopped waiting for frickin' Joshua.

He rolls his eyes, scanning the rest of the customers. Hanekoma is cooking up something in the back, and it smells wonderful. Probably doesn't cost as much as he's selling it for, but hey, business is business. There are a few field Reapers in the corner gathered around Uzuki, who according to rumor had finally been promoted to a higher ranking officer. She has a sneaky grin on her face, as if planning something. Neku doesn't particularly want to know what. 

Someone goes running past the window, and Neku looks just in time to see that Tin Pin boy (Shooter?) running around the corner. He's glad the city is safe again. For a kid like him to grow up isolated and alone... it's just not right.

A loud cawing sound draws his attention back to the cafe. Myde is sitting at the counter with his bird on his shoulder, talking to an emo-looking guy in a lab coat. The guy's hair is covering half his face, and he's listening attentively to Myde, who's telling a story involving some elaborate hand gestures. The look in his eyes is fond. Neku pretends not to notice the red blush creeping up the back of Myde's neck.

Mr. H brings him a cup of coffee. "On the house," he says when Neku reaches for his wallet. 

"Thanks. Are you and Josh, you know, okay?"

Mr. Hanekoma sighs and shrugs. "Well, I'm still his Producer, so he doesn't hate me too much. We'll be fine." The bell on the door jingles, signalling a new arrival.

The Composer himself walks through the door, ash-blonde hair curled attractively as though naturally tousled by the wind. He's wearing Neku's blue hoodie, the one he had borrowed just over a week ago. It's a very different, but good look on him. He bats his lashes and gracefully slides into the booth opposite Neku, who rolls his eyes at the theatrics.

"Really? Ten minutes late and you planned it? This is our first date, you know."

Joshua snickers, then leans in close. "I know." He pecks Neku on the lips, then sits back looking smug.

"I hope you haven't been waiting for me too long."

He has no idea.