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Countdown to Halloween

Chapter Text

"I'm not sure I understand," Neku said. "Why would I need a costume now?"

Eri and Shiki shared a look, then Eri answered.

"Because it's Halloween soon. At the end of the month."

She was talking slowly, like you would do for someone clearly out of it. Neku resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He really, *really* wanted to object that costumes were definitely not his area, but a glance at Shiki's face stopped him. She had The Look. The "Pants. Off. Now." Look. And he'd like to avoid a repeat of that performance, thank you very much.

"Alright," he said nervously. "Do I have a say in what kind of costume I'll get?"
"Of course!" Shiki answered happily. "We already have several designs you can take a look at..."

And she produced a (really too) thick pile of sketches. Neku sighed internally. He loved his friends, but they were painfully enthusiastic for stupid things sometimes... They looked to be having fun, though. Maybe he could bear this.

"No skirt, alright?" he demanded.

Wearing a skirt was Joshua's role, not his.

For an instant Eri seemed surprised, but it quickly morphed into consideration. Neku didn’t like one bit the fact she was obviously looking at his hips.

“Shiki, help me please?” he tried.
“Well, you *would* look nice in a skirt…”

Chapter Text

WildKat was almost empty of customers, like always. Well, in fact Neku was the only customer now that Tenho had left. Not for the first time, Neku wondered how Hanekoma payed the bills. Even if he overcharged for his coffee, that couldn’t be enough?

“Hey, Phones?”

Neku looked up from his drawing to see Hanekoma gesture to him to come closer.

“What?” he asked while closing his sketchbook.
“Wanna try something new? On the house.”

Hanekoma was holding a large cup. Neku shrugged, got up and took a look at it.

“What is it?”
“Pumpkin juice.”
“Don’t you have pumpkin *soup* already?”

He took a sip. It tasted strange, but not bad.

“Yeah, but it’s trending right now,” Hanekoma explained. “With Halloween coming, you know.”
“What is everybody’s problem with Halloween?” Neku asked. “Didn’t know it was so popular, and now it’s all everyone’s talking about…”

Hanekoma smiled.

“So, how is it?”
“Well… Honestly, I prefer the soup, but it’s edible.”
“Halloween is a celebration of the dead and the invisible. Don’t you think it makes sense for your friends to be interested…?”

Neku froze. He was talking about the Game, wasn’t he? But Hanekoma was already back to his coffee machine, and Neku was left pondering.

Chapter Text

Rhyme started awake, kicked out of sleep by disturbingly memory-like images. What was worse was she caught herself trying to move limbs she definitely didn't have. She fumbled with the light switch; she had to close back her eyes for a second when the light flashed on.

Alright. She was in her bed. In her room. She was safe. She was…

Why did she need to remind herself so badly she was *human*?

She shivered and tightened the covers around her. Something wasn't… right. This didn't feel like a normal nightmare. It was more powerful, more lingering too, even if she couldn't remember more than brief flashes of colors and weird sensations.

She sighed. She was fully awake now, and she was too curious to just try to forget. So. What was it about?

First of all, she was pretty sure she had been much smaller in her dream. Not younger though. Just… very small. Like… like a cat, maybe? She frowned. Not a cat, she thought, but it was something like that because she had been walking on all fours. A bunny? A ferret?

A small piece of memory came back to her with startling clarity and she froze. What kind of small animal had four legs *and wings*?

That didn't make sense. Neither did the image of a shark swimming through asphalt. Nor the adrenaline of battle. Nor the pain of dying. Twice.

There. She was alive here in her bed and all of this was just utter bullshit. It was just a nightmare. Nothing real. And if it felt like memories, well… She was just overreacting. Or maybe it was because she had spent all the day teasing Beat about Halloween monsters. Yeah, that was it. She had gone to bed thinking about creepy stuff, and now she had terrible nightmares. She could only blame herself.

But still… It had felt so natural to try to stretch her wings upon waking up...

Chapter Text

Neku had never liked parties. So he never went. And now that all his friends were chatting excitedly about the Halloween party they wanted to organise, he felt left out. What was a *fun* party supposed to be like?

“It will be just all of us,” Rhyme said with her ever present smile.

Neku hadn’t seen her come closer, but apparently neither did the other; they were still arguing over… candies?

“I know that.”
“Just think of it as a normal evening, but with more food,” she suggested.

Neku sighed.

“Am I that obvious?”
“We know you. I was the only one to pay attention right now, that’s all.”
“Alright… I still don’t really understand what all of this is about,” he admitted.

Rhyme pondered it.

“It’s about fun,” she finally answered.
“What’s so fun in… this? They’re shouting over Japanese sweets versus American candies!”

Rhyme giggled.

“That they do, yeah. But it’s their way of having fun. Parties are moments when people who like each other come together to share things they like. Hence Shiki and Eri’s insistence that we get costumes. Hence Beat asking we eat curry.”

She paused, then added nonchalantly:

“So. What music do you suggest for the party?”

Chapter Text

Neku froze mid step, causing Shiki to bump into him.

“Neku? What’s wrong?”

He silently pointed at the closest wall. Shiki gaped.

“But… But we couldn’t… shouldn’t…”
“Be able to see that,” Neku finished for her.

Next to the entrance to Ramen Don, black paint formed the Reapers’ stylized skull. They’ve been used to see it during the Game, but it was the first time either of them had seen it now that they were alive.

“Are we…” Shiki begun, then trailed off.
“I don’t think we’re dead. People have been avoiding us since we stopped in the middle of the sidewalk,” Neku observed.
“Oh. You’re right.”

It was still unnerving. On an impulse, Neku entered the shop, Shiki following close behind him. Ken Doi was serving a customer, but greeted them as soon as he saw them.

“I… have a question,” Neku said before he could ask them their order.
“I’m listening, kid.”
“The… the skull graffiti…”
“Oh, I have to wash it off. I don’t know who put it there, but Halloween or not, I don’t think skulls have their place on my shop!”

Neku and Shiki shared a look. It was indeed visible for everyone, apparently. Neku hoped that the Reaper who thought it funny to come to the RG to draw this would at least get discouraged to reiterate. It was not something he wanted to see everyday.

They miraculously managed to leave the shop without getting stuck with ramens, and joined Beat and Rhyme who were already waiting for them. Beat was pointing at… oh, another skull graffiti.

“Guys, guys, look at it!” he yelled. “We dead again?!”

Neku sighed. Now he hoped that stupid Reaper would get *creatively* punished...

Chapter Text

They were all at Shiki’s, trying to choose the movie they wanted to watch. It was… well, entertaining, Neku settled on. Eri wanted something spooky to go with her Halloween obsession. Shiki was not as enthusiastic, but she was more or less ok with it. Beat wanted something funny, and Rhyme was trying to find something they could all agree with.

“We could watch this one?” she suggested, waving one of the DVDs. “It has zombies, but it’s a comedy…”
“Why not this one?” Eri pouted.

She was pointing at a DVD with a very disturbing clown on the cover.

“Cause that’s creepy, man!” Beat answered.
“That’s kind of the point,” Eri said.
“Beat, are you afraid of clowns?” Shiki asked.


“Aaaaah, am not!” he denied.
“You so are,” grinned Eri.
“That’s not funny!”
“Well…” Eri began.
“I’m sure there is something you’re afraid of too, Eri?” Rhyme cut in.

Eri actually stopped trying to tease Beat to think about her answer.

“I’m kinda afraid of heights,” she said eventually.
“Really? I never noticed!” Shiki exclaimed.

Eri shrugged.

“I avoid situations where it could be visible, that’s all. And you Rhyme? What are you afraid of?”
“Hmm, I used to be afraid of the closet under the stair at my first school… Looked like a hiding for monsters,” she added.
“And now?” Shiki prompted.
“I’m not sure why, but I’d say… sharks?”

Neku, Shiki and Beat shared a worried look, while Eri went on obliviously.

“Sounds pretty reasonable to me. I mean, it’s really dangerous.”
“So guys, what movie?” Neku interrupted.

They ended up watching a comedy after all.

Chapter Text

Neku was so. Definitely. Late.

He had been doodling in the margins of his schoolbooks when inspiration had struck, and before he knew it he was one hour and a half into a detailed drawing. Except he was supposed to meet with Eri and Shiki to discuss some costume stuff. (Why they pretended to need his input when they always ended up deciding for him was baffling.)

So he was running, only slowing to avoid passers-by, when a hand caught him by the shoulder, stopping him.

“Boo!” a voice said right in his ear.

He froze just a second, then shook off the offending hand, turned around and took three step back before registering who it was.

Pink hair and a high-pitched giggle clued him.

“What are you doing here?” he blurted out.
“Eh, I thought you’d be more happy to see me,” Uzuki said.
“Oh, excuse me for wondering what a *Reaper* could be doing in the *RG*,” Neku deadpanned. “Especially playing pranks on ex-Players.”
“You’re no fun,” she complained.

Neku merely stared at her. She sighed.

“Alright! I was just on my way here when I saw you and I thought I’d say hello!”

She hesitated.

“And… thank you,” she added.
“What for?”
“Well, all you did. It’s still utterly chaotic, but… it’s going to be better in the end, I think.”
“You’re welcome, I guess?”
“Gotta go. Been nice to see you!”

And like that she took off before disappearing. Neku briefly saw Kariya waving at him before him, too, went back to the UG.

Now, Neku was even more late.

Chapter Text

“You know…” Eri began. “I don’t remember you liked this place so much… before…”

She trailed off, as always. Shiki hid her sigh. Somehow, Eri didn’t seem able to talk about these three weeks, or even think about them clearly. But it was probably for the best.

“Well, it’s not that I especially like this place,” she answered.
“Looks like it, though. You’re more… relaxed? When we’re here.”

Shiki thought about it.

“It’s true that I feel safe, here,” she admitted.
“Safe? How so? It’s crowded and the buildings loom ominously over us!”

Shiki couldn’t help but giggle as Eri gestured wildly to emphasize the supposed creepiness of the edifices.

“I know it’s strange, but that actually helps,” she explained. “They’re so giant that I feel tiny. The place is so large I could get lost in it. And there’s so many people…”
“Sounds bad,” Eri observed.
“But it’s nice to feel so unimportant. I don’t matter, what I *do* doesn’t matter, so I can stop caring and just be myself.”

Eri stared at her for a long moment, then shrugged.

“As long as you’re happy.”

Shiki smiled.

“I am.”

Chapter Text

Neku knew that some things had changed. How could they not? And, after all, that was the Game’s *purpose*. To change the Players. To better them. So, *of course*, surviving the Game meant change for them all.

But some of them were probably not the kind intended.

Shiki and Beat hadn’t seem to notice, but Neku had. Shiki never went anywhere without Mr Mew. Beat could have been glued to his skateboard for all intent and purpose. Rhyme… Rhyme was mostly confused, truth be told. She didn’t remember as clearly as them.

And Neku hadn’t been caught by his friend so far. Key words: so far.

– You kept them? Shiki was asking him, slightly surprised.

She was talking about the pins on his bag. His player pin was not there. It was in his pocket, where he could reach for it and close his fist around it without anyone knowing. As if he could still scan with it. As if any of his pins could help him if… But nothing would happen. Wouldn’t it?

He shrugged.

– Yeah. I like them.

Shiki seemed thoughtful for a while, but she dropped the topic when she spotted Eri and waved at her the join them.

Neku sighed. He supposed they were not heavily traumatized only because the Game was *designed* to work around that kind of problem, but still. It would feel like an improvement to stop instinctively carrying weapons around.

Chapter Text

It was always harder to go to sleep the nights of full moon.

Not because he was afraid, or tense, or anything mystic. Just… it was captivating, beautiful, and harder to ignore now that he had spent three weeks unable to be awake at night.

He hadn’t even realised at first. But an evening, a drawing had kept his attention longer than average, and when he had looked up, it was dark behind his window.

He had not slept at all that night. Unable to close neither his eyes or his shutters. It was fascinating, even though he couldn’t remember ever liking the night. But it felt *novel*. Like a whole other world, not out of reach anymore.

The following weeks had been chaotic, as he walked around town by night and fell asleep in class by day. His professors were starting to worry, and he himself admitted he was doing something stupid. So he got used again to a more normal sleep schedule.

The full moon stayed especially attractive, but eh, he probably deserved to have some weird quirks.

Chapter Text

Shiki and Eri had decided they needed to prepare some decorations for the party, and by that them meant “everyone will make posters or other stuff to put on the wall, right *now*”. They could be terrifying when determinate, especially *together*, so Neku had opened his sketchbook and started working on ideas. Beat tried to object he didn’t know what he could do, and Rhyme had suggested they make big letters to spell appropriate messages.

They were all working in a remarkable calm, when Rhyme hummed thoughtfully.

“What exactly are you spelling?” she asked.
“It’s gonna be “HAPPY HALLOWEEN”,” Beat answered. “Couldn’t come up with anything better.”
“Shouldn’t you be making two “L”? I see two “H”, two “E”...”
“Wait, there’s two “L” in Halloween?”
“I think so, yes.”

Beat grumbled about the inane spelling of American words, but took back the scissors to cut another “L”.

“See, this is why I draw,” Neku smirked.

Chapter Text

“What do you mean, this place is haunted?”

Eri shrugged.

“People say that things moves when nobody’s here, that kind of stuff. Also strange noises. And it’s colder than it should be.”

Shiki stayed unimpressed.

“I don’t think there’s things like ghost,” she pointed out.
“They say that when you play Reaper Creeper it’s a ghost that answers.”

Shiki almost blurted out than she knew what was behind Reaper Creeper, but thought better of it. Anyway, even if she couldn’t exactly explain it to her friend, it was only proof of what she said. It was Reapers or Players moving the coin, not…

She frowned. Technically, they were the spirits of deceased people. So they probably counted as ghosts.

That put the whole thing into a new perspective.

“Alright, maybe this place is indeed haunted,” she amended.

It was not beyond Reapers to have some fun at the expense of the livings, after all.

Chapter Text

The raindrops were making such a din against the windows that it was getting hard to concentrate on the teacher’s voice. The loud thunder didn’t help. The sky was dark, almost blackened by angry clouds. Shiki was quite happy to be inside and not under the storm.

Then lightning struck somewhere really, really close, the lights flickered and eventually went out. At least one student screamed. Shiki was unfazed. Neku had quite liked using lightning against Noises so she had got used to it fast.

It was hard to see anything in the darkness, but she knew they were safe so she didn’t care. The other students seemed to disagree, though, and one by one they lighted up their phones’ screen. For Shiki, that was actually creepier than staying in the dark. She didn’t like seeing so many people watch their phone at once. It felt a bit too much like a mission mail had arrived.

“What’s taking so much time?” someone complained. “The lights should be back already!”
“Oh, it’s probably the bats,” Shiki answered in a low voice.

With the storm still going, only Eri heard her.

“What do you mean the bats?” Eri asked.
“They love gnawing the electric lines, don’t they?”

In the relative silence that followed, Shiki realised she wasn’t talking about *real* bats. Fortunately nobody could see her facepalming.

“I honestly don’t know,” Eri said. “But since when are you a specialist about bats?”

The lights coming back saved her from the need to answer, but Shiki knew that Eri wouldn’t forget it. She would have to find an explanation eventually. Or maybe claim it was just a joke.

Chapter Text

When Neku enters his classroom, there is a cluster of students in front of the blackboard, arguing about something unclear. He doesn’t even try to ask. Even if he’s less… hostile, since the Game, he’s still not *friends* with these people.

He sits on his chair and looks absentmindedly at the board. They’re trying to draw something, apparently. There’s a kind of circle, and maybe that’s supposed to be writing? It reminds him of something, but he can’t remember what.

Then one of the students starts screaming at the others. He’s scared. He… he thinks you don’t *joke* with invocation sigils. Oh, so that’s what it’s supposed to look like. Neku tunes out the following argument about whether or not a demon is going to appear. There’s something slightly disturbing about the sigil…

And then, suddenly, he gets it. It’s weirdly reminiscent of the sigils creating Taboo Noise. There’s no way the rough chalk pattern in front of him could do anything. No way the students could somehow get something horribly *right*. But maybe they shouldn’t joke with magic. Especially this close to Halloween.

Chapter Text

Rhyme and Eri were obviously planning something. They were whispering in a corner and occasionally giggling. Eri was showing something she had in her hand, but Neku couldn’t see what it was from where he was seated. Shiki was as puzzled as him and only shrugged when he looked at her. Well. They would have to wait and see.

The door opened with a loud bang and Beat came in, his skateboard in hand.

“Sorry I’m late guys! What you doing?”

Shiki and Neku showed him the designs they were working on for embroidery on the next clothes Shiki wanted to sew. Rhyme came closer, took a look, and then asked innocently:

“Beat, can I borrow your skateboard?”

Even if the timing was weird, it was not unusual for Rhyme to do so, but Neku was sure she had something in mind. Beat however didn’t react and just gave her his skate. She left the room, and not two minutes later they all heard a loud splash. Eri smiled maniacally before hiding behind a book. Beat, Shiki and Neku shared a perplexed look.

Rhyme came back, looked dejected, without Beat’s skateboard.

“Beat, I’m sorry…” she said. “I rolled into a puddle and your board shrank in the water…”
“Whaaaaaat?” Beat exclaimed.

Rhyme produced a tiny skateboard, smaller than her palm.

“Maybe if you use an hair-dryer on it…” she added.

Beat just stood here agape. Neku couldn’t refrain from smiling. Eri and Rhyme had outdone themselves with this prank...

Chapter Text

“Look, Eri, I really don’t mind coming with you, but I don’t understand why you don’t ask Shiki?”

Eri grinned.

“It’s because I want to find stuff for *her* costume, and I know her. She won’t let me. Not until all the other costumes are finished.”
“Oh. Makes sense.”

Eri was so right. When Shiki decided to sew something, *nothing* could make her change her priorities. So here Neku was, lost in craft shops with Eri.

“What are we looking for?”
“We already have the fabric, but we need to find appliques and accessories. She dresses up as a witch.”
“Why a witch?”
“Because, you know, what she does with her needles is truly witchcraft,” Eri smiled.

Neku nodded. It was true, and it was a good thing Eri wanted to remind Shiki of that. She tended to forget how awesome she was.

“So, I guess we need to find a wand?” Neku asked.

In the end, they even bought a shiny collar to turn Mr Mew into a familiar.

Chapter Text

Twenty minutes until the start of afternoon classes, and it was apparently brag time. Neku sighed inwardly. Why did the students try so bad to show superiority, he couldn’t understand. But at least he was not a part of this. He secured his headphones on his ears and turned up the volume.

Maybe one or two minutes later, a photograph was shoved in his face. He blinked, leaned back a little so that he could actually *see* what someone was trying to show him, and frowned. The picture showed one of his classmates with a gun in hand and a cocky smile.

Neku looked up, pulled off his headphones and asked:

“I was in America with my dad! He let me handle a gun! Aren’t you impressed?”

Neku shrugged.

“Eeeeh? Why?”
“It would be much more impressive if it was a real gun,” Neku pointed.

There was silent at that, then another student snickered.

“How do you even know if it’s a real gun or not? I’m sure you never saw a real gun of your life!”

Neku tried to come up with an answer. He really tried. But two seconds later he was laughing hysterically at the irony of that statement. The other students looked at him as if he had lost it. Which was not such an absurd assumption to make.

“Sakuraba, you’re really scary now…”

They didn’t dare speak to him again this day.

Chapter Text

Beat was proudly displaying what looked like a kid-sized cape. Eri was staring at it like it was a personal offense.

“So…” Shiki tried. “It’s an old costume of yours, that’s it?”
“Sure! Wore it once for a party, I was a superhero!”

Eri muttered something under her breath. Neku caught only the words “fashion sense” and had to refrain from smiling openly.

“I don’t remember it,” Rhyme said. “I suppose I was too young.”
“You were, yeah. Still a baby.”
“That’s nice and all,” Eri cut in, “but why are you showing this to us right now?”
“Was thinking maybe we could use it somehow?”

Eri rolled her eyes so hard that Shiki shot her a worried look.

“No one will wear this on my watch,” Eri told sternly.
“Maybe we could use it for decoration?” Shiki suggested before Beat could answer.
“We don’t have anything to put it on,” Rhyme pointed.

Beat was beginning to look dejected.

“Do you have a mask to go with it?” Neku asked.
“Am afraid not,” Beat answered.
“But we could make one, couldn’t we?”
“What do you want a mask for, Neku?” Shiki asked.
“Well, I may have an idea… Something we could put the cape on… Something very important to all of us. Something that gathered us together like a true superhero…”

Rhyme giggled.

“Are you serious?”
“Hey, why not?”

An hour later, Hachiko had his own superhero costume, for the delight of tourists.

Chapter Text

“I’m sure our aunt is a vampire,” Beat announced.

Rhyme seemed thoughtful. Shiki and Neku traded a perplexed look.

“Why?” Eri asked.
“Well, she’s very pale, she hates the sun, and she always throws a tantrum when mom tries to put garlic in something.”

Eri smirked.

“And this has nothing to do with the movie we watch the other day?”
“It made me think,” Beat admitted.

He seemed to be serious.

“You really think she’s a vampire, don’t you?” Shiki asked.
“You do know that vampires don’t exist,” Eri said.

Beat frowned.

“Why not? We know for sure that’s it’s possible to come back from being dead!”

A tense silence took over the room, with only Eri oblivious.

“You mean, like in reincarnation?” she asked.

Shiki and Rhyme smoothly drove the discussion back to safer grounds, while Neku wondered if they should tell her.

Chapter Text

When Eri and Shiki entered the classroom, half of the girls were chatting excitedly in a corner. They came closer, curious.

“Hey. What’s up?” Eri asked.
“Did you hear this? There’s a sorcerer in town!”

All the girls tried to explain at the same time, which only confused them more. In the end, they understood that someone (a friend of a cousin of a friend of one of their classmate, or something like that) had seen a mysterious man pretending to possess powerful magical powers.

“He sells potions,” one of the girls added. “Love potions, and potions to alter your appearance!”

Shiki cringed.

“Wouldn’t that be nice, to change what I look like…” a girl sighed.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Shiki couldn’t help but interrupt.
“Well… I think that most of the time, when we dream about changing something in ourselves, we’re just latching onto an easy to imagine phantasm, but we neglect searching in ourselves for the real source of our unease.”

There was a stunned silence, and Shiki felt herself blush.

“Since when are you so wise?” Eri smiled.

Chapter Text

“Come *on*, guys…” Shiki begged.

Neku and Beat shared a look.

“No,” they answered in chorus.

Shiki sighed and rolled her eyes.

“What are you trying to make them accept?” Eri asked.
“I want Neku to wear a hat for his costume, and Beat to *drop* his hat.”
“Ooooh, challenging…”
“I don’t get why you want so bad to fight with my hair…” Neku grumbled.
“And what’s wrong with my beanie? I feel naked without it!” Beat added.

Shiki actually facepalmed before turning a pleading look on Eri, who just shrugged.

“Okay,” Shiki said. “What’s the point of wearing a costume?”
“That’s fun?” Beat tried.
“That makes you happy,” Neku deadpanned.
“Well, they’re not wrong…” Eri smiled.
“THE POINT,” Shiki went on, “is to dress into something you would never wear otherwise! So you,” she pointed Neku, “you are going to try a hat, and you,” she turned to Beat, “you are going to leave this beanie of yours HOME! Understood?”

Neku glared at Eri who was trying hard not to laugh.

“Alright,” he sighed. “We can’t argue with you when you’re in scary mode…”

Chapter Text

It was dusk. The colored lights of the shops and advertisements didn’t quite manage to warm up the atmosphere, instead creating of slight feeling of otherworldliness. It was maybe the closest Neku had been to feeling connected to the UG again since his… return.

He didn’t know if it was frightening or exhilarating.

On the other side of the road, lost in the moving crowd packing the sidewalk, a pale silhouette caught Neku’s eye. He stopped on his track, forcing several people to sidestep him, but it was already too late. He had lost him. If it was really *him*.

Neku sighed. What he had seen had probably been a trick of the light, not the blonde-grey hair he *wanted* to see.

It was not the first time since he was back that he *thought* he had seen him. But he always disappeared like a mirage. That, or it was indeed Neku’s imagination. He didn’t know. He was not sure he *wanted* to know.

He wanted to see him. Talk to him. He had to be here, somewhere, seeing how Shibuya was thriving. Neku had no clue if he’d hug the life out of him or try to strangle him, should they meet. Not that it’d make a real difference, anyway. But he needed… closure, probably. Anything else than being left adrift like this, with loads of questions but nobody to even *ask* them to, and never think about getting *answers*.

He had tried asking Hanekoma. He had laughed him off. Jerk.

For now, Joshua would apparently go on haunting him like a pale and elusive ghost.

Chapter Text

“Apparently, there’s been huge technical problems at the concert stage of A-East,” Eri said.

Neku shrugged.

“They’re used to it,” he remarked.
“How do you know this?”

Neku swore inwardly. When would he stop referring to the Game, especially in front of Eri?

“I, err, heard something about it… Can’t remember where…” he tried lamely.

Eri frowned, but didn’t comment.

“What kind of technical problems?” Shiki asked.
“Something about lights going off in all the building…”
“Well…” Neku began before shutting himself up.
“Yeah, I know what you’re gonna say,” Eri groaned. “It’s the bats, right?”
“How do *you* know this?” Neku exclaimed.

Eri rolled her eyes.

“Seriously, guys, what’s your problem with bats?”
“I… don’t have a problem?” Neku tried. “And why did you think I was about to talk about them anyway?”
“Because Shiki already did. And I forgot to look into it, but I swear this time I’ll check if they *do* gnaw at electrical wires!”

Neku send a puzzled look at Shiki, who blushed.

“Well, there was this electrical blackout the other day…”

Chapter Text

On the TV screen, the public was staring intently at the medium and his Zener cards. In the room, Eri was sporting a perplexed frown, while Neku stole glances at Shiki who was trying hard not to react. The magic show had begun with small tricks with scarves, but now it was veering into uncomfortable territories.

“How does he *do* this?” Eri whispered.
“Well, it’s, you know, magic,” Neku answered.

There was to be a trick. Magic wasn’t *real*, after all.

Just as he was thinking this, coins replaced the Zener cards, and the magician began moving them at distance. It was Shiki’s turn to look at Neku behind Eri’s back. Alright, Neku had been able to do *this*, but it was in the UG! It was not possible here in the RG…

Or maybe it was? Not for him obviously, but… Would the Reapers’ powers function in the RG? And hypothetically speaking, would a Reaper be bored enough to go to the television like that? Would that even be allowed?

When the magician began creating flames out of nowhere, Neku decided he had had enough and he could draw while Eri tried to understand it all. He didn’t want to see how many psychs that guy could use.

He only looked up when Shiki came closer and stole his pen.

Do you think he’s…? she wrote.

Neku shrugged. Idk

Chapter Text

As Halloween was drawing closer, more and more decorations were popping up in Shibuya’s streets. Many shops rivaled each others in imagination, using garlands, real or fake pumpkins, posters, lights or puppets as weapons in their fight to attract attention.

It was lively, if a bit strange.

“Hey, look,” Eri was saying, “they used a skeleton to model the clothes here.”
“I find it a bit creepy,” Shiki answered. “I prefer this display.”

She pointed a shop featuring mannequins dressed up as fashionable witches, with a big cauldron overflowing with accessories.

“I know whyyyy…” Eri singsonged. “It’s because of the *bat*.”
“Oh, no…” Shiki sighed.
“Bats, mammals of the order chiroptera,” Eri went on with a slightly manic grin, “which eat insects or fruits. But no electrical material.”
“We know you’ve done your research, Eri… Could you please stop making fun of us now?” Shiki pleaded.

Neku tuned out their banter, focusing instead on the crowd around them. Halloween-themed accessories were everywhere, from pumpkin bags to vampire chokers… And then, they were the hoodies with skeleton patterns. Sometimes wings. Which were awfully close in shape to the silhouette of the Harrier Reapers, when he didn’t look quite in their direction.

Maybe Hanekoma had been right about Halloween being something about the dead. He felt like reminders of the UG were everywhere lately. Or maybe it was just his usual paranoia.

Chapter Text

Now, Neku was probably just getting paranoid. Again. But he couldn’t help it: he *was* worried. And it was apparently obvious, seeing as Shiki seemed concerned.

“What’s wrong?” she asked after he had stared at the third person in a row.
“Well, that’s stupid, alright?”
“What is?”

He glanced at Eri. She was talking animatedly with Rhyme and Beat.

“You remember these red skull pins?” he whispered.
“They trended too fast because of our mission, and… Well, see that phone charm that guy has? Looks like *everyone* has one lately.”

Shiki seemed confused for a while before she saw what he was pointing.

“You know, you’re not wrong… Many of my classmates have the same one… Think it’s this week mission?”
“Hope not. I’d like to avoid a new zombie apocalypse, thank you very much.”
“What do you mean, zombie apocalypse?”
“Yeah, what do you mean Neku?” Eri interrupted.
“Err, see, there’s this video game…” Neku improvised.

He would have to explain to Shiki later. After all she had not been here to witness the consequences of that specific mission...

Chapter Text

It was uncomfortable how he was able to use terms like “mortal enemy” or even “villain” to describe real events of his life. Death. Whatever. It was not something normal people did. But of course normal people didn’t come back from death either.

That reflection had been prompted by a much more innocent conversation about movies with Rhyme and Beat, but now Neku was stuck with this idea which wouldn’t fade from his mind. He had encountered real villains. He had fought to live.

It had nothing to do with movies. It had been… strange. Not heroic. Not grandiose. But not really terrifying either. He just did what he needed to do, without time to think or to *feel* too intensely. He suspected he should have been much more frightened *now*, traumatized or something like that, but even something as basic as that had been denied. It was unnerving how *stable* he felt, considering.

And then, there was the fact that he couldn’t really *name* a villain. Except maybe the Iron Maiden. Because in the end, the real players –not the *Players*, and that was damn confusing– had acted out of… concern. Love. Sincerely trying to save Shibuya, and even if the *acts* had been horrible, he could somehow understand. Or maybe that made *him* a villain alongside them.

Or maybe that just proved it was real life and not a pretty story where everyone was either good or bad.

Chapter Text

“And why are we watching crappy TV shows *again*?” Neku asked.
“Shhh, I’m listening!” Eri cut him.

She was glued to the screen, for Shiki’s obvious exasperation.

“Because Eri has a weird love affair with all supernatural things,” Shiki answered quietly. “Don’t bother trying to make her change her mind. I’ve tried for years.”

Today’s topic was alien abductions. All the “victims” and “witnesses” looked straight up crazy to Neku, but Eri was watching this with a seriousness she usually reserved to design arguments.

“And why are we here with her?” Neku whispered.
“Actually I’m not sure…”

Half an hour later, Neku came to a sobering realisation. They were so, *so* lucky that getting out of the Game came with a built-in magical handwave of their (three) week-long absence. Else Eri would *never* have stopped harassing them about the aliens kidnapping them...

Chapter Text

“Wait, Neku… I don’t follow you…”

Even through the phone, it was obvious that Shiki was still half asleep. Which made sense, given the ungodly hour.

“What’s the link between 104 and a witch?” Shiki went on, puzzled.
“Err, it’s… OK, I had this dream. I was in front of 104, and I knew I needed to make a pact, but I was all alone. Then these frogs come from everywhere, so I try to run, but I can’t get anywhere except inside the building. The Noises follow me, I have no choice but to climb up, I end up on the roof. I have nowhere to hide, and just when I think that I have to *jump* I hear your voice coming from behind me, and you’re a witch flying on a broomstick while asking me to form a pact. Then you send Piggy and you annihilate the Noises. That’s when I woke up.”

The silence stretched long enough for Neku to wonder if Shiki had fallen back asleep.

“And so,” Shiki eventually said, “that’s the reason you woke me up yelling I needed a broomstick for my costume.”
“Well… Yes. Sorry.”
“You owe me for this.”
“Yes Shiki.”
“And for calling Mr Mew a pig.”

Neku couldn’t help but smile.

“Yeah, that too.”

Chapter Text

Some of Neku’s classmates were only now thinking of their Halloween costumes. Neku couldn’t help but imagine the horrified look Eri and Shiki would give them if they knew this. That being said, it was not interesting enough to keep his attention. He was doodling distractedly when he heard his name.

“What?” he asked, looking up to find three guys staring at him.
“Err, I knew you wouldn’t know… Sorry…”
“No, I didn’t hear your question,” Neku explained.
“Oh! Well, we, err…”
“We’re looking for wigs for our costumes,” another cut in, “and we were wondering if you knew where to find some.”

That was easy.

“Lapin Angelique, in A-East. They sell some nice ones.”

The three guys looked bewildered.

“What?” Neku sighed.
“I didn’t think you would know,” blurted the first to have spoken.
“Wait, isn’t Lapin Angelique gothic lolita?” the third asked. “How come you know their products?”

Neku looked down at his doodle.

“I… know someone who’s a fan of their designs. He often dragged me there.”
“Oh, makes sense… wait, *he*?!”

Neku shrugged.

“A weird guy,” he agreed.

Chapter Text

“Did you know that in some cultures, black cats are considered bad luck?” Rhyme asked.

The others all shook their head.

“Because they’re witches familiars?” Shiki supposed.
“Actually I don’t know,” Rhyme admitted with a bright smile.

Neku couldn’t help but think about CAT. There had been a black cat on his mural, just in front of him, when he… well, when he got shot by an obnoxious jerk. Talk about bad luck.

But in the other hand…

Neku’s eyes fell on Mr Mew, who was presently seated next to Shiki. Considering it was a special occasion and he had a costume, they had given him his own chair.

“I don’t know what you think, but personally *this* black cat felt more like the purest luck of my life…”

After a stunned silence, Shiki blushed.

“I can’t believe you remember he’s not a pig!” Eri grinned.
“Can’t he be both?” Neku asked innocently.
“Eri! Neku!” Shiki protested.

They all laughed. In the warm feelings of the evening, it was a certainty. They were lucky, indeed.