“Irrashai! Neku, my boy! The usual again?”
Neku sat down and took out his phone. He stared at it, but couldn't make any messages he wanted to read pop up. Multiple texts from Shiki, even Beat, but none of them were what he wanted to see.
Before he could finish his thought, he found himself getting pissed again. He was about to shove his phone to the wall beside the table when Ken Doi brought him his usual shoyu ramen. He hoped Rhyme would be showing up soon.
The day before, unable to deal with his mess of emotions, he gravitated to the closest source of reason he could think up - Rhyme, in this case. Shiki would be too judgmental and pushy, and Beat…. just wouldn't get it. Mr. Hanekoma was way too close to the Composer to see the situation with a unbiased eye. Plus, Neku was sure he might tease him about this just to get a rise out of him, or worse, pass along the conversation.
He needed someone to simply listen to him - not just anyone, but a good listener. One who could give him some badly needed, rational advice.
“Hi Neku!” Rhyme called out when she arrived, quickly sitting down beside Neku. “Oh, I want the shoyu too,” Rhyme said, taking out her little wallet that had a picture of her and Beat inside of it where an I.D should have been.
“No, no, I got it. Put that one on my tab too, please,” Neku told Ken.
“No problem!” Ken gave a big wide smile that Neku couldn't even hold a candle to right now if he tried.
“So what's wrong? Is it something about the game?” Rhyme asked, lowering her voice, as if someone might hear them. The restaurant was crowded and loud, but Ken Doi always saved space for Neku at the bar.
“Uh,” Neku started, lost in his desire to block out the subject entirely and bullshit Rhyme about something else. But he knew better - had learned better - and decided not to run from it.
Rhyme looked at Neku with concern. “Are you alright Neku?” she asked, ignoring her food. She stared at Neku’s hand, looking for the blood red of a timer.
“Yeah, yeah. It’s just-”
Just spit it out or this is going nowhere.
“Joshua,” Neku choked out, staring down at the steaming noodles he had hardly touched yet.
“You like him or something?” Rhyme asked innocently.
Neku spluttered, and turned toward Rhyme with wide eyes. “What the hell! Don’t say it so loudly!”
“It’s not a big deal Neku! It’s so crowded in here, there’s no way anyone would hear us!” Rhyme smiled at Neku. “I thought you had a thing for him. You always looked at him in a certain way. Hid behind your collar an awful lot. You never used to talk much when we were in the game, but you opened up a lot to us afterwards. Everyone except Joshua.”
Neku stared at her, dumbfounded that she had everything figured out from him only saying one word. She continued, “I guess that could have been just because he’s the, erm, Composer and all though. But I still had a strong feeling it was something else. Why don’t you tell him how you feel?”
Neku almost choked on the small bite he had taken.
“You’re crazy,” Neku said, coughing. “I can’t do that.”
“Then why are you here, asking me for advice?” Rhyme asked, looking at Neku with a sly eye.
She learned that from Shiki.
“...I guess you’re right. But I know he’s going to reject me. He’s the freakin’ Composer!”
“Ask and you shall receive,” Rhyme said simply. “You don’t know what he’s going to say until you ask. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“I could embarrass myself for the rest of my life,” Neku answered bleakly. “That, and probably never hear the end of it from Josh.” Rhyme’s face took on an angry expression. “Well, you have my word, if he’s being mean to you about it, Beat and I can fix him right up. I won’t stand for anyone treating you that way for revealing your honest feelings, Composer or not!” To seemingly drive her point home, she took a huge bite of her ramen, with bean sprouts and other vegetables hanging on to the noodles. Neku wanted to laugh, but he was sort of incapable of feeling anything but nerves, so he just ended up smiling awkwardly instead.
“If he doesn’t have anything nice to say, he shouldn’t say anything at all.”
Neku stared into his ramen, finally taking another bite of the soft boiled egg inside it. The familiar taste enabled him to concentrate a little more, accompanied by Rhyme’s unusually fierce support.
“I just feel like an idiot. I really do. After all the shit he did to us,” Neku admitted.
Rhyme smiled before she said “Don’t think of it that way. Sure, the way he went about it was…. definitely upsetting. But in the end… it was clear to see that he was worried about all of us. Mostly you. So, don't you think that says something? About how he might feel?” Rhyme suggested, arching an eyebrow. Another habit picked up from Shiki.
“B-but that doesn't really mean anything,” Neku tried to counter.
“Neku, I think you're just grasping at straws here.” Rhyme said.
Neku blushed deeply.
Talking to Rhyme wasn't as fruitful as Neku had hoped, but he felt a heavy weight lifted off of his shoulders just talking about it with her. Usually he felt comfortable enough to discuss subjects that bothered him with Shiki, but there was no way in hell that-
“Nekuuu!!” Shiki yelled out, practically jumping towards Neku from just by the vending machines with Beat. She had a big smile on her face, and her glasses looked out of place as usual.
“Were you just coming out of there? You meanie. You didn’t invite us?”
“Sure Phones, you invite Rhyme but not us, I see how it is,” Beat added. His words were tinted with fake hurt.
“I just wanted to talk to her about something,” Neku answered, not looking at anyone.
“Beat, it’s nothing. Neku just needed some help,” Rhyme assured, smiling like she always did.
“What’s wrong?” Shiki asked, her expression taking a sharp dive from carefree to concerned.
“Uh, homework,” Neku lied lamely.
“Homework? Neku, do you think we’re freaking dense? School’s been out for three weeks!” Shiki nearly yelled.
“It’s a special project,” Rhyme added without wasting a moment. She smiled at Shiki in her usual way, and caught up to Beat, giving hints that she was ready to head home. In other words, conversation over. Unfortunately, this left Shiki with a wide open target.
“Neku, I don’t want to sound bad, but I don’t think Rhyme is telling the truth. Something is up. I can tell!” Shiki said, insistent on getting Neku to talk. Almost comically, she was still dragging around Mr. Mew. She clutched him a little tighter as she spoke.
“Look, I really don’t want to talk about it right now,” Neku dismissed, clicking on his mp3 player and shoving his headphones into their usual place.
Suddenly, his headphones were knocked right off of his head.
Neku turned around, more bewildered than angry.
“God damnit Neku! Haven’t you learned anything? You have to let go and open up! If you don’t, who knows what could end up happening?” Shiki went from staring at Neku in the eye to looking down at the sidewalk, aggravated tears welling up in the corners of her eyes.
“We didn’t go through what we did for nothing, Neku. I hope you know that. I know you know that.”
She always knew how to hit him where it hurt.
Neku looked down before he answered. “I know. You’re right.”
“So? Spill it! You’re a nutjob if you honestly think I’d believe you’ve got some special project for school. You hate school,” Shiki said, her smile a little sad.
“Can I talk to you tomorrow about it, or something? I’m tired. I really don’t feel like talking about it right this second.”
“Ugh! Alright, fine. You better not bail on me!” Shiki warned. “Dude, you so owe me a burger for all this stress.”
Now I get wrangled into buying her food?
“I think you’re just making it more than what it is,” Neku dismissed, walking alongside his friend.
“Sorry, but this is your own fault. If you didn’t try to sneak around and only tell Rhyme, and just came to me instead, this would be a lot easier.”
“Since when is everything in my life your business?”
“Since we almost died.”
“You talk to me, and I smile back
I don’t believe in fantasy…”
Neku’s heart seemed to brim over gently with the familiar, warm feeling that came when he thought of Joshua. If he dwelled on it much longer, the feeling would seize the open window and deepen into sadness, and even dread. Bad memories would come shortly after - the fired shots, the lies, the deception, the game. Figuratively and literally.
...And what happened after everything. How everything had changed for the better.
Neku’s thoughts continued to be stubborn as hell. He’s the one who changed this whole city into a walking nightmare. He’s also got connections to angels, cause apparently fucking angels are real now. He shot me twice. I can only imagine what he would do if I just came out and said, “Hey, I just happen to have a giant crush on you! Yup, even though you threw a giant wrench into things just because!”
The boy grumbled and sat up in bed, removing his headphones. He was meeting up with Shiki today, per her insistence. Could Neku bring himself to tell Shiki the real truth? He decided that he should - he knew better than to keep hiding things, to keep bottling them up. Besides, Shiki just might surprise him. He threw on a non descript black tank top and his usual cargo pants. As he stepped out into the Shibuya streets, his phone pinged.
Neku’s heart pounded hard, and he found himself getting a cold chill going up his back.
Immediately upon hitting send, Neku slammed his palm to his head. “HEY DUDE”???? The guy who killed you twice, who screwed up your whole life for three weeks but saved it, who you have a massive crush on, and all you can say is “hey dude”???? Neku shoved his phone back into his pocket, too embarrassed to look at the screen again when it pinged once more.
He really should have looked.
Neku sat on a chair in the outside patio of the burger joint he was supposed to meet Shiki at, quickly swiping away Joshua’s other message in order to text Shiki that he was there. Neku saw enough of Joshua’s message to know that it was short, but he couldn’t bring himself to read it. He resolved to doing so after he was done talking to Shiki. He put his headphones back on, continuing his playlist from this morning.
“Take me far where stars are still agleam
You and me, we’ll live forever more
I will follow you my destiny
Won’t you get my favorite photograph?
I’m getting played by you
Hands clasped over his eyes.
“Oh my god, what the-” Neku started, turning around, expecting to see Shiki’s big round glasses. Instead he saw the face he had seen every night in his dreams this week, framed by ghostly silver hair. Deep, lavender eyes that knew Neku more than he knew himself - and of course they did, they belonged to the creator of the city that Neku gave every inch of his life to protect. Those same eyes had stared him down in sheer bloodlust, had regarded him with flirtatiousness, stared patiently at him during their many conversations.
There he was - his heart’s only desire, the Composer of Shibuya.
And also Shiki standing right next to him.
The fact that Shiki had brought Joshua along with her dawned on Neku very slowly.
Joshua stared down, his eyes amused, and it was all Neku could do to stare back, his mouth agape.
“Uh,” was all he managed to say at first.
“Hi, Neku! Sorry that I didn’t tell you that I asked Joshua to come with me earlier. It’s just that I was so worried about whatever’s bothering you that I thought I’d bring him along to help me out. Jeez, Josh, why’d you have to freak him out like that?” She chastised, bumping him lightly on the arm. Neku’s first thought in response to that was I can’t believe she just did that. She does remember that we all fought him together, right? And he was a giant fucking three headed dragon? No? I guess it wasn’t that memorable. Fuck me, then.
“I did tell him that I’d be seeing him today with you. But Neku never answered my text,” Joshua said simply.
“Huh. Neku, what gives? God, you’re always on your phone. I know it’s got your music on it. Yeah, see Josh? He’s been really out of it lately.”
Neku wanted to scream, hide, and kill Shiki.
“Dude,” Neku choked out. “I was just busy. Not a big deal.”
“So, hello Neku,” Joshua said, sitting himself on a chair right next to the boy. “Aren’t you going to say hello, dear?” he asked.
A sick chill ran down Neku’s spine. His heart always felt like it was on fire whenever Joshua used that pet name with him, even though he knew full well that Joshua didn’t mean anything by it.
‘Hello. I missed you,’ Neku would say, instantly piling himself into Joshua’s lap, nuzzling the crook of his neck and inhaling his scent - one of the ocean air in the darkness. He’d pull back, willingly losing himself in those lavender eyes. ‘Kiss, please,’ he’d just barely whisper, closing his eyes and waiting for Joshua’s pale lips to press against his. Slow, and sweet.
“Hi,” Neku spat.
Shiki regarded him with a strange look.
“So. Is anyone hungry? I’m buying,” Joshua offered, jerking his thumb towards the burger stand.
Neku found himself barking out a laugh. “Since when do you have to eat?” referencing Joshua’s… immortality.
“Neku,” Joshua answered with patience, “I can eat whenever I want. It won’t hurt me if I go with or without. I simply enjoy it.”
Stupid, stupid, STUPID!
“Can I just get ice cream?” Shiki asked, her smile bright.
“What the hell? Yesterday you were telling me that I owed you a burger,” Neku countered, feeling his frustration levels rise. Yes, Joshua was the Composer. They knew that better than anyone. Yet here Shiki was, seemingly dumbing herself down for him.
“Neku, are you freakin’ serious? I was just trying to get you to meet me today!” Shiki inched closer to Neku. “Josh, forget about the food for a second. I’m really worried about Neku.”
Neku reluctantly looked at Shiki in the eye, and saw that she really was worried. “Neku, please,” Shiki continued in a pained voice. “I don’t want something to happen again. I can tell this is something we need to know,” she said. Shiki looked at Joshua, her expression taking on the lightest shade of accusation. “Joshua, IS there something we should know?”
“Not at all,” Joshua answered truthfully. He reached out for Neku’s hand. The boy flinched, but Joshua pushed for taking his hand in his. He flipped Neku’s palm over. “See?”, he said. Neku knew his face was getting cherry red.
“Neku,” Shiki finally said, “What. Is. Up?”
Neku started to shake, so much so that his teeth were in danger of chattering like a lunatic’s. “Shiki,” Neku choked out, “please don’t make me.”
“Just TELL ME!” Shiki demanded, flopping Mr. Mew down on the crumb littered table. Neku remained silent, looking over at Joshua as his heart constricted. Of course he was fucking smiling.
“Neku,” he said quietly, “trust your partner.”
Great. This is turning into a gigantic shit show. Neku tried desperately to think fast, how he could be honest without revealing the whole truth.
“I need to...tell someone something. Something kind of important. It’s not that it’s important, really, but it kind of is to me.”
Shiki nodded, saying “Ah huh…”, but clearly getting miffed that Neku made such a big deal out of a simple dilemma of telling someone something. Neku tried to ignore it.
“The thing is… I'm not ready to do it yet. Because I pretty much know that they… won't take it well.”
Shiki sighed loudly, still frustrated from Neku’s anticlimactic statement. “Neku, the worst thing that can happen is that they won’t take it well. So what? It's not the end of the world!”
It just might be, again, Neku thought, a cloud of misery hanging around his head.
“Yeah, except this person could totally make my life a living hell afterwards. So I have to be careful.”
“What I'm wondering,” Joshua interjected, “is why you're bothering interacting with this person in the first place. Neku, I can see the dread on your face. Certainly this person isn't worth the trouble.” The Composer said this with a strange tone that mixed exasperation and… protectiveness?
“No, no,” Neku started, feeling his face catch fire. This was starting to go south, and he hasn't gotten very far. “He’s-”
“Wait, who’s this guy?” Shiki asked, her eyes merely curious and unaccusing, but Neku cringed under their gaze just the same. “And what do you need to tell him? Please just quit being vague, Neku. We can’t help you if you don’t give us more details.”
I can’t do this. I totally fucked it up. It’s one hundred percent over. Only one plan left.
Neku’s plan, being, one he had slammed together in his head within a split second.
“Shiki, can I talk to you over there?” Neku asked, jerking his thumb over in the direction of Hachiko.
“Sure,” Shiki answered, getting out of her seat and following Neku closely. The boy couldn’t bear to look back and see Joshua being left at the table.
In the short time that it took them to reach the statue, a terrible thought sounded off in Neku’s head.
Now that you’ve done this, he’s totally gonna put two and two together.
“Earth to Neku,” Shiki said impatiently.
“Uh, yeah. Shiki, you gotta swear to not say anything to anyone! I’m sorry for not telling you earlier. I really am. ‘He’ is Josh. I like him. I really do. Like, a lot. If you go and tell him, I will kill you first and then myself,” Neku said quickly, inching in close to emphasize his points.
Once she got over her initial wave of surprise, Shiki crushed Mr. Mew to her chest and yell-whispered, “Neku, are you an idiot? This is the perfect time to tell him! Dude, I’m right here with you!”
“Yeah, but it’s none of your business!”
“You’re making it my business, in case you couldn’t tell,” Shiki spat. “What, we almost freakin’ died, but this is too much? Oh, I totally get it,” Shiki chastised, rolling her eyes.
“This is embarrassing enough already! What the hell, do you think it would be totally fine to go up to the Composer and just be like, ‘I really fucking like you’?”
“That’s even more reason! If he can’t handle you revealing your feelings to him, then it just shows that he’s not the person for you. Composer or no Composer. Got it?” Shiki asked, the determination in her eyes similar to Rhyme’s when she had told him the same thing.
Neku’s hot headed emotions faltered. He found it strange that both Shiki and Rhyme didn’t seem to give a damn about the fact that Joshua had ended up being the Composer of Shibuya. He didn’t understand how they could be so calm about the whole thing, and he kept on feeling intimidated by it.
Shiki gave him a sad smile. “And don’t worry. If he gives you shit, I’ll show him that I still got it,” Shiki exclaimed, grabbing Mr. Mew’s paws and making him punch the air. Neku let out a snort, laughing despite still feeling sick.
“But honestly, Neku? I think that you can handle this yourself. You kinda need to.”
“I don’t think I can,” Neku said quietly.
“Hey, I believe in you,” Shiki offered, taking Neku’s hand and smiling. “We’ve taken on scarier things than just a little confession.”
“There’s nothing little about it,” Neku grumbled.
“Look,” Shiki said impatiently, “You’re gonna tell him, one way or another. I hate seeing you like this. If he accepts your confession, great! If not, then, y’know. Just rip off the band aid. We’re here for you, if you like it or not,” Shiki said, giving Neku a big hug that he didn’t remember asking for.
“Uh, ok. Thanks,” Neku said, trying to maneuver out of Shiki’s bear hug.
“So, I’m gonna go after I make your crush over there buy me a soft serve. After that, you know what to do!” Shiki said, giving Neku a big, gaudy wink.
Neku followed behind Shiki, watching glumly as she left with her towering soft serve, the exact kind that they used to eat during the first week of the Reaper’s Game. She waved at Neku with a megawatt smile, winking at him again. He had secretly hoped that Shiki would have had the mercy to drag Neku with her, but she had stayed true to her word and intentionally left Neku to his own devices.
Time had run out. Shiki was just another blur in the Shibuya crowd now, melted to nothingness among the horizon of the Scramble. Neku could feel Joshua walking closer to him, but instead of acknowledging anything, he made a big show of checking his phone. Not thinking, he clicked play on his playlist that he had been intently listening to earlier, and his feelings rushed through his chest as Joshua landed his hand on his shoulder with a dull thud. Neku turned and looked up at Joshua, who simply grinned down at him. He was saying something, but Neku couldn’t hear what - the music was too loud.
Shoving off his headphones, Neku uttered an unintelligible “Huh?”
“I said, Neku, that I think we have some things to talk about, don’t you?”
Neku’s heart pounded and dropped straight to the center of the Earth.
“Uhm, I don’t know. Do we? I didn’t say anything,” Neku babbled, fidgeting for his headphones again.
Joshua snatched them out of Neku’ hands and held on to them.
“Forgive me for being a little forward, but I’m almost certain that your little problem involves me.”
This is it. The world is ending.
“Uh, it doesn’t,” Neku flubbed, trying to get his headphones back. Joshua intentionally kept them away. “Please, can I have my headphones back?”
“I wasn’t born yesterday, Neku - far from it,” Joshua said quietly, hooking Neku’s headphones around his own neck, and guiding Neku’s phone to him as well.
“What are you doing?” Neku protested, reaching for his possessions as Joshua kept turning away from him. “Please, Josh. I just want to go home.”
“What’s this playlist called? Oh, ‘Composer’. I’m flattered, Neku.”
“GIVE IT BACK,” Neku shouted, his face on fire as he pushed his speed and reflexes to the limit to grab his phone back from Joshua. Shibuya’s Composer evaded him a few times, keeping that smug smile on his face, but eventually let Neku grab his stuff from him.
“I’m going. See you,” Neku spat, turning and walking away as quick as he could without full on running.
“I don’t think so,” Joshua said, as lightly as if they were discussing the weather. Neku stopped in his tracks, tears pricking at his eyes over and over as he felt an overwhelming urge to stop walking, turn around, and go back. Of fucking course Joshua would use his endless advantages over him to keep getting what he wanted.
“I don’t have anything to tell you,” Neku said, his voice thick and choked with his effort to keep from crying. “My problem isn’t about you.”
“Neku, I highly doubt that you’re telling me the truth,” Joshua said. He reached out and brushed his fingers over the fringe of hair that grazed Neku’s temple. The boy couldn’t keep himself from hitching a breath, as a sweet, honeyed, terrible feeling shot down his spine at the action.
God, what I wouldn’t give to have him keep doing that.
He already knows. I should just give up. Rip off the band aid, right?
Instead, Neku was silent, and simply stared at Joshua, feeling himself turn away. “I’ll text you later. Deal?”
“If you say so,” Joshua replied, his voice distant, dry. Neku shoved his headphones back on and desperately clicked out of the one playlist on his phone that he never intended for Joshua to see, and browsed mindlessly for something else to listen to, to take the edge off.
The Killers. Not a bad choice.
Neku laid in bed, listless and feeling a little empty. Tears had already dried a long time ago on his face, leaving his skin dry and rubbery. He stared at his phone and decided that nothing was going to happen unless he opened the gates and took what came.
While he was surprised that Josh, who was known to be pushy as hell, hadn’t texted him first, Neku felt honestly relieved. The shit hadn’t hit the fan quite yet.
That was about to go to hell.
Even though he felt terrified, and could barely breathe or swallow, Neku found himself shifting through the notes on his phone and copying the one he never meant to see the light of day:
You’re on my mind constantly. I’ve never stopped thinking about you
ever since that day that you let Shibuya live. I guess that’s a lie -
I’ve been thinking about you since I met you.
Sometimes you can be SUCH an ass, but it doesn’t change how I
feel about you. I’ve never liked people - you know that. And that all
changed after those few weeks. You helped me change. I have
friends now that I never knew I wanted - or could even have. I owe all
of that to you - my new life, my happiness, everything.
I look at you, and I see the world.
I want to be with you every day - staying by your side, always.
I want to be yours.
I want you to be mine.
“How to end a friendship, and piss off a God, 101,” Neku mumbled, taking a deep breath and hitting send.