The faded photograph in Neku’s hand was so worn it felt like fabric. He had found it sitting conspicuously inconspicuous on the floor of his bedroom, next to a box he tried to forget about. Looking at the photo, he knew there was a boy there, he could see him, but somehow his mind seemed to block out… everything. Who he was, what he looked like, what he meant to Neku.
He knew he was his best friend, once upon a time, before he died, but beyond that? Nothing more.
(Who was he kidding, he was still his best friend, even in death and through memories muddied like a pond where a predator had caught it’s prey, thrashing bringing up silt and sand and mud from the water’s floor.
A pond where in the aftermath nothing had quite yet settled, water murky and dark but you swear you can see a fish swimming by, was it just your imagination? Was there really nothing there at all?)
It was as if his own mind was trying to keep it a secret from him. The funny thing was, he could remember looking at the photo and not thinking anything of the mental block. It only started, this awareness, after The Long Game had ended. When he had walked back to his house, feet heavy and movement sluggish, eyes stinging with tears, his head aching with the pain of a headache and his heart aching with the pain of betrayal. When he had stumbled through his house and into his room, collapsing onto his bed.
When he had looked to the floor and saw it sitting right there in plain sight.
how did he die anyway? his parents wouldn't tell him, they just averted their eyes and said it was an accident and that he should think about the nice times they had together instead.
oh god how did he die?
The fact that this memory loss must’ve had something to do with the Game made a cold sinking feeling curl in his stomach, dread. He just wanted it all to be over, to keep his lessons and friends close to him and shed the memory of the game, of the fear and sadness. It taunted him, every little thing just had to remind him of something, to stir up some equally small memory, from an outfit Shiki wore one day, to an adage Rhyme recited off from heart, to some stupid, probably unintentional joke Beat made, to... Joshua.
It seemed every small thing reminded him of every single thing about Joshua, no matter how important. Thunder and lightning was gunshots, with a deafening bang and a flash of light and all nail polish was the pastel purple nail polish he wore that week.
The Game’s claws had sunk into him and hadn’t let go, sharp and hooked talons in the back of squirming prey, fighting desperately, hopelessly, uselessly against the stronger force. The Game would never let go.
He knew this. He didn’t know this. He refused to accept this. He accepted this.
Even the aftermath wouldn’t leave him, though it was only a week ago, so he could understand it. How the decora kei girls he saw in Harajuku were all Coco, eyes filled with rage, uncharacteristic yet somehow feeling just right. Blood spilling down her arm, having dropped her gun and now desperately clutching at the bullet wound, icy glare fixed upon Joshua’s face.
Joshua had looked worried. He didn’t think he had ever seen Joshua look worried before.
Neku was pretty sure he died again. He had a vague memory of hands against his back and an existential sense of waking up when he should have been dead. He should thank Joshua for that, get Mr. H to pass on a message for him.
Neku’s phone buzzed beside him, and for a second he was filled with instinctual, primal fear, his hand clutching at his other palm to soothe a phantom pain. There was nothing there, no numbers ticking down on the palm of his hand, red and inflamed looking - like a partially healed wound, letting him watch his time dwindle away before his eyes.
He looked at his phone screen, quickly tapping in his pin to read the message.
[GROUP CHAT: Dead Kid Club ]
Shiki: hey, just got out of my course, hows saturday for hachiko??
Neck: Sounds good 2 me
Neck: Who changed my name again i swear to god
[Neck changed their nickname to Neku]
Nobody else was online. Neku locked his phone and returned to sifting through the box.
‘Shinjuku - 2005’ a photo said on the back. It was a photo of him with His Best Friend. Neku didn’t know what Shinjuku was but he felt like he should.
After pulling on a battered pair of shoes, clearly well loved, Neku grabbed his bag, threw on the closest jacket in reach and left the house.
Of course, neither of his parents were there to shout a quick goodbye to, but he did it anyway.
He felt a little safer knowing that he had his favourite deck of pins attached to his bag.