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A month in Shibuya

Chapter Text

Some days, Neku lowkey asked himself why he was still friend with Shiki.

Right now, he was in her room, listening to Eri and Shiki argue about colors. Being friend with Eri came with hanging out with Shiki, but Eri was not the problem. At first it had been frankly weird to see this girl that looked like Shiki but was not her (even if he knew it was technically the opposite), but now he was used to it. And Eri fitted in their group, even if the "how" was still a mystery.

The clothes, sewing material and sketches lying around were not the problem either, even if they did make it difficult to find a place to sit. But the girls had sat him down on the only chair devoid of clutter and under their twin stare of "you'd better comply", he had prudently kept quiet.

No, the problem was the make-up.

Well, today's problem was the make-up, anyway. Sometimes it was the girls' obsession with putting him in a skirt, or their tentatives to mess with his hair. And the reason was always the same: their need to try things before they advertised their creations. He could only hope he wouldn't end up in the final pics.

"OK, close your eyes," Eri ordonned.

She was holding a pencil a bit too close to Neku's face for comfort. He crossed his eyes trying to see what color they had finally agreed on. Apparently, it was some shade of blue.

"I really hope this is easy to wash off," he sighed while obeying.
"Don't worry Neku, we already tried it on ourselves," Shiki answered.

It was weird to feel Eri drawing on his face like this, but he tried his best to keep still.

Being friend with Shiki meant being used as a test for all kind of fashion experiments, and today was no exception. But even if he tried to protest each and every time, he had to admit (but only very low to himself) that it was nice to see Eri and Shiki have so much fun. And eh, he was helping them getting experience for their dream job, so he couldn't really say no, could he?

Chapter Text

They say everyone dream.

They say dreaming is a normal brain function, that there’s a phase in everyone’s sleep when dreams appear even if we don’t remember them once awake. They say we need this to be healthy. They say you go insane if you cannot dream.

Maybe she’s slowly going insane.

She doesn’t think she’s going insane, though. She just feels… empty. She doesn’t dream at night, she knows it, but she doesn’t dream at day either. She doesn’t have dreams. Not anymore.

Is it because she’s not totally human anymore, or is she not human because she cannot dream? She doesn’t know.

She keeps smiling and says nothing to the others.

Chapter Text

Eri opens the door with an expression that Neku can only describe as “weird”. It’s something like a mixture of “disturbed”, “surprised”, “incredulous”, “disgusted” and “trying so hard not to smile her jaw must be hurting”.

“Is something wrong?” Neku asks.
“Well, it’s… no, I guess not. Not exactly.”

Neku rises an unimpressed eyebrow, and Eri rolls her eyes.

“Alright, come in, but silently ok? You’ll see by yourself.”

Neku follows her to her room where he can hear Shiki and Beat talking, with occasional interventions by Rhyme. Eri gestures at him to look discreetly, and he tries his best to stay unseen.

The scene is as weird as Eri’s welcoming grimace. Rhyme is perched on Eri’s bed, looking down on the absolute mess covering the floor, where Shiki and Beat are sat. Probably not entirely by choice, to be perfectly honest. There is so much cloth and thread all around the room that it’s a miracle Shiki and Beat didn’t strangle themselves yet.

“What the fuck happened?” Neku whispers to Eri. “What’s this… horror?”

Eri shrugs.

“Shiki volunteered to help Beat with learning how to sew. It’s… well, interesting.”
“Do you think you’ll manage to get your room back one day?"
“I… honestly don’t know. But hey, we can still see the bed, it’s a good point, isn’t it?”

Chapter Text

“Why are you buying so much candy cane, lately?” Shiki asks.

Rhyme smiles and pays for her sweets.

“Well, what do you know about our family?” she asks instead of answering.
“No that much,” Shiki admits. “Beat doesn’t seem to have a good relationship with your parents…”
“You can say that, yes. And our parents always use me as an example, which is…”

She trails off.

“... not better,” Shiki finishes for her.
“Yeah, that.”
“So what? You put candy in their mouth to get them to shut up?”

Rhyme giggles.

“No, but I love your idea! No, I made two garlands with yarn, one for Beat and one for me, and each day we manage not to antagonize our parents I put a candy cane on the garland.”

There is a short silence.

“Given how many I see you buy, I’d say you do a great job with this,” Shiki points out gently.

Rhyme smiles, and that’s all the answer needed.

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Eri’s not stupid. Alright, she’s not the most clever girl ever, and sometimes she says pretty dumb things –she probably won’t ever forgive herself for what she told to Shiki before she stopped talking to her for three weeks–, but she’s not stupid either. She knows something happened during these three weeks. Something that Shiki won’t tell her. Something that gained her the weirdest group of friends ever.

And it’s not that they don’t fit together. They do. Even she fits with them. But… she cannot understand what could have brought them together at first. And they’re all… haunted. It’s in the details. The way Rhyme’s smile become devoid of warm when someone talks about their dream future. The way Shiki looks at herself in the mirrors, like it’s always a surprise for her to meet her own eyes. The way Beat, enthusiastically dumb Beat, becomes overly serious around cars. The way Neku looks at some tags with longing .

But she won’t ask. She can’t. The one time she tried to branch the topic with Shiki, she started to cry and make her promise not to talk about this ever again.

Eri would like to help Shiki. Would like to help her friends, plural, because now they’re all hers too. But she’s no exorcist, no therapist. So she does what she can: doing her best to bring genuine smiles on their lips, and hoping it’ll be enough.

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“So, why orange?”

Neku looked up at Eri. She gave him a can of soda without letting the question mark disappear from her expression.

“What orange?” Neku finally answered.

She sat next to him and popped open her juice before pointing at Neku’s head.

“Your hair. No way this is your natural color, so why did you choose it?”
“Why pink?” Neku countered.

Eri started giggling and almost choked on her drink.

“Because I like the color,” Eri grinned.
“Well, I like orange,” Neku said.
“Also… I didn’t want to, you know, keep a normal hair color, be… identical to most people. I want to work in fashion, and I wanted that to be clear just by my look. To scream that everyone should be able to be themselves. Pink is feminine, but I also picked a bright pink to show I’m bold, not shy. If that makes sense, anyway,” she finished, eyes glued to her drink.

Neku sipped on his soda, looking at the grayish sky.

“I wanted something different,” he finally answered, “because I didn’t feel like anybody else. I felt… not lonely exactly, I was content being alone, but… it was uncomfortable to be seen as a part of the mass. And with my hair and my headphone, I knew people wouldn’t want to try and approach me. I played into the rebel persona.”
“You’re not exactly avoiding people anymore,” Eri pointed.
“I don’t avoid
you,” Neku corrected. “And Shiki would have an attack if I suddenly changed my hair, don’t you think?”
“Hmm, don’t you think Beat would be the most shocked if it happened?”

They considered it in silence for a while.

“Say, Neku…”
“No, I won’t dye my hair just to see who lose it first.”
“But I
may be able to find a wig…”
“You’re such a terrible influence.”

Chapter Text

Sanae observes Joshua over the rim of his coffee mug. The Composer is obviously amused, but that doesn’t tell him how he’s going to react.

“So?” Sanae finally asks. “Did they go too far with these lyrics?”
“Oh, no,” Joshua answers without looking up. “I like it. And think about it as doing their Reaper work while singing for pleasure. The best of both worlds, wouldn’t you say?”

Sanae shrugs.

“If you say so.”

 

Sometimes I fear my decisions
Did I do right did I do wrong?
My life could be so different
But would I want not to be me?

Sometimes I know people judge me
Because I’m not proper enough
But in my songs there is a truth
They could not ever attain

In afterlife we’re not equal we all fight to be saved
Only people taking their chance deserve a second one
So go all out with your passions and reach out to your friends
You have what it takes to be strong, don’t let the world silence you

Do not forget who you are
Do not forget what you want
Do not forget what you need to be you

You can always fight and win
You are tougher than you think
You can inspire others around you

No matter who you are you have this light in you

I’m not that different from you
I can’t control the world I’m in
I’m not even the Composer
Of my own Song, but it’s alright

In afterlife we’re not equal we all fight to be saved
Only people taking their chance deserve a second one
So go all out with your passions and reach out to your friends
You have what it takes to be strong, don’t let the world silence you

No matter who you are you have this light in you

In afterlife we’re not equal we all fight to be saved
Only people taking their chance deserve a second one
So go all out with your passions and reach out to your friends
You have what it takes to be strong, don’t let the world silence you

In afterlife we’re not equal we all fight to be saved
Only people taking their chance deserve a second one
So go all out with your passions and reach out to your friends
You have what it takes to be strong, don’t let the world silence you

Do not forget who you are
Do not forget what you want
Do not forget what you need to be you

You can always fight and win
You are tougher than you think
You can inspire others around you

No matter who you are you have this light in you

Def Märch - “Afterlife”

Chapter Text

They all have their little quirks now. Shiki and her mirror thing. Beat getting visibly more attentive. Neku and his tags. Even Eri, who didn’t die like them, has changed, for she’s always looking at them all like they could shatter when she thinks they can’t see it.

Rhyme sees it. But she can’t really say anything, because she knows she’s not untouched either. And so far, she doesn’t think Eri realised it, but Rhyme is probably the weirdest of them all. After all, she died not once but twice . And for more than two weeks, she was not human anymore.

This kind of thing doesn’t just disappear.

She can’t see the UG, which is a relief, but she can sometimes see Noise, especially when they’re moving. She tries not to let her eyes follow them, but she knows she fails more often that she’d like.

Her classmates think she’s seeing ghosts.

She doesn’t dare lying by denying it.

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She doesn’t dream, but usually she sleeps. Sometimes, though, questions circle her like sharks scenting blood.

What is going to happen to her if she cannot find a new dream to live for? Will she be able to stay sane if she doesn’t dream at night? How long will she be able to hide from her friends that she still sees Noise? If the Composer was powerful enough to reset reality like he did with so many things, why isn’t she normal again? Was it deliberate? If so, why? Is this supposed to be a lesson? A punishment? A test? A game? Is she still able to differentiate what was a part of her before and what is new? When do you stop being human?

Is she a monster?

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For once, Neku wanted Joshua to be here.

Well, in all honesty, he often wished to see him, even if most of the time it was more to get an occasion to punch him in the face than anything else. But that was beside the actual point. That point being: Joshua was an asshole, but a stylish asshole. He knew how to dress up to impress when he wanted, and he would know how Neku should do it. Because right now, even if Eri and Shiki wanted him present and proper enough looking at this fashion exhibition, they were so stressed out of their mind that Neku didn’t even entertain the thought to ask for their help.

He knew he needed to stop thinking about how comfortable he would be. He would be uncomfortable. He would not look like himself. But it was just for one evening, and it was important for his friends, and he wanted to do it.

He was just afraid to mess up.

He almost jumped out of his skin when the doorbell rang. At first, he didn’t recognize the girl smiling up at him, then it slowly dawned on him.

“Rhyme?” he asked, eyes like saucers.

She giggled.

“In person! Figured you would need some help, at least just to stop freaking out.”
“You’re the best. Come in and tell me how not to make a spectacle of myself please.”
“Don’t worry, we’ve got it.”

Neku looked over her shoulder, searching for Beat, but no, she was alone. But… oh. Her “we” meant her and himself.

He smiled, and squared his shoulders. They would make Shiki and Eri proud.

Chapter Text

Fantasy : that which comes from one's imagination.

Neku draws. Neku draws, inks, paints, covers sheets of paper, margins of his notes, sometimes even the walls of the city, of his city.

(It cannot be his city, not the way it’s Joshua’s city, but something inside him wants to claim it anyway.)

(Or maybe it’s the city that tries to claim him.)

Sometimes, he doodles something that’s half animal and half geometrical shapes, and then stop himself before adding the colors to what he recognizes as a Noise, because it looks so life-like that he fears it could hops down his drawing into the UG.

(And he never wanted to draw that Noise. It was like his hand knew better than his brain.)

Another day, he paints a magnificent sunset above 104. Two days later, the sky is the exact same mix of bright and proud colors.

Neku knows he has a solid Imagination. It was why he died , after all. And probably why he lives now, too. But… he still cannot get used to Shibuya answering .

(He’s afraid of himself.)

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Shopping in Shibuya is like wearing a mask.

Neku knows most of the vendors, but they don’t remember him. They can’t. He wasn’t… exactly here, or exactly alive, or something like that. They were the only ones seeing him, but it was like he was a perfect stranger when he came back after .

Maybe it’s normal after a Game. Or maybe it’s because Shibuya’s been “reset”. He has no way to know.

Thing is: he cannot let them realise how much he knows about them. So he has to wear that mask, that obviously fake smile, false unfamiliarity.

It’s actually weird to have to fake not knowing someone. Before , he was most likely to fake remembering someone he hadn’t cared about enough to truly keep in mind.

He doesn’t know what he prefers, but it’s pointless to speculate about things he can’t change. Instead, he can silently rejoice that he has the occasion to avoid the vendors he came to find a bit creepy and go straight to the ones he kinda likes.

The ones he kinda likes. He truly came to appreciate people. Weird what dying can do to you.

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Before the Game, Shiki had never been especially fascinated by magic. Curious, of course, who wouldn’t? But nothing really obsessive. Now, she’s no more obsessive, but she’s definitely way more interested. Because she saw true magic. Levitation, teleportation, telekinesis, all of them and more. So now, when she sees someone putting on a show of disappearing out of locked box, she can’t help but wonder alright, they didn’t use a psych, so what’s the mundane way to do it?

Her eyes for stitches becomes an eye for hidden buttons, her way to evaluate the size of her model becomes an acute sense of where there is enough space to hide a compartment, and her habit not to let herself distracted in battle helps her seeing right through the diversion tactics of the magicians.

Before she knows it herself, she can replicate half of the tricks not necessitating special equipment.

When Eri volunteers her for a show at a Halloween party, she complains loudly, but is secretly proud. Not that she thinks she can fool her friend on that point. Hiding whole boxes from her is easy; hiding her feelings is near impossible.

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“Say, Neku…”

Neku tries to hide a blooming smile. He’s surprised it took Shiki so long to bring up the topic.

“Yeah?” he answers innocently.

Shiki seems to be bracing herself for a difficult conversation. Over her shoulder, Neku can see Rhyme grinning. She already understood, of course.

“You know, it’s Halloween soon…” she slowly starts, and goes on when Neku doesn’t answer. “We’d like to make a big party, I mean, we as in we talked with Eri and Beat and Rhyme, and maybe with some people of that fashion contest and that one girl that’s always trying to do better than Beat at skate tricks, and…”

She still babbles when she’s nervous, but Neku knows the steel that lurks behind her unassuming look. She won’t back up on this without fighting tooth and nail.

“Do you need my help for setting things up?” he asks her.

She stops talking mid-sentence, mouth hanging open.

“What?” she finally says. “I mean, you’re okay with a party with so many people?”
“I won’t be the most comfortable ever,” he admits, “but it’s alright. Even if it’s too many people, it’s
nice people, and it’ll make you all happy. And if it becomes too much I’ll hide under a table and pretend to be part of the scary decoration.”

Shiki hugs him. He hugs her back without hesitation.

Chapter Text

“You know,” Eri says, “I noticed that you noticed me watching over you all.”

Rhyme doesn’t know how to answer, but Eri goes on anyway.

“You don’t have to say anything, don’t have to explain. I won’t push, not after the absolute meltdown Shiki had when I just tried asking a single question. I just wanted you to know, to be sure, that I’m here for you too. Whatever weights you down, you’re not alone, alright?”
“I kinda see ghosts,” Rhyme blurts out before shutting her mouth close with enough strength to hurt.

She doesn’t know why she told Eri. She wanted to keep quiet about it and she went on to tell Eri out of all her friends. The only one who cannot really understand.

Maybe that’s why, though.

Eri is silent a bit too long for Rhyme’s ease. She wonders if she’ll have to pass it off as a joke.

“Can I do anything to help?” Eri eventually asks, her voice soft and so full of acceptance that Rhyme considers crying a little bit.
“You’re already helping,” Rhyme smiles instead. “And I’m glad that I’m not the only one keeping an eye on the others.”
“Hey, that’s what friends do. And even if they don’t seem to be as aware as the two of us, I know they all have their way of being there for us.”
“You’re right.”

She knew that, but she needed to hear it all the same. Dealing with not being totally human doesn’t feel quite so heavy anymore. Who cares as long as her friends are here with her, after all?

Chapter Text

“What exactly is that?” Rhyme prudently asked.

In front of her was a plate covered in… maybe this was supposed to be cookies? It had more or less the right shape?

“I tried making a thing called whoopies,” Eri sighed. “It’s American and apparently impossible to make if you’re not in the right country.”

Shiki poked one of the so called whoopies.

“The cream didn’t taste so bad. It sure looks… well, it looks like « eww! » personified, but maybe they taste good?”
“Shiki, I burnt the cookies.”
“Not all of them?” Shiki corrected, her voice hesitating between hope and unease.
“Not all of them alright, but still, I can’t make you try this! I’d feel bad!”

The choice was taken out of her hands when Beat entered the kitchen, saw the whoopies and immediately put one into his mouth. Eri watched him, horrified.

“Beat, if you die of this that’ll be the most stupid death ever!”
“Oh, I don’t quite agree…” Shiki muttered.
“What?” Eri asked.
“No… nothing! Beat, you alright?”
“Of course I’m alright, why’re you freaking out? This thing’s delicious!”

Eri, Shiki and Rhyme exchanged a look full of doubt.

“You’re weird,” Eri concluded.

Chapter Text

Shiki took a step back to admire her work. She was proud of herself and thought that Eri would be even more satisfied by that upgraded version of her design.

Eri had wanted to make a dress evoking the light filtering through the leaves of trees in a forest. It was all creamy white, pale green and hints of sky blue. But Shiki had found an amazing fabric just that side of translucent that allowed her to play with the number of “leaves” to show more or less “sky”. In Eri’s drawings, the forest theme was obvious; in Shiki’s execution, you just wore a magical tree, as light as a cloud and luminous like a gentle dawn.

Shiki felt herself smile, a warm feeling in her chest. They were getting good. Really good. What had once been a distant dream looked more and more attainable.

They would become lights themselves too.

Chapter Text

Reaper Creeper is a trend long forgotten. Now everyone talks about Ghosticks, which is basically throwing a bunch of sticks in the air and hoping that a ghost arranges them to form a message. Neku wonders if it’s easier or more difficult to use for Players. In one hand, they don’t have to get the fine control needed to move the coin so slowly. But in the other hand, there are so many items to move almost at once…

Maybe it’s because he’s thinking too hard about it that he almost walks into a girl throwing sticks on the sidewalk. Instinctively, Neku looks down on the pattern formed by the sticks.

HI PHONES

“Who’s that Phones?” the girl wonders.
“It seriously works?” Eri exclaims.

Beat, Shiki and Rhyme are totally unimpressed by this obvious display of supernatural stuff. Neku takes a guess.

“Hi Lollipop. How’s Pinky?”

The sticks move without any living person touching them. The girl shrieks; Eri grabs Shiki’s arm but stays silent.

LEAVE MY HAIR OUT OF THIS

“How the hell do you know ghosts by name?!” the girl screams, backing until she’s stuck against the wall.
“Well, it’s a long story…” Neku sighs.

And of course now the two Reapers are not going to help. How is he going to explain this one…?

“Long story short,” Rhyme says with an air of utter innocence, “they already answered him when he tried Ghosticks. I think they like him!”

The girl still looks spooked as all hell, and she leaves without her sticks.

“Do you think we should grab them?” Shiki asks.
“No, let the ghosts have their fun,” Neku deadpans.

Shiki looks more worried about Eri anyway, so she just nods.

“I’m alright,” Eri points out. “A bit surprised is all.”
“You… you’re sure?”
“Totally. Don’t worry about me Shiki, I won’t freak out so easily.”

Eri smiles, so Shiki smiles too, and the gang is on its way, incident not exactly forgotten but put aside far enough that it’s almost the same.

Chapter Text

One evening like any other, Shiki happens to walk into the room where her friends are chilling just to find herself pinned to the wall by a growling Beat.

“Wh… what…” she breathes out.

Beat’s eyes open wide and he stumbles back. Neku catch him by the elbow before he loses his balance.

“Shiki… I’m sorry pal… you just… you came from my shadow and I…” Beat stutters.
“I’m alright…” Shiki says slowly.
“It’s not her,” Neku interjects, voice like steel. “It cannot be her, remember? We made sure of that.”

Eri eyes Rhyme, who for once seems as lost as she is. Then she goes to Shiki and gently makes her sit on her favorite cushion.

“You okay?” she asks.
“Yeah, really,” Shiki insists. “I was just surprised is all.”

Neku is still talking to Beat, too low to understand from where Eri is crouched, but she catches the word “erased”. It’s Rhyme’s turn to seem shocked, but as usual, she stays silent.

Eri prays that one day her friends wounds will heal.

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Reapers wings are the expression of their status, of their power. For the Composer, for Angels, it’s different. Their wings are part of their Soul, too wide and bright and otherworldly to stay confined inside a human body.

Of course, they can pretend. They can hide. Not everyone is able to see into the frequencies they live in, after all. But it’s always a weird feeling, like walking with a leg shorter than the other when you don’t remember it ever being that way.

Someone powerful enough, sensitive enough, could probably hear these wings more than seeing them. They are melodies intertwining, notes woven together by the very essence of live, pure magic resonating into space.

Basically, seeing the Composer’s wings would be seeing him, who he truly is, and that’s why it’ll never happen.

Chapter Text

Beat tries to learn sewing. It’s… an experience, and at first Shiki thinks he may be unable to sew anything more than a button for the years to come. The whole gang has to spend hours putting the room in order after the first lesson, but he doesn’t give up, and the smile on his face when he holds a clunky bag he made all by himself is as bright as the sun.

Eri tries to learn skate tricks. She often falls and sometimes has that instant of brilliance that makes all the bruises worth it.

Rhyme watches Neku draw and somehow ends up learning basics about coloring. Neku takes to photocopy his lineart so they can both work on it, and sometimes he points out things where Rhyme had a better idea than him.

Shiki first takes making more stuffed animals as a challenge after Neku shows her a drawing of “Piggy with friends”, but she ends up surprisingly good at it.

Neku learns how to accept new people into is life.

Because for some people, having fun is getting together to do the one thing they all love, but for them fun is all about sharing.

Chapter Text

“You what?”
“I want you to paint my skateboard,” Beat repeats.

Neku’s mouth hangs open for a while. That’s… more than a huge honor. A responsibility.

“You’re sure?” Neku hears himself ask.
“Of course man! Trust you with my life, trust you with my board!”

So Neku smiles and get his sketching book. This needs to be perfect. Perfectly Beat, and who better to know him than a partner who fought with him through even death?

Which doesn’t mean he won’t go to Rhyme to discuss the exact shade of yellow to use, or the way to shade his drawing. She’s Beat’s sister and have a good eye for colors, he would be stupid not to get her on board for this project.

In the end, it’s the first time Neku finds himself thinking “it’s a piece of art” regarding anything he did. And the scratches it will inevitably pick up in time only makes it more precious.

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Shiki was grinning, while the four others looked at her like she had lost her mind.

“What? Isn’t that a fantastic idea, guys?”
“Well…” Eri tried.
“I’m not even sure it’s possible to do this nicely enough to work,” Beat pointed.
“And it would take hours to untangle after the party,” Neku added.
“Wouldn’t it be dangerous to try that on a ceiling?” Rhyme asked.

Shiki rolled her eyes.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence guys… I’m sure we can do it, like I was sure Beat could learn to sew and nobody would believe us before he did it. If we buy the cheapest thread just for that, we wouldn’t have to untangle it, just throw it away. And thanks Rhyme but I won’t fall, we can do the knots on the floor and then pin it up.”

A silence followed that statement.

“And I could sew a nice spider to put on it?” Shiki added.
“Alright,” Eri sighed. “Handmade spider web on the ceiling it is. This party is either gonna be the best thing ever or the death of me.”

Chapter Text

“What’s this creature?”

Shiki sighed.

“Please Beat, not you too. It’s a fox, isn’t it obvious?”
“Still saying it’s a kitty!” Neku called from behind a pillow he used as a shield.

Shiki rolled her eyes and went back to her sewing. Her new stuffed animal was very obviously a fox despite the teasing of the two boys. Eri was so proud of her. Even if Shiki was not the master designer she once wanted to be in regard to fashion, she was getting seriously good with plushies.

Rhyme plopped down beside Eri and innocently leaned toward her.

“You know,” she whispered, “Shiki told me the fox would have very distinctive blue headphones…”

Eri almost choked on air trying not to laugh. She was ready to bet that Neku would immediately stop calling the fox “kitty”, and she was looking forward to seeing his face when Shiki would show him. It would be priceless.

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Sometimes it’s the most futile questions that comes back to haunt him. Like when he sees a man with black long hair and sunglasses, thinks of the Conductor and suddenly finds himself wondering what his eyes could have looked like. Kitaniji never let any Player see him without his shades on, and maybe it was for perfectly mundane reasons (style? light sensitivity?), but perhaps there had been something else. Something more. Maybe his pupils bore the mark of the inhuman lurking inside him, more snake than man. Or maybe he couldn’t bear to look directly at what he was doing without the shield of the glasses? Who had this man been, anyway?

There would never be any answer, so Neku shakes his head and goes on his way, trying once more to block out the Game from his mind.

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Eri still didn’t know what had happened to her friends during these three weeks, but she couldn’t help but call it the Fire. Because Shiki had been burned, badly, things destroyed, burns still painful, tears still close to the surface. But she’d been cleansed, also, somehow. Purified of doubt, of self-doubt, closer to diamond than ever before. Some of this fire still resided inside of her, in the way she wouldn’t shy away from anything, in the strength that lurked in her eyes, ready to defend and protect.

But the warmth was not a product of the Fire, it had always been here.

Chapter Text

The next “brilliant” idea of Shiki had been “let’s make a fake skeleton!”. Eri didn’t know if the blame should be placed on the skull patterns on Beat and Rhyme’s clothes or if Shiki was just that crazy. Because, seriously…

“How do you want us to make all these bones?” Neku had objected. “I’m not even sure what they look like! And what material to use? And…”

And, in the end, they had accepted to try, because Shiki was the kind of force you couldn’t contain, or even resist. Rhyme had come up with the idea to use papier-mâché, Eri and Neku had found an anatomical drawing of a whole skeleton and joined their skills at knowing the shape of the human body to come up with patterns for all the useful bits in the right size, and Beat had found all the materials necessary to actually make the papier-mâché.

The following hours had been pure chaos, but as always when they were together, they had fun. And in the end they discovered that Beat of them all was surprisingly skilled with papier-mâché, which allowed them to get something looking like a skeleton and not a lump of cardboard.

Eri had the suspicion this would only encourage Shiki to make them try crazier and crazier stuff. But maybe it wasn’t that bad to dream larger than life.

Chapter Text

Eri and Neku look at themselves in the mirror. It’s awkward.

“You know,” Neku finally tries, “you make a good red-head.”
“I’m not sure I could ever get used to it,” Eri answers.
“Yeah, I understand that feel.”

Eri’s wig has very long red, curly hair. Neku’s is black, short, and seriously makes him look like he want to work in a bank.

“This is so weird,” Neku says.
“True, but now think about Shiki and Beat’s reactions! I don’t count on Rhyme to do much more than an accepting smile, or maybe even understand the joke right away, but the other two…”
“I’m ready when you are.”

Two minutes later, they enter the room where Shiki is frantically sewing while Beat and Rhyme make adjustments to the skeleton.

“Hey guys, what’s up?” Eri asks.

They all look at her, then at Neku, then do a double-take.

“DA HELL?!” Beat exclaims at the exact same time Shiki says “Oh. My. God.”
“I think Mr Skeleton is almost ready,” Rhyme answers calmly as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
“Man, your hair…” Beat goes on.
“Eri, what… why?” Shiki stutters.

Eri and Neku exchange a look, and then devolve into uncontrollable giggles.

Chapter Text

“What is this?” Shiki asked. “A kind of… blob?”
“It’s a slime in a jar, of course!” Rhyme answered.

The thing looked like eyes had suddenly sprouted on jelly.

“It’s weird enough to be a good decoration,” Shiki approved. How did you make it?”

Rhyme smiled.

“Oh, it’s way better than that. It’s edible. It’s jello with smarties. I can make many colors.”

There was a beat, then Shiki grinned, almost predatory.

“Rhyme, this is pure genius! I love it!”
“Best thing ever or the death of me…” Eri muttered, shaking her head.

Chapter Text

Neku looked at his player pin. It was the only pin that was still with him when he woke up after all that mess of a Game. Then, he had been angry because it felt like a way for Joshua to mock him. “Oh, the only reminder you’ll have of these three weeks will be the one thing I gave you after I killed you!” Now, it felt more like a link, a frail connection to that insufferable cheater who had been (and somehow still was) his partner.

White skull, black pin. Almost a balance of life and death, which was only appropriate: the Players were always on the verge of both.

“You know, Josh, I have no idea how to reach you. I’ve waited, and you never came. I stopped waiting long ago, and you’re still not here. You were awful to me, you used me, you killed me, and I won’t forget. But I feel like maybe I could forgive if only I could talk to you and not to this pin. I still trust you and that’s not going anywhere. But I feel stuck in this, like I was stuck in the Game. I cannot progress, I cannot change regarding you if I don’t see you. Tomorrow is celebrating both the dead and the living, and that would be more than appropriate for you, don’t you think? So… would you come? Please? I know I shouldn’t, but I miss you.”

On Halloween, Joshua didn’t came.

“Asshole,” Neku whispered with a fond, if sad, smile.

Chapter Text

“Alright, not the death of me after all!” Eri grinned.

Their party was perfect. It was weird for them to have so many people around at once, but it felt safe because it was only people they chose.

“Guys,” Rhyme called softly, a smile on her lips.

She took Eri’s hand, who immediately caught up and took Neku’s, who grabbed Beat while Rhyme brought Shiki in the closing circle.

“We did this,” Rhyme said. “Last year we could never have done this, and now look at what we managed. There is nothing we cannot achieve together.”
“Together,” they all repeated, their hands intertwined like their lives.