Glass Feather

If I Had You

Joshua sat atop Ten-Four, his legs dangling over the roof as he gazed out over his city. Same streets, same buildings zigzagging across the sky. Down below, thousands of people milling about their daily lives who would never know how close they'd come to being obliterated twice. It was almost… sad.

Order had been restored to the affected cities, and for the moment, it seemed there was peace. Such a shame he couldn't see it.

There was a performance at A-East tonight though, a fashion show and concert. Neku's friends were participating. Neku had been really excited about it. He wondered if he should go.

A pop sounded behind him. "Yo Boss. Is this really all right?"

Joshua smiled wistfully. The Music of Shibuya had never sounded so right. The first time, Neku fixed it. This time, he'd perfected it. Instead of answering Sanae, he teleported away.

There was still so much to be done.

"Yo, Freshmeat."

The green-eyed boy turned as they kept walking towards the Dead God's Pad. "Yes, sister?"

Uzuki tried not to grimace. Work was fine —she liked work— but babysitting duty seriously frosted her cookies, and she'd never get used to this face. "You got all that?"

"Yes. Where's Sho?"

"Math Man? I reckon he's at the usual place."

"If there's nothing else, I'll head to Pork City after we clock out then."

Uzuki shrugged as they entered the Dead God's Pad.

"'Sup with you, girl?" Kariya greeted cheerfully around a stick of bean paste as he shut a file. "How was training?"

Uzuki grimaced. "You owe me a bowl of ramen for this."

"Pardon me, but am I dismissed?" the newcomer asked, just loud enough to be heard over the conversation.

"Oh, zing! I don't get any love anymore." Kariya complained airily. "Someplace to be?"

The boy hesitated before answering, "I'm supposed to meet Sho after I'm done."

"Well then." He waved his hands in a shooing motion. "Don't let me keep you from your couple's arts and crafts time."

The other bowed once before hurrying off, and as soon as he was out of the River, Uzuki let out the scream of frustration she'd been holding in all day.

"I can't believe the Composer! What the hell is he THINKING, letting this kid back into the Reapers?! The squirt's even tried to ice HIM!"

"Something way beyond the ken of mundane folks like you 'n' me, that's for sure. Now take it down a notch before you pop a blood vessel." He shoved the paperwork out of the way and rested his hip against the settee to close his eyes for a final check. Nothing seemed out of place. "So. How 'bout that ramen?"

Uzuki fell in step beside him. "Yes. That you owe me."

"Whoa there, cowgirl. You still haven't bought me the one for the end of the last EC."

"Hey! That's not fair!"

Some things never changed.

"Maya! The show's starting in five!" one of the backstage crew members called.

"Gotcha! Would you look at these threads, Ruka?" Maya turned to the keyboardist beside her. "I can't wait till they hit the stores!"

She was nervous. This was their first proper concert and Kamiya's first show with them ever. They'd rehearsed and revised the repertoire so many times, but that only increased the pressure she felt.

This had to be good. Yohan believed.

So, in an effort to distract herself from her nerves, she was looking through all the outfits lined up for the show.

"Great idea to have us wear them too."

There were three finalists for the design competition, and Ura Parade had a set from each designer. Each had a pretty different style, but that was perfect, and she liked them all.

Ruka took her by the shoulders. "It's going to be great, Maya." He had always been very good at seeing right through her. "Like you keep saying, have a little faith. This is just another show. Just do what you've always done, and people are going to love you."

"Us," she corrected, flicking at the lock of red hair he kept long like a rat's tail. "Going to love us. We're going to rock this stage."

"Five minutes is a lot shorter than you think, guys," came another voice from behind, and they turned. It was Karin, white electric violin in tow, her long black hair tied into a high ponytail. "Kamiya's already waiting on the other side of the stage."

They were starting with their most popular original, and since it had been written long before Kamiya joined, there were no drum parts, which meant he was free to help add some flare to their opening act. Maya nodded and led the way to the stage, smiling at Kamiya as she took her place. They'd gone for a good mix of originals and popular covers in the end. People liked songs they knew, and it wasn't like Ura Parade had a huge fanbase just yet. Ruka made his way over to the other side to join their spiky-haired drummer, and her best friend waited by her side for the signal to start.

"We've got this," she said, both for her sake and Karin's, nodding at the guys too. "Tonight's going to be amazing. This was worth fighting for."

The stage lights dimmed, and Karin stepped out to open with an excerpt from The Devil's Trill. As she started playing, the crowd slowly fell silent, and Maya was glad.

They'd caught attention. They could keep it. They had to.

I wish I could be in the audience tonight, Yohan piped up suddenly, the thoughts wistful.

Come now, you wrote half the songs and watched every dress rehearsal. You're not missing anything, she assured her brother, glad for his support. Yohan's presence always calmed her, made her feel like anything was possible. I hope they're out there watching though.

They? As in Kiryuu and Sakuraba?

Yeah. Wherever they are, I want them to see me take their city by storm. Ruka was out, which meant she and Kamiya were up in five seconds. No time for second thoughts now. It was all or nothing.

You'll make me proud, Maya. I know it.

Yeah. She steeled herself. Yohan believed. I'll save you a front row seat at Burokan.

She stepped out onto the stage.

A-East bustled with people, pulsed with music, equal parts of spectators drawn in by the fashion show, the Ura Parade concert and both. Maya was good, Joshua would give her that, and her bandmates were talented as well, but there was a Composer's touch to their music that had everyone transfixed, so it felt a lot like listening to Yohan's ideal of Chiyoda sometimes.

Maybe Maya was to Yohan what Neku had been to him — a proxy to give his vision life.

Yohan had been less than pleased at their last meeting, told him tersely that he was sowing the seeds of destruction for all the Grounds, but honestly, what was he supposed to do? Erasure was far too big a waste of talent.

You had to take risks to create true art. Maya understood.

New line-up, new songs, new styles at their first big concert, and "Will you catch me?" she sang, toeing the edge of the stage as the crowd screamed in the affirmative. "Will you catch me?" She turned as the music paused for dramatic effect. "I'm going to fall into your arms," and she did just that, letting herself fall back into the audience without any further warning as the drums picked up the music. "And let you see the real me." From the way her bandmates sighed in relief as the fans caught her readily, this probably wasn't planned. "So run before the angels come. I'll set you free…" Her voice rose perfectly over the cries of "I love you!" as she was lowered back onto her feet. "But you'll forget me in the morning." She ran back up to the stage as the violinist played her solo outro and thanked everyone as the drummer closed the song to mad cheering. They probably wouldn't have any trouble going major.

It was too easy to find that familiar light, too natural to just slip into the RG and join the cheering crowd. No one even noticed he hadn't been there mere seconds ago. "Fabulous, aren't they?" he said conversationally to the boy beside him, raising his voice to be heard above the din.

Blue eyes glanced towards him. "Yeah, I can't believe I'd never heard of them before."

"Tsk tsk. Still don't get out enough, dear. They've been hot on the club circuit for a while now."

The boy turned to him as the MC introduced the next finalist, brows furrowed. "Do I know you?"

Joshua smirked, turning to face him fully. "Maybe. Is that a pick-up line?" He twirled a lock of silver hair around his finger. "Because it might be working."

The other looked even more confused. "What the— Can't you just give me a straight answer?"

The Composer chuckled, devious, stepping closer and leaning up. He never was very good at playing by the rules.

"Mm, but only because you're my dear, dear Partner."

Megumi and Joshua moved as one as Neku fell and Cyril staggered backwards. Joshua caught Neku before he hit the asphalt, and Megumi lifted Cyril in a chokehold.

"Silly Neku, you do realize this too is a choice," he informed his former proxy as the other coughed, weakening.

"I know." Neku curled into him. "I'm sorry," and it wasn't particularly clear whom he was apologizing to.

This was nothing like the last time, nothing like the Game. A gunshot to the head was quick. Erasure was a brief burst of static you knew was coming. Neku had never had to die a slow physical death like he was now, never had to taste the pain that grew fainter and fainter as he struggled to cling to the world he knew. It wasn't fair, Neku would say, but then few things ever were.

He held the boy close as the two Angels vanished. "I thought you didn't plan on dying again."

"Heh." Neku wheezed, trembling in his arms. "I thought you didn't lie for no reason."

"Hmm? What's this, now?" He carded his fingers through orange hair soothingly, took the pain away.

Neku shook his head. "You said I wouldn't die even if you win." He let it rest on Joshua's shoulder. "So? What now?"

"Oh, nothing major." Joshua shrugged, but his touch was gentle. "We'll have to see what the Laws say."

Unexpectedly, Neku laughed, breathless, hand fisting over the gaping hole Megumi's laser left in his chest. "Will you... play another Game with me?" And instead of sorrow, fear or anger, blue eyes only held peace. Once again, he'd clashed; he'd changed. He'd grown.

Joshua covered the boy's hand with his own, smiling wistfully. "Don't be silly, Neku. Our third was your last, remember? And I can't even collect your Entry Fee."

At that, the other smiled back, closing his eyes. Brightly coloured lights glowed and swirled around them, coalescing into an iridescent pin when Joshua held his hand out just as a pop sounded behind him. He lay Neku's still body on the ground gently before rising.

"Back so soon, Megumi? I suppose you're here as an Enforcer this time?"

Off to the side, there was a shrill scream followed by a loud burst of static, then the familiar approaching footsteps of his Producer. Sanae looked down at the former Player's body, at once surprised and sad.

"Phones was never supposed to be involved in this."

Megumi inclined his head. "And if You had only obeyed the Laws, Composer, Sir, he never would have been."

Joshua sighed theatrically, turning. "I'm hurt. Even you don't believe our meeting again was a coincidence."

"Even if it was, Your continued contact was not. The Higher Planes do not look kindly upon Sakuraba's involvement in this incident, nor on Your previous transgressions, Sir."

"You forget," Sanae said, stepping forward, "that th—"

"What, Megumi, They're going to do something about it?" Joshua smirked, a restraining hand on Sanae's arm as he reverted to his true form.

For a long time, his old Partner was silent, then "They CAN take Shibuya away from You."

"And you'd like that, hm?" Joshua fastened the pin in his hand over his heart. It glowed brightly. "Surely you don't think we'd give up without a fight." He put his hands in his pockets. "You know me — I don't fight nice. And I can hardly disappoint my public, now can I?"

Behind him, Sanae lifted Neku's body. "I won't allow it."

There was a moment's pause before the former Conductor said, "You've changed, Composer." He looked down, adjusting his shades. "Bring the boy back without the forbidden knowledge, Sir. That is Their only condition."

"Hee hee. I'll think about it. Wouldn't want him losing all of that progress, hm?"

Megumi bowed.

"One last thing."

The Enforcer looked up. The Composer was gazing at His former proxy, a hand on his chin, pensive.

"Benoit was one of mine. Bring him back."

"Composer, Sir, Y—"

"I have the right, Megumi," he interjected in that tone that meant it wasn't up for debate. "There is a balancing force for him here, and he has no further value to the Higher Planes."

Megumi nodded once. "Very well. That is indeed Your judgement to make." He vanished, switching Frequencies.

"J, are you sure this is wise?" Sanae asked as they headed back towards Wildkat.

Joshua laughed. "My, my… You too? Relax, Sanae. With this, we may solve not just one problem, but two."

Neku opened his eyes, breaking the kiss for air, but kept their foreheads pressed together. "What took you so long?"

Joshua giggled. "Oh, there were more pressing matters to attend to."

"Oh, f—" Neku stepped away, throwing his hands up. Kiss my ass, Josh, he wanted say, but the other would only have too much fun taking that literally. "Will you cut the crap? I was an idiot to think you'd give me a real answer the first time for a change."

"Don't you think it's more fun with a little suspense?"

"No." He frowned, looking like he was going to rage like he usually did, then sighed and shook his head. "Can you really keep breaking the rules like this, Josh?"

The Composer turned back to the stage where a group of dancers had come down the catwalk in various outfits from the current design team and taken up position on stage to wait for Ura Parade to start their next number.

"Hee hee. Who needs other people's rules, right?"

"Josh, y—"

There was an explosion as all the lights went out, drowning out Neku's words, then the music picked up, and the lights came back on as Ura Parade started covering a popular anime's theme song. With the performance and the cheering, it was too noisy to talk, but to Joshua's surprise, Neku took his hand, inviting telepathic contact.

Well, well. This is new. What happened to your not wanting me to scan you?

You said it yourself: I can't stop you. So? Are you going to answer my question or not?

Joshua sighed, longsuffering. Oh, fine, fine. His former proxy was nothing if not persistent, and Neku always needed explanations. Someone forgot to put on his good listener ears again. I'd rather destroy Shibuya than see it fall into the wrong hands, Neku. Did any of that sink in? In any case, I trust you'll put up a fight if They try to take this city from me. And I'm sure you'll do a bang-up job as always, dear.

There was no immediate response, but the boy's thoughts were a swirl of worries. How charming.

It was more entertaining to pay attention to the concert while Neku sorted through his thoughts, as the band had moved on to another original. The dancers had changed into a new set of outfits, and Maya was dancing along with them as the whole band sang, "We've got no time, no time, no time." They turned, and the dancers slid back to leave the vocalist up front centrestage. "To rein in the monster inside us~"

Make me your Conductor, Neku said finally.

Pale lilac eyes slid sideways. Wow, why, that's an unlikely conclusion. You're just full of surprises, dear. Don't tell me you've forgotten I can't pick just anyone.

The boy crossed his arms and turned to face him. If the person you needed was a Reaper, you would have appointed him already.

Joshua couldn't help laughing. Very good, Neku! Oh, I'm so proud. Even so, what makes you think that person is you? He grinned as it seemed to finally occur to his former proxy that there was no proof that the boy was suitable for the position. Besides, why the sudden interest? I thought you wanted to expand your world.

I can do that right here, Neku argued. He'd learned that the hard way.

There, there, dear. I never said you couldn't. The Composer turned with a gentle smile. Live, Neku. You're ten years too young to stay in one city forever. We've got an eternity in this together, Mr. Escort. It's such a very long time.

Neku just stared at him, gaping. He never thought he'd see the day Joshua acted his age for a change.

Hee hee~ Your face is priceless.

Who asked you? Wait, who are you, and what have you done with Joshua?

Their eyes met, and there was that amused tenderness again.

Aww, Neku, didn't you say you wouldn't let me change my mind?

"Ugh, you ass," he muttered, pulling the other into a tight hug. He wasn't wasting any more time taking things for granted. Enjoy the moment, right? He'd found the best moments right here in Joshua's world. Their world. He wouldn't let them slip away. I don't share either.

Joshua chuckled, returning the embrace. Some glass feathers were worth keeping around.

"My… My Tin Pin Führer!" Yammer cried as he reached for the pin. "Y—You did it! You really did it!" He held it up to look it over from every angle in the sunlight. "Dude! It looks as good as new!"

"WHOA! Awesome!" Shooter gaped at the fully repaired pin. "You totally fixed it! Mods and all!"

Joshua nodded with a smug smile. "As I promised."

"Thank you so much!" Yammer bowed as low as he could. "I owe you a big one for this!"

"Hey, bro." Shooter turned to Neku. "You slammin' today?"

"Oh, going to indulge your fans, dear?"

"Naw." Neku shook his head. Admittedly, the twinkle of mirth in lilac eyes wasn't so annoying when it wasn't at his expense. "We've got somewhere else to be."

"WHAT!? Aww, bro… I wanted a REMATCH!"

"And I wanted to give the newly overhauled Tin Pin Führer a go," Yammer added hopefully.

"What a shame." Joshua shrugged, not looking the least bit chagrined. "We're booked. Neku gets around."

Neku shot his former Partner a glare. "Maybe next time."

"Aww, no fun! Come by Stride again sometime, so we can play!"

"I'll be waiting!"

They went inside as Neku and Joshua headed down towards the Scramble hand-in-hand, Neku stealing surreptitious glances at his former Partner every so often.

Finally, Joshua ran a hand through his hair, giggling coyly. "Something wrong, dear? I think I'm blushing already."

"No, just… I still can't believe you really fixed the kid's pin."

"Ouch, Neku," Joshua replied, deadpan. "I keep my word… even to sixth-graders."

Suddenly, instead of answering, Neku stopped and whirled. "W—wait, that's—!" Letting go of Joshua's hand, he ran towards Shibu-Q Heads. Only the usual throng of shoppers greeted him.

"Hmm?" Joshua appeared behind him, hands in his pockets, footsteps soundless on the asphalt. "Is there a problem?"

Neku stood on his tiptoes, scanning the crowd all the way to Udagawa. "Just now, I thought I saw…" Nothing. No, i—it can't be… He shook his head. "Never mind."

"What, a friend of yours?"

Unless… He turned to the Composer. "Did… Did you bring them back? The Grim Heaper a—and…"

"Ahh, Cyril? So that's what this is all about. Oh, that's right. You call him Enishi."

Neku winced at the name. Once, his best friend had been his world. Now, the thought of him brought little but pain and guilt. After everything that had happened, Neku knew he shouldn't miss him —it was all his fault; he didn't even have the right— but if only… If only there was a way to do things over… Then maybe Enishi…

"I took away all their memories from after their Game, told them there were too many Reapers when they first joined, so I had to put them to sleep for a stint." He rubbed his chin, thoughtful, as he stared out towards Udagawa. "They seem content in their own little world, don't you think?"

Neku stared. Then he looked down, biting his lip. But… why? After everything… After Jude… You didn't— He doesn't… "J—" He choked. He swallowed and tried again. "Josh, why?" Enishi had caused so much pain, destroyed so much. He didn't… least of all from Joshua, whom he'd hurt the most.

The other shrugged carelessly. "I merely took back what was mine."

Neku had never understood why Mr. H helped Joshua, why Shades held his former Partner in such high esteem. Sure, he'd decided long ago that Joshua should stay the Composer, but that's because he knew Joshua, had plumbed the depths of the demigod's cruelty. Like he'd said, better the devil he knew.

Maybe Shades was right, and they weren't even on the same plane. He was only just beginning to grasp why Joshua did the things he did.

"Thank you," he whispered, throwing his arms around the other. He'd expected Enishi's erasure. He'd grieved; he'd pushed the memories and the guilt away. This… This was more than either one of them deserved. "Thank you."

"Hee hee. I'm happy you're happy."

He'd called Joshua a lot of things in their acquaintance, some less kind than others, but right about now, he'd take them all back. "Promise you won't take my memories again, Josh."

"I'm hurt, Neku. I thought you said you trust me."

Most of them, he amended, silencing a groan. Joshua was still an ass. "I do. But that's why I want to remember. I'm not taking any chances with you."

He wanted to remember, for a change, the look on Joshua's face when Shades had attacked that day, the tenderness in the other's touch, what it was like to finally have a little faith. Something real.

The Composer leaned into the embrace. "I also don't make promises I can't keep, dear."


"Shh…" Joshua pressed two fingers to his lips with a grin. "You're going to be late."

A snotty, devious, insufferably irritating ass. He leaned back to glare. "Don't you dare."

The other giggled. "Oh, cut me a little slack. It's part of the job description… sometimes."

"Rrgh… Fine." They could have this fight another day. Neku stepped back, but didn't let go. "Don't think for a moment that this is over. Are you coming?"

"Hmm…" Joshua looked up at the sky, contemplating, as they resumed walking. "Oh, I suppose I could… for my dear, dear partner. No harm, I guess, since they don't remember. Let's spend some quality time."

Blue eyes widened and blinked. "Wait, really?"

"Mm-hmm~ You'll just owe me one."

By Neku's reckoning, that made them even, but he decided against remarking on it. Just in case the Composer changed his mind. They were the last to arrive at Hachiko again, only this time, they actually were a minute tardy.

"Hey guys."

"Yo!" Beat returned the greeting cheerfully. "Hey, it's dat prissy kid you was with! So you finally found him, eh?"

"Neku!" Shiki turned, clasping her hands. "That's great! You don't have to wait anymore."

"Heh heh, everything comes to him who waits," Rhyme added nodding. "I'm glad all that hanging out here paid off!"

"I—I don't—"

"I don't believe we've been formally introduced," Joshua interrupted with a smirk. "The name's Kiryuu Yoshiya, but since my dear, dear partner calls me Joshua, I suppose you can too."

Eri raised an eyebrow, but only said, "Well, I'm Eri, and this is my best friend, Shiki. That's Beat and his sister, Rhyme. It's good to finally meet you. Neku's been hung up on you for as long as I've known him."

"W—what?!" Neku spluttered. "H—hey! That's not—"

"How could you, Neku?" Joshua whined, doing his best to sound hurt as he shifted closer, into Neku's personal space, and wound his arms around Neku's waist. "After all the promises you whispered to me last night…"

"Whoa ho ho!" Beat held his hands up, stepping back. "You guys are... Like, you ain't…"

"Ahh! Then you two are—!" Shiki gasped. "Ah, no, no!" She waved her hands in front of her. "I mean, there's nothing wrong with that. I'm just surprised! I had no idea." She looked positively delighted. "Hee hee! Neku! You should've told me sooner!"

"Yeah, man." Beat punched Neku lightly in the shoulder with a nod, recovering from his shock. "We cool."

Neku turned away, scratching his head awkwardly as the other two nodded in agreement. "Uh… thanks, guys." He didn't know what he had been expecting, but he had to admit hearing that was comforting.

"Well, in the spirit of surprises…" Eri slowly held a letter up for them to see. "Guess who's been signed to a collab with D+B next year!" Her voice rose to a squeal.

"That's fantastic!" Rhyme clapped her hands. "See? Everything happens for a reason."

Shiki and Eri came in second for the contest, but it looked like they'd impressed people regardless. D+B was their favourite brand. Neku was happy for them.

"Speaking of which, why didn't you tell us your hip hop group was one of the dance teams, Rhyme?"

"Heh heh!" The youngest twirled, hands behind her back. "I wanted it to be a surprise!"

"Exciting!" Joshua enthused, letting go of Neku. "We should celebrate over barbecue. There's this fabulous grill up in Udagawa, and they also have an excellent beef curry sauce."

"Didchu say curry?" Beat perked up, pushing off on his deck. "I'm so down widdat, yo. C'mon, yo, le's bounce!"

"Yay!" Rhyme cheered, skipping along behind her brother. "I love barbecue!"

"Oh, all right." Eri put the letter back in her purse. "I suppose this is an occasion worth splurging on."

"Well, I guess we'd better hurry then," Shiki added, laughing as she jogged after her best friend.

Joshua sighed as he followed them at a more sedate pace. "I don't do the whole sweating thing."

Beside him, Neku shrugged. "Then don't. It's not like Beat actually knows how to get there."

"Hee hee, and you say I'm devious, dear."

Suddenly, Eri stopped short. "Wait a minute." She whirled to face Neku, hands on her hips. "If you two are an item, then what about Yoko?"

"Yeah, Phones!" Beat came skating right back to glare. "What about Yoko-chan, yo?"

"I hope you let her down gently, Neku." Shiki looked worried. "The poor girl was so into you."

"Yup!" said Rhyme, waving her finger. "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

C—crap! Neku opened his mouth and closed it again, trying to avoid the expectant stares. W—what do I tell them?! Damn it, Josh! You and y—

"Yoko?" Joshua interjected. "Oh, you mean this girl?" He held up his cellphone for them to see, and then everyone was speaking at once.

"Is that—?"

"Wait, you know her? Then—"

"Hang on, how do you have that picture?"

"Hold it, that phone!"

To Neku's growing horror, Joshua giggled. "Hmm? Let me make it obvious." He reached into his pocket. "Mm, I suppose this will serve." He applied some tinted lip gloss, then looped his arms around Neku's neck. "Hee hee~ Are you feeling all right, dear?"

Josh, just kill me. Kill me now. Neku buried his face in his hands. Just…

After all the trouble I went to to bring you back? Hee hee, have some compassion, Neku. He turned to the rest. "We connect. So~ deeply~" he quoted, pitching his voice just like he had that day. "Wow, I had no idea you guys cared about me so much! How charming. It touches my heart."

For a moment, there was only stunned silence.

Then "OH. MY. GOD." Eri gaped as realization hit.

"Ahh!" Rhyme gasped. "Then Miss Yoko was—"

"Omi—omi—" Shiki looked about to have a stroke. "Ohh! emm! gee!" She covered her mouth. "She— You really—?"

"W—w—wait. You mean Yoko-chan—!" Beat's jaw dropped as it finally clicked.


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