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Another Chance

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The First Day


“... Him?”

“Yeah, I know. But even he deserves it.”

“But he tried to-”

“I know.”

 

“I’m… alive.” In all his calculations and plannings, there was just something that Sho never expected. Even after escaping death the first time, that was something he had expected. Stitching himself back together, but that was supposed to be his final resort.

So, why? He had lost, plain and simple. Was it a mistake that he had been given life yet again? Questions, questions, flowing through Sho’s head, as he grunted. The first step, of course, to look around. Obviously there was only one place he could really be, but if he could narrow it down-

It was Shibuya alright. Even that was a little strange: It had really survived through everything? Shaking his head, Sho sighed. The Composer would never fit into any of his equations, no matter how many times he tried.

A bit of litter on the ground caught his attention. So carelessly thrown away, it practically demanded his attention. Walking over to it, crouching down, and righting it: a half empty can, that he judged with the eye of an artist. “Heh.” Chuckling to himself, he stuffed it in his pockets.

Only to blink, and run his hands over his own body for a couple of seconds. Even his old clothes were restored, it was as if he had never been made part of a Taboo Noise at all. “This… this doesn’t make sense,” he grumbled to himself.

Well, as he had thought previously, none of this really made any sense. Back alive, wandering the streets of Shibuya, some perverse miracle. Once again his thoughts had returned there, and if matters were entirely under his own control, Sho would spend the rest of his first day just thinking about that.

Luckily, however, Sho would be quite sharply brought out of his funk. Another can, this time aimed directly at his head- and, impact. “Gah?!”

“Yo, number guy.” The sound of a lollipop being pulled out of a mouth. Sho’s eyes traveled the trajectory of that trash, to end up looking up at… some Reaper. His head tilted, an unspoken question practically scrawled over his face.

“Really? I know you were my boss for a while, but it wouldn’t have hurt to learn my name. It’s Kariya. Koki Kariya. Those Taboo Noise of yours were certainly interesting.” Koki sighed, leaning against a wall, his eyes closed.

It was as if a lightbulb went off over Sho’s head. “Oh, yeah, you were always with that other Reaper,” he said, before looking around. “You don’t seem like you’d happen to know why I’m still kicking though.”

Koki shrugged, before jumping down from his perch, and landing in front of Sho. “Nah, but I feel like you might end up finding your answer if you do something for me.”

Even before hearing the rest, Sho interrupted with an indignant- “What? I’m a Game Master, you don’t just tell me what to do, that’s not how this formula works out.”

Instead of Koki replying, there came a cough from behind him, making Sho jump, and spin around. In front of him was another Reaper, reddish hair, who seemed just familiar enough, until she actually spoke.

“Yeah, no. That’s not how it is any more. See, we stayed as Harriers after all that went down, but you? You’re lucky enough to still be in the UG in the first place. We’ve got explicit permission to boss you around. In other words? You’re barely a Reaper any more, let alone a Game Master. Got that?”

“Uzuki, right.” Sho groaned. Yeah, he remembered her name now. Of course those two had to survive, and not only that, survive together. Of course the Composer wouldn’t have been kind enough to fully reinstate him in his former position.

Koki looked over at Uzuki, and smiled, before continuing, “As I was saying. If you do this little favor for us, who knows, maybe you’ll be back on track for becoming a Game Master again, maybe find out why he brought you back to begin with.”

Looking between the pair of them again, Sho realized an unfortunate truth. He didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. Shaking his head, he looked at Koki again, and finally said, “Fine, I’ll help. What do you need me to do?”

With a sheepish grin, and a hand behind his head, Koki explained - “We want you to spy on the Composer.”

Before Sho could even respond, Uzuki added, “He’s been acting… weird. Weirder than usual. Like, he brought you back for one, and that’s weird. Spending more time with the living. We just don’t get it. Is he planning something? We don’t know, so - that’s your job. Just follow him around some, see what he does, and see if you’ve got any idea.”

Blink. Blink. Sho took a step back. “Eh? Talk about a job for an insignificant digit. I already agreed though. Any idea where he is?” They didn’t even need to reply, both of them shook their heads. “Right. That makes sense.” Another grumble under his breath.

Turning away, he threw his hands up in the air. “Fine, I’ll find him. Only a few places he’d go in this city, I’m sure.” And with that, he walked away, leaving the two Reapers in his wake.

They turned to one another, as Koki popped his lollipop back into his mouth. Uzuki, naturally, was the first one to speak. “Do you really not know anything about why the Composer is acting strangely? The way you told me, it just felt… ugh. There’s got to be an explanation to it.”

Koki for his part, merely grinned, kicking his feet up, and closing his eyes.

 

Well, at the very least, Sho had thought he had some idea of where he could look. Shibuya was, after all, only so big. Only so many places a deity with the mind of a teen could go… right? Absolutely.

“...” Just repeating those words to himself every few minutes. An aimless wander from store to store, from place to place. It wasn’t as if Joshua was easy to miss, but being a low rank Reaper made it a lot harder to him, than when he was a Gamemaster. Simply put, when he was in control of the missions, it was pretty easy to direct Joshua wherever he wanted.

Even if another Game was going on, it wasn’t likely that Joshua would be a part of it. In fact, even if Sho couldn’t understand the Composer, he was more than sure that he wouldn’t want to take part in another one so soon, especially after the decision he had made not that long ago. Yet, who’s to say, perhaps it could help him out.

How long could he wander around Shibuya? A while, certainly, but not long enough. Without actually knowing where Joshua was, Sho would probably get sick of wandering soon enough. And then - at last, there it was, a groan.

“Damn it!” Stomping around, heavy thuds of boot hitting pavement. Sho was throwing a tantrum, as he approached a nearby trash can. Unsure of how much time had passed, he just couldn’t deal with it. There was only one method he had to deal with stress like this.

Picking it up, it wasn’t long until trash was strewn all over the place. Though he detested littering, sometimes it was the only way he could get the components for his art. He had long since given up caring what anyone would think if they saw him doing it. No, all he wanted was the comfort of the beauty held within his art. Besides, there was at least one configuration he had that would help him out during this.

Eventually, a trash pile had been built up. An unrepeatable pattern of junk whose beauty was in its very asymmetry. Sharp angles and harsh corners all about, no one in their right mind would touch it, let alone lay on it. The way that Sho was, arms behind his head, hat pulled over his face. Was it some strange application of a nail bed, or merely being used to it from repeated exposure?

“Zzz…” Snoring away. A day wasted, a mission gained. His last thoughts a mere question: Would he ever find out just what Joshua was thinking?

 

The Second Day

 

“I think today I want to visit him.”

“Who?”

“CAT. Mr H. You know, the Producer.”

 

Sho woke up much the same way as how he had fallen asleep. Peacefully, but with a sharp, jutting pain that he just had to expect. Much like how most of his conversations with the Composer had gone, actually. Though the difference here, the pain was in his back.

Jumping up, and cracking his knuckles, he stretched. Looking back around at his newest creation, at the very least, it provided him with some pride. Even as a low rank Reaper who didn’t have a fraction of his powers - at the very least, this was something he could have control over.

“Right, plan of action…” Not usually the sort of person to talk to himself very often, with no one to bounce his ideas off, he had to take what he could get. So, where was he going first?

“If I have to spend another day walking around Shibuya, this entire city is getting covered in trash, and no one wants that.” Trailing off into his thoughts, eventually, he found a solution. Or, rather, a solution found him. Violently.

A door slamming open, knocking Sho to the ground, as someone stormed out of the place. Someone loud, obnoxious, and to put it into a single word… rude.

“Beat?” It wasn’t like Sho was on good enough terms with him to actually just call him Beat, but that ex-reaper was still someone he recognized. Especially considering the last time they had met was-

“Bwahhh?!” Beat threw his arms in the air, as Sho started to dust himself off. “Ain’t- ain’t you dead?” Straight up asking, Beat did his best to brace himself, trying to hold a defensive stance. For once, he didn’t have his skateboard on him, but the intent was quite clear.

Sho, in turn, groaned, rubbing his head again. Still hurt. “You’re a Reaper, yeah? You should be able to understand that the Composer can do whatever he wants. If that includes bringing me back, then…” Trailing off. He still didn’t have an answer to that, and it wasn’t as if he’d be able to for a while yet.

“Eh…? Oh, yeah, Joshua. Anyways, I quit.”

“... What?”

“Yeah, I quit. Turns out, being a Reaper? Kinda sucks, man. I don’t think I could take erasing anyone after all that.”

“So you just quit?” Sho’s tone was a mix of incredulous and angry.

“Well, I talked it over with Joshua, and…” Beat, in turn, rubbed the back of his head, looking around awkwardly.

Sho was silent for a moment. Incalculable. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he changed the topic to save himself the headache. “So. Joshua. Where was he? Or, rather, where is he right now? I need to see him.” Not that he’d explain anything to Beat.

In turn, Beat looked at Sho. “I don’t owe you any of that stuff, man. I’m not even a Player anymore, and Rhyme’s all okay, so you can’t even use that. Besides…” He mumbled something to himself as he finished that sentence.

“... Ah. You don’t know where he is, do you?” Sho sighed. Of course. The one lead he had stumbled on today, and it was dead on arrival. This ex-reaper was simply useless. Just as he had expected.

“Hey, come on man, don’t give me that look,” Beat protested, as Sho finally just pushed past him. “He ain’t exactly the kinda guy who parades around his location.”

Well, at least Sho had some idea of what he wanted to do next. Beat had come out of a shop, and not only that, one of those shops that were marked for use during the Reaper’s Game. So even if they weren’t knowledgeable on everything, there was a pretty decent chance that they might have at least seen Joshua.

Entering the shop, a little bell rang above the door. The man behind the counter looked up, then over at Sho. His clothes were still the same as yesterday, only more crinkled. About as fashionable as ever, which was more accurately described as, never.

“Yo,” Sho called out, walking up to the counter. Idly looking over at the clothes on display. A little sparse - must have been today’s fashion trend. Definitely not his style, but he could certainly fake interest. Clearing his throat, he looked at the clerk. “You wouldn’t have happened to have seen a… teen enter this shop lately, have you?”

Sho was met with only a dead-eyed stare.

“Blond hair?” Still, nothing.

“Plain shirt, looks disinterested in whatever you have to say. Snooty, arrogant, odd air to him you really can’t place?” At last, the clerk’s eyes lit up. Somewhat.

“Yeah, I’ve seen someone like that,” he muttered, before staring down Sho. “But information isn’t cheap. If you really wanna know, you have to buy something.”

Blinking, Sho looked around. Well, that could have at least gone worse. Spotting something that wasn’t completely hideous by his esoteric standards, he snatched it down, and placed it on the counter with a grunt. Even if it was just a hat, it was probably enough.

“And here’s your receipt. So, about that boy. I think I saw him heading in the general direction of WildKat.” This time, he was the one met by a blank stare from Sho.

“Here, it’s - you have a phone, yeah? I’ll tell you the address, it ain’t exactly hard to find. And, hey, I’ll tell you this for free: I saw him with another guy. Couldn’t tell much about him, other than it looked like he had a pair of headphones around his neck.”

Nodding this time, Sho remembered the address with ease. Though not completely photographic, his memory was quite reliable - and he also remembered exactly who that clerk must have been talking about. Leaving without much of a thank you, he headed out quickly.

The actual trip there wasn’t anything to note, he had navigated Shibuya enough times to have a decent mental image of the city, and without having to deal with any Noise, it was pretty peaceful. As if things had never been at stake, as if everything didn’t hang on the whim of the Composer.

When Sho finally arrived at WildKat, the proprietor and owner of it was already standing outside. Slicked back black hair, sunglasses, a suit that could be quite easily described as snazzy, and an air about him that was completely laid back.

“I- Huh. You’re… Wha-”

The man laughed. “Yeah, I know, it stuns everyone. A handsome barista like myself, Sanae Hanekoma. Some call me Mr. H, some call me CAT, some people call me a man of many talents.”

Mr. H grinned, putting his hands behind his head, and looking over at Sho. “You, of course, would know me as the Producer.” Grabbing a chair, he pulled it up, and gestured towards Sho.

Sitting down in it, Sho looked around the place. “You run this? I didn’t think anything this factorless would be your style. It’s so… so…” Trailing off, he waved a hand in the air, as if trying to capture the very air of WildKat.

“As I said, I’m a man of many talents. I taught you one of them, and… I suppose it saved your life. Though, ultimately, it might not have mattered, Shibuya was still saved, and he even brought you back.” The smile over his face was impossible to read, as he took a seat for himself, kicking back and looking utterly relaxed.

Once again, Sho was silent. There were two people, he realized, he could never get a read on. The Composer and the Producer. Was it because of what they were? On some level that he couldn’t understand? Or had their time as humans shaped them into being so mysterious.

Without waiting for Sho to speak, Mr H continued, “Though I’m sure you want to know why he did something like that. You were probably more trouble than it was worth even as a Gamemaster.” Ignoring Sho’s offended look, he finished with, “Though to be perfectly honest with you - even I don’t know. That’s something you’re going to have to ask him yourself.”

Sho’s expression went from annoyed to straight up indignant. “You expect me to just ask him?! Stroll right up to him, clear my throat, and get a straight answer to why the hell I’m still alive? The chances of that happening are infinitesimal. For starters, I still can’t find him, and I don’t even know where to-”

Oh. Right. That was why he was here in the first place. Because- “Oh, he’ll be here tomorrow,” Mr. H chimed in, going from content to almost a little smug.

“Eh? Why’s he coming over here? And wasn’t he over here not that long ago? That’s what I heard, anyways.” Though, he had to admit to himself, it wasn’t all that confusing. They were, after all, the two most important people for the Reaper’s Game. It wasn’t unreasonable that they’d visit each other, but it still felt unusual.

Standing back up, Mr. H clasped his hands behind his back, and turned around. “There are still things to sort out, after all that mess. Frankly, I’m lucky to have my job still. There are things to look forwards to in the future, things to prepare for, and… he’s bringing Phones. You know who I mean by now. I think it’ll do them both some good, he hasn’t spent a lot of time with normal folk, you know?”

“I certainly think I’d do a better job with his,” Sho muttered, before sighing. “So you’re tellin’ me the composer and that brat he killed are gonna both be here tomorrow? I guess that settles the question of what I’m going to be doing then, huh.” He had a mission to take care of, after all, so it couldn’t be helped.

“Gonna lurk in my hip cafe, huh? With that style? Make sure you don’t stick out like a sore thumb, Sho.” Mr. H turned back around, and clapped his hands.

Standing up in turn, Sho pulled his cap over his eyes, and nodded. He could be stealthy when he needed to be. A task like this was as simple as could be. There was absolutely no way he could fail. Getting to report to those reapers by the third day? A perfect execution.

Before he went out for the day, Sho took a moment to ask the last thing on his mind. “I guess it’s a little late to be asking this now, but…” He swallowed, and finished his question, “Why did you help me? I mean, taking over the Composer’s job would certainly stop what he had planned then - but why are you helping me now?”

Laughing, Mr. H put his hands behind his head yet again. Impossible to read, especially with his glasses covering his eyes once again. “You gotta broaden your horizons. I helped out Phones, and I’m paying it forwards. May as well use your second chance for something good. That satisfy you?”

Scoffing, Sho shrugged his shoulders, and finally went as if to leave. Any answer he could actually provide lost on the wind. That was all that Mr. H needed.

 

The Third Day

 

“Do we have to visit him?”

“Now now, Neku. You promised me we’d come back, didn’t you?”

“Urk. Fine. Don’t make it weird though.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it. Let’s enjoy our date~”

“D-date?!”

 

Another day. As Sho had promised, he had shown up to WildKat, most likely an hour or two before Joshua would arrive. Kicking up on a chair, holding the day’s paper. There was nothing exciting, the sudoku was solved in a couple of minutes, tops. Every story read once, twice.

No matter how bored Sho got, he had to get through it. Questions he wanted answers to, a request he had already said he would fulfill, so what was a bit of boredom? Not that that stopped him from scribbling down magic squares on a napkin, and solving a couple math problems in his head.

Then, at last - The unmistakable sight of the Composer, Joshua. It seemed as if he was… grinning. Not even a smug one. One arm firmly looped around his companion. Neku “Phones” Sakuraba.

“What are they-” Cutting himself off, Sho grumbled to himself, and pulled the paper up over his face. It was a perfect disguise. No one would be able to recognize him like this.

 

It was only when Joshua and Neku were led to their respective seats that Sho realized a problem with his otherwise flawless plan. He couldn’t see past the newspaper in front of him. Not to mention, everything was tinted darker than he was used to - before arriving at WildKat, he had the decency to pick up a pair of sunglasses, and bigger than what Mr. H usually wore.

The one thing he had collaborated with Mr. H was asking for the seat nearby where those two would be sitting - so at the very least, Sho could hear the conversation going on. Would the answers he was looking for be found there? There was only one thing he could do.

Joshua grinned, and said, “Isn’t it a beautiful day, Neku? The birds are singing, the coffee is as hot as it is fresh, and we’re both alive. A few short weeks ago, I’m sure neither of us could have expected things to end up just like this.”

“Cut the bull, Joshua. You’ve dragged me around these past couple of days, and you haven’t explained anything. You shot me, you practically used me, I nearly lost the first friends I’d ever truly made - I think you owe me.”

Even if Sho wasn’t able to look just yet, he could recognize the sound of that obnoxious laugh.

“Oh, Neku. Do you have to bring that up now? The past is the past, and that’s behind me now. I made my choice, and you helped me make my mind up. As one of those friends of yours, I think that should be enough.”

“... It’s really not.”

From behind his paper, Sho smirked, and changed the page yet again. Eyes glazing over as small print blended into itself. Struggling to pay attention to the conversation that was playing out in front of him.

“Ah,” Joshua continued, with a giggle, “I guess you’re right. Come on, Neku, can’t you read the room? It’s just me and you.”

It was at that moment that Sho lowered his paper, to see just what was happening. Only to be met by Joshua shooting him a glare. A flustered ruffling as he quickly hid behind his paper yet again. Feeling like he had been caught, but there wasn’t really anything he could do about it.

“Just the two of us.” Blatantly ignoring the other person there, and Mr. H had already gone back inside of the building.

Neku sighed, nodding along. “So we’re just going to talk about that later then? Or are you just going to hop away to some different universe or whatever to avoid having to deal with the conseque-”

“I’m sorry.”

“Wha--”

“Wha--” Even Sho spoke out, as hard as he was trying not to. That couldn’t have been right. There was no way he had heard what he thought he had just heard.

Joshua took a deep breath, and sighed. “I said. I’m sorry. I made you worry, and I was okay. You do deserve to hear at least that much. I suppose I’m even sorry for shooting you, though we can both agree it turned out for the better. For both of us.”

Another angry grunt from Neku, although he replied, “I never expected you to say something like that. Didn’t seem like it was in you. Maybe even you can change.”

“Now, that’s more like my Neku. Really now, is that any sort of way to be on our date? We should be enjoying ourselves, getting to know each other - isn’t that how you humans spend time on these things?”

Letting out an exasperated sigh, Neku replied, “Are you still calling this a date? Well, I’ve learned there’s no point in arguing with you, not when you get ideas in your head. What am I even supposed to ask you though? Aren’t you some all powerful being? I can’t begin to imagine what that’s like.”

As the two started to talk more, Sho groaned, and slid a little further down his seat. This was all just… inane drivel. He’d never find out anything just by listening to them. It was like listening to two teenagers just ponder life together - conveniently forgetting the fact that Sho, himself, was only 18 at the time.

All he could do was take matters into his own hands.

Completely throwing away the last shreds of secrecy, and likely his own decency, Sho tossed the newspaper down and stood up. Strutting over to Joshua’s seat, and straight up grabbing the Composer by the shirt.

Neku threw his hands up in the air in surprise, then started to jump out of his seat, but Joshua just raised up a hand, and said, “Oh, look who it is, Neku. Sho, was it? I didn’t think I’d run into you again, so soon.”

Sho just groaned, torn between lifting Joshua up, and just dropping him down to the floor. Finally, he let go, and dropped his arms to his side. “... Damn it. Here I am, standing right in front of you, after all this, and…”

Joshua laughed, and put his hands in his pockets. “Cold feet? Or is it because you don’t have a gun on you?”

Shaking his head, Sho looked away, and grunted, “I’m not here to kill you, just…”

Neku started to get up again, but Joshua merely replied, “Now, now, Neku, he’s here to chat. And even though he rudely interrupted our date, let’s let him speak. At this rate, I’m curious.”

Well, this wasn’t exactly how Sho had expected this to go down. All his anger and confusion had drained out of him, once he actually stood up to Joshua. Now he was left there, standing, but without any real support. “I just want to know why. No one else other than you would know, and I have to - I need to find out. After everything I did- you brought me back?”

Joshua took a moment to pause, and think, before bursting into laughter. “That’s all you want to know? You have the Composer in front of you, and that’s what you want to ask? Very well then. Sho Minamimoto, I brought you back for a very simple reason.”

“You interested me. There were plenty of Game Masters before you, and I’m sure there will be more afterwards, but few so brave and so stupid as to actually take me on head to head. It may have been a special case, but you still very nearly wiped me out - that Flare could have been dangerous. And, besides, after all that… you deserved another chance.”

Both Sho and Neku were left opened mouthed at what Joshua had said so openly, but Sho was the first one to speak. “That’s- That’s all?! What does another chance even mean? You liked me because I tried to kill you? This, this is why I can’t begin to wrap my head around you.”

“Oh, and one small thing. I tweaked your habit of making those annoying math jokes. They were getting on everyone’s nerve, when they were even understandable.”

Blink. “You… can do that?” Sho tilted his head. He did think it was a little strange that he hadn’t spoken aloud most of his normal math statements, but he figured that was just because of how frazzled he had felt after coming back to life.

“I have enough power to cause both physical and metaphysical destruction on a widespread level, at the very least for Shibuya itself. So, yes, if I wanted to, when I brought you back, I could easily have done something like that.” Joshua smirked, raising a hand over his mouth.

Sho turned around in a huff, and started to stomp off. Looking for all the world like someone who was throwing a tantrum.

When it was just the pair of them left behind, Neku slumped down in his seat, and looked at the one who had dragged him over towards this cafe. “So why do you keep calling this a date?”

“Isn’t that kinda obvious, Neku?” Joshua giggled again, and finished, “It’s because the person I’m most interested in - even more than Sho - is you.”

Blink. Blink. Neku felt his mouth hang open for a second, speechless and stunned. “You - you what? Since when?” Sure, Neku knew what a date was, he wasn’t that inept. It wasn’t like he had ever had much experience with them however, especially when he was in his loner phase, as he’d come to call it.

Joshua merely let that hang with a small smile. It wasn’t an easy question to answer.

Once Sho had left WildKat, he wandered around Shibuya, without much of a purpose. He had gotten an answer, sure, but he wasn’t satisfied. Even as he was thinking about this, two shadows loomed over him from above.

Swooping down, it was two specters from two days ago. Uzuki and Koki. The latter still sucking on a lollipop, but pulling it out of his mouth, and pointing it towards Sho when he landed. “Yo, numbers man. What’s the sitrep?”

Uzuki groaned. “I knew taking you to that movie was a bad idea. Anyways, hey, we were watching all that unfold. Saw you chatting with the Composer and his friend.”

Koki raised an eyebrow in turn. “Just friend?”

Slumping his shoulders down, Sho didn’t look up at the pair of Reapers. “I don’t know what his deal was. As smug and as unbearable as ever, utterly incomprehensible. I can’t think of anything to answer what you want to know, because I don’t have any myself.”

In unison, the two Reapers groaned, before Uzuki spoke up again. “You’re so useless! We give you one little thing to do, you even manage to locate him, and what do you do? Nothing, apparently! Did you just have a nice little tea party with him? Ugh, I’m so-”

The only thing that cut her off was the hand of Koki landing on her shoulder. He looked over at Sho, and shook his head. “”Maybe if you just wait a bit, you’ll find out a bit more. I’m not one for rushing things. So, we’ll give you a bit more time before we really get angry. Isn’t that right, Uzuki?”

She took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly, squeezing the air as if it was a neck with just one hand. “... Fine. We’ll wait.”

Sho looked between the pair, then sighed. “Fine, I said I’d do it, and I’m sure he’ll be here again, or just torment me more.”

Spending any amount of time around the Composer was always bad for his health, it appeared, and this time wasn’t any different. There wasn’t anything else he could do for the moment, other than walk off, and figure out what he had to do next.

Once they were left alone, Uzuki turned to Koki, and asked, “What was that about? Just ‘friend’? What did you even mean by that?”

“Oh, I just understand a bit about the Composer. I think he’s a bit like me, you know? At least in one way.” Laughing, Koki put the lollipop back in his mouth, and closed his eyes, sighing. Things were starting to come together then.

“... Eh? Koki, what does that even mean? You two couldn’t be any more different if you tried - Are you even paying attention?”

 

The Fourth Day

 

“Hey, so, about yesterday-”

“It’s fine, Neku. We can talk more about it later. Now, can you do me a favor? Call up that girl, she’s the only factor left.”

“Don’t you start with the math jokes.”

 

For the first time in a while, as Sho wandered the streets of Shibuya, he felt completely aimless. He had already spoken with Joshua, he had seen Neku, even that ex-Reaper was still kicking. And so was he. Nothing felt satisfactory about what he had been told. Even the city seemed a little less vibrant, as he wandered about. The only thing he could look forward to was building another sculpture, but even that had lost some of its luster.

As Sho was lost in his sulking, a girl stopped in front of him. She was entirely… unremarkable. Boring hair, glasses, clothes that were alright, by his own guess. The only thing that even made her stand out was that ugly pig-like thing she was clutching to her chest.

At last, she spoke. “Aren’t you… Sho? That math nerd. You certainly look like how he described you… Did you really just keep the same outfit this entire time?”

The suddenness of which she spoke was enough to make him stop in place, and glare at her. He didn’t think he attracted all that much attention, certainly not until he built more of his art. “I’ll shout it to the sky, I’m Sho, yeah. Who even are you though?”

“I’m Shiki Misaki!”

Sho blinked again. “Who?”

“You know… Shiki? Neku’s partner for the first week?”

“Still not ringing any bells.”

“I was his entrance fee for the second week!”

“Ohhh, the girl. I’m sorry, I don’t try and remember insignificant digits like that.”

Shiki groaned, and hugged that pig-like thing a bit tighter to herself. “Ugh. This is why I’m glad you weren’t my Game Master. I can stomach food puns more than I can take math jokes. Well, you definitely fit the bill.”

“What are you even talking about? And what’s with that weird thing you keep hugging? It looks like a pig.”

“Oh come on. First Neku, then you? Mr Mew does not look like a pig! He’s a cat! He’s my special friend!” Squeezing Mr Mew enough for the stuffing to nearly pop, Shiki glared up at him, before taking a deep breath.

“Right, right. I was told you might be like this. Joshua told me - tomorrow, we’re going to have one big meet up. Everyone. Neku, himself, Beat, Rhyme, me, and, he wanted me to invite you.”

Sho tilted his head. “You’re kidding, right? A meet up? With all you brats? And he’s just going to straight up invite me?”

Shiki nodded at him. “You like to repeat people, huh?”

Ignoring her pretty much entirely, he scratched his head. It wasn’t like the Composer to set up such an obvious trap, as much as Sho doubted him. But it still didn’t make sense. Why would any of them want him to be there?

“So, you comin’, or not?”

Pulled out of his contemplations yet again, Sho looked at her, and finally gave his answer. “Sure, yeah, whatever. What does it matter? If he really wants to see me, that’s on him.”

“Great!” Shiki smiled, and held the plush close yet again. “So, we’re all going to meet back up at WildKat tomorrow. Mr. H says the drinks are gonna be on the house! It’ll be right at noon, so don’t be late, okay?”

Sho groaned, rubbing the back of his head. “So we’re just going straight back to that place so soon, huh? Well, I guess it is run by the Producer after all, so it’s a pretty reliable stopping point.”

Giggling, Shiki looked at him, and nodded again. “Yeah, that’s right. Well, see you later then! That’s all I had to say. I guess the best part about that second week was knowing Neku cared, though I don’t appreciate being a bargaining chip.”

“That’s just what the rules of the Game are.” Sho shrugged, and started to walk off. A little less aimless, and a little more excited. There simply wasn’t a lot else he could do but wait. He didn’t want to waste the day away, but if he couldn’t do anything else, then there was nothing that could be done.

“If I ever get to make any changes to this city, I’ll make it a lot harder to litter. No one ever throws it away in a beautiful style, just scattered on the sidewalk.” Muttering to himself, Sho made his way. A grumbling stomach helpful at least for an idea of where to go.

From the distance, a now familiar pair of shadows loomed again.

“Ugh, weren’t you the one talking about taking it slow yesterday? Why are we still following him?”

The sound of a lollipop being pulled out. “It’s a good thing we did though, huh. So all those brats are going to be together, huh?”

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“We’ll never have a bowl big enough for that many noodles.”

Uzuki blinked, before shaking her head. “No, you moron. I’m saying we crash that get-together. Come on, we were part of all that stuff that went down, we should have been included. Who does that guy think he is, not inviting us too, huh?!”

Koki shrugged. “Sounds like more effort than it’s worth, but if you want to go there, I’ll come with you. A party’s boring all by yourself.”

Shaking her head, Uzuki just groaned again. No matter how many times she tried, she just couldn’t understand her partner. “It’s not a party. But, fine, if you’re there, it’ll be more worthwhile.”

 

The Fifth Day

 

“So you invited everyone?”

“Yeah, even, y’know, him.”

“That’s wonderful, Neku. I think today’s going to go great.”

 

Even as the day started, Sho wasn’t sure whether he wanted to be early, or late. If he showed up early, he’d probably be seen as desperate, but if he showed up late - shaking his head. What had come over him? They were all a bunch of brats after all, younger than him, except for the Composer.

Then again, they might be his first proper chance at-

Finally, he made his mind up. The path to WildKat was the same as ever, as he checked his watch. Noon, on the dot. His clothes, his style, as recognizably him as ever. And it appeared he wasn’t even the first person to arrive. Joshua was sitting there, at a table. Holding a cup, steam wafting from the top.

“Ah, Sho, you decided to come after all.” A little laugh.

At this point, Sho had stopped questioning it. There were several seats around a big table, and he chose one at random - just not one too close to Joshua. “So, what’s the big idea? Why did you bring me over here?”

Taking a sip, Joshua smiled, and answered simply. “Because I thought it would be nice for you to get to hang out with others. Oh, and, Neku will be back in a few minutes.”

“You’re never going to just give me a straight answer, are you?”

Before Joshua could reply with a smirk more befitting a cat than himself, Neku walked back in, carrying a tray. It was piled high with snacks, and was soon placed right down on the table.

“Oh, he made it.”

Sho looked between the pair, yet again, and grabbed a cookie from the tray. “I’m here because I want to be, no other reason.” With that statement out of the way, he started crunching down on it, side eyeing the two people who had put a stop to his plans the first time.

Again, he didn’t have the time to get lost in his own thoughts, as he was soon to be interrupted by-

“Bwaaa?!”

Someone skating in, and the moment he saw Sho, tripping over himself, and hitting the ground face first. Followed by a small girl, giggling to herself, before helping him up.

Beat jumped back up, and pointed a trembling finger at Sho, as he sat there, and asked, “What the hell is this guy doing here? This some kinda trap, wise guy, huh?!”

Even before Sho could defend himself, Rhyme smiled, and grabbed onto Beat’s arm. “It’s okay, Beat. Joshua just invited him so we could all get along. Isn’t that right?” Looking over at Joshua, and nodding her head.

Joshua nodded in reply, and added, “Yes, yes. And besides, it would do me good. Isn’t that what you said, Neku?”

Everyone at the table, Sho included, turned to look at Neku, expectantly.

“Hey, that’s not exactly what I meant. I just said, it wouldn’t hurt if you had some more friends, alright? Since you didn’t seem like you really…” Trailing off, Neku gulped. It wasn’t exactly easy to say something like that.

Clapping his hands together, Joshua replied, “Precisely. And look over here. It’s all of my,” His smile slipped for a second, “friends.”

Sho burst into laughter, looking around the table. “Are you really including me in that list, huh? All these people, everyone here - and you’d call me a friend? I don’t even know you that well, and I’ve tried to kill at least several of you here.”

Joshua giggled again, and looked at everyone there. “We’ve practically already had this conversation. I shot Neku, you nearly shot me, everything went on, and now we’re here. Everyone’s okay. Isn’t that enough?”

Beat laid his head on the table, and groaned. “Ugh, this is too much to think about. Let’s just chow down, and stop caring about all this stuff. I haven’t had breakfast today because of this, and my stomach can’t hold out past this.”

Rhyme giggled again. “That’s my big brother for you, always thinking with his stomach.”

“I didn’t say you couldn’t have breakfast, Beat, it would have been fine,” Neku said, blinking, looking at Beat with a puzzled expression.

Lifting himself up, Beat replied, “Y-yeah, but I got excited, okay? Sometimes when I get too excited I kinda sorta forget to eat, that’s all.”

As if summoned by the talk of food, another girl appeared, clutching something that was apparently supposed to resemble a cat. “Ah! Everyone! I’m so sorry, I got a little lost getting over here, and I woke up late and I tripped and-”

Neku waved it all off, and grinned. “Shiki! It’s really great to see you here after all this. And… Mr Mew too, I guess.”

“You remembered!” Shiki smiled back, and scooted her way in, sitting on the other side of Neku, so he was sandwiched by his first two partners.

Joshua coughed, and looked at Neku. “Ah, I see. So you’re more excited to see her, are you, Neku?” Though there was a tinge of jealousy in his tone, it was also clearly teasing.

As if to defuse the conversation brewing, the door to the indoor part of the cafe was thrown open, and out stepped Sanae Hanekoma. Balancing a tray on one hand, stacked with a couple of drinks, one for everyone there. Except for Joshua, who was still holding on to one.

As each person grabbed one, and took a snack from the tray that Neku brought earlier, Mr. H grinned and looked at them all. Hands on his hips, he laughed. “All of you had better be getting along now, alright? This is my hip cafe, this place isn’t for people who aren’t friends.” He almost sounded like the parent in charge of a field trip, despite Joshua’s presence.

Rolling his eyes, Sho grabbed his drink, and took a ship. Everyone around him had started to talk, and they were all getting along. Some of these people he barely knew. Yet here they all were, enjoying themselves. Once or twice, he even managed to interject, sharing in their conversations.

Perhaps being a loner wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, after all. Was this what Joshua wanted in the end? Was he truly being sincere?

For just once, Sho felt as if he could understand the Composer a little bit more.

And from the distance, in a perfect perch to spy on them, those two Reapers were there again, watching what went down. Uzuki facepalmed, sitting back in her seat, as she looked down at them. “He’s just sitting there! Chatting with them!”

“Weren’t you the one who wanted to party crash?”

“Oh, shut up. It almost looks as if they’re all having fun down there. I can’t stand that, not one bit. I might even be sick.”

Koki laughed, as he stood up, and walked towards Uzuki. Placing a hand on her shoulder, he nodded. “C’mon, let’s just leave them be for now. I heard that that ramen joint is trying out a new special. If we move fast, we might be able to get some before it’s gone.”

“You ever stop thinking about noodles?”

“Hey, you owe me, that’s all.”

And with that, the two Reapers left, leaving Sho to be around his new friends. Or at least, a start of some developing friendships.