At Water's Edge
JoshNeku if you squint!
Summary: It's a powerful weapon. You could peek into anyone's life, at any moment, and see them in a whole new light. With that power, would you really want to? Would you want to know the things you were never meant to?

"Did you know… there's a place where the sky meets the water."

"But how? Shibuya's land locked."

"Silly. It isn't a beach."

"You're lying."

"Why would I ever think to do such a thing?"

"…Take me sometime, then."

"Oh, if you insist."

And that was the infamous conversation that had started this entire mess. That was two weeks ago.

Neku's feet stopped a few feet away from the edge of what could only be explained as a giant in-ground pool. Except it wasn't water that was in the basin, but instead a vaporous liquid that somehow managed to capture the characteristics of a mirror. The liquid reflected the room around it, showing the extravagant chandeliers that hung above them, as well as the light to the City that kept the room bright. The liquid, having both attributes of steam and liquid all at once, defied physics, defied the rules of nature and logic, but then again, when did the UG ever make sense to begin with?

There was a cool rush that accompanied proximity of the pool. Along with that breeze was an undeniable sense of power and light. If Neku squinted, if he tried really hard, there was a faint bluish glow emanating from the large hole-in-the-floor. And it was Music, undeniably Music that was bouncing off the surface, filling the room with jumbled up bits of melodies that all cohesively formed together to form Shibuya. And that's when Neku Sakuraba knew what he was staring at.

"…They're Souls."

"Sharp as always, Neku." Joshua stood near the very edge, not hesitant at all about wiggling his fingers over the rising vapors. "Imagination, too, if you will. The two are inseparable."

"Ok." It was easier to imagine a manifestation of a Soul than an abstract concept like Imagination, right? Sure it was.

"I take it you're impressed?" Joshua stifled a giggle, pale hand curled into a tiny fist over his mouth.

"It's…" Neku searched himself for a word but fell short. Apprehensively, he stepped closer, next to Joshua's side. He curiously peeked over the low edge surrounding the pool, staring at the blue light with both awe and confusion.

"So it's Souls," Neku reiterated.

"Yes. Due to the huge number of deaths per day, it would be impossible to host all of them in a Game. Nothing would ever get done." Joshua clicked his tongue thoughtfully, arms folded, now, and head tilted to the side. "Mm, besides. Some of them have already had numerous chances at life and are ready for the afterlife."

Neku faltered, his expression turning into something pained. "…So not everyone plays your Game."

"No," Joshua agreed, unfazed. "Some are ready to Ascend or move on."


"Hm…? Oh, that's simply the way it is. It's usually younger Souls that tend to get a chance at the Game." Joshua shrugged.

"And yet only one goes back."

"Life is limited, Neku."

Neku made a tiny, frustrated noise as he continued peering into the basin, still in awe at howlarge it was and that such a place existed in Shibuya. That such a place was behind the Room of Reckoning all along and if he had known that, maybe he could have saved his friends without Joshua's help, and just maybe

"Ah, that's a dangerous thought, Neku." Joshua reached out to touch the other's shoulder, touch icy and stern.

Neku froze, looking over to his friend with an unmistakable frown. "I told you not to scan me."

"Mm?" Joshua's hand slid away. It was hard getting used to normal human relationships. It was harder tuning out the thoughts that radiated off Neku like a soundtrack. "My apologies. I'm still getting used to it." And just to keep Neku on edge. "You have such silly thoughts, sometimes, you know."

Neku's ears burned and he shoved at the other's side. "Ever hear of the phrase invasion of privacy? You're doing it."

Joshua merely giggled in response as he turned his gaze to the Souls as well. "There are several purposes of this place, if you must know. I can tell you're dying to know.

Bad choice of words, but, "Yeah. Tell me?"

"It's a storage for Souls before it is determined whether that Soul will Ascend, move to the afterlife, or allowed a chance to play the Reaper's Game." Joshua paused. "The basin also serves as a viewing tool."

"Viewing tool?" Neku seemed utterly lost again, gaze affixed to the misty vapors as they danced on the watery surface. "What do you mean? I don't see anything besides the ceiling."

Joshua shook his head. "If you'd let me finish." Neku winced. Right. "In order to determine a Soul's Fate, there are two things that must be taken into consideration. One is the Brightness of the Soul. That's where refining the Soul comes into handy. That's what the Reaper's Game aims to do. Second is the life of the Soul itself. Consider the pool a personal projector."

"So it's like a movie."

"To reduce it to its bare bones, yes." Joshua frowned. "I'd prefer if you didn't call it that, though. It sounds rather demeaning."

"How is it demeaning?" Neku shook his head. "…So you can see dead people's lives and everything they've done?"

Joshua giggled, then. "Neku, haven't I taught you anything?"

"You haven't," Neku agreed, frowning back at him rather indignantly. "You always say I'm part of the RG and I don't need to know any of this."

"And yet here you are, at the Heart of Shibuya." Joshua made a grand sweeping gesture with his arms as a smirk curled on his lips. "I gave you two hints, just now."

"Excuse me?"

Was Joshua expecting him to guess? That smug look on his face said, "yes".

Neku frowned, hands fiddling with the ends of his shirt. If this was the collection of Souls who had recently passed, why wouldn't it be so that Joshua could see their lives and what they had done? Hadn't he just bluntly implied that? What was he missing? Neku groaned in irritation, hand rising up to his hair to tug at it impatiently. He was deep in thought, trying to riddle it out, when Joshua's giggle broke through his concentration.

"Time's up," Joshua practically lilted. Before Neku could growl back, Joshua continued. "This place is the Core of Shibuya, as I've said. It is the heart of the City. I also alluded that the Music here is the essence of Shibuya. Therefore, all Souls reside in this pool, not just the deceased."

"Wait, what?!"

Neku snapped back, nearly tripping on his laces. How was that even possible?

"That's how I found out about you, after all. I noticed your Bright Soul from afar and decided to investigate with this." Joshua smirked radiantly over at him, hands falling into his pockets. "The Living Souls aren't necessarily stored here, but a remnant of them are here. The Room of Reckoning is where life and death meet. The in-between. The little crossroads. Neku, didn't I teach you anything?" He was asking that a lot lately.

Neku tried to wrap his mind around everything. He bit his bottom lip and approached Joshua's side again, nervously peering at the pool again. "So, when you want, you can look at anyone's life? What about their future?"

"The future is left to be written." So that's a no.

Neku sighed. "This is really creepy, you know?"

"How else did you think I did my job?" Joshua pouted childishly, appearing quite offended by the accusation. "But yes, Neku, I can look at anyone's life whenever I deem it necessary."

Which was Joshua for whenever he wanted. Neku shook his head. This was a whole new level of the UG he wasn't entirely sure he was prepared for. "When you said you knew a place where water met sky, I didn't think you meant a giant pool of Souls."

"It's all the same in the end, isn't it?"

"….Sure it is."

Joshua turned his back, heading back to the tiny door that would lead them to the Room of Reckoning and the Dead God's Pad. "Come along, Neku."

Neku lingered, eying the pool for a long moment. If that was true, if the lives of everyone in Shibuya were really stored here… Did that mean he could see his own life? See his parents when they were still together? See how his first friend actually died and the moments leading up to it? See what had caused Shiki to become so self-loathing? To see Joshua's past? He shivered, a cold sensation darting down his back.

"It's a powerful weapon, Neku. You could peek into anyone's life, at any moment, and see them in a whole new light. With that power, would you really want to? Would you want to know the things you were never meant to?"

Neku knew Joshua didn't need to scan him to know what was on his mind.


But he knew it was a lie.

There was a danger that came with associating with someone of such a high Frequency and Vibe as Joshua. The Higher Ups had warned Joshua to be careful and had advised him to cut all tieswith Sakuraba Neku, given the consequences that would likely occur. Joshua had assured them that Neku would cause no trouble and that given the boy's previous state of Proxy and retained Memories, it was no harm to the UG or to Shibuya. The only effect Joshua could foresee was Neku's Vibe being tweaked to a different Frequency so that he was more in-tune with the UG- could see things most people couldn't.

And that was where the trouble truly began.

The problem with the living, for starters, was their unbounded fascination with the Unknown. And being able to see a film-reel of anyone's life upon a whim was definitely under the list of the Desirable Unknown.

Neku had waited for Joshua to leave the plane before he attempted to get back to the room Joshua had shown him a week before. Joshua had business to attend to in a parallel plane somewhere - likely reoccurring repercussions from their little Three-Week-Game a year ago. Mr. H had offered to hold down the fort in his absence and had invited Neku along to play cards and drink at the Dead God's Pad. Mr. H had eventually fallen into a light nap, and that was when Neku went snooping.

The only problem was that when he finally got to the back room, he wasn't entirely sure how touse the shimmering vat of Souls. Did this thing come with an Instruction Manual?

Neku lingered at the edge, staring down at the blue light in a similar fashion to the week prior. If he listened faintly, he could hear the whirring of Shibuya. It was the City at its brightest, its purest, and Neku was certain he would be able to stand there and listen forever.

But there were more pressing matters. Like snooping around.

He knew if he were to do this, he'd have one shot. Likely only one chance before Joshua found out. Which meant he could only snoop on one life. On one tidbit. It frustrated him to no end, but it was better than nothing.

So he listed off what he wanted to do in his head.

Did he really want to see his friend's death? It had been a traffic accident and there was likely to be blood and he'd probably end up traumatized by it. Hearing about it was enough, but could he really face the music and witness it? He felt guilty enough, but would seeing it just compound the issue? He promptly crossed that off the list with a heavy heart.

Next on the list was what had caused Shiki to become the way she was in the Game. He had heard little details here and there, from both her and Eri, but he had never gotten the full story from his best friend. He almost settled on that but stopped himself. Wouldn't he rather it from her when she was ready? Wouldn't he rather know everything from her lips? Wouldn't he be snooping on something extremely precious and private to her? Feeling guilty about that, too, Neku crossed it off.

And where did that leave him? The more he thought about it, the more the idea of visiting his parents before their divorce made his stomach roll over and over. So that was decisively off his to-do list.

Which left… Joshua.

"The brat won't tell me anything about himself, anyway. Might as well."

Something seemed to click in that moment - that was the only way to describe it. A colder rush than before engulfed the room, nearly knocking Neku off balance while simultaneously leaving him asphyxiated. He fell to his knees in a loud groan of pain, hands clutching desperately at his head.

Okay, this wasn't what he had expected.

When he forced his eyes open through the pain, all he saw before him was a blurry image. The edges were blurrier than the middle, and the more he strained to see, the worse it hurt. Eventually, an image cleared in his eyes.

"Mother and Father call me Joshua. You can, too, since we're best friends now. Right?"

"Nice to meet'cha, kid."

"I like your cafe…Mister…?"

"Heh, just call me Mr. H. My last name's probably kinda hard for a foreigner like you, kiddo."

"Hey…! I have perfect pronunciation, thank you!"

"Says the kid who just misspoke three times in his argument."


"Joshua, honey, please don't go outside. Your fever is getting worse and I don't want you overexerting yourself."

"I don't like you hanging out with those boys, Joshua. There's something off about them."

"We think your son should be placed in therapy. His reports are highly conducive to a mental disease that needs to be medicated before it is allowed to worsen. Surely you understand."

"They think I'm crazy, Mr. H. You believe me, don't you?"

"Of course I do, kiddo. Now are you gonna get another cup of joe or not?"

"He killed himself… Oh my god I can't believe our son would kill himself!"

"You don't know that. His illness was terminal - he may have accidentally overdosed or the fever may have stricken and he didn't have his pills with him. You don't know that. Please calm down, love—"

"You never listened to him! You never listened to me. And now he's, and now he's…"

"Say, Mr. H, what's it like to die?"


"You're an Angel, aren't you? What's it like to die?"

"Well, gee, aren't you straight to the point, kiddo."

"It's Joshua."

"Heh, J, then."


"It's like you're flying upside down, except you can't stop and your wings are broken."

"Megumi Kitanji. What a charming name. I take it you'll form a pact with me, yes?"

"You killed her. Yoshiya, you—"

"It's Sir, now. …And besides, she was Erased. She was doomed from the moment she corrupted Shibuya."

"But that's! You can't possibly think to…!"

"And you'll be my Conductor, won't you?"

"You're playing with fire, J. You know that, right? The Composer is a big role. A huge role. I know you didn't like the way things were being run when you were alive, but you gotta understand, kid. The Higher Ups ain't gonna respect you. You played dirty."

"I understand, Sanae. Which is why I'm not concerned."


"You're here to watch out for me, aren't you? To make sure I don't mess up. Isn't that what you've always done."

"Heh…I suppose so."

"There can only be one Winner, Megumi. Never allow otherwise. It's the way things were meant to be."

"…Yes, sir."

"His Soul's bright. It's the only Bright thing left in this mess, Sanae."

"You won't really do it, will ya, boss?"

"Shibuya is on its last stand. I wasn't able to save Her. There's no point."

"Neku Sakuraba, hmmm?"

"The Game, Sir?"

"You have a month, Kitanji."

"You think just because they spared Shibuya and you means you can do as you want, J? You're playing with fire. Leave the kid alone. You can't keep doing this to him."


It felt like days before Neku's body collided back with the floor of the Viewing Room. A cold sweat had snuck up on him as he laid flat on his back, the ceiling suddenly being a very fancy shade of blue. His mind raced to catch up with all that had happened. He had seen it. He had seen almost every important moment in Joshua's life. He had seen his childhood, his rise to the Composer, the people he didn't spare, the promises he broke, the way he rigidly ran the Game, the way he shot him as if it didn't even matter.

Hot pricks appeared at the corner of his eyes after having relived that particular moment. It felt like a wound being cut fresh. It hurt. It stung to the core.

Was this what Joshua had warned against?

"Mm, why am I not surprised?"

Neku scrambled to feet, face a ghostly pale. He met Joshua's gaze uneasily, the cold look in the Composer's eyes absolutely frightening.

Joshua had been his friend for a year now. Joshua had shown him things that would likely get him in trouble with the Angels. Joshua, the person who had murdered him, had become one of his best friends. And now he knew all his dirty little secrets, presented to him on a silver platter.

"Are you satisfied, Neku? Are you ready to judge me?"


"I told you not to do it, but I suppose you can't sate a cat's curiosity. What a shame…I really wanted you to keep your memories, Neku." There was a distinct sadness to Joshua's usual snark. Something buried deep down. "But now that you know, it's best just to end this. A clean cut, if you will."

"Wait — you're taking my memories?!"

"I'm afraid so. All of them."

"You can't be serious!"

"Mm, it's necessary. If you had just listened…" Joshua trailed off, hands still deep in his pockets as he treaded closer, the edges of his form glowing an opaque white.

What about all those meals at Sunshine? What about all those sleepovers? What about that entire year of friendship? Didn't it mean anything?!

"I'm sorry, Neku. I really am."

But something clicked. "…You were alone."

"Excuse me?" Joshua paused, having been in the middle of lifting his hand into the air. A tiny ball had formed int he middle of his palm but it disappeared the moment Neku parted his lips to speak. A bewildered look took shape on the Composer's frail body. "'Alone'?"

"That's why you picked me. It wasn't about my Soul. That's bullshit." Neku's heart sunk. "You were alone, too. You picked me because I understood that. Being alone."


"You wanted a friend." Neku's mind spun. "Even if it was just for a week of playing pretend, you wanted someone to empathize with you. You wanted someone who was just as alone as you were when you were alive."


"That's why you let me remember after the Game, too."

"Neku, stop—" A dangerous light was pulsating off Joshua. Shibuya was trembling.

"…Because you weren't lonely anymore."

A tiny, true smile appeared on Neku's lips. Hesitantly, he stepped closer, ignoring the absolute anger seething in Joshua's eyes. He never did like the truth being exposed, did he? Never did like looking weak, did he?

"Must suck being the Composer and being alone for so long, huh?" Neku laughed, weakly. "…it's fine though, Josh. I may not agree with what you do. I may hate the Game and hate your stupid Rules…"

"But I don't hate you."

Neku tugged him closer into a weak hug, letting his chin rest on Joshua's shoulder. Shibuya's Composer stilled, body frozen and eyes wide. Vulnerable, human. "You're not alone, jerk. You never were."

I'll never let you be lonely again, either. I promise.

"Because that's what friends are for, right, Josh?"