There was the tightness of your jaw as you clenched it hard, to drive away the oncoming storm. Your eyes prickled angrily. Your arms would shake, and then, when a single tear finally wriggled itself away from you, there was no stopping it.
Most of all you just hated the vulnerability.
The Shibuya district of the UG was littered with hiding places, so you chose one under a bridge. The smell was reminiscent of mold and wet feet, and the shocking graffiti littering the cement walls was grotesque and crude. But it was away from the others, so you let yourself fall to pieces under the bridge.
“My, what do we have here?”
You winced as soon as you heard his voice. Of course; you should have known he’d find you in your worst moment. He always did, just to piss you off.
“Go away,” you managed to mumble before a hiccup rocked your body. You tried to contain the explosive sobs by holding your breath, and wiped your soaked cheeks.
Joshua leaned against the pillar you sat against, his lanky legs stretched out infront of him. You stared at them as your focal point. It helped you control your emotions that were tossing and turning like a grain of sand in the sea.
“It’s about him, isn’t it?”
His question blew up the dam you’d worked so hard to set up against you and your sadness, and you just began crying again. Joshua made a noise of confusement, and when you glanced up he was staring at you like some odd creature at a zoo.
“Of course it is!” you snapped, anger rising inside of you like molten lava to the surface. “He’s gone. Forever! How do you expect me to feel?”
The mention of your past partner made a whole new hot tsunami of tears stream out of your eyes. You swiped at them feverently.
“Hm. Well, it’s not really his your fault. He killed himself.”
“How… how did you know that? You can’t scan me.” You stared up at him, taking shallow breaths.
Joshua chuckled heartily, and you suddenly hated him for it. You were normally tolerant enough of his asshole attitude, but now in your moment of weakness, you despised him for it.
“I know things. You obviously don’t know much. After all, you formed a Pact with him, for god’s sake. Should’ve known he was a goner.”
“He had a chance to live again,” you muttered, more for yourself, having lost the will to talk to Joshua. “He threw it. It. Away…” Your hiccups impaired your speech, and you nestled your head between your knees.
“Yes, I suppose he did. What an idiot…”
You shot your gaze up at his words, your eyes wide with fury. How dare he talk about your brother like that. How dare he. You rose to your feet, your hands clenched in jittery fists, your teeth grit and your jaw aching.
“Let. Me grieve. In peace.” Your voice was still shaky and your lungs still spasmed with your heart’s aches, yet you managed to get it out. You wanted to spit in his face… but your brother wouldn’t want you to do that.
“Why would I leave you alone, dearie? You’re my partner, after all.” His violet-grey eyes twinkled and despair suddenly punched you in the gut.
You inhaled shakily. When your brother had dived off that bridge, you knew you had a few minutes to save yourself. You searched out for the nearest player and formed a Pact, damning the consequences… and here they were.
“You see? I can’t let you out of my sight. Who knows, maybe I’ll have to find a new partner soon, too.”
“You… you goddamn…” you were shaking your head in denial. “Just… leave me alone.”
You expected him to totally deny your wishes again, but to your surprise, he just nodded slowly.
“Don’t leave me hanging.” He then turned and walked away, hands in his pockets, allowing you to hate yourself and cry in solitude.
You lingered around the outside of a shopping store, eyeing the ghostly men from the RG who were smoking their lives away. Their thoughts told you stories of depression and you had to turn away, because you related too much to them. The trails of smoke curled away from them dreamily in the light sun of dawn.
You pushed yourself off the wall and began wandering the district, unsure of where to go or what to do, but wanting to walk. You deliberately took the long way, though, so you wouldn’t have to see the bridge.
You completed your missions enough to stay unerased, but without the excitement it gave you before. In fact, you would finish them in the few seconds you had left, in hopes that you’d get lucky and die. Yet time was still on your side, if everything else wasn’t.
It was strange, though. While all of your other friends moved on or got erased, you were stuck with the same old missions, never seeming to move on. You were too hazy to even care any longer, so you just drifted to where you needed to go.
Joshua was still your partner, in the technical sense. You hadn’t seen him since the day you told him to leave you alone. It was both a relief and somewhat worrying, but you still took your blessings.
When you looked up, you realized you had taken a wrong turn, and was right under that bridge. You swallowed thickly. Your heart jumped when you saw the scuffmark on the railing above, where your brother’s shoe had rubbed off on the rough stone when he jumped.
As if in a dream, you staggered up the stairs to the bridge, train tracks dull in the dim sunlight. Both sides were clear, for now. It was nearly silent, cars still parked at home and people still tucked into bed. It was peaceful.
You ran your hand across the black mark, the rubber scraping off in little tiny pills. It was all that remained.
The bridge’s railing was quite high, but jumpable, as evidenced before. You managed to jump up onto the stone where your brother had, and clung onto the protective railing, staring down through the bars. A little leap and you could get over it. No cars were around. You looked behind you. Nobody was there.
“Now what do you think you’re doing?”
You let out a loud scream and slipped, tumbling backwards off of the railing to the bridge’s ground. You scraped your knee against the stone wall of the bridge and immediately grabbed onto the burning area, holding the pain down. You looked behind you, twisting your neck into an awkward position, just enough to see a pair of lanky legs.
“Joshua?” you asked, pushing yourself into a sitting position. His straw hair was messier than you last remembered it, but otherwise, it was the same disheveled asshole from before.
“I told you not to leave me hanging. That means, don’t jump off a bridge.” He said this very crossly, looking down at you with an air of haughtiness.
“I-I’m sorry,” you stammered, getting to your feet. “I didn’t… um…”
“You. Are such an idiot,” he sighed, pushing his hand through his hair. He closed his eyes, but you imagined them rolling with exasperation.
“How did you even know I was here?” you asked with a bit of guilt. “I mean, you never even showed up before now.”
“I was giving you space before. You asked for it.” His eyes opened again, but he glanced away, almost with… embarrassment. He cleared his throat. “Besides, I’m not blind. Seeing somebody on a bridge with their eyes closed is a bit of a giveaway. I wasn’t going to let my partner smash their head into concrete.”
“You should’ve,” you said darkly after a moment’s thought. “It’s not like whoever’s running the goddamn show is letting me pass on anyways. My only ticket out is this.”
His eyes flashed and suddenly you were slammed against the wall, your back bruised against the metal protective railing. You wheezed, the air knocked right out of your lungs, as Joshua’s hands grasped your shoulders tightly.
“Don’t be stupid,” he said through gritted teeth, his eyes at your height. You blinked rapidly, still startled by the entire situation.
“Uh.” You tried to push him away, but for someone so skinny he had unbelievable strength.
“I didn’t spend so much goddamn time watching you, just for you to become suicidal.” His breathing was heavy.
“What? Watching?” Your brow furrowed. “What are you even…”
“I didn’t send you back to the RG because I…” Joshua’s impulsive anger seemed to fizzle out and he was suddenly at an uncharacteristic loss for words. He looked at you for a second and then released his grip, stumbling backwards, leaving you even more confused than before.
“Joshua, what the hell are you talking about?” You stood up from the bridge wall, advancing towards him. His lips were pressed into a fine line, and he avoided your eyes. “Just tell me.”
A sudden rattling disrupted the conversation, and you realized a train was coming. You shot a desperate look at Joshua.
“Nevermind,” he muttered, seemingly glad of the deathly distraction. He pulled out his cell. You stared at it.
“What’re you doing?” you asked hesitantly, though your voice was starting to get drowned out by the noise of the oncoming train.
“I’ll see you,” he said, looking up at you, violet-grey eyes twinkling. “Don’t leave me hanging.”
And you were gone.
When you realized you were still alive, it was like you had never died.
You didn’t really have any desire to do anything. You kept drifting around the district, for a while, actually. Months and months passed as you spent it in solitude, walking past smokers and bridges. But finally, when you realized you had to buckle down and get it together, you were quite happy. You made friends and had a lovely home, and saw the sun without a cloud of smoke obscuring it.
The winter months were cold and dark. Snow drifted down lazily in clumps. The late sunlight illuminated heavy clouds with fiery tones of pink and purple, though the tall buildings of downtown obscured its light. You stood at the train’s crossing bridge, blowing through your mittens onto your hands, trying to warm them.
A box of old pictures sat at your feet with a bouquet of roses on top of it. Your brother had nobody to ask about him, so it was just you standing, alone.
“Ah, I should’ve known I’d find you here.”
You whipped around, nearly slipping on an icy patch when you heard his voice. Was his only talent scaring you half to death?
“Joshua!” you exclaimed, grinning. He seemed confused by your sudden optimistic behaviour. You only laughed, and lunged forwards to hug him. You nestled your face into the bony crook of his neck. “I thought I’d never see you again.”
“Well, I did say I wasn’t going to leave you alone,” he muttered quietly, and an awkward hand patted you on the back through your jacket. You laughed again and pulled back, smiling up at the tall boy. He studied you, like he always did, with his intelligent eyes.
You blinked a few times and broke out into another grin. “You’re the genius. Figure it out.”
“Well, I’m not exactly the best with touchy-feely stuff…”
You smiled again. “No, idiot. I kind of guessed you were the Composer after thinking on it a bit. You let me live again.”
“Oh. That. Right. No problem.”
His stiffness was endearing and you stifled another chuckle. He seemed so out of place.
“So, why’re you here?” you asked quickly to break the silence.
“Oh. Yeah. I wanted to give you this.” He threw something at you, and you nearly dropped it. Fumbling, you recognized the shape of it immediately. A pin.
“Is this from my…” you realized, looking up at Joshua. He shrugged, his eyes at his feet, kicking a block of snow. You threw your arms around him again, pulling his body close to yours. “God, thank you. Thank you so much.”
“It wasn’t that hard,” he said, his voice muffled by your hair. You pulled yourself back, examining the scratched details of the old pin. “I mean, you have to give gifts anyways during this time of year.”
“What?” you asked absentmindedly, looking up from examining your beloved brother’s pin. He stared at you.
“Oh! Crap!” You had totally forgotten. He raised his eyebrows and then smirked at your shocked expression.
“Always the forgetful one,” he sighed in a teasing voice.
“Well that means… I guess I have to get you a gift too,” you said, thinking hard. What could you do?
“It’s fine. You don’t – ”
You kissed him.
It was more of an impulse thing, and once your lips pressed against his, you freaked out. How the hell do you kiss somebody like Joshua?
Thankfully, he seemed to know, and he cupped your face in his slender hands. It was warm and sloppy, tasting of sugar, and that was good enough for you.
He pulled away first, his breath fogging up the cold air. His eyes were wide, but his hands were still holding you.
“Merry Christmas,” you breathed, lowering yourself back to your feet. You turned back around to the memento you left your brother. “To both of you.”
When you looked back to Joshua, he still looked confused.
“What now?” he asked hesitantly. You extended your arm and grasped his hand, entwining it into yours. He flinched once you did but relaxed, and allowed you to hold him. You pulled him along, where he staggered with you, in the hazy Christmas morning.
“Scan me,” you said with a sly grin. “You’ll see, partner.”