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Affected

Chapter Text

Togami scowled at Naegi as the boy sat across from him in the library, paging through a book much too fast to be reading it. Why did the boy insist on spending time with him? Shouldn’t insult piled on insult deter him?

Nothing about Naegi made sense. The boy seemed so ordinary at first glance, but in the trials, he’d even cornered Togami himself. Facing the boy had been strangely exhilarating, a real opponent that he hadn’t expected to find. His blood pounded even from the memory, adrenaline rushing through him again at the remembered challenge.

And now Naegi could apparently just sit across from him, like it hadn’t affected him at all.

Togami realized with a sharp, sudden clarity that he wanted Naegi to be affected. Just as Naegi had beaten him during the trial, he wanted to turn that defeat on itself, to leave Naegi overcome and consumed by thoughts of him.

He stood abruptly, abandoning his book on the table. “Follow me.”

Naegi looked puzzled, but he didn’t object as he followed Togami into the archive. That would be the best place. The door might not lock, but the rest of the students barely even entered the library at all, let alone made their way back to the dusty room. It would be better than trying to navigate the walk back to the dormitories, which would take a long enough time that Naegi would almost certainly try to chatter unnecessary questions about Togami’s plans.

No, much better to take him by surprise. As soon as the door closed behind them, Togami spun, slammed Naegi against it, and crushed their mouths together.

It was a perfect plan. A successful Togami heir had to excel in all areas, and he had ensured this would be no exception. He was certain Naegi could never have experienced a kiss like this, a deliberate onslaught of pleasure to dull the mind and conquer resistance.

And sure enough, Naegi’s initial shock melted into compliance. He pressed forward, arms wrapping around Togami, lips parting in willing acceptance of his defeat.

It had been so easy, Togami was almost disappointed. Not that he’d really expected Naegi to fight it, but it wasn’t much of a victory if he didn’t have to earn it at all. He’d thought Naegi would need more persuasion.

Instead, Naegi kissed back eagerly – not with a finesse to match Togami’s, but openly and without reserve. That wasn’t the reaction of a defeated opponent – it was the response of a challenger.

Well, he’d just have to show Naegi exactly what it meant to challenge Byakuya Togami. He ground his hips forward, rubbing full body against Naegi. The beautiful friction elicited a deep moan from Naegi that Togami swallowed with satisfaction, feeling the other boy’s teenage hormones kick into overdrive.

He’d intended to leave that at point – to say something appropriately scathing and walk off looking untouched. In his fantasy, Naegi would stare helplessly after him, hard and needy and unable to think of anything else.

Except that unaccountably, Togami found he wasn’t unaffected. The thought of pulling away from Naegi’s mouth seemed as impossible as going without air. Everywhere their bodies touched shot fire directly into Togami’s blood. Almost against his will, his hips thrust forward again, and yet again, white hot electricity searing through his clothes.

He’d miscalculated. He’d thought he would have no trouble walking away. Or maybe he just hadn’t been able to admit how badly he’d wanted to feel Naegi writhing against him.

At least Naegi wanted it, too – there was that consolation. The boy’s hands clutched at Togami like a lifeline, his breathing heavy and his eyes glazed with desire. It was an appealing look, visual evidence that Naegi’s undivided attention was his.

Well, his original plan might be out of the question, but there were other ways to bring Naegi to defeat – ways that would overcome him even more thoroughly than he’d originally intended. With that thought foremost in his mind, Togami dropped his hands to unzip Naegi’s pants and shove them down to his ankles, accompanying the action with an even more punishing kiss.

It should have left Naegi unable to think of anything else – but Togami realized too late that Naegi’s hands had been busy too. His own dress slacks and underwear slid crumpled to the ground, exposing his arousal to the air. One of Naegi’s hands snaked around to rest on Togami’s naked ass, and he felt himself get even harder than before.

That wasn’t right. He’d intended to destroy the commoner brat, to remove his ability to think rationally with the intensity of physical sensation. Naegi shouldn’t even be able to consider trying to affect Togami in turn.

He’d just have to step things up, then. Togami broke the kiss and dropped to his knees, smirking at Naegi’s gasp. This would ruin him, Togami was sure of it.

Togami had always appreciated the power inherent in the ability to give an effective blowjob. When done right, it let him completely control the recipient. A few choice swipes of the tongue and manipulations of the lips, and he owned the other man. He’d always taken malicious satisfaction in seeing an otherwise composed partner fall apart beneath his mouth, exposing weaknesses and vulnerability in the false belief that Togami’s actions had done the same.

And sure enough, Naegi collapsed weakly back against the door, panting as Togami’s mouth worked on him. This was how it should be – Naegi flushed and desperate and entirely focused on him. God, it felt good to put the brat in his place.

It felt really good, actually. Too good. Naegi’s whimpers of pleasure jolted right down to Togami’s cock, leaving him quivering with his own need. If this kept up…

Togami jerked back, scarlet flooding his face. What was wrong with him? He’d nearly brought himself to a climax just from giving Naegi a blowjob, before the other boy had even finished. Teenage over-eagerness was one thing, but that lack of self-control was ridiculous. Maybe this hadn’t been a good idea. Maybe he should go, just walk away before this got any worse.

And then Naegi knelt too, face to face with Togami, and put a hand on his shoulder. The contact sizzled, every nerve too sensitive, and it drew them closer like magnets.

Naegi was the one to close the last distance, leaning forward to kiss him again. Well, at least that meant he couldn’t stay away, that had to be a victory – so Togami allowed it, even tilting accommodatingly back when Naegi climbed forward for better access.

They toppled back onto the floor, Naegi straddling him and pressing him to the ground. Togami would have demanded to know what Naegi thought he was doing, but the other boy’s lips were too distracting for the question to stay in his head. This kiss grew sloppier than their first, Togami’s mouth still sore and tingling from being wrapped around Naegi, but for all that it was even more heated. Naegi trailed his mouth up Togami’s jaw in a line of pure fire, leaving him gasping. He tried to swallow back the sounds as Naegi did wonderful things to the sensitive skin below his ear, but how was he supposed to be quiet with such provocation?

But Naegi seemed to understand. Without stopping his maddening kisses, he pressed a hand to Togami’s mouth, fingers sliding between parted lips. Togami’s mouth closed around them automatically, leaving them slick and wet as he muffled his moans. He couldn’t understand it – he’d never been loud in bed before, but with Naegi on top of him he was losing the fight to be silent.

After a few moments of this, Naegi pulled his hand away and brought his mouth back to Togami’s. The other boy blushed pink with this kiss, even though it was less a hot tangle of mouths than the earlier kisses. This one was surprisingly firm, almost like the other boy was trying to stifle further sounds. Why would he –

Togami felt Naegi’s hand on his ass again, this time seeking to plunge inside – and the encouraging sound he released into Naegi’s mouth made him cringe. What was he thinking? This – he’d never done this, not from this side of things. He’d always thought he had no interest in it, that he didn’t want it, and he should tell Naegi so –

Naegi’s finger found his prostate, and any other thoughts evaporated from Togami’s mind. A deep, rough groan filled his ears, and he only knew distantly that he himself was making it. He didn’t care what he sounded like, not when it felt that good – he hadn’t known anything could feel so good –

– and then Naegi added another finger.

Words came tumbling out of him now, his lips moving against Naegi’s to vocalize what he’d never meant to say to anyone. “Please – please don’t stop –”

The voice sounded like his own, but those shuddering, broken words had to belong to someone else.

Naegi didn’t seem to grasp that, though. He dropped one last life-giving kiss to Togami’s lips, then pulled his fingers out and slid his cock inside, still slick from the earlier blowjob. A distant part of Togami’s mind registered that he was being fucked with his own spit, but as Naegi began to move, he couldn’t muster the strength to care. It felt too good, too right, and he was too far past the point when he could stop. A mess of half-garbled words and noises spilled from him, the sensations short-circuiting his brain into inarticulate mush.

Naegi’s hand slid between them, finding its way to Togami’s erection and stroking as he thrust. Togami’s world spun and narrowed, leaving him nothing but the pounding between his legs, the firm hand moving on his cock, the hot breath panting against his skin, the lips and teeth worrying at his collarbone hard enough to leave a mark.

The thought of bearing Naegi’s mark on his skin sent him over the edge, stars exploding white in his head and carrying him to a place beyond all rational thought. Through the haze, he felt Naegi gasp and surge against him, body shuddering with release. Feeling Naegi’s orgasm sent a wave of satisfaction through him, intensifying his own pleasure. He’d wanted this. He hadn’t even realized what he wanted, not really, but in the end it had been this.

Togami came down from the high of sex slowly, awareness of the rest of the world gradually returning to him. His skin felt scraped where his body had rubbed against the rough stone floor, and his spine ached from the awkward position. His mouth was nearly bruised and almost certainly a visible red. And his ass felt stretched and awkward, oversensitive and tingling from the unaccustomed use.

Naegi still lay on top of him, a warm weight he couldn’t quite bring himself to move – not when Naegi’s eyes were lidded with soft contentment and his head pillowed on Togami’s shoulder. Soft brown hair brushed against Togami’s cheek as the other boy nestled closer, a small smile on his lips. It was an appealing expression, one that urged Togami to kiss him again. But it wasn’t the expression he’d wanted to see. This wasn’t the look of a boy who’d been defeated and humiliated, who’d been forced to acknowledge Togami’s power over him.

But it wasn’t the look of a victor, either. By all his reckoning, Naegi had overcome him in every way he’d thought to destroy the other boy, reducing Togami to a creature of sensation and instinct – but Naegi didn’t seem to treat it as a triumph or to rub in the defeat. Instead, he seemed happy to lie there in Togami’s arms on the cold stone floor – like he thought this had meant more than a challenge between opponents. Like he hadn’t seen it as a battleground.

There was still a chance for victory in that, Togami realized. He could shove Naegi away, laugh, say something cruel – do everything he could to destroy the boy’s illusions about what had just occurred. If he made it clear that he had seen it all differently, he would still have won, would still have Naegi’s mind fixed on him as an all-consuming opponent. It would negate any weakness that he’d shown. It would be easy.

He looked down at Naegi watching him – and he pulled the boy closer, pressing a kiss to his forehead. Naegi’s face relaxed, a small measure of peace entering his expression for the first time since their opening ceremony.

Well. If that was the case, maybe Naegi wasn’t quite as unaffected by him as he’d thought. After all, he’d wanted Naegi to focus on him – and that was what he’d gotten. He just wasn’t sure what it was going to mean.

Chapter Text

Junko Enoshima yawned, eyes fluttering open. Had she fallen asleep in front of the monitors again? Crap, she really had to stop doing that. Who knew what her beloved classmates might be doing if she didn’t keep a close eye on them? Especially Kirigiri, that girl just would not stop nosing around. Maybe it was time for a third motive – that should distract her for a while.

But a quick scan of the monitors showed that Kirigiri seemed to be occupied with the laundry room, at least for now. Good, not like she could cause much trouble there. And Asahina and Ogami were wasting time in the locker rooms, no shock with that. She saw Yamada, Hagakure, Celeste, everything looked boring as always, it didn’t look like she’d missed much –

Her eyes fell on the library cameras and her jaw dropped. Naegi and Togami, of all people, were lying together on the archive floor, half-undressed and sticky and cuddling.

“What the freaking hell did I sleep through?”

A quick scramble of the replay function, and Junko saw exactly what she’d missed. Holy hell, she hadn’t thought Naegi had it in him. It really was too bad Mukuro wasn’t around to check it out.

Of course, if Mukuro was around, Junko would have been able to rest properly and nip this in the bud. A little sex appeal might draw in the viewers, but she wasn’t running a porn studio! The airways had to be kept clean so that people of all ages could enjoy her despair-inducing programming.

She headed into the Monokuma control room and found the switch for the archives.

“Upupupupu…”

She cackled as Naegi and Togami screamed.


Fukawa wandered along the second floor hallway, frowning as she considered possibilities. Her White Knight had managed to evade her earlier today, and she’d been scouring the school for him ever since. No one had seen him – or at least, no one would admit to it – and she was starting to suspect he might have returned to the library after she’d abandoned it as empty earlier that afternoon. It would be a clever strategy, definitely worthy of her White Knight. Surely he’d be pleased if she managed to unravel the tricky riddles he’d left for her!

She’d just turned the corner when twin screams echoed through the halls – and one was in her White Knight’s voice! What could make her poised and icy beloved raise his voice like that? Had someone tried to attack him?

She broke into a sprint. Not that she really believed anyone else could take down her brilliant knight, but if they tried – if they dared

Her hand went to the scissors Jill kept hidden beneath her long skirt.

She burst into the library just as Togami and Naegi came tumbling out of the archive, Monokuma laughing behind them. They looked messy, disheveled, like something really had occurred.

“Y-y-you!” Fukawa pointed furiously at Naegi, who took a startled step back. “What did you do to my White Knight?”

“N-nothing!” Naegi turned red, a sure sign of a liar. And the stuttering – was he trying to mock her?

“You d-don’t fool me!” she snarled. “The innocent act was all just a f-façade, wasn’t it? You’ve been s-secretly plotting this the entire time!”

“No! I wasn’t plotting anything!”

“Oh, really? Then why was my White Knight screaming? Are you saying you didn’t do anything to make him scream?”

“Well – I mean, that is –” Naegi’s mouth opened and closed a few times.

“I knew it!” She advanced on the boy. “So what was it? A knife, to slit open his throat and stain the world s-scarlet with his blood? A bat to crack his skull open and send his brains splattering across the floor? Or was it p-poison, to leave him unwounded in death?” Her hands clasped together at the thought of her knight’s body collapsing to the floor in the throes of a vile poison. “And then I could s-suck the venom from him and save his life, taking the filth directly from his body into my own mouth, swallowing it to preserve him from harm!” The thought made her groan with excitement.

“Um.” Naegi had a very uncomfortable look on his face. “You – wait. You think I tried to kill him?” He shook his head hastily, waving his hands. “No – no, that’s not –”

“That’s exactly what happened.”

Fukawa looked over at Togami, who’d crossed his arms and was staring icily at them. “It – it is? Really?”

“No –”

Yes.” Togami glared at Naegi. “He attacked me, I survived, that’s all.”

“Oh, that was all, was it?” Monokuma said, tilting his head questioningly. “So I saw him attacking you? Gee, I wonder what kind of weapon he was using. Where did it go, huh? Huh?”

Togami turned to glare at Monokuma. “You stay out of this.”

And as he turned, Fukawa saw it – at the base of his neck, only visible now because his shirt and jacket had been pulled askew, a dark red bruise in the shape of a mouth. A mouth that hadn’t been hers – that was the same size as –

She spun to stare at Naegi. Yes – she hadn’t seen it before, but yes, his mouth was dark from pressure, his hair in disarray like there had been hands running wild through it, and his pants were – still unzipped –

“You!” The words caught in her throat. “You – and my White Knight, you were –” Her eyes went to the archive door. “You were in there – where anyone could have seen you? Where I could have opened the door and found you naked and entwined, too consumed by illicit passions to notice, ignoring me as you continued to satisfy your depraved urges –”

“Stop talking.”

Her knight might be glaring at her now, but there was an edge of pink to his face. So that meant it was true – and he was thinking about it, about what could have happened. Her breathing quickened as the images passed before her eyes – her White Knight overcome by a filthy lust, pinning Naegi to the wall as the smaller boy whimpered and begged – and then he would look over to the open door and see her, he’d notice her watching and smile – he’d tell her to stay, allow her a glimpse of the look on his face as he buried himself in Naegi –

No, that wasn’t right. She had spent hours gazing longingly at her White Knight, and she knew every detail of his posture. And right now, from the way he was standing –

The images reversed themselves before her eyes. She saw herself opening the archive door to find her precious White Knight on his hands and knees, face screwed up in a perverse combination of pain and pleasure as Naegi forced himself between his legs. Her knight would moan in unwilling ecstasy as he looked up at her watching, not sure if he wanted to beg to be saved or to beg for more –

The fantasy was too much for her. Fukawa felt her blood rushing dizzily to her head as she collapsed. The last thing she heard before the world went dark around her was her White Knight snarling, “Run!”


Junko collapsed back into her chair, laughing madly, as the two boys bolted out of the library, leaving the unconscious Fukawa behind. “Abandoning a girl in distress? How cruel!”

The boys had only just made it out in time before the writer bounced back to her feet with the wild red eyes of her alter ego. “Huh? What the hell made Gloomy lose it in here? Did I miss a corpse? Gyahahaha!”

Junko grinned, sending Monokuma towards the girl. “Too bad, nothing so exciting as corpses in here today. Just a certain someone hiding from you.”

“Oh?” Genocide Jill’s face predictably lit up at the implication that Togami had been around. “My White Knight was here? Where did he go?”

“Just down the stairs a few seconds ago. You should be able to catch up with him if you hurry. Upupupupupu…”

Junko kept laughing even after Genocide Jill tore out of the room after the boys. She’d been planning to offer money for her next motive – but this was so much better. It might finally knock the serial killer off the non-killing wagon, or maybe drive dirty-minded Fukawa to snap. Or better still, Togami was barely one little push away from a murder himself – maybe this could twist around to give him the incentive he needed to stop overthinking it.

She could hardly wait to find out which way this would end. No matter who lost it first, the despair from the resulting class trial would be magnificent.

Chapter Text

Naegi had half-expected Togami to follow into his dorm room as they fled from Jill, but he was clearly well practiced in getting back to his dorm room without looking like he was running. The heir had locked himself in his own room before Naegi had made it to his door, so Naegi shrugged and got himself safely into his own room too. It was close enough to curfew, after all – he might as well avoid Jill until morning by going to bed a little early. He didn’t want to think about what the serial killer might do to someone who had laid hands on her White Knight.

And not just hands, either. Naegi flushed at the memory of what he’d done. What had come over him? Sure, he’d been noticing how attractive Togami was more and more frequently, and he’d definitely been trying to spend more time with the heir – but that was just because he wanted to understand Togami better. Togami was an undeniable force during the class trials, and Naegi had wanted to know how his mind worked, why he thought his actions were a good idea. And while Naegi hadn’t liked the actions themselves, he had to admire the conviction that drove Togami to them. But that didn’t all add up to a crush or anything, did it?

Well, maybe it did. He must have been pretty obvious about it, if Togami had thought it would be okay to kiss him without so much as hinting about it beforehand.

Of course, it had been okay – more than okay! It had been amazing. That first kiss had been unlike any other Naegi had experienced, electrifying and addictive. He’d thought he’d be happy to kiss Togami forever – right up until Togami had taken things a step further.

That was the point when things had gotten out of control, Naegi thought – the point when Togami had, without any prior discussion, decided to get on his knees and suck Naegi off. Naegi had to admit that he’d daydreamed about it once or twice, lying alone in his bed at night, but he’d never actually considered the possibility. So the stark reality of Togami’s mouth on his cock, the wet heat of his lips and tongue, had entirely blanked out his mind. That was the only explanation Naegi could think of.

Because what else could have made him respond to Togami the way he had? Togami had stopped suddenly, jerking back with as little warning as when he’d started, leaving Naegi boneless against the door, confused and gasping. He had wanted to protest, to beg the other boy to resume – but the look of sheer mortification on Togami’s face had given him pause. He hadn’t been entirely sure why Togami was suddenly embarrassed, but he hadn’t liked it. He’d just wanted to soothe the nervous feelings away. That’s all he’d meant to do when he’d knelt to kiss the other boy.

And then all the rest had just happened, taking Naegi by surprise as much as Togami. He hadn’t even realized he knew how to do any of that. It had been instinctive, his body knowing how to act without his mind consciously telling it what to do. Maybe that was the result of watching way too much porn or something? That didn’t seem likely, but it was the only explanation he could think of for how he’d gone from an awkward virgin to fucking Togami like he’d done it a thousand times.

And if Togami’s reactions had been anything to judge by, Naegi had apparently done a pretty good job of it. He had to grin a little to himself at that. Togami had been a mess by the end, and it had felt good – really good – to know he’d caused that loss of composure. Not that he ever would have tried to force such a reaction on the heir – he’d paid close attention to the other boy’s words and reactions, trying to make sure it really was okay to do what he’d wanted. But at every turn Togami had been willing and responsive, gasping out encouragements before Naegi could even ask for permission. And at the end, when Naegi would have checked a final time before actually entering Togami, the blonde had begged before losing the ability to say coherent words.

Naegi would hold tight to that memory, especially the next time Togami decided to act superior about something. Whatever else the heir might say or do, Naegi would always know he’d been able to make the other boy fall apart. And Togami would know it too.

Which was probably at least part of why Togami had tried to claim that Naegi had attacked him. Naegi frowned about that. He could understand not wanting to tell Fukawa all the details, but there must have been a better way to avoid it than that. What if she’d believed him? Fortunately, it didn’t seem like she had – she’d been able to spot the truth pretty quickly. Naegi sighed. He hoped she wasn’t too disappointed by it – and that her alter ego didn’t take it as a trigger to run wild.

Of course, that brought up the next question for him – what was he supposed to do now? He wasn’t sure what happened after this. He would have been content to lay in Togami’s arms for quite a while longer, and he assumed that some kind of conversation would have happened at some point if they’d been left to their own devices there. But they’d been forced to go their separate ways without discussing anything, meaning – what?

Were they dating now? Naegi found he rather liked that idea, even though it wasn’t like they could really date trapped here in Hope’s Peak. And he didn’t know what Togami thought of the idea, either. It was possible that Togami had only been interested in the physical, not any kind of relationship. But if that was the case, would he want to do it again?

Naegi really liked that idea. He especially wished he’d gotten the chance to get Togami’s shirt off, as well as his pants, and to see the heir entirely naked in his bed. Or maybe in the shower. Against the wall. Bent over the table. His imagination supplied him with a wide variety of vivid possibilities.

He shook his head to clear it. He shouldn’t focus on things like that, not when he didn’t know what Togami would want yet. He’d just have to track the heir down tomorrow and talk to him about it.

Of course, the next day, Naegi quickly realized that the problem with that plan was that he actually had to be able to find Togami. Faced with Fukawa’s stalking, the heir had quickly mastered the art of remaining hidden unless he wanted to be found – and now it seemed that he didn’t want Naegi to be able to find him.

That actually suggested that all those times Naegi had hunted Togami down in the library to chat, the other boy had let Naegi find him, no matter how annoyed he’d acted. There was some comfort in that, Naegi supposed – though it was hard to remember that when he’d scoured the entire school again without seeing a trace of Togami. He frowned, scowling at the cafeteria like it was the room’s fault Togami wasn’t in it.

“What are you doing?”

Naegi turned around to see Kirigiri watching him from the laundry room doorway with a quizzical look on her face.

“I was looking for Togami.”

A faint grimace crossed her usually blank face. “Why?”

“Well, I – I wanted to talk to him. About –” Naegi flushed. “About something.”

Kirigiri gave him a long look. “I see.”

She probably did – she seemed like she saw everything sometimes. Naegi’s blush got worse.

She tapped her fingers on her crossed arms, then said,” I know it isn’t my business to tell you who to spend time with, but have you considered that – that talking to Togami might not be a very good idea?”

Naegi wasn’t entirely sure what she meant by that. “Well – we did actually talk earlier. In the library. And I thought we should – uh – talk more about it?”

Kirigiri stared at him, eyebrows knit together like he was a difficult knot she was trying to untangle. “Are you saying that you and Togami already –”

“It – it wasn’t – I mean –” Naegi fell silent. After all, he couldn’t really claim it wasn’t what she was thinking, could he?

“I see.” Kirigiri seemed to be staring right through him, her look was so intense. “Well. If you’re determined, I won’t try to stop you – but I would like to make a request.”

“Okay,” Naegi said, puzzled.

“If you do manage to get him alone, I’d like you to make a point of mentioning this conversation to him,” Kirigiri said. “Especially if things – hmm. If they don’t go the way you’re hoping.”

“What?” Naegi blinked. He hadn’t really been sure what to expect of her, but that seemed like a weird thing for her to ask.

“I’d appreciate it if you’d humor me,” she said, giving him a small smile. “I really do wish you the best of luck, Naegi.”

“Thanks?”

“And I’ll be looking for you at breakfast tomorrow. Don’t disappoint me.” Kirigiri gave him another odd look, then went back to her seat at the laundry room table, giving Naegi the distinct impression that they’d been having two very different conversations.

In the end, he decided that maybe Kirigiri had a point – maybe talking to Togami right at this moment wasn’t the best option. Maybe he should give the other boy time to think, since he obviously seemed to want it. He could try to talk to Togami again when the heir was more open to being found.

Chapter Text

Togami was fairly certain he’d lost his mind. Being locked in Hope’s Peak had clearly unhinged him. That was the only explanation he could think of for his actions the previous day. He’d tried to calm himself down by concentrating on a book, tucked in the back corner of the physics lab where the air purifier would block him from view, but the words kept swimming out of focus as he flashed back to that moment in the archive.

Makoto Naegi? What had he been thinking? It wasn’t even as though he could blame it on hormones or thinking with his dick, not when he’d been with someone as average and unextraordinary as Naegi. Boys like him came crawling out of the woodwork at any common high school, and none of them had ever been worth a passing glance.

Of course, none of them could win a vicious argument under life-and-death pressure, either. Naegi obviously had hidden depths, which was why Togami had let the boy spend time with him. Something about Naegi wasn’t as ordinary as he seemed, and Togami had wanted to understand what that was. That kind of contradiction could cause problems, especially in a situation like this one.

But none of that explained why he’d dragged Naegi into the archive to kiss him, or how the kiss had led to a wild mess of wanting that had consumed him so thoroughly. He had always prided himself on control, on icy logic and measured reactions. He’d thought he knew what his own response would be to any situation, but yesterday had proved him wrong.

And that wasn’t even the worst of it. He could almost – almost – accept that he found Naegi attractive enough for sex, if it hadn’t been for what had happened afterwards. Awash with endorphins and dizzy from pleasure, he’d chosen to hold Naegi close and kiss him with what he could only call affection. That wasn’t the dispassionate dismissal he should have used if he’d only wanted to satisfy a physical need – that had been the soft embrace of a lover.

It would have been understandable if he’d done it as some kind of trick, a way to lull Naegi into a false sense of trust in him – but he knew that such thoughts hadn’t entered his head. He’d wanted to wrap his arms around Naegi and feel the boy curl into him, to let his body give voice to some part of the contentment he’d felt.

And that was dangerous. Didn’t he know the situation here, with murder lingering in the air like a promise? Hadn’t he been the one to say that being around the others would only create the potential for disaster? Any connection to another person created a vulnerability that could be exploited.

A connection like the one he and Naegi had just forged.

He could feel it settling on him like a noose around his neck, the start of a force that could drag him to his doom. It could mean an opening for another killer to exploit, an opportunity for betrayal, or, worst of all, a moment of hesitation on his own part.

Would he still be able to commit a murder, knowing that successfully winning the game would lead to Naegi’s death? He thought he still could – but now there was a hint of doubt, where previously there’d been only certainty.

He slammed his book down, frustration exploding through him. Doubt? Uncertainty? Where had those thoughts even come from? If there was one thing he’d learned from winning his position as the Togami heir, it was that victory did not allow room for doubt.

He had to stop this connection, before it got any stronger. It was still new and weak now, so it didn’t fully have its hooks in him yet. If he could break the fragile beginnings of this bond, he’d have no reason left to hesitate when the time came for him to make his move in the game.

In most situations, he would have assumed that he’d need nothing more than his own force of will to cut off the connection on his own end. However, based on the intensity of his response to Naegi, he couldn’t trust himself to maintain the icy distance necessary to achieve that.

No, he would have to arrange the situation to leave himself no quarter, no hope of respite. If he really meant to win the killing game, he had to destroy any feelings Naegi had for him.

And so, after the final Monokuma announcement sounded for the night, he slipped silently through the dark dormitory halls and pressed the doorbell outside Naegi’s room.

Naegi opened the door, and the way his face brightened made Togami’s heart clench. He’d been the cause of the happiness on Naegi’s face, and he didn’t want to wipe it away.

Which only made it more imperative that he do so.

“We need to talk,” Togami said, letting the door lock behind him as he entered Naegi’s room.

Chapter Text

The biggest problem with the dorm room was its distinct lack of seating. Naegi hadn’t been able to figure out why he’d been given a table and desk, but no chairs. It seemed like a strange distribution of furniture.

Togami clearly noticed it too, pausing for a long moment at the bookcase as he surveyed the lack of options. If he wanted to talk, like he’d said he did, there was really only one choice.

He strode over and sat at the foot of the bed, as poised as if it were a throne. Naegi had to suppress a slightly envious sigh at the other boy’s complete confidence. He was nowhere near as assured, feeling a blush color his cheeks as he sat on the bed beside Togami. He had to struggle not to think about how he’d imagined Togami here, the daydreams so vivid they left ghostly sensations shivering on his skin.

“So what did you want to talk about?” Naegi asked to distract himself, when Togami didn’t seem to want to start the conversation.

Togami glanced over at him, pressure sizzling in the air between them as their gazes met – and then Togami’s eyes slid past him to the wall beyond, his face morphing into a scowl.

“I want to be sure that you don’t get any ideas about the mistake that happened yesterday.”

The bottom of Naegi’s chest plummeted down, leaving a hollow space where his heart hung frozen mid-beat. That – that was not what he’d thought Togami had come to say.

Had he really misjudged that badly? He’d be the first to admit he couldn’t always read people’s intentions, but he’d honestly thought there had been something between the two of them, something more than just attraction. Had it all been wishful thinking?

It must have been. There was no trace of the warmth he’d thought he’d seen yesterday in the icy mask of the boy beside him now. No wonder Togami had been avoiding him all day.

“Okay.” Naegi hoped his voice didn’t sound as forlorn to Togami as it did in his own ears. “You don’t want it to lead to anything. I understand.”

“Lead to anything?” Togami’s scornful laugh sliced through Naegi like a knife. “I would prefer not to acknowledge that it happened at all.”

The hurt shouldn’t have been unexpected. Naegi knew what Togami was like. He should have seen this coming, shouldn’t have been shocked, and the tears prickling at the edges of his eyes had no business being there.

“I understand,” Naegi repeated, proud that he managed to say it without his voice cracking. “You don’t have to say it like that.”

“I want to be sure you haven’t gotten it in your head that this is some grand romance, and that you don’t try to gossip about it with your little friends.” The acid in Togami’s words could bite through solid steel.

“Well, I get it. And I won’t tell anyone.”

“Good.” An extra edge of cruelty curled onto Togami’s lips. “Maybe it will free up enough of your brainpower for you to be serious and think about where you are.”

Naegi frowned. He didn’t think Togami could mean anything as obvious as his room or Hope’s Peak. “What, you mean the killing game?”

“What else? In case you’ve forgotten, the game can only have one winner. The rest of you won’t make it out alive.”

That should have cut deeper than ever, hearing someone he liked speak so callously of letting all their friends die – but past that, anger came bubbling up, clearing a path through the hurt in his head for thoughts to flow more sensibly.

“I don’t believe that,” Naegi said. “I think there’s a way we can all make it out alive. We just have to trust each other and keep our faith in our friends, and no one else will have to die.”

“Really? And how did that work out in the last two trials?” Togami countered. “Remind me what your trust in Maizono got you.”

Naegi glared at him. “Leave her out of this.”

“Why should I? She understood. She might not have played the game well, but she knew she was a player in it.”

“She didn’t have to be. None of us have to be,” Naegi insisted, wishing he knew how to make Togami see it. “There’ll be a way out for us, if we just work together and refuse to give in.”

“That’s the sort of thinking that will get you killed,” Togami said.

“Well, you’re the one who said the rest of us wouldn’t make it out alive,” Naegi said, throwing Togami’s words back in his face like they were arguing in a trial.

Togami’s lips tightened. “You won’t. I’m going to win this game, and no meaningless connection is going to stand in my way.”

Connection? That sounded like an odd word for Togami to choose. Naegi frowned, ideas beginning to spin into new configurations in his head as he considered it.

“So that’s why you ignored me all day and came here tonight?”

“Obviously.”

Naegi eyed him for a moment to make sure, then let the contradiction fly. “But if it’s meaningless, why do you care if I tell anyone?”

“I – what?” Togami blinked, mask of composure ruffled for an instant.

“If it’s meaningless, other people knowing wouldn’t matter,” Naegi said. “Not if you think we’re all going to end up dead. Actually, if everyone knew, they’d think you had a weakness when you really didn’t. You’d be in a much better position then – if it really were meaningless.”

The barest hint of a flinch crossed Togami’s face. “Your interpretation is entirely wrong –”

“No. It isn’t.” Naegi was sure of it now. “You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by letting people believe something that isn’t true. The only way it would make sense for you to come here after curfew and tell me to keep everything a secret is if you had something to hide.” Naegi couldn’t help smiling a little. “You do feel a connection to me, and it isn’t meaningless.”

He could see it shake Togami, just like he’d been shaken in the second trial. Satisfaction thrummed through Naegi at that, seeing the cracks in the heir’s perfect poise.

Of course, it might not have been the best idea to do that now. He’d automatically fallen into the logical patterns he used in the trials, but those weren’t really appropriate for normal conversations. Arguing couldn’t be a very good way to get Togami to admit to feeling a connection – it would probably just annoy him. Someone so tightly controlled probably hated to have another person argue him into a corner. He could feel the weight of Togami’s eyes focusing in on him, sparking with unreadable emotion, probably preparing to storm out –

Togami lunged forward and crushed his mouth to Naegi’s. The force of it knocked Naegi onto his back, and Togami fell on top of him, not giving Naegi a chance to figure out what was happening. He couldn’t help but kiss back under the fevered assault, as impatient hands tried to force his jacket off his shoulders.

Well, if that was what they were doing, Naegi wasn’t going to be the only one who had clothes removed. He managed to stop Togami’s infuriating hands long enough to remove his tailored jacket, though made Togami’s throat vibrate with an irritated growl. That just left the weird crossed suspenders that Togami wore fastened across his chest. Naegi would have been hard-pressed to work out how to unfasten those things even without Togami’s mouth distracting him.

As it was, it took far too long for him to realize that the trick was to undo the central button holding the suspenders in place, and then unhook the clips at the back. Naegi tossed the two straps aside in relief, and then moved on to trying to unbutton Togami’s shirt. He’d been imagining what it would be like to have every bit of clothing off the other boy, and whatever else was going on, he wasn’t about to miss this chance. Togami seemed to have the same idea, unzipping Naegi’s hoodie and flinging it across the room like it personally offended him.

As much as Naegi had wanted to see this, he found his cheeks going red when he realized they were both naked. Togami really did look amazing, all long expanses of lean muscle and smooth skin. Naegi wasn’t exactly uncomfortable with his appearance, but he wasn’t the type people fantasized about, either. Togami had definitely mentioned that when listing all his mediocre points.

He didn’t have anything to say on that score now, though, bearing down on Naegi like an oncoming missle. His hands blistered against Naegi’s skin like piles of smoldering coals, mouth searing his with furious challenge.

And it wasn’t what Naegi had wanted at all. Anger had gotten tangled up in it, anger and pain and all the horrible things Togami had said without taking back. The argument had morphed from words into something physical, and as good as it felt, Naegi couldn’t ignore the ugliness at the core of it.

So he wasn’t entirely surprised when Togami pressed his arms to the mattress and hissed into his ear, “You know I could kill you now.”

It should have been terrifying, hearing that phrase while vulnerable – but Naegi just felt irritated, and a little sad. “Seriously?”

Togami smirked down at him. “I told you, I’m not going to let anything distract me –”

“Not that. You seriously expect me to believe you’d do this now?” Naegi huffed out a sigh. “Fukawa knows what happened yesterday, and I’m pretty sure Kirigiri figured it out too. You’d have to have a really good explanation for why you shouldn’t be the first suspect.”

Togami’s grip went slack as Naegi’s words struck him, and Naegi took the opportunity to shake his hands free and wriggle out from under the larger boy. “That wouldn’t make you less dead.”

Naegi rolled his eyes. “Really? And what were you planning to use? I know you haven’t got any weapons on you now, so – what, you were going to strangle me? You’d leave bruises on my neck in the shape of your hands. Kirigiri wouldn’t even need to do an autopsy to work that one out. And that’s assuming I’d have stayed still and let you. You were literally on top of me – all I’d have to do is knee you in the balls.”

The onslaught of logic made Togami wince, but though he opened his mouth, no words came out. He just stared at Naegi like he’d never seen anything like him.

Naegi sighed again. “You know, you didn’t have to say that. If you’re really not interested, you could have just said you wanted to stop. It would be way more believable than the idea that you would try to kill someone with a stupid plan.”

“I didn’t want to.” Pink stained Togami’s cheeks as the words slipped out, that odd, indefinable look on his face growing more intense. Was he embarrassed at having the holes in his actions pointed out to him? Or did he just hate it that much that Naegi had the nerve to argue with him?

It didn’t matter. Naegi shook his head. “Yeah, I figured out that you didn’t want to have sex with me again, the death threat made that pretty clear –”

“Not that –” Togami clamped his mouth shut, pink blush blazing to a full scarlet.

Not that? What was that supposed to mean? Not what? What else was there that he hadn’t wanted to do? There were really only two possibilities that Naegi could think of.

“You didn’t want to kill me?” Naegi asked, frowning. “Or you didn’t want to stop?”

Togami didn’t move except for a faint twitch in his face, like he was trying to reassemble his cold mask but couldn’t quite work out how to do it.

It made a strange sort of sense, if Naegi tried to think about it from the other boy’s point of view. Togami’s touches had felt like the continuation of their argument, not like pleasure for its own sake, and that death threat could have been an attempt to use a power play to make a point. If there was one thing Naegi knew about Togami, it was that he hated losing – that he didn’t even accept it was possible for him to lose. So of course he’d be bothered by the way that Naegi had out-argued him, in that moment right before Togami had kissed him.

That had been kind of weird timing, now that Naegi thought about it.

And he’d just done it again, hadn’t he? He’d stabbed Togami through with unassailable logic, just like during the trials – except that these should have been even worse, since they were about Togami himself instead of just his arguments about another person. He would have expected Togami to get mad and storm out, not stay in Naegi’s bed, staring at him like he couldn’t tear his eyes away. He didn’t look like he was about to leave, either, not lying there with his face flushed and his breath too fast and –

Oh. It clicked in Naegi’s mind, then, everything coming together at last. Togami might act like he hated having Naegi outthink him, but apparently part of him didn’t hate it at all.

Part of Naegi really wanted to pretend nothing had happened, to lean forward and kiss the heir again, ignoring Togami’s words. He was certain Togami wouldn’t object, that they could carry on and try out some of the fantasies that had been running through his head all day. He really wanted that – couldn’t stand the thought of not having it, not when the other boy was so close.

But he didn’t want what they’d had a moment ago, either, full of an empty fire that would leave nothing but sordid ashes in its wake. It would only be worse if he let things go, leaving that death threat lingering between them to fester in the wounds their argument had left. If Naegi threw himself back into Togami’s arms now, no matter how good his intentions might be, he knew that it could only end badly. They had to deal with it, had to bleed out the poison, if there was going to be any path forward.

“I know you didn’t really want to kill me.”

And that was true. Naegi hadn’t actually believed for a second that Togami planned to murder him during sex. If he’d thought Togami was capable of that, he wouldn’t have wanted to touch the other boy in the first place. But that wasn’t the important question.

“Did you think you wanted to kill me?”

Togami glared at Naegi. “I wanted to win this game. Haven’t I been saying so from the start?”

Naegi shrugged. “It’s easy to say something you don’t mean. And I know you didn’t.”

“Oh? And what makes you so sure?”

A thousand little things said so, none of which Naegi could name with any precision. The way Togami tilted his head, the tone of his voice, the look in his eye, all the tiny parts that made up the single picture Naegi could interpret but not explain. There was only one way he knew how to say it.

“Because I trust you not to.”

Togami stared at him in disbelief. “You – trust me? And that’s all the reason you have?” He shook his head, lip curling with familiar disdain. “I expected better of you.”

“You trust me too, though,” Naegi said, before Togami could move away. “Or you wouldn’t be here at all.”

Togami rolled his eyes. “I don’t trust you,” he said. “I just know you aren’t capable of –”

He stopped short, and Naegi smiled.

“I don’t trust you,” Togami repeated, but this time doubt lay underneath his words.

And as he said it, an idea occurred to Naegi, born from the same set of instincts he’d used in the archive the previous day.

“That’s okay,” Naegi said, reaching down to the floor beside the bed to scoop up Togami’s discarded suspenders. “I’ll prove it to you.”

He leaned forward and clipped one suspender to the corner of the bed.

“What are you doing?” Togami demanded as Naegi seized his hand.

“Don’t move.” Naegi wrapped the edge of the strap around his writ.

Togami stared at his hand in disbelief. “Is this some kind of joke?”

“No.” Naegi began hooking the other strap to the opposite corner of the bed.

Togami tugged at his wrist and rolled his eyes. “This wouldn’t hold a fly. You’ve only clipped it down, I could pull it off –”

“You won’t,” Naegi interrupted. “Unless you want to leave.”

Togami stiffened, and for a moment Naegi thought he was considering doing just that. Maybe he’d misjudged things, maybe he really had been imagining the connection he’d thought they could share. But on the other hand –

“I know that if you really wanted to leave, you’d have done it already,” Naegi added, driving the point home as thoroughly as he could.

Togami’s breath shook a little as Naegi took away one of his arguments again – and he raised his wrist for Naegi to tie in place.

“And what am I supposed to do now?” Togami’s voice was a little deeper as he watched Naegi, pupils dilated.

Naegi settled himself on top of the heir, noting the cracks in the other boy’s attempt at disinterest. He leaned forward until his breath touched Togami’s face as he whispered, “Trust me.”

Chapter Text

Togami had regretted the death threat as soon as he’d spoken it. What purpose could a threat like that even serve? If he’d meant it, he should have done it without warning the other boy. If he hadn’t, he should have stayed quiet and let events take their course. He’d had Naegi naked beneath him, there should have been hundreds of other ways he could have made his point.

But there had been something wrong in the way they moved against one another. They argued so easily, it should have made sense for the angry words to turn into violent passion. He recognized the pattern, felt how it attracted the darker parts of his soul. It had driven him to kiss Naegi again, harsh and fierce – but while Naegi had kissed back, it hadn’t matched his vicious intent.

It had been impossible, intolerable that Naegi wouldn’t share his focus at a moment like that. He’d needed Naegi’s attention on him, matching the feelings simmering just below his skin, and he’d said the first thing he could think of to try to make it occur.

And now Naegi was – what, annoyed about it? Did he intend to take some kind of petty revenge? Togami didn’t see what Naegi thought he’d accomplish by binding his wrists. All Naegi was doing was limiting Togami’s ability to respond to him – that couldn’t be very interesting.

He flexed his wrists, and felt the bindings press against him in response. The fabric wrapped securely around his wrists where Naegi had tied it in place, but the clips attaching the straps to the bed would come off with only a moment’s pressure from him. That seemed like the opposite of what Naegi would need, if he intended to try and exact some kind of revenge.

Togami didn’t understand what Naegi was trying to do, and the uncertainty of it twisted in the pit of his stomach. That was all he felt – confused. There was no other reason for his stomach to flip and curl with nerves, not when he could stop this whenever he liked.

He looked up at Naegi, settled on top of him. Trust me – that was what the boy had whispered in his ear, but the words didn’t make sense. This had to be some kind of power game, one he shouldn’t be allowing. He should snap the clips off and –

Naegi leaned down and pressed his mouth to the hollow of Togami’s throat, and Togami forgot what the rest of his thought would have been. Whatever else Naegi was trying to accomplish, he still knew exactly the pressure of lips, the slide of tongue to make Togami shudder from it.

Heat pooled along his body everywhere Naegi lay against him, and under that warmth, some of the angry tension began to melt away. Naegi’s mouth wandered lower, tracing a line of kisses along Togami’s bare chest, until he found the nipple and closed his mouth over it.

Togami couldn’t stop his gasp as Naegi’s tongue swirled over the stiff peak. It felt amazing, too good to be allowed, not when Naegi hardly looked bothered at all. Togami’s hands twitched for freedom, aching to feel Naegi’s skin in turn, to make him equally vulnerable with pleasure.

But if he tried, Naegi would stop.

Or would he? Maybe he’d just wanted to see if Togami would let him fasten the straps in place. He wouldn’t really stop if Togami tried to touch him in return, would he? No, of course not. There wasn’t a teenage boy in existence who would really object to being touched. He started to tug at the restraints.

A hand settled on his elbow, and Togami realized Naegi was looking at him again. The other boy didn’t say anything, just stared at Togami with an intensity he could feel on his skin. His nerve endings all seemed to sit up and quiver under the scrutiny, entirely attuned to the fact that for once, he had all of Naegi’s undivided attention.

And that attention said that breaking the restraints would lead to the exact consequences Naegi had promised.

Togami stilled, and let his wrists relax against the bed. His hands had clenched into fists without his realizing it, and he slowly forced his fingers to uncurl.

Naegi smiled, like he’d been given a gift. “Thank you,” he murmured, pressing a kiss to Togami’s chest just above his heart.

Something bloomed in his chest below Naegi’s lips, soft and warm like the first rays of sunrise. Desire was part of it, tangled up with other things he couldn’t name – a rich, heady desire that thrummed through his blood like alcohol. He could feel it intoxicating him, and the need for more was a physical ache.

And even as the desire made itself known, he couldn’t escape the awareness of the restraints on his wrists, his own unspoken promise not to take what he wanted. His hands shook, but he left them in place. What other choice did he have? He could only hope that Naegi wouldn’t torment him long.

But Naegi, to his surprise, didn’t choose to torture him at all. He began kissing Togami’s chest again, his lips both slaking the desire and intensifying it. His hands traced wild dances along Togami’s sides, wandering up to his shoulders and down to his thighs. It was everything Togami wanted, and Naegi gave it to him freely.

It was too much to be possible. Togami craned his neck to look at Naegi, searching desperately for some hint of malice, but the boy seemed perfectly content to continue kissing his way along Togami’s ribs. He showed no sign of the plans Togami had half-expected when he’d realized Naegi meant to tie him up. He’d thought this would be a power game, where Naegi would use his inflamed need as a hostage to extract some measure of humiliation from him.

But instead, Naegi offered him pleasure, as open and honest as everything he did. He had every opportunity to be cruel, even the knowledge that Togami wouldn’t actually leave if he chose to tease and torment – but instead, Naegi had chosen to be kind.

He could have handled the cruelty. He would have understood the thoughts behind it and been able to push them aside. But the kindness….

The kindness left him undone.

Every touch Naegi gave him, every brush of lips or stroke of skin, all of it spiraled through him, washing away his conscious thoughts in the rising tide of need. He could hardly name all the things he needed, but it didn’t matter, Naegi seemed to know them all before he could try to ask. It sent his world spinning off its axis, gravity thrown out of balance and all rules gone askew, and the only things left to anchor him to reality were the straps tied around his wrists.

Gentle hands slid up his quivering shoulders, one curling flush against his neck and the other threading into his sweaty hair. He looked up into Naegi’s eyes, the boy’s thumb tracing the line of his jaw, and his lips parted almost of their own accord.

Naegi leaned down and kissed him, slow and deliberate and maddening. He didn’t think he could take it any longer –

And then he didn’t have to. Naegi shifted against him, and the motion aligned their hips and brought their cocks together. His whole body shuddered at the contact, and he couldn’t help but arch up against Naegi in a blind search for more.

Naegi didn’t deny him, moving again and again to keep the friction going. Their bodies rocked against one another, rising and falling like the flow of tides, moving in a harmony that went beyond the need for speech. Togami would have gasped, would have moaned, would have said things that would make him blush to recall later – but Naegi’s kiss muffled it, protecting him even from his own embarrassment. He’d let Naegi shape this moment, and Naegi had chosen to form a space free of any possible hurt. The only thing between them was pleasure, willingly given and freely shared, multiplying every time they moved against each other.

Togami remembered what Naegi had said, after fastening the straps in place – the words that had started all of it. They echoed in his head again, promise and plea rolled up into one phrase.

Trust me.

That was all he could hear as the motion of their bodies finally took him too far – or maybe it was the words themselves that brought him to a climax, shattering through him in a burst of brilliant light.

Trust me.

Naegi rocked against him a moment longer before he lost control as well, collapsing against Togami’s chest as he came. It left them tangled together, boneless and breathless and shaken with what they’d shared. Togami found himself gazing into Naegi’s eyes as his mind returned from the white haze of sensation, and he realized they were both smiling.

Trust me.

He was in so much trouble. And the worst part was that he no longer wanted to set himself free.

Chapter Text

Togami didn’t know where he was at first, when he woke up in a room that didn’t contain his own rich furnishings. Then the sensations of warmth and comfort coalesced into the feeling of a body pressed against his side, an arm curled around his chest, legs tangled with his own. He looked down at Naegi, sleeping in his arms, and his heart skipped at the peaceful smile on the other boy’s face.

He was in too deep now, and his attempt to stop it had only made things worse. It might have worked if he’d tried it sooner, or maybe he’d never had a chance at all. It didn’t matter in the end, because he’d finally caught up to the knowledge that Naegi had apparently had all along.

He couldn’t kill Naegi. And it wasn’t just an issue of direct murder – he didn’t have it in him to let the boy die even as an indirect cause of his actions. Not to put too fine a point on it, his hands had been tied.

So he wouldn’t be killing anyone. It was almost a relief to acknowledge that to himself, to let go of the contradiction that had been plaguing him since Naegi had sparked his interest when he spoke up in that first trial. He wouldn’t be the blackened who let the others die so he could win the game.

But he had no intention of letting himself be a victim, either. Not him or Naegi. An outcome in which either of them ended up dead would be – less than optimal. And Byakuya Togami never accepted anything but the best.

An outcome where they both survived. Could it be possible? The other students all kept chattering on about it, but they were stupid and blind with denial. They only thought it because they were too frightened to face the reality of the situation.

Except that Naegi had trusted him, had known him before he’d known himself. If Naegi had been right in this, maybe he knew what he was talking about with the rest of it, too. Maybe there could be hope.

Unfortunately, hope in this case probably involved working with the rest of the group again. Togami grimaced, but he didn’t really see a way around it. Any attempt to defy the mastermind’s plan would fail if everyone didn’t commit to it fully, he’d seen that from the start. All it would take was one person deciding to chance things alone, and any attempt at working as a group would fall apart.

But that only made it all the more imperative that he be part of whatever idiocy the other students got up to. He had to know who would be most susceptible to the inevitable lure of betrayal. After all, he was sure that there was no way Naegi could be convinced to abandon the rest of his so-called friends. When someone snapped, Naegi would be in the line of fire.

That would be unacceptable. If Togami wasn’t going to kill Naegi, no one else would be allowed to do so either. He ran his fingers through the boy’s soft hair, then down to let them rest along his neck. Naegi’s pulse beat strong and sure beneath his fingertips. It should stay that way.

Naegi stirred beneath his touch, burrowing closer against him with a sleepy little noise of contentment, and the movement set something fizzing beneath Togami’s ribs. He’d never expected to have anything like this, and the thoughts it inspired were too much to take, warm and soft and sweet.

He needed to know that Naegi would feel the same, that the same sentimental nonsense would fill his head, and so he tilted Naegi’s head up towards his to kiss him awake. Whatever else might cross the other boy’s mind today, Togami would have the satisfaction of knowing that this would be the first thing Naegi had thought about.


Junko propped her head on one hand and watched as Naegi woke up to Togami’s kisses. She had to admit, she hadn’t really seen this coming. With the look on Togami’s face when he’d approached Naegi’s door the previous night, she’d thought for sure he’d finally had murder in his sights.

It really was a shame. Of course all her friends were precious and she shouldn’t choose favorites, but she’d been rooting for Togami. After all, wouldn’t it be perfect if the person with the least to go back to in the outside world sacrificed the most to return there?

But that seemed to be off the table now, with the besotted way he’d been watching Naegi sleep. Of all the emotional ties that she’d thought might echo back from the memory erasure and cause problems, this had barely made her list. After all, it had taken Togami months to work out that he’d had a crush back when they’d been classmates. Who knew he’d manage to get his act together quicker this time around?

He’d certainly figured it out now, though. Ugh, pressing kisses down Naegi’s neck and running fingers through his sleep-mussed hair – it was all so – so –

So cute! Junko clasped her hands to her chest as a wave of glee rose in her. Who wouldn’t be pleased to see two of her darling friends so very happy together? She just loved them so much that she couldn’t keep their adorable new relationship all to herself.

She had to share it.

Chapter Text

Togami left Naegi’s room before the morning Monokuma announcement could sound, returning across the hall to his own room. Staying in Naegi’s bed had been an attractive thought, but that would have meant leaving at some point during the day when the others were roaming around freely. Besides, he needed fresh clothes, after his had been crumpled on Naegi’s floor all night. He could feel the wrinkles irritating his skin.

The announcement came just as he closed his dorm room door behind him. Good, that meant the water would be back on.

Standing under the shower, letting water pour over him, Togami took the opportunity to check his body for marks. He hadn’t wanted to do it in front of Naegi – that would have felt too much like an admission of weakness, and who knew how the other boy would react to it. Togami wasn’t sure if it would have been worse if Naegi had been smug or apologetic, but he knew he didn’t want to see either.

He placed a hand over the bruise on his collarbone from the archive, knowing it was there even though he couldn’t see it. It would be fading now, and fortunately it would be easily hidden beneath his shirt in any case. He didn’t much care for the idea of the whole group knowing Naegi’s mark lingered on his neck. Bad enough Fukawa had seen it.

There was another mark on his stomach, one he hadn’t realized would remain. He touched the stark red marring his skin, remembering Naegi’s mouth moving on his body. This one, even more so than the other, was a private memento of what they’d shared, even clearer than if Naegi had drawn a heart on his skin. However bold it might look against his pale skin, no one else would see what it declared. It was a message from Naegi to him, and it pleased some part of him to know that this was something the rest of the world wouldn’t get to share. It was his.

Finally, a little nervous about what he would see, Togami let himself examine his wrists. He traced a finger over his skin where the restraint had been tied last night. It wasn’t obvious, but looking closely, he could detect a faint pink indentation circling each wrist like matching bracelets. It looked as though it would fade by the end of the day, though, so that didn’t seem like anything to worry about. He would just need to be careful not to let his sleeves ride up his arms if there were other people around.

Clean and satisfied that he hadn’t been visibly marked, Togami stepped out of the shower and headed over to select a new outfit for the day. The neatly-buttoned shirt, the tailored slacks, and –

He flushed as he picked up a new pair of suspenders. They hung innocuously in his hands, mere pieces of fabric, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the use Naegi had made of them the night before.

Slowly, clumsy in a way he would normally scorn, he slid the straps over his shoulders so that they crossed over his chest. His fingers stilled on the button that would hold them in place when he remembered Naegi’s lips pressed to his skin just below it. He’d never been especially aware of the suspenders before, paying them no more attention than any other article of clothing, but now he couldn’t ignore the firm pressure of the straps wrapping around his torso.

He closed his eyes, taking a long breath to calm himself. These were just pieces of fabric, the same thing he wore every day. He refused to give in to weakness and take them off. He was not going to alter his outfit in an obvious way just because of a few vivid memories that wouldn’t stop replaying in his head. Even if no one else noticed, Naegi would – and he’d know why Togami couldn’t handle wearing the suspenders today.

No. Out of the question. Togami did his best to force the thoughts from his head, moving on with his preparations for the day. He fixed his hair, cleaned his glasses, and picked up yesterday’s clothing to move it to his laundry hamper.

His hands paused as yesterday’s suspenders fell into the container on top of the other clothes. There really wasn’t much point in putting those with the rest of the laundry, not when they’d been stretched and knotted in ways they’d never been meant for. They’d been ruined now, and washing them wouldn’t do anything to fix that. He plucked them out of the hamper. He might as well throw them away.

He tucked them into a drawer beside his bed. He would think about the best way to dispose of them later.

Finally he felt he had restored his appearance to his usual armor of wealth and privilege, and checked the clock. The whole group would probably still be having their ridiculous breakfast meeting. He could go in now for the last few minutes of it, and at least give the impression that he hadn’t deliberately chosen to attend. That would be a way to ease into it – he could build up his tolerance for them all gradually.

He opened the door – and saw Fukawa sitting on the ground outside his room, chin propped on her knees as she stared at his door.

Leaving his room to find Fukawa watching him wasn’t entirely out of the ordinary, but she usually lurked around the corner or spied through the crack in her door. He’d never left the room to find her sitting there so openly. For a moment he worried that this might be the serial killer personality – but no, her eyes were their normal color and she seemed capable of keeping her tongue in her mouth.

Well, whatever was going on with her, he didn’t have time to deal with her now. He turned to walk past without acknowledging her.

“You were in his room.”

The words stopped Togami in his tracks, and he looked down at the girl on the floor. Fukawa’s eyes bored into him with an almost physical force, and he had the strangest urge to take a step back away from her. He’d never felt the need to retreat when she stared at him normally, even when the amount of actual drool reached truly repulsive levels, but there was something about her current expression that he didn’t like.

He could have denied it, but that would involve getting into an argument with her about it. “My whereabouts are none of your concern,” he said instead, voice cold.

She didn’t blink, eyes on him like a snake. “You were in his room all night.”

Had she been watching? That was a disturbing thought. He really needed coffee before he could deal with her idiocy first thing in the morning.

“Go back in your room,” he told her, an order that had worked in the past. It wouldn’t keep her there indefinitely, but it would at least be long enough for him to get down the hall.

She stood, a slow unfolding of every muscle in her body as she stretched up to her full height – but she didn’t turn for her door. A chill trickled down Togami’s spine as she met his gaze.

“What were you doing in there?”

She bit out the words in a low voice, deeper than her normal tone, every word clipped and distinct. It made Togami wonder how fast he could unlock his dorm room door again, and what would happen if he wasn’t fast enough.

“Nothing you need to know about,” Togami snapped. “Stop talking.”

A slow, terrible smile curled its way across her lips.

“No.”

Icy fear flooded Togami’s veins as he realized exactly what he’d done. This girl was a crazed serial killer who targeted men she found attractive, and she’d only stayed her hand because she’d had romantic delusions about him – and he’d allowed those delusions to shatter. Suddenly it wasn’t at all comforting to know that this wasn’t the serial killer, not with the way her eyes seemed to burn through his clothes to blister his skin.

He opened his mouth to say something – and she stepped closer.

“Go on,” she said, and he couldn’t stop himself from taking a step backwards each time she advanced. “Order me to do something. Tell me what to do. Try to make me listen.”

“Leave me alone.” He said the command with all the force he could muster, all the pride and arrogance he could inject into the words.

She reached out and ran a hand down his chest. He jerked back like she’d scalded him, slimy revulsion curdling in his stomach. She laughed, high and wild and shaky, sweat beginning to bead its way down her face.

“I thought you were untouchable.” Her shoulders heaved as she spoke, breath coming so fast it rocked her whole body. “I thought you were perfect and beautiful and so high above me that I would crawl in filth if you told me to do it.” Her eyes scorched him above the horrifying specter of her smile. “But now I can see the truth.” Her hand snaked forward to grip his wrist, locking around the faint line where the restraints had been. “You’re just as dirty as me.”

Togami froze, wondering if this was it. He probably couldn’t make it to the cafeteria even if he ran, but maybe if he shouted it would get someone’s attention. Surely at least one of that lot would leave their stupid breakfast meeting to see what had happened before Fukawa could do whatever horrible thing she was planning. He tensed, preparing to tear away and scream, when –

Ding dong bing bong.

“Attention, students! Please stop what you are doing and gather in the gymnasium. It’s time for a very special announcement!”

Chapter Text

Togami would never have thought he’d be relieved to hear Monokuma’s voice echoing through the halls, but at this particular moment, whatever the mastermind had planned was the lesser of two evils. He took advantage of the distraction to twist his arm out of Fukawa’s grip and hurried in the direction of the stairs. The rest of the students poured out of the cafeteria as he passed, and he let himself be swept into the middle of the group. Even being stuck between Yamada and Hagakure was preferable to being where Fukawa could get at him again.

As they all entered the gymnasium, something brushed his arm, and he flinched – but it wasn’t Fukawa. Naegi stood beside him, close enough that their elbows touched. He glanced sideways up at Togami with a small twist of a smile, and the knot of fear that had formed in Togami’s stomach when Fukawa had grabbed him eased a little.

The comfort didn’t last, not when Monokuma came bouncing out to his seat on the stage with a laugh.

“Welcome, everyone! It’s time for a very important school announcement about a key feature of your student life here at Hope’s Peak Academy.”

“So it’s this again?” Kirigiri asked, her eyes fixed on the bear. “You’re going to try to spur us on with another motive?”

“What? Motive?” Monokuma tilted his head like he was taken aback. “No, no, no, this is just a routine announcement from your headmaster, keeping you all abreast of the important happenings here.”

“Ah, so you are saying there is something new in the school?” Celeste asked, tilting her head so that her curls swayed. “Something else to further enrich our lives here, perhaps?”

“Maybe it will,” Monokuma said brightly, drawing out the words too long. “This assembly is to inform all of you that there are now cameras placed throughout the school to film your every move.”

There was a moment of confused silence.

“But haven’t those cameras been there the whole time?” Asahina asked.

“Yeah, since the first day,” Hagakure agreed. “They’d be pretty hard to miss.”

“Well, I just wanted to make sure everyone knew about them,” Monokuma said. “After all, it wouldn’t be fair if someone didn’t notice they were being filmed, right? Right?”

“How could anyone fail to recall that we are under constant surveillance?” Ogami said, crossing her arms.

Monokuma laughed in response. Togami was starting to get a very bad feeling about this.

Kirigiri frowned. “Are you saying that one of us forgot about the surveillance cameras and did something we shouldn’t have done?”

“Well, it’s a little hard to explain.” Monokuma paused. “Maybe it’s better if I show you!”

A large white sheet unrolled over the wooden back of the stage, and images from the surveillance cameras began playing across it.

Togami saw flashes of himself kissing Naegi against the archive door, dropping to his knees in front of the other boy, falling on his back with Naegi on top of him. He heard himself gasping and moaning and dear god begging, his voice nearly unrecognizable to his own ears.

The other students were turning to stare, and Togami realized in a rush that he and Naegi were still standing with their arms pressed together. It wasn’t a particular intimate pose, but with all their eyes turned on him it felt like he might as well have laid his heart open for all of them to see. He jerked away from Naegi, both of them blushing dark red.

“This isn’t funny!” Naegi shouted up at Monokuma. “Turn that off!”

“What? You don’t like it?” Monokuma asked. “Oh, I see. Maybe you’d rather watch something else!”

And then the images switched to the night before. Togami only got a glimpse of the projection of Naegi fastening his wrists to the corners of the bed before he slammed his eyes closed, sick horror roiling in his stomach. He couldn’t watch that moment put on display for the whole group to see, like some kind of sordid trophy.

“That isn’t what I meant!” Naegi sounded genuinely furious. “Turn it off!”

Togami could still hear his own breathless voice filling the room, so Monokuma had obviously ignored Naegi’s demand.

Then there came the sound of sharp footsteps and a crash.

Togami’s eyes flew open. Naegi wouldn’t have done anything stupid, would he? Not when they’d all seen Enoshima attacked by spears in this very room.

He hadn’t been quite that stupid, but it looked like he’d come close. From the look of things, Naegi had apparently stormed up to the stage and yanked the white sheet down from the wall. It didn’t stop the images, but at least they were almost impossible to see against the dark brown wood of the stage’s usual background.

“Oh, my, how dashing.” Monokuma grinned. “What do you think, Togami – did it make your heart skip a beat?”

Togami glared at the robotic bear, cheeks and neck burning. “Shut up.”

“Aw, what’s that? You didn’t like my show?” Monokuma laughed gleefully.

“So wait,” Asahina said, slowly looking from Togami to Naegi. “Those videos – were they real?”

“Of course!” Monokuma replied, not giving either boy a chance to speak. “My security cameras don’t lie!”

“I see, I see, so that’s how it is,” Yamada said, rubbing his chin. “The allure of opposites, the rise of forbidden passion – we are witnessing the birth of the fabled yaoi!”

Togami wondered what would happen if he just turned and walked out. Would Monokuma throw spears at him? Maybe the risk would be worth it.

“So was that it?” Kirigiri asked, her arms crossed as she stared unblinkingly at Monokuma. However annoying Togami might find that girl, he had to admit she at least knew how to focus. “Was that the only reason you called us here?”

“Of course that’s not all” Monokuma said, as though the very idea were shocking. “I called you here to celebrate. After all, two of you have finally given up on returning to the outside world!”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Ogami asked, eyes narrowing.

“Eh? Isn’t it obvious?” Monokuma tilted his head. “Everyone knows that high school relationships fall apart out in the real world – so if they’re dating, they won’t want to graduate! So let’s give a great big round of applause for their decision to stay here, where they can be together forever!”

A series of popping explosions near the ceiling made everyone jump – but all that happened was a shower of confetti fluttered down around them. Most of it centered around Togami, tiny pink and red hearts drifting onto his shoulders and catching in his hair no matter how angrily he tried to brush them away.

“Are you trying to make some sort of point?” Togami bit out, shoulders shaking so hard that the confetti landing there bounced right off again. “Or is this just an exercise in humiliation?”

“Aw, are you embarrassed?” Monokuma cackled. “Maybe you need Naegi to kiss you and make it better!”

Someone laughed. One of those useless, spineless, pathetic idiots standing around him actually laughed. Togami thought it sounded like Hagakure, but it was hard to be certain through the red hot rage rising in him. He spun for the door, the very air of the gym choking in his throat until he was sure he couldn’t breathe if he stayed in that room another second.

“Wait – Togami, wait, hold on!”

Naegi’s voice cut through the red haze, and Togami found himself pausing at the threshold as a hand reached out to touch his arm. He looked over his shoulder to see Naegi standing there, concern filling his face.

And from behind him, the eyes of the rest of the group bore down on him like the rush of a tidal wave.

“Leave me alone.” Togami snatched his arm away from Naegi’s touch and bolted for the hall, letting the door slam shut behind him.

Chapter Text

Naegi wondered if he should have run after Togami. He’d tried to stop the other boy from leaving the gym on instinct, just because he couldn’t stand to see the hurt and humiliation written in the stiff line of Togami’s shoulders and the flush coloring his skin dull red. He’d wanted to tell Togami that it would be okay, that it didn’t have to matter – but the look in Togami’s eyes when he’d shaken Naegi’s hand off his arm had stopped the words in his throat. And then, before Naegi could gather his thoughts enough to decide what to do, Togami had been gone, door closing in Naegi’s face.

He wanted to follow Togami out of the gym, to find him and make sure everything would be okay, but he didn’t know where the other boy had gone. So instead, he let himself be swept along with the others as they made their way back up towards the cafeteria, where they’d had to abandon their breakfast half-eaten.

Naegi didn’t feel like he had much of an appetite anymore, though. He sat in front of a cup of tea that had gone cold, staring down at it without really registering what he was looking at. All he could see was Togami’s face when he’d told Naegi to leave him alone.

He pushed the cup away from him, unable to stand the idea of drinking the stale liquid. With the sourness in his stomach from the assembly that morning, he felt like he might never eat anything again.

Someone settled in the seat across from him. Naegi looked up with a burst of hope – but no, it was just Celeste, hands clasped beneath her chin as she studied him.

“Do you want something?” he asked, when she didn’t say anything.

She smiled. “Merely to say that I hope your charming little romance is able to overcome this obstacle soon.”

Naegi stared at her, puzzled. “You do?”

“Certainly. Why should I not be pleased at something that makes my companions content in our new home?” Celeste leaned forward. “If you require advice, please do not hesitate to ask me.”

“Advice?” Naegi wasn’t sure what she meant. Did she think he needed romantic advice? Well, with the way Togami had run off from him, maybe he did.

“Oh, yes. While your first attempt does appear to have been successful, mistakes can be quite easily made in such situations. And while I personally would not be bothered, I’m sure you would not wish to damage your new servant irrevocably, would you?”

“Servant?” Naegi stared at her, confused. What was she talking about?

“I did notice that you appeared to have acquired quite a lovely rose whip from the school store several days ago,” Celeste said, her eyes glittering. “Do let me know if you need assistance in the development of an appropriate technique.”

“What are you –” And then Naegi got it, and his face flooded red. “Oh – no, no, I’m good! No advice needed!”

“If you’re certain.” Celeste stood, giving him a sweet smile. “I will be waiting if you change your mind, hmm?”

And here Naegi had thought that he couldn’t possibly feel any more awkward about everything that had happened this morning.

Apparently Celeste’s question had broken the ice, because after that the rest of the group drifted closer, curiosity getting the better of them. Naegi flushed as he thought about what they must be wondering.

Asahina was the first one to ask, taking the seat immediately beside Naegi and turning it to face him. “So – you and Togami, huh?”

“Well, yeah.” Naegi shrugged uncomfortably under the weight of everyone’s stares. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t have minded letting his friends know – but Monokuma’s cruel exposure of them made it feel like he was admitting to something shameful. He didn’t want shame mixed in with how he felt about Togami.

“I thought you and Kirigiri were going to be a thing, though?”

“H-huh?” Naegi stared at Asahina’s innocently curious expression. “No, I don’t – I mean, she’s not – we aren’t –”

“Perhaps she believed so as well, and has gone off to demand the right to duel for Master Makoto Naegi’s hand,” Yamada suggested.

“I think it is unlikely that either Kirigiri or Togami would duel anyone,” Ogami said.

“She appeared to be heading in the direction of the laundry room again after the assembly,” Celeste said. “I assume she intends to spend the day there again.” She gave Naegi a sharp smile. “If you and your boyfriend wish for time alone, she is unlikely to interrupt you.”

“Boyfriend?” Naegi bit his lip. “I – well, I don’t know if I’d go that far.”

“Huh? Of course you’re boyfriends. What else would you be?” Asahina asked, tilting her head in confusion.

“We haven’t really had a chance to talk about it or anything,” Naegi said, staring down at his hands. Admitting that felt like a rock in the pit of his stomach, but he didn’t want to lie about it.

“You haven’t? How long has it been going on?” Ogami asked, frowning.

“Just a couple days.” Naegi sighed. It felt like it was longer, but realistically, he knew it had been less than forty-eight hours since Togami had kissed him for the first time.

“And you’ve already gotten that far with him?” Asahina’s jaw dropped. “You’re definitely boyfriends.”

Naegi’s ears went red, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t want to deny it again, but pretending would only make it worse if Monokuma’s show drove Togami to end things. And as Togami’s angry leave me alone! echoed in his head again, he was starting to think that might be how things turned out.

He had to look away from the girls at that, not able to cope with Asahina’s cheerful certainty and Ogami’s somewhat bemused support. And when he looked across the room, he realized that Fukawa had joined them in the cafeteria. She’d sat on the opposite side of the room from the rest of them, as far away as she could get without pressing into the wall. She didn’t even have the pretense of food in front of her as she sat – she just stared directly at Naegi without a break, her gaze not even flickering when someone walked between the two of them.

A faint, secretive smile spread across her lips as she realized Naegi was looking at her. He didn’t feel very cheerful, but it seemed like it would be rude not to smile back now that she’d seen him. She jolted back in her chair like he’d slapped her instead of smiling, but that wasn’t too unusual.

He wasn’t really sure why Fukawa was sitting in the cafeteria with the rest of them, anyway. She didn’t usually join them, preferring to trail after Togami unless he specifically told her not to do so. Maybe he’d told her to go away, too – although that made Naegi’s heart sink a little, thinking that Togami had apparently spoken to him the same way he addressed his stalker.

Naegi shoved away from the table and got to his feet, not feeling up to answering any more questions about what he and Togami had been doing. “I need to go,” he said, not really to anyone in particular.

Asahina nodded understandingly. “Good luck!”

Naegi knew she was trying to be nice, so he made himself smile back at her before he left – but as soon as he left the cafeteria, the smile dropped off his face and his shoulders drooped. What was he supposed to do now?

He could go try to find Togami, but he’d seen yesterday that Togami was much too good at hiding to be found. Besides, Togami had made it pretty clear he didn’t want Naegi around. Leave me alone – there wasn’t much room for misinterpretation in that. If Togami needed some time to himself after that horror show, it would be really unfair of Naegi to go force his presence on the other boy, just because he selfishly wanted to be near him.

And it was really starting to dawn on Naegi just how much he wanted to be near Togami. He’d felt nothing but the pressure of eyes on him since leaving the gym, but none of them had been the gaze that he wanted. When Togami’s eyes were on him, he could feel the other boy’s impossibly high standards stretching around him – and it made him want to do more, be more in response. He wanted to see what he could become, in the challenge of Togami’s eyes – what the two of them could become together. He’d had the feeling it could be something really great.

Something that Monokuma had deliberately and maliciously tried to shatter before it could really start.

He sighed and turned to head towards his room. Maybe resting for a while would make him feel better.

“Naegi, wait. Come here.”

He paused and looked over to see Kirigiri standing in the door of the laundry room, arms crossed and looking serious. He changed direction and trudged over to her, not feeling at all up to his usual brisk pace. “Did you need something?”

“I wanted to talk to you,” she said. “About the assembly this morning.”

Naegi stared at her in surprise. “Not you, too.”

“I don’t mean that I want to gossip. I’m really not interested in what you and Togami do alone together, as long as you’re both alive at the end of it,” she said. “But Naegi, I want you to be careful.”

He frowned. “I am careful.”

A faint smile crossed her lips as she shook her head. “You really aren’t. And after this morning, you’ll need to be.”

“I don’t understand.”

Kirigiri sighed. “Do you really think the mastermind called that assembly solely to humiliate you? Oh, I’m sure that was part of their plan, but I don’t believe that was their true intention. The mastermind is trying to goad us into acting again, and they’ve just painted a target on your back.”

“Me?” A sudden chill slithered through him, making him shiver. “No, I – I don’t see how that would make me a target. Not unless you’re trying to say that Togami would – because he wouldn’t. I know he wouldn’t.”

She shrugged. “You may actually be right about that one, but Togami isn’t the only person here.”

Naegi shook his head. “No one else would do anything either. Why would they? All that happened is that Monokuma showed a bunch of embarrassing videos. It was pretty bad, but I don’t see how it would anyone want to commit murder.”

“Maybe,” Kirigiri said. “But the mastermind showed us those videos for a reason. Try to keep that in mind.”

Chapter Text

Naegi hadn’t known it was possible for a day to feel as long as that one did. He felt like he’d been blocked to a standstill on everything that mattered. He was waiting for Togami to be ready to talk to him – waiting for Alter Ego to finish processing the data Fujisaki had left for them – waiting to see if anything came of Kirigiri’s warning about the mastermind’s plan. Even spending time with the others didn’t distract him.

“Do not move your arm that way,” Ogami said, as she took Naegi through what she called a simple training exercise. “I explained to you in our last training session that you could damage your shoulder if you continue doing so.”

“Oh – sorry.” Naegi corrected his posture. “I guess I forgot.”

“Hmm.” Ogami frowned at him. “I do not mean to suggest that I am displeased to have company, but is there perhaps somewhere else you would rather be right now?”

Naegi couldn’t stop his mind from flashing to Togami – but he’d promised himself he’d give the other boy time to cool off first. “No,” he said. “No, I’ll pay attention, really.”

Ogami didn’t look convinced, but she didn’t make Naegi leave, either. To make up for his lapse in concentration, he threw himself even more fervently into her training than he had before. The resulting ache in his muscles was almost enough to make him forget all the worries circling around his head.

But when he returned to his room for the night, it all came rushing back. Naegi flopped down onto his bed, staring blankly up at the ceiling. He’d really hoped that Togami would come and find him at some point during the day – he’d made a point of letting several people know he’d be in the gym with Ogami – but he hadn’t seen so much as a glimpse of the heir.

Of course, now that nighttime was approaching, Naegi supposed that he would know where Togami would be for at least some part of the day. With the rule forbidding sleeping outside the dorms, Togami would have to return to his dorm room at some point during the night. Theoretically, Naegi could just wait for that, watching Togami’s door for the moment he returned – but the thought smacked of stalking.

Besides, he didn’t want to force Togami to talk to him. He wanted Togami to choose to talk to him, of his own free will.

But that didn’t mean he had to keep waiting indefinitely, did it? He didn’t want to compel, but he could ask.

Naegi got up and reached for the notebook beside his bed, pulling out a sheet of paper. He considered for a moment, then began writing.

“I’d like to talk to you. I know what happened earlier today was awful, but we don’t have to let it change anything.”

He paused and bit the edge of the pen, wondering if it would be overly pushy to add any of the other things he wanted to say. I missed you, I wanted to see you – that all sounded clingy. I hope you’re okay, I’ve been worrying about you – that sounded patronizing and would just make Togami annoyed.

No, it was probably better to say the rest of it in person. Naegi sighed, scribbling his name across the bottom before folding the paper and slipping into the empty hallway.

He told himself that he didn’t really expect an answer when he pushed Togami’s doorbell, but he couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed when the boy didn’t answer. Knowing Togami’s attitude towards the curfew, he probably wouldn’t return to his room until much later at night. Well, it had been worth a try.

Naegi knelt and slid the letter under the door, where Togami wouldn’t be able to miss it whenever he came back to his room. Hopefully it would be enough, and Togami wouldn’t keep him waiting long.

His doorbell didn’t sound at all during the night, but that was fine. Naegi had been sleeping – or at least trying to sleep – and it wouldn’t have been the best moment for the conversation they needed to have. He wouldn’t have minded if Togami had woken him up in the middle of the night just to see him, but it wasn’t like Togami knew that. So it was fine.

It was less fine when Naegi looked at the empty space beside his door and realized that Togami hadn’t even bothered to reply to his message.

Maybe silence was his answer. Maybe Togami was telling him that there was nothing to talk about.

Naegi tried not to let it show as he dragged himself into the cafeteria for their morning meeting, but the sympathetic looks everyone sent him said that he hadn’t been very successful.

“Here, you look like you need this more than me.” Asahina set one of her donuts in front of Naegi. “It’s got a chocolate filling.”

“Uh, thanks.” Naegi couldn’t quite bring himself to tell her that his stomach churned so much at the thought of Togami cutting all contact that he didn’t think he could eat anything, let alone a sugar-laden pastry. He took a small bite as she watched, but it tasted more like sawdust than a treat. “It’s great.”

Asahina’s face fell a little. She looked like she wanted to say something else, but she just shook her head and patted his shoulder, then retreated to sit with Ogami. The two girls bent their heads and whispered together, sending Naegi occasional sideways glances. He bent his head over a cup of tea and wished they wouldn’t.

A rustle came from the seat across from him, and Naegi looked up to see Hagakure sitting there. “You know, I can do fortune telling sessions on a specific topics, if you want.”

“Oh, yeah?” Naegi didn’t think that sounded particularly appealing, but it would be rude to say so.

Hagakure nodded. “Relationships are a pretty popular topic, when people need advice. I could even give you an extra discount for heartbreak, if you want.”

Naegi stared at him for a long moment. “I think I’m good.”

Heartbreak, Hagakure had said. So they all thought that Togami had broken things off, too. They were all pitying him.

He got up and left the cafeteria, walking blindly across the hall towards the laundry room. Kirigiri looked up when he entered, her eyebrows coming together in a hint of a frown.

“I don’t have time to talk to you right now,” she told him. Of course she didn’t – she needed to listen for Alter Ego’s screams.

“That’s okay,” Naegi said. “Can I stay if I’m quiet?”

Kirigiri eyed him for a moment, and then her expression softened a little. “Of course.”

Naegi sat beside her at the table and watched the laundry machines spin, trying not to think about anything. It didn’t work very well.

What if it wasn’t just Monokuma’s humiliating show that was keeping Togami from talking to him? After all, it wasn’t like they’d really discussed what was happening between them. Naegi had thought he’d felt the start of something real between them after that night, when Togami had admitted he trusted him and they’d slept in each other’s arms – but maybe it hadn’t been what he’d thought. Trust didn’t mean they automatically had a relationship.

It was entirely possible that Togami had never intended to make this into something more serious than what they’d already had. He might have been upset not just because of the awful way Monokuma had outed them, but because he’d never wanted anyone else to know about it in the first place. He’d actually said that he didn’t want Naegi to tell anyone, hadn’t he? Maybe he’d planned to keep it as nothing more than a dirty secret.

Naegi thought he might be sick. He liked Togami, and he’d tried to show him that the second time they’d slept together. It was one thing to consider that first time nothing more than sex, but hadn’t the other time meant more? Maybe he was the only one who had thought so.

He couldn’t judge anymore – he didn’t know what to believe. He needed an outside opinion.

“Do you think I’ve been kidding myself?”

Kirigiri looked up from where she’d been flipping through a magazine at the table. “What?”

“You know,” Naegi said, waving a hand to encompass the whole situation. “With – everything.”

“You mean your encounters with Togami.” She grimaced. “I’m not an expert about these matters.”

“I’m not asking you to be an expert,” Naegi said. “I’m just asking – well – if you think I’ve been stupid.”

“Forgetting about the security cameras wasn’t terribly intelligent,” Kirigiri said with a faint smile. “But I don’t think that’s what you meant.” She sighed, tugging on her braid as she considered it. “As for the rest of it – well, you really need to talk to Togami about that. He’s the only one who can give you a real answer. I can’t, and neither can your thoughts.”

“What if he doesn’t want to talk to me?” Naegi didn’t mean for the words to sound so plaintive.

“Then that will tell you something, too.” Kirigiri sighed. “Naegi, I understand that you’re unhappy right now, but please try to remember that I’m in here for a reason. You did say you would be quiet.”

“Oh – right. You’re right.” Naegi shook his head and stood up. “Sorry, I’ll go.”

She nodded. “I think that would be best.”

Naegi left the laundry room, but he couldn’t quite face the thought of going and talking to one of his other friends for the rest of the day – not when whoever he picked wouldn’t be the person he really wanted to spend time with. He headed back to his room and let himself fall backwards onto the bed.

He would have sworn that he’d spend the whole time staring at the ceiling and moping, but apparently his body had other ideas. Naegi only realized he’d fallen asleep when a strange sound near his door jolted him awake. What could that have been? It had sounded almost like rustling.

Naegi dragged himself off the bed to go look – and he saw a folded note that had been shoved under his door.

All of his energy returned in an instant as he dove for it and shook it open.

I’m willing to talk if you are. I’ll be in my room.”

And there was Togami’s signature, dark and clear on the paper. Naegi didn’t even mind that the note itself was terse and unromantic – the fact that it was here at all spoke volumes.

He didn’t hesitate. Seconds after finishing the letter, Naegi was out his door and pressing the doorbell to Togami’s room.

Chapter Text

The seconds Naegi stood outside Togami’s door felt like they lasted for hours. Had he misunderstood? Had Togami changed his mind and left again, or decided not to talk after all, or –

The door opened, and Naegi couldn’t help smiling to see Togami there.

“Well? Don’t just stand out there.” Togami jerked his head towards the room.

Naegi entered, looking around at the furnishings in surprise. He knew some of the other students had more in their rooms than his barebones set up, but he hadn’t expected to see a red carpet stretching across the floor. He tried not to grin, but didn’t quite succeed. “You – uh, I see you’ve been decorating.”

Togami rolled his eyes. “It was like that when I got here.”

“If you say so.”

Togami crossed over to the chair at his table – why did his room come with a chair when Naegi’s didn’t? – and sat, looking at Naegi expectantly. After pondering a moment, Naegi decided to boost himself up onto the low bookcase next to the table. Sitting on top of it actually gave him a couple inches on Togami, which was a nice change for once.

“You wanted to talk?” Togami prompted, once Naegi was settled.

“Well – yeah.”

“About?”

Naegi stared at him. “You know what I want to talk about. Monokuma’s show yesterday!”

“It was unpleasant and embarrassing. What is there to talk about?”

Of all the reactions Naegi had thought he might get, he hadn’t expected this matter-of-fact abruptness, and he didn’t quite know how to respond to it. “I guess that covers it pretty well.”

“Good.” Togami nodded decisively. “I personally would like nothing more than to pretend it never happened. I can only hope the rest of those idiots will have the basic decency to ignore it as well.”

Pretend it never happened? Ignore it? The words hit Naegi right in the stomach, knocking the breath out of him. He’d known that it was a possibility Togami would think that, but actually hearing it still came as a shock.

“Right. Ignore it.” Naegi looked down at his hands, staring at them like they’d suddenly become unfamiliar. “I guess I’ll do that too, if that’s what you want.”

“Obviously. I’d think you’d want the same.”

“Yeah.” Naegi wished he hadn’t seen the note at all, that he’d been able to put this off just a little longer. He sighed and stood, turning towards the door.

“What are you doing?” Togami asked, sounding startled.

“Well, I was going to leave,” Naegi said. “Since you said you just wanted to pretend it never happened.”

Togami stared at him like he was speaking a foreign language. “What does that have to do with you leaving?”

“Well – if you’re just going to ignore everything that happened, you can’t really do that if I’m here, can you?” Naegi said.

“Ignore everything?” Togami frowned, narrowing his eyes. “Are you saying that you think that repulsive show could actually force me to change my mind?”

Naegi blinked. “Uh – well –”

Togami stood and advanced on him. “You think that I would be that easily defeated? That a few videos shown to a handful of acquaintances could deter me?” He bore down, pushing Naegi back onto the bookshelf again, leaning so close that his breath brushed Naegi’s cheek. “You think I would let that bear keep me from something I want?”

Naegi’s heart pounded against his chest, going mad with the awareness that Togami stood little more than an inch away. Any movement would bring them close enough to touch, and it was all he could do to stop himself from leaning forward.

“Does that mean I’m something you want?” he asked, looking straight into Togami’s eyes.

Togami smirked – and leaned forward, pressing his whole body against Naegi’s as he brought their lips together. Naegi surged into the touch, tilting his head back and parting his lips. He’d thought over the past couple days that maybe he’d just imagined the spark, maybe it hadn’t been as amazing as he remembered – but no, with Togami’s mouth hungry against his, with strong hands curling around his back and cradling his head, he knew he hadn’t imagined anything.

With electric heat coursing through him from Togami’s hands and lips, Naegi couldn’t stop himself from reaching out to touch the heir in return. He slid one hand up into Togami’s hair, treading his fingers through until the neat blond strands had become as wild as Naegi’s own hair. His other hand managed to untuck Togami’s shirt enough to trail directly over the skin of his stomach.

His thumb grazed over an unexpectedly rough patch, and Togami growled low in his throat. The sound was familiar – and Naegi remembered hearing it before as he sucked on that very spot until a mark appeared. He traced the spot again, deliberately, and was rewarded when Togami ground their bodies together.

That felt good – too good, enough that it was worrying. There was something he was forgetting, something he couldn’t quite remember, but it was so hard to think when Togami touched him, just like it had been those other times, when –

“The cameras!” Naegi jerked away, nearly toppling backwards off the bookcase in his haste to get untangled.

Togami caught his elbows to balance him, looking annoyed. “Don’t tell me you forgot about them.”

“Well – yeah, for a minute there,” Naegi admitted. “But so did you!”

“I didn’t forget. I made the decision to ignore them.” Togami might have said it in his most condescending tones, but it was a little hard to believe that act with his hair mussed and his clothing askew. He made a tempting picture, and Naegi really just wanted to lean forward again and continue where they’d left off.

“But what if the mastermind is watching again?” Naegi sent the camera a nervous look. “What if Monokuma shows it to everyone again?”

Togami didn’t look very happy at the suggestion, but he shrugged. “Then he does. I told you, I won’t be scared off.”

Naegi narrowed his eyes. “Will you run off and hide for days again?”

Togami glared at him. “That’s different. I wasn’t hiding, I was avoiding the situation.”

“And me.”

“No, not you.” Togami started to lift a hand, like he wanted to touch Naegi’s cheek, but he quickly let it drop before it could get that far.

“What else is there?” Naegi asked, puzzled. “Everyone else?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Togami grimaced. “Tell me, Naegi – has Fukawa said anything to you in the past couple days?”

“Fukawa?” That question seemed to come out of nowhere. Naegi frowned. “No – no, I don’t think so. She’s been pretty quiet every time I’ve seen her.”

“Good.” Togami looked at Naegi and sighed. “I would suggest that you take measures to avoid being alone with her for the foreseeable future.”

“What do you mean?” Naegi didn’t quite know how to take that statement. “Do you think she’s jealous?”

“Something like that,” Togami said sourly. “I shouldn’t really have to spell this out, but don’t go anywhere alone with her.”

Naegi would have protested being told to treat one of his friends in such a way – but then he remembered Fukawa watching him from across the cafeteria, strange look in her eyes. Maybe Togami had a point.

“I can try to do that for a while,” Naegi said instead, shrugging.

“Good.” A hint of relief came into Togami’s expression. “Then –”

The doorbell rang, cutting off whatever he’d been about to say. Togami shot the door an annoyed glare.

“Aren’t you going to try to answer it?” Naegi asked.

“They’ll go away eventually.” Togami leaned his forehead against Naegi’s. “You’re finally a reasonable height when you sit like this.”

“My height is –” The rest of Naegi’s objection was drowned out by the doorbell again, louder than before.

“How long do you think eventually will take?” Naegi asked. Togami scowled.

The doorbell sounded again, a long unrelenting series of chimes, like whoever was outside had shoved their finger against the button without letting up.

Togami huffed out an angry sigh, tore himself from Naegi’s arms, and stormed over to throw the door open. “What?”

Hagakure took a step backwards. “Oh, uh, hey, you really are here! I thought maybe the room was empty after all.”

“If you thought the room was empty, why did you keep ringing the bell instead of finding something more useful to do with your time?” Togami demanded.

“Because Kirigiri said – I mean, because of an important matter of personal hygiene,” Hagakure corrected himself.

“Hygiene?” Naegi asked, frowned. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“I wanted to make a suggestion,” Hagakure said, the sudden odd note to his words suggesting that he was reciting them rather than saying them. “I would like to suggest that we all go to the bathhouse and enjoy a quiet, peaceful bath. One that has everyone together.”

“Everyone?” Naegi glanced over at Togami, only to see the other boy looking far more serious than he’d expected.

“Very well,” Togami said, much to Naegi’s shock. “Personal hygiene is very important, after all.” He headed out of the room at a brisk pace, leaving Naegi and Hagakure to trail behind him.

What was he thinking? Naegi couldn’t tell. Togami never seemed to like spending time with the other members of the group, so why would he –

And then it hit him. The bathhouse. Alter Ego.

Naegi ran to catch up with Togami just as he entered the bathhouse. He really hoped he was wrong – but he didn’t think he was.

Chapter Text

Naegi knew his worst fears had been confirmed when they entered the bathhouse to see Yamada and Ishimaru face to face, screaming at one another.

“How could you dare to lay hands upon such an innocent angel?”

“Admit to your crime and return my bro to me!”

Togami ignored them both and strode over to Kirigiri, standing by the lockers with her arms crossed. “What the hell is going on in here?”

Kirigiri looked past Togami, and nodded when she caught sight of Naegi. “That’s everyone, then. Good.”

Naegi looked around, and sure enough, all the remaining students were gathered in the changing room. “What’s going on?”

“This monster –”

“That wretch –”

“Shut up, both of you.” Kirigiri’s voice sliced through their fury, stopping it cold. She looked over at Naegi and Togami. “As everyone who arrived when Hagakure first summoned them already knows, Alter Ego has gone missing.”

“Missing?” Naegi turned to the locker, and sure enough, it stood horribly empty. “How?”

Togami understood more quickly, turning to survey the rest of the group with narrowed eyes. “Someone must have taken it, that’s how.”

“And who else could it be but that demon, who preys upon the sweet and pure with his filthy hands!” Yamada shrieked, gesturing towards Ishimaru.

“You would pin your transgression on me?” Ishimaru roared, clenching his fists. “Your depravity multiplies by the second!”

“It isn’t either of you,” Kirigiri said. “I told Alter Ego to scream if either of you or anyone else that he didn’t recognize entered the room. I didn’t hear anything all day, but when I checked the locker this evening, it was gone.”

“So it wasn’t them, but it wasn’t the mastermind, either?” Asahina asked. “But there’s no one else, right?”

“You’re ignoring the obvious possibility,” Togami snapped, scowling around the room. “There could be a traitor among us.”

The pronouncement chilled the air, and Naegi shivered in the suddenly icy atmosphere. “What do you mean, a traitor?”

“Someone working for the mastermind,” Togami said, as if it should be obvious. “Kirigiri, Ogami, Asahina, Hagakure, Fukawa, Celeste, you, or me – any one of us could have taken Alter Ego. Any of us could be a traitor.”

“Oh, my. You would include your lover in the list of possibilities?” Celeste raised a shocked hand to her lips with a slightly exaggerated gasp. “How very dreadful.”

Togami glared at her. “Any of us would have had the opportunity.”

“Wait, hold on,” Naegi said, frowning. “Sure, we could have, but – but why would we? Alter Ego was working on getting us out of here! Why would any of us want to start working with the mastermind instead of leaving?”

“I’m not talking about a new development,” Togami said. “I mean that there has been a traitor in our midst from the very beginning, helping the mastermind run the game from within.”

Naegi stared at Togami, the cold calculation on the heir’s face a stark return to the person who had so confidently declared he would allow them all to die. “You can’t mean that.”

“Of course I do. I’ve considered it a possibility from the start. It would be the most logical move for the mastermind to make, considering that there are obviously ways for us to collaborate that they can’t monitor through cameras alone.”

“But then – you’re saying that one of us did something like that? One of our friends has been working against us from the beginning?” Naegi shook his head. “No. That’s – that’s unthinkable!”

“No, it’s exactly what you need to think.” Togami looked around the room. “It’s what we all need to think. Someone here is not on our side.”

Our side?” Celeste gave him a sweet smile. “I thought you wished to win the game. Did you not call us enemies? The power of love is truly astonishing if it can enact such a transformation.”

Togami glared at her. “Shut up.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Yamada’s shoulders slumped with dejection. “It doesn’t matter if we’re enemies, or if there’s a traitor. Just save her – please, save her. Anyone, please. I’m begging you, just – just let me see her smiling face again.”

“Agreed,” Ishimaru said, tears streaming down his face. “If it can save Bro – if it means he doesn’t have to die again – then traitors and the rest of it don’t matter.”

“So you’re saying you’ll give up?” Togami turned on them. “You’d let the traitor win so easily? Do you intend to turn on us as well?”

“Of course they wouldn’t!” Naegi said, stepping between Togami and the other two boys. “They wouldn’t turn on us. No one here would! We don’t even know for sure if there’s a traitor or not!”

“Don’t we?” Togami raised his eyebrows. “Only one of the eight of us could have taken Alter Ego from this room. The only one who benefits from taking Alter Ego before it could complete its analysis would be the mastermind. What other explanation do you suggest?”

“I don’t know, but there has to be one!” Naegi looked around the room, at the faces of the people he’d come to consider friends. “You can’t really think one of us would work for the mastermind.”

“I can,” Togami said coldly. “I do.”

Naegi stared at Togami in shock, unable to think of words that could cut through the other boy’s icy demeanor. This was the boy he’d met that first day in the entrance hall, who’d sneered and condescended to them all. Naegi looked into Togami’s eyes, hoping to find a glimpse of the boy who gave him toe-curling kisses and who spent the night sleeping in his arms – but all he could see were sharp accusations and dark suspicions.

But before Naegi could come up with a response, bells rang through the intercoms, heralding Monokuma’s nighttime announcement.

“It’s already that late?” Asahina asked, startled.

“It seems so,” Celeste said. “Unfortunately, we shall have to postpone the continuation of our discussion until morning.”

“The discussion can wait,” Kirigiri said. “Our priority now needs to be to recover Alter Ego. It’s unlikely the thief would have destroyed it, so we can assume that it is still somewhere in the school. In the morning, we can organize a search to find it.”

“The morning? You would leave her in the clutches of a thief for the entire night?” Yamada demanded.

“Unusual activity at night will attract the mastermind’s attention,” Kirigiri said calmly. “Celeste is right – we should observe the curfew as we usually do. The morning will be less risky.” She looked over at Naegi. “Don’t you agree?”

“Well, yeah, we don’t want to rush so much that the mastermind catches us.” Naegi sighed, feeling a twinge of sympathy at Yamada’s and Ishimaru’s crushed expressions. “I know you’re both worried, but it will be better if we wait till morning.”

“Then let us return and rest until morning,” Celeste said. “We will begin our search for Alter Ego then.”

“And we’ll resume our discussion of the traitor,” Togami added. “We can’t afford to leave this threat alone.”

Togami’s words lingered as they all headed back towards the dorms, evident in everyone’s lowered heads and refusal to let eyes meet. Naegi could feel the distrust taking root again, destroying the fragile hope the group had formed around the possibility of escape Alter Ego had offered them. The chance for freedom gone – a traitor lurking among their friends – despair seemed to lurk at every turn.

Naegi hesitated outside his door as the others all headed back into their rooms. Togami had gone to his door as well, but he leaned on the doorframe instead of unlocking it, eyes on Naegi. “So?”

“What?” Naegi asked, frowning.

“Your room or mine?” Togami elaborated.

Naegi stared at him. “Are you serious?”

Togami shrugged. “I don’t particularly care, but if you have a preference –”

“You honestly think that we can just go back and take up where we left off like nothing happened?” Naegi asked in disbelief. “After that?”

“Why not?”

“Because you just accused one of us of being a traitor, that’s why not!” Naegi said. “Are we just supposed to ignore that?”

“No, we’re just tabling the discussion until morning.” Togami frowned at him. “You’re upset about it.”

“Of course I’m upset! What did you think would happen?”

Togami sighed. “I don’t really suspect you, of course. You’d never be able to lie convincingly enough to pull it off. Does that make you feel better?”

“No!” Naegi thought that might actually make it worse. If Togami really didn’t consider him a possible traitor, then that meant it wasn’t just about logic – it was about the fact that Togami trusted him. Togami believed in him, but not in the others, and so he’d made accusations that broke the bonds the rest of the group had shared.

Togami drew back, shutters closing over the warmth that had been in his eyes. “I see.”

“Look – you don’t really believe it, do you?” Naegi asked, desperately searching Togami’s expression for some hint of hesitation. “You don’t really think one of us would work against the others?”

“I didn’t think you were the type to deny the truth,” Togami said, crossing his arms. “Maybe you’re not the person I thought you were.”

Naegi stared at Togami, but no matter how he tried, he couldn’t see any softness at all. “Maybe you aren’t, either.”

He turned into his room, and shut and locked the door behind him, leaving Togami behind.

Chapter Text

Naegi could barely sleep that night, tossing in his bed as the events of the day kept running through his mind. Alter Ego was gone – had been taken from them. The terrible reality of their current situation was all the worse now that they’d had a chance for hope snatched away from them. This was the way the mastermind operated, there was no doubt about that.

But did that really mean that whoever had taken Alter Ego was working for the mastermind? Could there really be a traitor among them? Naegi didn’t see how he could believe it. How could he doubt his friends? Looking at their faces and wondering if they were lying, if every move could be meant to deceive – no, he couldn’t live like that. Those first few days had been that way, and they’d been too awful to remember. He wouldn’t go back to that painful doubt.

But what was the alternative? Togami’s points had been good ones, Naegi had to admit that. It would make a horrible sort of sense for a traitor to be among them. He didn’t believe it, couldn’t accept that it was true – but he couldn’t get the idea out of his head, either. He could see why someone might be tempted to believe it.

Maybe he’d been too hard on Togami. Naegi rolled over again and buried his face in his pillow, trying to erase the image of Togami’s eyes going cold as he drew away. It had been awful to see him that way – but everything about this killing game was awful. And Togami never shied away from the cruel realities of the situation. It shouldn’t have been a shock that he would zero in on the worst case scenario and fling it in everyone’s faces. That was what he’d been doing since the beginning, and it was unreasonable to expect him to be different all of a sudden.

Had he been expecting that? Had he thought that Togami would start being nice to everyone now? That he’d have an entire personality shift and be friendly towards the others?

On the other hand, he’d stopped saying he was going to win the game. He’d gone to the group meeting without hesitating, and he’d shared his conclusions with the others instead of keeping them to himself. Even Celeste had pointed out that he talked like he was on their side now.

But if he was on their side, why would he want them all to doubt one another?

It was an impossible question, and Naegi didn’t know how to answer it. Maybe he shouldn’t have stormed into his room and abandoned Togami in the hall. He could at least have asked for an explanation. It hadn’t been fair not to hear him out, especially not when it seemed like maybe Togami really had been trying after all.

He would ask in the morning, Naegi decided. He needed to hear what Togami had to say. And with that decision made, sleep finally came a little more easily.

He woke tangled in the sheets, like even asleep he’d been unable to find real rest. He never felt like he slept well here at this school, always waking up more tired than he’d gone to sleep. How could anyone rest in an atmosphere like this one? The only exception had been the night he and Togami had spent together, curled in quiet warmth, with affirmations of trust to keep away the doubts. He remembered the soft way Togami had kissed him awake, the lack of tension in his posture, and he thought the other boy must have felt the same. Was that why Togami had tried to ask him back to his room again last night?

There was no point in speculating about it, though. He needed to ask. And more than that, he needed to head to the cafeteria so the group could begin planning their search for Alter Ego. Naegi sighed and dragged himself out of bed, preparing to face another day.

When he left his room, he hesitated. Instead of heading immediately towards the cafeteria, Naegi walked across the hall first and tried the doorbell outside Togami’s door. They didn’t have time to talk for real right now, not if they were going to make it to the breakfast meeting on time, but maybe he could at least ask if Togami would want to have the conversation at all. If he could make a start on repairing what was between them, at least that would be one less awful weight on his shoulders.

But Togami didn’t answer the door, even when Naegi waited and tried the bell again. Naegi sighed. He must have missed his chance to catch Togami alone before he went to the meeting.

But when Naegi reached the cafeteria, Togami wasn’t among the handful of other students waiting there. Only Kirigiri, Asahina, Ogami, and Hagakure stood around the tables, checking the clock from time to time.

“Is this it?” Naegi asked, looking at the others.

“It seems that way,” Kirigiri said. “I’ve been here since the Monokuma announcement, and no one else has arrived.”

“Shouldn’t Yamada and Ishimaru be here, though?” Asahina asked, glancing up at the clock again. “I mean, they were real excited about starting to search, right?”

“Yeah, I would have thought they’d be the first ones here.” Naegi looked around, trying not to think about who else hadn’t joined them. “You don’t think –”

“It’s too early to jump to conclusions,” Ogami said. “They may simply have been detained. Let us wait a little longer.”

As the minutes ticked away, Naegi considered going back to try ringing Togami’s doorbell again – but the one time he stood up to leave, Kirigiri pinned him with such a piercing look that he immediately sank back down to his seat. Maybe she was worried he wouldn’t come back if he left.

It didn’t really matter, though. Naegi knew it wouldn’t help anything to ring the doorbell again. Either Togami was there and had decided to ignore the bell, or he’d left and gone off to sit by himself again, the way he had before.

Or he hadn’t answered because he couldn’t, because he –

No. Naegi refused to think about that possibility, or to acknowledge the icy dread that had begun coiling in his stomach when he’d walked into the cafeteria and hadn’t seen Togami there. After all, Togami wasn’t the only one missing. With so many people gone, it didn’t have to mean anything terrible had happened.

If he thought it hard enough, Naegi could almost make himself believe that.

Finally, Asahina huffed out a frustrated sigh. “It’s eight o’clock. Why haven’t they shown up yet?”

Kirigiri’s lips tightened. “Something must have happened.”

Naegi froze, staring at her in horror. She didn’t really mean –

“We need to track down all the missing people,” Kirigiri declared. “We’ll cover more ground if we split up.”

Naegi tried his best to fight back the fear as he headed down to the first floor, where Kirigiri had assigned him to search. There was no point in worrying about it, not yet. He just needed to focus on looking around here, that was all. If he just did that, everything would be okay. He’d probably just open this classroom door and see Togami sitting at one of the desks with a book, looking grouchy about being interrupted.

But the first classroom was empty, and the second. As he headed over to the A/V room, Naegi couldn’t stop anxiety from pounding at his chest. Togami was good at avoiding people, he’d proved that time and again – but was he good enough to dodge an entire group of people combing the school? And would he really avoid them all when he’d implied that he’d join them all for the breakfast meeting at the search?

Naegi didn’t see anyone in the A/V room, either, but it was hard to tell with just a glance. He walked along the rows, holding his breath as he checked the floor between the rows of consoles, terrified of what he might see. But when he reached the other end of the room and confirmed the floor was clear, he allowed himself a small sigh of relief. Maybe he hadn’t had a reason to be afraid.

And then he heard the door slam behind him.

Naegi spun, hoping that maybe it would be Togami. Maybe everything would be okay and he’d been silly to worry –

“Hi, Naegi.” Fukawa stared at him, leaning with her back against the door. “I think we should talk about my White Knight.”

Chapter Text

Be careful, Kirigiri had said. The mastermind has painted a target on your back.

Don’t go anywhere alone with Fukawa, Togami had said.

As Naegi stared at Fukawa, blocking the only door out of the room, he was starting to think he should have paid a little more attention to those warnings. He normally wouldn’t be frightened of her, not when she had her usual personality instead of the red-eyed laughing serial killer’s – but there was something in her eyes now that made him want to back away.

But did he really want to run from her? He’d considered her a friend until a few days ago, even though he wasn’t sure whether she felt the same way about him, and friends weren’t supposed to run from one another.

They weren’t supposed to lock each other up, either.

Naegi pushed that thought away and did his best to smile at Fukawa. “You want to talk about Togami? Well, uh, I haven’t really seen him today. Sorry.”

She didn’t move from her place in front of the door. “You s-sent him away.”

“I did what?” Naegi didn’t remember doing anything like that.

“Last night,” Fukawa said, her eyes glinting from behind her glasses. “He offered himself up to you right there in the hall, where anyone could hear.”

“Oh – you were there for that?” Naegi hadn’t thought any of the rest of the group had still been around to hear the end of his argument with Togami.

“I heard e-e-everything.” Fukawa began to smile, a flush creeping up her neck and across her face as she took a step towards him. “I heard him beg for you to spend just one more night with him – that you could have him anywhere, even right there in the middle of the hall, as long as you gave him what he needed just one more time.”

Naegi’s mouth fell open. “That’s – uh, that’s not exactly –”

“And you r-refused him,” she went on, sweat beading across her forehead and trickling down her heated cheeks as she advanced. “You d-d-denied him what he wanted. You left him alone with his filthy cravings unfulfilled, gave him no choice but to return to his room and try to reach a pale mockery of satisfaction with the limitations of his own shameful fingers, grasping and –”

“That’s not what happened!” Naegi turned scarlet as he tried to banish that image of Togami from his mind.

“N-no?” Fukawa asked, halfway down the aisle towards him now. “Then why did my perfectly dressed White Knight come to the bathhouse last night with his shirt untucked and his hair wild?”

“Uh – well –” Naegi didn’t have an explanation for that one. He’d kind of hoped everyone else had had other things to worry about.

“You d-did that to him. You drove him to the brink, promised him release and then scorned him.”

“Look, I don’t really think this is any of your business,” Naegi said, trying to pretend that his cheeks weren’t on fire with an embarrassed blush.

“You touched him.” She was close enough now that he could hear her breath coming heavily, her shoulders heaving with it. “You put your hands all over him. You knocked my White Knight off his pedestal into the muck, and anyone can touch him now. Even me.”

Naegi didn’t like the way she said that – like something had happened. “Wait, what do you mean by that? Where is he?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere else.” She leaned forward, eyes gleaming, and Naegi couldn’t help leaning away until his back hit the wall. “I was looking for you.”

Naegi was really starting to get nervous now. She’d been looking for him when Togami was an option? “Why, exactly?”

“To see what he sees.”

Fukawa’s hands hit the wall on either side of Naegi’s head, and whatever it was she was trying to see, she was looking from only a few inches away.

Naegi gulped. “Look, I understand that you’re – uh – not very happy about what happened between Togami and me, but can we talk about it another time? I’m supposed to be searching this floor, and –”

A panicked scream from above them cut him off. “Someone! Come quick!”

“That was Asahina!” Was she all right? Had she found something? A new, stronger set of fears knocked his concern about Fukawa aside. “We have to go find her!” He tried to duck under Fukawa’s arm to move towards the door.

Fukawa blocked him. “We’re not done talking –”

“We don’t have time for this!” Naegi snapped, out of patience with whatever game Fukawa was playing. If she wanted to bother him, that was one thing – but stopping him from helping Asahina when she could be in trouble was something else. “Move! Now!”

Fukawa’s eyes went wide at the order, and she jerked back like he’d struck her heart, hands flying back from the wall to clutch at her chest. Naegi didn’t have time to worry about her now, though, not when he had to find Asahina. He ran out of the A/V room and up to the third floor where Asahina had been searching.

“What happened? Are you all right?” he asked, as soon as he caught sight of her standing in the hall.

“It’s awful!” Asahina’s shoulders trembled as she gestured back down the hall. “I checked the rec room, and – and –” She took an unsteady step in the direction of the stairs. “I need to get the others!”

Before Naegi could stop her, she’d bolted for the lower floors.

The rec room? Naegi could see the door standing open, and as he approached, the dread returned to his stomach, stronger than ever. He thought he might be sick as he steeled himself to look inside. If it was who he thought –

Celeste stood in the middle of the rec room, horribly battered and barely able to stay on her feet. Naegi’s fears about who else it could have been fell to the back of his mind in the wake of new worries for his injured friend. “Celeste? What happened?”

As Asahina returned with Ogami and Hagakure, Celeste explained. Her story was almost too bizarre to understand, with a mysterious man attacking her and dragging Yamada away – but with the Justice Hammer 1 lying there on the ground and the photograph she’d produced from the camera, what else could any of them think? Was an attack by a robotic assailant really any stranger than being trapped in a school by a robotic bear?

“You’re saying this individual headed down to the second floor?” Ogami demanded. “But that’s where Kirigiri was meant to search. She could be in danger!”

As they ran down to the second floor, Fukawa met them on the stairs coming up, her eyes tracking on Naegi as soon as he was in her line of sight. Her flush had receded, and she looked more or less like her normal self. “What’s going on up here?”

“We’re looking for Kirigiri and Yamada,” Naegi told her. “Have you seen them?”

“I haven’t seen anything,” Fukawa said, shaking her head. “Not since you ran from me in the A/V room.”

“They have to be here somewhere,” Asahina said. “Let’s keep looking!”

Ogami cocked her head. “I think I hear something – coming from the library?”

When they ran to the library and flung the door open, they found Yamada just staggering to his feet, looking even worse than Celeste. Justice Hammer 2 lay on the ground nearby.

“He hit me,” Yamada gasped, blood streaming down his face. “That guy – Robo Justice. He hit me!”

His story might have been absurd, but it did match Celeste’s, even down to the photograph.

“We need to get him down to the nurse’s office,” Celeste said, concern evident on her face as she looked at Yamada’s wounds. “His injuries need to be treated without delay.”

Yamada had to lean on Ogami’s arm to make it down the steps as they all escorted him to the nurse’s office.

“Robo Justice attacked me on the third floor while I was searching for Alter Ego,” Yamada explained, settling weakly on one of the beds. “And then he dragged me to the library and hit me with Justice Hammer 2. It must have been thirty or forty minutes ago.”

“So we all would have been in the cafeteria together,” Asahina said, frowning. “Sakura, Kirigiri, Naegi, Hagakure, and me.”

“And Kirigiri wouldn’t let Naegi leave,” Fukawa added.

Ogami gave her a strange look. “How do you know that?”

“I was watching, obviously,” Fukawa said. “And I saw that you,” her gaze snapped towards Asahina, “ate five donuts while you were waiting. Is that how you get those things so big – by loading them down with fat?”

“Eh?” Asahina looked taken aback by the sudden accusation.

Naegi frowned. So the five of them had been together, with Fukawa watching, while Celeste and Yamada had been attacked. They’d all been together, meaning that the only people without alibis for the attacks were Ishimaru – and Togami.

Chapter Text

“Why would anyone run around attacking people wearing a weird costume like that?” Asahina asked as they all left Yamada in the nurse’s office.

“That doesn’t matter,” Ogami said. “Right now, we must focus on finding this individual before any other attacks occur.”

Suddenly, Celeste gasped, looking to the right. “A shadow – there was a shadow, moving around at the top of the stairs!”

Ogami clenched her fists. “To the second floor, then!”

But when they raced up the stairs, no mysterious strangers were in sight. “Let’s split up,” Asahina suggested, and they scattered in all directions.

Naegi had only just opened the door to a classroom when he heard a shriek from the third floor – was it Celeste? What could she have found? Before he knew it he was out the door, up the stairs, meeting with the others as they all converged on Celeste where she stood shaking and terrified in the middle of the third floor hall.

“I saw him!” she cried. “The costumed man – he was here, but he ran off when I screamed.” She gestured further down the hallway, away from the stairs.

“Then he must still be here,” Naegi said, hope rising in him. Maybe they could find the mysterious attacker and stop him now, before any other attacks could happen. “Come on, let’s –”

A scream rang through the halls from below them, agonized and afraid.

“Was that Yamada?” Ogami’s eyes widened.

“He’s still in the nurse’s office – alone,” Naegi realized. “We have to get down there!”

“But the stranger – we can’t just let him escape,” Celeste protested. “We must split into two groups – that is the only way to capture the stranger and protect Yamada.”

“I will track down this assailant,” Ogami declared, fury rising off her like electricity.

“Then let us leave the stranger’s capture to you, Fukawa, and Hagakure,” Celeste said. “Asahina, Naegi, please accompany me to the nurse’s office.”

“All right, let’s go. Everyone be careful,” Naegi told the others, before following Celeste back to the first floor.

They didn’t hear anything else as they ran downstairs – no screams, no sounds of struggle, no footsteps fleeing from the scene of a crime. That meant it would be all right, didn’t it? That had to mean it would be okay, that everyone would be safe –

But when they opened the door to the nurse’s office, the blood-splattered scene before them proved that wasn’t true. Not when Yamada lay sprawled on the ground in a pool of his own blood, another Justice Hammer beside him.

“No,” Asahina gasped, hands flying to her mouth. “No way!”

Ding dong, ding dong.

Naegi couldn’t tear his eyes away from the awful scene as Monokuma’s body discovery announcement played. Not again – it couldn’t be this again, not when just a few days ago they’d thought they had a real chance to fight back against the mastermind with Alter Ego’s data. There couldn’t be another murder among them now.

“He has been murdered by that stranger,” Celeste said, grief clear on her face as she looked away from Yamada’s body. “Robo Justice, as Yamada called him. He must have done this.”

“What?” Naegi blinked. “But wasn’t he on the third floor? We didn’t see him on the stairs going down. Did he teleport?”

Celeste shook her head. “That doesn’t matter now. What matters is finding the others.”

But Asahina shook her head, pale even under her tan. “I – I don’t think I can leave.”

An unexpected burst of compassion softened Celeste’s expression. “Then I shall not leave you alone.” She looked over. “Naegi, if you would…?”

“Right, I’ll bring the others here!” Naegi left and hurried back to the third floor. Celeste had seen Robo Justice running further in, away from the stairs, and the only place he could think of was the physics room. The main room itself was empty, but when he checked the back room –

“No, not again!” Naegi’s mouth dropped open in horror at the sight. Ishimaru lay fallen in another pool of blood, and beside him Fukawa stretched across the floor. “Not three of them!”

“Well, actually, Fukawa just fainted when she saw the blood,” Hagakure said. “She seems okay, but she just won’t wake up. But Ishimaru – well –”

“What did you mean, three of them?” Ogami asked. “Did something else happen?”

“When we got to the nurse’s office and found Yamada, he was already –” Naegi broke off and shook his head. “I came to get you guys and bring you down there.”

“Then we should hurry!” Ogami raced for the door.

But just as they exited the physics room, they met a frightened Celeste running towards them. “It’s gone,” she said, even paler than usual. “Yamada’s body – it has disappeared!”

It sounded impossible – but when they returned to the nurse’s office, Yamada’s corpse was nowhere to be found.

Asahina’s face had gone gray, and she sat trembling on one of the beds. “We only left for a minute to go to the bathroom,” she said. “And then – when we got back, Yamada was –”

“Only the culprit could have moved his body.” Celeste looked away, like she was unable to bear the sight. “They must truly be enjoying the sight of us now, terrified and confused, wondering if we will die just like those guys.”

“But how can a body just disappear like that?” Hagakure asked. “Was it the aliens? Did they think that two murders at once was too many?”

“Two murders?” Asahina echoed blankly.

“We found Ishimaru in the physics equipment room,” Ogami told her. The words forced Naegi to recall the nightmarish sight of Ishimaru laid out on the floor, next to –

“Fukawa!” Horror struck Naegi as he realized that the girl wasn’t with them. “You guys – we left her back upstairs!”

Celeste’s hand flew to her mouth. “You left someone at the scene of the crime?”

“Well, she fainted when she saw the blood, so it couldn’t be helped,” Hagakure said, shrugging.

“We have to hurry back, before something else happens!” Naegi said, rushing for the door. No matter how exhausted and out of breath they all were from running up and down the stairs, they raced back to the third floor one more time, making their way to the equipment room.

“Thank goodness!” Naegi breathed in relief when he spotted her still lying there on the ground. She was exactly where they’d left her –

But Ishimaru’s body wasn’t.

“Are we hallucinating?” Ogami asked, staring at the empty space where the corpse had been.

Naegi shook his head slowly. “No – no, he was here. Someone must have moved him.”

“Then he really is dead?” Asahina’s shoulders began to shake as tears filled her eyes. “We’re all going to die now, aren’t we? The culprit won’t stop till they’ve killed all of us!”

“Not if we all stay together until we find the culprit,” Naegi said. “People have only gotten attacked when they went off alone, right?”

“But we aren’t all together!” Asahina protested. “Kirigiri and Togami are still missing!”

At her words, all Naegi’s fears came rushing back to him. He’d been forced to see two horrible murder scenes already today, and it was all too easy to imagine another. He could see Kirigiri laid out on the floor, blood tangled in her long hair, or – oh god, he thought he might be sick – or Togami, eyes blank and unseeing behind glasses covered in red.

“That is true, they are the only ones who remain unaccounted for,” Celeste said slowly. “The rest of us have been together in groups all morning.”

“No, Kirigiri was with us in the cafeteria at breakfast, while we waited to see if the others would appear,” Ogami said. “She only disappeared after we left to search the school.”

“I see,” Celeste said thoughtfully. “Then that settles it, does it not?”

“Huh? Settles what?” Naegi asked, a chill of apprehension snaking down his spine.

“There is only one person left without an alibi during all of the attacks,” Celeste explained, clasping her hands. “The suspicious individual we are looking for can be none other than… Togami.”

The words seemed to sound from far away, just barely audible through the loud rushing sound that filled Naegi’s ears. “No,” he heard himself saying, in a voice too stricken to be his own. “No, it can’t be him. He wouldn’t do something this bizarre.”

The others turned towards him, and to Naegi’s horror he recognized the looks on their faces as pity. “No,” he repeated. “There’s some other explanation. There has to be!”

“If you can think of one, please let us know without delay,” Celeste said.

But Naegi’s mind had gone blank. With what little they knew at this point, he didn’t have enough information to come up with an alternate theory. All he knew was that there had to be one. Togami wouldn’t turn on them so suddenly, wouldn’t lose it enough to put on a robot costume and attack people with painted hammers. He couldn’t believe it of the boy who had trusted him enough to be restrained, enough to sleep in his arms despite the threat of murder hanging ever present in the air.

Could he believe it of the boy who had so easily accused one of the group of being a traitor? The boy whose eyes had gone cold when they’d argued last night in the hall?

“We don’t know what really happened,” Naegi insisted, shaking the doubts from his head. “We’re still just guessing. We need to figure out what happened to the bodies, and we have to find Togami, and Kirigiri, too. Until we know where everyone is, we can’t say we know what happened. Not for sure.”

“Then since our time to investigate before the trial will be limited, let us split up to search the school,” Celeste suggested.

“What? But what if the killer strikes again?” Asahina protested.

“I do not believe that will be a concern,” Celeste said. “After all, the school regulations prohibit more than two murders at once, do they not?”

Which meant the others were safe. Wherever Togami and Kirigiri were, they were at least alive. It didn’t make Naegi feel much better to know that, though.

“Then let us begin,” Ogami said. And with a few last sympathetic looks in Naegi’s direction, the others filed out.

Naegi clenched his fists, looking down at the remnants of the pool of blood on the floor, remembering how Ishimaru’s body had lain there. He didn’t believe Togami could have done something like that – not so soon after what the two of them had shared. However suspicious the heir might look, Naegi was going to find evidence of another explanation and prove Togami’s innocence to everyone.

Even to himself.

Chapter Text

Naegi didn’t really know where to start looking for the bodies, not when he felt like he’d already spent the entire morning searching the school for one thing or another already. Still, he couldn’t give up now, not with all their lives on the line. They would need evidence to discuss during the looming class trial, and how could they talk about anything if they didn’t even have the bodies?

Naegi poked his head into the art room first, but Asahina and Ogami were already in there, checking behind the desks and opening cabinets. He crossed the room to try the handle to the repository, since it didn’t look like they’d gotten that far yet – but no, it was locked. He sighed and headed out to try the second floor instead.

But there was nothing – no trace of bodies, no missing people, just empty room after empty room, no matter how many doors he opened. With every failure, Naegi felt nausea churn a little more in his stomach. What if he couldn’t find anything? There would be evidence somewhere, he was sure of that much – but what if he couldn’t find it in time?

It was almost a relief when Naegi exited a classroom to find Celeste hurrying towards him again. “We’ve found something,” she called.

Naegi’s face lit up with hope. “Togami?”

“Ah – no, I’m afraid he is still missing,” she said. “But I found Yamada’s and Ishimaru’s bodies. They were hidden in the repository.”

“What?” Naegi blinked. Was that why the door had been locked?

“Indeed. Please hurry and join us upstairs,” Celeste urged him, before hurrying towards the stairs herself.

Naegi followed after her, reaching the art room at the same time that Ogami, Asahina, and Hagakure did. The others held back, nervous looks on their faces, but there was no time to hesitate. Naegi reached for the door and pushed it open –

– revealing the bloody bodies of their friends yet again.

Ding dong, ding dong.

It didn’t get any easier to see the bodies and hear that mocking announcement a second time. No, it was worse this time, the stench of blood stronger than ever, enough to make him gag.

“And here we are!”

Naegi jumped as Monokuma appeared, obscenely cheerful in the midst of all the blood and death.

“It’s time for the next Monokuma File! I was going to hand them out when you found the bodies the first time, but I thought something like this might happen. It was really hard to resist, but turns out I was right!”

Naegi caught the file that Monokuma flung at his head.

“Be sure to investigate this one with all your mental might, okay?” Monokuma said, sending a grin directly to Naegi that sent chills down his spine. “You wouldn’t want to make any stupid mistakes, would you? Well, not any more than the ones you’ve already made!”

With wild laughter spiraling out of control, Monokuma vanished again.

“How can he say it like that?” Asahina demanded. “They’re dead – they’re never coming back! It’s too awful!”

She collapsed to her knees at Yamada’s side, cradling the boy’s head in her lap. Tears fell from her eyes onto Yamada’s face – and he opened his eyes.

“Wh-where am I?”

“What?” Naegi stared in shock. This was almost more unbelievable than the reality of death around them. “He’s alive again?”

“Cold,” Yamada rasped out, his words faint and shaky. “So cold. Is winter coming?”

“Yamada!” Asahina’s fingers clutched at his shoulder, desperate hope rising in her face. “Wake up – you’ve got to wake up!”

“That’s right… I remember now.” He raised a quivering hand a few inches into the air, as though reaching for something the rest of them couldn’t see. “Hope’s Peak. I remember… everything. Before I’d met you all… I’d met you all.”

“He has lost the use of his faculties,” Celeste whispered, hanging her head in sorrow. “He is speaking only nonsense.”

“Who did this?” Asahina begged. “Who tried to kill you?”

“Who…?” Yamada’s voice grew weaker. “I remember… their name. Their name… T…”

But as he tried to mouth that final word, his breath shuddered in his lips, and stopped, his hand falling back to the floor. And this time, no matter how many of Asahina’s tears fell onto his face, Yamada’s eyes didn’t open again.

“Well, I guess we don’t have to investigate anymore, do we?” Hagakure asked.

Naegi stared at him. “What are you talking about? We still don’t know what happened!”

“He just told us, didn’t he?” Hagakure said.

“The name he tried to say,” Ogami said slowly, “began with a T. Only one student has a name that begins with a T.”

“What?” Naegi looked around the room, but all the others were nodding, as though this actually made sense. “No, that’s not – he must have been trying to say something else!”

“The evidence is not in your favor, it seems,” Celeste said with a pitying sigh.

“I won’t forgive him,” Asahina snarled, struggling to her feet. “If this is true, I will never, ever forgive him. To kill two of our friends…!”

“He wouldn’t –”

“He said he would!” Asahina sent Naegi a vicious glare. “At the beginning, he said he’d win the game and kill us all, remember?”

“He changed his mind!” Naegi protested. “I know he did!”

“How, because he slept with you?” Asahina said. “All that proves is that you can’t see what’s really going on!”

“Perhaps it was his ploy from the start,” Celeste mused, looking off into the distance. “After identifying Naegi as one of the primary threats during the class trials, Togami might have taken steps to neutralize his ability to act as an effective adversary.”

“What?” Naegi’s stomach plummeted, leaving a sick void swirling through him. “No, I –”

“Do you deny that you are emotionally compromised?” Celeste asked, leaning forward to pin him with her eerie red gaze. “After the proof Monokuma showed us of your relationship with Togami, how can we trust anything you say about him now?”

Naegi felt as though the world was tilting on its axis, throwing everything he thought he knew off balance. That – that couldn’t be true, could it? He and Togami had had a connection, starting from the moment when Togami had kissed him.

Togami had kissed him – had dragged him to the archive, had approached him again that second time, had begun nearly everything that had happened between them.

Naegi thought he might throw up. Had it all been a lie, from that first kiss on? Was it possible that the whole time he had been falling for Togami, the other boy had been manipulating him?

It was like realizing the truth about Maizono all over again – except that she’d never actually gone so far in her deception. So much of what she’d said and done had been a lie, but in the end the fact that she had cared about him had been true. But now, if everyone was right about Togami, he’d never cared at all. He’d probably been laughing behind Naegi’s back at how easy he’d been to deceive.

It made a horrible sort of sense, when Naegi thought about it like that. How everything had happened so fast, why Togami had changed his mind about working with the group. It would be a cold, merciless sort of plan – but hadn’t Togami been merciless when he’d used the secret Fukawa confided in him to frame her? With the things Togami had done already, Naegi wasn’t sure he could rule out emotional manipulation.

But even taking that all into account, there was still one thing that didn’t make sense.

“Maybe I am emotionally invested,” Naegi said, “but that doesn’t mean I can’t think straight. And even if Togami would – would do all – this,” it was hard to get the words out, but he forced his way through them, “I don’t think he’d wear that weird suit while he did it.”

The others exchanged glances, suspicion softening a little as they considered it. “I guess it doesn’t really seem like something he’d do,” Asahina said slowly.

“He does seem fond of theatrics, based on his interference with Fujisaki,” Ogami said. “But it is true, I would not expect something quite so… colorful from him.”

“Unless that’s why he did it!” Hagakure said, rubbing his chin. “What if he decided to become Robo Justice because he knew no one would believe it was him?”

“Taking a plan to such extremes might be a winning strategy,” Celeste said. “Can you truly say the Ultimate Affluent Progeny would take half measures in anything he does?”

The words shook at the fragile faith Naegi had been trying to rebuild. What was he supposed to do? Which version of Togami should he believe in, the one who had held him and trusted him – or the one who had betrayed Fukawa and said he’d watch them all die?

“Maybe I’m wrong.” Naegi hated to say the words, but he couldn’t help it. “I don’t so – I don’t want to be – but if I am, I want to know. So I’m going to find Togami, and the truth. Whatever it is.”

With that, Naegi turned and walked out the door, leaving the rest of the group behind.

Chapter Text

The first thing Togami realized when he regained consciousness was that he didn’t know where he was. The tiny, confined space was dark, and something cold and metallic wrapped around his entire body, constricting his movements.

What the hell had happened? He remembered arguing with Naegi, ending with the other boy storming into his room, and then – what? He hadn’t gone back to his room, but he couldn’t remember what it was that he’d done instead.

Whatever it was, it had obviously been a poor decision. He’d been focused on his argument with Naegi, distracted by the wretched feelings that wouldn’t get out of his head, and he’d let his guard down enough that someone had managed to attack him.

At least they hadn’t killed him immediately – just imprisoned him. Togami tried to test the metal around him, checking for weak points. Could he get out of it?

It didn’t seem like he could. Every time he tried to turn or bend, either the metal wrapped around him wouldn’t cooperate or he ran into the edges of the space where he’d been confined.

Where had the kidnapper put him? There couldn’t be that many out of the way places where he could be hidden for long. Togami considered the different areas of the school. There were really only two options, from what he could recall – either the cabinet in the rec room or the locker near the pool. Togami scowled. While people did go to both areas, neither was very frequently used. It could potentially be a long wait for someone to find him.

Unless that someone was the person who had kidnapped him. Togami was under no illusions that this might have happened for some innocent reason. There was only one possible reason that he would have been taken out of commission.

This was a trap. One of the other students had finally chosen to make a move in the killing game, and they had settled on him as part of their plan. He doubted he would be a victim at this point – he would probably be dead already, if that was the culprit’s intent. No, if he was alive but imprisoned, there had to be a different goal.

He was being framed.

A dark grin curled across Togami’s face. So one of the others thought they could take him on, was that it? They’d seen Monokuma’s videos and decided that he’d be an easy mark? Well, he’d have to show them just how thoroughly mistaken they were. They wouldn’t be able to keep him in here forever, not if he was meant to take the fall for their crime during the trial – and that would give him the opportunity to turn the tables on them.

Which one had it been, though? That was the real question, and Togami didn’t have enough information to decide at this point. He wouldn’t mind facing off against Kirigiri, but he suspected that if this were her scheme, she wouldn’t have left him alive. But the others –

Ding dong, ding dong.

Even through the metal container, Togami heard the body discovery announcement playing. So the game had begun again. The culprit had gotten far enough with the execution of their plan to go through with a murder – and he was stuck here, trapped and unable to investigate. He didn’t even know who –

Who had been killed?

The question struck Togami like being plunged into cold water, ice chilling him down to the bone. Someone had kidnapped him, presumably with the intent of framing him for murder. Who would people be most likely to claim he’d killed?

Naegi’s face flickered before Togami’s eyes, and he couldn’t breathe.

The body discovery announcement had already sounded. Whoever the victim had been, they were already dead.

Togami closed his eyes and forced shaky breaths of air in and out of his frozen lungs. Worrying about what might have happened was pointless. Someone would have to arrive to let him out of here soon enough, so that he could participate in the trial, and he would find out who the victim had been then. There was no reason to assume the worst. After all, wasn’t it just as believable that he would try to kill his psychotic stalker?

Unless Fukawa was the one who had done it. She’d clearly gone off the deep end – well, further off than she’d already been. And if someone was going to tie him up and leave him in a closet, Fukawa did rank fairly highly on his list of suspects. It was easy to imagine her doing this.

And even easier to imagine her going after Naegi. The boy still believed everyone here was his friend – he probably would have gone trustingly off to his doom, just because she asked him. Togami had a sharp, stabbing vision of Naegi crucified with scissors, blood smeared across the wall around him, and his stomach heaved at the idea. The image seemed utterly, viscerally wrong, an affront to the entire universe. Naegi deserved far better than dying alone and betrayed.

He wanted to believe it couldn’t be true – but he knew it was a real possibility. Naegi would be the perfect victim, and thanks to Monokuma’s videos, it would be easy enough to convince the others that Togami been the one to do it.

Ding dong, ding dong.

Togami jolted out of the downward spiral of his thoughts at the sound of the bells ringing again. Was it time for the trial already, or –

Another body discovery announcement played.

He frowned. A second announcement – did that mean a second body? There were two victims? The rules did allow for a maximum of two killings, so it wasn’t out of the question. If that was the case, it meant this was the most coldblooded killer they’d faced yet. In any other circumstances, he would be enjoying the challenge this promised.

But now, with the fear of who the victim could be, he couldn’t think of it as a challenge. He couldn’t bring himself to care if the trial was a little more interesting, not when Naegi might be one of the victims. Was this how the others felt every time – this sick, sinking feeling that something precious had been stolen and could never be retrieved? If so, Togami wanted no part of it. If he thought it might have stopped the horrible ache in his chest, he would have torn his heart out without a second thought.

Click clack.

Togami froze. Had that been a noise? He thought he’d heard something, but it was difficult to tell through the metal. He concentrated, trying to stay as still as he could.

Click clack.

There it was again. It sounded almost like – footsteps? Yes, like the step of heels on a hard floor. Someone was here.

Togami banged his arm against the edge of the container, sending a resounding clang through the air as metal clashed with metal. Whoever it was would have to hear that, no matter how much the metal container muffled the noise.

There was a long pause – too long for comfort – and then the door to the container cracked open, letting in a few rays of light. Togami squinted in the sudden brightness, hoping against hope that maybe his assumptions had been wrong, maybe it would be Naegi who rescued him –

“What is this supposed to be?” Kirigiri asked, crossing her arms.

Togami glowered at her, even though she probably couldn’t see it through the metal wrapped around him. He never liked seeing the irritating girl, and this time was even worse than normal, since she’d had the nerve not to be Naegi. “Don’t just stand there, help me out of this thing.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “Togami?”

“Obviously.”

She didn’t move to help him, because of course she wouldn’t. “How long have you been in there?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea. I was unconscious for part of it, so it may have been since last night.” Togami hesitated. He hated the idea of asking Kirigiri for anything – but he had to know. “I heard the body discovery announcements while I was locked in there. Do you know who was killed?”

Before she could respond, more footsteps sounded from outside Togami’s line of vision. “Kirigiri, is that you?” That was Asahina’s voice. “Is that – oh! You found him!”

“Apparently,” Kirigiri said, a faintly amused smile on her lips as she eyed Togami.

“Right. I knew it! I’ll go find the others!” Asahina’s footsteps ran off into the distance again.

Kirigiri didn’t say anything as the other girl left, but the look on her face grew from a faint smile to a full smirk. Togami didn’t like either expression. If she wasn’t going to answer his question, the least she could do was help him get this thing off him.

Maybe he could get it off himself, now that he wasn’t in the locker anymore. He shrugged his shoulders and twisted – but no. The thing was stuck on tightly. There was no way to pry it off.

“What are you doing?” she asked, watching his attempts.

“Trying to get this thing off me,” Togami growled back.

“You can’t get it off yourself?”

“If I could, I would have done it already!”

She looked at him a moment longer, then shrugged. “There’s a clasp in the back. Hold on.”

Once she finally deigned to undo the clasp, she was able to help Togami get the contraption off him. He shook himself free – and finally got a good look at the thing he’d been wearing. It was a cartoonish robot suit, painted with offensively garish colors. His lip curled at the sight. Apparently the culprit hadn’t been content with framing him – they’d wanted to humiliate him, too.

But that didn’t matter. It was just a stupid suit, and he could worry about why the culprit had used it later. Right now, there was another answer he needed. He turned back to Kirigiri.

“You didn’t answer my question. The body discovery announcements – whose were they?”

But she shook her head. “I don’t know. I wasn’t there for either discovery, and I haven’t seen everyone yet.”

He glared at her. “Don’t play games with me! Is Naegi alive?”

She tilted her head and studied him, like he was a specimen under a microscope. “It would bother you, wouldn’t it? If it were him?”

That question didn’t even deserve the courtesy of an answer. Would it bother him? Would it rip out the piece of his heart that Naegi had gotten his hooks into? He had no intention of telling her.

But then – then the door from the changing room opened, and –

The purest relief Togami had ever felt bloomed on his face when he saw Naegi walk into the room, alive and unharmed and so perfectly whole it made his heart ache again. He wanted to run across the room and snatch the boy into his arms, to reassure himself that Naegi was alive and safe and that whatever else had happened, it wouldn’t be Naegi’s death they had to investigate. The only thing holding him back was Kirigiri’s gaze on him, watching and silently judging the way she always did. Togami had to content himself with looking at Naegi, drinking in the sight of the boy as he stood in the changing room door.

A smile had spread across Naegi’s face when he’d seen Togami, like it was an automatic reaction. That made Togami feel better about his own expression – at least he wasn’t the only one visibly vulnerable.

But then the smile on Naegi’s face faded. Why was he doing that? Togami didn’t quite understand. Naegi looked over to the side, and his gaze fell on the bizarre robot suit, focusing like he recognized it. When he looked back to Togami, it took a moment for Togami to understand the emotion in Naegi’s eyes.

He looked betrayed.

Chapter Text

Togami wasn’t sure what to think as the other students arrived and approached this side of the pool. For all that Naegi had gotten there first, his steps had been slow, faltering, like he didn’t want to reach the conversation that would happen when he reached the other side. He didn’t look at Togami again, not after that first moment, but Togami could read his pain anyway.

Did he really believe it? Naegi had known Togami wouldn’t kill him – he’d known it before Togami had understood it himself, and pinned him with the words like a mortal blow. Didn’t he understand that it went beyond the immediacy of murdering him directly? Did he honestly think that Togami could kill someone else, knowing what the inevitable result of success would be?

Togami scowled at Naegi, something going tight and cold in his chest at the way Naegi wouldn’t even look at him. He should have known better than that, no matter how good the culprit’s frame job had been. Naegi had blind faith in everyone else, to the point where he hadn’t even been able to consider the perfectly reasonable idea that they might have a traitor in their midst. Why had he chosen to doubt Togami now, when he was actually innocent?

The evidence compiled against him must have been very convincing. But not enough. Togami’s frown deepened. He wouldn’t let it be good enough.

The others spilled into the room after Naegi, overtaking him as they hurried towards the side of the pool where Togami stood with Kirigiri. He saw Asahina again, Ogami hanging at her back, Hagakure, and Fukawa – that left Ishimaru and Yamada as the victims. Those seemed like odd choices – why them? The two who had made such fools of themselves over Alter Ego last night – could it be a coincidence?

Asahina reached them first, glaring at Togami with a fury that seemed almost personal. “So it’s true, isn’t it? The one who wore that costume and went around attacking people – it was you, wasn’t it, Togami?”

“Is that what happened? Someone attacked people with that monstrosity on?” Togami raised his eyebrows at her. “Well, it wasn’t me.”

“Don’t lie to us!” Asahina clenched her fists. “I saw you wearing that suit!”

“Yes, because someone knocked me unconscious and put me in it,” Togami said. “I’ve been stuck in that locker ever since I woke up.”

“Oh, really? Is that so?” Celeste tilted her head. “But in that case, how do you explain the blueprints for the suit that Hagakure and I found in your room, hmm?”

“Yeah, it’s true, we found all kinds of papers and materials and boxes all over your room,” Hagakure agreed, nodding. “There’s no mistaking those, right?”

“And the dimensions on the blueprints suggest that the suit would need to be quite a close fit.” Celeste bent down and peered at the suit more closely, then looked back at Togami with a sharp smile. “It looks like it would be quite difficult for anyone other than you to wear this costume.”

Togami wasn’t surprised to hear that, not with how tightly it had been fitted to him. It did bring up some worrying questions about just how the culprit had gotten it so well-fitted, though.

“Are you sure it was him?” Naegi’s voice was low, his eyes locked on the suit instead of Togami. “I mean, none of the rest of us saw him in it, right? And it would cover his face, so you couldn’t be sure.”

“Oh, it was definitely him!” Asahina said, turning to glare at Naegi. “I’ll show you it had to be him, here!”

Asahina seized the pieces of the robot suit and began trying to strap them on. “Look, see how loose it is?” she said, as some of the pieces wouldn’t stay on while others could barely close. “How did you even walk in this thing? I can’t see my feet, I can’t bend at the waist, I can’t even figure out how to get the stupid clasp fastened.”

“That’s because it’s in the back,” Kirigiri said, watching with her arms crossed. With her usual blank expression, she almost looked disinterested. “You can’t reach it with the suit on. I had to undo it for Togami before he could take it off.”

Asahina stripped the suit back off and let it collapse to the ground in disgust. “So there – it’s obvious no one but Togami could fit into this dumb costume,” she said to Naegi. “So are you finally going to stop defending him now or what?”

Defending him? Togami’s gaze went to Naegi before he could stop it, and he saw that the other boy was pale, eyes rimmed with red. So Naegi had been defending him to the others?

“He’s the only one without an alibi, and he’s the only one who could fit in the suit!” Asahina continued. “There’s nothing more to say about it – Togami killed them!”

That statement caught Togami’s attention. “The only one without an alibi?” He frowned, looking around the group. “That can’t be right.”

“It is true,” Ogami said. “All the rest of us can account for our whereabouts during at least one of the key events during the murder. You are the only one who was missing for the entire event.”

“Maybe I am, but since I know I didn’t do it, there must be some other explanation,” Togami snapped.

“What would that be?” Celeste asked. “How could someone else have done this?”

“How should I know? I’ve been unconscious and locked up,” Togami said. “You’re the ones who know the facts. Why don’t you try using your brains for once to figure it out?”

Not that any of them would. It was probably expecting too much of them to think anything through logically. The only ones who knew how to use their brains were himself, the obnoxious Kirigiri, and –

“What if it wasn’t someone else?” Naegi didn’t take his eyes off the suit as his words pierced through the conversation. “Or – not just one someone else. What if it was two people working together?”

At the words, the tightness gripping Togami’s chest eased a little, like fresh air blowing into a still room. Maybe Naegi hadn’t entirely fallen into the culprit’s trap, after all.

“What, you mean an accomplice, like Monokuma was talking about during the first trial?” Asahina asked. “But didn’t he say the accomplice wouldn’t get anything out of it? So no one would be stupid enough to go along with it!”

An accomplice – yes, that sounded like it might make sense, if one of the reasons they all suspected him was that he had no alibi. It would explain why the culprit had gone to such lengths to make sure he would be out of the way during the murders. It didn’t really explain the stupid robot suit, but Togami wasn’t sure anything could justify that.

“You are speaking from your emotions, not from logic,” Celeste told Naegi. “You simply do not wish to believe that you were deceived.”

Naegi’s eyes moved towards Togami at those words, but the instant their gazes met he jerked away again. Togami frowned. That wasn’t like Naegi. Something was wrong here, something more than just the culprit’s attempt at framing him. Naegi had trusted him before now, even if he’d been angry. Had Togami’s accusations about the traitor shaken him that thoroughly – or had something else happened?

Well, whatever it was, Togami knew he didn’t have time to deal with it now. The body discovery announcement had been too long ago. The class trial had to be looming, and the way it looked now, most of those idiots were all too ready to fall into the killer’s trap.

“Argue about it during the trial,” Togami said, glaring at them. “This is the time to focus on finding evidence.”

“We already have all the evidence, though,” Hagakure objected. “Everyone knows you did it, right? So you might as well just give up.”

“If you want to dig your own grave with your failure to act, go ahead,” Togami snapped. “I have evidence to find.”

“Then we’d better get back to guard duty before you can try anything!” Asahina said, clenching her fists. “Come on, Sakura!” She and Ogami headed out, with Asahina casting suspicious looks back over her shoulder in case Togami tried to follow.

Not that he would, when he didn’t even know where they were heading. He was flying blind into this one – he hadn’t even received the Monokuma File, since he must have still been locked in the closet whenever the information had been distributed. If he was going to prove his innocence, he would need answers, and quickly.

Who could he ask, though? Hagakure wasn’t even an option. Frankly he didn’t trust Celeste not to lie to him for her own amusement. Fukawa – no, he wasn’t going near her, not after the way she’d reacted when he last tried to tell her to do something. Kirigiri probably wouldn’t tell him anything, if she even knew – she’d said she hadn’t been there for part of what had happened.

Really, there was only one person in the group who was worth asking. And however upset Naegi might be, Togami didn’t think he’d ignore a request for information. Naegi would play fair at the trials, if nothing else. Togami turned towards the other boy.

“Naegi, do you have a second?” Kirigiri spoke before Togami got the chance. Togami glared at her, but of course she didn’t react. “I’d like your help on the investigation. I got a late start, so I’ll need to make up some ground.”

“Huh?” Naegi looked at Kirigiri, and Togami’s expression darkened at the way a little of the shadow in Naegi’s expression faded as he spoke to the girl. “Well – sure, I don’t mind helping. But later, will you tell me where you went? We were all worried when you disappeared.”

Kirigiri had disappeared during the investigation? Now that was interesting information. She was always one of the nosier ones, poking her head into every aspect of the cases and even going so far as to manhandle the corpses. What had she been doing, if not investigating? Could this all have been her scheme after all? Or was it possible that she, the mysterious loner who hadn’t even revealed her talent, had disappeared for some other reason?

“No,” Kirigiri answered Naegi, her voice flat and almost bored. “Anyway, I need your help.”

And of course, Naegi gave in to her request. “Okay.”

Letting Naegi go off alone with Kirigiri when she sounded so suspicious seemed like a spectacularly bad idea. “I’ll go with you, as well,” Togami told them.

Kirigiri gave him a considering look. “All right. Then let’s get started. The bodies first, I think. Where are they?”

“In the repository,” Naegi said, starting for the door.

“Tell us what else you’ve learned on the way there,” Togami said. It wouldn’t be as good as getting the information firsthand, but Naegi always seemed to find something useful when he investigated. It would certainly be better than nothing.

By the time they reached the repository, Naegi had finished going over most of the events of the murder. Togami almost had to admire the careful way the culprit had crafted the alibi situation – whoever had done it, they’d managed the timing very carefully. It really was too bad for them that he was going to destroy them.

As expected, Kirigiri made a beeline for the dead bodies as soon as they entered the repository. Togami grimaced. Yes, they were short on time, but did she really need to be so offputtingly eager about it?

Rather than watch her, Togami decided to do something more productive. He looked at Naegi. “You got a Monokuma File, didn’t you?”

Naegi jumped at being addressed, looking up into Togami’s eyes. Togami’s hands itched to reach out and brush Naegi’s hair out of his eyes, to wipe away the unhappiness and make him smile again – but this wasn’t the time.

“Well? Show me the file,” Togami prompted, before he could get any more distracted than he already was.

“All right.” Naegi passed it over, their fingers brushing as he did. Togami couldn’t help smiling a little – but Naegi jerked away. He looked away from Togami and headed over to Kirigiri instead, falling into a quiet conversation with her.

Togami flipped open the Monokuma File and scanned it – the little information that was there, anyway. Only two sentences? That might be all right for the people who had been present for the events, but it certainly wasn’t helpful for the rest of them.

Although that assumed that the Monokuma File was intended to be helpful. Togami had noticed it last time, as well – the file left out relevant facts. In the second investigation, the file hadn’t mentioned the real location where Fujisaki had died, or that he’d been concealing his gender, even though both of those things would have been included in a more legitimate autopsy report. So that meant that if a lot of the information that the others knew had been left out of the file, including the times and locations of the murders, then…

Ding dong, bing bong.

“Are you excited? Are you pumped?” Monokuma’s voice rang out from the televisions. “It’s time for the class trial to begin!”

Chapter Text

Walking down to the trial ground, Togami let the others outpace him as he tried to buy himself a few more seconds of time to think. He knew he’d be able to figure this out if he just had the facts in front of him, but Monokuma had sounded the class trial bells before he had a chance. He scowled at the thought. That bear had deliberately created a scenario where he had less information than the others, putting him at a disadvantage when he would need to defend himself. That flagrant disregard for the rules of the game was almost more of an annoyance than the murder set-up.

At least the set-up had been moderately clever, from what Togami had been able to gather about it. Whoever had done it couldn’t be quite as stupid as they seemed. But which of them could it have been? That was the real question, the part he couldn’t work out just yet.

Naegi’s idea about accomplices had some merit to it, since that was clearly the only way to get around the alibi issue. But that still didn’t explain the who.

He looked ahead, eyes narrowed, to where Asahina and Ogami were walking close together. Those two had certainly clicked fast, and for some reason, Ogami went mad at the slightest hint of a threat to Asahina. Would she take it far enough to assist Asahina in a killing, knowing that it would mean her own death if they got away with it?

Or there was the possibility that someone had been tricked into it. Lord knew Hagakure was stupid enough to fall for anything. It would be no trick at all to get him to help with a murder. Unless – was it possible that Hagakure’s idiocy was all an act to hide some dark intent? It seemed unlikely, since Hagakure’s stupidity predated Monokuma’s announcement of the killing game, but Togami supposed he couldn’t rule it out entirely.

Could Fukawa have been the one? Togami was of two minds on that idea. On one hand, she was certainly the person most likely to choose to target him. Someone had knocked him out and stuck him in that locker, and the thought of Fukawa being the one to manhandle his unconscious body made him shudder. On the other hand, he was fairly sure that if she’d done so, he wouldn’t have woken up alone. Besides, if she were really going to target him, she wouldn’t bother with the elaborate trap – she’d go straight for the scissors.

Celeste was the last possibility, even though she did frequently profess her desire to stay in the school forever rather than kill. There was always something insincere in everything the Ultimate Gambler said, and Togami had never been able to get a good read on her. She seemed like she might be clever, and no gambler as successful as she’d been could be entirely stupid – but she had gone along with several wrong ideas during the past trials, when being wrong would have fatal consequences. Togami couldn’t be sure, not with what he knew of her.

By the time he reached the red door, he still didn’t have an answer. Well, he’d just have to figure it out on the trial grounds.

When Togami pushed the door open and entered the waiting room outside the elevator, all eyes turned to him. The atmosphere felt different this time than at the previous two trials – the air nearly crackled with the electric stares of the other students. Asahina’s bubbling fury, Fukawa’s dark eyes, Celeste’s sharp smile, they all came together in a whirl of accusation.

But he didn’t really care what any of them thought of him at this point, not until the trial began in earnest. Togami ignored the others and looked at the only one of the group whose opinion mattered.

Naegi’s eyes were fixed on him, but with such an intensely inward focus that Togami wasn’t sure the boy was actually seeing him. His lips moved faintly, a whisper of words only to himself. Togami thought he could see Naegi form the phrase “have to…” but he couldn’t tell what the rest of it might mean, or what Naegi thought he had to do.

Before Togami could decide whether to approach Naegi and ask him, Monokuma’s voice echoed from all around the room. “Hello!” “Hello!” “Hello!”

Two Monokumas burst forth, side by side – as if one of that thing wasn’t enough.

“Whoa – two Monokumas?” Hagakure gasped, jumping back.

“Nope, still just the one and only me,” Monokuma said. “You only think I’ve multiplied because of an illusion! I’m just moving so fast that you think there’s more than one of me! Can you tell which one is the real Monokuma?”

“Can we just get on the elevator?” Kirigiri asked, her bored tone appropriate for once.

“Aw, tough crowd.” Both Monokumas took on a sad pose, like Kirigiri had hurt their feelings. “You’re not playing along.” “along…” “along…”

So they had time for this stupidity, but not for him to have a real investigation? Togami glared at both bears. “We’re not here to play with you!”

“Aw, fine.” One of the Monokumas vanished. “Then if everyone’s ready to go, please board the pain train – er, the elevator.”

Was that bear even capable of speaking without a stupid joke? Togami scowled and strode into the elevator as soon as the doors opened. Time to get this over with.

After riding down in silence, the elevator doors opened on walls of a pale sky blue, dozens of hanging moons, and heavy brocade curtains over false windows. It seemed like a bizarre choice for a trial, like a parody of the night sky, but who knew why the mastermind decorated the way they did.

He took his place at the podiums, ignoring Monokuma’s repetitive explanation of the class trials. Really, if anyone could forget the rules of the trial at this point, they deserved what they got.

Apparently, the others had equally little patience with it.

“We already know who did it!” Asahina snapped, cutting Monokuma off mid-sentence.

“It was Togami,” Celeste added. “He is the only one to lack an alibi, and he was found in the suit. We found the blueprints and parts to build it in his room.” She pulled out a box of papers and crafting supplies for the rest of the group to see. “The evidence is quite compelling.”

“You only think it’s compelling because it’s a set up,” Togami said, crossing his arms. “I was knocked unconscious last night, and when I woke up this morning, I was in that suit.”

“So you say,” Celeste said. “But you haven’t provided any evidence to prove your claims.”

“Why would I be stupid enough to commit a murder without crafting a reasonable alibi for myself?” Togami countered.

Celeste shrugged. “Perhaps whatever you were planning failed, and you are now trying to salvage it.” She leaned forward. “Maybe you are not as smart as you think you are.”

“That’s for sure,” Asahina said. “You told us you were going to kill someone right at the start. Of course we’d suspect you!”

“I’d intended to do it in such a way that I wouldn’t look suspicious,” Togami said, rolling his eyes. “My plans would not have involved wearing something as eye-catching as that monstrosity. Just looking at it makes my eyes hurt. Why would I inflict it on myself willingly?”

Asahina clenched her fists. “So you admit you were planning to kill someone!”

Togami curled his lip. “Don’t act so high and mighty. Everyone in this room has at least considered it, even if you didn’t decide to go through with it. I was just the only one with the nerve to be honest about it.”

“Until your oh-so-sudden change of heart, that is,” Celeste said, tilting her head with a deceptively innocent smile. “You changed your mind most conveniently, did you not? You found a reason to give up on committing any murders, mere days before you became a suspect.”

Togami narrowed his eyes at her. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means that the timing suggests that you deliberately manipulated Naegi into a love affair to make yourself appear innocent,” Celeste said. She shook her head sadly. “And the poor boy has fallen right into your trap, even going so far as to try to defend you in the face of your crimes.”

The words made Togami’s eyes snap over, around the circle – and he saw Naegi’s face crumple. The sight knocked the air out of Togami, like Celeste had punched him in the stomach. That was what Naegi thought had happened? Togami might have done that with someone else, if he’d deemed it necessary – but he hadn’t been able to fake anything with Naegi. The boy pulled honesty from him without even trying, like iron to a magnet. Did he really not realize how he’d affected Togami, even in the short time they’d had together?

“I don’t see how it’s relevant to dissect anyone’s love life,” Kirigiri said, looking irritated with the digression. “The facts of the case are the same whether or not Togami and Naegi are involved.”

“Yes, the evidence does stand even without that aspect,” Ogami agreed. “The question of alibis is difficult to put aside.”

“And the blueprints,” Hagakure added, pointing to the papers Celeste had produced. “I totally saw them, right there in your room! How’d they get there if you didn’t build that suit?”

“Obviously someone else put them there,” Togami said, rolling his eyes. “They could easily have used my room key after knocking me out.”

“Then how come it has your notes all over it?” Hagakure grabbed one of the papers and waved it triumphantly. “Look, it’s right here in your own handwriting –”

“No! That’s wrong!”

Chapter Text

Everyone stopped mid-argument when Naegi shouted, slamming his hands down. His shoulders shook as he gripped the edge of the podium, but his face burned with a determination made all the fiercer by the red rimming his eyes. Even in the middle of the trial ground, under fire from the rest of the students, it set an answering fire blazing in Togami’s chest to see Naegi like that.

“That’s not Togami’s handwriting,” Naegi said, his voice strong and clear in the silent room. “Here, take a look at this.” He reached into his pocket and produced a folded paper – one that Togami recognized as the note he’d slipped under Naegi’s door the previous night. “Togami gave me this note, and it’s obviously different from the writing on the blueprints.”

“How do we know that Togami really wrote that?” Asahina asked, squinting at it.

“You don’t have to take my word for it.” Naegi looked over, and his eyes saw right through to Togami’s soul. “You can write something now, in front of everyone, and we can compare.”

“Here, use this.” Kirigiri tossed a notebook and pen at him.

Togami paused, then wrote “You’re all idiots” in his distinctively bold handwriting. He made a point to write as quickly as possible, to deflect any accusations that he could have forged the handwriting on the note. He held up the notebook for everyone to see.

“You see? The writing doesn’t match at all,” Naegi said. “So Togami couldn’t have been the one who made those blueprints, no matter where you found them.”

“Unless he disguised his handwriting when creating the blueprints,” Celeste pointed out.

“No, the differences are bigger than that,” Ogami said, looking from one paper to the other.

“And why would he bother to disguise his handwriting if he was going to leave the blueprints in his own room?” Naegi added.

“Wait, so – you’re serious about this?” Asahina asked, a puzzled frown replacing her fury. “You aren’t just lovesick and confused? You really think Togami didn’t do it?”

“It’s not just him,” Kirigiri spoke up. “I don’t believe that Togami is the killer, either.”

“You, too?” Asahina’s frown deepened. “Then was it someone else in the Robo Justice suit after all?”

“Well, no,” Naegi said. “Only Togami could have fit in that suit, we saw that when we were all out by the pool.”

“So then how can you claim it wasn’t him who committed the murders?” Celeste asked.

“Because of the way the bodies were moved,” Kirigiri said. “Naegi, you were there for this part of it. Tell the others what happened?”

“Me?” Naegi blinked. “Um – all right. Well, the bodies must’ve been moved with the dolly and the tarp we found in the repository, right? Before we found the bodies, those things had been in the equipment room, where we found Ishimaru’s body the first time.”

“Precisely,” Kirigiri said, with a sharp nod. “And what did we all see when we examined the suit?”

“That whoever was wearing it couldn’t bend over or see their feet!” Naegi answered without missing a beat. “So the person in the Robo Justice suit wouldn’t have been able to operate the dolly to move Ishimaru’s body!”

Kirigiri smiled faintly back at Naegi in the face of his excitement. Togami scowled. They worked together seamlessly, didn’t they?

“Couldn’t they have just taken off the suit to move the body, though?” Hagakure asked, frowning.

“No, I don’t think so,” Naegi said. “Kirigiri told us she had to help Togami get it off, remember? And Asahina couldn’t get it fastened when she tried it on.”

“That’s true,” Ogami said slowly. “It would be impossible to put the suit on or take it off without help.”

“Believe me, if I could have gotten that ghastly thing off on my own, I would have,” Togami said, grimacing. “I certainly wouldn’t have let you all see me wearing it.”

“It wouldn’t make sense if he was the killer,” Naegi said, a smile spreading across his face, “but it makes perfect sense if someone else wanted us to think he was the killer.”

“That’s just what you w-want to think!”

The words came from Fukawa, the first thing she’d said since the trial began. Her dark stare in Naegi’s direction, glinting behind her glasses, sent chills down Togami’s spine.

“You only believe it b-because my White Knight deceived us all,” she went on, braids flying around her as she leaned forward. “He made us think he’d f-fallen, but it was all nothing more than a ploy. He never changed! Everything he did was just to make you trust him.”

Togami opened his mouth to tell her to shut up – and hesitated. The last set of orders he’d given her had ended poorly. Who knew what would happen if he told her to do something now?

“That’s not it!” Naegi didn’t have any qualms about arguing with her, though. “Weren’t you listening?”

“Oh, I was l-listening to you blabber, all right,” Fukawa said. “And do you know what I didn’t hear you explain? Celeste’s photo of Yamada getting d-dragged away by R-robo Justice! And then Yamada even said Robo Justice was the one who a-attacked him! So whatever else you say, it just p-proves that he succeeded in deceiving you. He isn’t what you thought – he’s just been using you to try to win!”

“What it means,” Kirigiri interrupted, “is that this case is far from a simple series of events. We’re faced with contradictions at every turn.” She crossed her arms and surveyed them all. “There’s no need for us to rush to decide on the killer. We should be sure to consider every possibility. I think that the only way to move forward is to consider each murder as a separate situation.” She thought for a moment. “Let’s start with what happened to Ishimaru.”

“Wait, but shouldn’t we start by talking about Yamada?” Asahina asked. “He got attacked first, didn’t he? The Justice Hammers proved it.”

“No, they don’t,” Naegi said. “We can’t just assume the hammers were used in the same order as the numbers. And when I saw Ishimaru’s wristwatch, it had broken just after six o’clock.”

“It must have broken when he got attacked by the killer,” Kirigiri added. “After all, the rest of us saw it working when he told us how late Naegi and Togami were last night, near ten – which means the attack must have occurred around six this morning.”

“That’s before Yamada’s attack,” Naegi said. “It’s even before Celeste got attacked at seven. We were mistaken about the order of the attacks because of the numbering on the Justice Hammers.”

Togami nodded, seeing the pieces come together. “That’s why the killer numbered the hammers and had them increase in size – to encourage us to make that wrong assumption.”

“And that means that none of us has an alibi for Ishimaru’s death,” Kirigiri went on.

“But it doesn’t change the facts about Yamada’s death,” Ogami pointed out. “All our alibis hold true for that one.”

“Yeah, we heard him scream and everything,” Asahina said. “Everyone was together then except for Togami and Kirigiri.”

“And there is also the matter of when the bodies disappeared,” Celeste said. “When Yamada’s body vanished, Asahina and I were together in the bathroom, while the others were in the equipment room. And when Ishimaru’s body disappeared, we were all in the nurse’s office. Only Togami and Kirigiri had the opportunity to move the bodies during these times.”

Togami looked at Kirigiri for a moment, wondering – but no, this was still part of the culprit’s trap. Everything about the alibis had been arranged too exactly, and he’d be a fool to let it distract him. Her disappearance still raised questions, but those could wait until the trial was finished.

“We shouldn’t be thinking about the who right now,” Kirigiri said, echoing Togami’s own thoughts. “We need to focus on the how.”

“That’s right,” Naegi said, tapping a finger against his chin. “Someone dragged Yamada’s body out of the nurse’s office during the minute that Celeste and Asahina were gone. We have to figure out how they did it.”

And then Togami saw it, in a flash of clarity, and he could have kicked himself for missing something so obvious.

Kirigiri smirked. “What if I told you the dead body moved on its own?”

Hagakure went pale and clutched at his hair. “No, not another ghost!”

Togami glowered at him. Trust Hagakure to drag the discussion into idiocy whenever possible. “That’s not what she meant. She’s implying that Yamada wasn’t actually dead at that point, and simply left the nurse’s office by walking out on his own.”

“I knew my White Knight wouldn’t give up without a fight!” Fukawa clasped her hands to her chest and gazed at him, her smile tilting crazily. “He’s still spinning a web of lies to ensnare us, to drag us down into the pits of hell.”

“Indeed,” Celeste agreed. “We all heard the body discover announcement when Yamada’s body was found in the nurse’s office, did we not?”

“But that was the same time Ishimaru’s body was found in the equipment room,” Naegi said. “We don’t know for sure which body the announcement was for. But we did hear a second announcement – later on, when we rediscovered the bodies in the repository.”

“What do you say, Monokuma?” Togami turned to the robot bear sitting over them all on his throne. “Do you replay the announcement for multiple discoveries?”

“Well, it’s a very sensitive issue,” Monokuma said. “All I can tell you is that the body discovery announcement is only broadcast when three or more people discover a body for the first time.”

“So that means that finding the same body a second time wouldn’t result in another announcement,” Togami said. “In fact, it means that if Yamada was dead in the nurse’s office, you should have heard two announcements at the same time, instead of one then and another later.”

“And it’s not just that,” Naegi added, as soon as Togami had finished. “I have another reason for thinking Yamada was still alive in the nurse’s office. When we found him there, we all saw the blood on his glasses – but later, in the repository, his glasses were clean again. I even found a glasses cleaning cloth in the nurse’s office trash can, covered in blood.” Naegi produced a bloody rag, and even from across the circle it was obvious that the thing had one of Yamada’s stupid anime characters on it.

“So if Yamada was still alive in the nurse’s office, the disappearance of Ishimaru’s body is easily explained,” Kirigiri said, taking up the thread from Naegi without a pause. “He must have moved the body himself while the rest of you went down to the nurse’s office.”

“And that would explain how the repository door got locked,” Naegi said. “Asahina and I both found that door locked, but it only locks from the inside. Yamada must have done it while he was storing Ishimaru’s body in there, while we were searching the school.”

“So Yamada wasn’t just a victim in this case – he was one of the assailants,” Kirigiri concluded, a faint smile on her lips as she finally paused the wall of arguments, giving the others in the group a chance to speak.

“Then – you think he took part in the murders?” Ogami asked, stunned.

“Absolutely. There’s even more evidence to prove it,” Kirigiri said. “The single biggest fact pointing to his involvement has yet to be revealed.”

Naegi nodded. “You mean the note Yamada had hidden, right?” He pulled it out and held it up for them all to see. “Look, it says to meet the writer in the equipment room at six o’clock – that’s the same time and place that Ishimaru was attacked. The killer must have used this to lure Ishimaru out of his room.”

“But you just said Yamada had the note, not Ishimaru,” Asahina protested.

“Because he probably stole it from Ishimaru’s corpse,” Naegi said. “We also found this scrap of paper clutched in Ishimaru’s hand.” He pulled it out and put it next to the note, showing everyone how the torn lines on the two papers fit together perfectly.

“And if Yamada knew the note was important enough to try to take it, then he must have been an accomplice in the murder,” Kirigiri said.

“But – wait, then who killed Yamada?” Asahina asked.

“Whoever did it could only have killed him after Ishimaru’s body disappeared, but before we rediscovered the bodies,” Ogami said slowly. “That was when we had split up to search for the bodies – meaning that none of us have alibis for that time period.”

“So after Yamada moved Ishimaru’s body to the repository, someone else killed him,” Kirigiri said. “That person can only be the true culprit in this case – the one who was working with Yamada, but then betrayed him.”

“Which is e-e-exactly the sort of thing my White Knight would do!” Fukawa said, clenching her fists. “He’d only pretend to work with one of you – he wouldn’t really join forces with anyone!”

“That is a fair assessment,” Celeste said. “But I do not see why you all seem to believe that anyone would work together in the first place. We discussed this already, did we not? An accomplice has no chance of benefitting from a crime, since only a single blackened can graduate from a murder.”

“But there were two murders,” Naegi said. “So isn’t it at least plausible that there could be two killers?”

“With two murders, there could be one blackened per death,” Kirigiri said. “That opens the possibility of mutual benefit from cooperation – two killers who could also act as each other’s accomplices.”

“Everything occurred seamlessly to make us all think there was only one person killing multiple people, but that was just part of the killer’s plan,” Naegi said.

“Which means that everything was set up perfectly to allow the true culprit to betray and murder Yamada,” Togami said. “The betrayal must have been part of the plan from the beginning.”

“Didn’t I s-say so?” Fukawa said, a half-smile twisting her face.

Togami scowled at her. “Are you suggesting that I’m arguing now to foil my own plan? Be serious.”

Fukawa jerked back. “But – no, it has to be you. Everything would make s-sense if it were you!”

“No, it doesn’t!” Naegi insisted, leaning forward with his eyes flashing – and even in the middle of the trial, seeing Naegi so fierce in his defense sent a rush of unexpected warmth through Togami. “Everything the killer did was designed to deflect suspicion away from them and onto Togami. At this point, he should be the only one we don’t suspect!”

“Then who was it?” Ogami asked, frowning as she thought. “If it wasn’t Togami, then who was the one pulling Yamada’s strings?”

All eyes moved around the circle, each of them studying the others as they wondered. But with the way the case had played out, there was only one choice left. Togami let his gaze turn to the culprit, seeing that Kirigiri did the same. They were obviously of the same mind on this question.

But it was Naegi who finally raised a hand to make it definite as he pointed at Celeste. “You’re the only one!”

Chapter Text

Celeste didn’t flinch as all eyes turned to her. “Oh, really? So I’m the suspicious individual now? I really do hate this kind of joke.”

Togami narrowed his eyes at her as she smiled innocently. So she was the one who had done it – who had tried to frame him for her crime. He’d wondered who she really was, underneath the constant gothic persona she wore. Well, now he knew – and he intended to leave her elegant cloak of lies in shreds by the time he was done making her pay.

“A joke?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “I don’t think you have anything to laugh about. There’s proof that you and Yamada were working together – the behavior we saw throughout the investigation only from the two of you.”

“You mean the Robo Justice suit, don’t you?” Naegi said. “In the whole investigation, Celeste and Yamada were the only ones to see him.”

“Exactly.” Togami couldn’t help but smile across the circle at Naegi. “If I’d been there for the events themselves, I would have caught it sooner. All accounts of anyone seeing the costumed individual came from one of you. Now that we’ve proved Yamada’s involvement in the case, his account is suspect – and that means your claims are equally suspicious.”

“Because Celeste was the one who saw a shape on the stairs after we left the nurse’s office!” Naegi’s words were addressed to the whole circle, but his eyes never left Togami’s. “And then later, we only went to the third floor because she screamed.”

“And that was the signal for her partner to get to work,” Togami said. “Back in the nurse’s office, Yamada screamed himself, creating a scenario where you would all have to divide into two groups to address both problems – and where you would discover both bodies at the same time.”

Naegi nodded. “Celeste was even the one who suggested that we split up in the first place. And it’s not just that – in the nurse’s office, she was the first one to say that Yamada had been murdered, even though we know now he wasn’t actually dead at that point.”

“She wanted to control your reactions and ensure none of you doubted the apparent murder,” Togami agreed. “Since any investigation of the body at that point would have revealed her ruse. Each piece isn’t much by itself, but put together and the picture looks very ugly indeed.” He broke his gaze away from Naegi’s to turn and smirk at Celeste. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

“No, I would not.” Celeste’s smile didn’t falter. “You may claim it looks however you wish, but it is only your word that this is anything more than a series of coincidences.”

“No, it’s more than that,” Naegi said, drawing her attention from Togami to him. “There’s one thing you said that coincidence can’t explain away. When Yamada’s body disappeared and we all went back to the nurse’s office, you said that we were all wondering if we’d die just like ‘those guys’ – but at that point, no one had told you about Ishimaru’s death yet. We didn’t even meet you until we were back in the hall, so you couldn’t have seen the body, either.”

“And at that point, Kirigiri had disappeared as well,” Togami added, bringing Celeste’s head swinging back towards him. “So if that is what you said, you would have had no reason to assume it was another male who had died, when it could just as easily have been her.”

“Can you explain it, Celeste?” Naegi asked, leaning forward over his podium. “Do you have some other explanation?”

Celeste’s gaze darted from Naegi to Togami and back again before she clasped her hands with her most unyieldingly innocent smile yet. “You both have such vivid imaginations. But I do not have to explain anything – it is the two of you who must explain the photo I took of the costumed villain dragging Yamada away. After all, this is definitive evidence, is it not? Much more convincing than your fanciful tales.”

Togami frowned, looking at the photo again. He knew he hadn’t dragged Yamada anywhere, and they’d already established no one but him could wear that ridiculous costume. The idea of a second identical costume made for someone else was too nonsensical to even consider – they would have turned it up if it existed. He looked across the circle at Naegi – but the other boy’s face was equally blank.

“Are we sure that’s really a picture of the suspect dragging Yamada away?”

Kirigiri’s words cut through the stalemate, drawing their attention to her. She tapped one gloved finger against her chin as she thought, apparently unmoved by their gazes.

“There is nothing else this picture could show,” Celeste said flatly.

“I think there is,” Kirigiri said. “It could just as easily be a picture of Yamada dragging the suspect. With the costume covering the suspect’s face, there is no way to judge what they’re doing from the photo alone – or if they’re even conscious.”

“That’s right,” Naegi said. “Because the suit couldn’t bend at the waist, the person inside would have to stand upright like that even if they were knocked out.”

“Quite a strange design flaw,” Togami said. “Well, strange unless that was part of your plan all along – to build a costume specifically designed to make the person inside it look guilty.” He smirked. “I suppose this is checkmate.”

Celeste jerked back away from her podium, a thin trickle of sweat visible on her cheek as her eyes darted around the trio facing her from the circle. Togami drank in the look on her face with satisfaction – yes, there it was, the crack in her perfect façade.

But then, as if it had never happened, her usual smile snapped back into place, and she raised a graceful hand to her lips to cover a laugh. It started as a delicate sound, like tinkling bells, but then it didn’t stop, spiraling out into wild peals of hysterics until she slammed her hand down on the podium and screamed.

“Don’t make me laugh, you idiot! What do you mean, checkmate?” Her voice had changed entirely, rough and sharp and lacking any of her usual elegance. “You want to call me guilty? Have you already forgotten about what Yamada said when he was dying? We asked who had attacked him, and he didn’t start to say Celestia Ludenberg, did he? No, the name he tried to say began with a T! In other words, Byakuya Togami!”

Togami rolled his eyes. “A letter isn’t a name. He could have been trying to say anything.”

“No, I’m pretty sure he was trying to say a name,” Asahina said, shaking her head.

“But that doesn’t mean he was trying to say Togami,” Kirigiri said. “After all, Yamada always referred to everyone by their full names, not just by their last names.”

“Then are you suggesting that he was trying to accuse Toko Fukawa?” Ogami asked, puzzled.

“M-me?” Fukawa jerked back, sending a poisonous glare around the room. “Of course you’d all think–”

“No one thinks that,” Naegi reassured her. “Because there’s one other person he could have meant – one person whose real name we still don’t know.” He pinned his gaze on Celeste. “You never actually told us your real name.”

“Oh, really? Then open you earholes up real wide and listen!” Celeste’s voice shook with rage as she tried and failed to maintain her calm demeanor. “My name is Celestia Ludenberg! It’s the truth, and none of you have any way to contradict me!”

“Maybe we don’t, but your e-handbook does,” Naegi said. “It shows the owner’s name when you turn it on, right? So if we just look at Celeste’s e-handbook, we can see what her real name is.” His expression turned pleading. "Come on, Celeste – can’t you tell us the truth about what happened?”

Celeste glared at him. “I refuse to cooperate! Even put in check, it is not in my nature to give up! Until the game’s over, you never know what might happen!”

“Fine.” Naegi’s eyes blazed with determination. “Then let me go over the whole case, from beginning to end, and shed light on all your crimes.”

Naegi’s summation ran through all the details of the case, missing nothing, as relentless as the rising tide. Togami smiled, listening to Naegi call on proof after proof of his innocence, watching each piece of evidence slam home into Celeste like a bullet. Her gothic poise lay shattered around her like broken glass, leaving her exposed for the liar and murderer she was. And even as her world fell apart around her, Naegi didn’t stop, an avenging angel wielding weapons of pure truth. Nothing could have torn Togami’s eyes away from him in that moment.

“And the villain behind it all is Celeste!” Naegi concluded, pointing across the circle. “Sorry, you lose!”

“I lost?” Celeste drew back. “When was the last time I was forced to utter those words?”

“Then you admit you’re the killer?” Naegi pressed.

“Heh. Listen to you.” Her elegant poise returned, but it settled unsteadily on her shoulders now that they’d seen what was beneath. “I, Celestia Ludenberg –” But then she stopped, and something fell away from her face as she stared off into nothing. “Actually, no.” Her voice had changed, the exotic accent disappearing to leave only plain, ordinary words. “No. Taeko Yasuhiro is fine.”

“Taeko?” A smile curled across Togami’s lips at that final admission. “So you’ve finally accepted it.”

Celeste shrugged. “Once I’ve lost, I don’t like things to drag on.” She looked up to the throne at the head of the circle. “Okay, Monokuma. I’m ready to begin – or no, I suppose this is the end, isn’t it?”

Chapter Text

There wasn’t much of a choice as they all reached for their voting levers – not when Celeste had admitted her guilt in that final moment. Togami didn’t hesitate to select Celeste from the options, and from the speed with which the vote concluded, no one else had had many doubts either.

Celeste watched the flashing lights settle on her image with an explosion of multicolored confetti. “So I lost. Well, that sucks.”

“Your biggest mistake was trying to frame me instead of someone more believable,” Togami told her. “No one capable of using their brains would really think that I would wear something as ludicrous as that costume if I were going to kill someone. Your ploy was flawed from the start.”

“Was it?” She shrugged. “Framing you meant that you missed most of the investigation, and it left Naegi emotionally unbalanced. When I told Yamada what kind of disguise we would need, I didn’t expect him to make something like… that. I guess trying to work with someone else was a mistake, after all.”

“But how did you get Yamada to agree to commit murder?” Kirigiri asked. “Did you use…?”

“Ah, of course you would figure it out.” Celeste smiled at Kirigiri. “For those of you who are still left, I’ll avoid mentioning it by name, but yes. I used the one thing that both Yamada and Ishimaru were obsessed with.”

The plan Celeste explained to them certainly did highlight her talent for lying – but on the other hand, fooling someone like Yamada wouldn’t exactly have been difficult. Togami wasn’t inclined to give Celeste any credit at all, not after everything she’d put them through – and especially not since one of her lies had apparently been to try to undermine Naegi’s faith in him.

“And Yamada believed the lies wholeheartedly, right up to the moment of his death,” Celeste finished, idly twisting a curl around her finger.

“How can human life mean so little to you?” Asahina demanded, her outrage clear.

Celeste looked puzzled. “But that’s a non-issue. I simply did everything in my power to win.”

“Now you sound like Togami!” Hagakure accused.

But before Togami could sneer at this statement as it deserved, Celeste looked sharply over at Hagakure, with more animation than she’d shown since she’d admitted her name. “Oh? I sound like him, is that it? Do I sound lovesick and brainwashed into remaining here forever? Do I sound like my resolve to leave has been broken?”

Togami stared at her. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Don’t you know? But Monokuma spelled it out for us during that assembly.” Without her gothic façade, Celeste’s red stare was somehow even more unsettling as it landed on Togami. “By connecting yourself to Naegi, you lost the will to graduate. Having a strong attachment to any of the others forces a player to bow out of the game – even someone like you, who started out so determined to win. Mere days, and your resolve was gone.”

“My resolve is perfectly intact,” Togami gritted out. “I’ve just refocused it on a more appropriate goal.”

“And is that how you would have viewed it when we began the killing game?” Celeste countered. “You changed. Your interaction with another player turned you into something that your original self would find unrecognizable and repellant – and it happened without your knowing.”

“Then it’s just that you were upset about that?” Asahina asked in disbelief. “You decided to murder two people because Togami and Naegi started dating?”

“Not because it happened to them,” Celeste said calmly. “Because I didn’t want it to happen to me. When Monokuma made that announcement, I could see the threat facing us all – the one that Togami succumbed to. The more time I spent around all of you, the greater the chance that one of you might affect me enough to break my own resolve and force me to give up on the one thing that matters most to me right now. You see, from the moment our new life here began, my only thought has been escape.”

“But you’ve been telling us about how we should all just accept living here!” Hagakure protested.

“Obviously that was a lie!” Celeste snarled, fury smashing through her forced calmness as she glared. “I couldn’t take it! I hated it here more than anyone else! I wanted to get out! Every day was fresh torture! Do you have any idea what it was like to realize that one of you could make me accept it? That every agonizing second in this pit dragged me closer to staying here for good? I couldn’t accept that – not when a life here would mean giving up on my dream forever.”

“We all have dreams, you know,” Ogami said. “Things we want that we can’t do in here.”

“But if you won’t kill for them, then there is something else that you value more,” Celeste said, her mask slipping on again as she smiled. “And I will not place a higher value on anything than on my dream – not after risking my life time and again in the underground world of gambling just for a chance to achieve it.”

“What dream are you talking about?” Asahina asked. “What could be worth it?”

“To live in a European castle.” Celeste smiled sweetly. As she elaborated on her warped plan to create a gothic castle filled with vampire cosplayers, any trace of sympathy evaporated off the other students’ faces.

“I would never have had the chance to make it a reality from within these walls,” she said at last. “But it seems my dream has been scattered to the winds. Still, I pursued my dream to the very end, so I don’t have any regrets.”

“But you didn’t have to take it so far!” The words seemed to catch in Naegi’s throat, and when Togami looked over at him, he saw that the other boy looked crushed at Celeste’s explanation. “If – if all you really wanted was to get out, then – then if we’d just worked together –“

“Do you really believe that?” Celeste looked at Naegi, seeming almost puzzled by his misery. “Well, perhaps you do. But I have lived my life as a gambler, you see, and I play by a gambler’s rules.” She leaned forward. “You can win against the other players, but you can never beat the house. I think nothing of sacrificing other people for my own ends. That is how different our values are. There is simply no room for understanding.”

“How can you be so calm about it?” Asahina asked. “You’re about to die! Aren’t you scared?”

Celeste looked at her. “My ability to lie is unrivaled. It’s not just others – I can even deceive my own emotions. So I don’t fear death. Kill me however you like.”

But when she tried to smile, the expression shook on her face, a weak mockery of her words. So she was afraid after all. Togami narrowed his eyes at her, remembering those moments in the locker after he’d heard the first body discovery announcement when bone-deep terror for Naegi’s wellbeing struck him. What she felt now had to be exponentially worse than what she’d inflicted on him, not the worry over a possibility, but the dread of an approaching certainty. Good.

“You all done then?” Monokuma’s cheerful voice rang out. “Good, then let’s get rolling!”

“Then I’ll let you hold on to this.” Celeste passed a key over to Kirigiri. “I don’t know if it will give you the hope you’re looking for. I didn’t believe it would, but maybe –” She stopped and shook her head. “Well, it doesn’t matter. Take care, everyone.”

“Let’s give it everything we’ve got!” Monokuma said, not giving anyone else a chance to answer. “It’s punishment time!”

The chains shot out of the wall to lock around Celeste’s neck and haul her away. On the wall across the room, the elaborate creamy curtains on one of the false windows fell away to reveal a real window, looking out on a gothic castle courtyard.

Not wanting to get closer, but knowing Monokuma would force them to watch, the remaining students slowly stepped away from their podiums and made their way to the window. Togami started to seek out Naegi as he went, only to find that the other boy was already at his side, standing just close enough for their arms to brush together. That wasn’t enough, though, not after all this. Togami didn’t draw attention by looking away from the window, but he quietly let his hand slip over so his fingers could interlock with Naegi’s. And as a stake rose up in the middle of the courtyard, revealing Celeste tied to it, Naegi gripped his hand in return.


Junko leaned back in her chair and grinned as her firetruck smashed Celeste to pieces. Now that was what she called a job well done – or should it be medium rare, since the flames hadn’t had a chance to burn? Hah, Celeste would have hated that pun, wouldn’t she? Too bad there wasn’t enough of her left to make faces about it now.

Now, how were her precious classmates taking it? The shock of death could be so brutal. Junko switched her control from the castle to the Monokuma on the trial grounds, basking in the horrified expressions before her. Asahina looked like she was going to be sick, poor dear, and Ogami was too caught up in her hypocritical fury to notice. And –

Oh. Oh, dear. What was that? Junko tilted the Monokuma’s head, trying to move the camera to get a better look.

Standing in the center of the group, Naegi certainly looked just as horrorstricken as she’d expected, eyes trembling and shoulders quivering like he might burst into an adorable mess of tears. It was all perfectly appropriate for a kind boy who’d just seen one of his dear friends die painfully. And next to him, Togami stood cold and aloof, only the faintest hint of creases around his eyes and mouth suggesting that he’d seen anything appalling – again, just how he ought to look.

The part that made Junko frown was the way their hands clasped together, a tiny instance of strength in the middle of despair.

It was sweet. It was a touching reaffirmation of their feelings for each other.

It was boring.

Junko drummed her fingers on the console, all her delight for her darling classmates draining away. Everything she’d done before, the embarrassing assemblies and heart-shaped confetti – it all sounded so tedious now. Who cared if the boys were staring at each other like googly-eyed sheep?

It was time for a new approach.

Chapter Text

Through Celeste’s entire execution and Monokuma’s subsequent taunts, Togami couldn’t bring himself to let go of Naegi’s hand. The whole group could see – and judging by a few glances in that direction, they had – but he hardly cared what they thought about it at this point. Not when the warm pressure on his hand gave him a physical reminder that they’d survived another trial intact, and that Naegi was alive and beside him.

It could so easily have gone another way. Not that they could have lost, of course – once they were all arrayed against her on the trial ground, Celeste hadn’t had a chance. But if she’d chosen to let things play out differently – if she’d actually gone to the furthest extreme of making it look like he’d just been using Naegi –

The thought still made him shiver. Their position in this school really was precarious, wasn’t it? He’d known that something could happen at any point, but now the realization truly hit home. One of the others could still turn against them – and while an intelligent person wouldn’t try something too similar to Celeste’s attempt, some of the remaining students could hardly be accused of intelligence.

He would have to start taking further precautions. Disappearing on his own might have been a reasonable thing to do when it was only his own safety he needed to worry about, but it had become a poor move now that Naegi was a factor. It wasn’t just last night, when he’d been distracted enough for the killers to grab him – by separating himself from Naegi, he’d created a weakness between them that Celeste had been able to exploit.

The connection between Naegi and himself meant that he had to consider them a unit in his calculations. He had to take himself into account as part of a pair, not as an individual. It was a new way of thinking, one that felt strange to him after so many years of working on his own – but he would just have to learn to do it. He was not going to leave himself vulnerable again.

And one of the things that meant was that he needed to resolve his argument with Naegi. He hadn’t changed his mind about there being a traitor amongst them – if anything, the events of this trial left him more convinced of it than ever – and he still doubted he could convince Naegi to doubt one of the other students, not without definitive proof. But there had to be some kind of middle ground, didn’t there? There had to be some way that they could just agree to leave the issue alone until he could find the evidence he needed to convince Naegi.

But it wasn’t just the argument. If they were a unit, that meant that whatever was happening between them couldn’t be left to stand on its own. Even if Naegi had fought for Togami throughout the whole trial, part of the reason he’d needed to do it was that they had left holes in everything they’d shared. Anything that they left vague or undefined between them was a potential target, and any point where their connection was weak was a point where someone could try to shatter it. Togami had no intention of allowing anything like that to happen, not again. He needed to make Naegi understand that, as well.

Finally, Monokuma stopped his blathering and disappeared, leaving the rest of the students as alone as they ever got in the presence of the security cameras.

“Hey, Kirigiri?” Naegi asked, turning a little away from Togami to face the girl. “What was that key that Celeste gave you?”

Kirigiri smiled, touching the pocket where she’d stowed the key. “It’s most likely the key to one of the dressing room lockers.”

Togami nodded. “So Celeste probably hid it in there.”

“Well, then we’d better go check,” Ogami said.

They left the trial ground to pile into the elevator, and frankly Togami was glad to leave the overwrought room of gothic midnight behind for good. But when they approached the dressing room, Kirigiri stopped.

“I’m going to go on alone from here. Everyone else go to the dining hall. I’ll check in with you later.”

Togami narrowed his eyes at her, his suspicions about her disappearance resurfacing now that the trial had ended. “Why exactly are you going alone?”

“Do you even have to ask?” Her eyes flickered towards the surveillance cameras, quickly enough that only the most observant person could catch it.

“That’s not what I meant,” Togami snapped. As if she thought that he of all people would forget that the cameras watched their every move. “Why you? There’s still the risk of a spy, you know.”

He knew Naegi wouldn’t like hearing that – but it had to be said. Kirigiri might be an asset in the trials, but in the rest of the school, she couldn’t be trusted. Anyone who went to the lengths she took to remain mysterious had a reason to remain an unknown quantity. That would be the safest identity for a traitor to assume – one that involved revealing as little as possible about the past. And with his suspicions about her, Togami knew he wouldn’t trust anything she reported about whether Alter Ego was there or not.

But then Naegi’s hand slipped out of his. “Then I’ll go, too.” And Naegi actually walked away from him to stand beside Kirigiri.

“What?” Togami stared at Naegi, his hand feeling unexpectedly cold and empty now that Naegi had let it go. “You?”

“You’ll believe it if we both say the same thing, right?” Naegi said.

The others all nodded, as if their opinions mattered at all. Togami looked from Naegi to Kirigiri and back again. Don’t go with her, he wanted to say. Don’t trust her, don’t be alone with her. Stay with me where I can make sure you’re safe.

But he knew Naegi wouldn’t – not without a fight, anyway. And a noisy, attention-getting fight was one thing they couldn’t afford to have right now.

“Do whatever you want,” Togami said, turning and heading towards the cafeteria. At least if he walked away first, he wouldn’t have to see Naegi go off with Kirigiri.

“Thank you, Togami,” he heard Naegi say behind him.

It wasn’t much, but – well, hadn’t he just realized that fighting only left them open to attack? So before he disappeared through the cafeteria doors, he glanced back just once over his shoulder, caught Naegi’s eye, and lifted the hand Naegi had been holding in a brief wave. The bright smile Naegi sent him in return proved it had been the right decision.

In the dining hall, Togami quickly claimed one of the smaller tables for himself, leaving the others to congregate around the larger table. As they all drifted in and settled down to wait, though, their eyes kept sliding towards him, presumably when they thought he wasn’t looking. Togami scowled down at the table and pretended he didn’t notice. Waiting for something – what a pointless waste of time, and he didn’t even have a book to try to keep the boredom away. Maybe he should try to go up to the library instead –

Footsteps sounded across the room, and Togami looked up to see Asahina approaching him. “What do you want?”

“Well, I wanted to talk to you.” She clasped her hands, looking rather dejected. “Or – I guess I wanted to apologize to you. I guess some of the things we said about you weren’t true after all.”

“No, they weren’t,” Togami said coldly. “You were entirely drawn in to Celeste’s web of lies, and if it had been left to you, we’d all be dead and she would have won.”

Asahina drooped at his words. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” She bit her lip, and seemed to muster some scraps of determination. So then, this would be what she’d actually come here to say, not that joke of an apology. “Uh, Togami? Since you’re not the culprit, does that mean you’re really going to be on our side now?”

Togami rolled his eyes. “Ugh. Don’t say it like that, you’ll make me ill.”

“Then it’s true?” Asahina pressed. Togami looked behind her, and he could see that Hagakure, Ogami, and Fukawa were all listening in without a pretense of doing anything else. “Everything about Naegi making you not want to kill us anymore – that was for real?”

“Killing the rest of you still wouldn’t bother me,” Togami said, raising his voice a little so the eavesdroppers could get it clearly as well.

“That’s a lie.” The words came from Fukawa, a low rumble that rolled across the room. “Nothing but a f-filthy lie.” She looked up and her eyes found his, and Togami found himself leaning back in his chair at the intensity of her gaze. “Celeste was right. You can’t kill any of us anymore. You gave up.”

Togami didn’t really want to encourage her by addressing her directly, but he couldn’t let that stand. “I’ve done nothing of the sort. If you’d bothered to think about it, you’d see that. I’ve switched my sights to the greater target, that’s all. Instead of trying to defeat you lot, I intend to bring down the mastermind.”

“R-really?” Fukawa laughed, dry and brittle, and her shoulders shook with it till it looked like she might fall to pieces. “You think y-y-you can do that? Because my White Knight could have, but you?” She shot to her feet so fast that her chair crashed to the floor behind her, splintering to pieces as it hit the ground. “You’re just another stupid boy.”

And with that, she headed for the door and left, braids streaming behind her.

Togami huffed out a sigh as soon as she was gone. “Good riddance.”

Asahina turned to him in disbelief. “You haven’t changed much, have you?” She shook her head. “I hope you’re nicer to Naegi.”

Togami didn’t bother to answer, and eventually Asahina shrugged and went back to her seat between Ogami and Hagakure.

Togami tried not to watch the clock, but it was hard not to keep track of the minutes that slipped away. What were Kirigiri and Naegi doing in that dressing room? How much could an AI stored on a laptop possibly have to say to them?

He just hoped it hadn’t been a mistake, letting Naegi go off with Kirigiri alone. He didn’t think she’d do anything to him, not when they all knew perfectly well that he’d been alone with her – but there were things she could try other than physical harm. She could tell him lies, try to trick him – and Naegi was so nice that he would believe her until he had hard evidence that he shouldn’t.

Togami had just started considering whether he ought to go check on them when finally – finally – the dining hall door opened, and Kirigiri entered.

And then the door swung shut again behind her, and she crossed calmly to take a seat like she hadn’t expected anything else.

Togami stared blankly at the closed door for a moment, then strode over to Kirigiri and slammed his hands down on either side of the chair. “Where the hell is Naegi? What did you do to him?”

Chapter Text

Kirigiri didn’t bat an eye at Togami’s snarl, even though he was mere inches from her face. “I haven’t done anything to Naegi. He left to take care of something else, that’s all.”

“Oh, really? Then what was it?” Togami demanded. “Why wouldn’t he come back?”

“You’ll have to ask him about that.” Kirigiri dropped her eyes to his hands. “You can move back now.”

Togami briefly considered shoving her chair backwards and sending the coolly confident girl sprawling across the floor – but that wouldn’t achieve anything. Being petty was only worth it when the victim would react, and he knew she wouldn’t. He took his hands off the chair and took a single step back.

“Good,” Kirigiri said. “Now –”

“When will he be coming back?”

She shot him an irritated glance. “Later on, I expect.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“What it sounds like,” she said. “Do you want to know what we found or not? The nighttime announcement will be coming any minute.”

The two needs for knowledge warred in Togami’s head for a moment as he considered her. “The whole point of having a second person along was that he’d be able to verify what you tell us.”

“And he will,” Kirigiri said. “Later.”

Togami scowled. He didn’t like that answer at all – but the nighttime curfew would start soon. If he wanted to hear what Kirigiri had to say tonight, this would be his only chance. And Naegi was always very scrupulous about obeying the group’s self-imposed curfew – even if he’d gone off somewhere, he’d return to meet them in the dining hall before the announcement sounded.

Though it didn’t do Kirigiri any favors in terms of Togami’s suspicions that Naegi just happened to be gone when she would be revealing information about Alter Ego, even after the objections to that scenario. Still, he’d definitely verify everything she said with Naegi later, point by point, and if she’d lied about anything – well, that would be the proof he needed about her.

“Fine,” he said at last, claiming one of the other chairs at the main table. “Get on with it, then.”

“As I was saying,” Kirigiri said, looking over at the rest of the group. “Everything turned out to be just where we’d expect. Nothing was out of place at all.”

So Alter Ego was safe after all, then – at least if Kirigiri could be trusted on the matter. Togami nodded, willing to accept the information for the moment. There had always been the possibility that Celeste had actually destroyed the laptop and was only directing them to its broken pieces, but it seemed she hadn’t been quite that vindictive. Rather surprising, actually. If it had been Togami, he rather thought that he would have smashed the computer, knowing that anyone who used it again would only be doing so if he lost and got killed.

Ding dong, ding dong.

The bells for the nighttime announcement played. Togami looked back at the dining hall door, frowning. Nighttime, and Naegi still hadn’t returned?

“The dining hall is off-limits now, right?” Asahina stood up. “We should get back to the dorms, then.”

Togami hesitated as the others headed for the door - but he was probably just being ridiculous. Now that the curfew had officially begun, Naegi would presumably return directly to the dorms instead of the dining hall tonight, when he came back from wherever he’d been. In fact, he might have realized the time and headed back to the dorms already.

But when they all made it back to their own rooms, it didn’t seem that way. Togami tried the doorbell at Naegi’s door once – twice – a third time, longer than either of the others – but there was no response. Naegi wouldn’t ignore the doorbell, Togami was sure of that. So that meant he hadn’t returned yet.

Fear trickled slowly but steadily towards Togami’s heart, along with the bitter realization that his first instinct had been right after all. He shouldn’t have let Naegi go off alone with Kirigiri after all. She’d caused this. Wherever Naegi had decided to go off to without telling anyone, it was her doing.

Togami thought about going and trying the bell at Kirigiri’s door instead – but she’d probably just stonewall him again. He had no leverage to use against her, that was the problem. He wanted information from her, but she had no reason to give it.

Where could Naegi be? If Togami could just think of some idea, then he could go and look – but he couldn’t very well scour the entire school by himself at night. And leaving meant risking that he would miss the moment Naegi returned.

Togami sighed, leaning against the wall outside Naegi’s door. Was it possible he was just overreacting? Maybe there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for where Naegi had gone, and he’d feel like an idiot once he heard it. Maybe he was just tired and overwrought from the day’s trial, and he was exaggerating the dangers.

He didn’t believe any of that, of course, but there was some small comfort in thinking about how things might turn out okay. It was better than dwelling on the alternative, at any rate.

Maybe he’d be better off returning to his own room to wait there. Then at least he wouldn’t feel so exposed standing there in the middle of the hallway. If he left his door open, he’d be able to see if Naegi returned. He’d have to be careful not to fall asleep that way, of course, but he didn’t think he’d be able to get much rest until he knew what had happened.

He was just about to turn and head for his room when he heard a faint scuffling from the other side of the floor. He paused, looking over in that direction, but it didn’t look like there was anything out of place. But – no, there it was again, a little louder this time, like it was coming closer.

Togami slipped around the corner that led to the storage room, keeping a careful eye on all the doors that led into the main hall as the noise slowly got a little nearer. It sounded like it was coming from the hallway to the rest of the first floor, if he judged correctly. He narrowed his eyes at the gate that barred the hall – just as a small figure stumbled closer, steadying himself against the wall. Another faltering step brought the person into the light enough for Togami to recognize Naegi. The boy leaned heavily against the wall, staring at the gate like it presented an insurmountable obstacle.

Before Naegi could make a move towards it, Togami had the gate open and stood in front of him. “What happened to you?”

Now that he was closer, Togami could see a thousand details that all said he’d been right to worry. Naegi looked disheveled, dirt smudged on his face and a film of dust and grime clinging to his clothes. Scrapes marked his palms, and there was a tear along one sleeve of his jacket. And his hair – what had happened to make it lie so disturbingly flat?

Togami raised a hand to touch the place where Naegi’s usually fluffy hair had been matted to the back of his head – and just as he’d feared, his fingers came away bloody.

“Ow.” Naegi winced, leaning away. “Don’t – that still hurts.”

“I’m sure it does,” Togami said grimly. He looked around the hallway, peering back into the darkness. He didn’t see anything – but that didn’t mean there was nothing there. “Come on, you need to get back and rest.”

Naegi nodded unsteadily. “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.”

Togami definitely didn’t trust Naegi to walk on his own in this state. He slid an arm around Naegi’s shoulders, taking on as much of the boy’s weight as he could as they made the long trek across the hall to where the dorms were. Naegi shook with every step like he was drawing on his last reserves of strength, even with the support.

How far had Naegi already been forced to drag himself in this condition? Togami thought of Naegi trying to navigate the dark, empty halls of the school by himself, hurt and suffering from a head injury, and for a moment white hot rage clouded his vision. What if Naegi had been too badly injured to make it here? He could have easily collapsed somewhere – and if it were somewhere out of the way, who knew when they might have found him? It could so very easily have been too late.

Naegi’s room was a few steps closer than Togami’s, and even a few feet would make a difference considering Naegi’s condition. Togami located Naegi’s key and let them both in, making sure to lock the door behind them and then pocketing the key. With Naegi in this state, he was taking no chances.

“Thanks,” Naegi mumbled as Togami guided him over to the bed. He seemed to be running on autopilot at this point, and left to himself he probably would have simply flopped on top of the bed and fallen asleep there. That would hardly get him the rest he needed, though.

Once he’d ensured Naegi was safely ensconced in a nest of blankets and pillows that wouldn’t put pressure on his injured head, Togami settled on the edge of the bed beside him. Seeing the boy snuggled among the blankets would have been a charming picture in any other circumstances, but Togami couldn’t forget about the dirt, cuts, and blood left behind. None of it could be cleaned away until the water came back on in the morning, leaving Naegi marked with the evidence of whatever had befallen him. Naegi barely seemed to notice it at this point, but Togami couldn’t ignore it.

He reached out and ran a hand through Naegi’s hair, careful to avoid the part of his head where the injury was. “Naegi?”

“Mm…?” Naegi’s eyes were closed, but he didn’t seem fully asleep just yet. Good.

“What happened to you?” Togami kept his voice as soft as he could, gentle fingers continuing to stroke through Naegi’s hair.

“Got hit…” Naegi murmured, his voice quiet and fading. Togami had to lean close to hear it, close enough that Naegi was speaking almost directly into his ear.

So it hadn’t been an accident. “Who hit you?” Only Togami’s iron will kept the words from shaking with his fury at the thought. Someone had attacked Naegi, mere hours after the last trial had ended.

“Don’t… know.”

Well, that made sense, Togami supposed – whoever had done it must have snuck up on him. If he’d seen his attacker, no doubt he wouldn’t be here right now.

“Where were you?” he asked, trying a different tack.

“Can’t say.”

Togami’s fingers stilled in Naegi’s hair at that. Can’t say? Not that he didn’t know or something along those lines, but – can’t say? “Why not?”

“Promised… Kirigiri…” And with that, Naegi’s breathing evened out, and he dropped from his half-doze into true sleep.

Togami had to fight not to let his hands clench into a fist, not when his fingers were still trailing through Naegi’s hair. So wherever Naegi had gone this evening, Kirigiri had known about it. She’d sent Naegi to a place where he’d been attacked like this.

Togami was going to make her regret that decision.

Chapter Text

Naegi woke up slowly, the world blurring in and out of focus as he blinked up at the ceiling. So he’d made it all the way back to his room? That was a relief – for a while there, he’d really thought he might not be able to drag himself all the way across the first floor. But here he was in his own bed, with pillows propped around him in a soft nest of comfort. He couldn’t believe he’d had the energy to do all this –

And then a weight shifted on the other side of the bed, and Naegi realized he wasn’t alone. He forced himself to turn his head, sending a wave of fading aches through his skull, and he saw Togami sitting up and rubbing at a crick in his neck. Had he slept there?

The way his clothes wrinkled and his hair stuck in all directions suggested that he had. Naegi could kind of remember it now, though those last few minutes were still fuzzy. Just when he’d collapsed against the hallway wall, wondering how he’d ever be able to muster the strength to move the gate to the dorms, it had swung miraculously open. Togami had been there, as if he’d somehow known Naegi needed help and had been summoned to his side. Naegi remembered the soft murmur of words, the support of a strong arm, the sheer relief of being able to rely on another person.

“Are you awake?” Togami asked, propping himself up on one arm as he gave Naegi an appraising once over. Even though it was probably just an assessment of the state of his injuries, the straightforwardness of the look made Naegi blush.

“Yeah.” Naegi winced a little as speaking made his head twinge again. “Thanks.”

“For what, not leaving you in a broken heap on the ground for any passerby to murder?” Togami scoffed, rolling his eyes. “Be serious. If I’m not going to kill you myself, I’m certainly not going to let one of those other incompetent idiots get a chance at it.”

The words might have been harsh – but Naegi couldn’t really hear them that way, not when he’d been tucked so carefully into a nest of blankets. Not when Togami had chosen to stay beside him all night.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Naegi told him, smiling.

Togami rolled his eyes again and turned away to push himself off the bed – but not before Naegi saw a hint of pink high on his cheekbones.

Ding dong, ding dong.

The Monokuma announcement rang through the room, letting them know morning had officially arrived. Naegi grimaced, trying to sit up – and oh, that had been a bad idea. The room spun around his head in a whirl of sickening colors.

Hands caught his shoulders when he would have collapsed back against the bed. “Slowly!” Togami snapped. “Do you want to make yourself faint?”

As Naegi’s vision steadied, he realized Togami had bent down to peer intently into his eyes from less than a foot away. “Hmm. Well, you’re able to focus your eyes, at least.” He frowned. “Maybe the library has books on first aid.”

“I’m fine,” Naegi protested. He had to admit that the idea of Togami researching how to take care of him made a wave of warmth burst in his chest – but he didn’t like the implication that he’d need extensive looking after. “I just got a little dizzy, that’s all. I need to get up and meet everyone at breakfast, or they’ll worry that something happened to me.”

“Something did happen to you.” The acid in Togami’s words could have etched through metal. “They can wait for us to get there, or they can find something more useful to do than sitting around the dining hall – but I’m not letting you make yourself sick by running around injured. You’ll move slowly or not at all.”

Under Togami’s unrelenting supervision, Naegi found himself inching out of the bed at a snail’s pace. He would have objected to the lack of speed – but the ache in his head and the heavy weight of his limbs all told him that Togami had a good point. He probably could have forced himself to ignore it and keep going, but who knew what that would have done to him?

Once he was out of bed and on his feet, Naegi realized just how grimy he was after collapsing on the floor of that hidden room. It hadn’t been the cleanest place, and the indeterminate amount of time he’d lying there on the floor had left dirt streaking his skin and clothes. The back of his head still ached, and he could feel his hair lying stiff and matted with blood from where he’d been hit. He desperately needed a shower, and since Togami steered him towards the bathroom, he apparently agreed with that assessment.

But instead of stepping back so that Naegi could go ahead into the bathroom and have a chance to clean up, Togami helped him inside and then shut the door behind them both.

“Uh…” Naegi glanced up at the other boy. “What are you doing?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Togami tugged Naegi’s jacket off, giving the scuffs and dirt a dark look. “I’m helping you shower.”

“You – what?” Naegi felt his cheeks flush a brilliant red. “I don’t need help!”

“Are you joking?” Togami stared at him like he’d spoken in a foreign language. “You’ve had a head injury. Are you incapable of keeping that fact in your brain for more than two seconds together? Or should I take this as evidence that you’re having cognitive difficulties?” He shook his head. “I’m not leaving you alone to shower. All it would take is one dizzy spell, and you’d slip and crack what’s left of your head.”

“Oh. I – uh, I guess that makes sense.” Naegi supposed it did sound fairly reasonable when Togami put it like that, if a little more on the overprotective side than he would have expected. He must have been in pretty bad shape last night, if Togami was reacting like this now.

“Of course it does,” Togami said impatiently. “Now come on.”

Reasonable plan or not, Naegi couldn’t help the wave of embarrassment rising through him at stripping down so matter-of-factly in front of someone else. It had been one thing before, when they were tangled together and well on their way to sex – but this was much more utilitarian. It left Naegi feeling exposed in a way that he hadn’t before, and he wasn’t sure if that was fair or not.

To add to his confusion, Togami began removing his own clothes, too. Well, when Naegi thought about it, that made sense. Togami couldn’t very well be in the shower fully clothed, could he? Not unless he wanted to get his clothes soaked, and from what Naegi could tell, Togami’s clothes were the sort that would be ruined by standing in a shower while wearing them. Showering together was the obvious solution to all their problems.

It wasn’t exactly the scenario Naegi would have envisioned for sharing a shower with the other boy, though. He couldn’t stop his eyes from tracing the pattern of Togami’s fingers as he unfastened buttons, or following the long expanse of bare chest when he shrugged off his shirt. Watching the play of light and shadow against Togami’s pale stomach, Naegi wasn’t sure if it was attraction or the injury that made his head spin. But when Togami’s hands dropped to begin undoing the buttons on his dress slacks, Naegi hastily averted his eyes, turning back to his own clothing. It felt like there was something illicit in watching such a perfectly dressed boy strip away his clothes, even though Togami didn’t seem to care.

Even though he refused to look in Togami’s direction again, Naegi couldn’t help but be aware of the other boy as he moved through the bathroom. Heat seemed to radiate from the area where Togami was standing, calling Naegi to step closer and let it warm him. As he reached out to put his dirty clothing next to the sink, though nowhere near as neatly folded as Togami had left his pile of clothes, goosebumps trailed down Naegi’s spine like the ghost of a touch on his back – and he knew Togami was looking at him.

It was an unsettling realization to have while his back and he couldn’t see the other boy’s expression. Was he checking for injuries again? Naegi had no idea what state his back might be in, and it was entirely possible that he’d inadvertently revealed a wound he hadn’t known about. Of course, if that were the case, he’d probably have noticed the pain, if nothing else. So did that mean Togami was just appreciating the view? Naegi much preferred that idea to the thought of being covered in unnoticed injuries.

Taking a deep breath to steel his nerves, Naegi finally turned around, steadying himself against the sink when the floor seemed to shift a little beneath his feet, and looked up into Togami’s eyes. A deep frown of concern creased Togami’s face – but Naegi could see heat there, too, in the lightly flushed cheeks and the dilated pupils.

“I didn’t –” Togami swallowed, the motion plainly visible along his pale throat. “I should probably clarify that I didn’t intend to suggest anything beyond cleaning your injuries and preventing you from hurting yourself further.”

“Oh – right.” Naegi knew that was sensible, since with his aching head and body he knew he wasn’t up to much – but with Togami so close, it was a little hard to keep his mind on sense. “Just cleaning up.”

“Yes, that’s right.” But then Togami’s eyes shifted focus, and his expression darkened as he looked at the streaks of dirt stretching down Naegi’s shoulder. Or no – looking closer, Naegi could see that there was blood mixed with the dirt, trailing down from his scalp.

“Right,” Togami said again, sounding much more certain of himself this time. He reached out to turn the shower on, switching it to the highest and hottest setting possible. The roar of pounding water didn’t do much for Naegi’s headache, but his sore body did welcome the heat. With the hot water thundering out at that rate, the bathroom began filling up with steam in seconds. Normally Naegi would have left the door open a crack to let it out, but since Togami had closed it, the steam had nowhere to go and, leaving them slowly obscured by the fog.

Togami circled around behind Naegi, a vaguely defined figure in the hazy air and pouring water, and he began carding gentle fingers through the bloody mat of hair on the back of Naegi’s head. Naegi would have turned around to face him to thank him again, but strong fingers kept his head facing forward as Togami leaned forward to murmur in his ear, “Don’t turn around.”

Naegi frowned. That seemed like an odd thing to say.

“Now,” Togami went on, cold steel entering his voice for the first time since they’d woken up, “I want you to tell me exactly what happened last night.”

Chapter Text

With his head aching, it took Naegi a moment longer than it normally would have to figure out what Togami meant – but then, with steam clinging to his skin and his ears full of the sound of water, it finally clicked. With the steam and the sounds of the shower, the cameras pointing into the bathroom wouldn’t be able to capture anything they said. With Togami standing behind him, they could both face away from the cameras, and even the slightest potential for eavesdropping would be eliminated. It was a good plan, designed to foil the mastermind at every turn.

The only problem was that now that they had the opportunity for private communication, Naegi wasn’t sure what he should say. Of course Togami wanted to know what had happened, and considering the way he’d helped Naegi get through it, he deserved answers. It wasn’t fair to keep secrets from him.

But on the other hand, these weren’t Naegi’s secrets to tell. Kirigiri had told him about the hidden room behind the storage closet in confidence. She hadn’t actually sworn him to secrecy, but considering the difficulty Naegi had had getting any information out of her at all, he was pretty sure she hadn’t intended for it to be shared.

And then aside from her, there was the question of what he’d seen afterwards. While trying to drag himself back to the dorms, he’d heard the sounds of fighting coming from the gym, and when he’d investigated, he’d seen a furious battle between Monokuma and Ogami. And the things they’d said – if he told Togami about it, he knew Togami would take it as hard evidence that Ogami was a traitor. How could he do that to one of his friends, just based on a conversation he’d overheard while dizzy from a head injury?

“Well?” Togami asked impatiently, though the biting tone didn’t alter the light touch of his fingers cleaning the blood out of Naegi’s hair. “Did you hear me?”

“Yes,” Naegi said, keeping his voice low enough that it would only just be audible above the roar of the shower. “I was just thinking about what to say.”

“Say everything, obviously.”

Naegi sighed and decided to go with honesty, since he doubted he could manage anything more complicated with the way his head kept aching. “I’m not sure I can. Some of it is about other people’s secrets.”

Togami didn’t respond immediately, at least not verbally. One of his hands moved from Naegi’s hair to trail down along his jaw. Naegi flushed at the touch, a little confused – until he realized that Togami was wiping away dirt from a scrape he must have gotten when he hit the ground.

“Would you really respect those secrets when they got you hurt?” Togami asked, his fingers sending tiny shivers rippling down the skin of Naegi’s throat.

“Well – yes,” Naegi said, forcing his attention away from the touches and back onto the conversation. “I mean, I don’t think anyone meant for this to happen. It doesn’t make it okay for me to start telling people’s secrets without their permission.”

“Not even when it could help?” Togami persisted. “You know that information is one of the weapons the mastermind uses against us – they watch everything we do with their cameras while trying to control what we know. Any information we don’t share is a potential weakness for them to exploit. Secrets are a luxury we can’t afford.”

“Really? You’re going to say that when you go off on your own all the time?” Naegi tried to make the words warm, but he couldn’t help the tiny sting that made its way into his tone.

Togami went silent for a moment, his hand going still against Naegi’s cheek.

Naegi frowned. Maybe bringing that up had been too unkind. After all, it had only been a day ago that going off on his own had gotten Togami kidnapped and nearly framed for murder. Maybe he should have been more tactful about bringing that up.

“Not anymore.” Togami’s words were so quiet that if his lips hadn’t been close enough to brush Naegi’s ear, he wouldn’t have heard them. “I’m not leaving you alone again.”

Naegi felt the words curl down into his stomach in a long trail of heat, leaving him warmed in a way that had nothing to do with the hot water pouring down on him. Togami wanted to stay with him? This meant that much to him? Oh, Naegi knew it wasn’t just about some romantic notion of staying at his side – a large part of this response came from concern over what had happened when Naegi had been alone tonight. But if it came to that, he didn’t exactly like the idea of Togami going off on his own either, not when it had put him at such great risk in the last trial.

“Fine with me,” he murmured, tilting his head so that his temple rested against Togami’s cheek.

“Well – good,” Togami replied, a faint catch in his voice. “Good.” Naegi couldn’t see him swallow, but he felt the muscles moving in Togami’s throat as it happened. “But that doesn’t answer my question. Something happened after you and Kirigiri went into that dressing room, and it left you so hurt you could barely walk. What happened? What did that to you?”

It was the same question as before – but it also wasn’t. Togami’s first question had been a demand for information, cold and detached and logical. This one might have used similar words, but there was nothing detached about it. Naegi could hear the emotion coloring these words, and he realized now just how worried Togami must have been when Naegi didn’t return to the dining hall last night. It hadn’t even occurred to him at the time that Togami might be concerned about his whereabouts, but obviously he’d been very mistaken.

Togami might be cloaking his question by saying he wanted information to use against the mastermind, but that wasn’t the only reason he was asking all this. He’d been genuinely afraid for Naegi’s safety, and he was asking because he wanted reassurance that Naegi was all right.

Naegi had been willing to oppose the logical arguments, but how could he deny something like this?

“I guess I can tell you some of it,” Naegi said at last. “I’ll ask Kirigiri later if I can tell you the details, but I think just the general outline of what happened should be all right.”

“Oh, we’ll definitely need to talk with Kirigiri later,” Togami agreed grimly. He reached for a washcloth and began wiping at the stubborn remnants of bloody dirt clinging to Naegi’s arms and shoulders. “So?”

“She told me about a hidden room she found where there are no cameras,” Naegi said. He figured that it had to be okay to share that much, as long as he didn’t say where exactly the room was. “And when I went to check it out –”

“You went immediately after talking with her?” Togami interrupted.

“Yeah,” Naegi said. He tried to focus on the conversation, not the gentle movement of the washcloth over his water-slick skin. “She went to the dining hall, and I went to the – uh, the hidden room.”

“Because she asked you to go?”

“Well – I don’t think she actually asked.” Naegi frowned, thinking back. It was a little hard to pin down the specifics with his head still feeling fuzzy. “But it just sounded so unbelievable, you know? A hidden room like that – of course I had to go look at it.”

“I see.” Togami’s tone was unreadable in that moment, with an edge that Naegi couldn’t quite catch through the masking noise of the shower. “So you headed directly to this mystery room where no one would be able to find you – and then what?”

“Well, it was full of all kinds of documents and files and things,” Naegi said. “But then just when I started to look through them, someone came up behind me and hit me.”

“Did you see who?”

“No, I didn’t get a chance,” Naegi said, sighing. “They were gone when I woke up – and not just them. All the files and papers had been moved out of that room, too. It was completely empty.”

“Really?” Togami’s voice lit with sudden, sharp attention. “Now that is interesting. That means that somewhere in this school there is a room-sized cache of information that the mastermind doesn’t want us to find.”

“You think it’s still here somewhere?” Naegi asked, frowning. “I guess they wouldn’t have bothered carting it all out if they were just going to destroy it. And if they’d destroyed it in that room, I’m pretty sure I would have seen something left over afterwards – at least dust or ashes or something.”

“And it must be useful, or they wouldn’t bother keeping it stored somewhere in the school in the first place,” Togami said. “Though presumably the second location will be more secure than the first. It sounds as though you were just able to wander aimlessly in – unless Kirigiri gave you some kind of key or password?”

“No, nothing like that,” Naegi said. “It was just that the entrance was tricky to spot unless you knew it was there.”

There was a long moment of silence, filled only with the spray of the shower soaking down over them both. Then Togami asked very softly, “Did she say how she knew about it?”

“No, not really,” Naegi said. “We were a little short on time, since it was getting close to the curfew.”

“Of course.” Togami’s hand had gone still on Naegi’s shoulder, gripping rather than washing at this point. “Naegi, I want you to promise me that you won’t go back to that room – not without telling me first.”

Naegi frowned. “There’s nothing left. Why would I go back?”

“I don’t know. Why did you go in the first place?” Togami heaved a frustrated sigh. “Will you promise me or not?”

“I guess, if it matters that much to you,” Naegi said, shrugging. The motion made Togami’s hand flex around his shoulder, palm sliding down the curve of his arm. “I promise.”

“Good.” Togami leaned forward a little to press his lips to Naegi’s temple. “Don’t forget.”

“I won’t.”

At that assurance, Togami nodded and reached out towards the knob that would turn the shower off. Apparently the conversation was finished – and none too soon for believability’s sake, since Naegi had long since gotten all the dirt and grime dealt with. But that also meant that Togami was assuming he had nothing more to say – that nothing else of note had happened before Naegi had left the hidden room and dragged himself to the dorms. And Naegi knew that wasn’t true.

“Wait.” Naegi’s hand shot out and caught Togami’s wrist, just before he could turn the shower knob. “There’s one other thing.”

“What?” Togami asked, voice going sharp even as his hand stilled.

“There’s something else that I think I might have seen,” Naegi said, trying his best to choose his words with care. “But – well, I’m not really sure about it. Like you keep saying, I had a head injury, and it was confusing.”

“What did you see?” Togami prompted impatiently when Naegi paused to think.

“I – well, I don’t think I can tell you exactly what it was,” Naegi said after a moment. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t think it would be fair. I have to ask about it before I can tell anyone else.”

“Then why did you bring it up at all if you aren’t going to say anything useful?” Togami demanded.

“Because I wanted you to know that there is something else,” Naegi said. “Even though I can’t tell you yet. But I’ll try to ask about it and tell you as soon as I can.”

“And you think that’s going to be enough?” Togami asked. “You just expect me to take this on faith? You know something, and you’re not telling me what it is!”

“But I will!” Naegi protested. “I’ll tell you as soon as I know for sure. But you can’t just expect me to betray someone else, can you?”

“Well – when you put it like that.” Togami sighed. “No, I certainly don’t expect you to be capable of betraying anyone. And I can’t force you to tell me anything against your will.” With the hand still resting on Naegi’s shoulder, he drummed thoughtful fingers against Naegi’s collarbone, a light staccato pattern almost undiscernible beneath the shower pressure. “How long?”

“Uh – how long what?”

“Until you think you can tell me,” Togami elaborated, annoyed. “I don’t think a timeframe is too much to ask. An estimate will do.”

“Oh.” Naegi frowned and thought about it. “I guess a day or so should be enough.”

“So you’ll tell me tomorrow?” Togami pressed.

Naegi pressed his lips together and considered it. There was always the chance he wouldn’t be able to get Ogami alone today. “I’ll try to. And if I can’t – I guess I can tell you why not.”

Togami rolled his eyes. “You just have to make everything more complicated, don’t you?”

“I do?” Naegi blinked. “I’m not trying to.”

“You do it without trying,” Togami said dryly. He reached out and shut the water off, and the sudden absence of noise felt loud in its silence. “I didn’t expect trying to keep you safe to be so difficult.” He let his lips graze over Naegi’s cheek as he spoke.

Before he could pull away, Naegi turned his head and brought Togami’s lips against his own. He didn’t want to hide things or to make life difficult for the other boy, and he hoped the kiss would convey that. He just wanted everything to be as simple as the way their bodies fit so easily against each other, arms curling around one another in a skin-to-skin embrace. Heat washed through him, warm and welcome, exactly what he’d needed to chase away the chilly loneliness of trying to get through the school alone and injured. He felt safe here, supported by Togami’s arms.

And then a flare of white pain burst from the lump on the back of his head, and Naegi jerked back, swallowing down a yelp.

“What –” Togami stared at Naegi blankly for a moment, face flushed and shoulders heaving. Then his gaze sharpened as he took in Naegi’s expression. “You’re still in pain?”

“I’m fine –”

“You’re not, and you should have said so sooner.” Togami reached over to grab one of the towels by the sink, shaking it open and wrapping it around Naegi. The motion made the world tilt a little around Naegi, and Togami had to catch his arm to hold him steady.

“I guess maybe I’m not,” Naegi conceded, letting Togami lead him out of the bathroom. “Sorry.”

“For what, not being up to elaborate contortions on a slippery surface less than eight hours after you were injured?” Togami’s voice might have sounded sarcastic, but his supportive arm around Naegi’s waist was gentle. “I should have stopped you sooner. That was rather the opposite of keeping you safe.”

“Oh. Right.” Naegi flushed, feeling a little silly. Togami had even said it already, hadn’t he – that he didn’t want to do anything other than clean up in the shower. He should have remembered that, no matter how much he’d wanted to do anything else.

“Although –” Togami cleared his throat, looking away from Naegi as a blush crept steadily down his neck. “If at some point after you’ve recovered, you felt like making the suggestion again –”

“Consider it made,” Naegi interrupted, a grin spreading over his face as his embarrassment melted away.

Togami’s hand clenched reflexively for a moment, just before he stepped forward and pressed a quick sunburst of a kiss to Naegi’s mouth. “Until later, then.”

“Definitely.” Naegi couldn’t help but keep smiling, even though his head wouldn’t stop aching. “But until then, we really should meet the others at the dining hall.”

Chapter Text

Naegi and Togami reached the dining hall just as the other four students were about to leave it. They would have been there sooner, but they’d had to stop in Togami’s room first so that he could put on fresh clothing. This made the second time he’d had to do that, and for a moment, Naegi had considered suggesting that Togami leave some fresh clothes in Naegi’s closet so that they’d be on hand. He hadn’t quite been able to muster the nerve to say it, though – it sounded very personal, even if it did make sense from a logical point of view.

“Oh – you’re here,” Asahina said, giving them a startled look when Naegi and Togami entered to find the other students just standing up from their seats. “You’re all right!”

Ogami turned to check the clock, then gave them a reproachful frown. “You’re late.”

“Hey, looks like they found something better to do than show up for breakfast,” Hagakure said with a grin. “Can’t be helped if that’s the case, right?”

“Of course it can be helped,” Kirigiri said, her words clipped and chillier than usual. “And in the future, it should be. We have a standing breakfast meeting for a reason. A person with a moderate amount of self-control should be able to confine their personal activities to the other twenty-three hours of the day.”

With that, she brushed past Naegi and stalked out the dining hall door. Naegi turned to watch as she headed for the gateway to the rest of the first floor, frowning in bewilderment. “Did something happen this morning?”

“Yes – you didn’t show up!” Asahina glared at him. “Obviously she was worried about you! She said she was about to go down to your room to check on you before we started exploring.”

“Oh.” Naegi winced. Of course Kirigiri would be especially worried when he didn’t show up for breakfast – she knew he’d gone to investigate the hidden room last night. When she didn’t see him this morning, naturally she would have assumed the worst. That should have occurred to him sooner. “I should probably apologize to her, then.”

Togami snorted softly. “You don’t owe her anything.”

“Ugh, I knew it,” Asahina said, shaking her head. “You’re just going to be a bad influence on poor Naegi now, aren’t you? You’re making him late, telling him to be mean to people – I bet it’s only a matter of time before you start trying to get him to say he’d kill all of us.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Togami snapped, before Naegi could object to this unfair statement. “Why would I want to encourage anyone in a course of action that would end with me dead?”

“Oh, don’t worry, you won’t,” Hagakure said with a cheerful grin. “You’re not going to die – there aren’t going to be any more successful murders!”

Everyone turned and stared at Hagakure after this pronouncement. He beamed at them all, apparently oblivious to their confusion.

“What makes you say that?” Asahina asked at last, when no one else seemed inclined to say anything.

“I predicted it last night!” Hagakure announced proudly. “Since it revealed itself to me from the ether, there’s no doubt about it!”

“And is your fortune-telling ever actually right?” Togami asked, lip curling with disdain.

“You bet!” Hagakure said. “I can usually hit twenty or thirty percent on a good day!”

Togami rolled his eyes. “Yes, that’s about what I expected you’d say.”

“I hope your prediction turns out to be true,” Naegi said, before Togami could elaborate on that note.

“Well, I won’t murder anyone,” Hagakure said brightly.

“Me either,” Asahina agreed. “I would never.”

“Nor would I,” Ogami said, closing her eyes as she made the declaration.

“Me too,” Naegi said, nodding firmly. “I could never kill any of my friends!”

Everyone turned and looked at Togami. He scowled at the others. “Didn’t I cover this yesterday? I don’t see what will come of restating it.”

Naegi reached out and caught Togami’s hand in one of his, letting their fingers intertwine. Togami didn’t look down at it, but he did squeeze Naegi’s hand back, heaving a put-upon sigh. “Fine. As the current circumstances stand, I have no intention of committing a murder.”

Naegi grinned. Hearing everyone reaffirm their commitment not to kill anyone was a strong encouragement, bringing them all together. He could feel them all uniting into a team, a single force powerful enough to take on the mastermind. As long as they all stuck to the promise they made in this moment, there was nothing the mastermind could do to force them into murder.

“To be honest, I wish Kirigiri and Fukawa were here for this, as well,” Ogami said, looking away from the others.

“Yeah, it’s too bad Kirigiri didn’t wait,” Asahina said. “But Fukawa is so hard to deal with – especially now that she realized her white knight really isn’t interested in her.”

“I’ve told her the truth about that from the beginning,” Togami said, scowling. “She can’t pretend I’ve misled her. She can only blame her own outrageous delusions if she thought otherwise.”

“Yes, no one is accusing you of stringing her along in any way,” Ogami said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that she’s withdrawn even more from the rest of the group over the past few days. I would feel better if she were here to speak for herself.”

“Why would you want to talk to someone who’s gone off the deep end?” Hagakure asked. “We’re better off without her, I say.”

Naegi sighed. Maybe they’d had a moment of unity – but that was all it was, a single moment. He could see that they were still fractured, with Fukawa and Kirigiri absent and the others still suspicious of Togami’s actions. Whatever bond the group shared was still fragile, and with fault lines that would fracture under any real pressure.

“Well, we were about to head out to start our search of the school,” Asahina said, shrugging away the dark mood that had fallen on all of them. “We had another trial, so there should be –”

“Another floor open,” Togami finished, sounding bored. “Presumably the fourth floor, this time. Fine, you can all feel free to go on ahead with whatever it is you usually do. We’ll be up shortly.” He headed back towards the kitchen, and since he didn’t seem inclined to let go of Naegi’s hand, Naegi found himself towed along behind as the others shrugged and headed out the door.

Figuring they shouldn’t delay too much longer than they already had, Naegi grabbed a few breakfast foods that he knew he could eat quickly. Togami, on the other hand, appeared to consider several cups of coffee all that was necessary for a complete breakfast.

“Don’t you want to eat anything?” Naegi asked, in between hasty bites of a granola bar. “You need to keep your energy up.”

“That’s what the caffeine is for.” Togami took another sip of coffee, and Naegi wondered how he managed not to scald his tongue on the hot liquid. “I thought you were the one who wanted to hurry.”

“Okay, fine.” Naegi went back to eating his breakfast, but even trying to move at his fastest, Togami still finished before he did. Naegi finished off his last few bites of a sliced apple as they headed up the stairs to the fourth floor.

They stepped off the staircase to find a hallway very similar to the others they’d seen so far, but this time lit with a dark golden brown.

“Do you think we’ll find any clues here?” Naegi asked, peering down the hall.

Togami shrugged. “Possibly. But first we’ll need to find everything the mastermind wants us to see here, so that we can try to figure out what it is they don’t want us to see.”

Naegi nodded. “Right. Okay, then, let’s go!” He reached out and caught Togami’s hand in his own. If they were going to search together, they might as well do it as a team.

Togami led the way, taking a right hand turn down a branching path at the first opportunity. Naegi let him take the lead, since it wasn’t like either of them really knew where they were going anyway. This first blue door, the data center, was as good a place to start as any.

Except that when Togami reached out to try the door, it only rattled beneath his hand.

“It’s locked?” Naegi frowned and tugged at the door himself. Sure enough, the door was stuck fast, and the knob wouldn’t turn no matter how he twisted it.

“What is that supposed to be?” Togami glared at the data center door with an almost personal outrage. “Why is there a locked door here? How are we meant to investigate properly if there are places we can’t get to?”

“I think that’s probably the point,” Naegi said, trying not to smile at Togami’s indignation at being locked out of a place he wanted to go. “If it’s locked, we’re not supposed to investigate it.”

Togami glared at the door for a few more seconds, and for a moment Naegi thought he might kick it out of pique. But Togami managed to get ahold of himself before it went that far, and he turned away from the door and dragged Naegi further down the hallway.

“Wait, aren’t we going in those rooms?” Naegi asked as Togami strode past a pair of doors.

“They’re just classrooms,” Togami said over his shoulder. “Those are all the same. Why waste time there when there are more interesting rooms around?” He turned a corner, and his eyebrows shot up as he caught sight of the room at the end of the hall. “Ah – you see?”

Naegi followed Togami’s gaze to the plate above the door at the end of the hall. “The headmaster’s office?”

“Much more worthwhile than yet another classroom with childish graffiti all over the chalkboard,” Togami said, approaching the door. “Now, then, let’s see –”

The knob rattled under his hand.

Togami stared at the locked door in disbelief. “Another one? Is this some kind of joke?”

“I’m pretty sure Monokuma is the only one who’d think it’s funny,” Naegi said. “Look, let’s just keep trying the other doors, okay? There are still some other rooms on this floor. They can’t all be locked.”

None of them should be locked,” Togami muttered angrily, giving the door a last dark glare. “Keeping us out of certain rooms is cheating.”

Naegi decided not to comment on that one, instead heading a little ways back down the hall to the door they’d passed as they zeroed in on the headmaster’s office. This one was just labeled “office,” and while that didn’t sound quite as intriguing as the other rooms, maybe that meant it would be open.

And sure enough, when Naegi tried the office doorknob, it turned under his hand. He grinned at Togami. “See? I knew they couldn’t all be locked.”

“Yes, but it won’t be as interesting as the locked rooms,” Togami said. “That’s where the useful things will be.” He looked around the office as they entered, giving the whole thing a single glance before scowling. “See? Just an administrative suite with atrociously orange fake flowers. Boring.”

But despite declaring the room to be devoid of interest, Togami went further in, peering around closely as he walked down the rows of desks. He didn’t examine the room quite as thoroughly as Kirigiri seemed to investigate the various spaces of the school, but he also didn’t do it halfway, either. He scanned the plants and opened all the desk drawers, continuing even when he didn’t find anything of interest in the first several he tried.

To speed things up, Naegi forced himself to let go of Togami’s hand so that he could poke around the room as well. Figuring he might as well carry on with what Togami was doing, Naegi went to the second row of desks, intending to examine those. But before he could start, a colorful paper on the ground caught his eye.

“What’s this?” Naegi bent to pick it up as Togami circled around to his side, looking at the paper over Naegi’s shoulder.

“A photograph?” Togami asked, reaching out to run a suspicious finger over the photo’s glossy surface like he suspected it of not really being there.

Naegi couldn’t stop staring at it, even with Togami’s finger in the way. The picture showed Yamada and Celeste fighting over a camera while Maizono laughed in the background, in a school where sunshine easily streamed through the open windows. They looked so energetic, so full of life – so different from the bloody, mangled corpses that had been the last he’d seen of any of them. In fact, they looked happy, in a way he’d never seen them while they were all locked here in this twisted version of Hope’s Peak. The sight made a dull ache rise behind his eyes, like he wanted to cry but had gone somewhere beyond tears.

“It’s exactly the same!” Naegi said, the hand holding the photo beginning to tremble. “It’s just like the photo I saw before!”

Togami turned sharply to face Naegi. “Before? What photo are you talking about?”

“When we were exploring the third floor for the first time, I saw another photo like this,” Naegi said. “Well, not exactly like this – it was Kuwata, Owada, and Fujisaki in that one. But they were all together, in a classroom with no iron plates on the windows, smiling like they were normal students.”

“And you didn’t think to mention it?” Togami demanded.

“I told the others,” Naegi said. “If you’d been at the meeting where we talked about what we found, you would have heard it, too. But we all thought it was a forgery – just like this one.” He shook his head, eyes still locked on Maizono’s laughing face. “Monokuma must have faked this!”

“Or maybe you’re the fake!” Monokuma called out, bouncing up beside them with a laugh and snatching the picture out of Naegi’s hand. “A forgery plot? What, do you think the moon landing was faked, too? Come on!”

“Then you’re saying that picture is real?” Naegi asked, craning his head to try to get another glimpse of it.

“And if you’re claiming it is, then why only show it now that the students in it are dead and unable to corroborate your story?” Togami added, pinning Monokuma with his glare.

“Oh, is that what I’m doing?” Monokuma tilted his head questioningly.

“Obviously it is!” Naegi said. “Is the picture real or fake?”

“Aw, Naegi, you’re always so eager for the black and white answer,” Monokuma said, grinning. “Are you trying to get yourself split in half like me? Do you admire the binary beauty of my black and white coloring? Well, sad to say, it’s just no use. If you try to split something into black and white when it can’t be split at all, you’ll just end up bloody.”

“Is all that gibberish supposed to mean something?” Togami asked, glaring at Monokuma.

“It means the picture is real,” Monokuma said. “No more, no less.” And with another burst of laughter, Monokuma disappeared, taking the photo with him.

Naegi bit his lip, looking up at Togami. “Do you believe him?”

“I don’t know.” Togami crossed his arms, staring at the place where Monokuma had been. “But I do know that he wants us to focus on that picture instead of on anything else on this floor – and I’m not at all inclined to do what he wants.” He turned and headed for the door. “Come on, let’s get the rest of the floor over with.”

Naegi followed after Togami, but try as he might, he couldn’t quite put the picture out of his mind. If it were real – if Monokuma was telling the truth – then did that mean the others had known each other before arriving at Hope’s Peak? Could it be possible? And if so, why wouldn’t they have mentioned it?

Togami headed back the way they’d come after leaving the office, making for the hallway they’d ignored on their way to the data center. The walls here were a dark violet leading up to an elaborate wooden door, the word “music” on a sign above it. Togami glared at the doorknob as he tried it – but this one turned easily under his hand.

The music room turned out to be closer to a concert hall than a classroom, with high arching ceilings and plush red benches facing a raised stage with a grand piano on it. But Naegi couldn’t really spare much attention for the room – his eyes had gone immediately to the person standing in the central walkway.

Kirigiri crossed her arms and surveyed the two boys. “So you two finally decided to show up.”

Chapter Text

Kirigiri did not look happy, to the extent that Naegi was able to read any emotions from her at all. She mostly looked the same as usual, but there was a certain set to her mouth that hinted she might be feeling irritation. And since she’d demonstrated time and again that she had excellent control of her emotions, that meant she wanted Naegi to see that she wasn’t happy with him.

“Hi, Kirigiri,” Naegi said, offering the girl a hopeful smile as a sort of peace offering. “I’m sorry I was late to breakfast this morning. I didn’t mean to make you worry. It just took longer than usual to get ready.”

“I’m sure that you had quite a bit to do,” Kirigiri said, her voice cool as she looked down at Naegi’s hand entwined with Togami’s.

“Yes, it was especially time consuming to wash off all the blood,” Togami said before Naegi could reply, his voice unnervingly soft. “There was such a lot of it, what with the head injury.”

“There wasn’t that much,” Naegi protested as Kirigiri’s gaze flicked up to Togami. “It was fine, honestly. I just had to wait for the water to come back on.”

“And of course you weren’t able to move very fast,” Togami said, his eyes fixed darkly on Kirigiri even though his words were addressed to Naegi. “Dizzy spells can really slow you down.”

Kirigiri looked back at Naegi, eyes narrowed as she examined him. “You hit your head?”

“Sort of,” Naegi said. “I found the room you told me about, but as soon as I started looking around, I was attacked.”

“Attacked?” Kirigiri looked from Naegi to Togami. “Who attacked you?”

“Well, I didn’t get a chance to see,” Naegi said. “They came up from behind me. And then when I woke up, all the files and documents were gone.” He grimaced. “Sorry, I know how important they were.”

“I see.” Kirigiri frowned. “Well, that’s fine, I already saw what I needed to in there.”

“Yes, you clearly didn’t think there was anything else of interest in that room,” Togami said. “You had no reason whatsoever to go back, did you?”

“I was trying to avoid drawing too much of the mastermind’s attention to it,” Kirigiri said. “Two people entering the room would have been much more noticeable than just one.”

“Well, just one was obviously noticeable enough,” Togami said, voice low and dangerous. “Or are you going to try to claim you didn’t know there was a risk that the mastermind was already watching?”

“What?” Naegi frowned, looking up at Togami in puzzlement. “What are you talking about?”

“Even if this hidden room of hers doesn’t have any cameras, the area around it still would,” Togami said. “The mastermind would still be able to see anyone approach it.” His hand tightened around Naegi’s. “She deliberately sent you there to see if the mastermind would react.”

“Really?” Naegi looked at Kirigiri, startled by the accusation.

“Yes,” she said, her voice perfectly matter-of-fact as she met his eyes without a hint of apology. “I wanted to see if the mastermind knew about that room.”

“And you didn’t bother to take a single precaution in case the answer was yes,” Togami added.

Kirigiri crossed her arms. “I didn’t think the mastermind would go so far as to attack him and remove all the papers in that room.”

“No? Then enlighten us – what exactly did you think would happen?” Togami asked, his voice biting. “Or did you bother to think about it at all? Did you spare a single thought for what might happen to Naegi after your little experiment was done?”

“He can handle that sort of thing,” Kirigiri said. “He’s a boy, isn’t he?”

“Is that all you have to say for yourself?” Togami snarled, his grip on Naegi’s hand like an iron vise. “Being a boy didn’t do him much good when he woke up alone and injured in a hidden room no one else knew about!”

“Look, it’s fine,” Naegi tried to interrupt and stop the argument. “I’m okay, so no one needs to worry about it anymore.”

“Yes, you’re so okay that you collapsed halfway to the dorms,” Togami said, his eyes never wavering from Kirigiri as acid sarcasm bit through the air. “She had no idea what might happen when she sent you to that room, and then she didn’t even bother to check on you afterwards.”

“But –”

“If your attacker had hit you even a little harder, you wouldn’t be standing here right now.”

Naegi looked from Togami to Kirigiri as they glared at one another. “You think the mastermind would have killed me?”

“No,” Kirigiri said coolly. “If exploring were an offense worthy of execution, there would be an explicit rule against it.”

“Oh? You’re so sure you’re right?” Togami demanded. “But it wasn’t your own life you decided to risk, was it?”

“I don’t think I need to justify my actions to you,” Kirigiri said, her tone chilling the air around them. She turned to Naegi. “You understand what I’m doing, don’t you?”

“Uh – yeah,” Naegi said, as the force of both their intense gazes turned to him. He had to work to resist the urge to rub at his temples. All the raised voices were making his head ache even more than it already had, but he didn’t think drawing attention to the fact would be a good idea at this point. “I mean, I can’t say that I liked getting attacked, but I do understand. You’re looking for something we can use against the mastermind.”

“And there must have been a clue to the mastermind’s identity in that room,” Kirigiri said, nodding. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t have gotten rid of the documents.”

“And how does knowing that do you any good?” Togami snapped. “Those files are gone. It isn’t very valuable to know that there was a clue in some documents that the mastermind confiscated.” His lip curled. “Or do you expect us to take your word about what they contained?”

“Actually, you don’t have to take her word about everything,” Naegi said. “There was one thing I did see before I got knocked out.” He looked at Kirigiri. “You saw that note, too, right? The one that said you must not leave?”

Kirigiri’s lips tightened, and she glanced up at the surveillance cameras. “We shouldn’t talk about that here. But I’m looking into it. If I find out anything, I’ll let you know.”

“Very reassuring,” Togami said scathingly. “Will your next plan to find things out involve a literal knife in the back, or do you intend to keep them metaphorical?”

Kirigiri frowned at him. “If you aren’t going to say anything helpful, maybe you shouldn’t be a part of this conversation at all.”

“After what happened the last time you spoke to Naegi alone?” Togami laughed coldly. “Not likely.”

“Kirigiri didn’t mean for me to get hurt,” Naegi objected. “She’s my friend! And anyway, I can take care of myself.”

Togami stared at him, lips compressed until they went white, and for a moment Naegi was sure he was going to disagree, probably with some elaborate insult about Naegi’s ability to do anything. But instead, Togami turned back to Kirigiri, his eyes colder than Naegi had seen them yet. “You are not going to manipulate him into risking his life again. Do you understand?”

A faint smile twisted Kirigiri’s lips. “I understand you perfectly.”

Togami narrowed his eyes at her like he was prepared to continue the argument.

Naegi frowned. “You guys, we shouldn’t be fighting with each other like this. We need to focus on beating the mastermind, not our friends.”

“I’m more than willing to leave this topic behind,” Kirigiri said calmly. “I’d much rather hear your secret instead.” She smirked. “Or did you think I wouldn’t notice that you’re hiding something?”

Naegi’s jaw dropped. “That’s –” He stopped, unsure what to say. The only secret Kirigiri could mean was the battle he’d seen between Ogami and Monokuma – and the conversation that had sounded like Ogami had been the mastermind’s spy.

“What’s the matter?” Kirigiri asked, raising an eyebrow. “We’re friends, so you should be able to trust me. Isn’t that what you said before?”

“Well – yeah, but –” Naegi hesitated, caught in the same dilemma he’d faced earlier that morning when Togami had asked. He didn’t want to keep secrets, not when Kirigiri had trusted him – but he couldn’t just make baseless accusations against another one of their friends without any proof. He hadn’t even had a chance to ask Ogami about it yet.

But this morning, Togami had agreed to give him time to figure out an answer, hadn’t he? Naegi looked questioningly up at Togami, and was reassured to find the other boy’s eyes fixed steady on him. Yes, that had been all right. So maybe Kirigiri would be willing to wait as well.

“Sorry, but I can’t tell you,” Naegi said, looking back at Kirigiri. “Not yet.”

“You can’t? That’s your answer?” Kirigiri asked, eyebrows snapping together as she frowned at him. “But you were quite happy to hear what I had to say. You even felt free to share it with him.” Her gaze stabbed in Togami’s direction. “But now you won’t share what you know with me?”

“It’s not like that,” Naegi protested. “I’ll tell you when I can –”

“Don’t bother.” Kirigiri brushed past him, hair streaming behind her as she headed briskly for the door. “Goodbye.”

Before Naegi could say anything to stop her, she was gone, the door clicking closed behind her.

Togami shook his head. “Well, that’s one problem solved.”

“What?” Naegi blinked up at him. “It’s not solved. I think I made her mad!”

You are the one who should be mad at her,” Togami said, sighing like Naegi was being particularly slow. “Weren’t you listening to what she said? Even if we put the best possible interpretation on the facts, she still knowingly sent you into danger without warning you or offering you an escape route. And that’s assuming she was telling the truth.”

“You think she was lying?” Naegi asked. “About what?”

Togami glanced at the surveillance camera, then leaned down, brushing Naegi’s hair aside to whisper in his ear. “I think it’s extremely convenient that she just happened to find a mysterious room with no cameras and a huge cache of information – and that she was able to peruse it at her leisure while you became a target the moment you set foot in the room. And it isn’t just this. Haven’t you noticed that she’s the only one of us who has never revealed any information about herself or her past – even to the point of concealing her ultimate talent?”

“Well, yeah.” Naegi was starting to get a very bad feeling about this. “What’s your point?”

Togami took a deep breath, and Naegi could feel the moving air raise goosebumps along the back of his neck. “I think Kirigiri is the most likely candidate to be the mastermind’s spy.”

Chapter Text

“You think she’s –”

Togami’s finger pressed against Naegi’s mouth, stopping him before he could finish the thought. “Not out loud!” he hissed in Naegi’s ear.

Naegi glared up at him. Cameras or not, Togami couldn’t just make an accusation like that and expect him not to respond. But he was much too unfairly tall for Naegi to reply the same way, not unless he stooped down. Or…

Naegi tugged on Togami’s arm, leading the taller boy over to one of the cushioned benches and pushing him down onto it. Togami let him, though he raised an amused eyebrow as Naegi settled next to him, kneeling on the bench so he could get comfortably close enough to whisper in Togami’s ear.

“Kirigiri isn’t spying for the mastermind,” Naegi said, his voice as determined as a whisper could be. “She wouldn’t do something like that. She’s been working harder than any of us to stop them!”

Togami tilted his head so that he could whisper into Naegi’s ear in return. “So she says, but we only have her word on that.”

“That’s all any of us have, though,” Naegi said. “If you start doubting one of us, then where does it stop? How do you trust anyone?”

“Maybe you shouldn’t.”

Naegi frowned, flashing back to the cold and aloof heir he’d first met. “But you trust me, right? Even though you only have my word about who I am?”

Togami took a moment to study Naegi before he answered, brushing one of the unruly locks of Naegi’s hair away from his forehead. “I do trust you, yes,” he said at last. “But that doesn’t necessarily extend to trusting your judgement in all other matters.” Naegi could feel the other boy’s lips curl into a smile as they pressed against the curve of his ear. “Besides, you’re a terrible liar.”

And Naegi had to admit that Kirigiri was definitely an excellent liar. It wasn’t just her ability to hide her emotions – in the few hours he’d tried to spend with her outside of any investigation, she’d demonstrated that she could fake emotions she didn’t feel just as easily as she could present a blank façade. But why would she show him that ability if she was really trying to deceive them all about something so important? Wouldn’t it make more sense to hide her ability to lie, if she was really lying to them all?

But then again, if the unthinkable was true – if one of their friends really had been lying to them from the start – then Naegi knew Kirigiri wasn’t the one they should be suspecting.

He’d been trying not to think about it, but the memory of that terrible battle had been lurking in the back of his mind all morning. He’d seen Ogami fighting with Monokuma, flying through the gym in a whirl of targeted destruction – and instead of impaling her on the spot with a dozen spears like Enoshima, Monokuma had spoken to her, like they were continuing a conversation they’d had before. And then, when he’d mentioned hostages…

Naegi couldn’t imagine any of his friends acting against the group, but as they’d been reminded time and again, he didn’t know what mattered to the others. Simple betrayal seemed impossible, especially from someone as upright and honorable as Ogami – but if there were hostages involved, would that change things? He didn’t know. He couldn’t know, not until he’d had a chance to ask her about it.

But he couldn’t just leave things like this, either. Togami suspected Kirigiri, and who knew what that would lead him to do. She was already upset about Naegi refusing to tell her about what he’d seen last night – accusations of spying would only make her splinter even further away from the rest of the group.

“I don’t know why exactly Kirigiri acts the way she does,” Naegi said at last, just as Togami was starting to look impatient at his lack of response, “but it isn’t because she’s working for the mastermind. We’d have lost the trials without her help.”

Togami snorted. “We’d have managed without her. But there’s nothing to say that a traitor would hinder us. For all we know, part of her job might have been to try to help us enough during the trials that the mastermind’s game goes on for as long as possible. Since we don’t know the mastermind’s real goal, we can’t say what the traitor would have been instructed to do.”

“But they wouldn’t want to give us hope, right?” Naegi persisted. “They’d want us to fall apart after the trials – and after the first trial, Kirigiri is the reason I didn’t. She helped me get past what happened with Maizono. Why would she do that if she was on the mastermind’s side?”

“I don’t know yet,” Togami said. “But Naegi – it’s possible that everything she’s done has been a lie. You may not want to believe it, but you have to admit that the possibility exists.”

“No, I don’t,” Naegi tried to say, but Togami pulled his head away.

“We need to think of a way to confirm it either way,” Togami went on, holding his head so that he could speak into Naegi’s ear while Naegi couldn’t respond in turn. “Either we prove it and expose her, or if you’re right and she’s actually innocent, she can explain exactly what she’s been doing to make herself look so suspicious. But in either case, we need to confront her –”

Which was exactly what they shouldn’t do. Naegi jerked his head away, not letting Togami finish the sentence. He took a moment to make sure the other boy saw his glare before leaning in again. “No. I know she isn’t the traitor. We can’t just accuse her when she isn’t the one!”

He expected another argument, something else cold and calculating to rip apart Kirigiri’s actions – but Togami was silent. Naegi leaned away again, getting a glimpse of the deep frown on Togami’s face, just before the other boy drew close again.

“You know she isn’t the one?”

Naegi froze. He hadn’t meant to say it like that, but when Togami repeated his words back at him, Naegi heard the other boy emphasizing the inflection he’d spoken without realizing.

“What exactly did you mean by that?” Togami asked, his voice hard. “And don’t try to lie. Not when I just told you how bad you are at it.”

“I wouldn’t lie to you,” Naegi said. “Especially not about something important. I just – I don’t know what’s true yet.”

Togami’s hand shot out and clasped around Naegi’s. “Is this the thing you couldn’t tell me this morning? Is this your secret?” He pressed Naegi’s hand tightly, thumb against his palm and fingers wrapping around to his wrist. “Do you know who the traitor is?”

“No,” Naegi said, a wretched sort of guilt churning in his stomach. “Not for sure.”

“But you suspect someone,” Togami said. “Someone other than Kirigiri. And for you of all people to be suspicious, you must have a good reason. What did you see?”

“You said you’d wait,” Naegi protested. “You said I could talk to them about it first.”

“I didn’t know you meant something this important!” Togami snapped. “You can’t keep something like this a secret. For god’s sake, Naegi, what if they know you saw something about them? Being suspected might push them into acting!”

Naegi bit his lip, trying to hold back the sudden tears burning at the edges of his eyes. He knew he shouldn’t keep secrets, but he couldn’t just turn on Ogami, either. It wasn’t an easy decision, and he didn’t know what choice was the right thing to do, and his head kept hurting, and he just wanted to go back to bed and sleep until this was all over.

But he knew he couldn’t. It was just like every other time things here had seemed impossible – he just had to keep going and get through it.

“I asked you to wait,” Naegi said, hoping his voice didn’t sound as shaky as he felt. “And you said that you would if I gave you answers when I had them. I’ll keep my word. Are you going to keep yours, or are you going to get mad and run off again?”

Togami went still, his lips pressing together. His thumb slid over Naegi’s palm, moving slowly back and forth as he thought.

“You intend to talk to the traitor, don’t you?” Togami asked at last.

“Well – yeah,” Naegi admitted. “I have to. I don’t know what I saw, not really, and I can’t just accuse someone without knowing for sure.”

“Then I’m not going anywhere,” Togami said. “I’m staying with you. I’ll wait for answers if you insist on it, but I’m not letting you talk to a potential spy by yourself.”

“But –”

“Do you have any sense of self-preservation at all?” Togami snapped. “I know you want to be wrong, but what if you’re right? Do you think they’ll let you just walk away knowing the truth?”

“I didn’t think of that,” Naegi said slowly. He’d thought they’d have a conversation, one where Ogami was able to offer some plausible explanation for what he’d seen – or at worst, where she would admit to being forced to act as a spy against her will while the mastermind held threatened their hostages. But now that Togami brought it up, he had to admit there was a possibility that things might get even more dangerous than that.

“Well, I’ve thought about it for you,” Togami said. “And I’m telling you that if you want to walk out of that meeting alive, you shouldn’t go alone.”

Naegi frowned. On one hand, Togami did make a good point – but on the other hand, he could envision just how that conversation would go if Togami were present, and it didn’t sound good. Tact and understanding weren’t exactly Togami’s strong points. And besides, even if he didn’t say the words, wouldn’t this still be the same as making the accusation? He’d still be pointing at Ogami as a traitor before he had any evidence.

“You don’t have to name the person beforehand,” Togami said, when Naegi didn’t answer him. “And since I don’t know what you saw, I won’t involve myself in the conversation until you’ve gotten your answers.”

“That – that might be okay,” Naegi said, thinking it over. He still didn’t like the idea of casting doubt on one of his friends without any proof – but at least this way, Togami had promised to listen to what Ogami had to say in her own defense first.

“Good,” Togami said, and Naegi thought he caught a faint sigh of relief from the other boy as he pulled further away from Naegi. “Then let’s not waste any more time.”

Chapter Text

Naegi frowned as he and Togami walked out of the music room, wondering where he should go to look for Ogami. He hadn’t seen her at all while exploring the fourth floor, but then again, he hadn’t looked everywhere, either. She usually checked the classrooms so that she could try to get the iron plates off the windows, didn’t she?

“This way,” Naegi decided, heading back past the data center towards the classrooms they’d skipped earlier. Togami followed a pace behind him, arms crossed and jaw tense as he scanned the hallway.

The first classroom turned out to be empty, though the strange almost leopard-print wallpaper made it seem fuller than it was. Naegi shrugged and tried the second door, wondering where he’d try next if it was empty as well.

“Hey, there you are, White Knight! Man, I’ve been looking all over for you!”

Fukawa – no, Genocide Jill bounded across the classroom towards them, a huge grin on her face at the sight of Togami. “It’s been ages, darling! You weren’t hiding from me again, were you? Gyahahaha!”

Naegi gulped as the serial killer beamed at them. He hadn’t really had to interact with her since he and Togami had gotten involved – but Fukawa had taken the revelation badly enough on her own. Jill freely admitted to murdering countless young men to express her romantic feelings. How would she react to learning about his relationship?

“Of course I was avoiding you,” Togami said flatly. “I don’t want to see you.”

“Aw, don’t be like that,” Jill said, her cheerfulness undiminished by his tone. “You know you missed me! Too bad I wasn’t the one around when you got in all that trouble, huh? I could have helped you out when you were locked up in that closet!”

“I can think of very few things I would want less than that.” Togami looked away from her, grimacing in Naegi’s direction. “Please tell me you’re ready to go.”

Naegi blinked. Why was Togami asking that? He couldn’t just be trying to be polite – did he actually think that Jill might be the traitor?

“Aw, Mahkyutie, you don’t want to go, do you?” Jill said. “Not before you check out this fantastic artwork. Come on, baby, you’ll love it!”

“Uh – what artwork?” Naegi asked cautiously, not entirely sure he wanted to see something that Jill would call fantastic.

“Take a look!” Jill jerked a thumb back at the chalkboard.

Naegi looked where she was pointing, and his eyes widened. Like all the other classrooms, this one had Monokuma’s graffiti scribbled all over the chalkboard – but this one included a picture of a boy with fluffy brown hair sitting happily at a desk beside Monokuma with little music notes around them.

“Is that supposed to be me?” Naegi asked, staring at it.

“Looking all bright-eyed and innocent, just waiting for a big bad wolf to eat you up!” Jill laughed and winked at him. “They got the hair down pat, didn’t they, White Knight?”

“Why are we wasting any of our time looking at these drawings?” Togami asked, sounding very put upon. “It looks stupid, just like all the others.”

“Really?” Jill turned and looked at it, tilting her head consideringly. “You’re right, darling – it needs something!” She flew over to the chalkboard and snatched up a spare piece of chalk, scrawling her own addition to the drawing. “There!”

Naegi stared at the long pink tongue she’d drawn curling out of his mouth. “Uh…”

“Makes him look extra adorable, right?” Jill laughed, one hand on her hip as she surveyed her vandalism.

“Not really,” Naegi said, grimacing. And since when did Jill think he was adorable, anyway? He’d thought she only looked at Togami like that – he wasn’t at all sure he liked the change.

“Well, I’ve got to appreciate what I can get, right?” Jill said, turning back towards them. “Since I missed the other show and all.”

“What other show?” Naegi asked. “Do you mean the last class trial?”

“That thing? Ugh, no – though I would’ve loved to go up against the bitch who tried to make my White Knight look stupid,” Jill said, a dark look flashing across her face for just a moment before her grin came back stronger than ever. “No, baby, I mean the big ol’ slasher film fest Monokuma had for you guys.”

Togami’s hand wrapped around Naegi’s elbow, tight enough that it almost hurt. “How do you know about that?”

“Oh, darling, you would not believe the things I hear about,” Jill said, her grin turning very suggestive as she moved back towards them like iron swinging to a magnet. “And if the two of you going to give the cameras a show like that, you gotta expect that people will want to show you off to the world!”

Naegi stared at her, hoping she wasn’t about to whip out her scissors. “So – you mean you don’t mind?”

“Of course I mind!” Jill said, tossing her braids. “I just can’t believe that my White Knight’s silver screen debut got wasted on Gloomy. Now there’s a girl who doesn’t know how to enjoy a good show. I bet she didn’t even bring popcorn!” She leered at them, making Naegi turn red. “What do you think – is there another showing in the works where I can take a good long look?”

“I really hope not,” Naegi said, face hot at the idea.

“Yeah, who wants reruns, right?” Jill agreed brightly. “No, if you’re looking to be movie stars, you gotta release new content! Is there a sequel in the works? Or better yet, a live performance?” She licked her lips with her long, dangling tongue.

“Absolutely not,” Togami snapped, yanking Naegi with him as he took a step backwards out of her reach.

“Let me know if you change your mind, darling,” she said. “I’m always willing to be your test audience.” Her grin widened. “Or if you decide you need another co-star –”

“That’s it, we’re done here.” Togami spun and stalked out of the room, and Naegi had to scramble to keep from being dragged as the other boy refused to let go of his elbow. Jill’s laughter echoed down the hall behind them as Togami hurried away.

“You know, that wasn’t so bad,” Naegi said, once they were out of earshot.

Togami shot him an incredulous glance. “What about interacting with her isn’t bad?”

“Well, she didn’t seem angry or anything,” Naegi explained. “You know – about us.”

“She has no right to be angry about anything I do.”

“Yeah, but she wasn’t.” Naegi frowned, thinking over the way she’d tried to show Togami the graffiti of him and her promotion of him to adorable status. “Do you think she might be okay with it?”

“I don’t care if she is or not,” Togami said. He looked around the empty hallway, scowling. “I don’t think there’s but her left on this floor.” He took a sharp left towards the stairs.

“Yeah, I guess it’s been long enough that everyone’s probably gathering in the dining hall by now,” Naegi realized.

“Though I don’t know what they can possibly find to talk about,” Togami said. “This floor has been worthless – nothing but locked doors and wastes of time. The mastermind should be ashamed of acting like this is genuinely a new area to explore.”

“At least it wasn’t full of weapons or anything,” Naegi pointed out.

“Oh, there will be weapons there somewhere,” Togami said grimly. “The mastermind will have made very sure of that. With so few of us left, they’ll be planning something dangerous.”

“You think so?” Naegi asked, a sick feeling sinking through his stomach.

“Definitely,” Togami said. “And not just that. If the mastermind sticks to their pattern, there’ll be another motive coming soon.” He leaned down to whisper in Naegi’s ear again. “If we’re going to act, we need to beat them to it.”

Which meant that Naegi needed to talk to Ogami now – ideally before the group dispersed after the discussion. He nodded, determination settling through his shoulders. He could do that.

Chapter Text

Naegi frowned as they entered the dining hall. Ogami was there, but she stood with Asahina, as usual. It was going to be hard to get a chance to talk to her alone, wasn’t it?

“Let’s discuss what we all discovered,” Ogami said, once everyone had trickled in and taken their usual spots.

“So where were you guys?” Naegi asked her. “I don’t think I saw you upstairs.”

Asahina was the one who answered. “We found a big shelf of chemicals in the chem lab! It had an all-star cast of nutrient additives and supplements.”

“Oh, there was a chem lab up there?” Naegi frowned. “I guess we must have missed it.”

“Well, you should definitely check it out!” Asahina said. But then her face fell. “It wasn’t all good stuff, though. It also had a bunch of different poisons.”

“Ah.” Togami nodded. “I knew there would be something.”

“They were clearly labeled,” Ogami told him. “It would be very hard to grab one by mistake.”

“But easy to do it on purpose.” Togami frowned. “Poison adds a new twist to the game. Someone could kill now without being anywhere near their victim. Very interesting.”

“I thought you were going to stop treating this all like a game!” Asahina glared at him.

“I can think it’s interesting without intending to try it myself,” Togami said, not sounding phased in the slightest by her annoyance.

“I guess it’s good that we’re all aware of something so dangerous, though,” Naegi said. He shivered at the thought of poison sitting right out there in the open, mixed in with other normal supplements. “It’s too bad the poison couldn’t have been behind one of the locked doors.”

“Oh, yeah, there were a bunch of locked doors on the new floor, weren’t there?” Hagakure said, nodding. “The data center and the headmaster’s office, right?”

“The headmaster’s room?” Asahina’s face lit up. “I bet we’d find a lot of clues in there!”

“Not with the door locked, we can’t,” Togami said, rolling his eyes.

“Who cares about a stupid lock?” Hagakure said. “With the Ogre on our side, breaking down one measly door should be no problem!”

“What was that?”

Monokuma bounced out to land at Hagakure’s side, giving him an innocently questioning look when he yelped and scrambled to move away. “I didn’t say anything!” Hagakure protested.

“Oh, no, please continue. I insist,” Monokuma said. “It sounded like you said I’ve got the nicest butt on the whole block. Was that it?”

“Hell no!”

“Well, I know you couldn’t have been talking about tearing down the door to the headmaster’s office,” Monokuma said. “That’s my room, you know – or it is now, anyway. And you want to bust it down?” Monokuma raised a paw, and wickedly sharp claws slid out. “You seriously don’t want to piss me off.”

“No – I was just kidding!” Hagakure protested hastily.

Monokuma sighed heavily. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do this, but if you’re going to have those kinds of thoughts – then I have no choice but to add to the school regulations! Breaking down a locked door is now prohibited!”

With that pronouncement, he disappeared again, just as all their e-handbooks beeped to announce the addition of the new rule.

“Of course it wouldn’t be that easy,” Togami said darkly.

“But if he went so far as to make a rule about it, then there must be something important in the headmaster’s office,” Ogami said, frowning as she thought it over.

“We can’t do anything about it now, though,” Naegi said. “Not after he made that rule.”

“So that’s it, then?” Hagakure asked. “Nobody found any clues, or a way out?”

“Well – I wouldn’t say that,” Naegi said. “Togami and I did find something in the office.” He looked around. “You all remember the picture I found on the third floor, right? Well, we found another one just like it, but with Yamada, Celeste, and Maizono this time.”

“So it was real? You saw this one, too?” Asahina asked, looking over at Togami skeptically.

“I saw it,” Togami said, shrugging. “I can’t say if it was a genuine photograph, though.”

“But if it is real, that means everyone in it had some kind of hidden connection, right?” Naegi asked. “Something that we just don’t understand yet.”

“It was obviously just a distraction,” Togami said. “We found it directly after seeing the locked headmaster’s office. The mastermind must have wanted us to worry about the picture instead of what might be in that room.”

“But Monokuma did go out of his way to say it was real,” Naegi said, frowning. “I mean, we could just write it off as a lie, but –”

“But you trust Monokuma’s word over the people who have died?” Kirigiri interrupted, her icy gaze piercing into him. “Is that what you’re saying?”

“What?” Naegi stared at her. “No, that’s not –”

“I’m shocked.” Kirigiri smiled at him, sharp and pointed. “After everything you’ve said about how we all need to trust our friends, you refuse to do the same.”

“Or maybe he’s just learned that some of his friends aren’t quite so trustworthy after all,” Togami said, crossing his arms and glaring at Kirigiri from his place at Naegi’s side. “When you mislead your so-called friend, you can’t very well complain about the consequences.”

“I see.” Kirigiri looked from one boy to the other. “So it isn’t just the dead students – I rank lower than Monokuma, as well, is that it?”

“No, of course not!” Naegi said. “I just meant that we should consider all the possibilities, that’s all.”

“Come on, guys, stop fighting, or all your good luck’s going to float away,” Hagakure said, rubbing at his wild hair. “There’s no way Monokuma didn’t fake that picture.”

“He’s just trying to confuse us,” Ogami agreed. “You shouldn’t listen to anything Monokuma has to say.”

That statement made Naegi pause for a moment – not because of what Ogami said, but because of how she said it. There was something in her tone that rang in his aching head like the words he’d heard her say to Monokuma the previous night. The steel core of determination in her voice, rejecting Monokuma’s insidious lies – it was the same.

And that reminded him that right now, he had something else to worry about than the fact that Kirigiri was mad at him.

“I’ll try not to worry about the photo for now,” Naegi said. He still wasn’t convinced they should ignore it, but until he could come up with a stronger argument, there wasn’t much he could do about that. “Is that everything that everyone found?” He looked around the group, seeing a series of half-hearted nods. That seemed to mark the end of the meeting, as Kirigiri turned to stalk out of the room in a swirl of silvery hair.

“About time,” Togami muttered as the others began to drift apart. He looked at Naegi and raised a challenging eyebrow, as if to ask if he was ready. Naegi nodded slightly, taking a deep breath. Yes, he was. He had to be.

He walked over to where Ogami and Asahina were chatting. “Uh, hey, Ogami – do you have a few minutes? There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”

“All right,” Ogami said. “Go ahead.”

Naegi looked over at Asahina. “Well – uh, actually, it might take a little time. Could we go somewhere to talk about it?”

“Huh? You’re not going to start cheating on Togami already, are you?” Asahina asked, eyes widening. “I know he’s a huge jerk, but you should break up with him first before you try to win Sakura’s heart!”

“No, of course not! It’s nothing like that!” Naegi said hastily. “And – he’ll be there, too, actually.”

“Whoa, both of you?” Asahina’s jaw dropped.

“I’d just like to talk to you,” Naegi said, deciding that his best bet was to ignore Asahina’s misunderstandings and focus on Ogami instead. “Can we?”

“Well – can it wait until tomorrow?” Ogami asked, turning to glance up at the clock. “I’d like to get some rest. I’ve been feeling worn down all day.”

Naegi wasn’t surprised to hear that, not after the way she and Monokuma had fought. But – he hated to have to do this, but he didn’t think delaying was an option, either. Togami didn’t seem like he’d accept any delays, not now that he knew the subject of Naegi’s secret – and really, he’d made a good point that waiting on this issue could be dangerous.

“Sorry, but I don’t think it can,” Naegi said. He bit his lip, then decided that he needed to let her know what he meant. “It’s about something that happened yesterday – after the trial.”

Ogami went still. “Is it? I see. Very well, then.” She looked over at Asahina and hesitated. “I – I’ll talk to you later, Hina.”

“Okay, sure!” Asahina said with a smile. “I guess I’ll go find some dinner, then. Let me know when you’re done, and I’ll make you something, too!” She turned and made for the kitchen.

Naegi looked up at Ogami. “So –”

“Long conversations are best had over a bath, don’t you agree?” Togami interrupted, taking a few steps closer. His eyes settled on Ogami with a dark malevolence that Naegi hadn’t seen since Monokuma had first announced the killing game’s rules. “It’s the perfect place for everything to come clean.”

Ogami eyed him for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, that would make it easier.”

Without another word, the three of them left the dining hall, crossing over to the bathhouse. Naegi knew that entering it as a group of three right now was risky, especially since Alter Ego was still in there – but they couldn’t very well have a conversation about spies where the mastermind’s cameras could overhear them. The bath was the only option they had.

Once they were inside, Togami shut and locked the door, leaning against it with his arms folded and his lips pressed tightly together. It looked like he intended to keep his word about not talking, at least for now. Naegi nodded to himself and looked at Ogami.

She’d seated herself on one of the benches, hands on her knees and shoulders tense as she looked up at him. “So, then – what do you want to discuss?”

Chapter Text

Naegi hated the way it felt to stand there in front of Ogami. The slimy sensation of guilt churned through his stomach as he contemplated what he had to say. What if he was making a mistake? Did he really have the right to stand in front of her like some kind of inquisitor, preparing to wring out answers?

No – that wasn’t what he was doing, Naegi decided. He wasn’t interrogating her. Whatever happened in the next few minutes, even if it changed everything, that didn’t matter – right now, they were friends. He was going to talk to her the way that a friend would.

Naegi moved to the other row of benches and sat on the one facing Ogami, as close as if they were sitting at a table in the dining hall. Sitting there, she towered over him, but he didn’t feel the aura of intimidation that she’d projected when they first met. She was quiet and still, a faint smile on her lips as she waited.

He took a deep breath, gathering his nerve, and said, “I saw you fighting with Monokuma last night.”

He paused, waiting a moment – he wasn’t quite sure for what. But Ogami didn’t object, or ask what he meant, or anything to contradict him. She just closed her eyes and said, “Go on.”

“Well – I was walking past the gym, and I heard noises,” Naegi said, figuring that she’d need to know what exactly he’d seen in order to explain it. “And when I looked in to see what was going on, I saw the fight. You were –” He shook his head. “You were fighting so intensely I could hardly see what was happening. And then – then Monokuma asked what you were doing. He said that fighting him wasn’t part of the deal.”

Ogami didn’t respond, sitting so still she could have been a statue, untouched by the words Naegi was speaking.

“I – I did hear something else, too, though,” Naegi said, trying to stave off the guilt crawling through his chest. “It wasn’t just that you had a deal. He said that he had a hostage.”

Ogami’s head bowed towards the floor like a great weight had fallen on her. “So you saw all of that.”

“Yes.” Naegi felt like he was the one admitting to wrongdoing. “And – I’m sorry, but I have to ask – what did it mean? What was Monokuma talking about?”

“He was talking about the fact that I’ve been his spy since the first night here.”

The words hit Naegi like a punch in the gut. He’d expected an explanation, an excuse, some kind of protest. He hadn’t thought she’d just admit it. With anyone else, he might have thought it was a bad joke – but Ogami wouldn’t joke about something like this. She definitely didn’t look like she was joking. She looked like she might never smile about anything again.

“But I heard what you said to him, too,” Naegi said, offering the words like an apology for what he’d said already. “I heard you say that you were going to resist him – that you weren’t going to work for him anymore. And if you only did it in the first place because it was a hostage situation, then –”

“Don’t try to defend me,” Ogami cut him off. “No reason can excuse what I’ve done, or absolve me of responsibility for my actions. It was weakness, my own unforgivable weakness, that made me listen to the mastermind. If the time has come for me to face the consequences, then you shouldn’t intervene on my behalf.”

“But – if we explain –”

“No explanation will be enough.” Ogami looked past Naegi, to where Togami stood against the door. “Will it?”

“No,” Togami said. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it.” He looked at Naegi. “It sounds to me like you have your questions answered.”

Naegi nodded slowly, head still spinning from the ease of the revelation. “Yeah. I guess I do.”

“Good.” Togami crossed the floor to stand beside Naegi, glaring down at Ogami. “Then it’s my turn.”

“I expected as much.” Ogami nodded. “Go on, then.”

Togami frowned down at her. “First of all, how secure is this room?”

Ogami blinked. “What? This room?”

“We’ve all believed it to be safe from the mastermind, due to the lack of cameras,” Togami said, waving an impatient hand at the empty walls. “But if you’ve been reporting to the mastermind, then you must have some idea about the gaps in their surveillance. Are we able to talk freely here, or do they have some alternate method of spying on us?”

“I don’t know for certain,” Ogami said slowly. “They did ask about what happened in here – and in much more detail than they asked about what happened anywhere else.”

“Then we’ll continue with the conditional assumption that we’re out of the surveillance range,” Togami said. “All right, then. So you’ve been working with the mastermind? Then tell us their identity.”

“I can’t,” Ogami said, looking away. “I never spoke to them directly, only through Monokuma. He approached me on our first night here. Before that, I knew only what the rest of you did, and afterward, he said as little as possible.”

“Of course he did,” Togami said. “Because if Monokuma has one defining trait, it’s his silence.” He rolled his eyes. “Maybe you’ll do better with my next question. Are any of the other students also spies?”

Naegi stared up at Togami. “What? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What it sounds like,” Togami said, not taking his eyes off Ogami. “There’s nothing to say the mastermind would limit themselves to a single spy. In fact, a second one would let them confirm your reports against each other.”

“I – I don’t know,” Ogami said. “If any of the other students were in a similar situation, the mastermind never gave me any indication of it.”

Togami’s mouth twisted in a skeptical sneer. “So you don’t know who the mastermind is, and you don’t know anything about what they might know about us? For someone who supposedly just swore to fight against the mastermind with the rest of us, you’re not doing a very good job of it. Is there any reason we shouldn’t just write this imaginary change of heart off as some kind of plot?”

“It wasn’t –”

“Don’t,” Ogami interrupted before Naegi could form any more of his protest. She eyed Togami a moment longer, evaluating him. “There is one thing that I do know about our situation that the rest of you don’t know.”

“Oh, really?” Togami leaned forward, eyes flashing eagerly behind his glasses. “And what’s that?”

“There weren’t fifteen students sealed in this school,” Ogami said. “There were sixteen.”

Chapter Text

“Sixteen students?” Naegi asked. “Do you mean that there’s another person locked in the school with us?”

For a moment, he remembered that hidden room – and the figure that had attacked him. He hadn’t gotten a good look, but it was certainly possible that it could have been a student who had done it.

“And if I ask you who that is, will you have anything useful to say?” Togami asked, crossing his arms.

Ogami shook her head. “I don’t know. I asked, but the mastermind refused to tell me. He called the sixteenth student the ace up his sleeve.”

Naegi frowned. A sixteenth student hidden somewhere in the school – could it really be possible? Well, there were certainly enough closed off areas and locked doors to hide another person without much of a problem. He’d seen the stairs leading up to yet another floor of the school when they’d been exploring the fourth floor.

“His ace, is it?” Togami asked. His mind had clearly been going in a different direction than Naegi’s. “What would the mastermind need an ace for? What can this supposed other student do that a spy among us couldn’t?” He shook his head. “Assuming we can even believe what you’re saying, that is.”

“Of course we can believe her,” Naegi said, giving Togami a puzzled glance. “She turned on the mastermind, and she told us what she knows.”

“Yes, which very conveniently raises the specter of a different threat to distract from her,” Togami said. He shook his head. “No. I’m not convinced. She could just be pretending to have betrayed the mastermind as part of acting against us.”

Naegi looked over at Ogami. Her eyes had gone very wide, but she didn’t say a word of protest. Somehow, that seemed to make it worse than if she’d objected. “I don’t think that’s true.”

“You didn’t think there was a traitor when I first suggested it, either,” Togami countered. “And I was right about that. You may want to live in a fantasy world where you can blindly trust anyone you meet – but this is reality. Here, people betray one another. And if someone betrays you once, they can just as easily do it again.”

“You don’t need to argue about it,” Ogami said, before Naegi could respond. “I told you already that I have no intention of trying to avoid responsibility for what I’ve done. If that means you choose not to believe me, then so be it.” She folder her arms. “But what I would like to know is what you intend to do now.”

“Well – I guess we need to tell the others,” Naegi said slowly, looking up at Togami again. “I mean, we can’t keep a secret like this from them, right?”

“Certainly not,” Togami agreed. “If the others don’t know the truth, she could do or say anything she pleases. The ideal choice would be to confine her somehow, but of course that isn’t an option.”

“We can’t just lock her up!” Naegi protested, horrified.

“Obviously we can’t, she’s much stronger than we are,” Togami said impatiently. “It would only be possible if she let us restrain her – and frankly, I wouldn’t trust it if she did.”

“I wouldn’t agree to it, anyway,” Ogami said quietly. “I have no intention of being locked away.”

“I thought as much,” Togami said with grim satisfaction.

“There’s still something I have to do,” Ogami went on. “I want to make up for what I’ve done – and so I intend to destroy the mastermind.”

“What?” Naegi stared at her.

“I will wait until after you’ve informed the others, so that they can hear my confirmation,” Ogami said. “But after that, I will confront the mastermind and take them down by any means necessary.”

Togami shrugged. “If you want to be melodramatic about it, go ahead and get yourself killed. It will solve the problem of containing you very nicely.”

“Hey! You can’t just say that to someone’s face!” Naegi objected.

“Would you rather I waited till she left and said it behind her back?” Togami said, raising an eyebrow. “She knows herself that it’s true – she worked for the mastermind, and as long as she’s alive, we can’t trust that she’s really stopped. The only way that we can stop worrying about it is if she’s dead.”

“Or if we take the mastermind down,” Naegi said.

“If the mastermind could be taken down by punching him, we wouldn’t still be here,” Togami said. “No, there’s nothing of consequence that a spy can contribute.”

“I’ll think of a way,” Ogami vowed.

“Don’t overtax what little brain you have,” Togami told her. “You can go in there while you think about it.” He gestured towards the door that led from the changing room into the actual baths.

“In the bath?” she asked, frowning.

“Yes. There’s something else I want to do here, and I don’t want you hanging over my shoulder taking notes for the mastermind,” Togami said. “And I don’t trust you to wander around the school, either. So go wait in the bath where I can keep track of you.”

Something he wanted to do? Naegi frowned – and then his gaze fell on the lockers lining the wall of the changing room. Alter Ego was the only other thing of note in the changing room – did Togami want to talk to him?

Either way, Ogami nodded. “Very well. Then I’ll wait until I hear from one of you.”

She headed into the bath, grimacing as the steam touched her clothes, and shut the door behind her.

Togami frowned at the door for a moment, then pushed one of the benches up against it. “There. It won’t keep her inside, but that should at least make enough noise to let us know if she’s trying to get out.”

“So you want to talk to Alter Ego, right?” Naegi said.

Togami nodded, crossing to the locker where the laptop was kept and pulling it out, placing it on the bench beside Naegi. “Yes, that’s right.”

The laptop screen flickered to life, and Fujisaki’s face smiled out at them. “Hi, Togami and Naegi! It’s nice to see you both again.”

Togami didn’t bother to respond to the pleasantries. Instead he reached for the keyboard and typed, “Have you finished analyzing the data?”

“Oh, that! Yes, uh, actually, I have,” Alter Ego said, with an equal mix of pride and embarrassment. “I have all the information ready. Do you want to hear it?”

Chapter Text

Naegi couldn’t believe that this was it – that Alter Ego had finally finished processing the data. It felt like it had been so long since they’d had any kind of breakthrough, and now that it was happening, it didn’t seem real. The mood in the school had been so dark all day, but this – this would have to make things a little brighter, wouldn’t it?

“Should I get the others?” Naegi asked, before Togami could type a response.

Togami frowned. “Why?”

“Well – so they can hear what Alter Ego found out?” Naegi said, puzzled.

“They can hear it later,” Togami said. “I’m not waiting. Something could happen to the laptop if we leave, and then we’ll have lost our chance.”

Naegi frowned. He didn’t think any of their remaining friends would touch Alter Ego – but Ogami had just admitted to telling Monokuma about what had happened in this room. If Monokuma knew about Alter Ego, then there was the chance he might try to get rid of the laptop. Actually, now that Naegi thought about it, stealing the laptop after Alter Ego had finished the data but before they could learn the results sounded exactly like something the mastermind would do.

“All right,” Naegi said, sighing. “But we have to tell the others as soon as we’ve heard it.”

“Fine,” Togami said dismissively, his fingers already flying over the keyboard. “Tell us everything you’ve uncovered,” he typed.

“Okay,” Alter Ego said. “Then I’ll summarize everything I learned from the decrypted files. The most important fact I found was that a plan had been put into effect here to isolate the students of Hope’s Peak and create a communal life for them. But it was meant to be more than a normal school life. The students were intended to live out the rest of their lives here.”

“What?” Naegi stared at the screen in shock. “But that’s –”

“A very familiar situation,” Togami finished. “It sounds as though all of us were the chosen victims for this plan.”

“It’s unthinkable, isn’t it?” Alter Ego went on. “And what’s more, the ones who came up with it were the administrators of Hope’s Peak themselves.”

“Hmm.” Togami tapped a finger against the keyboard without pressing any keys. “That actually explains a great deal. The control of the building, the ability to cloak what they were doing here – the school administration would be able to do all this far more easily than some outside group.”

“But why would they?” Naegi asked.

Togami shrugged. “Perhaps Alter Ego learned more about that, too.”

“It seems that they devised this plan because of what happened one year ago,” Alter Ego went on. “They said it was the biggest, most awful, most tragic event in human history – otherwise known as the Tragedy. It was apparently some sort of devastating occurrence. And because of the Tragedy, Hope’s Peak was forced to discontinue its role as a school and shut down.”

“A year ago?” Togami frowned. “That can’t be right. Nothing even approaching an event of that scale happened a year ago. Even if it was covered up, my family would have heard about something that world-shaking.”

“Then you think Alter Ego got it wrong?”

“Hm.” Togami pondered the screen for a moment. “No, I don’t. The rest of it makes too much sense – some sort of tragic incident a year ago spurred the Hope’s Peak administration to begin this plan. More likely the name of the event was just sensationalized to justify their actions.”

“But why would they go so far?” Naegi asked. “And what could the event have been?”

“Exactly what I want to know, as well.” Togami typed the questions in as he spoke.

But Alter Ego looked down sadly. “Sorry – I don’t know anything else about that. If the information was in the files I had, it’s gone now.” Tears quivered in the corners of his eyes. “I’m totally useless.”

“No, that’s not true!” Naegi protested. “We wouldn’t know any of this without you!” He didn’t hear the clatter of keys, though, and when he looked down, Togami hadn’t typed what he’d said. “Tell him that he’s been really helpful!”

“It’s a computer program,” Togami said. “It doesn’t need emotional validation.”

“Well – is that really true?” Naegi asked. “I mean, I know he’s just a program running on the computer, but where’s the line between a person and an AI?”

“An AI is a machine designed to respond to a set of external stimuli with preprogrammed responses, and a person is capable of independent thought, actions, and decisions,” Togami said. “Fujisaki created this program to extract data. It’s just doing what he intended it to do.”

“If that’s all it is, then why would he have programmed Alter Ego to feel bad about not being able to help more?” Naegi countered. “And that doesn’t explain why Alter Ego tried to encourage Ishimaru after Owada’s death.”

“He just used the data Fujisaki gave him for that,” Togami said dismissively.

“Yes, but he decided to do it, when there was no way Fujisaki could’ve foreseen that and programmed the response into him,” Naegi said. “I know Alter Ego isn’t human, but with all the ways he’s helped us, I can’t help but think of him as one of our friends.”

Togami stared at Naegi for a moment longer, then sighed and turned back to the keyboard, typing, “Your analysis has been very helpful.”

He looked back up at Naegi. “Happy?”

Before Naegi could answer, the sound of the nighttime bells came from outside the bathhouse doors, slightly muted due to the lack of speakers in the changing room.

“It’s that late?” Naegi asked in surprise, as the curfew announcement played. “I guess we should head back to the dorms.”

“Not yet,” Togami said, his fingers still on the keyboard. This time he typed, “Did you learn anything else from your analysis?

“Actually, I did!” Alter Ego said. “And I think it might be important. It’s probably about the mastermind.”

“Oh, really?” Togami’s eyebrows snapped up as he typed, “Do you know their identity?”

“No, I didn’t learn that,” Alter Ego said. “But I did find another clue. The person who led the Hope’s Peak staff in the plan to isolate you was the Hope’s Peak headmaster. He may very well be the mastermind who planned this all out. According to the files, the headmaster is a man in his late thirties. It seems possible, even likely, that he’s somewhere in the school right now.”

“The headmaster?” Naegi said, frowning. “Well, Monokuma did call himself our headmaster. I guess that might make sense.”

“And it would explain why the headmaster’s door is locked, too,” Togami added. “Either there could be clues to his identity in that room, or that’s where he himself is.” He scowled at the keyboard. “First a supposed sixteenth student, now a headmaster – this school is getting fuller by the minute.”

Naegi thought of all the empty rooms in the dorms, labeled with pictures of students who would never use them again. “Not really.”

Is that the end of the report?” Togami typed, when Alter Ego didn’t say anything further.

“Yes, that’s everything,” Alter Ego said. “I’m sorry I don’t have anything else.”

Be prepared to repeat it for the others in the morning,” Togami typed.

“Understood,” Alter Ego said, as Togami picked up the laptop and returned it to the locker. “I’ll be ready.”

“In the morning?” Naegi asked. “Shouldn’t we try to get everyone so they can hear it now?”

“They’ll all have returned to their rooms by now,” Togami pointed out. “Dragging them out again after curfew will only attract the mastermind’s attention. And while we have to assume the mastermind knows about Alter Ego from Ogami’s reports, they shouldn’t know about the data extraction yet. Getting them out of bed will be as good as screaming that we found out something new.”

Naegi nodded. “All right. First thing in the morning, then.”

“We’ll tell them about Ogami at the same time,” Togami said. “We’ll need to explain why no one can tell her about Alter Ego’s report, in any case.”

“I guess,” Naegi said reluctantly. He wasn’t really looking forward to telling the others that Ogami was the spy – especially not Asahina. That was going to be a horrible conversation.

Togami strode over to the other side of the room and threw open the door to the bath, quickly retreating as soon as it was open. He hadn’t needed to move so fast, though – Ogami stood well out of reach of the door, hair frizzing from the humidity and clothes damp with sweat and steam.

“We’re done,” Togami said, face going stony as he looked at her. “It’s nighttime, so we’re heading back to the dorms. You’ll stay in sight of us on the way back until you get to your room, and you’ll stay locked in there until morning.”

Ogami nodded. “That seems reasonable.”

“And to make sure that you do,” Togami went on, “you’re going to give me your dorm key now.”

Naegi stared at him. “What? Why do you want her key?”

“I don’t want her roaming the school and sabotaging us,” Togami said flatly. “It isn’t a guarantee if she’s lying about betraying the mastermind, but it’s better than nothing.” He narrowed his eyes at Ogami. “So. If you’re serious about switching sides, throw me your dorm key. I’ll lock you in for the night, and then let you out in the morning so that you can confirm to the others that you’re a traitor.”

Naegi would have protested again, but before he could, Ogami pulled her key from her pocket and tossed it to Togami. He tucked it into his pocket with a satisfied nod. “All right. Then follow us back, and be sure to stay out of arm’s reach. I don’t want you trying anything on either of us.”

It seemed like an excessive amount of paranoia to Naegi, since Ogami had said she was on their side now, but he knew really wasn’t much point in arguing with Togami about it. It wouldn’t change his mind, and Ogami didn’t seem to object. He decided to shrug it off and head out of the changing room with Togami, with Ogami trailing a little further behind them.

But as soon as they stepped out of the bath, they all froze. Standing just outside the door, Monokuma was waiting for them, blocking their path to the dorm rooms.

“My heart is pound-pound-pounding away,” Monokuma announced, raising his paws into the air. “With anger!”

Almost without thinking, Naegi reached out beside him, and he found Togami’s hand moving towards his. With their hands clasped together, a little of the terror at Monokuma’s sudden scream of fury dissipated.

“It’s not just that the three of you went off to enjoy an indecent mixed bath together,” Monokuma went on. “That doesn’t matter. Etch this onto the walls of your brain, okay? When you make a choice, I hand it back to you tenfold – a hundredfold – a thousand-million-billionfold! This isn’t a freewheeling carnival of random occurrences. In the Monokuma world, you reap what you sow!”

And with a silence even more disturbing than his usual wild laughter, Monokuma disappeared.

Chapter Text

Togami kept a close eye on Ogami as he and Naegi walked her back to her dorm room. She could claim to have turned against the mastermind all she liked, but he didn’t believe a word of it. Why would she suddenly abandon the mastermind now, when over half the students had died? If she was going to pretend to some sort of moral outrage, the time for that would have been after the first death. And if she’d only agreed to work against them due to the mastermind’s threats against a hostage, well, the hostage was presumably still in danger. She’d cracked under pressure once – what was to say she wouldn’t do it a second time?

Still, at least she seemed to be playing along with the idea that she’d joined them for now. That was a relief. When Togami had seen Naegi approach Ogami, of all the people remaining, cold horror had frozen him in place. If she’d taken Naegi’s accusations badly, she could have dispatched both Naegi and himself without breaking a sweat. He would have dragged Naegi away to strategize something better than a direct approach, if the other boy hadn’t so quickly made it obvious what he wanted to talk to her about.

She certainly had the guilt-ridden act down pat. Togami gave her a hard look as he stopped in front of her door. Ogami stood further back down the hall, looking away like she couldn’t bear to meet either of their eyes, shoulders slumped in the very picture of defeat. Maybe she’d practiced the look in front of the mirror to have gotten it so perfectly.

“All right. We’ll go down the hall in the other direction fifteen paces,” Togami told her, keeping his voice at his most imperious. “Then you’ll go in your room and shut the door. Once it’s closed, I’ll lock you in. Tomorrow morning, at some point after the announcement, I’ll return to let you out. I’ll signal that it’s time by ringing the doorbell sound with one long buzz followed by three short ones. When you hear that, wait thirty seconds for me to get out of range, and then leave the room.”

“That sounds like something from a spy movie,” Naegi said, wrinkling his nose.

“With reason.” Togami didn’t take his eyes off Ogami. “So?”

Ogami nodded. “I understand.”

“Good.” Togami unlocked her door and then caught Naegi’s arm, dragging the other boy with him as he walked backwards down the hall.

Ogami didn’t move as they walked away, and Togami made very sure to keep his relief off his face. If she hadn’t agreed to his demands, he wasn’t sure how he could have compelled her to do so. He and Naegi would have had to run, and he doubted they could have made it into one of their dorm rooms if she’d been after them. Possibly they could have gotten into the trash room in time if they’d gotten a head start, but since that room didn’t have a lock on the door, it wouldn’t have done them much good.

When they reached fifteen paces, he stopped and waited. Ogami nodded once more in their direction, then walked into her room as instructed. When the door latched behind her, Togami bolted forward and slammed the key into the lock before she could have a chance to try to get it open again. Only when he felt the lock fall into place did he allow himself to breathe the smallest sigh of relief.

“Did you really have to do all that?” Naegi asked, walking up beside him.

“Yes,” Togami said. “I’m not taking any chances with an admitted traitor. She’s the Ultimate Martial Artist, after all – she could destroy us both. This was the best option to get us all back to the dorms safely.”

Naegi sighed, giving Ogami’s door a forlorn look. The reality of learning there’d been a traitor amongst them all along had really hit him hard, hadn’t it? Even the wild spikes of his hair seemed to droop more than usual. With Naegi looking so dejected, Togami couldn’t even muster up any satisfaction about being proven right on this score.

“Come on,” Togami said, taking the other boy’s hand and tugging him back along the hall towards their rooms. “There’s nothing to be gained from waiting out here all night. Let’s go back.”

He tucked Ogami’s room key into his pocket and pulled out his own key instead, stopping in front of his own door.

“Uh – your room?” Naegi asked, when Togami didn’t let go of his hand as he opened the door. “I mean – both of us?”

Togami glanced over to see that Naegi’s cheeks had gone pink. He was still blushing about it, after everything? An unexpected burst of warmth filled Togami’s chest at the sight. He found himself wanting to smile, to run fingers through Naegi’s hair, to kiss him until his cheeks were pink for another reason entirely.

Not that he was about to admit to any of that in the middle of the hall, of course.

“Of course,” he said, heading inside and tugging Naegi after him. “You can’t sleep in your bed – it’s still got all that dirt and blood on it from yesterday.”

Naegi blinked. “Oh – right, it does. I’d forgotten about that.”

Togami raised his eyebrows as he shut and locked the door behind them. “Don’t tell me you intended to go back and spend the night in that filth.”

“I hadn’t really thought about it,” Naegi admitted.

Togami grimaced. “We’re visiting the laundry room tomorrow.”

“Um.” Naegi hesitated. “We are? Together?”

“Obviously.” An unusual hint of uncertainty flickered through Togami’s mind. “Why are you asking?”

“It just doesn’t seem like something you’d really want to do,” Naegi said. “I’d have thought you would rather go read in the library or something while you waited.”

Togami stared at Naegi blankly, wondering what exactly the other boy was thinking. Hadn’t Togami made himself clear earlier? Or – the odd rush of uncertainty came back, stronger than before – was this Naegi’s way of indicating he was getting tired of Togami’s company, after an entire day spent together?

No. Togami shook the thought out of his head. Naegi was good at a lot of things, but subtlety wasn’t one of them. If he had something to say to Togami, he wouldn’t dance around the topic.

And so maybe Togami needed to be equally direct when addressing him.

“It seems I need to clarify something for you,” Togami said, crossing his arms and frowning at Naegi. “When I told you that I intend to keep you safe and won’t leave you alone, I wasn’t just referring to today.”

“You mean – you’re going to keep staying with me like that?” Naegi asked slowly. “All day, every day?”

“Do you object?” The uncertainty returned, twisting painfully through Togami’s heart. He had the sudden awareness that the words Naegi said could cut him more sharply than any knife, if they weren’t the ones he wanted to hear. If –

“No!” Naegi’s brightening eyes sent the anxiety crumbling away, replacing it with a bright explosion of warmth so strong it made Togami’s hands tremble. “Of course I don’t mind! I just thought it was only for today, so you could keep track of my head injury. Anything more – well, I didn’t want to assume that you were making that kind of commitment.”

Togami stepped closer, his hands aching with the urge to touch the other boy. “Don’t be ridiculous. If I weren’t committed, you and all the others would already be dead.”

Naegi flushed again, pink and charming, and Togami couldn’t restrain himself any longer. He slid one hand around the back of Naegi’s neck and bent down to kiss the other boy, intending to allow himself just a moment.

Naegi’s lips parted willingly beneath his, open and ready like he’d been waiting all day for this. Togami stroked his fingertips with feather lightness over the nape of Naegi’s neck, dipping just below the collar of his jacket to skim over the covered skin, and he could feel Naegi’s responding shiver everywhere the other boy’s body pressed to his.

Every instinct Togami possessed screamed for him to take Naegi to the bed and make him shiver like that over and over until he couldn’t think about anything else – but instead he wrenched himself away, trying to ignore his ragged breathing and racing pulse. He really should have known better than to do this again so soon – not after what had happened that morning when he’d kissed Naegi in the shower.

Apparently Naegi had forgotten about it, too, blinking up at Togami with glazed eyes and swollen lips. “What – why did you stop?”

“The last time I kissed you, you screamed in pain,” Togami reminded him, trying his best to hold his voice steady.

“I’m fine now, though,” Naegi protested. “Really, my head barely hurts at all anymore.”

Which was not a truthful statement at all, though Togami was sure Naegi didn’t really consider it a lie. “Oh, that’s very reassuring,” he scathed. He put a hand against Naegi’s shoulder and propelled the other boy over to sit on the bed with his back to Togami. “If you’re fine, you won’t mind if I take a look to make sure you’re not about to collapse in agony again.”

“I’m not,” Naegi said, but he didn’t pull away as Togami brushed gentle fingers through his hair to take a look at the wound beneath.

It didn’t look much better than it had this morning, red and ugly and raw. Another rush of fury flooded through Togami at the sight, not at all lessened by the fact that he’d seen it already. If anything, it was more intense than ever, after he’d heard Kirigiri’s pathetic lack of justification for her actions. She’d done this to Naegi as surely as if she’d held the weapon herself, and then she’d had the gall to get mad at him for the perfectly reasonable reaction of withholding information from someone who had just betrayed him.

The injury might not look any better, but at least it didn’t look worse. Togami knew a few of the signs of infection, and fortunately he didn’t see any of them here. The wound hadn’t gone puffy or inflamed, and it didn’t feel hot to the touch. That was a small mercy, anyway. If it had gotten infected, Togami had no idea how they would have treated it. He seriously doubted that the mastermind would provide them with any kind of medical attention, after all. With that in mind, it was probably still a good idea for Naegi to take it easy and avoid the risk of making the injury worse.

“This is really nice of you,” Naegi said softly.

Togami frowned. “What, trying to make sure you don’t collapse because of ignoring your untreated head injury?”

“Yes, that,” Naegi said. “I – I like having someone who’ll do things like this.” He paused. “And – I mean, I’d do the same for you, if you got hurt.”

“I won’t be stupid enough to wander into hidden areas where the mastermind can attack me,” Togami said darkly.

“Still,” Naegi said, his shoulders moving against Togami’s chest as he shrugged. “I’d take care of you, too, if you needed it.”

Togami raised his eyebrows. “Have you forgotten? You already did.”

“What? When?” Naegi twisted around to stare at Togami blankly. His eyebrows knit together as he considered it. “Wait, you mean at the trial yesterday?”

Togami remembered Naegi leaning over his podium, eyes flashing with determination as he flung argument after argument at the other students. No matter how strong Celeste’s lies had appeared, Naegi had shredded them and proven Togami innocent. “Yes, that’s right.”

“I knew it couldn’t have been you, though,” Naegi said.

“So I gathered.” Togami smirked. “I enjoyed seeing you take my side for a change.”

“Well, it’s not going to be a change anymore,” Naegi told him seriously. “I’m definitely on your side now.” He grinned suddenly. “Or maybe it’s better to say that both of us are on our side.”

It was a ridiculous thing to say, sappy and sentimental and saccharine sweet – but it sent such a wave of warm affection through Togami that before he knew it he’d leaned forward to press his lips to Naegi’s again. This time he retained the presence of mind to let one hand cradle Naegi’s head, holding it steady so as not to put any additional stress on the injury. The last thing he wanted was for Naegi to feel any pain while Togami kissed him. And if Togami had his way, Naegi wouldn’t have to feel that kind of pain ever again.

Chapter Text

When Naegi woke up, it took him a bleary moment to figure out why there was a music stand in front of him. It was only when he became aware that there was a warm body pressed against his back and an arm draped over his chest that he realized he had to be in Togami’s bed. Where they’d slept together last night without actually – well, sleeping together.

That had been awkward, hadn’t it? Naegi remembered sliding awkwardly into either side of the bed, not quite looking at each other. He’d been more than willing to let their kisses turn into more, but Togami had seemed to have a second sense about when his head started hurting again. Naegi actually wouldn’t have minded the distraction from the unrelenting ache – but maybe it wasn’t fair to Togami to think of it like that. He deserved to have Naegi’s full attention, not what he could spare from sudden stabs of pain and flashes of dizziness. Maybe it was a good thing that they’d fallen asleep on opposite sides of the bed.

But even if they had, it seemed like through the course of the night, their sleeping bodies had shifted to an embrace. Naegi smiled down at where Togami’s hand rested on the mattress in front of him. There was something nice about knowing that they’d unconsciously curled together in the bed, like it was something natural and easy that they did all the time. Like the conversation they’d had last night had been more than just words.

Togami shifted against his back, then raised his arm to grope along the table behind the bed for his glasses. Naegi twisted around to see Togami looking mussed and grumpy, his blue eyes unexpectedly vulnerable without his glasses shielding them. Between the height difference and the glasses, Naegi hadn’t been able to get a good look before, but Togami’s eyes were actually a very bright blue, weren’t they? He’d never seen eyes in just that shade, and –

Togami settled his glasses on his nose, gaze focusing on Naegi, and Naegi blushed when he realized he’d just been caught staring into Togami’s eyes. Togami smirked like he knew exactly what Naegi had been thinking. “Don’t stop on my account.”

Naegi tried to glare at him, cheeks burning. It really wasn’t fair that Togami could wake up looking attractively disheveled and know it, not when Naegi knew he just looked like a mess. And apparently he had a bad case of bedhead, because Togami reached out and ran his fingers through Naegi’s hair, straightening the wild locks that had gotten tangled across his forehead.

Ding dong, ding dong.

The Monokuma announcement played, letting them know that morning had officially arrived. Naegi sighed, pushing himself up to a sitting position as the brief moment of contentment melted away. If it was morning, that meant it was time to go meet the other students for breakfast – and to tell them the truth about Ogami.

He looked over at Togami as the other boy rolled over and levered himself out of bed. “What are we going to do?”

“Well, I intend to take a shower,” Togami said. “You can wait here and have a turn when I’m done. We’ll need to hurry if you want to make it to your ridiculous breakfast meeting.”

Naegi nodded. That was really the only place they could be sure of catching everyone, with the possible exception of Fukawa.

Togami headed into the bathroom, leaving Naegi alone to ponder what was coming. He knew he ought to be trying to come up with some kind of strategy for how to tell everyone what he’d learned yesterday – but he couldn’t come up with a good way to do it. There had to be a tactful way to broach the subject, didn’t there? Something that wouldn’t make everyone immediately turn on Ogami?

If there was, he still hadn’t come up with it by the time Togami emerged from the bathroom, toweling his hair dry. “Go ahead,” Togami told him, heading for his wardrobe to get fresh clothes. “But leave the door open.”

Naegi blinked. “For the steam?”

“In case you get dizzy,” Togami said.

It seemed a little excessive to Naegi – he hadn’t had a bad enough dizzy spell that he’d fallen over – but it didn’t seem worth arguing over, either. He showered as quickly as he could and headed back out into the dorm room just as Togami was pulling on his jacket.

“Okay,” Naegi said. “Uh – I need to stop by my room, though. I need clothes that aren’t what I wore yesterday.”

“Obviously you do,” Togami agreed, grimacing as he eyed Naegi’s clothes. Naegi wondered if he ought to be offended at that expression.

Even hurrying as much as he could while changing into fresh clothes, Naegi knew they were still running late for the breakfast meeting as they left his room. They wouldn’t be quite as late as yesterday, of course, but they weren’t on time by any stretch, either.

It wasn’t exactly the best way to make a good impression on the others, Naegi realized, as they walked into the dining hall. But at least there weren’t very many people there to make a bad impression on. The only people in the dining hall were Asahina and Hagakure, sitting together at one of the tables and looking nervous. Hagakure seemed to have shredded his breakfast instead of eating it, while judging by the plates in front of her, Asahina appeared to have nervously eaten nearly double her usual breakfast.

“Where have you two been?” Asahina demanded, jumping to her feet with a glare. “What’s been going on?”

“We were getting ready, obviously,” Togami said. “Some of us do more than just roll out of bed and put on sweats.”

“Stop being snobby and try to say something helpful for once,” Asahina snapped. “Where are Sakura and Kirigiri? We haven’t seen either of them since last night – and you two were the last ones with Sakura.”

“I expect that Ogami is still in her room,” Togami said coolly, without a hint that he was the one who had locked her in there. “As for Kirigiri, I really couldn’t say.”

“She’s been disappearing a lot, though, right?” Hagakure asked. He gasped. “Maybe she’s been digging a secret passage out of here, where Monokuma can’t see it!”

“I’d tell you not to be stupid, but I wouldn’t want to demand the impossible of you,” Togami said, rolling his eyes.

“This isn’t right,” Asahina said, clenching her fists. “We’ve lost so many people already – and now everyone’s just running off in different directions? No one’s even bothering to try to stay together anymore!”

A pang of guilt stabbed through Naegi. “We are trying,” he protested.

“Not that hard,” Asahina said. “Not if you’re fighting with Kirigiri and chasing Sakura away.” She looked down, even her hair drooping. “Sakura hasn’t ever missed breakfast with us before.”

“Yes, she was certainly careful to attend every meeting,” Togami said, his voice dark. Naegi knocked his elbow against Togami’s arm, trying to signal him to be more cautious about dropping hints. No good could come of that. But before Naegi could do anything else –

Ding dong, bing bong.

“Attention, attention!” Monokuma’s voice rang from the televisions. “Please gather in the gym as soon as you possibly can. Quickly quickly quickly quickly!”

Naegi froze, looking up at Togami anxiously. He didn’t know what Monokuma might want to announce to all of them at this point, but he knew it couldn’t be anything good.

Chapter Text

Naegi frowned as he walked towards the gymnasium, quickly outstripping Asahina and Hagakure as he tried to match Togami’s brisk pace. Why was Monokuma summoning them all again? Was it another of his motive announcements? Naegi would have thought that – but the voice from the televisions had seemed much more serious than usual. He hadn’t heard any of the open glee Monokuma normally had when he tried to give them motives.

Fukawa and Kirigiri were already in the gym when they entered, but neither girl would meet Naegi’s eye. Kirigiri looked steadily up at the platform where Monokuma would appear, her face unrelentingly blank. Fukawa lurked against one of the walls, twisting her braids around her hands as she simmered. Naegi sighed, looking from one angry girl to the other. Asahina was right – how were they supposed to fight the mastermind if they were spending all their energy fighting each other instead? He really needed to try to make up with those two.

But it would have to wait for later. As soon as the door closed behind Hagakure and Asahina, Monokuma bounced out to sit on the stage. “Hmm. It looks like everyone was very prompt today. Should we jump into things right away?”

“It isn’t everyone yet,” Asahina objected, looking around the room. “Sakura isn’t here.”

“Ohh?” Monokuma made a show of peering around the room, even going so far as to glance up at the ceiling and under the red cloth draped over the table onstage. “You’re right! Your headmaster announced a mandatory school assembly, but one of you decided not to show up.” He looked out at all of them, red eye gleaming. “It looks to me like Ogami is skipping.”

“No way,” Asahina said, horror crossing her face. “Sakura wouldn’t do that! She’s probably just running late, that’s all!”

“Hmm. Do you think so?” Monokuma looked up at the clock on the gym wall. “I wonder. Okay, if we’ve gotta wait, I guess we’ve gotta. Maybe I’ll overlook her being late if she walks through that door with a whole barrelful of honey for her favorite headmaster.”

Except that of course, there was no chance at all that Ogami could do anything of the kind – not when she was locked in her dorm room with the key in Togami’s pocket. Naegi glanced up at Togami, but he was staring off into the distance with an icy glower on his face. If it weren’t for the tension Naegi could feel in the arm pressed against his own, he would have thought Togami looked completely bored with the proceedings.

When nearly five minutes had ticked away, Monokuma tilted his head. “I wonder if there’s enough honey in the world to make up for being this late.”

Naegi couldn’t just leave it at that. “Maybe – maybe we should send a search party,” he suggested, trying to sound as normal as he could. “We could go look for her?”

Kirigiri’s head whipped around, and she narrowed her eyes in Naegi’s direction. This time Naegi was the one who looked determinedly away and refused to meet her gaze.

“What? You want to leave already?” Monokuma asked, sounding hurt. “But my assembly isn’t over yet! Why would you want to leave before you’ve heard what I have to say, huh?”

Asahina had gone pale. “It’s about Sakura, isn’t it? Something’s happened to her. That’s why you called us here.”

“Huh? You think something could have happened to the Ultimate Martial Artist?” Monokuma asked. “I wonder what that could be.”

“We should be asking you that,” Kirigiri said. “After all, you’re the one with the surveillance cameras.”

“What? And you think I have nothing better to do than watch all of you run around all day?” Monokuma demanded. “You think my fur gets this touchable glossy sheen all on its own? I’ll have you know that beauty is a time-consuming process!” He shook his head. “No, you’ll just have to ask someone else where Ogami is.”

“What do you mean, ask someone else?” Asahina said. “Who else is there?”

“Well, you could try asking Naegi and Togami about it,” Monokuma said, tilting his head as his eyes zeroed in on them. “They might know something.”

The others all turned to face them, and Naegi found himself stepping a little closer against Togami under the weight of all their stares.

“You know where Sakura is?” Asahina asked, a hint of doubt in her voice.

“I told you earlier,” Togami said, unruffled. “I expect she’s in her room.”

“But if that’s all, she would have come to the assembly,” Asahina said. She glared at Togami, clenching her fists. “You did something to her, didn’t you?”

“Ehh? Is the Ogre dead?” Hagakure asked, clutching at his hair. “Did Naegi and Togami take her down with a double team special move?”

“No, nothing like that!” Naegi said, waving his hands in protest. “She was completely fine when we left her in her room last night!”

“Then why isn’t she here?” Asahina demanded.

“Because we locked her in,” Togami said flatly.

“And why would you do something like that?” Kirigiri asked, folding her arms.

Naegi grimaced. He hadn’t been sure what the best way would be to tell everyone about Ogami – but he knew that this definitely wasn’t it. With the accusing stares stabbing through him from all directions, he knew that no one would be very receptive to anything he tried to explain right now.

“Oh, no no no no,” Monokuma said. “We can’t possibly go on with the assembly like this. Now that we know where our missing student is, we have to get her here without delay, right?”

“Fine,” Togami said, glaring up at Monokuma. “You’ve made your point. Open the door and let her out if you must.”

“Huh? Me?” Monokuma asked, puzzled. “You want me to open the dorm room door of one of my students? But what if we found her in the middle of something – indecent? No, no, I couldn’t possibly do such a thing. The only way I’d ever open a student’s door would be to let you guys enter as part of an official investigation. Otherwise, no can do!”

“And with the new rule about not breaking down locked doors, she can’t leave, either,” Kirigiri said. “Then what is it that you’re proposing?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Monokuma grinned at them. “If the Ogre can’t come to the assembly, we’ll just have to bring the assembly to the Ogre!” He laughed wildly. “See you at the dorms!” And with that, he bounced out of sight.

Chapter Text

Asahina glared at Naegi and Togami. “I can’t believe you guys! Sakura had better be okay in there.” She spun and stormed out.

Naegi looked up at Togami, but he couldn’t see much beyond the icy mask that had settled over the other boy’s features. It wasn’t like they had much choice about what to do, though. They didn’t even dare delay too much, not when Monokuma was waiting for them.

They made their way to the dorms, trailed by the rest of the students. Naegi had the uneasy sensation of walking with a firing squad at his back, with the other three students’ eyes boring into him. To fight off the feeling of isolation, Naegi reached out and squeezed Togami’s hand for a moment. Togami’s expression didn’t flicker, but he did return pressure for pressure against Naegi’s fingers.

Asahina was waiting impatiently outside Ogami’s door as they approached, hardly seeming aware of Monokuma standing nearby as she paced. As soon as they were in earshot, she snapped, “Well? Go on and let her out!”

Togami sighed heavily, but he pulled Ogami’s room key out of his pocket and approached the door. He reached out and pressed the doorbell, one long buzz followed by three short ones, and then swiftly unlocked the door and retreated back down the hall to Naegi’s side.

Asahina stared at the door. “Why isn’t she coming out?” She spun towards Togami. “You did do something to her!”

“I told her to wait thirty seconds after I unlocked the door before opening it,” Togami said. “Just wait.”

And sure enough, after thirty seconds had passed, the door opened to reveal Ogami, looking perfectly fine apart from dark circles under her eyes. She looked around at the entire group gathered outside the door, eyes widening as she took them in.

“Sakura! I’m so glad you’re okay!” Relief burst over Asahina’s face as she ran up to give Ogami an impulsive hug. “I was so worried when you didn’t come to the assembly this morning!”

“I’m sorry you were concerned for me,” Ogami said, gently shaking Asahina loose. “But you shouldn’t worry for my sake.”

“I shouldn’t have to!” Asahina turned and glared at Togami again. “What do you think you’re playing at, running around locking people up? What did you do something like that for?”

Togami’s lips tightened as he looked around at the unfriendly stares of the group. “You really want to know? All right, then. It’s because we learned last night that Sakura Ogami is the mastermind’s spy among us.”

Hagakure jumped backward, pressing his back against a wall. “What did you say?”

“You’re lying!” Asahina snarled, clenching her fists as she stepped towards Togami. “There’s no way Sakura is a spy!”

“We’re not lying!” Naegi said, drawing Asahina’s glare in his direction. “I wish we were – but we’re not. We just hadn’t figured out how to tell you all yet.”

“I don’t believe you!” Asahina said. “There’s no way Sakura would be a spy! Right, Sakura?” She turned confidently to her friend.

But Ogami closed her eyes and turned her head away. Asahina’s expression trembled as she stared at the other girl.

“Is this why you dragged us here?” Kirigiri asked Monokuma, ignoring the others as she focused on the bear. “Or did you have some other reason for the assembly?”

“Actually, there was something else,” Monokuma said. “Multitasking is an important skill for the up and coming bear, you know.” He gave them all a bright smile. “I just wanted to let my spy know that soon, I’ll be asking them to fulfil the promise they made.”

Togami narrowed his eyes at Monokuma. “What promise are you talking about?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Monokuma said. “Just to kill someone. That’s all.” He grinned widely. “Of course, if they were to choose to break that promise, I can’t be responsible for what might happen. After all, it’s like I said before – when you make a choice here, I hand it right back to you a billionfold!”

“The Ogre’s going to kill someone now?” Hagakure looked like he was thinking about bolting for his room.

“Of course not!” Asahina said regaining her determination. “Sakura would never kill anyone, and she’s not a spy! Monokuma has to be talking to someone else!”

“H-he didn’t actually say if it’s r-really her or not,” Fukawa said. “O-only he said it was Ogami.” Her glare burned in Togami’s direction.

“Right!” Asahina said, turning to Monokuma. “It’s not Sakura, right?”

But Monokuma just smiled. “Well, that’s all I wanted to say. What you guys choose to do now is up to you. But whatever it is, I can’t wait!” And without answering Asahina’s question, he disappeared.

With Monokuma gone, Togami crossed his arms and glared at Ogami. “So it seems you’re still a danger to us, after all. You conveniently failed to mention that little tidbit when you were confessing last night.”

“It didn’t come up,” Ogami said. “I – I’d hoped that I’d be able to act before it became an issue.”

“Sakura? What are you saying?” Asahina stared up at her, a hint of tears glimmering at the corners of her eyes. “Don’t talk like that! He’s just saying a lot of stupid garbage, and you shouldn’t take him seriously!”

“Asahina…” Ogami looked at her with wide eyes, voice trailing off.

“No! You haven’t done anything wrong!” Asahina spun and glared at Togami and Naegi. “The only ones who have done anything are the two of you! You’re the ones who decided to lock Sakura up!”

“And it’s apparently a good thing we did,” Togami said coolly. “Otherwise she could have taken the opportunity to start a massacre on Monokuma’s orders. You should be thanking us.”

“For making a decision on your own?” Kirigiri asked, raising her eyebrows. “You do have a lot of confidence in your own judgement, don’t you? It sounds like you don’t think you even need to consult anyone else anymore before you act.” Her eyes went to Naegi. “So much for trust.”

“W-what happens if you decide one of the r-rest of us is dangerous, too?” Fukawa demanded. “You want to lock m-m-me up next, don’t you? To g-get me out of the way!”

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Togami said, frowning at Fukawa with the special distaste he always seemed to hurl at her.

“Oh, man, we’re all going to end up locked in our rooms!” Hagakure said. “Naegi and Togami are going to go on a prison rampage and put us all in a trap within a trap!”

“Having you all out of the way might make this nightmare a little more bearable,” Togami snapped. He looked at Ogami. “You told us you would confirm our story.”

“Yes. And I do.” Ogami took a deep breath, glancing briefly at Asahina. “I’m sorry. I – I should have confided in you, at least, Hina, but I was afraid that you would think less of me if I admitted it.” She shook her head and repeated, “I’m sorry.”

“No!” Asahina shouted. “You’re – you’re only saying this because they made you! It isn’t really true!” She took a furious step towards the spot where Naegi and Togami stood together. “You two put her up to this – you’re blackmailing her, or threatening her, or something!”

“No, we’re not – but the mastermind is,” Naegi said, hoping the information would calm Asahina down a little. “They have a hostage, and –”

“I don’t care!” Asahina interrupted, clenching her fists. “You’re lying, all of you are –”

“Please, don’t try to defend me,” Ogami cut her off, laying a hand on Asahina’s shoulder. “I did this, and I will take full responsibility.”

“How do you intend to do that?” Kirigiri asked.

“By destroying the mastermind,” Ogami said, determination rising in her face. “I’m going to challenge them. Even if it means we both go down, I will defeat them.”

“If you both go down?” Asahina drew away, shoulders shaking. “What are you saying?” She shook her head, covering her mouth to hold back sobs. “I don’t believe it!” She glared at Naegi and Togami with eyes wet with tears. “If anything happens to Sakura, I’ll never forgive any of you!” And with that, she turned and ran down the hall.

“Hina!” Pain flashed across Ogami’s face, and for a moment she looked like she was going to run after the other girl. But instead she stopped, turning away from the direction Asahina had gone. She looked around at the other students, her face grave. “I – I should never have let things get this far. I’m sorry.” She turned and walked off, veering carefully away from the path Asahina had taken.

And now, looking around at the hostile expressions on the faces of his remaining friends, Naegi understood just what Monokuma had meant when he’d said that last night. You reap what you sow – you have to face the inevitable consequences of your decisions. He and Togami had decided to lock Ogami up and wait to tell the others. Even if they’d had the best of intentions, they’d still made that decision. And now they would have to deal with the consequences.

Chapter Text

The atmosphere in the hallway was stifling, even with only five of them left standing there. Hagakure and Fukawa had drawn as far away from the rest of the group as they could while still remaining in earshot, shooting each other suspicious glances all the while. Kirigiri stared off down the hallway in the direction Asahina had gone, ignoring Naegi as easily as if he weren’t even present. And at Naegi’s side, Togami stood tense and cold, eyes flashing dangerously with calculations behind his glasses. The situation needed to be resolved, but none of them looked remotely approachable.

Still, he had to try. He took a deep breath, steeling his nerves to break the oppressive silence, and said, “We really did mean to tell you guys this morning.”

They all turned to look at him, and Naegi found he had to fight not to take a step away from their combined stares. “I – I mean, it’s not like we were going to leave her locked up forever or anything. We were going to tell you all at breakfast this morning.”

That got Kirigiri to look at him, although once her gaze pierced through him, Naegi almost wished she hadn’t. “The time to tell us would have been last night.”

“Well, you know now,” Togami snapped. “Does it really matter that much to you how you found out? The important thing isn’t who knew what when – it’s what we’re going to do now.”

“W-what’s that supposed to mean?” Fukawa asked.

“It means that now that we know who the spy is among us, we should decide how best to deal with her,” Togami said, as though it should be obvious. “Locking her up is a temporary measure at best – it only works as long as she allows us to do it. And with Monokuma’s threat, we’ll need to take much more decisive steps to neutralize her.”

“Neutralize?” Hagakure said. “What are you talking about, man? None of us could take down the Ogre! If she decides to come after us, we’re all doomed!”

“No one’s going to take anyone down,” Naegi said. “Look, I heard Ogami and Monokuma talking a couple nights ago, and the only reason Ogami agreed to work for him at all is because he was threatening a hostage. She was never really on the mastermind’s side.”

“That sure sounds like a ch-change in your story,” Fukawa said. “First she’s so dangerous that you had to lock her up, but now she’s t-totally trustworthy? How are we supposed to believe a word you say?”

“I never said she was trustworthy,” Togami said. “In fact, I’d say that her admission proves exactly the opposite.”

“So what – now we’re all supposed to b-band together and follow you?” Fukawa said, eyes narrowing. “I bet you’d like that – leading us like your own private lynch mob, ready to jump and kill on your orders. G-guilty or innocent wouldn’t matter to you, as long as you got to be the j-judge.”

“Wait, so now Togami’s plotting against us too?” Hagakure said, horrified. “With him and the Ogre both out for blood, no one’s safe anymore! We can’t trust anyone!”

“No – we can’t think that way,” Naegi insisted. “This isn’t about some of us against the others – it’s all of us together against the mastermind. You heard Ogami – she’s ready to take on the mastermind with the rest of us. We all have to stand by our friends!”

“You do like throwing the word ‘friend’ around, don’t you?” Kirigiri said coldly. “I’m surprised you can still say it with a straight face.” She turned and began heading down the hall.

“Wait!” Naegi protested. He could feel the whole situation unraveling with every person who walked away. “Don’t go yet!”

Kirigiri paused, looking back over her shoulder. “I don’t have time for this argument. I have things to do today.”

“What could you possibly have to do that’s more important that dealing with this?” Togami said, crossing his arms.

“For one thing, I need to take a bath,” Kirigiri said, her gaze steady and unrelenting. “You understand the importance of that, don’t you? After all, you and Naegi went off and had such a long one on your own.” She turned and strode towards the bathhouse, not giving either of them a chance to respond.

A bath? Naegi frowned. Did that mean Kirigiri was going to go talk to Alter Ego? Well, at least that would give her a chance to hear the results of the data analysis. In all the commotion with the assembly, Naegi had nearly forgotten that there was a glimmer of good news amidst the rest of it. Maybe once Kirigiri heard that, she’d be able to cool off a little.

Although now that Naegi thought about it, how had Kirigiri known that there was something to talk to Alter Ego about? He and Togami hadn’t had a chance to bring it up, after all. She shouldn’t have even known that they’d been in the bathhouse at all, so –

And then Naegi remembered. When they’d first discovered Alter Ego, Kirigiri had decided to guard against any nighttime tampering by leaving her door open to hear if Alter Ego screamed. After Celeste’s theft of the laptop, of course Kirigiri would have reinstated her role as lookout. Her door must have been open all last night – and she would have heard everything that had happened in the hallway.

No wonder she was still so angry. Naegi felt his shoulders droop with the realization. She must have heard the conversations they’d had in the hall, both the first one when Togami was directing Ogami into her room, and then later, when he and Togami had been talking about how Ogami was the spy. Kirigiri would probably even have heard them leaving the bathhouse, where they’d gone despite her repeated warnings to stay out of there while Alter Ego was inside.

Guilt curdled through Naegi’s stomach. Kirigiri must have felt so out of the loop, after hearing that conversation end with their decision not to tell anyone. He had to talk to her – he had to explain that whatever she was thinking wasn’t true.

But when Naegi would have gone after her, Togami put a hand on his shoulder. “Whichever one you’re planning to go after, don’t bother,” he said. “You can’t reason with someone who’s unreasonably angry.”

Naegi sighed. He did want to straighten things out with Kirigiri as soon as possible – but there was no point in talking to her if she wasn’t going to listen. “Yeah – I guess you’re right.”

“Of course you’d s-say that,” Fukawa snapped, glaring at him. “You’ll just agree with a-anything he suggests now, won’t you? And now he’s too much of a coward to do anything!”

Togami turned on her. “Excuse me?

“My White Knight would n-never have let a traitor run off like that without a word,” Fukawa went on, clenching her fists. “If h-he’d found a traitor, he’d have stopped her right away. But you – you didn’t even bother to try. It’s because you know, don’t you – you’ll never be as perfect as my White Knight! You’re a disgrace to his name!”

Togami glared at her, fury rising up in him. “I am not a disgrace to anything. I am the heir to the Togami family, and none of your delusions can change that.”

“D-delusions?” Fukawa laughed, an unsettlingly high-pitched sound. “Is that what you’re calling them? Because I think that for the f-first time, I’m finally seeing clearly!” With one final glare, she went to her room and slammed the door behind her.

“Oh, no,” Hagakure moaned, clutching at his hair. “It’ll be the genocider next, you wait and see. I’m not sticking around for that!” He scrambled for his own room.

Naegi sighed, looking around at the empty hallway. However badly he’d feared the revelation of Ogami’s betrayal could go, he’d never thought it could get this bad. Everyone had run off in different directions, refusing to work together, or even acknowledge one another. With the situation this bad, he didn’t know what to do or who to talk to about it.

A hand fell on his shoulder, and Naegi looked up at Togami questioningly.

“Come on, let’s head to the dining hall,” Togami said, heaving a sigh of his own. “We have plans to make.”

Chapter Text

Naegi trailed Togami to the dining hall, hoping that at least one of the others might have ended up there as well – but when they got there, the room was empty. Naegi eyed the food in the kitchen as Togami made coffee. He knew he ought to eat, but with guilt and anxiety churning in his stomach, all the food looked nauseating.

“Ready?” Togami looked over and frowned when he saw that Naegi’s hands were empty.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

Togami tilted his head consideringly for a moment, then turned back to the counter.

“What are you doing?” Naegi craned his head to see.

“Here.” Togami turned back and handed Naegi a steaming cup of tea. “You should at least try to drink something.”

Naegi peered into the cup, then gave it an experimental taste. It was a soft herbal tea, soothing rather than energizing – just about what he thought he could handle right now. “Thank you!”

“Just come sit down and drink it.” Togami headed back out of the kitchen to sit at one of the dining hall tables. Naegi followed, taking the seat beside him.

“So everyone seemed really mad at us, huh?” Naegi said, staring down into his teacup like he thought he might find answers there.

“They’re being entirely unreasonable about the matter,” Togami said, scowling in the direction of the door. “Not that I expected anything better from most of them, but usually Kirigiri can at least muster up a little logic.”

“She’s still mad about yesterday,” Naegi said glumly. “When I didn’t tell her about what I heard that night.” He sighed. “Maybe she’s right – maybe I really did handle all this wrong. I didn’t mean to make everyone so angry.”

“Their stupidity is not your fault,” Togami said flatly. “There’s no point in wasting time thinking about what you could have done differently. The only thing worth thinking about is what we’re going to do from this point on.”

“Yeah, I guess.” The magnitude of the problem facing them made Naegi’s headache even worse than it had already been. “We’ll need to talk to them, right?”

“Considering their reactions to even the most reasonable safety measures, I think it will be an unfortunate necessity,” Togami said. “But we’ll need a plan first.”

“Sure.” Naegi felt a little better now that they were actually trying to accomplish something. If he and Togami tackled this together, maybe they could find a way to fix it after all. “But how would we convince them?”

Togami’s forehead creased as he frowned. “Convince them? What are you talking about?”

“Convincing the others that we all need to work together, and that Ogami really is our friend,” Naegi said. He blinked. “Isn’t that what you meant?”

Togami closed his eyes, pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose. “Are you serious?”

“Uh – yes?” Naegi blinked.

Togami sighed heavily. “Naegi, I want you to listen to me.” He spoke very slowly and clearly, enunciating each word as if to a small child. “Ogami is working for the mastermind. That means she is not our friend. She is our enemy.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” Naegi said.

“Yes, I know, you heard her vow revenge and now she has your eternal friendship,” Togami said, rolling his eyes. “Have you even bothered to spare a thought about what it means that the mastermind had a spy among us in the first place?”

“Uh – they wanted to know what we were doing?” Naegi frowned, thinking it over. “I mean, they must know there are places in the school the cameras can’t film. I guess they’d want a spy to report about whether anything important happened in those places.”

“And not just that,” Togami said. “Monokuma told us that Ogami had orders to kill on command – not as a decision she made because she wanted to escape or if one of the motives compelled her.”

“It must have been awful,” Naegi said, looking down at his hands. “And if it started the first night, then she’s been living with it every day since.”

“Exactly,” Togami said. “Her every move among us has been made with the awareness that she could be called upon to kill at any moment. Every time she interacted with one of us, she spoke knowing that she would have to explain herself to the mastermind later. Whatever you may think about her reasons or her supposed change of heart, that’s all still true. She was never a player in the game – she was a loaded gun that the mastermind had pointed at us the whole time.” He clenched his fists. “And it’s incredibly unfair.”

“Unfair?” Naegi blinked. That wasn’t the word he would have chosen to describe the situation.

“The existence of a spy for the mastermind among us upsets the balance of the game,” Togami explained impatiently. “We all treated her as if she were subject to the same pressures as the rest of us – but in fact she was a tool the mastermind could use to manipulate us further.” He scowled down at his coffee cup. “It proves that this was never a balanced game from the start. The mastermind never had any intention of playing fair.”

“Of course they didn’t,” Naegi said blankly. “They locked us up and tried to get us to murder each other. Why would they care about playing fair?”

“Well, why go through all the trouble of putting us into such a rule-driven game otherwise?” Togami countered. “If all they wanted was to force us to murder one another, why not just threaten us with a straightforward kill or be killed scenario? It would be much easier than hedging us in with all these rules and staging these elaborate class trials.”

“I don’t know,” Naegi said. “But whatever their reasons are, the mastermind has definitely been trying to control us and keep an edge over us. That’s why we all need to work together to beat them.”

Togami shook his head. “Working with the others is one thing. The worst they can do is be useless deadweight. But a spy is another issue entirely. She’s betrayed us once, and now she’s claiming to have betrayed the mastermind. Either her loyalties are so changeable as to be worthless, or she’s lying as part of a bigger plot.”

“Then what is it you want to do?” Naegi asked. “I don’t think the others will let you lock Ogami up again.”

“Well, I still have her room key,” Togami pointed out, tapping his pocket.

“And you’re just going to keep it from her?” Naegi asked, horrified. “What about the rule against sleeping anywhere but the dorms?”

“I’m perfectly happy to let her back in to the room,” Togami said, shrugging. “And it’s not as though I intend to keep her key against her will. All she has to do is ask, and I’ll give it back. I don’t want to give her an excuse to target me, after all.” He smirked. “Of course, if she does ask for the key back, that will prove she has something to do that she can’t accomplish if we know where she is.”

“Or just that she doesn’t want to be imprisoned in her room forever,” Naegi said. “She said she wanted to take on the mastermind – she can’t do that from her room.”

“No, of course not,” Togami said. “And frankly, we can’t assume she’s actually secure in her room even if we get her in there. It’s simply an added layer of security that I think we’d be remiss to ignore.” He shook his head. “But unfortunately, the best way of neutralizing her seems to be the most difficult at this point.”

“Neutralizing her? Why do you keep saying it like you’re going to use a stun gun on her or something?” Naegi asked, grimacing.

“There would be no point in trying something so crude,” Togami said. “She could easily avoid any kind of physical attack. No, the easiest way to keep Ogami from following the mastermind’s order to kill would simply be for the rest of us to stay together in a single group. No one can be targeted if no one is on their own.”

“Oh – that’s all you meant?” Naegi thought it over. If everyone stayed together, maybe as they saw that nothing bad happened, it would start calming some of their suspicions. It would at least stop people from misunderstanding anyone else’s motivations or thinking the others were plotting against them. “That’s actually a pretty good idea.”

“I know it is. That’s why I suggested it,” Togami said. “But it will only work if the others cooperate – and with the situation as it is, I doubt they will. They’re all too caught up in their private grudges to see the big picture.”

Naegi stood, a new wave of determination coursing through him. “Then we’ll just have to convince them.”

Chapter Text

The problem with trying to convince people to work together was that they had to be available to listen first – and none of the other students were. Kirigiri had apparently finished her business in the bathhouse while Naegi and Togami were in the dining hall, leaving the room empty except for Alter Ego.

“No, I couldn’t see which way she went after she left the room,” Alter Ego said, when Naegi asked if he knew where Kirigiri had gone. “She looked pretty upset, though. I don’t think she liked what I found out in the data analysis.”

When they went to check the dorm rooms, Togami would have blown right past Fukawa’s door if Naegi hadn’t stopped to try the bell there.

“Good,” Togami said, when there was no response to the bell. “We’re better off without her wild fantasies, anyway.”

“You know, she’s really not as awful as you keep saying she is,” Naegi protested. “She’s got a pretty impressive imagination to be able to come up with all those different scenarios she talks about all the time.”

“Impressive is one word for it,” Togami said sourly, turning his back on Fukawa’s room and heading further down the hall. “But if you heard some of what she says when she can catch me alone, you might call it something else.”

Stopping in front of Hagakure’s door, Togami grimaced at the portrait of the older boy for a moment before pressing the doorbell. When nothing happened, he pressed the bell again, harder than before.

“Maybe he’s not there,” Naegi said, as Togami jabbed at the bell a third time with vicious impatience. “He might have gone out to one of the other floors.”

But just then, the door finally cracked open, and Hagakure stuck his head out.

“Finally,” Togami snapped, glaring at him.

“Huh?” Hagakure looked from one boy to the other, his eyes widening in alarm. “You two? Oh, man, I knew it!” He leapt backwards and slammed the door in their faces.

“Yes, that’s about what I’d expected.” Togami sighed. “Maybe this is all a waste of time.”

“You mean – you just want to give up?” Naegi asked, horrified.

“No, of course not,” Togami said. “But we need to rethink our approach.” He crossed his arms, drumming his fingertips against his forearm as he thought. “With emotions running this high, we may need to allow the others some time to themselves until they can react rationally again. It’s hardly ideal, but I don’t see another option.”

“So – what, you think we need to wait for the breakfast meeting tomorrow?” Naegi asked, frowning. “I guess that would give everyone a chance to sleep on it.”

“It might be for the best.” Togami shook his head. “Well, if we aren’t going to resolve this now, then there’s something else I want to look into. Come on.”

Without checking to see if Naegi was following him, Togami turned and headed for the stairs. Naegi hurried to catch up, sighing to himself as he realized that Togami apparently intended to climb all the way up to the fourth floor.

“There are too many stairs in this school,” Naegi said, pausing for a moment to catch his breath at the top of the staircase. His legs ached after all the climbing he’d been doing every day, and his body was starting to feel too heavy to lift. Maybe skipping breakfast had been a bad idea after all.

“And we’re not done with them yet,” Togami said. “There are still at least two closed off staircases, and maybe even more in areas of the school we haven’t visited yet.”

“I can’t even think about that right now.” Naegi grimaced. “Hopefully we never have to see them.” Despite his limbs screaming in protest, Naegi forced himself to stand up straight again and head down the hall with Togami. “So where did you want to go?”

“Apparently we missed the most interesting room on this floor,” Togami said, stopping in from of the chemistry lab.

“Here? The room Asahina said had all the protein?” Naegi asked, following Togami inside. He noticed that there was a stool in front of one of the tables, and so he headed over to sink gratefully down onto the seat. He was pretty sure that if he tried to stand any longer, his legs might give out on him.

“Not just protein.” Togami headed over to the huge cabinet standing against the back wall and began examining it, opening the different doors and rummaging around inside.

Naegi remembered what else Asahina had said she’d found in the chemistry lab. “Is there really poison just sitting out there?”

“It looks that way,” Togami said, kneeling to get a better look at some of the bottles. “Protein on the far left, reagents in the middle, poisons on the far right.” He pulled out one of the bottles from the rightmost cabinet, holding it up to the light as he considered it.

“Be careful with that!” Naegi protested. “What if you get some on you?”

“Then I’ll wash it off,” Togami said, rolling his eyes. “It isn’t a contact poison.”

“How can you be sure?” Naegi asked. “That sounds like exactly the sort of thing Monokuma would put where anyone could pick it up.”

“Because it says so on the label.” Togami tapped the bottle. “Fatality guaranteed within five minutes upon consumption, injection, or inhalation. Nothing in that about physical contact.” He frowned at it. “Nothing about it that’s at all identifiable, for that matter. It doesn’t sound like any poison I’ve heard of.”

“You would be an expert in poisons.”

Naegi and Togami both turned to see Asahina standing in the doorway, glaring at them. “What are you two doing in here?” she demanded.

“I don’t see how what we do with our time is any of your business,” Togami said coolly, putting the poison bottle down and getting to his feet. He crossed the room so that he stood at the table by Naegi’s side, close enough that his arm brushed Naegi’s shoulder.

“It is when you decide to go messing around in the poison cabinet,” Asahina snapped. “Just what were you going to do with that stuff, huh?”

“Oh, man, they were getting poison?” Hagakure appeared behind Asahina, horror written across his face. “I knew it – I knew they were planning to strike! Didn’t I tell you how they tried to kill me?”

“You haven’t sh-shut up about it since it happened,” Fukawa said from beside him. She looked into the room and smirked when she caught sight of Togami. “So you c-couldn’t even pull off a murder attempt, could you? I guess you a-aren’t very good at this game after all, huh? You can’t win even when you’re trying.”

“You must be joking,” Togami said, glaring at the group crowding into the chemistry lab. “Neither Naegi nor I had the slightest intention of attacking any of you. We simply wanted an opportunity to talk to each of you after everyone had a chance to think over what happened this morning.”

“Oh, we’ve thought it over, all right,” Asahina said, clenching her fists. “We’ve thought all about your lies and your tricks and your games.”

“We just wanted to talk to you,” Naegi said. He tried to meet each of his friends’ eyes, but one by one they looked away when he sought their gazes. “Honestly, we aren’t playing games!”

“Not anymore you aren’t,” Asahina said. “We aren’t going to let you.”

Naegi didn’t like the sound of that at all. Looking at Asahina’s angry determination, Fukawa’s barely contained grin, and Hagakure’s fearful trembling, a chill of apprehension slid down his spine. This wasn’t a coincidence, was it – not when they’d all appeared in the doorway to have this conversation at once.

“And just what do you think you can do to stop us?” Togami asked, raising his eyebrows.

“I think we’ve found a way,” Kirigiri said, stepping forward. She brushed past Asahina to stand in front of the others, her expression impassive as she looked between the two boys.

“Wait – Kirigiri?” Naegi stared at her, startled to see his usually level-headed friend standing with the more excitable group. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that you two have done nothing but act as a force for disruption and distrust over the past couple days,” Kirigiri said. “You’ve made unfounded accusations, terrified people, and made critical decisions on your own. We can’t trust the two of you together.” She crossed her arms. “So we’re going to separate you.”

Chapter Text

Naegi stared at Kirigiri in shock, after her pronouncement. “You’re going to do what?” He searched her face for any hint of emotion to give him some clue what she meant – but he might as well have been staring at a solid steel wall. “You – you’re kidding, right?”

“No.”

The word hung in the air between them, cold and harsh. Naegi drew back a little, instinctively pressing into the warmth of Togami’s side, and he saw Kirigiri’s narrowed eyes track the movement.

Naegi had thought Kirigiri had been treating him coldly before, when she’d ignored him after he’d refused to tell her about Ogami – but now he knew differently. That had simply been an absence of emotion or reaction, just a more intense version of the way she treated everyone else. But now, frost traced every line of her face and posture, her eyes so icy that just meeting them chilled him to the soul. He might not be able to tell what she was thinking, but he could see one thing – this was not the expression of a girl who would easily back down.

“Oh, really? So that’s what you intend to do?” Togami asked, breaking the silence with a sneer. “And just how do you expect to accomplish it?” He dropped a possessive hand onto Naegi’s shoulder.

“What’s the matter?” Fukawa asked, leaning forward. “Are you s-scared about what we might do to you?”

“Hardly,” Togami said dismissively, never taking his eyes off Kirigiri. “I’m just interested to see how far you plan to take this.”

“As far as we need to,” Asahina said, clenching her fists. “You guys are the real threat here, and we’re not going to let you run around doing whatever you like!”

“You’re deluded,” Togami told her. “Though I don’t know what else I expected, after so long with Monokuma’s spy pouring any poison she pleased into your ear.”

“You do not get to talk about Sakura like that,” Asahina snarled, taking a step forward.

“That’s enough,” Kirigiri said. Even though her voice seemed quiet, it pierced through the exchange like a knife sliding between ribs. “We won’t need to take things far at all. No one is going to force you two to separate – you’re going to agree to do it.”

“After what happened last time you got us apart?” Togami laughed, sharp and vicious. “Not likely.”

“You will,” Kirigiri said calmly. “Because if you don’t, none of us will speak to either of you again.”

Naegi froze. He wanted to think that she didn’t really mean it – but Kirigiri had already proven that cutting contact didn’t faze her at all. She’d walked out of the music room without hesitation just seconds after he’d said he wouldn’t tell her his secret, without even giving him the chance to explain or suggest a compromise, and she hadn’t so much as faltered since. Whatever friendship had existed between them after working together before, she was obviously prepared to sever the connection permanently.

Togami curled his lip. “You won’t talk to us? Is that supposed to be a threat? Not having to deal with you lot and your idiocy is sounding better by the minute.”

“You’re awfully ready to put words in other people’s mouths, aren’t you?” Kirigiri raised one eyebrow, a hint of a smile playing at the corners of her lips. “Are you so sure you’re in agreement?”

“What are you –” Togami stopped as he glanced down at Naegi. A startled burst of emotion flickered across his face – too fast for Naegi to identify, but it sent a shudder of nausea through his stomach anyway.

The twist to Kirigiri’s lips sharpened into a smirk. “So?”

Naegi tore his eyes away from her, looking to the other students in the hopes of some hint of leniency – but he might as well not have bothered. When Hagakure realized Naegi was looking his way, he scrambled backwards to duck behind Asahina, twitching so hard his hair shivered. Asahina met his eye with a furious glare, filled with all the outrage and betrayal she’d flung at them in response to their accusation of Ogami. And Fukawa didn’t even seem to notice Naegi when he tried to catch her eye – she’d locked her gaze on Togami, cheeks flushed with a feverish intensity as an eager smile writhed across her lips. No matter how hard he looked, Naegi couldn’t see a trace of mercy in any of them.

Togami’s hand tightened on Naegi’s shoulder, and Naegi looked up to see that his face had gone dark. “You can’t actually be considering this.”

“Well – I don’t know.” Naegi looked from Togami to Kirigiri and back again.

“You’re the one who keeps saying that we need to believe in our friends,” Kirigiri said. “What do you think, Naegi? Can we believe in you?”

Confused guilt churned through Naegi’s stomach, a full-body sense of queasiness that brought clammy sweat to his palms and a pounding ache to his already sore head. What was he supposed to say to a question like that? Of course he wanted his friends to believe in him, and he hated that he’d done anything to suggest they couldn’t. His conscience prickled at him, an insistent voice in the back of his head saying that he should do what they asked to prove that despite the suspicious circumstances, his friends could still trust him.

But – he bit his lip – the thought of separating himself from Togami indefinitely made him blink rapidly against the tears rising in the corners of his eyes. He looked up at Togami, and the tight lines of tension in the other boy’s face jabbed him right in the heart. How could he give in to a demand like the one they were making now?

“This is emotional blackmail.” Togami glared at Kirigiri.

“Kind of like the way you two tricked Sakura into giving away her room key,” Asahina shot back. “Not so smug now that you’re on the wrong side of it, are you?”

Togami sneered in her direction, then spun Naegi’s stool until he was directly facing Togami, not the other students. Togami bent down, and some of the lines in his face softened a hair as he came closer to Naegi’s eye level. “Listen to me, Naegi – this is a terrible idea. The only reason they would want to separate us is if they’re planning something.”

“But they do have a point about the way we’ve been acting.” Naegi looked away to glance at the other students – the ones who he still considered his friends. The thought that they might not feel the same added to the painful ache in his chest. “Maybe if it was just for a little while? Just long enough to prove that they really can trust us?”

“We shouldn’t have to prove it,” Togami snapped. “Especially not to her. Awfully convenient that the only person who’s ever gotten someone else hurt is trying to isolate us now, isn’t it?”

“So you’re turning on Kirigiri now?” Asahina said from behind them. “You’re just going to take aim at us all one after another, aren’t you?”

“No, that isn’t what we’re doing!” But Naegi knew before he’d even finished the protest that it wouldn’t work. Not after he and Togami had done so much to cause controversy in the group, however inadvertent the results might have been. They’d been the ones to name Ogami as the traitor, they’d heard Alter Ego’s information before anyone else, they’d told the others about Monokuma’s bizarre photo of the dead students, and now they’d been found rummaging through a cabinet of poison. Sure, Naegi and Togami might know that it had only been one coincidence after another, but to the others, it had to look really bad.

They couldn’t let it go on like this. The more the group fractured, the more chances the mastermind would have to turn them against each other. It had only been yesterday that each of them had pledged not to commit another murder – but now, with the suspicion and doubt gnawing away at the fragile trust they’d all built, Naegi didn’t think anyone would be willing to make the same promise again. The soul-destroying despair of not being able to trust one another had crept back among them, and he and Togami had helped it along. So they had to try to make things right.

Naegi took a deep breath, and then looked up into Togami’s eyes. “I think they’re right. It’s like we were talking about earlier – the best way to stop any other murders is for the whole group to stay together. And if we’re ever going to get the chance to convince the others to work with us again, I think this is the only way.”

Togami stared down at Naegi for a moment, lips compressed into a thin white line. “You’re going to regret this decision.”

“Maybe. But I don’t think there are any choices left that I won’t regret.”

Togami closed his eyes, pressing his fingers into Naegi’s shoulder like he never wanted to let go. “Do not do anything stupid, do you understand? I know you have a brain somewhere under all that hair – at least make an effort to use it.”

“You, too,” Naegi said, putting his hand on top of Togami’s and letting the skin to skin contact warm them both for just one moment longer. “Be careful.

“Oh, for god’s sake, stop being so m-melodramatic about it,” Fukawa snapped. “What are you, the heroine of some t-trashy light novel who falls apart because of some guy she just met? You’ve barely been together a week!”

Togami sent a glare in her direction, then turned back to Naegi. He looked for a moment like he was going to say something more, but then he shook his head and sighed. Instead, he bent down and gave Naegi one last kiss, with enough force behind it that it might have hurt if Naegi hadn’t returned it measure for measure. Pain knifed through Naegi’s heart when Togami drew away too soon, and he had to fight not to pull the other boy back into his arms.

Togami looked from Naegi to Kirigiri, then sighed as he lifted his hand from Naegi’s shoulder. Naegi shivered at the loss of the anchoring warmth, a wave of cold washing through his veins as Togami stepped away.

“Watch your back,” Togami told him, before turning towards the other students standing in front of the door. He looked at Kirigiri, and narrowed his eyes at the faint smirk she wore. “That goes for you as well.”

Kirigiri’s only response was to step out of the way of the door. Togami gave Naegi one last backward glance, then turned and strode through the only path left. And for all that Naegi was still in a room full of all the other students, he couldn’t help but feel alone.

Chapter Text

Togami strode down the fourth floor hallway towards the stairs, no particular destination in mind other than away. This forced separation was nonsensical, absurd, and concerns about where it might lead already gnawed at the edges of his mind. He should never have agreed to this blackmail, he knew it – but what other option had he had?

He’d been outmaneuvered, and the knowledge burned across his mind. He’d been prepared for accusations and attacks, both outright and implied, but it hadn’t occurred to him that the others would go so far as to try to separate him from Naegi. And the thought had never even crossed his mind that Naegi would be the one they targeted to accomplish it.

He should have known. He should have seen it coming. Obviously someone as nice and soft-hearted as Naegi would be easy prey for a pack of manipulations. Naegi trusted Kirigiri enough to eat up whatever lies she wanted to tell him. She could be continuing now, telling him anything she liked – and the thought of what she might choose to say made Togami’s stomach turn.

She wouldn’t be able to turn Naegi against him, of course – Togami didn’t believe that for a moment. Naegi believed in everyone. It was his greatest strength and greatest weakness, both at once. He wouldn’t believe ill of Togami without more proof than someone’s word – but it went both ways. Even after a confrontation like that one, Naegi would still trust all the others, leaving him vulnerable to a subtler ploy. And Togami had no doubt whatsoever that such a move was coming.

The only question was what it would be. What could someone be planning that couldn’t be accomplished while Naegi and Togami were together? The idiots of the group might be thinking that this could be a precaution against another murder, but that was because they barely had the sense to come in out of the rain. Why would he and Naegi work together to commit a murder when that would guarantee one of them would die regardless of how the trial ended? No, whatever her other faults might be, Kirigiri was too smart to believe something like that. So she had to have some other reason driving her actions.

Could this be the start of her own murder plot? The thought sent chills down Togami’s spine, and he had to fight not to turn around and run back up the stairs to find Naegi and declare they were done playing this game. The idea made far too much sense for comfort. If Kirigiri wanted to kill, obviously Togami and Naegi had the investigative skills to be the greatest danger to her – and their teamwork would be stronger than ever if they were always together. If she were to be able to derail a possible future investigation, it would be critical for her to separate them, or even –

Togami froze halfway down the stairs to the second floor, paralyzed by the logical conclusion to that thought. Or even kill one of them. It was the perfect way to get rid of a major roadblock to a murderer’s success during the class trials, and of course someone as sharp as Kirigiri would have thought of it at once. It was exactly what Togami himself would have done, if he were in her situation. And faced with the choice of which of the two would be easier to kill, Togami knew exactly who he would choose.

His fingers clenched reflexively around the staircase railing as the world seemed to tilt around him. He could see the trial room opening before them, with one more empty seat where a deadly black X obscured Naegi’s portrait. He could hear the group’s inane chatter about trivialities while they debated the tricks that could have lured the innocent boy to his doom. And Kirigiri – he could see her now, rushing out to paw at Naegi’s broken, lifeless body with eager hands, spewing forth her condescending pronouncements about the condition of his corpse. The thought of her cool, clinical voice informing them all about Naegi’s last moments the way she’d done with the others – he could barely stand to think about it.

He didn’t want that – not the cold shock of realization, not the slow soul-crushing investigation into just how badly Naegi had suffered, not the lingering pain of figuring out how to go on in the aftermath. He could barely get his head around just how much he didn’t want any of it, with the almost physical sensation of repulsion churning in his gut like vomit. The knowledge throbbed through his head, his heart, and his soul – he wanted Naegi not to die.

He could only remember one other time he’d wanted something this badly, with a need intense enough to turn every breath of air to ashes and to make his hands tremble with the thought – when he’d fought tooth and nail against his half-siblings for the right to be the Togami heir. His thirst to prove himself had driven him to vicious heights of brilliance that no one had expected of him, twisting and backstabbing his way through a generation of success stories to show them all that none of the rest could compare.

But that had been different. Pitted against his siblings, at least he’d been able to plan and fight and attack with every weapon he had. Here, trapped in this nightmare of a school with the killing game hemming him in, attacking was the one thing he couldn’t do. Striking against his enemies here would just lead to the loss of the one thing he wanted most to keep.

A loss that was starting already. His fingers went white where he gripped the railing, a physical manifestation of the fury roiling within him. They’d taken Naegi away from him, as easily as plucking a flower from a bush. Every one of the unfamiliar, unsettling emotions flooding through him was due to the other students’ ridiculous, unfounded decision to deny him Naegi’s presence. Everything happening was their fault, for believing Kirigiri over him, for working against their own best interests, for being so goddamn stupid it shouldn’t be allowed

The sound of a footstep above him jolted Togami out of his thoughts, and he jerked around to see just who would be descending the stairs towards him. For a brief moment, he hoped it might be the only person left in the whole school he’d want to see – but of course it wouldn’t be Naegi.

Instead, Ogami stood just a step down from the third floor entrance to the stairwell, looking like she was considering turning around and retreating at the sight of Togami.

Togami stiffened, briefly considering whether he ought to try to bolt for the closest stairwell exit – but if Ogami intended to catch him, running wouldn’t help. Instead, he drew himself up and glared at Monokuma’s traitor. “And what exactly do you think you’re doing?”

Ogami looked down at him for a long moment, then sighed. “I suppose I don’t have any right to complain when anyone asks that now, do I?” She shook her head, sadness lingering in her eyes. “I’ve been meditating on how best to improve the situation, and I’d hoped to find some of the others. I’d like to talk to all of you about what I might try to do.”

“I’ll just bet you would.” Togami crossed his arms. “Don’t you think you’ve done enough? Dissension, distrust, allies turning on one another – what more could you want?”

“I don’t want any of that,” Ogami protested, sounding for all the world like it actually hurt her to hear the accusation. “I never wanted anyone to turn against their friends – I wanted to let you all work together, even if I couldn’t be part of your circle any longer.”

“Oh, that’s right, you were only working for the mastermind because you had to,” Togami sneered. “Because they have a hostage. You’ve secretly been cheering us on the whole time that you were reporting our every move to the mastermind, and it just breaks your fragile heart to know that your boss just added yet another victory to their score.”

“Another – what?” Ogami’s eyes widened in alarm. “I didn’t hear the body discovery announcement –”

“Not that,” Togami cut her off. “You haven’t managed to cause a murder – not yet, anyway. No, all you’ve done so far is shift the blame for your selfish decision to act as a mole.” He took a cold, vicious satisfaction in the way his words seemed to stab through Ogami, inflicting some measure of his own unhappiness back onto her.

“Shift it?” she asked, eyes uncertain. “I don’t understand. How could it appear to be anyone else’s fault? Who else is there to blame?”

“According to the others, Naegi and myself,” Togami said icily. “Congratulations – you’ve managed to turn the entire group against the only ones who actually bothered to tell the truth about the issue. You even managed to get them to force us apart, destroying any shreds of trust and friendship that might have existed among the group.”

Ogami had actually managed to make herself go pale as part of whatever ruse she was attempting. “You’re all turning against each other? It’s that bad?”

“Why don’t you go brag to the mastermind about how well you’ve done?” Togami laughed, cold and hollow. “Maybe they’ll give you a gold star.”

“I –” Ogami turned away, bracing a hand against the doorframe back to the third floor. “I have to go. I have to explain –”

“Because everyone’s just lining up to listen to the mastermind’s spy.” Togami rolled his eyes. “You think there’s anything left that you can say now?”

Ogami closed her eyes against the words, lips tightening. “No. I suppose there isn’t.” She drew away. “I have to go. Thank you for telling me what my actions have caused.” And without another word, Ogami left the stairwell and walked away, shoulders slumped in defeat.

Chapter Text

Sitting by himself in the library with a book open in front of him did nothing to improve Togami’s temper. When he realized that he’d been staring down at the pages without reading a single word for the better part of the afternoon, it only made the fury roiling through him worse. This was intolerable – he couldn’t even concentrate on his book any longer, not with these unrelenting emotions battering at him every moment.

Togami dropped his head into his hands, closing his eyes against the rest of the world. What was wrong with him? Barely a week ago, he could have sat here without a thought for anyone else, immersing himself completely in one book after another. But now, the words blurred in front of him, leaving him unable to focus on anything other than what might be happening in the rest of the school while he was absent.

So this was what it felt like to care about someone else – this constant awareness of another person’s wellbeing, prickling along his skin every time he tried to think about something else. If this was what caring about someone meant, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever genuinely cared about another person in his life. It wasn’t a trait that his upbringing had encouraged, turning family feeling into competitiveness rather than compassion. And every other time he’d felt some faint stirring of emotion towards another person, he’d easily been able to channel it into something more aloof, more distant, more negative.

Only Naegi had resisted the usual patterns of his life, had challenged him to become something more than a competitor in a game. Only Naegi had changed him – and now he wasn’t sure how to fit back into what he’d been before.

So maybe the trick was not to try. Togami stared down at his book a moment longer, evaluating rather than reading this time. Suppose he did manage to succeed in forcing himself to concentrate – what did he gain by sitting here and reading? Before, the benefit had been isolation from the others in a space where he could monitor any approaches, as well as a moderately entertaining way to distract himself from the situation. He’d meant to keep himself alive for as long as possible until he’d decided whether to make an attempt at a killing, and holing himself up away from the others and their nonsense had seemed like the best way to manage it.

But now, like it or not, he’d ended up thoroughly enmeshed in their nonsense. The situation had changed from the way it had been when he’d chosen to hide himself away, so it followed that his response should be different as well. After all, he’d always been of the opinion that it was better to face an unpleasant reality head-on than to try to live in a dream world.

Togami stood, abandoning his book on the edge of the table. He was done sitting hidden away in the library while the rest of the students decided to act without him there. They’d forced this separation by threatening to refuse to talk to Naegi or himself, hadn’t they? Well, since they’d gotten their end of the bargain, maybe he should remind them of their side of the agreement.

Leaving the library, Togami decided he might as well head back downstairs, towards the cafeteria. There were usually at least one or two people loitering there at any point during the day, and he didn’t have Naegi’s patience for combing the entire school in search of specific people.

Sure enough, when he opened the door, he saw Hagakure drop a teacup with a clatter, sloshing liquid across a table.

Wonderful. Togami grimaced as Hagakure yelped and shook his apparently scalded fingers. It would be him, wouldn’t it? Maybe he should just turn around and pretend this had never happened.

“You’re here to do me in, aren’t you? Oh, man, did you already poison my tea? Am I done for already?” Hagakure stared at his teacup in horror, then flung it away, sending the last drops scattering across the floor.

Togami sighed. On the other hand, maybe it would be better not to let this idiocy go unchecked any further. Hagakure had never been especially intelligent, but at least he’d been moderately more coherent before this.

“How exactly do you think I poisoned your tea from another room?” Togami said, crossing his arms. “You made it yourself, didn’t you?”

“You could have your ways,” Hagakure insisted. “You were in that poison room for a reason, weren’t you? And now you’re seeking me out, getting me alone to do who knows what!”

“If you hadn’t been part of that stupid separation ploy, we wouldn’t be alone,” Togami pointed out darkly. “Naegi would be with us.”

“Both of you?” Hagakure looked stricken with terror. “No, no, that’d be even worse! With two people against me I’d have no chance at all!”

Togami resisted the urge to rub at his temples. “You must be joking. Do you actually believe that Naegi is capable of plotting coldblooded murder with me? He wouldn’t hurt a mortal enemy, let alone one of you – the people he keeps calling friends.”

“Yeah, but that could all be a cover,” Hagakure said, waving a finger in Togami’s direction. “You know that whenever there’s a serial killer who makes the news, they always do interviews with the neighbors who say ‘he was such a nice boy’ and ‘we never suspected it.’”

“So you suspect Naegi because he’s too nice?” Togami frowned, the complete lack of logic making his head hurt. “All right, fine – then what about me? Do you intend to accuse me of being too nice?”

“You already told us you want to kill people!” Hagakure said. “Of course you’re suspicious!”

“Right. Of course you wouldn’t be consistent in your idiocy.” Togami rolled his eyes. “Well, I’ve managed to endure several minutes of your presence without attempting to kill you, which probably entitles me to some kind of medal. That ought to prove that I’m not out to murder you.”

“No way, man,” Hagakure protested, shaking his head vehemently. “No, we’re alone, but anyone could walk in through the open door. It’s safe as long as there are other people around, you know?”

Togami wasn’t sure how that assertion fit with Hagakure’s claim that Togami and Naegi were more dangerous when together – but arguing the point didn’t seem like it would get him anywhere. “Fine, then – if you equate the presence of others with safety, I assume you would support the idea of everyone staying together for safety’s sake.”

“What?” Hagakure looked baffled, probably by the multi-syllabled words he’d used.

Togami sighed. “I’m suggesting that those of us who are still alive stop splitting up, so that we can keep track of each other and prevent anyone from acting alone.”

“Oh – I see.” Hagakure nodded slowly, rubbing his chin as he thought it over.

“So you’d agree with the idea?” Togami pressed.

“Huh? Agree with it?” Hagakure stared at him. “No way! I see what you’re trying to do – you just want me to support your schemes so that you can take us all out at once!” He scrambled to his feet and made for the door. “No way would I ever agree to any of your ideas!” And with that, he ran out.

Togami scowled at the tea dripping off the table where Hagakure had been sitting. Well, that had gone about as poorly as he’d expected, considering the person he’d been trying to address. He probably couldn’t have said anything that would have gone any better.

Naegi might have managed it, though. Togami had seen the boy do it time and again, pinpointing exactly the right words to get people to listen to his arguments. He’d even managed to break through the solid barricade of stupidity surrounding Hagakure’s few functioning brain cells once or twice – he would at least have had a chance of salvaging this mess.

It wasn’t an issue of arguments or logic, not really. If that had been all, Togami knew he could have convinced everyone to listen to him already. No, the problem here was likability and trustworthiness – two qualities he apparently did not possess. None of the others had ever really wanted to listen to him if they didn’t have to, and with the current situation making him look suspicious, they’d all seized the chance to ignore him.

Ding dong, ding dong.

As Monokuma’s nighttime announcement rang out from the television monitors, Togami sighed and headed away from the dining hall. The entire day had been a disaster, with everything going wrong from the moment he’d left his room.

And apparently it wasn’t over yet. As he approached the dormitories, Togami heard the minor commotion of voices raised in disagreement. He slowed, trying to determine who was involved – and to his surprise, he saw Asahina and Ogami standing at the corner between their two dorm rooms.

“You have to sleep somewhere!” Asahina was saying, hands on her hips. “And it’s against the rules to sleep anywhere but a dorm room!”

“I understand your concerns,” Ogami said, her voice heavier than usual, “but Hina, I won’t stay in your room tonight.”

“I don’t mind!” Asahina insisted. “Sharing the bed is okay, or I can sleep on the floor –”

“I can’t put you out of your own bed.” And then Ogami looked down the hall, a shadow falling across her face as she met Togami’s eyes. “Ah – and it seems I won’t need to.”

Asahina turned around, and her eyes narrowed when she caught sight of Togami. “You. You’ve still got Sakura’s room key.”

Togami crossed his arms, staying well out of range of either girl. “Of course I do. I’m hardly going to let it out of my sight.”

“Oh, yes, you are,” Asahina snapped. “You’re going to give it back to Sakura so she can get into her room again.”

Togami stiffened. This morning, he’d told Naegi that he’d been prepared to hand to key back over to Ogami if she’d asked to have it – but that had been before the rest of the students had decided to treat him and Naegi like enemies while allowing Ogami to roam free. It might not do anything to negate Ogami’s threat, but with the way Asahina was glaring at him, Togami wasn’t inclined to do anything that she wanted.

“No.” Togami lifted his chin, putting on his most imperious manner. “I’m not contributing to your ability to wander the school at night. Sort out your own sleeping arrangements however you want, but I’m not giving you that key back.”

“Oh, really?” Asahina clenched her fists. “And what if we decide to take it?”

“I imagine you’d be able to get it off me fairly easily,” Togami said, holding his stance steady. Even if worry had begun to chill his veins at the thought of the two athletes attempting to attack him, he would never let a quiver of it show. “In fact, if you want to escalate matters to physical violence, why stop there? You know how this game works, and it isn’t about anything so paltry as fists and thievery.”

“You think I can’t?” Asahina took a step forward, and might well have gone further if Ogami hadn’t laid a restraining hand on her shoulder.

“Not you, too, Hina,” Ogami said, a spasm of what looked like hurt flashing across her face. “Please. Don’t act like this because of me.”

“It’s not you,” Asahina said. “It’s because of him. No one would miss him – we’d all be better off if he weren’t around.”

Before Togami could say anything in response to that outrageous claim, Ogami was shaking her head. “You can’t start thinking like that. You can’t give in to what the mastermind wants.”

Togami eyed Ogami for a moment, frowning as he wondered just what her angle was with all this. Was she still trying to portray herself as some kind of victim? It hardly seemed necessary, not when Asahina had bought the act already.

When some of the tension went out of Asahina’s shoulders, Ogami looked over at Togami. “You can keep my key, if it matters that much to you, but I would prefer to spend the night in my own room. Would you open the door?”

“No!” Asahina objected. “He won’t let you out again! He’ll just leave you in there to starve!”

“What, and get named as a murderer in the shortest class trial possible?” Togami rolled his eyes. “Be serious. If you’d all bothered to listen to me instead of jumping to the most ridiculous conclusions possible, you’d know that I never thought that locking the spy up would be a workable solution to the problem.”

“So you’re saying you’d open the door again?” Asahina said skeptically.

“I suppose I’d have to.” Togami glanced at Ogami. “Provided you follow the same safety precautions as before.”

Ogami nodded. “That seems reasonable.”

“No, it doesn’t!” Asahina snapped. “So you have safety precautions for you – but what about for Sakura? If you have her key, you could get into her room any time during the night and do anything you wanted!”

“Why would I want to go into the spy’s room?” Togami asked, curling his lip. “What would that do other than give her an opportunity to kill me?”

“Whatever you’re planning to do, I’m not waiting to find out,” Asahina said. “If you’re going to lock Sakura in her room overnight, you’re locking me in with her.”

“What?” Ogami’s eyes flew wide open. “Hina, no – you have your own room, you’d be much more comfortable there.”

“I don’t care about being comfortable – I care about you being safe!” Asahina said. “And if you’re alone in a room that only he can unlock, you definitely won’t be safe. What if you just mysteriously turned up dead in the morning?”

Ogami closed her eyes and swallowed. “I – I see your point.” She looked from Asahina to Togami. “Very well, then – unless Togami has objections.”

“I don’t care if he does!” Asahina glared over at Togami.

He gave a bored shrug. “What do I care if you want to risk your life? If the mastermind gives her the order to kill overnight, at least the crime scene will be contained.”

Asahina looked like she wanted to say something more, but before she could, Ogami tugged her further down the hall to give Togami the space to approach her door. Once they were a safe distance away, Togami pulled Ogami’s key from his inner jacket pocket and unlocked the door, retreating as soon as it was open. Asahina’s eyes went to the key in Togami’s hand, but despite a moment’s hesitation, she followed Ogami into the room rather than press the issue.

Once the door was closed, Togami made sure it was securely locked before stowing the key away again. At least that meant two of the other troublesome students were safely out of the way. With any luck, Ogami really would take the chance to kill her supposed friend, proving herself as the true threat and getting eliminated by the resulting trial in one move. As far as Togami was concerned, that would be the best solution on all counts – because other than that, he couldn’t see a good resolution to the situation at all.

Chapter Text

Alone in his room, Togami lay in bed staring up at the dark ceiling. He hadn’t known what else to do after locking Asahina and Ogami in for the night other than go to bed, since the others all seemed determined to continue following their ten o’clock curfew. He’d never viewed the curfew as any kind of obligation, but on the other hand, continuing to wander the school didn’t exactly appeal to him, either. All he’d really wanted was for this tedious day to be over.

But now that he’d gone to bed, sleep eluded him. The bed stretched out around him, too big even when he let his limbs sprawl across as much of it as he could fill, and the room sounded too empty with only one person’s breathing disturbing the air. Loneliness pressed around him like a physical presence, the silence too omnipresent to ignore.

This was ridiculous. He’d only spent a few nights sharing Naegi’s bed – it shouldn’t bother him to sleep alone again. He should be grateful to have the space to himself, content to enjoy the freedom to stretch out his legs and control his blankets. But instead, he found himself reaching for a heavier blanket than he personally preferred or curling automatically onto the far side of the bed, leaving the other half empty as if it no longer belonged to him.

How had Naegi done it? He’d carved out a space for himself in Togami’s life so easily, and now that he’d been taken away, Togami could see just how deep the hooks had gone. It wasn’t even the result of some kind of planned manipulation to put Togami in his control – Naegi had just been himself, honest and open and nice down to the bone, and he’d wormed his way into Togami’s heart more than any coordinated effort ever could have.

Togami had actually considered trying to see the other boy, when he’d been standing alone in the hall after locking Asahina and Ogami away. If he’d waited until a while after curfew to ring Naegi’s doorbell, it wasn’t as though anyone would be able to hear it through the soundproofed rooms. If he’d been out again before the morning announcement, no one would have had to know.

No one except him and Naegi, anyway – and that had been the problem right there. Togami didn’t even have to ask the other boy to know exactly what he’d say in response to the suggestion that he break his word to his friends – and he didn’t especially want to hear Naegi tell him to go away, however little the other boy might mean it. And so Togami hadn’t even tried to ring Naegi’s doorbell, resigning himself to the idea that he wouldn’t be able to confirm Naegi’s wellbeing until breakfast the next day.

The morning couldn’t come soon enough. Togami didn’t sleep much throughout the night, spending far more time tossing and turning. Different plans and options for the new day kept running through his head, but every time he came up with one, some crucial difficulty with it occurred to him as he tried to work out the details. By the time it was early enough that he could justify dragging himself out of bed, Togami hadn’t managed to come up with either a decent plan or a decent rest. It looked as though he had a long day ahead of him.

There were still a few minutes until the morning announcement by the time he’d finished dressing for the day, but if he had to stare at the inside of his room another second, Togami thought he might start smashing things. To distract himself from the impulses towards wanton destruction, he let himself out into the empty hall, stifling a yawn as he relocked his door. What he really needed was some coffee, but of course the cafeteria was still off limits for now. Maybe the storage room would have something?

Not having much else to do with his time, Togami shrugged and headed around the corner to check. But it only took a few moments to ascertain that no, the only coffee-like items in the storage room was some kind of instant monstrosity that shouldn’t even be allowed to share the same name as proper coffee. Togami tossed it away and tried to swallow back another yawn as he left.

Looking down the dormitory hallway again, Togami could see Ogami’s door at the end of the row, still safely locked as far as he could tell. He’d probably have to let the two girls out sometime soon, wouldn’t he? Personally, he wouldn’t mind leaving them stuck in there for as long as possible, but if Asahina didn’t make it to the group’s breakfast meeting, the others would start to make a scene about it. He’d had enough of them all making baseless accusations at him yesterday – he didn’t need to deal with more of that nonsense today. Better to let the girls out before the meeting began.

Of course, opening that door did run the risk that he was about to uncover one or more corpses. Togami headed slowly down the hall towards the door, considering his options. If the mastermind had chosen last night to force Ogami’s hand, the martial artist could have taken Asahina down fairly easily, considering the swimmer’s blind faith in her. Or there was also the chance that Asahina might have avoided the first attempt and gotten lucky in the aftermath, leaving Ogami as the victim. Whichever way it might have turned out, the tidiest scenario would involve one victim and one murderer.

The worst case scenario would be if both girls had somehow managed to murder one another, leaving two corpses and no explanation of how they’d gotten there. In that case, Togami knew his possession of the room key would not be a point in his favor – and being the one to discover the bodies would only make him look more suspicious. Of course, it would only be circumstantial, nothing definitive – but if Hagakure, Fukawa, and Kirigiri decided to continue with their stupid vendetta against him during the class trial, they did have enough votes to outnumber himself and Naegi.

It might help to allay some possible suspicions if he could bring someone else along with him to open the door this morning – but of course, that brought up the question of who. Naegi would be ideal, but unfortunately he was out of the question. And it wasn’t as though any of the others were likely to listen to a request from him –

“Hey, White Knight, baby! Up and raring to go pretty early this morning, aren’t you?”

Togami turned sharply to see Genocide Jill standing in her open doorway, tongue lolling out of her mouth as she directed her usual disgusting leer at him. A frown of distaste flickered across his face for a moment, before he realized it could be worse – it could be Fukawa instead. He never would have thought that he’d come to prefer the serial killer personality, but at least her particular brand of crazy seemed a little more predictable than Fukawa’s overexcited delusions.

“So what brings you out here all by your lonesome, huh?” Jill asked. “Did you get up early to sneak some alone time with your very favorite serial killer?”

“Definitely not,” Togami said flatly, crossing his arms as he considered her. Despite Fukawa’s current suspicion and mistrust of him, Jill’s attitude towards him didn’t seem to have changed at all.

“Oh-ho, so it’s definitely fate that brought us together this morning!” Jill laughed. “Well, fate and my finely-honed Byakuya Togami radar! Gotta keep close track of your door if I don’t want to miss any action, right?”

He suppressed a shudder at the thought of her sitting across the hall watching his door, like a spider waiting for its prey to touch its web. He had no intention of showing a hint of weakness to an open murderer – but if the girl was going to insist on stalking him, he might as well get something useful out of her behavior.

“Then if you’re going to watch me, come on,” he told her, flicking his fingers in an imperious gesture as he continued down the hall.

“Sure thing, baby,” Jill agreed, scurrying along after him. “You know I’m always happy to get up close and personal.”

Well, that sounded potentially horrifying. “Keep your distance. All you have to do is watch as I open Ogami’s door.”

“The Ogre? Aw, and here I was hoping you might pick up Mahkyutie for some adora-double fun!”

Togami couldn’t stop his shoulders from tensing. “No.”

“Needs his sleep, huh? Yeah, it looks like whatever you got up to last night left you alllll tired out.” Jill grinned, visibly raking her eyes up and down his body.

Togami scowled. He’d done his best to hide the evidence of his sleepless night, but apparently he hadn’t managed well enough. “Don’t talk about him. Just stand there.”

Before she could chatter any further at him, Togami strode up and unlocked Ogami’s door. After signaling the doorbell with one long and three short rings, he quickly retreated out of range, back towards Jill – only to find her eyeing him with a puzzled frown.

“What’ve you got the Ogre’s room key for?” Jill asked, one hand on her hip. “Is there something my White Knight isn’t telling me?”

“Yes. And I’m going to continue not telling you about it,” Togami said flatly, not taking his eyes off the door as he mentally counted down the thirty seconds until the door should open. “Now shut up.”

There wasn’t much time left for Jill to talk in any case. As the last few seconds ticked away, Togami pondered the options he’d have if the door didn’t open. That would suggest either a trap or a worst case scenario, and he wasn’t eager to open the door on either option. Maybe it would be better to send Jill to do it? He’d give it another minute or so, and then –

The door swung open, revealing an exhausted-looking Ogami looking out at them, eyes red and outlined with dark circles. She leaned against the doorframe, her usually exact posture slumping like she was trying to take up as little space as possible. Even so, she still filled the doorway, and Togami couldn’t quite see past her to determine whether the room showed evidence of a murder.

“So – you did return,” Ogami said, her voice a slow rumble. She didn’t meet his eyes, gaze dropping instead to the ground. “Thank you for that.”

“You don’t have to be grateful!”

To Togami’s surprise, Asahina pushed her way into view at Ogami’s side. She looked perfectly alive and unharmed, if still sleepy and absentmindedly clutching a pillow.

“There’s no point thanking him when it’s his fault we were locked up in the first place,” Asahina went on, sending Togami a glare. “So nothing happened all night – are you happy now?”

“Not particularly,” Togami said, crossing his arms. “This just prolongs the situation. At least if one of you were dead, we’d be able to break the stalemate. And with you offering yourself up as such an easy victim, it would have been ideal.”

“How can you say something like that, right to Sakura’s face?” Asahina demanded. “You don’t have any real feelings at all, do you?”

“I certainly don’t have any feelings about either of you,” Togami said coolly. “I told you last night – if you want to sacrifice yourself on the altar of false friendship, I’m happy to let you. The mastermind’s order for death might as well end with a willing victim – and then after the trial, we’d be rid of you both.”

Asahina stared at him, repulsion twisting her face. “You – you’re a monster. If anyone ends up dead from this, it ought to be you!”

“Oh, so now you’re going to start horning in on my turf?” Jill asked, eyes flashing dangerously in Asahina’s direction. “Well, you’d better watch it – murdering adorable boys is my shtick!”

“Ugh.” Asahina glanced over at Jill, lip curling in distaste as she looked back at Togami. “Seriously? We tell you to stop acting so suspicious with Naegi, and you start hanging out with her instead?”

“Tell him? So now you think you can give my White Knight orders?” Jill’s scissors flashed into her hands. “Maybe those gargantuan gazongas of yours are dragging away all the blood that ought to go to your brain. A couple snip snip snips should fix that right up!”

And of course that broke Ogami’s pose of depression, her head snapping up at the threat to Asahina. “Leave Hina out of this! It doesn’t concern her!”

“It does when she won’t stop blathering about it,” Togami pointed out.

“Someone has to point out all your tricks and lies!” Asahina snapped. “You might have gotten Naegi and Fukawa snowed, but I can see what you are – lying, selfish, manipulative, cowardly, untrustwor—”

Her tirade was cut off as Jill leapt forward, scissors arcing out in a bright flash of metal. Ogami lunged forward to knock Jill off course, just as Asahina yelped, arms flying up to shield herself – and feathers exploded through the hallway as Jill’s scissors cut through Asahina’s pillow. Ogami swung Asahina out of the way as Jill collapsed in a cloud of feathers, several loud sneezes rocking through her.

“Hina – you’re hurt!” Ogami stared down at Asahina’s arm in some approximation of horror. Jill’s scissors had torn through the sleeve of her sweatshirt, and Togami could see blood on the skin beneath.

“Oh – no, don’t worry, it isn’t that bad,” Asahina said hastily.

Ogami didn’t seem inclined to listen, eyes blazing with fury as she glared into the feathery mess. “Why would you do that?”

But as the feathers settled to the floor, it was Fukawa who sat amid them, staring up at Ogami with terror-stricken eyes. “W-what’s going on?”

“None of this has to do with the others!” Ogami insisted, looming over Fukawa. “If you have a problem, you can take it up with me!”

“I don’t have a problem!” Fukawa said, shoving herself back away from Ogami’s furious glare. “N-no problems here!”

“You don’t have a problem – you are a problem.” Togami scowled down at her. God, the last thing he wanted to deal with this morning was whatever crazy delusions she’d thought up about him now. “Maybe you should do us all a favor and take another breath of those feathers.”

Fukawa whipped her head around, wide eyes peering up at him through her glasses. “You’d rather have her around?”

“I’d be happier without either of you,” Togami said, rolling his eyes.

“Well, we’d all be happier without any of you,” Asahina shot at him, pressing the edges of her sleeve against her wound.

“I knew you all wanted me g-gone,” Fukawa gasped out, scrambling up to her feet and backing away from them. “I knew it all along!”

“It shouldn’t come as much of a shock,” Togami said, crossing his arms. “I’ve told you from the beginning that your presence is repellant.”

Fukawa’s eyes went as wide as if he’d struck her, but when she opened her mouth to reply –

Ding dong, ding dong.

The morning announcement filled the hallways. Fukawa’s dark eyes never moved from Togami as Monokuma’s cheerful voice rang in their ears.

As the announcement ended, Ogami took Asahina’s arm and began leading her away, murmuring something about the clinic. Togami shrugged and turned away to head towards the cafeteria. The breakfast meeting would start soon, and he’d get a chance to see the only person worth talking to in the whole school. He walked away, leaving Fukawa sitting there alone in the pile of feathers.

Chapter Text

Togami headed directly into the cafeteria, scowling around at the empty tables. He’d never been here so early before, just moments after the morning announcement had played. He’d always preferred to wait until the rest of the students had finished their meeting so that he didn’t have to deal with any of them. And now here he was, first one through the door, as if he was eager to attend their tedious daily gathering. The thought made him want to gag.

Well, he wasn’t going to let the others find him sitting around waiting for them, at the very least. He headed back into the kitchen to prepare some coffee. Hopefully the caffeine would help get rid of the headache the morning’s antics had already given him – and maybe the preparation time would be enough for Naegi to make it to the dining hall, as well.

But when he returned to the main room of the cafeteria, coffee in hand, Naegi wasn’t the person who’d arrived. Kirigiri sat at one of the tables, frowning and tapping a pen against a small notebook. She looked up as he entered, raising her eyebrows at him.

“I’m glad to see your newfound resolution to be more helpful hasn’t fallen to pieces,” she said, eyes as blank as ever. “I did wonder if it might.”

“I’m not here to see you.” Togami emphasized this by choosing the seat as far away from her as possible.

She watched him a moment longer, then turned back to her notebook. Togami wondered briefly just what she was writing over there – but it probably wasn’t anything interesting. After all, keeping a written record of important information would be stupid, when there were cameras spying on them at all times.

Instead, he turned his attention to his coffee, watching the door out of the corner of his eye as he drank. Naegi would have to arrive soon, wouldn’t he? After all, he always made a point of attending these morning meetings to see his so-called friends – he wouldn’t start skipping out now. It was just a question of when he’d arrive.

Togami refused to let himself dwell on the possibility that Naegi wouldn’t arrive. He hadn’t seen Naegi since they’d separated yesterday, and the awareness that he didn’t know where Naegi was gnawed away at him. Anything could have happened in the intervening hours, and he wouldn’t know about it. There hadn’t been a body discovery announcement, but there wasn’t much comfort in that – not when Naegi trusted everyone in the group enough that he would probably have opened his door in the middle of the night to let a potential killer walk right in.

And it wouldn’t even need to be a deliberate murder attempt. For all that Naegi kept insisting he was fine, Togami had still been able to see the flashes of pain when he turned his head wrong, the moments of unexpected dizziness, or the way climbing all the stairs made him more tired than it should. Head wounds weren’t something to treat lightly, but Naegi would probably try to shrug his off, given the chance. Togami could see him doing so all too easily, and ending up collapsing half-conscious somewhere after pushing himself too hard.

The door opened, and Togami looked sharply towards it – only to scowl when he realized it was just Hagakure. The wild-haired young man shot a nervous look in Togami’s direction, then headed over to cower beside Kirigiri. Togami rolled his eyes and decided to ignore them both.

It only took another few minutes for the door to open again, but this time, Asahina entered, Ogami trailing reluctantly at her heels. Togami stiffened at the sight of Monokuma’s spy joining them as if she were no different than any other student.

“So you’re not even going to pretend to any shame about facing the people you betrayed?” Togami asked, his voice clear in the otherwise silent room.

Ogami started, looking up at him like a spooked wild animal, but it was Asahina who answered, eyes flashing with anger. “I don’t think you’ve got any room to talk about people who ought to be feeling shame.”

“I’ve been nothing but helpful and honest with the lot of you for the past few days,” Togami said, glaring at her. “It’s not my problem if you don’t like the truth.”

“You wouldn’t know truth if you met it on the street!” Asahina snapped back, and she looked like she would have gone on if Ogami hadn’t begun backing towards the door again.

“This was a bad idea,” Ogami said, when Asahina turned back towards her with a questioning look. “Togami is right, Hina – I don’t belong among you anymore. The way things stand now, my presence can only make the situation worse.”

“That’s not true!” Asahina said, stomping her foot. “You have just as much right to be here as any of the others!”

“She lost that right when she chose to work for the mastermind,” Togami said, crossing his arms.

“You –”

“Hina, stop.” Ogami’s fists clenched, and it looked like she’d actually summoned up some tears at the corners of her eyes. “I appreciate all that you’ve done to defend me, but – it’s enough. You’ve done enough.”

“Sakura –” Asahina reached out towards her, but Ogami’s eyes flickered down to the fresh bandage wrapped around Asahina’s arm.

No.” Ogami’s voice broke on the word. “You were hurt, Hina – because of me.”

“It wasn’t your fault, it’s because they wouldn’t –”

“Because of me,” Ogami repeated. “And it can’t happen again. Stop defending me. Stop fighting with the others.”

“But –”

“Promise me,” Ogami said, not giving Asahina enough time to formulate a protest. “If – if you do still consider me a friend, then do this for me. Stop fighting. Stop arguing. Stop making the cracks in the group worse.”

Asahina stared up at Ogami. “This is really what you want?”

“Yes.”

“Then – fine.” Asahina clenched her fists and looked away. “Fine, if that’s really what you want. I’ll try not to fight about it anymore – but nothing will make me stop believing in you.”

“Hina –” Ogami swallowed. “Thank you. You’ve been a better friend than I deserve.” She looked around the room once more. “I – I should go. It will be better if I’m not here.” With that, she turned and walked out of the room before Asahina could stop her.

Togami watched her go with narrowed eyes. That was quite a little show that Ogami had put on – and he couldn’t help but notice that she’d chosen to do it in front of most of the other students, rather than when she and Asahina had been alone in the nurse’s office. What could she mean by it? Was she acting on the mastermind’s orders here, or was this all part of some other plan she’d cooked up herself?

He watched as Asahina hesitated at the door, then slowly turned away to droop into the nearest chair, staring down at her hands. Could she be in on whatever Ogami was doing? He was inclined to think that she was just stupid and stubborn, getting manipulated herself rather than trying to trick others – but he couldn’t rule the possibility out. There was the chance –

The sound of the door opening again shattered his train of thought, and he twisted sharply around in his seat. There was only one person left who usually attended these meetings but hadn’t arrived yet – it had to be –

Naegi stood in the doorway, his eyes immediately seeking out Togami’s as a bright smile spread across his face.

Chapter Text

Togami stared across the room at Naegi, frozen in place by the relief sweeping through him. Naegi was safe, alive, not harmed any more than he already had been. He’d worried about the other possibilities, but he hadn’t realized just how anxious he’d been about it – not until now, when the tension left him at the sight of Naegi well and whole.

What had happened during the hours they’d been apart? Had Naegi just been alone and bored, or had one of the others tried something? Had he recovered at all from his head injury, or was he still in pain? Togami needed to know, to understand the threats still facing the other boy. He stood, preparing to go over and speak to Naegi.

“Don’t.”

Togami turned sharply at the sound of Kirigiri’s voice, to find the girl’s cold eyes boring into him from across the room as she got to her feet.

“Excuse me?” Togami scowled at her, not at all liking the curt order she’d issued.

“You heard me.” Kirigiri walked over to stand in the path between Togami and Naegi, so that neither of them could cross without passing by her. “The separation is still in effect.”

“What, because you think we’re going to plot mass murder over breakfast with all of you in hearing distance?” Togami asked, cold rage trickling through his veins. “You can’t be serious.”

“Why wouldn’t I be serious?” Kirigiri said, her face as unreadable as ever. “The situation hasn’t changed to make the pair of you look more trustworthy.”

Togami looked back to Naegi, only to see the smile fading from the boy’s face at the realization of just how inflexible Kirigiri intended to be. Togami’s heart clenched at the sight of Naegi’s brief moment of happiness disappearing, leaving him dispirited and sad. How could that girl justify doing this to him? Naegi had only ever been nice to her – nicer than she deserved, with all she’d put him through.

“Then what would make it change?” Togami demanded. “What are you waiting for? Or do you expect us to let you keep this idiocy up indefinitely?”

“We told you already – the separation is because we can’t trust the two of you together,” Kirigiri said, unfazed by Togami’s anger. “It will end when you’ve satisfied us about that issue either way.”

“What do you mean, either way?” Naegi asked, frowning.

Kirigiri didn’t look his way, expression going icier than before. “Either we find out for certain that we can trust you both, meaning that the two of you acting together isn’t an issue – or we find out for certain that we can’t.”

The look on Naegi’s face stabbed right through Togami’s chest. “And what would prove our trustworthiness?” Togami asked, since anything had to be better than seeing that crushed expression in Naegi’s eyes.

But Kirigiri didn’t seem to agree, shrugging as if it barely concerned her. “I’ll let you know. But it hasn’t happened yet.”

Togami clenched one fist, just one – but so tightly that he could feel his nails biting deep into his palm. He wanted to gouge them into her face instead, to rip her apart and make her feel some of the hurt he could see on Naegi’s face – but he knew it wouldn’t help. It would just make her dig in her heels further, insist that he and Naegi couldn’t be trusted at all, and who knew what else she might try in that case.

No, Kirigiri held all the cards right now, and they all knew it. She could demand whatever she liked, at least until he could figure out a way to get around her. As long as she could prey on Naegi to enforce this separation, Togami didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.

With one last furious glare in her direction, Togami whirled back into his seat. Only long practice at not showing weaknesses too overtly let him resist the urge to hurl his half-empty coffee cup at the wall with a satisfyingly destructive crash. He knew breaking glassware wouldn’t deal with the issue, anyway – what he needed to break now couldn’t be so easily smashed.

Naegi sent one last look in Togami’s direction, making what seemed to be an extremely poor effort at smiling again, before taking the seat across from Asahina. Togami glowered back, etching the misery he saw into his memory along with the rest of the sins to lay at Kirigiri’s feet.

“So is this it, then?” Hagakure asked, looking around the room. “Are we the only ones still coming in the mornings?”

“Who else are you expecting to turn up, one of the corpses?” Togami snapped, glaring at the idiot. “If you’re going to speak, at least try to say something of enough value to make up for the air you use to spew it.”

“I just meant there’s only five of us left, if Fukawa and the Ogre aren’t going to come anymore,” Hagakure said. “That – that’s only a third of what we started with!”

“Your ability to do basic math astounds me.” Togami rolled his eyes.

“No, it’s true,” Asahina said, looking up from her hands with red-rimmed eyes. “We’ve lost so many people. It’s only been a couple weeks, and so many of us are gone – from fifteen down to seven of us still alive. We can’t lose any more!”

Togami was about to make another scathing remark – but something about the statement made him pause. Fifteen students – was that really the right number? When he and Naegi had first questioned Ogami, she had tried to say that it wasn’t, that the number was actually sixteen. The idea was bizarre, of course, and he’d dismissed it as nothing more than an attempt at a dodge – but it seemed like a rather complex way to attempt to avoid blame, if so.

And now that he thought about it, Togami recalled something else that had struck him as similarly odd – the empty seat the mastermind always left among them during the class trials. Not only did every student have a place, regardless of whether they were still alive, there was always one seat left open and unclaimed. It didn’t necessarily confirm Ogami’s story, but it did suggest that someone might want the story to look like it had been confirmed.

Togami huffed out a sigh, pushing his now-empty coffee cup away. It was useless to think about. In fact, this whole meeting was useless, an infuriating waste of his time. He’d only bothered attending because he’d thought he’d get a chance to check in with Naegi, but he hadn’t even been allowed to do that. He’d been reduced to staring across the cafeteria at Naegi like a lovesick schoolgirl, daydreaming about conversations they couldn’t actually have.

Well, no more. He wasn’t going to stay here where the rest of the students could revel in how pathetic they’d made him look. He got up, preparing to head out the door.

“Just a moment.” Before Togami could go, Kirigiri stood as well, briskly circling the tables towards him. “If you’re ready to leave, there’s something I’d like to show you.”

Chapter Text

Togami stared at Kirigiri, trying to find some meaning in her emotionless mask. Her face never flickered, though, neither kind nor cruel, showing nothing more than mild interest in whether he was going to answer her question.

“What is it?” Togami asked, narrowing his eyes at her.

“Not here.” Kirigiri headed for the door, clearly expecting him to follow her.

Togami very nearly let her leave without him. It would serve her right if he did, ordering him around like he had nothing better to do. But on the other hand, she’d just said that she wanted him to prove himself to be trustworthy. Doing as she demanded was almost certainly part of that.

In that case, he supposed he didn’t have much choice. Togami strode out after Kirigiri, quickly catching up to her. To his mild surprise, she didn’t turn towards the bathhouse, which he would have expected to be the best place to show him something that she apparently didn’t feel the need to share with any of the others. Instead, she headed for the stairs, climbing up to the third floor.

“What exactly do you think you’re going to show me in here?” Togami asked, frowning, when Kirigiri opened the door to the rec room. “If you’re looking for an Othello partner, I’m not interested.”

“I’m not.” Kirigiri closed the door behind them, then walked over to open the large metal cabinet in the corner of the room.

Togami looked the cabinet up and down, then raised an eyebrow in her direction. “A giant metal box, very interesting. Anyone would be delighted to walk up three flights of stairs to see it.”

Kirigiri’s lips tightened, but she didn’t respond to the needling. Instead, she carried on with whatever she had apparently come to do, pulling her notebook out of her pocket and removing several of the sheets. Togami frowned at her, trying to work out what she was doing as she attached the papers to the cabinet wall, in the shadow of the door. One of the papers seemed to have writing on it, but with the way she’d positioned it, it would be very difficult to see –

Ah. So that was it. Togami glanced at the security camera, and sure enough, its location wouldn’t let it see inside the locker with any clarity – definitely not closely enough to tell what was written on any of the papers. So she wanted to communicate something to him privately, was that it? Something that she didn’t want to say in the bathhouse, for some incomprehensible reason of her own.

All right, then. Togami didn’t particularly trust anything that Kirigiri might want to tell him, but he was certainly interested to see what it was. If nothing else, this might give him some insight into just what the inscrutable girl might be planning. So as she stepped away from the locker, he took her place, leaning forward to read what the note had to say.

“After considering the information Alter Ego provided from its data analysis, I have come to the following conclusions. First, we are being denied information about the outside world for more reason than to provide us with motivation to leave. Second, while the headmaster may have been involved in these events to some extent, he is not the mastermind behind everything.”

Togami read the words over several times to be certain he’d gotten it right, just in case the dim light had blurred the words. This was what she’d brought him here to say? That made no sense – the first conclusion was too obviously right, and the second was too obviously wrong.

He turned to tell her so, but before he could open his mouth, she thrust a pen into his hand. Well, if she wanted to keep all her speculations from the mastermind, that did make sense. Togami shrugged and turned to the paper, writing in the blank space below her notes.

“Your second conclusion doesn’t match the information I received. How did you reach these conclusions?”

Kirigiri had produced a second pen, and as soon as he’d finished, she leaned in to begin her reply.

“An alternate source of information about the headmaster.”

Togami gave her a hard look, but he might as well not have bothered. She might as well have been writing about the color of the walls, for all that her expression gave away. He turned back to the paper.

“What source?”

“One that I prefer not to share at this time.”

Togami didn’t even bother to write down a response to that. If she couldn’t figure out his opinion from the look he gave her, he’d have to revise his opinion of her intelligence drastically.

Kirigiri eyed him for a moment, then returned to the paper.

“I have no intention of telling you everything I know. Consider this information an olive branch of sorts – an attempt at determining whether we can be allies in the future.”

Togami scowled at the paper.

“You think I want to be your ally, after everything you’ve done?”

This time, Kirigiri was the one who didn’t write a response. She just raised an eyebrow at him, lips curling into her insufferable smirk. She didn’t need to put it on the paper – the word yes was written all over her face.

And damn her, she was right. Of course she was. Togami wouldn’t be here right now if he didn’t want to be her ally. He might find her alarmingly suspicious, personally irritating, and obnoxiously overbearing, but she was also the main force behind his separation from Naegi. If he wanted that ban lifted, he needed to develop some kind of working relationship with Kirigiri.

So was that what she was doing? Was this actually an attempt to rebuild the bridges she’d burned when she forced him away from Naegi? Togami wouldn’t have thought she’d do anything remotely helpful – but then again, she’d already demonstrated that she didn’t like stalemates. Every time she interrupted Monokuma’s rambling tangents or prompted a class trial away from an argument showed that she would always act when she felt matters were getting off track.

And no one could deny that the current situation had gotten horribly awry. For all that Kirigiri had justified her actions by claiming he and Naegi had been causing divisions in the group, separating them hadn’t done much to fix the problem. If anything, that had made it worse. It was just barely possible that she’d recognized her actions for the colossal blunder they’d been, and that this was an attempt to fix her mistake without actually admitting she’d been wrong.

Of course, it was also possible that it was nothing of the kind. He’d been expecting a trick when she brought him in here, and he hadn’t seen anything yet to prove that wasn’t what she was trying. He couldn’t see what the trick in the information might be, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. Kirigiri was smart, if nothing else – anything she tried wouldn’t be immediately obvious.

Togami considered a moment longer, but with the current information he had, he couldn’t determine which scenario might be right. He turned back to the paper.

“What do you expect me to do now that you’ve told me this?”

Kirigiri shrugged.

“Whatever you see fit. I wanted to share a portion of my conclusions. I’ve done so. The next step is yours.”

And with that, she pulled the sheets of paper off the locker wall and began methodically shredding them. Once they had been reduced to illegible scraps, she stowed them in her pocket and left the room without a backward glance.

Chapter Text

Naegi sat alone in the cafeteria after all the others had trickled out, staring down into a cup of tea. It was strange to realize it, but for the first time since he’d found himself trapped here at Hope’s Peak, he had nothing to do. None of the others had looked like they wanted to spend any time with him – well, except Togami, of course, but Naegi couldn’t let himself think about that.

Yesterday had been bad enough, after everyone in the school had confronted him. When Togami had left the chemistry lab in a rage, Naegi had hoped that would defuse the situation enough that he’d be able to talk to the others and explain what had happened – but it hadn’t worked. Kirigiri had swept out just moments after Togami had left, acting like she couldn’t even hear Naegi’s attempts to get her attention, and Hagakure had bolted when Naegi tried to approach him. Fukawa had sent him a poisonous glare – but Naegi knew he probably should have expected that, after kissing Togami right in front of her.

Asahina had been the only one who’d waited to talk to him, and that had only been to ask him one question. “So now that you don’t have him hanging over your shoulder, are you still going to accuse Sakura?”

“I’m not accusing her!” Naegi had protested. “I don’t think she wanted to betray anyone, and I believe her now that she says she’s on our side!”

It had been the wrong thing to say. Asahina had glared at him again, clenching her fists. “So you’re still sticking to that story you and Togami made up together. Fine.” And with that, she’d stormed off, too.

Thinking back on it now, Naegi could think of a hundred different things he could have said – not just to Asahina, but to all of them. If he’d said or done something else, maybe it wouldn’t have turned out like this. He hadn’t even considered that the others might get suspicious if he and Togami started spending so much time together – but maybe he should have. Maybe he should have realized what it would look like from the other side, and tried to make sure they would all understand.

Maybe he shouldn’t have done it at all. Starting up a romance in the middle of all this killing – it was a little selfish, wasn’t it? Everyone else had been worrying about the murders and the trials and the mastermind, and he’d been thinking about Togami. He’d even been repeatedly late to the one daily meeting everyone had agreed to, because he and Togami had been together. They’d all probably been afraid something had happened to him, just because he’d been too caught up in his new feelings to let them know he was okay.

No wonder Kirigiri was so angry with him. She’d been working so hard to try to find out more about the mastermind, and he’d just stopped helping. And then when he’d finally had a new piece of information that she could have used, he hadn’t told her about it.

He’d thought that telling people about the possibility of a spy without asking Ogami first was wrong – but after everything that had happened, he wondered if maybe he’d been mistaken. Maybe if he’d told Kirigiri and Togami everything from the start, the situation could have been resolved without all the fighting. Or if he’d been so sure he shouldn’t tell anyone, then maybe he should have stuck to his principles and refused to tell Togami anything, either. If he’d tried to talk to Ogami alone, like he’d originally planned, then Monokuma wouldn’t have been able to make it look like he and Togami had been keeping secrets from the others.

Naegi sighed, taking his undrunk cup of tea to the kitchen. With all the what-ifs and worries churning around in his head, the thought of adding any food to the nausea in his stomach was too much to bear. He might have been able to drink some of that calming herbal tea Togami had made him yesterday – but when he pulled it off the shelf and caught the soft scent of the tea leaves, the sudden memory of Togami handing him the cup nearly brought him to tears.

The whole cafeteria suddenly seemed too oppressive to stand another minute, and Naegi turned away and hurried out. He couldn’t just sit there all day.

He wasn’t sure what he could do, though. On his way to breakfast, he’d thought that maybe he would try to get Kirigiri to talk to him for a minute, so that he could try again to apologize for making her so angry – but that plan had been dashed when she’d gone off with Togami. Asahina had left soon after, looking miserable, and Hagakure had run out hot on her heels, muttering something about not wanting to be alone with a suspicious person.

It didn’t seem fair that no one would talk to him – not when that had been their threat to make him separate from Togami. But on the other hand, Naegi supposed he couldn’t really blame them. He’d been the one to lose their trust, just like Kirigiri had said, so he had to earn it back. He just wished he knew how he could.

At a loss for anywhere else to go, Naegi drifted back to his dorm room, wondering if maybe a short rest would give him some inspiration about what to do next. But when he opened the door, he frowned at the sight of his bed. It was still a mess from a couple nights ago, when he’d slept in it while covered with dirt and blood from the hidden room. He’d forgotten about it until after curfew last night, and since it had been too late to do anything about it with the water turned off, he’d ended up sleeping on top of the blankets.

He probably ought to do something about it now, though, before he had to go through another night with filthy sheets. He could just hear Togami’s outrage and biting remarks if he found out about it. Naegi smiled a little as he gathered up the dirty sheets. As an afterthought, he grabbed the clothes he’d been wearing that day, too, since they were equally dirty. Might as well do it all at once.

No one was in the laundry room when Naegi headed in – which made sense, since Kirigiri wasn’t sitting in there waiting on Alter Ego any longer. It was a little disappointing, but at least he wouldn’t have to wait to use one of the machines. He dumped his clothes in a washing machine and sat down to wait.

At least the machines didn’t take too long to run. By the time Naegi had skimmed through a couple articles in the magazine abandoned on the table, the washing cycle was done, and he could throw everything into the dryers. At the last moment, he remembered that the last time he’d done laundry, it had taken a long time for everything to dry together, so he pulled out his fluffy hoodie and put it in a second machine to dry faster. Since no one else was using any of the dryers, he figured he might as well. Then he sat back down and picked up the magazine again.

This time, instead of reading the articles, Naegi flipped open one of the fashion spreads. Junko Enoshima smiled back up at him, lovely and vibrant, and it made him sad to see. She’d been the very first one to get cut down, before he’d even had a chance to get to know her. What would she have been like? She hadn’t wanted to play along with Monokuma’s games – maybe she would have been a stabilizing influence on the rest of the group. He supposed they’d never know now, though.

Finally, the dryers buzzed, alerting him that they were done. With a sigh of relief, Naegi went over to retrieve his belongings.

First, he pulled out his hoodie, giving it a critical examination. While his room had, rather disturbingly, come equipped with several versions of his original outfit, he’d only had two of the hoodies. He supposed that made sense, since they were technically outerwear, but that did mean he’d prefer to keep them both in decent condition. And unfortunately, while the dirt had come off of this one, Naegi could see that it was still torn along one arm, where he’d hit the floor.

He sighed and tossed it onto the table to deal with later, turning to the second machine instead. But when he tried to open that dryer, the door stuck under his hand. He frowned, tugging at it again. No result.

He bent down to squint at it, trying to figure out what was wrong. It was hard to tell, but it looked like one of the buttons on his jacket had gotten tangled in the door, clamping it closed.

Naegi groaned, leaning his head against the top of the dryer. How had that even happened? Broken machines, broken clothes – it seemed like everything he touched was getting destroyed. He was even leaving broken trust and broken hearts in his wake, like a walking disaster infecting everything around him. Lottery or not, he didn’t think he had any business being called the Ultimate Luck – not with the way everything was going for him right now.

There was really nothing for it, though – if he didn’t want to sleep on a bare mattress, he was going to have to figure out how to get the dryer door open. He gave the door another yank – but no, it was still stuck. What he needed was a way to untangle things. If the gap in the door were just a little wider, maybe he could reach inside. Or maybe if he had something long and thin –

And then the obvious idea occurred to him. A screwdriver would be about the right size, and he did have one of those conveniently to hand. It was only the work of a moment to run back to his dorm room, grab the unused toolkit from his drawer, and hurry back.

The screwdriver was a little bit thicker around than Naegi had expected, and it only slid partially into the gap in the dryer door. He tried to wiggle it around to knock the tangled button loose, but it didn’t seem to be working quite the way he’d hoped. Well, of course it wasn’t – what was going the way he wanted these days?

In frustration, he kicked the dryer, trying to see if that would do anything to help. It seemed like the button might have moved a little, so Naegi tried it again, hitting the dryer repeatedly with clang after resounding clang, rattling the screwdriver around in the door.

“What are you doing in here?”

Naegi jumped at the sound of Asahina’s voice, dropping the screwdriver with a clatter. He spun around to see her standing in the doorway, looking rather puzzled, and he went a little red at the realization of just how much noise he must have been making.

“I – uh – I was trying to get the dryer open,” Naegi said, gesturing at the machine. “It got stuck. Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so loud. I’ll try to be quieter.”

“That would be good.” Asahina looked like she was about to turn to leave, just like everyone else had every time they’d been faced with the possibility of being alone with him – but then she hesitated, looking back. “Do you want some help?”

Naegi brightened. It wasn’t exactly an offer of friendship and renewed trust – but he would work with what he could get. “That would be great!”

Chapter Text

Naegi stepped aside from the dryer as Asahina entered the laundry room, letting her get a look at it. She squinted in at the door, taking in the scratch marks where he’d tried to use the screwdriver and the dents where he’d kicked it. He flushed a little, realizing that he’d made kind of a mess of the machine.

“I think the button on my coat got tangled up in the door,” he told her, bending down to pick up the screwdriver he’d dropped. “And I was trying to get it loose.”

Asahina nodded. “I see – yeah, that looks like it, all right.” She touched the door, looking a little wistful. “I used to have that problem all the time back when I ran track.”

“Huh?” Naegi frowned. “There were buttons on your track suit?”

“No, it was the shoelaces for me,” Asahina said. A small smile crossed her face, the first one he’d seen on her in a while. “They got all tangled up, just like your button did. When something twists around the latch inside, it can’t move right. Mom used to get so mad whenever I tried to clean my shoes and she couldn’t get into her machines.”

“Do you know how to fix it?” Naegi asked, offering her the screwdriver.

She nodded. “Yes, but not with that. It’s too clunky – it’ll just make everything worse. No, you need to get that button off, first, and – oh!” She snapped her fingers. “I’ve got it – hang on, okay?”

And with that, she rushed out of the room again. Naegi looked after her doubtfully, wondering if she’d expected him to follow her. But she was only gone a few moments, quickly returning with her small sewing kit in hand.

“Here!” She cracked the kit open and pulled out a thin seam ripper. “This should help get it untangled. It’ll probably take the button off, too, though – sorry.”

“That’s fine – as long as it gets it out of there,” Naegi said. “I can always put it back on later.”

Asahina gave him a surprised look over her shoulder as she knelt in front of the dryer door. “Don’t tell me you can sew!”

“Well – not a lot or anything,” Naegi said, blinking. “But I know the basic idea. My mom kept trying to teach my little sister to sew, and I always seemed to get roped into it whenever she did.”

“Can you fix torn clothes?” Asahina asked, brightening. “Because my jacket got all sliced up this morning, and I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it!”

“Uh – I guess I could try,” Naegi said slowly. He wasn’t entirely sure he could fix clothes – but he didn’t really want to disappoint Asahina, either, not now that she was finally warming up to him again. “I mean, I was going to try to fix up my hoodie, too, if I could figure out how.”

“Then do you want to use my sewing kit while I work on this?” Asahina asked, nodding over at the kit she’d left on the table. “You can use it for your clothes, too.”

“All right,” Naegi said. “I’ll try.”

“Trust me, it’ll be better than anything I could do,” Asahina said, shrugging off her jacket and handing it over to him. “I can’t sew at all – the thread tangles up as soon as I touch it.”

Naegi frowned as he went over to the table. Now that Asahina’s jacket was off, he could see her bare arms for the first time that day. He hadn’t realized before, since her jacket had such long sleeves, but one of her forearms was wrapped with what looked like fresh bandages. He hoped it didn’t annoy her, but if she’d been hurt, he had to ask.

“Is your arm okay? Should you be resting it or something?”

“Huh?” Asahina looked down at her arm, and her expression darkened. “Oh – that. It’s fine – it’s not deep or anything. I just wrapped it up to keep it clean until it heals.”

Naegi looked down at her jacket, and he could see that the cut along the sleeve exactly matched the place where her arm was bandaged. It didn’t look like a tear, either – it looked like a very even, smooth slice, like it had been done with some kind of blade. “What happened?”

Asahina scowled. “The genocider decided she didn’t like what I was saying.”

“Oh.” The cut definitely could have come from the scissors Jill was always waving around. “I’m glad you’re all right, then.”

“Me, too. I guess it could have been a lot worse.” Asahina turned back to the dryer.

Naegi sighed. That hadn’t gone as well as he’d hoped it might. Maybe he shouldn’t have brought up the injury after all. But at least Asahina was talking to him again – that had to be progress, didn’t it?

He leaned over to pick up the sewing kit, which had apparently been unopened until Asahina brought it here. It had a small pair of scissors, a thimble, four colors of thread, and a neat row of six needles. He slid one needle out of its holster, picking the red thread as the closest match to Asahina’s jacket.

He’d never really tried to sew anything as complicated as fixing a tear in the middle of a sleeve, but he supposed it couldn’t be much different from fixing a broken hem or reattaching a button. He turned the sleeve inside out and tried to remember everything his mom had laughingly told him and his sister.

He was just tying off the knot at the end when Asahina stepped back from the dryer, pulling the door open with a flourish. “Hah – got it! I knew I could.”

Naegi smiled at her. “Thank you! I was afraid I’d never get it open.”

“No problem.” Asahina looked over his shoulder at her jacket. “It looks like I should be the one thanking you.”

Naegi grimaced down at the jacket as he handed it back to her. Even with the stitches on the inside, the repair was glaringly obvious. “You don’t have to thank me – it’s pretty messy.”

“But it’ll hold together.” Asahina put the jacket back on, smiling when the stitches stayed firmly in place as she slid the sleeve over her wrist. “That’s so much better than I could do.” She looked over at his hoodie. “Have you done yours?”

“Not yet.” Naegi picked up his hoodie, then examined the thread colors. The tiny kit didn’t have any green thread – just white, black, red, and brown. The brown thread looked like the closest match, so he went ahead with that one. The tear in his hoodie was much less tidy than the scissor cuts in Asahina’s jacket, and the fluffy fabric of the hoodie resisted his attempts at stitching much more.

“You know, you’re being much nicer than I would be, in your shoes.”

Naegi looked up at Asahina with a start. She was tracing the stitches in her jacket with a pensive look on her face. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“You know – the sewing, the talking.” Asahina gestured vaguely around the laundry room. “You could have gotten mad and yelled at me or told me to go away, but you didn’t.”

“I don’t want you to go away,” Naegi said, puzzled. “And I don’t really want to yell at you, either. I never wanted any of that.” He hesitated, but this was probably as good of an opening as he was ever going to get. “I want to talk to you, if you’ll listen.”

“I guess I haven’t been doing much of that lately, have I?” Asahina heaved a sigh. “All right, then. Let’s talk.”

Chapter Text

As Asahina took a seat at the laundry room table across from Naegi, he tried to figure out just what he ought to say to her. This was the first chance he’d had to try to explain himself to any of the other students since their confrontation in the chemistry lab, and he didn’t want to waste it.

With that in mind, he decided he might as well start with the most important issue that he needed to settle. “I know that everything that’s happened in the past couple days has turned out really badly – but you have to know that I didn’t want any of this to happen. I still think of all of you as my friends, and I would never try to work against any of you.”

Asahina considered him for a moment, continuing to run her finger across the stitches in her jacket. “I’d like to believe that. I wish I could. But if I believe in you, then that means – everything you said about Sakura –” She shook her head sharply. “I don’t know what to think right now.”

“Yeah, it’s hard to figure out,” Naegi agreed. “I don’t know, either, not really. But the only thing we can do in a situation like this is to keep moving forward. We have to talk to each other and share what we think is going on, or it’ll just make everyone more distrustful.”

“You mean like when you and Togami kept going off on your own?” Asahina’s voice had an edge to it, but Naegi decided to ignore her tone and take the question seriously.

“Yes, exactly like that. It made you all think that we were hiding things and telling lies – but we weren’t. We were just waiting to tell you all, but that gave Monokuma the chance to make us look suspicious.”

“You looked plenty suspicious without his help,” Asahina said. “You locked Sakura in her room! What did you think we’d do?”

“It was only overnight,” Naegi protested. “And she told us it was okay.” He sighed. “I did think about trying to stop Togami from taking her key – but he seemed so upset, I didn’t want to argue.”

“Oh, he was angry, all right,” Asahina said darkly. “We all saw that.”

“No – I don’t mean angry,” Naegi said, remembering the tension vibrating through Togami as he’d kept a careful distance between the two of them and Ogami. “I think he was scared.”

Asahina stared at him. “You’re kidding.”

“No, I’m not. You didn’t see him that night – he was really worried. He even said that if she tried something, we wouldn’t be able to stop her.”

“Sakura wouldn’t try to hurt anyone!”

“I know, but Togami doesn’t think that way,” Naegi said. “So since Ogami didn’t mind, I let him put a couple precautions in place. I guess it was the wrong decision, though.” He sighed. “I’ve been making a lot of those lately.”

“You think so?” Asahina gave him a curious look.

“If I hadn’t, maybe none of this would’ve gotten so bad.” Naegi looked down at his hands. “I haven’t lied to anyone about anything, but – but maybe I haven’t been as honest as I could be, either. Maybe Kirigiri is right, and I haven’t been fair to my friends.”

“When did she say that?”

“A couple days ago, when the fourth floor opened,” Naegi said. “We – well, we had kind of an argument. I didn’t want to tell anyone about what I’d seen with Ogami and Monokuma, not until I’d talked to Ogami about it, but Kirigiri could tell I knew something. And when I wouldn’t tell her what it was, she got really mad at me.”

“What do you mean, you didn’t tell anyone about Sakura?” Asahina frowned. “That’s obviously not true. You told Togami!”

“Oh – no, not that it was her,” Naegi said, blinking. “He didn’t know who I’d seen until I asked her about it.” He sighed, another thought occurring to him. “And I could’ve let Kirigiri come along for that, too. Even if she wasn’t talking to me, I could’ve offered. There were a lot of things I could’ve done better.”

“So – wait, you kept it a secret?” Asahina asked slowly. “Why did you do that?”

Naegi stared at her, puzzled by the question. “Well, I didn’t think I should tell anyone what I heard until I had a chance to ask her for the truth. If I’d just gone around telling people, everyone would’ve gotten suspicious and stopping trusting each other.” His shoulders slumped. “I guess that happened anyway, though.”

“But – you mean you thought Sakura might be a traitor, and you still went to ask her about it anyway?” Asahina said.

“No!” Naegi leaned forward fiercely. “I never thought she was really a traitor! Right from the start, I heard Monokuma threatening a hostage to make her behave. And even without that – after all the time we’ve spent working together here, how could I believe that Ogami would really be on the mastermind’s side?” He shook his head. “No. I have faith in her, and in all the time we spent together. I just wish I knew how to make the others see it.”

Asahina stared at him, hands clenching into fists. “You really mean that, don’t you? You believed in Sakura all along. You – you haven’t been trying to trick us, or frame her, or anything.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying!” Naegi said, relief lightening the tension aching in his shoulders. “Togami and I have been telling the truth the whole time. Awful things have happened, but we never meant for any of it to happen.”

“I’m not sure about that,” Asahina said, scowling. “You’re being nice again now, but he’s been pretty horrible.”

Naegi grimaced at the thought of how Togami might have been behaving while they were apart. “Sorry. But I think he’s probably angry you made us separate. He’d just said that he wanted to stay by my side and keep me safe.” The warm memory brought a smile to Naegi’s face, even during the serious conversation.

Asahina stared at him. “You really do care about him, don’t you?”

“Well – yeah,” Naegi said, puzzled. “Of course I do.”

“You have rotten taste.” Asahina sighed. “But – I guess you’re pretty brave, too. You aren’t afraid to face what you really feel, even in the middle of this nightmare.” She looked down. “I don’t think I know how to be brave like that.”

“It’s not really bravery or anything,” Naegi said, shrugging uncomfortably. “Things just kind of… happened. Besides, you could be brave, if you needed to be.”

“No,” Asahina said, tensing as she stared down at the table. “I’ve just been a coward. I’ve been screaming and fighting with everyone for the past two days, because – because I couldn’t face what I really think.”

Naegi frowned. “What do you mean? What you really think about what?”

“About Sakura.” Asahina’s face twisted as she fought back tears. “I’ve been yelling and screaming this whole time, getting so angry whenever anyone said anything bad about Sakura – but that’s not how I really feel.”

“You aren’t angry?” Naegi asked slowly, not sure he understood.

“I’m scared!” A sob caught in Asahina’s voice as she lost the battle against her tears. “I’m so scared I’m going to lose her! She’s the best friend I’ve ever had – I know I haven’t known her that long, but it’s still true. And now – now, if everyone believes what you and Togami were saying, they’ll all hate her! We’ve lost so many people – I can’t lose Sakura, on top of all that. I don’t know what I’d do!”

“You’re not going to lose her!” Naegi reached out and impulsively grabbed one of Asahina’s trembling hands. “We can get everyone to believe in Ogami, I know it! There’s still a way out of this. There has to be!”

“I don’t see how,” Asahina said. “She won’t even talk to me anymore, did you know that? She finally got mad at me this morning for yelling so much, and now she’s avoiding me. I wanted to apologize, but I haven’t been able to find her.” She shook her head. “I got so caught up in fighting that I didn’t even care what she wanted. I wasn’t even listening to her.”

“Well, you can listen to her now,” Naegi said encouragingly. “You’ve been spending so much time with her every day – you must know somewhere she always goes. And maybe if you work things out with her, you’ll be able to convince her to explain herself to everyone else. I think if she told everyone more of the truth, in her own words, it would do a lot to make them trust her more.”

Asahina nodded slowly. “Yeah – yeah, I think you’re right. I need to figure out a way that I can definitely talk to Sakura, before I do anything else – and then maybe I need to talk to everyone else, too.” She gave him a watery smile, past the tears still damp on her cheeks. “Thank you, Naegi.”

“Oh – you’re welcome,” Naegi said, startled. “I’m glad it helped.”

“It did.” Asahina pushed away from the table, wiping at her eyes with the back of her hand. “I’m going to go try to find Sakura now.”

“Oh, wait!” Naegi leaned over and pushed her sewing kit towards her. “Here, you’ll want this back.”

“Why? I can’t use it,” Asahina said, grimacing at it. Then she glanced back over her shoulder to the toolkit sitting beside the dryer. “Actually… now that I’m thinking about it, I have an idea.” She scooped up the toolkit, giving it a close examination, then waved it at Naegi. “Why don’t we swap?”

Naegi shrugged. “If you want to, I guess we can. I’m not too great with either kit, really.”

“Okay, then we’ll each have one we can sort of use.” Asahina headed for the door.

Naegi nodded. “Good luck. Tell Ogami I still believe in her!”

“I will,” Asahina assured him, leaving the laundry room with a last tired smile.

Chapter Text

After his talk with Asahina, Naegi felt like a little of the tension around him had eased. The situation was still bad, but it didn’t seem quite so insurmountable anymore. If he could get the others one on one, he could manage to get them to understand what had happened. Their friendships weren’t permanently broken.

After finishing his attempt at repairing his hoodie, Naegi bundled up his belongings and headed back to his room. It was a relief to be able to reassemble his bed – for a while there, he really had thought he’d be stuck sleeping on the bare mattress after all.

After he’d gotten all his laundry put away and tucked Asahina’s sewing kit into his desk drawer, he checked the clock. There was still plenty of time left in the day, but it didn’t seem so daunting any longer. Asahina had softened towards him – maybe some of the others would have done the same.

He headed out from his dorm room into the hall – only to hear a startled yelp. Naegi looked down the hall to see Hagakure scrambling backward, terrified eyes fixed on him.

“Wh-where did you come from?” Hagakure gasped. “Oh, man, were you following me? Did you just materialize nearby?”

“Uh – no,” Naegi said, frowning. “I just came out of my room, that’s all.”

“Lying in wait!” Hagakure waved a triumphant finger in Naegi’s direction. “You’re putting your plan into action, aren’t you? You’re just waiting to turn on us all!”

“I don’t have a plan,” Naegi said. “All I want is to talk to you.”

“That sounds like a plan to me!” Horror crossed Hagakure’s face. “And you’re doing it now – with me! Oh, god, this is it, I’m going to be the next to die!”

“I’m not going to kill anyone!” Naegi said fiercely. “I would never kill one of my friends.”

“That’s what you say now, but how do we know?” Hagakure said, waving a hand around him in wild gestures.

Naegi frowned. Out of everyone left, Hagakure definitely seemed like he’d gotten the most panicked by events. The others had been angry and distrustful, but Hagakure acted like he was genuinely afraid that Naegi and Togami were going to do something horrible to him at any moment. Naegi wasn’t sure how to explain something like that away.

“What about this?” Naegi said, gesturing around the hall. “I’m not trying anything now, am I?”

“Of course you aren’t,” Hagakure said, as though it were obvious. “No one would try to commit a murder with someone else around!”

“Someone else?” Naegi looked around, then jumped when he saw the gleam of glasses staring at him from Fukawa’s partially opened door. “Oh – hi, Fukawa. Sorry, I didn’t see you.”

After a brief moment of hesitation, the door opened further and Fukawa stepped out into the hall. “Of course you d-didn’t bother to notice me,” she muttered. “Why w-would you?”

“See! If she weren’t here, you could’ve made your move at any time!” Hagakure nodded sharply.

Naegi looked from one of them to the other. It wasn’t the ideal situation – but at least neither of them looked inclined to run off, either. Maybe he could make the opening work.

“Look, can both of you listen for a minute?” he asked. “I know that everything the past couple days looked really bad, but Togami and I really have had good intentions the whole time. We did make mistakes in how we handled some of it, but we never lied or acted against anyone.”

“You locked the Ogre up!” Hagakure said.

“Yeah – we shouldn’t have done that,” Naegi said. “But it really wasn’t what you all thought. Ogami said she didn’t mind, and we were about to explain it all to you when Monokuma called that assembly.”

“It’s easy for you to say w-whatever you want now,” Fukawa said. “You’ve had plenty of time to come up with whatever story you want.”

“It isn’t a story,” Naegi said, meeting first Fukawa’s eyes, then Hagakure’s. “It’s the truth. Togami and I were only trying to help keep everyone safe.”

“By tricking us?” Hagakure demanded. “No way! He doesn’t want people safe, he said so – and if you’re on his side, you don’t either.”

“It’s not like that,” Naegi said. “Togami’s not trying to hurt anyone anymore – he’s on our side now.”

“Oh, I can see that, all right,” Fukawa said, crossing her arms. “W-whatever you say goes, huh? All you have to do is t-tell him what to do and who to trust, and he rolls over and does it.”

Naegi blinked. “Well – no, it’s not quite like that. Yes, I’ve been trying to convince him to trust Ogami, but we’ve just been talking about it, like a normal couple.”

“You want us to trust the Ogre now?” Hagakure asked, drawing back. “You were the ones who said she was against us! You’re just trying to confuse us, aren’t you?”

“No!” Naegi said, turning back towards him. “I mean, yes, Ogami did sort of work for Monokuma – but she didn’t have a choice, and she isn’t going to do it anymore.”

Hagakure shook his head, clutching at his hair. “I don’t get it – is she going to kill us all or not? None of it makes sense!”

“She definitely isn’t going to kill anyone,” Naegi said firmly. “Not even if Monokuma orders her to. She said herself that she wouldn’t let the mastermind control her any longer. I’m sure she’d tell you so again if you asked.”

“What – talk to her alone?” Hagakure shook his head rapidly. “No way, man, that wouldn’t be safe at all!”

“I could go with you,” Naegi offered.

“Oh, no.” Hagakure took a stumbling step backwards. “No way. You’re just trying to get me alone again, aren’t you? This has all been a trick! Well, you won’t catch me that easily!” Before Naegi could say anything else, Hagakure had ducked back inside his room again.

Naegi sighed. That hadn’t gone as well as he’d hoped. After things had gone so well with Asahina, he’d really hoped this would be a turning point – that maybe he could even convince everyone to lift the separation. But with the way Hagakure was acting, it looked like he was going to have to spend another night alone after all.

“Not so convincing n-now, are you?” Fukawa said. “Those sad little puppy eyes of yours d-don’t work on the rest of us, do they?”

Naegi stared at her in confusion. “What, me? I don’t have sad puppy eyes.”

“Oh, sure, you say that now,” Fukawa said, eyes narrowing, “but I bet if he were here, it’d be different. You’d be s-staring into his eyes and trying to look cute and helpless so he’ll do what you want. Well, it won’t work on me. I don’t think you’re cute at all!”

“Uh – that’s okay,” Naegi said. A thought occurred to him, and he frowned. “So I guess you and Genocide Jill think differently about that?”

Fukawa blinked. “W-what? Why are you bringing her up all of a sudden?”

“Oh – I was just wondering about something she said when Togami and I saw her a couple days ago,” Naegi said, shrugging.

“Wait – you saw her? Both of you?” Fukawa demanded. “Together?”

“It was before you all told us to separate!” Naegi said hastily. “We haven’t been cheating or anything. We met her in a classroom the morning the fourth floor opened for the first time, and I guess she’d heard about that assembly with the – uh, the recordings.” He flushed at the memory.

Fukawa stared at him. “She heard – so she knows about the two of you?”

“It seemed like it,” Naegi said, shrugging. “I don’t know where she heard, though.”

“She knows.” Fukawa’s shoulders began to shake. “She knows, and you – you’re both still alive?”

“Yes, we’re totally fine!” Naegi hurried to reassure her. “She didn’t even get her scissors out.” He remembered the way she’d called him adorable and tried to update Monokuma’s weird illustration of him. “I think she was trying to be nice, actually.”

“She knows, and she was nice?” Fukawa gaped at him. “She’s not nice! She’s a m-murderer! She kills any boys I like!”

“Maybe she doesn’t want to this time?” Naegi suggested. “I mean, she did point out that we’d all know it was her if she used her signature method.”

“So you trust h-her now? Is that it?” Fukawa gave a brittle laugh. “I guess next you’re going to start talking about how she’s one of your friends, too, huh?”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Naegi said, blinking. “I don’t know her that well or anything yet.”

“You w-want to get to know her?” Fukawa’s eyes went very wide behind her glasses. “You want to spend time with her?”

“Well, I guess,” Naegi said, considering it. “She’s trapped here with us, too. It couldn’t hurt to try to get to know her a little better.”

“Fine, then!” Fukawa snapped. “Spend as much time as you like with the s-serial killer – what does it matter to me? And d-don’t come crying to me when you end up crucified!”

With that, she stepped back into her room and slammed the door shut.

Chapter Text

Naegi trudged down the hall away from the dorms, trying not to feel too disappointed at how his attempt to talk to Fukawa and Hagakure had gone wrong. Rebuilding trust would probably take time, and he shouldn’t expect to be able to do it in just one conversation. They were talking to him now, even if they were still upset – that was progress.

It did leave him at a bit of a loss for what to try next, though. There was only one person left that he hadn’t tried to talk to yet, and he wasn’t sure what to say to her. Kirigiri had been mad at him even before the problem with Ogami had set off the cycle of suspicion, and he still hadn’t had a chance to apologize for that. Did he still need to settle that fight, or should he try to solve the new one first? Would she even listen if he tried?

Well, actually, he supposed she might listen today. She’d gone off with Togami, hadn’t she? And not because he’d made her – she’d been the one to ask him. So maybe that meant she was ready to listen, if he could come up with the right thing to say. He knew he’d have to be careful about it, though – he definitely didn’t want things with Kirigiri to go wrong like they had with Fukawa.

Of course, one of the problems with trying to talk to Kirigiri was that Naegi was never entirely sure where she would be at any given time. Most of the other students tended to stick to a few of the main areas of the school, but Kirigiri wandered all over the place, investigating every stray corner for clues. That was probably why she’d been the one to find that hidden room.

Well, Naegi knew that if he were going to try to investigate someplace, he would probably pick one of the new areas. With that in mind, he headed for the stairs leading up to the fourth floor, beginning the lengthy trek up them. There really were a lot – but he supposed it made sense that a school as prestigious as Hope’s Peak Academy would need a lot of space. Still, it didn’t make it any easier to have to run up and down them all the time.

He stopped for a moment midway up the stairs to the third floor, exhaustion spinning through his head. He’d been so tired the past few days, even more than usual, like he had lead weights dragging down his feet instead of just his normal shoes. It was probably the additional stress of everyone fighting, on top of the already-tense situation – he just wasn’t getting enough rest. Maybe he should have given himself a break instead of trying to climb all these stairs again.

Actually, a break sounded really nice. Without consciously thinking about it, Naegi found himself sinking down to the steps, the world tilting oddly around him like the floor wasn’t quite level. He leaned his head back against the cold wall, closing his eyes and bracing one hand on the floor. If he just sat here quietly for a few minutes, he was sure he’d be fine.

“What are you doing?”

Naegi started, eyes flying open as he looked shakily around. He wasn’t quite sure how long he’d been sitting there in a daze, but it had definitely been longer than he’d expected. He looked up the stairs towards the person who’d spoken, and saw Kirigiri standing there, surveying him with a small frown.

“Nothing.” Naegi winced at the way his voice shook a little, and tried again. “Nothing. I was just sitting down for a minute.”

Kirigiri eyed him a moment longer. “You do remember there’s a rule against sleeping anywhere but in the dorm rooms, don’t you?”

That startled Naegi into a much more alert state, and he used the stair railing to haul himself to his feet. “I definitely wasn’t sleeping!”

“Hmm.” Kirigiri’s gaze tracked the way he had to grip the railing to stay standing. “Well, fainting might not qualify as sleeping. You’re probably fine.”

“I didn’t faint, either,” Naegi started to object, but then he stopped and shook his head. “Well, that doesn’t matter. More importantly – I was looking for you. Can I talk to you?”

She tilted her head. “About?”

She didn’t look particularly welcoming, but at least she wasn’t storming off, either. Naegi decided to take it as a hopeful sign. “I want to explain what happened over the past couple days. I’m really sorry –”

“Don’t bother,” she cut him off.

Naegi’s face fell. “But –”

“You didn’t tell me about Ogami because you wanted to confirm it with her first, and then Monokuma called that assembly before you got a chance to explain,” Kirigiri said, sounding bored. “That’s what you wanted to tell me, isn’t it?”

“Then – you already know?” Naegi frowned in confusion.

“That explanation was obvious from the start,” she said. “The issue has never been about what you want to say – it’s about whether we can believe you.” She pursed her lips. “You want us to trust you, but you don’t trust the rest of us.”

“I do,” Naegi said, stung by the accusation. “I’m sorry if –”

“I don’t need apologies,” she interrupted. “You’ve made your choices clear. It’s more important to figure out what to do from here than to rehash what’s already happened.”

“What do you mean?”

She crossed her arms and studied him for a long moment, and Naegi tried not to fidget uncomfortably under her scrutiny. Finally, some of the icy tension in her posture thawed, just a little. “I want to take you somewhere.”

Naegi blinked. “Where do you want to go?”

“You’ll see when we get there.” She brushed past him and continued down the stairs. “Let’s go.”

As blunt and uncompromising as Kirigiri’s order was, Naegi found himself feeling a little more hopeful as he followed her back down to the first floor. It seemed like she was taking him along on some part of her investigations, just like she’d done before. She might not want his apologies or explanations, but maybe this was what she wanted instead – a chance for him to prove that she could rely on him after all.

With her usual brisk pace, Kirigiri reached the first floor long before Naegi did, and he only just caught sight of her heading for the bathhouse as he made his way to the bottom of the staircase. By the time he entered the bathhouse changing room, she was already sitting on a bench with Alter Ego’s laptop in front of her.

“Did you want to talk to Alter Ego?” Naegi asked, looking from her to the computer. “Is this about the data analysis results?”

“No. His role with that is over,” she said. “But today, Alter Ego asked me to bring others to see him. He apparently has something he wants to ask us.”

Chapter Text

Naegi looked down at Alter Ego’s computer, where the avatar of Fujisaki’s face looked away bashfully. So Alter Ego wanted to talk to someone? A faint sense of guilt stirred in him, at the thought of Alter Ego stuck in a bathhouse locker all alone day in and day out, without even the data analysis to occupy himself. It was a good thing Kirigiri had decided to check in on him – otherwise, he wouldn’t have had any way to let them all know he wanted something.

“All right.” Naegi sat on the opposite bench, so that he and Kirigiri could both see the computer screen.

Alter Ego looked from Naegi to Kirigiri. “Hello,” he said. “So, um… it’s just the two of you? Naegi and Kirigiri?”

Kirigiri began typing in response, “Is two not enough?”

“No, it’s okay! Two should be plenty!”

Kirigiri nodded, continuing to type, “What did you want to ask us?”

“Um, so…” Alter Ego looked out at them nervously, a drop of sweat appearing at the side of his face, “I’d like you to take me somewhere where you can connect me to the school network.”

Kirigiri froze, wide eyes going to Naegi. He stared back at her in shock. He hadn’t known what to expect from Alter Ego’s request, but it hadn’t been anything like this. And from Kirigiri’s startled expression, she was just as taken aback. Still, she pulled herself back together quickly and put her hands back to the keyboard.

“Why?”

“Well, when I finished telling you all about the data analysis, you said my job was done,” Alter Ego said, looking away. “But… saying that’s all I can do… I don’t want that!” He straight out at them, determination clear on his face. “I want to keep helping. I want to work just as hard as everyone else so that we can all escape! I think… Master would have wanted that, too. So to help everyone solve the mysteries of this school… the only way I can help is if you connect me to the network!”

“But – if you did that –” Naegi had to force himself to speak through the horror filling him. “That would basically be suicide! I’m positive the mastermind would find out, and then you’d…” He shook his head and turned to Kirigiri. “You agree, right?”

But Kirigiri didn’t reply. She just stared down at Alter Ego, one hand resting against her lips. Naegi stared at her, a slow dread creeping through him. She couldn’t actually be considering it, could she?

“I know it’s dangerous,” Alter Ego went on. “And I am scared. But I can handle it. I don’t really understand why, but… when I think about everyone else, my courage starts to grow! You might think I’m just an inhuman AI, but it’s true. If it’s for the sake of everyone else, I won’t be afraid.”

A lump rose in Naegi’s throat at the sound of that voice – so committed, so admirable, and so very fragile. Alter Ego wanted to fight for them, even though they’d asked so much of him already.

Kirigiri lifted her eyes from the screen to look at Naegi. “I didn’t want to ask Alter Ego to take any further risks. If we do, then you’re right – there’s a chance the mastermind might notice it. But – let’s do it. Let’s connect Alter Ego to the school network.”

“What?” Naegi’s jaw dropped. “But –”

“I want to take his feelings into consideration, too,” Kirigiri cut him off. “He’s saying that he wants to fight alongside his friends. If you were in his place, would you sit by and do nothing? Or would you stand tall next to everyone else and tell them you’re their friend?”

Every time Kirigiri said the word ‘friend,’ guilt clawed at Naegi’s heart. However much he’d been saying the word, he hadn’t been able to back it up – not like Alter Ego was trying to do. How could he deny Alter Ego the choice to act on his feelings?

“Are you two fighting?” Alter Ego asked. “If it’s about me… please don’t. I want to believe in myself. I want to say, ‘I know I can do this.’ So please, let me try!”

Naegi stared at the laptop, wishing he knew what the right choice was. Should he honor Alter Ego’s wishes and help him do something so dangerous, or should he refuse to do what Alter Ego wanted so much in order to protect him against his will?

“Besides, there’s a place the mastermind might not notice,” Kirigiri said, while Naegi was still thinking. “Remember – another place besides here where there are no surveillance cameras?”

“You mean the hidden room, right?” Naegi said, nodding slowly.

“I definitely saw an Ethernet port on the wall,” Kirigiri said. “Alter Ego should be able to connect to the network from there.” She frowned. “Of course, no cameras doesn’t necessarily mean no danger. The mastermind may still be monitoring the network.”

“But then –”

“But I think I know how we might be able to buy Alter Ego a little extra time,” Kirigiri went on, before he could finish his objection.

“You do?” Naegi asked, frowning. “How?”

“If the mastermind had something else to think about, then it’s possible they would be distracted enough that Alter Ego might be able to get away with some minor activity on the network,” Kirigiri said.

Naegi thought it over. “But we don’t know how the mastermind really operates. They might be able to watch a lot of things all at once!”

“That’s true, it wouldn’t be a guarantee,” Kirigiri said. “All it would do is give Alter Ego a slightly better chance at success. But between this and the hidden room, I think it might be enough for a brief time – say twenty-four hours. After providing a distraction during that time, we could retrieve Alter Ego and bring him back to safety.”

Naegi hesitated. He didn’t like it – but he had to admit it was probably the best plan they would be able to come up with. “Well – what kind of distraction are you talking about? You aren’t going to try to destroy something or break out or anything, are you?”

Kirigiri gave him a small smile. “Nothing so dramatic. Something like that would just get the perpetrator punished, which would provide a momentary distraction at best. No, there’s only one thing that would guarantee that the mastermind would pay attention – if they thought someone was planning a murder attempt.”

“Murder?” Naegi stared at her, aghast. “You want the two of us to try to kill someone, just to create a distraction?”

“I don’t intend to take it that far,” Kirigiri said calmly. “I’m only talking about making preparations. The mastermind would need to keep close track of anyone who looks like they might commit a murder, in order to judge the class trials correctly. If someone were to spend a day appearing to craft a complex murder plan, I think it’s highly likely that the mastermind would pay more attention to that person than to anything else going on at the time.”

Thinking about what the mastermind would do sent shivers creeping down Naegi’s spine, but he had to admit it made a terrible kind of sense. “So – so you’re saying that we should try to make it look like we’re trying to work together to kill someone?”

“Not quite,” Kirigiri said. “I doubt that anyone would believe you would help commit murder, after all your vehemence against it. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that you’re not much of a liar. No, I think that I will need to be the one who handles the false murder preparations.”

“Oh.” Naegi felt a little relieved that she wasn’t expecting him to pretend he wanted to kill anyone. He didn’t like the idea at all, even if it was fake. “So you don’t want me to help at all?”

“I didn’t say that.” Kirigiri smirked at him. “You’re going to be my victim.”

Chapter Text

Naegi stared at Kirigiri in shock, her words echoing in his head. “You – you’re going to pretend to kill me?”

“You’re the ideal choice,” Kirigiri said calmly. “You’re small enough that I could easily overpower you if I got you unawares, and your trusting nature would let me do so fairly easily. Our recent argument over trust could provide a motive. I think it should be believable enough.”

“Yeah, but – what exactly are you going to do?” Naegi asked, a little nervous about how easily she’d laid it out for him.

“It’s better if I don’t tell you,” she said. “After all, if it were a real murder attempt, you wouldn’t know about that in advance, would you?”

“I guess not,” Naegi said slowly. “Then what do you need me to do?”

“Don’t tell anyone about it,” Kirigiri said at once. “If anyone else knows about this plan, then Alter Ego will be at risk.”

“I understand.” Naegi took a deep breath, then nodded. “I won’t tell.”

“Good.” Kirigiri gave him a small smile. “Then the only thing left is to move Alter Ego. We’ll have to be careful, or the mastermind may spot us going into the hidden room.”

“Wait.” Naegi frowned, a memory hitting him.

“I think we need to try,” Kirigiri insisted. “This is our best chance of finding new clues.”

“No, I understand that,” Naegi said. “That’s not what I meant. It’s about the hidden room.” He bit his lip, knowing that Kirigiri wouldn’t like what he was about to say. “I – well, I promised Togami that I wouldn’t go back there without telling him about it first.”

Kirigiri went very still. “You did what?”

Naegi winced as the chilliness returned to her voice. “I didn’t think it would be an issue – not after the mastermind cleared everything out.”

“I see.” Kirigiri’s voice didn’t thaw at all. “Did he forbid you the hallway outside as well? Are you allowed to set foot anywhere on the second floor without his permission?”

“It isn’t like that,” Naegi said, flushing pink at the way she made it sound. “He didn’t forbid anything – he just asked me to do something for him, and I agreed. And he couldn’t have told me to stay off the whole floor even if he wanted to – he doesn’t know where the hidden room is.”

Kirigiri blinked. “He doesn’t?”

“Of course not,” Naegi said, giving her an odd look. “All I told him was that it existed and what happened when I went inside, not where it was. You were the one who found it, so I thought that was up to you to decide who to tell.”

“I… think I see.” Kirigiri eyed him for another long moment. “You have very strange ideas about sharing information.”  

“Uh – sorry?” Naegi wasn’t quite sure how he ought to take that.

“It doesn’t matter.” Kirigiri shook her head. “The important thing is finding a way to get Alter Ego into that room without the mastermind noticing.”

Naegi studied the laptop. It would be pretty obvious if they left the bathhouse to find something to conceal Alter Ego in, so they would have to use something they already had. And they’d need to be able to leave the bathhouse looking normal, too – it would be just as noticeable if they carried a suspicious pile of towels to the second floor. The ideal thing would be if they could conceal Alter Ego in their clothes something. Kirigiri’s outfit didn’t have much room – but the laptop was just about the right size to fit under his hoodie.

“You see it too, don’t you?” Kirigiri said quietly. “We really only have one option.”

“Yeah, I see.” Naegi looked over at her. “Could you pass a message on to Togami about it for me? He’s seen my handwriting before, so even if you delivered it, he’d know it really was from me.”

“No.” She crossed her arms. “I told you, the more people who know about this, the more dangerous it will be.”

“I wouldn’t give him any details,” Naegi said. “Just that I need to go back into the hidden room for a few minutes.”

“And that’s more detail than he needs,” Kirigiri said flatly. “Besides, the fact that we’re working together at the moment doesn’t negate the separation between the two of you.”

“It doesn’t?” Naegi’s face fell. He’d thought that maybe, with the way she was softening towards him, she might be close to relenting on the separation issue.

“No. And in case you were getting ideas about loopholes, it also covers both written communication and passing messages through a third party.”

“We haven’t been doing either of those things,” Naegi said. “But I thought that since this is a special circumstance, you might not mind.”

“The circumstances are unique, that’s true.” Kirigiri tilted her head. “Naegi, why do you think Togami had you make that promise?”

“Well – I didn’t think about it that much,” Naegi said, blinking. “It was right after I got hit on the head, and he was really upset about that. I guess he didn’t want me to be in danger again.”

“Possibly,” Kirigiri said. “But from what you said, he didn’t ask you not to go back – he just wanted you to tell him about it before you did.”

Naegi nodded. “Yes, that’s what he said. Does it matter?”

“I think it does,” Kirigiri said. “The first promise I described is the one that would have kept you out of danger. The second one – the one he actually asked you to make – only keeps him informed.”

Naegi stared at Kirigiri, not at all liking what she was getting at. “Togami doesn’t want me to be in danger!”

“Well, his recent actions have shown his thoughts on that subject fairly clearly,” Kirigiri said, her face carefully expressionless. “But I don’t think that was the purpose behind this promise.”

“Even if you’re right, I don’t see how it matters,” Naegi said. “I still agreed.”

“It matters because of the current situation,” Kirigiri said. “Even if the rest of us hadn’t asked you for a temporary separation, you still shouldn’t tell Togami about this. He asked you for that promise so that he could stay informed – but keeping him informed about this would put Alter Ego in greater danger.”

“That’s true, I guess.” Naegi looked over at the computer screen, where Alter Ego watched them nervously. Determination still shone from his eyes, in spite of the hints of fear he was clearly trying to hide. This was going to be so dangerous for Alter Ego already – did Naegi really think that he had the right to make it worse?

“Our highest priority right now has to be keeping Alter Ego as safe as possible,” Kirigiri said. She pursed her lips. “But – if we can manage this successfully, it won’t matter as much any longer.”

Naegi frowned at her. “What do you mean?”

Kirigiri gave him a long, considering look before she answered. “I mean that the rest of us demanded your separation from Togami because we weren’t certain we could trust you to be on our side – but this might prove that we can. Even if this plan fails, the risk you’re taking to work on it with me would be enough proof for me to withdraw my support of the separation.”

“Really?” Naegi’s face lit up. “You’d trust me again?”

“Provisionally,” Kirigiri said. “And only after the twenty-four hours have passed.”

Naegi bit his lip. He didn’t like the idea of breaking his promise to Togami – but on the other hand, this wasn’t exactly a situation either of them could have foreseen. Naegi wouldn’t be the one taking the risk in this scenario, Alter Ego would – and Naegi had it in his power to make that risk just a little bit less.

He looked up at Kirigiri. “I want to tell Togami about it afterwards.”

Kirigiri nodded. “After it’s all over, you can tell him in person.”

“Then… all right,” Naegi said. “Let’s do it.”

Chapter Text

With the decision made about what to do about Alter Ego’s request, Naegi felt a little more confident. It might still be dangerous, but at least they had a plan now. And it felt good to be working with Kirigiri again, the way they’d done before.

He picked up Alter Ego’s laptop and tucked it under his hoodie. It was an awkward fit, and he would need to keep one of his arms close to his side to keep the laptop from crashing to the ground, but it seemed like it would work.

“Ahaha, it tickles!” Alter Ego said. Although Naegi’s clothes muffled the speaker a little, the voice was still plainly audible.

“Shh!” Naegi cautioned him. “You can’t talk right now! We’re going to move you to another room, and you can’t talk until we get there!”

“Understood,” Alter Ego said. “Your command has been implemented.”

“Uh – good.” Naegi blinked at the sudden robotic response. Alter Ego so rarely spoke like a machine that it was easy to forget his true nature. It was strange to hear him say something that sounded so much like a program, at the same time that he was doing something that wasn’t anything like a simple computer program at all.

Once the laptop was as securely settled as it was likely to get, Kirigiri turned to Naegi. “In the hidden room, there are a bunch of different cables in one of the desk drawers. There might be a network cable in there, assuming the mastermind hasn’t taken it already.”

Naegi nodded. “Well, all we can do is go check for ourselves.”

“Agreed. Let’s go.”

Kirigiri led the way out of the bathhouse and back up to the second floor. At least this time she walked a little slower than her usual brisk pace, though Naegi wasn’t sure if this was due to his slowness or to the possibility that he might drop Alter Ego if he tried to walk too fast.

When they reached the second floor hallway outside the boy’s bathroom, Kirigiri spun towards him, all her icy anger back in full force. “So you’re still claiming that all the documents are gone? Well, after all the lies you’ve been telling, I don’t believe you.”

Naegi stared at her, taken aback by this sudden onslaught of fury. “What?”

“If you expect me to believe a word you say, you can go back and check,” she snapped. “And to make sure you don’t try to run off, I’m going to wait right here!”

And then Naegi realized – Kirigiri was faking it. She was only pretending to be angry so that he’d have an excuse to go into the hidden room again, in case the mastermind was watching. It was unsettling to hear, though – this burst of fake anger looked identical to the way she’d acted earlier, when she’d been so angry at him and Togami. If he hadn’t been talking to her in the bathhouse just a few minutes ago, he wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference at all.

“Why are you just standing there?” Kirigiri glared at him. “Hurry up and go!”

“Okay, okay, I’m going,” Naegi said, pushing open the door and heading through the bathroom to the hidden room.

It was just as empty as it had been the last time he’d entered, with nothing but a few scattered sheets of blank paper on the floor. Still, Kirigiri had said she remembered cables in the desk drawer, so Naegi knelt down in front of the desk to check.

To his surprise, the drawer did actually still contain a tangled selection of cables for various devices. Apparently the mastermind hadn’t thought these were important enough to remove when they’d emptied the room. After sorting through them for a moment, Naegi found one that he was pretty sure was a network cable.

Carefully, Naegi slid Alter Ego’s laptop out from underneath his hoodie, moving slowly so as not to risk dropping or damaging the machine. He set it onto the desk and used the network cable to connect the laptop to the Ethernet port on the back wall.

“That should do it!” he said, looking over at the computer screen.

“Um…” Alter Ego considered for a moment, then brightened. “Yes, I think it worked. Just leave the rest to me! I swear I’ll find something! I might even be able to connect to the outside world. If I can, I’ll see if I can call for help!”

Naegi bit his lip, then placed his hands on the keyboard. “Please be careful. Kirigiri and I will come back for you one day from now.”

“All right. I’ll see what I can find out in that time,” Alter Ego said. “So please just wait a little longer. Just hold tight and put your faith in me!”

Naegi hesitated, then decided that he wanted to leave Alter Ego with one last message. “No matter what, we’re gonna get out of here. You and all the rest of us, as friends!”

“Huh? Friends?” Alter Ego’s puzzled face stared back out at him. “Even… me?” A small, contented smile shone from his face. “Thank you.”

Naegi reached out and touched the edge of the laptop screen, the way he might grip a person’s shoulder to say goodbye. With that last gesture, he turned and headed back out of the hidden room.

Back in the hall, Kirigiri was waiting for him, arms crossed and expression blank. “How did it go?”

“It went okay,” Naegi told her, before recalling that they were supposed to be hiding their actions from the mastermind. “Uh, but all the documents really were gone, just like I told you.”

“I see.” Kirigiri’s lips tightened. “So you really did cause us to lose one of the few sources of possible information we might have had. You’ve done nothing but hinder my investigation – I see that now.”

“Huh?” Naegi stared at her, a little stung by the vitriol, even though he was pretty sure she didn’t mean it.

“I’m done with you, Naegi,” Kirigiri said coldly. “I hope you remember our conversation.” With that, she turned and stalked off.

Naegi watched her go, trying to figure out what she was getting at. Remember their conversation? What conversation did she mean? Something from the bathhouse –

Oh. Of course. Naegi remembered the discussion they’d had about how to distract the mastermind from any of Alter Ego’s network activity. This had to be part of her plan to fake a murder attempt. She was probably using this fake argument to set up a motive.

That made sense, of course, but it didn’t mean Naegi liked hearing Kirigiri say those kinds of things about him. He hoped that it really was all an act, and that she didn’t secretly feel that way. Maybe after they’d finished playing this out for the mastermind, Kirigiri would give him a more honest answer.

Naegi forced himself back down the stairs to the first floor, exhaustion dragging at him after all the running around he’d done today. It wasn’t quite time for the nighttime announcement, but he figured it was close enough. He headed back to the dorms.

As he approached the dorm room hallway, he heard voices. “—don’t want to talk to her right now.”

Naegi looked further down the hall and saw Ogami standing near her room. And a little distance from her, carefully out of arm’s reach – he saw Togami. Even from a distance, the sight of the other boy made his heart lift a little. Whatever else was going on, Togami was still all right – even if he did currently look pretty annoyed.

“I’m not interested in whatever game you’re playing with Asahina,” Togami said, his attention focused on Ogami. He clearly didn’t notice Naegi back at the other end of the hall. “Do you want this key back or not?”

Ogami closed her eyes as Togami held up a room key. “No. I – I would feel better knowing that I am unable to open the door during the night. Please just open the door for me, as I asked.”

“Fine.” Togami gestured her aside.

Naegi had to shake his head as Togami made her go through the same ritual of keeping her distance as he unlocked the door for her. He never relented on anything, did he? A wave of fondness bubbled up in his chest, bringing a small smile to his lips.

And at that moment, Togami turned around – and his eyes went wide at the sight of Naegi watching him from across the hall. His fists clenched as he stared at Naegi, jaw tight with sudden tension. Naegi wanted to run over to him, to hold him close and bury his head in the taller boy’s chest, to press kisses along the line of his throat until the tension eased – but he knew he couldn’t. Not now that things were finally starting to turn around a little with the others. Naegi forced himself to take a step backwards.

A flicker of something – sadness, anger, or something else entirely – crossed Togami’s face at the sight. He turned away and headed over to open the door to his room. He looked over his shoulder at Naegi one last time, and Naegi had to clench his mouth shut to stop any words from escaping. He just watched, and hoped Togami could read what he felt in his eyes.

Whatever Togami saw in his face, it was enough that he dropped his gaze and entered his room, shutting the door firmly behind him.

Naegi waited a moment to make sure that Togami was securely locked in his room before heading down the hall to open his own door. He resolutely didn’t look behind him as he entered, not quite trusting himself not to run over and ring Togami’s doorbell. There would be time for that later – after all, Kirigiri had agreed to end the separation tomorrow night. He only had to put up with one more day of this. Tomorrow, it would be all right.

Chapter Text

Naegi slept until the morning announcement jolted him awake, and spent a brief moment considering just rolling over and going back to sleep. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it, no matter how tired he was – he owed it to the others to join them at the breakfast meeting. He had to keep proving that they could rely on him.

So he hauled himself out of bed and prepared to face the day more or less on his usual schedule. He headed over to the cafeteria, right on time for the breakfast meeting – but when he walked in, he found that Togami was the only one there.

Naegi stopped short in the doorway, while Togami froze with a coffee cup half-raised in one hand. He looked a little tired, Naegi realized, with faint circles under his eyes and lines around his mouth – like he hadn’t been sleeping well, either. Was it just nerves and anger at the other students’ presumption, or did Togami genuinely miss falling asleep with Naegi in his arms?

Well, if everything went all right, neither of them would have to go through another night alone. Tonight, Kirigiri would argue for lifting the separation, and Naegi was sure Asahina would support her. He didn’t think Fukawa and Hagakure would hold out against the other two. Naegi wanted to tell Togami, to let him know it was almost over and see some of the unhappiness lift from his eyes –

But it wasn’t over yet. Naegi knew the separation was still in effect for now, and he didn’t want to risk losing Kirigiri’s tentative support by ignoring it. He turned away from the cafeteria and walked across the hall to lean against the corner of the wall by the dorm rooms. He would just wait until someone else showed up for the breakfast meeting, and then he’d go in after them so they could see he wasn’t trying to sneak time alone with Togami.

But as the minutes ticked away, no one else showed up. Naegi frowned. The rest of the cafeteria had actually been empty, hadn’t it? He hadn’t just missed everyone because he’d focused so much on Togami? No, he was sure he would have noticed other people in the room. So where was everyone?

When he finally heard footsteps, they came from the stairs, not the dorm rooms. Naegi turned to see Kirigiri passing through the gate to the rest of the first floor, walking even more quickly than she usually did. Her eyes darted to Naegi, but instead of approaching him, she turned and headed into the cafeteria.

Naegi hurried after her, only to have to stop short so that he didn’t run into her. Kirigiri had only gone a couple steps into the cafeteria, standing near the door as she surveyed the entire room with a frown.

“Has anyone else arrived yet?” she asked.

Togami was watching her with eyebrows raised, leaning back in his seat like the picture of elegant poise. “No – not much of a loss, though. I’d be just as happy if the whole lot stayed away.”

Kirigiri ignored that, turning to face Naegi. “What about you – have you seen anyone?”

“Not since last night,” Naegi said, icy dread beginning to chill his veins. “Why? Is something wrong?”

“Possibly,” Kirigiri said. “It may be nothing. They may just be running late.” She brushed past Naegi and made a beeline for the dorms.

Naegi sent Togami a puzzled glance before remembering he wasn’t supposed to, and then turned and hurried after her. He could hear Togami set down his coffee cup and follow, but he carefully didn’t turn back to look. Instead, he focused on what Kirigiri was doing.

She’d pressed the doorbell outside Fukawa’s door – not a single push of a button, but leaning on the bell without a break. Anyone inside would hear that, no matter how deeply asleep they were. As Naegi reached her, she released the button and headed further down the hall, mouth a thin line.

Well, Naegi could see what she was trying to do, even if he wasn’t sure why she was doing it. So as Kirigiri began ringing the bell to Asahina’s room, he went to Hagakure’s door and pressed the bell there. But by the time Togami had strolled up to join them, Naegi and Kirigiri both released the doorbell buttons without a response.

Kirigiri reached out to try Ogami’s door and frowned as the knob rattled. She looked sharply at Togami. “Do you still have the key to Ogami’s room?”

Togami eyed her for a moment. “Yes. It hasn’t left my possession since I took it.”

“Good. Then you can open the door.” Kirigiri stepped out of the way.

“I could, it’s true.” Togami crossed his arms. “But why are you so concerned that I do so? What do you think might have happened?”

“Four people are missing,” Kirigiri said tightly. “Not a single one of them arrived for the morning meeting. The last time this happened, two of the missing students ended up dead.”

Naegi stared at her in cold horror. “Then you think –”

“I think that we need to verify everyone’s whereabouts as soon as possible,” she cut him off. “We’ll need to search the rest of the school after checking on Ogami. Now open the door!”

Togami shrugged. “All right. Back up, then.”

“You’re still going to go through with that whole unlocking ritual?” Naegi demanded in disbelief.

“Yes,” Togami said, waiting calmly for them to move. “Ogami hasn’t ceased to be a spy. If anything, this makes me more suspicious of her than I was before.” He looked from one of them to the other. “Thirty seconds is unlikely to make a difference in what we find in there – but argue long enough, and it’s possible that delay might.”

Only when Naegi and Kirigiri reluctantly backed up halfway down the hall did Togami turn, unlock the door, and press the bell in his one long, three short signal. After that, he hastily joined them, keeping his eyes fixed on the door.

Naegi counted the time under his breath, every second feeling like a year. But as the thirty second mark came and went, Ogami’s door remained firmly closed. When nearly a minute had passed, Kirigiri headed forward with Naegi close at her heels. She only reached the door a step ahead of him, jerking it open without any further warning.

As soon as she did, Naegi stopped short in horror. The scene was beyond anything he’d expected, even in his worst fears.

Ogami lay slumped on her bed, blood splattered across her face, hands, and shirt. Asahina sprawled beside her, one hand fallen on Ogami’s arm like she’d tried desperately to reach for her before collapsing. At their feet, Hagakure had fallen facedown across the foot of the bed, his head hanging over the edge facing away from them, more blood soaking the back of his shirt. Fukawa lay beside him, turned away and half collapsed onto the floor.

Naegi’s breath froze in his throat at the sight. All of his friends, lying still and bloody in a room that should have been locked? It couldn’t be – this couldn’t happening, it had to be a bad dream or a mistake or –

Ding dong, ding dong.

“A body has been discovered!” Monokuma’s voice announced, bright and cheery and all too real.

Chapter Text

Naegi couldn’t bring himself to move as the body discovery announcement played out over the televisions. He closed his eyes against the awful scene as the recording finished, dread snaking through him as he waited for it to play again.

But there was silence.

“There was only one announcement.”

Togami’s words jolted Naegi out of his daze, and he opened his eyes to see the other boy frowning at him. “There could still be another.”

“I don’t think so,” Togami said. “The rules say the announcement is supposed to play immediately after three or more people discover a body. And if nothing else, the last case proved that multiple bodies would require multiple announcements. If there was going to be another one, it should have played right after the first.”

“Then – they’re still alive?” A terrible hope lit a fire in Naegi’s chest as he turned back to the bodies sprawled across Ogami’s bed. The sight was still horrible, but – maybe not quite as bad as he’d assumed.

Kirigiri had already crossed to the bed, leaning over Asahina to press gentle fingers to her neck. After a long moment, Kirigiri looked up and nodded. “Alive, but her pulse is very weak.”

“What happened to her?” Naegi asked, forcing himself to take a step closer.

“It’s too soon to say.” Kirigiri circled the bed to bend down towards Fukawa. But just as her fingers touched the other girl’s neck, a hand shot up to clamp around her wrist.

“Well, look who’s trying to get all up close and personal!” Genocide Jill leapt to her feet, grinning inches away from Kirigiri’s impassive face. “Sorry, but there’s no room for girl on girl action in this woman’s heart!”

Kirigiri twisted her wrist out of Jill’s grip, turning back to the other two bodies on the bed. Jill watched her, interest sparking in her eyes as she took in the scene.

“Wow, what was Gloomy getting into? Not the ones I would’ve picked – the only three people I want to wake up in bed with are my White Knight, Master Byakuya, and Togami darling!”

“No – that’s not what this is.” Naegi tried to keep his voice from shaking. “We just heard a body discovery announcement. I’m glad you’re all right, but – but it looks like someone else isn’t.” He looked over at Kirigiri, who had her fingers resting on the pulse point on Ogami’s neck. “So? Is she…”

Kirigiri carefully removed her fingers and stepped back. “No. She’s alive as well.”

Which only left one option. Naegi’s gaze snapped to where Hagakure lay across the foot of the bed. “Then – you mean –”

“Yeah, he doesn’t look too good,” Jill said, bending sideways to put her head at the same angle as Hagakure’s. “Not that he ever did, but that big ol’ crack on his skull didn’t help him any. Some people have no appreciation for the artistry of a good murder. Anyone can just whack away like that!”

Naegi didn’t want to look closer, but he knew he had no choice. Slowly, he made himself circle around the side of the bed, so he could see the other side of the scene more clearly. Hagakure’s head had fallen over the side of the bed, blood dripping down his neck and through his hair to pool on the floor below.

Kirigiri knelt at his side, avoiding the pool of blood as she felt against his neck for a pulse, but Naegi didn’t need to see her shake her head to know the truth. This close, he could see the unsettling stillness of Hagakure’s body, unmistakable as anything other than a corpse.

“What happened?” Togami asked, peering down as Kirigiri continued her examination.

“We didn’t make it in time,” she said, parting Hagakure’s wild hair with careful fingers. “Someone acted before we arrived.”

Someone?” Togami raised an eyebrow. “Why dodge the issue? I think we all know who the most likely murderer is.”

“Ooh, you’ve already worked it out?” Jill asked. “That’s my White Knight for you – brains and beauty in one sexy package.”

Togami ignored her. “The mastermind ordered their spy to commit a murder – and here a murder is, right in her own room.”

“You think Ogami did this?” Naegi asked, turning to him in horror. “But – no, she said she wasn’t going to work for the mastermind anymore!”

“Which is exactly what any spy would say after getting caught,” Togami countered.

Naegi looked over at Ogami, still unconscious on the bed. He couldn’t believe she would have done this, not after everything she’d said about taking the battle to the mastermind – but if she hadn’t, who did that leave? It seemed just as unbelievable that Asahina or Fukawa would have done it. There hadn’t even been a new motive to create a fresh incentive – no one had any reason to kill now.

He took a step closer, careful not to disturb the blood on the floor as he approached the bed. Neither Ogami nor Asahina had moved, not even with a conversation happening right beside them. “Are they all right? Why aren’t they waking up?”

“I don’t know.” Kirigiri didn’t look up from her examination.

Naegi looked at the two girls on the bed, trying to scratch up his courage, and then reached out to lay a hand on Asahina’s shoulder. She didn’t respond, so he gritted his teeth and tried gently shaking her. Her head twitched and her eyelids flickered, but she still didn’t open her eyes.

Faced with that failure, Naegi leaned over to try Ogami instead. She groaned low in her throat when Naegi laid a hand on her arm. Encouraged by that response, he shook her arm slightly – and her eyes started open. “What – Naegi?”

Naegi breathed a sigh of relief. It was one thing for Kirigiri to declare the two girls alive, but it didn’t feel real until he could see Ogami awake and speaking. “I’m so glad you’re all right.”

“What do you…”

And then the scene around her seemed to sink fully into her mind. Her gaze locked on Asahina’s hand resting on her blood-splattered arm, and her face went pale. “Hina!”

But at the sound of Ogami’s voice, Asahina’s eyes blinked open. “S-Sakura?”

A deep sigh of relief shuddered from Ogami’s throat, and she leaned towards the other girl, head dropping to hide her expression. Asahina frowned – but as she looked across the bed, a look of deep horror crossed her face. She turned away, burying her face in Ogami’s side, but that didn’t quite muffle her sobs.

“Well, isn’t that a touching moment?”

Naegi jumped as Monokuma came bouncing out to the middle of the room, beaming at them brightly.

“Two vibrant young schoolgirls sharing a tender embrace in bed – if this moment gets any more touching, I’ll have to raise the rating and check IDs at the door!” Monokuma laughed, the sound a horrible contrast to the awful, bloody scene around them. Asahina’s head jerked away from Ogami’s side, her tearstained face going pale at the insinuations.

“Spare us the stupid jokes and get on with it,” Togami said, pinning Monokuma with a cold stare. “You have information for us, don’t you?”

“Aw, I guess it takes more than a little fanservice to get your blood pumping,” Monokuma said sadly. “All right, then. Maybe this will do it!” He pulled out a stack of folders. “It’s the Monokuma File!”

He threw the folders at each of them, and Naegi had to fumble to catch his without letting it drop onto the bloody floor. By the time he looked up, file safely in hand, Monokuma had disappeared again.

The others were already flipping through their folders, so Naegi opened his as well, skimming through the limited contents.

Monokuma File #4

Victim: Yasuhiro Hagakure

The time of death is estimated to be around 6:00 in the morning. The body was discovered in Sakura Ogami’s locked dorm room, along with the unconscious bodies of Sakura Ogami, Aoi Asahina, and Toko Fukawa.

The victim suffered a blow to the head, resulting in significant blood loss.

“Then – it’s true? Hagakure is dead?” Ogami asked, looking up from the file to stare at the body lying across her bed.

“Obviously,” Togami said shortly. “But the more important question is which one of you killed him.” He crossed his arms and glowered at her. “Though I think we know the answer already.”

“You… believe that I did this?” Ogami’s face settled into heavy lines, and she looked down at the ground.

“I do,” Togami said. “Unless you have another suggestion.”

“Accusations can wait until we’ve gathered all the evidence,” Kirigiri said, standing up so that she could meet Togami’s glare at a level. “After all, I don’t think your question is the most important one to ask.”

Togami raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”

“Before we can think about who killed Hagakure, we need to think about how,” Kirigiri said calmly. “More to the point, how they did it here. After all, that door was locked.” She looked around the room. “How did anyone get in here in the first place?”

Chapter Text

Naegi frowned at Kirigiri’s question. “You’re right – no one else should have been able to get in. We just saw Togami use the key.”

“Meaning only he could have used the key to let anyone into the room.” Kirigiri raised one eyebrow at Togami. “So?”

“Ogami was the only one I let into the room last night,” Togami said. “And I’ve had the key in my possession the entire time since then.” He looked from Asahina to Jill. “The two of you got in here somehow. You ought to know how it happened.”

“Sorry, baby, but no can do,” Jill said. “That was all Gloomy!”

Naegi looked at Ogami and Asahina. “What about you two? You should know, right?”

Neither girl met his eyes. Ogami stared unseeingly at the blood dotting her bedspread, while Asahina couldn’t lift her eyes from her clenched fists.

“So no one wants to admit to it.” Kirigiri crossed her arms and surveyed the room. “I thought that might be the case.”

“Huh?” Naegi blinked at her for a moment, before the answer clicked in his mind. “Oh – because of the new rule! It’s forbidden to break down a locked door.”

“Exactly,” Kirigiri said. “And if that door was locked –”

“It wasn’t.”

They all turned to look at Asahina as she raised her head to face them. Tear tracks still glimmered on her face, but she didn’t look away. “The door wasn’t locked. Sakura had been avoiding me all day, so I decided to try finding her at night when I knew where she would be. Nothing happened when I rang the bell, but when I tried the doorknob, it just opened.”

Togami glared at her. “It can’t have ‘just opened.’ I locked it. I remember it very clearly.”

“Maybe you just thought you did,” Asahina said. “All I know is that when I tried to open the door, it worked.”

“Even if you’re right, that wouldn’t prove anything,” Togami said. “Let’s not forget that there’s one person among us who could probably get away with violating a rule, if she was acting on the mastermind’s orders.”

“I have never had any indication that I am not subject the same rules that govern the rest of you,” Ogami said, lifting her head a little as she spoke.

“Of course you’d say that,” Togami snapped. “If you can make us believe the door was unlocked by someone else, you immediately look less suspicious.”

“And if you can change the issue, you’ll have successfully distracted us from the main point,” Kirigiri said, twisting her braid around one finger.

“Excuse me?” Togami raised a haughty eyebrow at his least favorite of the other students. “What are you accusing me of doing?”

“I’m not making accusations this early,” Kirigiri said calmly. “I’m just pointing out that you were the only one with the ability to open the door whenever you wanted. After all, the locks are designed to be unbreakable. Even if someone did decide to violate the school rule, they shouldn’t have been able to do it with the locks on the dorm rooms.”

“So you’re suggesting that I unlocked the door and wandered off, in the hopes that someone else might notice it was open and go inside?” Togami rolled his eyes. “If you’re going to throw around stupid theories, at least have the decency to make them entertaining.”

“Look, we shouldn’t be arguing about this!” Naegi broke in, before anyone else could say something else to make things worse. “If no one can tell us what happened, then we need to start looking for clues. We only get so much time to investigate, so we can’t waste it.”

“True enough,” Kirigiri said. “We can resume our debate during the trial.”

“Then – we need to decide who will stay with the body, right?” Naegi’s eyes went to Hagakure’s corpse, and even after seeing so many other bodies, he still shivered at the sight of another dead friend.

Ogami stood. “Asahina and I can –”

“You must be joking,” Togami cut her off. “We can’t rely on the two of you to guard against each other.”

“You believe we would alter the crime scene?” Ogami asked, startled.

“It would be the perfect opportunity,” Togami said. “This is a contained scene – it would be all too easy for the culprit to rearrange things to make some small but critical change. If so, the rest of us wouldn’t spot the significance, since we don’t know how you ended up in this room in the first place.”

“That’s your objection?” Ogami frowned. “But surely someone could do that without needing to take on the responsibility of being a guard.”

“Then maybe none of you should be allowed in the room at all,” Togami said coldly.

“Not just them,” Kirigiri said. “I would include you in the list as well. You may not have been found in here, but your possession of the key makes you as suspicious as the rest.”

Naegi frowned, thinking it over. “So wait, if it can’t be anyone we found in here, and it can’t be Togami – does that mean Kirigiri and I are going to be the guards?”

“Not just guards,” Kirigiri said. “Since you and I are the only ones unconnected to the crime scene, it would be best if the two of us investigated this area on our own. The other four can search the rest of the school for additional information.” She looked around the room. “Is everyone in agreement?”

No one looked terribly happy with it. Togami was glaring at Kirigiri, but Naegi was pretty sure Togami wouldn’t have liked anything she suggested. Asahina stood staring fixedly at the wall, avoiding any glimpse of Hagakure’s body, her face pale, and Ogami shot her increasingly concerned glances. Jill didn’t look interested in the discussion at all, other than occasionally glancing down at Hagakure and shaking her head in professional disapproval. But in the end, one by one, the three girls all nodded to confirm Kirigiri’s plan.

Togami held out, dark gaze fixed on Kirigiri. “Before I agree to your little suggestion, I have one question for you.”

“Oh?” Kirigiri asked.

“How did you know something had happened?” Togami crossed his arms. “You dodged the question when I asked before, but at that point, we had no confirmation that anything had occurred. Now that we know something did, I’ll ask you again. You knew. How?”

Kirigiri’s expression didn’t flicker. “I told you already. They didn’t show up for the morning meeting –”

“If you’re just going to lie again, don’t bother,” Togami cut her off. He looked over at Naegi. “Be careful. Don’t let her meddle with anything, no matter what she says to try to talk you into it.”

And with that, he turned and headed out of the room.

Jill grinned. “Ooh, guess it looks like I’ll be getting some alone time with my White Knight this time around. Better luck next time, Big Mac!” She wiggled her fingers at Naegi before running out after Togami.

Ogami looked at Asahina, then gently settled a hand on her shoulder. “We should leave as well.”

Asahina blinked, seeming to return to the conversation from a long way away. “Yes. You’re right – we should go.” Her eyes darted towards Hagakure, but she quickly forced them away, biting her lip and wiping at the tears reforming in her eyes.

Naegi supposed it must have been awful, waking up in a blood-covered bed with a dead body in front of her. He took a step towards her, giving her a concerned look. “Are you doing okay?”

“Of course I’m not!” Asahina gulped, swiping the edge of her sleeve across her eyes. “Who could be? He didn’t even want to come here this morning!”

“Huh?” Naegi frowned. “You mean Hagakure?”

Asahina nodded. “Yeah. He was so upset, he just wanted to stay in his room. But – but I thought about everything you and I talked about yesterday, about how we all needed to hear Sakura’s story right from her – and I talked him into it. I made him come here. And if I hadn’t, he wouldn’t have gotten killed!”

“Hina – no,” Ogami said in distress, wrapping an arm around her friend’s shoulders. “You didn’t intend for this to happen.”

“Yeah, it isn’t your fault,” Naegi agreed. “Everything awful that’s happening – it’s because of the mastermind. They’re the one causing us to do these terrible things to each other.”

“I guess.” Asahina leaned against Ogami, clutching her hand like a lifeline.

“More to the point,” Kirigiri broke in, “did you say that you made Hagakure come here? You were the reason that everyone was gathered in Ogami’s room?”

“Oh – well, yes,” Asahina said, blinking. “This was – well, it was after the door was open, obviously. I’d already been inside and talked to Sakura a little.”

“In the middle of the night?” Naegi asked, blinking.

“It was the only time I knew where she would be,” Asahina said, shrugging. “She’d been avoiding me, and – well, like we talked about, I wanted to apologize.”

“I told you that I don’t need your apologies,” Ogami said softly.

“Yeah, but I wanted to anyway.” Asahina gave her a watery smile.

“And then you asked Hagakure to come talk to Ogami, too?” Naegi asked, trying to work out the events in his head.

Asahina nodded. “Fukawa, too. I told them I wanted to clear up everyone’s suspicions of Sakura.”

“Did she arrange this without your knowledge?” Kirigiri looked over at Ogami, who nodded slowly.

“That’s right. I was taken by surprise when Asahina approached me.”

“I see.” Kirigiri frowned, tapping a finger against her chin.

“If that’s all, then we should start our search,” Ogami said, setting her shoulders with determination. “I’ve never been much of an investigator, but – well, Hagakure died while in my room. I believe I owe it to him to do my utmost to discover the culprit.”

“If you need a starting point, you could look into ways someone could have gotten that door open,” Naegi suggested. “They must have used something to do it. Maybe you could find proof of that.”

“Possibly.” Ogami sighed. “Naegi… good luck. I hope you find what you need.” With that, she headed out, guiding the still-shaky Asahina at her side.

“You know that it’s unlikely she’ll find anything about how the door was opened, don’t you?”

Naegi blinked and turned to Kirigiri. “What?”

“If there are any clues as to how that door was opened, they’re going to be in this room.” She smirked at him. “Let’s see what we can find, shall we?”

Chapter Text

Naegi looked around Ogami’s room, trying to get a sense of what it might have looked like before the murder had taken place. While she had the same bed, desk, and waist-high bookcase that seemed common to all the dorm rooms, she had apparently replaced most of her other furniture with various pieces of workout equipment. She had several full-size punching bags spaced throughout the room, and stacks of heavy square weights covered every available surface. Smaller weights were scattered across the floor,

It looked like she’d tried to set up some kind of miniature training space here, from what he could tell. Maybe she’d done it before the second floor locker rooms had opened – or no, Togami had said that his room had been decorated with his expensive furnishings already when he’d arrived. Maybe the same had been true for Ogami, and all this had been there from the start. Naegi frowned, wondering why that would be. His room was the most generic dorm room imaginable, and when he’d had to sleep in Sayaka’s room, it hadn’t seemed to be decorated to reflect her personal tastes. Why would some people’s rooms be personalized, but not others?

Well, he supposed none of that mattered right now. It didn’t seem likely that it would be related to the current investigation, so Naegi did his best to put it out of his mind. He needed to focus.

He looked over at Kirigiri, wondering if he ought to ask for her opinion about the situation – but she’d gone back to examining Hagakure’s body. She seemed so involved in it, and after all, that was an important part of the investigation. He figured he should leave her alone to finish, at least for now.

Well, Hagakure had been struck on the head, hadn’t he? Both the Monokuma File and Kirigiri had said as much. Naegi supposed he could do worse than trying to find the weapon the killer had used. Considering the amount of blood on Hagakure’s body, it shouldn’t be too hard to identify.

Naegi looked around the room again, trying to see if anything looked out of place. The weights on the floor did draw his attention, but they all looked clean. And looking more closely, he could see that the heavy metal bar in the middle of each hand weight had been wrapped in white cloth. Even if the killer had wiped the blood off the sides of these weights, the cloth would still have been stained. He looked over the square weights stacked on the bookcase instead – but no, those didn’t look like the right shape to hit someone over the head with.

Maybe the culprit had hidden the weapon. Whatever had happened here, it looked like the culprit must have had at least a little time alone at the scene. They could have used that chance to stash the weapon.

Naegi looked around the room again, this time wondering about possible hiding places. There didn’t seem to be very many. He supposed he might as well start from the beginning, so he began opening the drawers of Ogami’s desk. Most of the drawers were as empty and unused as his own were, except for three neatly rolled cotton hand wraps for boxing and Ogami’s sewing kit – nothing that could be used to bludgeon someone.

But as he stood up to go check another place, something caught his eye. Even though no one was sitting at the head of the bed any longer, the mattress still pressed downwards like there was something heavy there. Naegi frowned and carefully lifted the pillow out of the way to get a better look. There, under the pillow that had been between Asahina and Ogami, was another one of the weights from the floor – and this one had dark bloodstains smeared across one end.

Naegi stepped sharply back, a startled sound escaping from his throat. Kirigiri looked up, frowning, and her eyes immediately lit on the weight. “Ah – I see. Yes, that looks like it could have caused the head wound.”

“So we have the murder weapon,” Naegi said. “It wasn’t very well hidden, was it? I thought I was going to have to search the whole room for it.”

“No, it was very convenient,” Kirigiri said. “Have you found anything else? Anything that explains how the others got into this room, perhaps?”

“Not yet,” Naegi had to admit. He sighed. “I guess I really do have to search the whole room, after all.”

“That looks like it will be necessary.” Kirigiri crossed her arms. “But have you considered what will happen if you don’t find anything?”

Naegi frowned. “You mean – like if the culprit didn’t leave any clues about how they did it?”

“A lack of information can be a clue, in the right circumstances,” Kirigiri said. “If there’s no evidence that anyone broke in, what will you think?”

“I guess that would mean that Asahina’s idea was right, when she said that maybe Togami didn’t lock the door properly,” Naegi said, thinking for a moment.

“But when we got to the door this morning, it was locked,” Kirigiri pointed out. “If it hadn’t been locked in the first place, it would have opened when you saw me try the knob.”

Naegi stared at her. “W-wait a minute. Are you saying you think Togami did this?”

“I’m asking you a question,” Kirigiri said calmly. “If you find evidence implicating the boy you’re romantically entangled with, are you capable of assessing it in a rational way?”

Naegi’s gut instinct was to insist blindly that he knew Togami couldn’t have committed this murder – but he didn’t think an emotional appeal would impress Kirigiri. He swallowed it back and tried to consider his thoughts more carefully.

“I don’t know,” he said at last. “I don’t believe Togami would kill anyone anymore, but if I’m wrong, I’d like to think that I would recognize the truth.” He took a deep breath, trying to suppress his cold shudder at the thought of being forced to vote for Togami at the end of the trial. “I – I don’t want everyone else to die, so we have to find the real culprit, whoever it is.”

“Hmm.” Kirigiri eyed him for a moment, then nodded. “All right, then. See what you can find.”

Naegi started to turn away, but then hesitated. “Aren’t you going to look, too?”

“No. I’m not finished here.” She leaned over Hagakure’s body again.

Naegi frowned. It wasn’t like he timed her or anything, but he didn’t think it usually took her quite this long to examine the bodies – especially not when the cause of death seemed so clear. “Is there something you’re looking for?”

“Possibly.” Kirigiri sounded like most of her attention was on her examination. “I’ll let you know if I find it.”

That was probably the best he could expect. Naegi sighed. It was time to get back to his own investigation, then.

Since he was standing nearby anyway, Naegi figured he might as well kneel down to check under the bed. It seemed like a pretty obvious hiding place, but then again, behind a pillow wasn’t exactly brilliant either. He ought to cross it off the list, at least.

The only thing he saw under the bed was another one of the boxing hand wraps, this one unrolled and in a heap. Naegi was about to ignore it when he realized that some of the dark spots on it weren’t just shadows. He pulled it towards him for a closer examination. Yes – it looked like the edges of this wrap had been splattered with a few drops of blood. But that seemed strange – blood had fallen to the floor under Hagakure’s body, but at the area near the head of the bed where Naegi was investigating, the floor was pretty clean.

“Uh, Kirigiri?” Naegi said, looking up at her. “I think I found something odd.”

He braced his hand on the edge of the bed as he stood – but as he pushed himself up, something sharp dug into the flat of his palm. “Ow!”

Kirigiri looked up, eyes going wide. “What happened?”

“I don’t know, but my hand…” The world seemed to tilt unsteadily around him, the floor shuddering beneath his feet and black spots clouding at the edges of his vision. He could see blood on his palm, but he couldn’t tell if it was just one drop, or a dozen dancing before his eyes. “I… don’t…”

He thought he heard Kirigiri saying something else, but he couldn’t make it out as the blackness rushed through him, knocking him to the ground in an unconscious heap.

Chapter Text

As soon as Togami left Ogami’s dorm room, he headed for the nurse’s office on the other side of the first floor. The three girls in that room had been knocked unconscious, so a medical office was the logical place to start looking. He knew that Celeste had found the drugs she’d used on him in there, and he was sure that the mastermind would have provided enough for multiple uses.

As he reached the office, he heard the scurry of overeager footsteps behind him, and he turned to see Genocide Jill approach. He grimaced. “Why are you following me?”

“I’m here to help you search, baby,” Jill said, tongue curling across her lips as she eyed him. “I’ve got plenty you can investigate!”

“It doesn’t look like it to me.” He was about to order her to go look somewhere else – but then he paused. “Is there anything you know about what happened in that room?”

“Ooh, are you gonna interrogate me?” Jill grinned. “Will you bring out the whips and chains if I swear I’ll never tell?”

“Just answer the question,” Togami snapped.

“Okay, we can save the fun for later.” Jill shrugged. “Sorry, darling, but I don’t know anything about what Gloomy had going on. She and I don’t share memories, only emotions. That means you and I can uncover the truth together!” She beamed at him.

Togami scowled. The Fukawa personality was the one with the answers that he needed – but he knew that even if he could convince Jill to change back, Fukawa would be unlikely to tell him anything useful. And while Jill seemed moderately willing to be cooperative, she didn’t seem to know –

Wait.

“What do you mean, you share emotions?” Togami asked, frowning. “How does that work?”

“I don’t know how, just that it does,” Jill said. “If one of us is feeling something, then we’re both feeling it. That’s why you can get a two for one deal, baby!”

“Fukawa might disagree,” Togami said. “She’s been displaying a great deal of animosity for me lately.”

“Probably because she’s too boring to know how to act on what she feels,” Jill said, rolling her eyes. “As for me, I’m one hundred and ten percent proactive – no repression here!”

“So you’re saying that if Fukawa felt strongly enough to want to kill someone, you would know about it?” Togami asked.

“Aw, are you jealous?” Jill laughed. “Don’t worry, darling, I’d never cheat on you that way! You’re still the only one I want to kill.”

That wasn’t exactly reassuring – but at least Jill didn’t seem inclined to take action on that statement at the moment. Of course, she’d pointed out when they’d met her for the first time that killing anyone in her signature method would be stupid – but she didn’t necessarily seem like that would stop her if the whim hit her.

Well, as long as she didn’t seem like she was going to attack him right then, Togami decided to ignore her for the moment. There would only be a limited amount of time until the class trial began, and he had a lot that he would need to do.

He headed into the nurse’s office and headed for the cabinet where he recalled the drugs being kept. However, as soon as he opened it, he could see that the only thing missing was the single dose of chloroform Celeste had used on him. There were several items that could have easily knocked out the girls, but when he checked, all the containers were full and unopened.

He frowned, circling the room and opening all the other drawers and cabinets as well. He didn’t think they’d have anything relevant, but he didn’t want to risk missing anything. After all, it didn’t make sense that the medical supplies here would be untouched. His first thought on seeing the bodies was that it looked like the killer must have knocked everyone else unconscious somehow, and then delivered the killing blow to Hagakure after he’d collapsed – but that theory relied on the killer having a drug of some kind to use on the other three students.

But when he’d finished his search, the only thing he’d found that seemed to be disturbed was a drawer containing large sponges. Two were missing, and when he checked the trash can, they hadn’t been thrown away. That did seem potentially interesting – but on the other hand, one look at the blood splattered across Ogami’s room showed that no one had used any sponges there.

Togami frowned, considering what his next move should be. So it appeared no one had taken any drugs from the nurse’s office. That meant that either his original theory was incorrect, or that the culprit had found another method of knocking everyone unconscious. If his suspicions about Ogami were correct, then she would easily have been able to subdue the other students – but just hitting someone wouldn’t leave them temporarily unconscious. To achieve the precision that had characterized this case without causing brain damage, some other method would have been necessary.

And if that was the case, he could only think of two other places the culprit could have found such a method. Since he was already on the first floor, he headed for the storage room first.

Of course, the problem with a place as packed with items as the storage room was that it would be almost impossible to tell if anything had been disturbed. Togami scanned the shelves, trying to see if anything looked out of place, but without some idea what he was looking for, he could spend hours here and not find anything – hours he knew he didn’t have.

But on the other hand, this seemed like it might be exactly the opportunity he’d been looking for. He turned to Genocide Jill, who was still standing in the doorway with her red eyes fixed firmly on him. “Search this room for anything that the killer might have moved.”

“Huh?” Jill tilted her head. “Ooh, is that an order from my Master? That gives a girl all the right kind of shivers! Say it again for me, baby?”

Togami glared at her. “Just do it. Now.”

“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Jill laughed. “All you gotta do is ask, White Knight!”

He doubted that – but hopefully it would at least buy him enough time to lose her. As Jill began darting among the shelves, Togami ducked out of the storage room and headed for the stairs. There was really only one option left.

And of course, when he reached the chemistry lab, it looked like he was the only one who had thought of it. He didn’t see a trace of either Asahina or Ogami around, even though they were supposed to be investigating too. Though it wasn’t as though he expected much out of either of them. With both Naegi and Kirigiri looking for clues in Ogami’s room, he knew that the heavy lifting of the part of the investigation in the rest of the school would be on him.

Not wanting to waste time, Togami headed straight for the huge cabinet of materials on the back wall. He’d already noted the division of its contents – supplements on the left, reagents in the middle, and poisons on the right – but he wasn’t sure where a chemical to knock someone unconscious might belong. To be on the safe side, he supposed he would need to check all the sections.

The left section with the supplements looked more or less intact, from what he could tell. Even when he checked the labels on the supplements, nothing suggested that it could be used to knock someone out. The only thing he could see missing was a lot of that disgusting protein rubbish that Asahina and Ogami seemed fond of. He wondered briefly whether that might have been used as a vehicle to get the victims to consume a drug – but no, that would only have worked on Asahina and Ogami.

On searching the middle section, Togami paid a little more attention than he had to the vitamins and supplements. While he hadn’t had a chance to examine every reagent in the cabinet, he knew there was a possibility that some of them might have the effects the killer needed. The bottles in the glass top of the cabinet were easy enough to sort through, but there were quite a few more in the metal bottom of the cabinet. He began pulling the different containers out for a closer examination, and then setting them on the ground beside him once he’d determined they were unopened.

And if he hadn’t been so methodical, he might not have noticed the discrepancy.

The containers in the bottom shelves of the cabinet had been lined up in tidy rows, squeezed into the space to fill it from top to bottom. Looking from the front, it was impossible to see all the way to the back of the shelf – but when Togami pulled out what should have been the second-to-last container, he found only empty space behind it.

A slow smile crept over Togami’s face. It was possible that the cabinet had never actually been entirely full – but he didn’t believe that. No, someone had taken a reagent from the middle cabinet, and they’d rearranged all the other bottles to hide their theft. It had been a clever move – but not quite clever enough.

Of course, with the way the culprit had covered their tracks, there wasn’t really a good way to know exactly which reagent they’d taken. Technically, the bottles were in alphabetical order – but the number of bottles of each type of reagent wasn’t consistent. If the culprit had rearranged the containers to make sure the empty space would be at the very back of the cabinet, they could have taken a bottle from anywhere.

Still, at least he knew they’d taken something, which was evidence in support of his theory. Whatever they’d taken, it was almost certainly something that could be used to knock someone unconscious. Possibly Naegi would even find traces of it in Ogami’s room somewhere.

Togami considered abandoning the chemistry lab and leaving to investigate some other location – but no, it was better to be thorough. So he turned and opened the third cabinet – and it was a very good thing he did.

A gaping empty space stared out at him, where three bottles of poison should have been.

Chapter Text

Togami froze, staring at the space with the missing bottles of poison should have been. He hadn’t actually expected to find anything out of place in this section of the cabinet, not when he’d been looking for a drug to knock people unconscious.

Why were bottles of poison missing now? Poison didn’t seem to figure into this case at all, not that he could see. Three people had fallen unconscious, and the victim had been hit over the head – no one had died of poison.

Not yet, at least. There had only been one victim so far, after all, and every murderer was allowed a maximum of two deaths. The poison might be part of a plot that hadn’t yet come into play.

Or even worse – it might not have been taken by Hagakure’s murderer at all. Just because the killings had occurred one at a time up until now, it didn’t mean that things had to continue that way. Someone might have taken the poison in order to set up their own murder plot, only to be forestalled by Hagakure’s death.

Although that didn’t explain why anyone would need three entire bottles of the poison. From what Togami could tell, it looked like the missing poison was one he’d looked at before – the one that he’d been discussing with Naegi just before the other students had entered the chemistry lab to confront them. He couldn’t confirm for certain, though, because the three bottles seemed to have been the entire stock of that particular poison. Could that have been why the culprit took all three bottles – to prevent anyone from knowing exactly what it was they’d taken?

If so, he had to admit, that wasn’t a terrible plan. He tried to think back to what the label had said, but the specifics of how the poison worked eluded him. It hadn’t been anything he recognized, he knew that much. It must have been some bizarre new poison the mastermind had concocted.

But whatever someone might intend to use this poison for, he knew he couldn’t afford to get too caught up in it now. There were too many mysteries left unsolved with the death that had already occurred, and he couldn’t waste his investigation time on hypotheticals. He would just have to keep this poison in mind for the future, as he carried on with the rest of his search.

Of course, that left the issue of where else to look. Togami frowned as he left the chemistry lab, considering his options. Nothing else immediately came to mind – but the murder had occurred on the first floor. It made sense that other clues might be located there, as well.

As he returned to the dormitory half of the first floor, Togami stepped through the gate just in time to see Ogami and Asahina exit the cafeteria.

“So you aren’t even making an effort at contributing, are you?” he asked, drawing the girls’ attention sharply to him. “Is that an indication of guilt, or have you just decided to wallow in your uselessness?”

Asahina glared at him, but the expression didn’t have her usual energy. It looked like the effects of whatever had knocked her unconscious might be lingering. “I wasn’t feeling great, especially since I missed breakfast. I thought it might help to get my blood sugar up, so that I won’t be lightheaded all through the class trial.”

“I doubt we would have noticed,” Togami said, rolling his eyes.

“Actually, it wasn’t as much of a waste of time as you seem to think,” Ogami said. “We found something interesting in the kitchen.”

Togami’s eyebrows shot up. “I assume you’re talking about something more relevant than a new type of donut?”

“I would say so.” Ogami held up a small plastic bag, containing several pieces of broken brown glass. None of them were large enough to identify – but Togami had only seen a bottle that color in one other place.

“That’s one of the bottles of poison from the chemistry lab,” Togami said, grabbing the bag from Ogami to examine it more closely. He looked up, narrowing his eyes at the two girls. “You said you found this in the kitchen?”

“The pieces were in the trashcan there,” Ogami said, nodding.

Togami’s stomach roiled at the thought of someone bringing a bottle of poison into the kitchen, surrounded by the food they all ate. Had it been there this morning, when he’d made coffee? He couldn’t be sure – it wasn’t as though he went around examining garbage as a matter of course. He knew that he couldn’t have consumed anything that had been contaminated, or else he would be dead – but maybe he’d only escaped by a narrow margin.

“Then it seems that we should all limit our meals to food stored in unopened containers,” Togami said, carefully pocketing the bag of broken glass. “At least until we can identify what happened to the contents of the jar.”

“Yeah, we already figured that.” Asahina scowled. “Tampering with the food supply would be really terrible – we could all starve!”

“Don’t be melodramatic,” Togami told her. “The point of the game is to get away with murder, not just to cause mayhem. Sabotaging the entire stockpile of food would hurt the culprit as much as the rest of us, and there wouldn’t be a way for them to benefit from it. No one would have any reason to do that.”

“That assumes someone would do it for the sake of winning,” Ogami said.

Togami frowned at her. “What other reason is there?”

Before she could answer, Jill’s voice called out, “Welcome back, White Knight! Couldn’t stay away, huh?”

Togami scowled as she came running around the corner from the storage room. “I thought I told you to do something useful.”

“You sure did, darling!” Jill beamed at him. “It was so sweet of you to give me a nice masterful order like that! Mm, I’ll be thinking about that one all night long!”

Asahina and Ogami looked at him with rather disturbed expressions. “Uh… what exactly did you tell her to do?” Asahina asked slowly. “Or maybe I don’t want to know.”

He rolled his eyes. “I told her to look for anything suspicious that had been moved in the storage room.”

“And you bet I did, baby,” Jill said. “

“What – you’ve examined the entire storage room? Already?” Togami asked, making his skepticism clear.

“Of course not, that would be boring!” Jill said brightly. “Who’d want to go around looking at a lot of crap that no one’s touched?”

“So you abandoned your task without finding anything.” Togami hadn’t expected much else, but that didn’t stop him from glowering at her in disapproval.

“Aw, darling, don’t be like that,” Jill said, not looking at all quelled by his displeasure. “I can’t find something if it’s been taken away, can I?”

“What do you mean by that?” Togami asked, folding his arms.

“Oh, you know – there was a big empty space where a thing used to be,” Jill said. “About this big.” She sketched a square that looked about two feet by two feet.

“What was it?” Togami prompted.

“Sorry, baby, but the only psychic powers I’ve got are the ones connecting me to you!” Jill said, laughing. “It wasn’t there anymore, so I’ve got no idea.”

“Well, that was a colossal waste of time.” Togami sighed, thinking over the complete lack of useful evidence he’d found. “I hope Naegi has had better luck.”

Chapter Text

Everything was dark, and Naegi sank through the cold pool of blackness with limbs too heavy to move. It felt quiet here, like he could rest peacefully for the first time in far too many weeks, and there was something terribly appealing about the idea of allowing himself to drift through the darkness indefinitely.

… Stay …

Something deep inside him twisted at the thought of staying in this darkness, but it was so hard to grasp any other thoughts with the shadows wrapping themselves around him.

… Stay …

He was aware of having forgotten something, possibly even something important, but he didn’t know how to reach for the memory of what it was.

… Promise you’ll stay …

Words echoed through his mind, in a voice he knew that he should remember. This voice had mattered to him, mattered enough that he stopped his descent into the empty blackness. What was it about that voice that he’d forgotten?

… Stay with me …

He didn’t understand what was happening, but he knew deep in his soul that he had to listen to that voice. Something terrible would happen if he didn’t listen. He had to go back.

And as the blackness receded, a second voice spoke over the first, coming to him from somewhere outside instead of the hidden places of his mind.

“Stay with me. Listen, Naegi, you have to stay with me.”

Naegi jolted awake, the world snapping dizzily back into focus as the darkness faded to the back of his mind. He found himself lying on the floor of Ogami’s dorm room, Kirigiri leaning over him and squeezing his icy hand.

“What… happened?” When he tried to speak, the words seemed to take too long to form in his mouth.

“You collapsed.” Kirigiri frowned down at her hand wrapped around his, and Naegi realized that she wasn’t holding it as some kind of show of support – she was pressing a damp washcloth to his palm. She pulled it away and sighed, sitting back on her heels. “What exactly do you remember?”

Naegi frowned, trying to think back. “I’m… not sure. We were searching the room. I think… I was going to check under the bed. But after that… it’s a little fuzzy.”

“That isn’t surprising,” Kirigiri said, her face grim. “Take a look at your hand.”

“Huh?” Naegi lifted his left hand, the one she’d been holding the washcloth to – and he realized there was a small puncture wound piercing through the center of his palm. “Did something stab me?”

“That would be this.” Kirigiri nodded to another washcloth, with a silver sewing needle resting on top of it.

Naegi frowned at the needle. It was hard to see without getting a closer look, but in addition to the traces of blood, it looked like there was something yellow coating it.

“Is there something on that needle?” Naegi asked, trying to brace his other hand on the floor so that he could sit up. “Some kind of drug, maybe?”

Kirigiri put a hand on his back to steady him. “It looks that way.” She got to her feet. “Do you think you can move? I want to show you something.”

“All right.” Naegi’s head spun wildly as he pushed himself upright, his stomach twisting itself into knots at the sudden change, but he gritted his teeth and held on until the physical sensations died down enough that he could follow Kirigiri over to where Hagakure’s body still lay across the foot of the bed.

She didn’t seem at all fazed by touching a dead body as she lifted one of Hagakure’s forearms – but then, it never seemed to bother her with any of the corpses.

“I can’t believe how calm you are,” Naegi said, watching her. “No matter how many times I see a dead body, I can’t get used to it.”

“That’s normal,” Kirigiri said, moving around to turn over one of Hagakure’s ankles. “I imagine it’s because I’ve had plenty of opportunities to touch dead bodies in the past.”

“What?” Naegi stared at her blankly.

“Never mind.” She shook her head. “More importantly, look here – at Hagakure’s arm and ankle.”

Naegi looked at the places she’d named, and gasped. There were three small puncture wounds on Hagakure’s body, two on his arm and one on his lower leg – and all were identical to the mark on his own palm.

“So this has to be it, right?” Naegi said, looking back up at her. He could feel his thoughts picking up to a little closer to a normal pace, even though the rest of his body still felt heavy and slow. “These needles must be how the culprit knocked everyone unconscious so they could kill Hagakure.”

“Possibly.” Kirigiri crossed her arms and frowned at Naegi. “Do you know why I took so much time examining the body in this case?”

“Because you want to be thorough?” Naegi asked, confused.

“Yes, but in this case, there was a reason that I wanted to be more thorough than usual,” Kirigiri said. “When I examined the wound on the back of Hagakure’s head, I determined that while it does look like it bled considerably, it doesn’t appear to be severe enough to have been the cause of death.”

“But if it wasn’t the head wound…” Naegi’s gaze went to the puncture wounds on Hagakure’s body, then to the mark on his own palm.

“I removed the needle almost immediately, and I believe I got most of the chemicals out when I cleaned the wound,” Kirigiri said. “Now that you’re awake, I don’t think you need to worry.”

“Oh. I… guess that’s good.” Naegi closed his hand so that he couldn’t see the mark anymore. “So how long was I out? Is the trial starting soon?”

“You were unconscious for perhaps half an hour,” Kirigiri said. “The announcement hasn’t sounded yet, but I don’t know how much more time the mastermind intends to give us.”

“Then… we should keep searching.” Naegi braced himself against the wall, looking around the room in determination. “We have to keep moving forward.”

“Agreed.” Kirigiri gave him an approving nod. “While I was looking through the bathroom for something to clean your wound, I noticed a few things that merit further investigation. I’ll examine those, and you can resume your search out here.”

Naegi frowned. “I’ve already looked out here.”

“Yes, but you were searching for a much larger murder weapon,” Kirigiri pointed out. “I don’t believe there are any other needles left in the bed, which means they must be elsewhere in the room. We need to find as many of them as possible.” With that, she turned and headed into the bathroom.

Naegi sighed. Searching a murder scene was hard enough normally, let alone when any move made his head spin and his stomach roil – but feeling sick wasn’t going to make the trial go away. He just had to ignore the discomfort and do it.

Well, if he was looking for needles, there was one obvious place. Naegi dragged himself over to Ogami’s desk and opened the bottom drawer where he’d seen her sewing kit. He hadn’t given it much thought when he’d looked at it earlier – but now that he did, he could see that it had been opened already. He opened the kit slowly, not sure if it was dread or drugs making his hands heavy as he examined the kit’s contents.

And it was exactly as he’d feared. All six needles in Ogami’s sewing kit were missing.

Chapter Text

Naegi stared down at the sewing kit, trying to think what it might mean that the needles were missing. That looked bad for Ogami – but it didn’t mean anything conclusive, not necessarily. Everyone knew that all the girls had sewing kits in their rooms, so anyone could have taken the needles from hers.

So if all six needles from the sewing kit were missing, that meant five were still unaccounted for. Naegi grimaced at the thought of scouring the entire room for something as tiny as a needle. They could be hidden anywhere, and he was sure they couldn’t have that much longer before the trial would start.

But on the other hand, he wasn’t going to find anything by sitting around and worrying about it. Naegi sighed and began rechecking the other desk drawers. Unfortunately, he hadn’t missed anything the first time. They were as empty as before. So where else could the needles be?

The bookcase seemed like a possibility. The culprit might have stowed the needles along the back of the shelves. Naegi headed carefully towards it, trying to ignore the way the room seemed to wobble around him with every step. But when he made it there, the shelves didn’t contain anything, either.

Well, where would he put a bunch of suspicious needles if he needed to hide them? Naegi frowned, trying to think about it – but it was hard to envision needing to hide weapons at all. If he needed to get rid of something, all he had to do was toss it in the trash. He glanced automatically down at the trashcan beside the bookcase as he had the thought –

And saw something silver glinting in the bottom.

Slowly, Naegi eased himself to his knees in front of the trashcan, biting his lip. The thought of looking through a girl’s garbage made him feel slightly guilty – but if the killer really had tried to use this to dispose of the murder weapon, he didn’t see any other choice. He peered down inside. He could see a few sheets of crumpled paper, a dark brown bottle, and below them – several needles, edged with blood and bits of yellow residue.

Sticking his hand into a trashcan full of poisoned needles didn’t sound like a very good idea, so instead, Naegi gently tilted the can so that the contents slid out onto the floor. Tucking his hand into his sleeve, he used his fabric-covered knuckles to separate the needles out. He could see two – three – no, four of them had fallen onto the floor, and he nudged them into a small pile.

Was that all of them? He checked the trashcan to see if the fifth one might be in there, but no, he’d emptied everything out. Then did that mean there was still one missing?

Well, maybe not. Naegi frowned at the crumpled papers that had been tossed into the trashcan with the needles. It was just possible...

He began smoothing out the tangle of papers, checking to see if the last needle might have gotten caught inside. He couldn’t help noticing that at one point, they seemed to have been partially covered with writing, but at some later point it had been scratched over with heavy black ink. Only a few phrases remained readable.

I hate to do it like this…

All of this is because of my own weakness…

This won’t end with me just accepting your hatred…

Naegi frowned, a chill going down his spine at the sight. There was something about those words that he didn’t like at all, something ominous. But that didn’t make any sense, did it? The murder had already happened.

He wrenched his attention away from the unsettling words and smoothed out the last sheet of paper – and there, caught in a crumpled fold, was the final needle.

Naegi put it with the others, and after a moment of thought, he gingerly nudged all of them onto one of the papers so that he could move them. He didn’t know how much poison was left on the needles, but he didn’t want to take any chances by leaving them lying around on the floor. He set the paper with the needles safely on top of the bookcase, just as Kirigiri left the bathroom.

“Ah. I see you’ve had some success.” She headed over to peer down at the needles.

“Yes, five of them were in the trash,” Naegi said, nodding. “With the one from earlier, that makes all six.”

“Not quite.” Kirigiri held up a small jar. When Naegi looked inside, it held a lot of cotton swabs – and six more needles.

“What?” Naegi frowned, looking from the needles Kirigiri held to the ones piled in front of him. That didn’t seem right – where had the extras come from?

“But that wasn’t all I found.” Kirigiri jerked her head towards the bathroom. “Look for yourself.”

“Uh – is that okay?” Naegi asked, giving the door a hesitant look. “I mean – well, should I really be going through a girl’s bathroom?”

Kirigiri gave him a blank stare. “How else are you going to see what’s in there? Now hurry up before the announcement sounds.”

Naegi sighed, reluctantly heading for the bathroom. He supposed it was probably all right if Kirigiri was there, too – and he could always apologize to Ogami about it later. So with that in mind, he went ahead and stepped inside and began looking around.

The bathroom looked more or less like his own, with the front part containing a sink and mirror while the back area was split between a shower and a toilet. Nothing that he saw seemed immediately out of place, though. What was it that Kirigiri had wanted him to see? It couldn’t be anything too hidden, though. She’d said that she noticed something first when she’d been in the middle of treating his puncture wound, so it had to be at least somewhat unusual.

He checked the area with the sink first, since that was where Kirigiri must have been when she’d noticed something. The mirrored medicine cabinet didn’t seem out of the ordinary, though, even when Naegi opened it to give the contents an embarrassed glance. A lot of it seemed to be muscle treatments of various sorts, and he wasn’t sure how to tell what was supposed to be there and what wasn’t.

But when he gave the sink a quick glance, he frowned. There was water pooling in the bottom, even though the drain didn’t seem to be plugged. Was there a clog or something? Gingerly, Naegi reached into the water and poked at the drain, stirring up a few tendrils of pulpy white gunk. He snatched his hand away before whatever that was could touch him, wiping his fingers hastily on his pants.

Could the clogged sink be what Kirigiri had wanted him to look at? Naegi wasn’t sure, but it did seem to be the only unusual thing he’d found so far. He bent down to check under the sink – and as he did, a small bit of something white caught his eye from the back of the faucet. He reached for it curiously, and it turned out to be a small scrap of paper. There wasn’t enough to read much of what had been written on it, but Naegi could tell from the few letters that it was definitely different from the writing on the papers he’d discovered in the trashcan.

That seemed like a much more likely thing for Kirigiri to have noticed than just the clogged sink – although Naegi supposed that with her, it could be hard to tell what she might consider important. With that in mind, he gave the bathroom one more quick glance, just to be on the safe side. The toilet looked ordinary, no different from his, and the shower seemed okay, with a few bottles of soap and a towel abandoned in a heap in one corner –

Wait. Naegi frowned at the towel. What was that doing there? Everyone in this room should have been unconscious when the water came back on at seven this morning, so no one would have had a reason to use a towel in the shower. And while Ogami might have used it last night, it just didn’t seem likely that a girl who neatly stacked rows upon rows of weights would leave a towel on the floor like that. Naegi walked over and picked it up.

And a small screwdriver fell out onto the floor with a clatter.

Chapter Text

Naegi blinked down at the screwdriver as it rolled to a stop at his feet. Where had that come from? And why had it been in Ogami’s bathroom? Had she brought it in from the storage room?

No, he realized as he bent down to pick it up. This definitely wasn’t from the storage room. He recognized the small shape and the distinctive yellow handle. This screwdriver had come from one of the toolkits in a boy’s dorm.

And not just any boy’s toolkit, either. As he examined the screwdriver more closely, Naegi saw long scrapes along the sides – the marks from where he’d used it to try to open the dryer door yesterday. This was his screwdriver.

Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that it was Asahina’s screwdriver, since he’d given the toolkit to her yesterday. Had she been carrying it around with her since then? That seemed like it would be awfully inconvenient. The tools might be pretty small, but the toolkit itself was too big to fit in a pocket. Had she just been carrying the screwdriver, then? Why would she –

Naegi froze. Asahina had had a screwdriver. Ogami’s locked door had been opened without a key. That couldn’t possibly be a coincidence.

This must have been the real clue that Kirigiri had wanted him to find, not whatever was stuck on the sink. With the way that she examined rooms, of course she would have checked something as obvious as a towel on the floor. He headed back out to let her know what he’d discovered. He found her kneeling in front of the bookcase, examining the garbage he’d left there.

“Oh, I guess I should have cleaned that up,” he said, frowning at it.

“We don’t have time to waste on that.” Kirigiri picked up the brown bottle that had been in the trash. “Naegi, what do you think this is?”

“Uh, I don’t know,” Naegi said. “Protein or something, maybe? Ogami drinks a lot of that, right?”

Silently, Kirigiri turned the bottle so that he could see the front label, with a heavy black skull and crossbones emblazoned on it.

“Oh. That’s… probably not protein.”

“Unlikely.” Kirigiri handed it over, and Naegi nearly dropped it at the unexpected weight. “Take a look for yourself.” She walked away as Naegi began examining the bottle.

Now that he looked at it more closely, Naegi thought that he might have seen this bottle before. It looked a little familiar. He glanced over the label. The poison wasn’t named, but it did say “Fatality guaranteed within five minutes upon consumption, injection, or inhalation.

The words rang a bell in Naegi’s memory. This was the bottle of poison Togami had been looking at in the chemistry lab, or one just like it. Well, he supposed that made sense – whatever was on the needles had to be able to work by injection.

Although now that he was looking at the label, it seemed like that wasn’t all it said. There was a small asterisk at the end of the phrase, indicating further information elsewhere. Naegi frowned, wondering where it meant. The other side of the bottle was blank, but – he flipped it over – there did seem to be another label on the bottom.

Fatal dosage information,” he read, frowning. He skimmed over it, trying to work out in his head what the different quantities meant. Injecting the poison definitely looked like it would take the smallest dose, requiring very little as long as it was injected directly into the blood stream. The dosage seemed to change a little according to the victim’s weight, but it didn’t look like the difference would be more than a few drops. It took much more to kill by consuming the poison, at least a third of the bottle for someone at the top of the weight range, and even more than that for a full dose by inhalation.

If less than a full dose is administered, possible symptoms may include dizziness, memory loss, loss of consciousness, ongoing breath, continuing pulse, and a drive for vengeance against a failed killer,” the label declared. “Be sure to check your math, kids!”

Naegi shivered at the cheerful tone of the text, even on something as deadly as this poison. So this could kill in five minutes? He’d really had a close call with that needle, hadn’t he? He wondered if that could have been enough to kill him if Kirigiri hadn’t intervened. He hoped not, but he couldn’t be sure – not when this had been used to kill someone else already.

He set the poison bottle down with the needles and looked around the room for Kirigiri. He found her standing at the entrance to the room, running one hand along the doorframe.

“Did you find something?” he asked.

“Possibly.” She turned to look at him. “Naegi –”

Ding dong, bing bong.

The television in the room flickered to life, showing Monokuma yawning at them. “Oops, you caught me sleeping!” he said cheerfully. “Your investigation was just so boring I couldn’t stay awake!” The pseudo-tired expression morphed into a wide, eager grin. “Should I do it? Is it okay? Can I can I can I?” He laughed. “Okay! Then let’s begin the class trial!”

As the television turned off, Kirigiri turned and headed over to the bookcase to collect the various pieces of evidence they’d found. Normally she seemed to expect Naegi to carry it all to the trial room, but maybe she’d decided that he couldn’t be trusted not to stab himself on any of the needles again. The only things left for Naegi to carry were the screwdriver and the poison bottle, which he could easily tuck into his pockets. Meanwhile, Kirigiri had her hands full managing all the different containers of needles, keeping them separate and holding them without piercing herself. Still, she managed to do it all without looking like it was difficult in the slightest, striding out into the hall at her usual speed.

“Be sure to shut the door behind you,” she said over her shoulder as she headed for the trial ground.

Naegi sighed, bracing himself for the long walk over to the red door. He’d had a little time to recover from the effects of the poisoned needle – he hoped it would be enough. He didn’t think Monokuma would be very happy about it if he held up the trial because it took him ages just to walk across the first floor of the school.

As Naegi left the room, he pulled the door shut, and to his surprise it wobbled a little under his hand. He frowned. Had it done that before? He tried to think back to when Kirigiri had first opened the door – but he couldn’t remember if the door had done anything unusual then. He’d been too focused on the horrifying scene inside the room.

He glanced back at the door – but as far as he could tell, it fit flush into the doorframe without any evidence of tampering. He opened and closed it one more time, and again, it shook as it moved, even more than it had the first time.

Well, he didn’t really have time to look into the issue of the door anymore. The investigation period had ended, and it was time to make his way over to the red door to the trial grounds. The class trial was about to begin.

Chapter Text

Naegi made his way to the trial ground, step by careful step. Moving too fast set his head spinning, and he knew that for the ordeal ahead, he would need to have his mind as clear as possible. He would just have to go at a pace he could manage, and that would have to be enough. After all, he was pretty sure the trial wouldn’t start without him.

The hallway was as eerily silent as ever as he approached the red door. He turned the handle and tried to push it open – but that door was heavy even on a good day. After a dose of poison on top of days of exhaustion, Naegi found that his arms shook a little under the weight.

And then the pressure eased a little. Naegi looked up to see that Ogami had reached over to hold the door open for him, looking down at him in concern. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Naegi did his best to sound normal, but judging from the looks the other students gave him as he entered, he didn’t succeed.

Togami stepped forward, lips going tight as his gaze pierced through Naegi. Naegi straightened and tucked his injured hand in his pocket, trying not to sway on his feet. He could feel Togami’s eyes scanning carefully over him, taking note of everything, and he wanted to give the other boy as little to worry about as possible. With the trial about to begin, Togami ought to be focusing on that, not on what might have happened to Naegi.

Togami didn’t seem to agree, though. He crossed his arms and glared at Naegi. “You,” he said distinctly, “are not fine. What the hell happened?”

Naegi shrugged. “It’s not important right now.”

Togami looked at him for another moment, then swung around to Kirigiri. “What did you do to him?”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “What makes you think I did anything?”

Togami glared at her. “You were the only one in there with him. And even if you didn’t do whatever happened personally, it would still be your fault.”

“I’m sure you’d like to think that,” Kirigiri said calmly.

Her lack of reaction only seemed to make Togami angrier. But before he could say another word, Monokuma came springing out among them to land in the middle of the room. He rubbed sleepily at his eyes, looking around.

“Oh, is everyone here already? We’re not missing anyone? It’s getting so hard to be sure these days.” He shook his head and heaved a too-heavy sigh. “I must be getting old – all worn out and used up. Soon, everyone will move on to some newer mascot, with a cuter design and a more charmingly violent flair. No one will want me around when they can have someone newer.”

“No one wants you around anyway,” Togami said coldly.

“So it’s starting already? Maybe soon I’ll be replaced with a cute piglet with perky ears and a jaunty curl to its tail.”

Naegi stared at Monokuma blankly. He was pretty sure that even without the poison and head injury, none of that would make much sense to him. “What are you talking about?”

“Huh? You don’t agree?” Monokuma tilted his head at Naegi. “You think there’s no way something could be cuter than little ol’ me?”

“I didn’t say that –”

“Well, you’re right!” A wide grin spread over Monokuma’s face. “Nothing out-cutes a bear, and I’m the cutest bear there is! Good thing I remembered that before I did something drastic!” He threw his head back and laughed wildly. “Now, everyone into the elevator. See you all down there!” As the elevator doors opened, he disappeared.

“That was weird,” Asahina said, frowning at the place where Monokuma had been.

Togami shrugged. “No more than usual.”

Naegi gulped, watching each of the others glance hesitantly at the elevator before looking away again. He understood how they felt, thinking about the situation. So the culprit… the person who had knocked everyone in Ogami’s room unconscious and then murdered Hagakure… that person was here, among them? It seemed unbelievable…

But they couldn’t think like that. They couldn’t bury their heads in the sand and pretend it wasn’t happening. If they did, they’d all end up just as dead as Hagakure was.

“Come on,” Naegi said, taking the first step towards the elevator. “It’s time to put an end to this.”

But even though he tried to sound strong and confident as he headed into the elevator, every step he took felt like one more move away from his goal. Stepping into the elevator was just as chilling this time as it had been every time before, somehow made even more terrifying by the familiarity it was starting to have for him. Nothing made it easier.

But as the steel doors to the prison closed, shutting all six remaining students inside, warm fingers settled gently around Naegi’s hand. When Naegi looked up, he saw Togami staring fixedly at the door rather than meeting his eyes – but that did make sense. After all, they were technically still supposed to be separated. Actually, if he was going to play fair, Naegi knew he ought to shake Togami’s hand off and step aside.

He couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not after the horror of today, with another murder and the fast-approaching trial. With so much darkness surrounding him at every turn, he needed to have this one small moment of light. Naegi let his fingers curl back around Togami’s, their hands fitting together like puzzle pieces.

Turning his attention back to the front of the elevator, Naegi noticed that Kirigiri was looking over at him, narrowed eyes fixed on his hand in Togami’s. Naegi had the brief impulse to snatch his hand away and pretend it hadn’t happened – but there wouldn’t be much point when she’d obviously seen already. He just hoped she wouldn’t take it the wrong way.

However she took it, Kirigiri didn’t say anything. She looked away from the boys’ entwined hands, face unreadable, and stood in silence until the doors opened on the trial ground.

This room wasn’t quite as elaborate as the gothic midnight room they’d been in last time, but not by much. The walls were bedecked in heavy red curtains, and between them huge golden pillars stretched to the ceiling, covered in elaborate ancient carvings. The circle of small wooden podiums looked almost out of place among the other furnishings.

Reluctantly, Naegi let go of Togami’s hand and headed over to his place in the circle, while the others did the same. It was strange to see them all so spaced out, when at first the circle had been crowded with faces and voices. Now, there were more pictures of the dead than there were living students among them. With Maizono and Yamada on either side of him, harsh red Xs painted across their portraits, Naegi couldn’t escape the memories of what had come before this.

“Just the six of you, huh?” Monokuma dropped his head in a mockery of a sad pose. “That’s so few. You must be lonely!”

Naegi glared up at him. “You say that like it’s not your fault we’re all that’s left!”

Monokuma laughed in response. “I wonder, how many classmates will you lose in this trial? Who will be found guilty, and who will go on to live another day? Or maybe your school life come to an end completely! Who knows!” He grinned. “Now, are we ready to begin?”

Naegi took a deep breath, bracing himself as he looked around at the faces of the other students. Another class trial – another life and death battle against a friend – and no matter how things ended today, another tragedy. But he knew that there was no other choice. He had to do this.

It was time to begin.

Chapter Text

Naegi looked around the circle at his friends, taking in the other five faces of his friends. They all looked back with varying degrees of determination, fear, and resignation.

“Well, we might as well start with the obvious point,” Togami said, when no one else seemed inclined to say a word. “Out of all of us, there’s only one person who has recently gotten a motive to kill.” His gaze zeroed in on Ogami. “You’ve been the mastermind’s tool from the start, and now they’ve called you to action.”

Ogami dropped her gaze. “I… I understand why you would accuse me, but I did not do this.”

“It’s easy for you to say that now,” Togami said. “But do you expect us to believe you’d really be that strong if the mastermind waved their hostage at you again?”

“It’s true that I do value the hostage the mastermind has been holding over me.” Ogami looked up from the floor, eyes intense as she looked around the circle. “But I value all of you, as well. I can no longer sacrifice one to save the other. Even if I did decide to kill in a moment of weakness, I would admit to it rather than let all of you die accusing me.”

“Very noble,” Togami sneered. “But you’re forgetting one thing. Hagakure died in your room – a room that I locked. If you can’t explain how he got in there, then it can only be because the mastermind helped you. Either they turned a blind eye to your transgression of the rule against breaking down locked doors, or they opened the door for your themselves.”

“You seem awfully willing to speak for the mastermind,” Kirigiri broke in, crossing her arms. “But aren’t you forgetting something?”

Togami glared at her. “What?”

“A reason why the mastermind wouldn’t have been the one to open the door,” Kirigiri said. “After all, the question of locked doors has come up already.”

Naegi frowned. When else had they talked about locked doors? There had been the morning after the fourth floor had opened, when Monokuma had created the new locked door rule, but other than that he hadn’t been around much. The last time they’d seen him was when he’d called that assembly – wait.

“You’re talking about when Ogami didn’t show up for the emergency assembly, right?” Naegi said. “Monokuma told us that the only way he’d open a student’s door would be as part of an investigation. That means he wouldn’t open the door to help someone commit a murder.”

“That’s right!” Monokuma sang out, beaming at them. “Getting your headmaster to help with your graduation exam would be a big no-no!”

“And if that’s the case, I think this is the first question we need to discuss,” Kirigiri said. “How did three people get through the door to Ogami’s room after it was locked?” She looked over at Asahina and Ogami. “You two were there. Do you have an explanation?”

But neither girl said a word. Naegi frowned. He couldn’t understand it – why were they both staying silent? Even if it really was one of them, shouldn’t the other still be willing to speak up?

He sighed. He’d hoped that one of them would admit what had really happened, since keeping quiet about it looked suspicious. He didn’t really want to have to force anyone’s hand – but Kirigiri was right. They had to answer this question before they could move forward.

“Asahina.” Naegi looked her in the eye, giving her one more chance. “Are you sure you don’t know what happened?”

Asahina squared her shoulders like she was preparing for a fight. “I told you already – the door was open when I tried it.”

“No, I don’t think that’s true,” Naegi said. “These doors don’t lock automatically – you have to use a key no matter what side you’re on. So if the door hadn’t been locked properly last night, it should still have been unlocked this morning. But when Kirigiri tried it, the door was locked.”

“She could have been confused,” Asahina insisted. “Or maybe Togami came back and locked it again.”

“I did nothing of the sort!” Togami snapped.

“Well, it’s true we can’t prove what anyone didn’t do,” Naegi said slowly. “But I think maybe we can prove what someone did.” He kept his eyes on Asahina as he spoke. “When I closed the door to Ogami’s room, I noticed that it was kind of wobbling. None of the other doors move like that.”

“Meaning that it was actually broken, as I said,” Togami said, nodding.

“Unlikely,” Kirigiri said. “Up to this point, the mastermind has taken great care in the rules we’re given. I don’t believe they would have created a new rule just to ignore it a few days later.”

“Then what exactly are you suggesting?” Togami asked.

Kirigiri smirked. “The new rule specifically forbids breaking down locked doors. It doesn’t mention any other interference.”

“You can’t be claiming someone picked the lock,” Togami said. “Or have you forgotten that these locks are unpickable?”

Naegi frowned. Something about that didn’t sound quite right. The locks couldn’t be picked, at least according to Monokuma, and the rules forbade breaking a door down. But remembering the way the door had moved, he was sure that something had been done to it – something that wasn’t either of those things.

The way the door had moved…

“No one would have needed to touch the lock,” Naegi said, drawing the circle’s attention back to him. “Someone could open a locked door without breaking it down – if they unscrewed the hinges.”

“Oh, could they get around my rule that way?” Monokuma asked pensively from his throne. “I wonder…”

Everyone looked at him for a moment, waiting to see if he’d continue, but he just grinned out at them.

“Whether it violates the rule or not, that isn’t the problem,” Togami pointed out, shaking his head. “Unscrewing the hinges would require a screwdriver.”

“Yes, it would. And that’s exactly what we found.” Naegi pulled out the screwdriver and held it up for display. “This was hidden in Ogami’s room.”

Togami’s eyes narrowed at it. “That’s one of the screwdrivers from the toolkits in the boys’ rooms.” He looked sharply at Naegi. “Then are you suggesting that Hagakure opened the door?”

“No. It isn’t Hagakure’s screwdriver,” Naegi said. “It’s mine.” He looked across the circle. “Isn’t that right, Asahina?”

She clenched her fists. “I – I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yesterday, when I was trying to do laundry, the dryer door got stuck,” Naegi explained to the group, though he kept his gaze locked on Asahina. “I tried to use my screwdriver to get it open, and it got scratched.” He pointed out the gouge marks on the side.

“And why would you expect Asahina to know about that?” Ogami said quickly, before Asahina could respond. “If you discarded it after it was damaged, anyone might have picked it up.”

“But that’s just it – I didn’t throw it out,” Naegi said. “Asahina saw that I was having trouble fixing the dryer, so she did it for me. In exchange, I sewed up a tear in her jacket for her. And since we were both better with each other’s kits, we traded her sewing kit for my toolkit – including the screwdriver.”

“So not only was she in possession of a screwdriver, she’s been attempting to conceal the fact,” Togami said, a dark smile crossing his face. “I see.”

Ogami glared furiously at Togami. “Asahina did not do anything wrong! She –”

“It was me.” Asahina’s sharp words cut through Ogami’s protest. Naegi looked over to see her glaring out across the circle. “You’re right,” she went on, speaking so hastily she almost sounded out of breath. “I was lying before. I didn’t just find the door open. I wanted to talk to Sakura, so I used Naegi’s screwdriver to take her door off the hinges. It was all me.”

Naegi frowned. Everything that Asahina had just said did actually sound like what he’d thought must have happened – but there was something strange about the way she was saying it. And why was she admitting it now, when a few minutes ago she’d been denying it so vehemently? There was something strange about her confession, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on what.

“So you’re saying that you opened Ogami’s door?” Kirigiri asked, raising an eyebrow. “From the hallway?”

“That’s right,” Asahina said, nodding decisively. “That’s exactly what happened.”

“Sorry, but I don’t think so.” Kirigiri looked over at Naegi. “You can see it too, right? The reason that Asahina couldn’t have opened that door the way she’s claiming?”

“Huh?” Naegi frowned. Kirigiri was saying that Asahina… couldn’t have opened the door? But she’d been the one with the screwdriver, and he was positive that the door had been opened using the hinges. So why couldn’t it have been Asahina? He knew the hinges on the door were big enough to unscrew easily, since anyone could easily see them all the way from across the room –

Oh. Naegi looked up at Kirigiri. “You’re right – Asahina can’t have done it. The hinges are on the inside of the door.”

Monokuma laughed. “Of course they are! If it was that easy to get into someone’s dorm room, your school life would be over before we reached our first trial!”

Naegi frowned. So… if the hinges were only on the inside of the door… then that meant….

He looked across the circle, and Ogami met his gaze head on with straightened shoulders and a raised chin.

Chapter Text

“It was you, wasn’t it, Ogami?” Naegi asked, leaning forward over his podium. “You were the one who unscrewed the hinges on your own door.”

“No, it wasn’t!” Asahina insisted, before Ogami could answer. “I did! She didn’t even have the screwdriver – so she couldn’t have done it!”

“Hina –”

“No!” Asahina turned to Naegi. “Sakura was avoiding me – that’s why I needed to get into her room to talk to her! If I’d talked to her for long enough to give her a screwdriver, then I wouldn’t have needed to get the door open at all!”

“Unless that isn’t really why you needed the door open,” Jill said, scissors materializing in her hand as she pointed at Asahina. “Admit it – you went in to try to lure her into some girl-on-girl action with those bouncing balloons on your chest!”

“H-huh?” Asahina blushed, drawing back a little. “No, that had nothing to do with it! I just needed to talk to her, that’s all.” She dropped her head, staring down at her hands. “I realized how unfair I’d been to her, and – and I couldn’t just leave things like that.” She looked up again, eyes blazing. “So that’s why I did it. I’m the one who opened the door!”

“Hina, this isn’t necessary,” Ogami said, closing her eyes. “I’m more than prepared to accept any possible consequences for my actions.”

“Oh, is that so?” Monokuma asked, tilting his head inquisitively.

“No!” Asahina all but shouted. “It wasn’t her – it was definitely me!”

“We’ve already proved it can’t have been,” Togami said impatiently. “You must have given her that screwdriver somehow.” He glared over at Ogami. “And then you had me lock you in your room again to mask your intent to break out.”

“I didn’t intend to deceive you,” Ogami said. “At the time, my request to be locked in my room was genuine.”

“See?” Asahina said. “Why would Sakura want to be locked up if she was just going to open the door again?”

“Because you convinced me otherwise,” Ogami said. She looked around the room. “Hina left a letter containing the screwdriver outside my room –”

“No!”

“– requesting that I use it to open the door and speak with her during the night.”

“No – no, I didn’t!” Asahina said frantically, her eyes darting from Ogami to Monokuma and back. “Nothing like that happened! I’m the one who opened the door, and the screwdriver was in the room because I carried it inside! There wasn’t any note, and you can’t prove there was!”

Naegi frowned as she continued speaking in a panicked outpouring of words. Was that really right? He and Kirigiri definitely hadn’t found any note – but if Ogami was telling the truth, it must have been there. The question was, where could it have been? It must have been very well hidden –

Unless it hadn’t been hidden at all.

“No! That’s wrong!” Naegi interrupted Asahina’s panicked objections. “I may not have the note you wrote, but I think we can prove it existed.” He looked over at Ogami. “The sink in your bathroom was clogged with something white and pulpy – something that looked a lot like paper would if you tore it up and put it down the drain. And on the side of the sink, I found a scrap of paper with writing on it – writing that I bet would look an awful lot like Asahina’s.”

“You can’t prove that!” Asahina said, eyes wide and horrified.

“He doesn’t need to,” Ogami said. “It’s true. I destroyed your note in order to hide your involvement – but if I’d realized you intended to take the blame on yourself, I would have kept it to demonstrate the truth.”

Asahina looked from Ogami to Naegi – and her shoulders slumped in defeat. “Okay. You’re right. It – it happened like you said. I wasn’t the one who opened the door – I just asked Sakura to do it for me.” Tears filled her eyes. “And I wish I hadn’t!”

“What do you mean?” Naegi asked.

“I forgot about that rule when I wrote the letter to Sakura,” Asahina explained. “And then, when I remembered – well, maybe it wouldn’t count to take the door off the hinges – but what if it did? As soon as I thought of that, I tried to go take the letter back. But it was too late, Sakura already had it. And she opened the door last night, just like I asked her.” A tear fell down her cheek. “So – that means it’s my fault. Sakura only opened the door because of me – so if anyone has to be punished because of it, I’m the one who deserves it!”

“That isn’t true!” Ogami said fiercely. “I was fully aware of what it might mean when I opened the door, and I chose to do it anyway. You are not to blame for anything that happens, Hina.”

“But she is to blame for wasting our time,” Togami snapped. “Didn’t it occur to you that once a murder had taken place, it was more important to explain how everyone entered the ‘locked’ room than to protect your so-called friend from a punishment that might not even occur?”

“It wasn’t just that,” Asahina said. She looked around the circle. “All of you are suspicious of Sakura already. Even if the rule really does have a loophole, I knew that I couldn’t let her tell you all the truth. You’d think it meant she did something awful!”

“That’s exactly what I think,” Togami said coldly. He looked at Ogami. “You had motive, and Asahina’s stupidity provided you with the opportunity. I’ve yet to see anything to suggest that you are not the most likely suspect.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Kirigiri said, crossing her arms and smirking at Togami. “You’re too caught up in the issue of the spy to see what happened. In fact, Sakura Ogami is the one person who could not have committed this murder.”

“Oh?” Togami’s eyebrows went up. “That’s an interesting claim.” He looked over at Naegi. “What is she talking about?”

“Uh…” Naegi blinked. “Sorry, I’m not sure where she’s going with this.”

“If you think about how Hagakure was killed, then it should be obvious,” Kirigiri told him.

“I definitely remember!” Jill said, twirling her scissors in her hand. “Just seeing such an uninspired murder method as clobbering a guy over the head made my fingers twitch to do some slicing!”

But Naegi shook his head. “No – that wasn’t it.”

Togami frowned. “But the Monokuma File –” He stopped, a sudden frown crossing his face. “No, it didn’t say so, did it? It said that he’d been hit over the head, but it didn’t actually specify that the blow was the cause of death.”

“And it wasn’t,” Kirigiri said. “It looked impressive due to the quantity of blood, but the head injury was nowhere near severe enough to be a killing blow.”

“All right, then.” Togami crossed his arms, looking over at Naegi. “If the head injury wasn’t what killed him, what was?”

“This.” Naegi pulled the heavy bottle of poison out of his pocket and set it on the wooden column in front of him, positioning it so the skull and crossbones label faced the other students. “Hagakure was poisoned.”

“And that somehow precludes Ogami from being the culprit?” Togami asked skeptically. “I don’t see how. Admittedly it would be stupid to consume anything that came from a known traitor – but Hagakure was more than enough of an idiot to fall for such a ploy.”

Naegi grimaced. “Uh – should you really be talking about him like that now that he’s dead?”

“Why? Death hasn’t had an impact on his intelligence level,” Togami said flatly.

“Right.” Naegi sighed, figuring that wasn’t an argument to have at that moment. “Well, anyway, it doesn’t matter. Hagakure didn’t get poisoned by eating anything.”

“What do you mean?” Asahina asked, frowning. “How else would someone get poisoned?”

“It says here on the label that this poison can be administered by consumption, inhalation – or injection,” Naegi said. “There are three needle marks on Hagakure’s body.”

“So you’re saying the killer jabbed him with a syringe three times?” Ogami asked. “That seems excessive.”

“They can’t have,” Togami said. “I checked the nurse’s office myself, and none of the syringes were missing.”

“Because that wasn’t it,” Naegi said. “We found the needles the killer used, and they weren’t syringes. They were regular sewing needles that had been dipped in poison.”

“Needles like in the sewing kits in every girl’s room,” Togami said, nodding slowly. “I see.”

“So… you’re saying someone knocked us all unconscious and then stabbed Hagakure with a bunch of needles?” Asahina asked.

“Not quite,” Naegi said. “Hagakure wasn’t the only one in that room to get stabbed with a poisoned needle – all of you were.”

“What?” Asahina drew back. “But – that can’t be right! If we’d been poisoned, we’d be dead!”

“Not if it wasn’t a full dose,” Naegi said. He flipped the bottle over to show the dosage instructions. “It says here that one of the possible symptoms of a partial dose is loss of consciousness.”

Possible symptoms?” Togami raised an eyebrow. “As in, not guaranteed?”

“This killer has been remarkable in one respect,” Kirigiri said. “Their plan relied on a great deal of both careful forethought and impulsive action.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Togami demanded, but Kirigiri didn’t answer.

“I’m not certain your claim holds together,” Ogami said, ignoring this exchange as she looked at Naegi. “I believe I understand the theory… but I don’t recall being stabbed with a needle.”

“Me either,” Asahina said, shaking her head. “Needles hurt – I’m sure I’d remember something like that.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Naegi said. “Memory loss is another side effect, and this one happens for sure. After a partial dose of the poison, your memory gets fuzzy about what happened leading up to it. You can’t remember getting stabbed at all.”

Asahina and Ogami looked at each other and nodded slowly. “I guess that makes sense –”

Wait.” Togami glared across the circle at Naegi, fists clenching and face going slowly pale. “How exactly do you know what happens after getting poisoned?”

Chapter Text

Naegi smiled nervously as the whole circle turned to look at him after Togami’s question. He hadn’t actually meant to tell them all that he’d been careless enough to poison himself, at least not in the middle of the trial – but he should have realized Togami would be sharp enough to catch any reference to it.

“I just sort of figured it out during the investigation,” Naegi said, hoping that they could just breeze past it and get back to the main point of the trial. “When we found the needles.”

“Figured it out?” Togami stared at him. “You were stabbed with one of the needles.”

“Uh…” Naegi hesitated, not sure if he should confirm it or not.

“You found one of the poisoned needles by getting stabbed with it.” Togami’s voice was very calm and even, and it was starting to make Naegi worried. He would have felt better about it if the other boy had shouted or something. As it was, the only hints of emotion Naegi could see were Togami’s pale face and white-knuckled fists.

“That’s right,” Naegi said at last, figuring that he couldn’t really deny it at this point. “But look, that’s not the important part –”

“Did you fall unconscious?”

“Well – yes, for a little while,” Naegi admitted. “But –”

“How long?”

“Not that long,” Naegi said. “Kirigiri said it was only half an hour or so.”

“Oh, she did?” Togami’s gaze swung around to her. “Only half an hour, is that all? What does it take for you to think something is serious, a coma?”

“Don’t be melodramatic,” Kirigiri said, crossing her arms. “The girls were stabbed as well, and they’re perfectly fine.”

“That’s right,” Naegi agreed hurriedly. “Honestly, I’m fine.”

“You don’t look it,” Togami snapped. “You look like you could collapse at any moment.” He glared at Kirigiri. “Strange how that seems to happen every time he’s alone with you.”

Naegi didn’t like the look in Togami’s eye at all. “It wasn’t her fault I got stabbed – it was an accident!”

“Oh, really?” Togami said, anger beginning to show in his voice. “Because just a moment ago, you said that you didn’t remember what happened!”

Kirigiri raised an eyebrow. “Are you suggesting that I deliberately caused Naegi to be poisoned?”

“Getting him injured seems to be your favorite plan!” Togami snarled

“Look, this isn’t important right now!” Naegi said, trying to derail the argument. “We need to focus on what happened to Hagakure, not on this.”

“Not important?” Togami’s hands clenched so tightly they trembled. “We could have ended up investigating a double murder!”

Staring across the circle at Togami, Naegi could see the emotions he was trying to hold back, and it sent an ache through his chest. If things really had gone badly – if that needle had actually been coated with a full dose of poison – how would that have affected Togami? He’d known that Togami wanted him to stay alive – but he hadn’t realized just how much the possibility of his death would shake the other boy.

“That wasn’t going to happen,” Naegi said, as firmly as if he were making any other argument in the trials. “Kirigiri made sure it wouldn’t. She got the needle out and cleaned off the poison, and now I’m okay.”

Togami’s lips tightened as he studied Naegi intently. “I want to see your hand,” he said at last. “Show me where it stabbed you.”

Naegi sighed and held up his hand. “It was in the middle of my palm – well, you probably can’t see from over there.”

“All right, then.” Togami started to leave his place in the circle to head around to where Naegi was standing.

“What’s that? You’re trying to leave your assigned seat without a hall pass?” Monokuma asked, sounding shocked. As he spoke, a mechanical whirring sound came from up above them, and when Naegi looked up, he went pale at the sight of a huge machine gun lowering itself from the ceiling.

“But if you do that, someone might mistake you for absent,” Monokuma went on, smiling out at them. “You wouldn’t want that to happen, would you?”

Jaw clenched, Togami stepped back to his podium. “Fine,” he said through gritted teeth.

“It’s okay now, really,” Naegi assured him. “But look, how I got stabbed isn’t the point. The important thing is that everyone we found in that room must have been stabbed with at least one needle.” He looked around the circle at Ogami, Asahina and Jill. “The rest of you only had a partial dose, but for Hagakure, it was enough to kill.”

But Ogami shook her head. “I don’t see how that could have happened. If someone had approached me with any weapon, even one as small as a needle, I would certainly have noticed their intent and blocked the attack.”

“But that’s just it – with these needles, they wouldn’t have to approach you,” Naegi said. “The first one we found wasn’t just lying around on the floor – it was stuck into the bed. We couldn’t even tell it was there until I pressed down on the mattress in the wrong spot.”

“So you think everyone who sat on that bed got impaled with something sharp that released a nasty liquid inside us?” Jill threw her head back and laughed. “I like the way you think, Big Mac! But gotta say, it sounds like you’re just fantasizing. If some killer really did use those needles to stick it to us, where were they when we woke up?”

“That’s a good point,” Asahina said, frowning. “Shouldn’t the needles still have been stuck inside us when you found us?”

“No, I don’t think the culprit could risk that,” Naegi said. “The dosage for injection is a pretty small amount, and if they left the needles in place for too long, everyone might have ended up dead. Every person is only allowed to kill two other people, so a mistake would’ve gotten them immediately disqualified.”

“Then what happened to the needles?” Ogami asked. “You did say you found them, didn’t you?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Naegi said. “We found five needles in your trashcan – Kirigiri, you have them, right?”

“I do.” Carefully, Kirigiri pulled out the poisoned needles, setting them out on the wooden railing in front of her. “These five were in the trashcan, while the sixth one was still in the mattress.”

“That yellow stuff on them – is that the poison?” Asahina asked, drawing away as if it could stab her again.

“I think it has to be,” Naegi said. “It looks like the same stuff was on all of them, and the one from the mattress definitely knocked me unconscious.”

“But why would that needle still have been in the mattress?” Ogami asked, frowning. “Surely the culprit should have removed all the needles.”

“Who cares?” Jill said, twirling her scissors. “It didn’t kill anyone, did it? Who’d bother with something as boring as a murder weapon that didn’t even get used?”

“Maybe they got interrupted before they could find it?” Asahina wondered.

“Well, I still don’t see how you think any of this rules out Ogami,” Togami said, crossing his arms. He still had an icy darkness to his eyes when Naegi met his gaze, but at least for now, he’d moved on from harping about Naegi’s injury. “If this theory is right, then the culprit would have needed time to plant the needles in the bed. Who else would have had the chance?”

“The issue isn’t about the opportunity. There’s another problem with the needles.” Kirigiri glanced across the circle and gave Naegi a faint smile. “You’ve spotted it, haven’t you?”

If Kirigiri was talking about the needles, then there was only one thing she could mean. Naegi nodded slowly. “Yes. When we searched Ogami’s room, we didn’t find six needles – we found twelve.”

Togami stared at him blankly. “And?”

“Oh – I guess you wouldn’t know,” Naegi realized. “The sewing kits only come with six needles each.” He looked over at Ogami. “When we first figured out that the needles were involved, I checked your sewing kit right away.”

“It should have been in my desk drawer,” Ogami said. “I’ve never even opened it.”

“Maybe not,” Naegi said. “But someone did. All six needles were missing. And when Kirigiri and I searched the room, we both found needles in different places.”

“That’s right,” Kirigiri said, pulling out the jar of cotton swabs. “In addition to the five poisoned needles Naegi found in the trashcan, these six needles were hidden in the bathroom.” She tilted the jar so that everyone could see them. “Unlike the ones Naegi found, these don’t appear to have any poison on them.”

“So you believe Ogami is innocent because there were too many needles for her to have supplied them all herself?” Togami asked, frowning.

“It’s like with the toolkits – the sewing kits are the only place to find sewing supplies in the school,” Naegi said. “And since we found twelve needles, the culprit must have had access to two sewing kits.”

Togami nodded slowly, mouth twisting in an ironic smile. “Well. Now that you’ve shared the rest of what you found, I see your point. So putting the poisoned needles somewhere as obvious as the trashcan was a feint – the culprit intended for those to be found. Emptying Ogami’s sewing kit of needles would put the suspicion on her.”

“Right,” Naegi agreed. “The culprit must have assumed no one would search for any other needles once we found the ones in the trash.”

“Hang on.” Asahina looked around the circle, frowning. “But – if you’re saying that the culprit had to have two sets of sewing needles –”

“That’s right. There’s just one person who could have done it.” Naegi looked across the circle to meet Genocide Jill’s blood-red eyes. “You’re the only one!”

Chapter Text

Naegi supposed that he should have expected that Genocide Jill’s reaction to a murder accusation would be laughter. She threw her head back and cackled like he’d told her a particularly hilarious joke.

“Good one, Makyutie,” she said, grinning at him. “You’re never boring, I’ll say that for ya!”

“I’m not kidding,” Naegi said, giving her a serious look. “Ogami only would have had access to her own sewing kit, Kirigiri wasn’t in the room, and Asahina gave her sewing kit to me. You’re the only one who could have done this.”

“Oh, I see what you’re getting at,” Jill said, shrugging. “But I think you’re forgetting just one little thing.” She leaned forward over her podium. “I wasn’t there, remember?”

“But Fukawa was,” Naegi said.

“Her?” Jill put one hand on her hip as she stared at him. “Are you for real? You think Gloomy scraped up the guts to off someone?” She shook her head. “No way. If she had the nerve for that, you wouldn’t have a fantastic murderer like me to show you how it’s done!”

“Can you be sure about that?” Naegi asked, frowning. “I mean, you’ve never actually met her, right? You’re never around at the same time, so how would you know for sure what she’d do?”

“You just don’t get it, do you?” Jill shook her head. “Take a good long look past my charming demeanor and people-pleasing attitude and tell me – do Gloomy and I look like different people?”

“Huh?” Naegi blinked, puzzled. “Well – no, of course you don’t.”

“Exactly.” Jill idly twirled a pair of scissors in one hand. “Because we aren’t. I may not know the minute by minute details of what she does all day, but you’d better believe the important stuff comes through loud and clear.”

“She said something to that effect to me during the investigation,” Togami said, his eyes dark as he glared at Jill. “The two of you share emotions and feel the same way towards people.”

“Got it in one, White Knight,” Jill said, beaming at him. “Way to ride to the rescue of a damsel in distress!” She looked around the circle. “And before any of you ask another stupid question – I can tell you for sure that I never once wanted to kill that guy. The only boys I want to kill are so adorable you just want to make them scream – and there’s nothing adorable about Hagakure.”

“But – if Naegi’s right, then there’s no one else it could have been,” Asahina said. “Maybe – maybe being trapped here got to be too much for her, and she just picked a random target.”

“Random? Not on your life!” Jill snapped, jabbing her scissors in Asahina’s direction. “You think killing is just a game for me? Something I do because I’m bored or because it seemed like a good idea at the time? Well, think again! Killing is my passion and my art, and I take it seriously.”

“And what exactly do you mean by that?” Kirigiri asked, studying Jill through narrowed eyes.

“I mean that I would never want the blood of some loser like Hagakure soiling my hands,” Jill said, tossing her braids. “The only blood I want to see belongs to my darling White Knight!”

“Which we already knew,” Asahina said, rolling her eyes.

But there was something about the way that Jill had said those last few words that had sent a chill of dread down Naegi’s spine. “Wait, hang on. If what you just said is true, then – then are you saying that you think Fukawa being the culprit would make sense if –” He took a deep breath, bracing himself to say the words. “If Togami was the victim?”

Jill grinned at him. “Now you got it, Big Mac! Only thing I’d object to there would be that I didn’t get to hear him scream myself.”

Naegi’s breath froze in his throat at the thought. He could almost see it laid out before his eyes – Togami’s face slack and lifeless, his own blood dripping down his sides, his hands pinned to the wall with the scissors Jill was even now spinning in her fingers. The world spun dizzily around him at the vision, and he felt himself weaving on his feet as a silent roar of protest filled his ears. Before this, he would have said he didn’t want to see anyone here dead – but he knew now that this was different. Togami was different.

“Naegi? Are you all right?”

Only one voice could have cut through the spinning and screaming in his head. Naegi looked up across the circle, and his eyes locked with Togami’s. He clung to the shared gaze like a lifeline, taking in one shaky breath after another.

“I’m fine,” he said at last, using both hands to brace himself against the wooden railing. “I just – got dizzy for a second.”

“Aw, you didn’t have to get so shaken up by it, Makyutie,” Jill said. “It’s not like I’m really going to kill my darling White Knight. Sure, I’d enjoy it and all, but that’s a one-time deal! I’d rather follow him around and stay right up close at his side!”

“But what if you couldn’t?” Kirigiri’s calm question pierced across the circle. “What would you do if you felt that was no longer an option?”

Jill shrugged. “I guess that would be where plan B comes in!” She snipped her scissors through the air in demonstration. Naegi’s stomach lurched at the sight, knowing just what she meant by it.

“As fascinating as this debate is, can I remind you all that I’m not actually dead?” Togami said, sending Kirigiri an irritated look. “We’re talking about Hagakure’s murder, not mine.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Kirigiri tapped one finger against her chin. “There’s one thing about this murder that is very unusual – something we haven’t seen before. And I think that it’s something that can answer this question.” She looked over at Naegi. “Do you know?”

Naegi gritted his teeth and tried to focus past the dizziness that still rocked his head. “Something we haven’t seen before?” What was it that was unique about this particular killing?

He tried to think. She couldn’t mean the locked door – they’d already answered that question. And Celeste’s plan had centered around people falling unconscious. He supposed that they hadn’t seen poison in any of the other trials, but he wasn’t sure Kirigiri would consider poison to be very unusual – and anyway, that didn’t have anything to do with the question of who had been murdered. Not unless…

He looked up at her. “You mean that this is the first death we’ve seen where the culprit didn’t personally murder the victim, don’t you?”

“Exactly.” Kirigiri nodded. “The nature of the killer’s trap means that she would have had to put it in place before the victim was present – and that means that we can’t guarantee that the intended victim was the one who actually got killed.”

“So you’re saying that the culprit didn’t mean to kill Hagakure?” Ogami asked.

“She said it herself,” Kirigiri said, gesturing at Jill. “The only one she would try to kill is Togami. Any other victim must have been an accident.”

“Sounds like someone’s jumping to conclusions!” Jill retorted. “I can buy Gloomy screwing up a perfectly good murder plan – but even she would know better than to try to kill a guy who wasn’t actually in the room!”

“Unless she thought that he was going to be,” Naegi said. He looked over at Asahina. “You said that you brought the others to Ogami’s room, right?”

“Yes,” Asahina agreed. “Fukawa first, then Hagakure.”

“And what did you say when you asked them to come?” Naegi asked. “Did you say exactly who else would be there?”

“I – I don’t remember.” Asahina frowned. “I think that I just said that I wanted everyone who didn’t believe in Sakura to come listen to her.”

“Which could reasonably be assumed to include Togami,” Kirigiri pointed out. “On its own, that might not be enough to plan a murder – but there would have been one other reason for her to believe Togami would be involved.”

Naegi nodded. “You mean the door, don’t you?” He looked at Asahina. “The door must have been open already, right? Fukawa would have been able to see that from her room. And since she didn’t know about the screwdriver, she naturally would have assumed that the door had been opened with the key – the one that had been in Togami’s possession.”

“So you think she set up a murder while she was in a room full of people?” Jill rolled her eyes. “Not even I would try that – no way Gloomy could pull it off!”

“She wouldn’t need to,” Ogami said, face grim. “The room would have been empty when she arrived. Hina went to speak to Hagakure instead of returning immediately, and I was in the bathroom disposing of Asahina’s note. She would have had an opportunity, had she wished to use it.”

“And what, she just pulled a bunch of poisoned needles out of thin air?” Jill laughed. “Is she a witch now? Because let me tell you, I can think of much better uses for a magic wand!”

“It wouldn’t take magic,” Kirigiri said. “Just planning.” She looked over at Naegi. “You see it, don’t you?”

And as much as Naegi hated to do it, he had to nod. “Yes. The only way this makes sense is if Fukawa already had the needles.” He took a deep breath. “This wasn’t a spur of the moment plan – she was planning to kill Togami already.”

Chapter Text

After Naegi’s declaration, all eyes turned to Genocide Jill – but for once, she didn’t seem to have anything to say. She glared back out at them, dark and angry, and the faint snip of her scissors sounded through the room.

“So – if you’re right, and she had the plan already,” Asahina said slowly, “then you’re saying she brought the needles with her and stuck them in the bed right away? Without knowing for sure who would be there?” Her face went slowly pale. “But then – she couldn’t have known who would sit where. She – she could have killed any of us that way.”

But Kirigiri shook her head. “It’s not as much of a risk as you might think. Those beds aren’t very big, after all. If four people are going to sit on one, that would cover almost the entire surface. And as the first person in the room, she would have been able to choose her seat first, forcing the rest of you to seat yourselves around her.”

“That’s still a one in three chance,” Ogami pointed out, frowning.

“No, I don’t think it would have been,” Naegi said, considering it. “Not if she was trying to control where Togami sat.” He looked across the circle at the other boy. “If you had to sit on the same bed as Fukawa, where would you pick?”

“The place as far away from her as possible, obviously.” Togami scowled at Jill. “Which apparently wouldn’t be far enough.”

Jill crossed her arms, staring back at Togami. “So even you’re going to get in on this, darling? Joining forces with all the rest to try to kill off this big, bad murderer?” Her dark red tongue curled across her grin. “Well, if I’d known this was what it’d take to get your attention, I’d have tried it ages ago!”

Togami drew back, an expression of startled disgust crossing his face. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Oh, don’t try to hide it, darling,” Jill said with a laugh. “Jumping straight to trying to kill me is awfully forward – but I like a guy who knows what he wants.” She leaned sharply forward over her podium. “But you’ll have to try harder than that! You’re saying Gloomy did this? Well, I think your puzzle is missing one very important piece.”

Naegi frowned at her. “What do you mean? What’s missing?”

“Aw, come on, don’t tell me you aren’t going to fight me for him, Big Mac,” Jill said, sending a dark grin in Naegi’s direction. “Or did you just not bother to take a look at that bottle you’ve got in front of you?”

The bottle – did she mean the poison? Naegi picked the heavy container up with a frown. What was she talking about? He didn’t see anything wrong with it, even when he tilted the bottle to examine it from all angles, liquid still heavy inside –

Oh.

Naegi checked the bottle’s cap more closely, then looked over at Jill. “I think I see what you mean. This bottle of poison is still sealed.”

“You always get there eventually, don’t you?” Jill said. “So go on then, tell me – how could anyone get poison on those needles without opening the bottle?”

Naegi frowned. That – that was a good question. It hadn’t even occurred to him that the bottle of poison he’d found in the trash might not be the murder weapon – but now that he was looking, he could see that the cap on top still had plastic on it, sealing it to the rest of the bottle. But that didn’t make sense, either – the way the poison had worked matched the label exactly. The murder had to have been done with this poison, even if he couldn’t see how.

“You’re assuming that was the bottle of poison the killer used,” Togami said. Naegi looked up to see the other boy smirking as he pulled out a small plastic bag full of broken brown glass. “Unfortunately for you, we have proof that it wasn’t. Asahina and Ogami found this in the kitchen – the pieces of a second bottle. And when I examined the chemistry lab, all the bottles of this particular poison were missing.”

“Ooh, so you’re coming at me with weapons and everything?” Jill’s ragged laugh tore through the air. “You’re just burning to see my corpse, aren’t you, baby? Gotta say I’m flattered, but what kind of girl would I be if I gave it all up before the first date?”

“You’re seriously still going to argue?” Asahina demanded, glaring at her. “We just proved there’s no one else it could be!”

“No one else? I don’t think so!” Jill’s hand shot forward, her scissors pointing straight at Togami. “Sorry, darling, but you had just as much opportunity as me.”

Naegi stared at her, startled. “What? No – Togami didn’t have any needles. He couldn’t have done it.”

“Oh, please.” Jill rolled her eyes. “If he asked right, he could get Gloomy to give up anything he wanted. A sewing kit would’ve been easy. And with the room key, he could’ve planted those needles any time he liked!”

“But Togami wouldn’t have known I was going to bring the others in there,” Asahina said impatiently. “He didn’t even know Hagakure would be there.”

“Maybe not, but he knew she would.” Jill’s scissors stabbed in Ogami’s direction. “We’ve all heard him going on about how she’s a dangerous traitor – looks to me like he finally decided to take her out for good!”

Togami glared at her. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve already told you all that I have no intention of murdering anyone.”

“Baby, I could listen to you talk all night long, but that won’t mean much when morning rolls around.” Jill smiled at him, dark and wild. “Prove it.”

Togami rolled his eyes. “I don’t need to. We’ve already proven it had to be you.”

“Are you sure? Is everyone sure?” Jill looked around the circle, her frightening red gaze burning into each of their eyes. “Are you all ready to bet your lives on it?”

And looking around, Naegi could see flickers of hesitation from Asahina and Ogami.

Were they really taking Jill’s claims seriously? Naegi knew Togami couldn’t have done this – but he would need more than his belief to convince anyone else. He frantically cast his thoughts back over the evidence they’d discussed – the needles, the poison, the mysteriously opened door – but none of it specifically ruled out the scenario Jill had suggested. Nothing they’d discussed so far could rule out her version of events.

“Yeah, I thought so,” Jill said, nodding in satisfaction. “You can all see it, too. There’s not one single thing about this murder that points to me instead of –”

“You’ve got that wrong!”

Jill stopped mid-sentence, staring at Naegi in surprise.

“There is one piece of evidence everyone saw that wouldn’t fit if Togami were the killer,” Naegi said. “You all remember the way Ogami’s room looked, right? You all weren’t just unconscious on the bed – you were covered with blood.”

“Oh, that’s right – the killer hit Hagakure with something,” Asahina said. “But – wasn’t that just to hide that he really got poisoned?”

“That’s what I thought at first, too,” Naegi said. “But now I’m not so sure. I mean, if the culprit seriously wanted to hide that Hagakure died from poison, they would have put the needles somewhere other than the trashcan. They could have hidden those needles anywhere, but they were in one of the first places I looked. I’m sure the culprit intended for them to be found, and for suspicion to fall on Ogami.” He looked around the circle. “Which means that there’s no reason for the culprit to have hit Hagakure.”

“That’s true, it’s very strange,” Ogami said slowly, “but I don’t see how that clears Togami of suspicion.”

“Yeah – actually, it makes him look even more guilty,” Asahina said, tilting her head as she thought it over. “I mean, Fukawa can’t even stand to look at blood, right? She faints every time she sees it.”

“Which is exactly why she would have had to do it,” Naegi said. “You two had been knocked out by the partial dose of poison, and she’d pulled the needles out to make sure that she didn’t accidentally overdo it. But she couldn’t risk doing the same thing to herself – there wouldn’t have been anyone around to pull the needle out. So if Fukawa was the killer, she would have needed a quick, reliable way to knock herself unconscious – and hitting Hagakure’s corpse would do it.”

“So – you think she used her own fear of blood to make herself faint?” Asahina looked disturbed. “She hit his body after he was dead, just to spill some blood? That’s – that’s awful.”

“Yeah – awfully unlikely!” Jill grinned at Naegi. “Nice try, Big Mac, but I don’t think so. I’ve seen plenty of blood splatters, and I can tell you this – that blood got spilled before he died.”

“Huh?” Naegi stared at her, frowning. He’d been sure that was right! Could she be lying?

“I’m afraid I have to agree,” Kirigiri spoke up. “With the quantity of blood, and the distance it spread – yes, Hagakure’s heart was definitely still beating when he was hit.”

“Still beating?” A thought occurred to Naegi. “But that doesn’t mean he was conscious.” He checked the poison bottle’s label. “It says here that death will occur within five minutes, not instantaneously – so she still could have hit him after he was poisoned, but before he died.”

“And you think five minutes is long enough?” Jill countered. “With everything she’d have to do? Waiting for the others to lose consciousness, getting the needles out of the bed, opening Ogami’s sewing kit – you really think she could have done all that in just five minutes?”

“It does sound like a lot to accomplish,” Ogami said, looking from Jill to Togami.

“Obviously she would have had to hit him first,” Togami snapped, glaring at the others. “And then she just kept her eyes closed until she was ready to faint.”

“Come on, White Knight, don’t tell me you think that would actually work,” Jill said, laughing. “Don’t you know that the number one guaranteed way to make yourself peek is to know that you shouldn’t?”

“I guess it would be pretty hard to keep your eyes closed all that time,” Asahina said, frowning. “I mean, it would just take one wrong second of opening her eyes, and then she’d faint.”

“She could have covered her eyes with one hand,” Naegi said dubiously. Something was nagging at his memory, like there was something he ought to remember about this – but he couldn’t quite recall what.

“That wouldn’t be very effective,” Ogami said. “And presumably she would have needed her hands to work with the crime scene.”

“Wasn’t there anything else she could have used?” Kirigiri asked, raising an eyebrow at Naegi. “Surely something comes to mind.”

Naegi frowned. Anything else…? What was Kirigiri talking about? Was there something else that he’d seen at the murder scene – something that he’d forgotten? It seemed like there was, but even as he strained, he couldn’t – quite –

Kirigiri rubbed at her wrist, idly wrapping her hand around it – and Naegi remembered.

“The hand wrap!” He looked over at Ogami. “I remember now! one of your boxing hand wraps was under the bed, on the other side from where the blood was – but I could see that it had blood splatters on it anyway.”

Kirigiri nodded, giving him a faint smile. “And a hand wrap would be exactly the right size to use as a makeshift blindfold.”

“She would have been able to hit Hagakure while he was still alive, and keep her eyes covered until she was ready to faint,” Naegi said.

“It would even explain why she was stupid enough to leave the last poisoned needle behind,” Togami added. “If she was operating on touch alone to retrieve the needles, she wouldn’t have been able to find the one that was still embedded in the mattress.”

“Which you definitely wouldn’t have left behind, if you were the killer,” Naegi said, nodding at Togami. He turned to Jill. “There’s only one reason someone would need to get blood all over this crime scene – and only one person who would have needed a blindfold.” He met her eyes, not flinching away from their bloody depths. “You did this.”

Slowly, Jill’s wild grin faltered, until at last it drained away. “Actually, I didn’t.” Her expression was oddly sad, looking out of place with her unsettling eyes and dangling tongue. “But – it seems like that doesn’t matter too much anymore.”

Chapter Text

Naegi stared at Jill as she curled her fingers tight around her scissors. Was that really it? Was she actually going to take it so calmly? He’d half expected the serial killer to attack them in a fit of rage at finding herself cornered, or to explode in a scream of furious insults. He hadn’t thought that she might just – stop.

“So – you admit it, then?” he asked hesitantly.

Jill shrugged. “Well, I can’t say for sure or anything – but it sounds to me like you’ve probably got it right. I know when I’m beat.” She shook her head. “Man, I can’t believe I’m getting nailed for a loser with zero sex appeal! But hey, if I gotta go down to someone, can’t think of a better way than getting double-teamed by my White Knight and his boy toy. Hell of a lot better than what I’d find outside this place, that’s for sure.”

And with that, Jill spun towards Monokuma’s chair, her scissors flashing out to point at the bear. “You hear that, or do you have honey in your ears? Let’s get this thing started!”

“Huh? Is it time already?” Monokuma tilted his head, looking puzzled. “But that doesn’t seem very fair, does it?”

“Nothing about this is fair,” Naegi said, scowling up at the bear. “What are you talking about all of a sudden?”

“Oh? It doesn’t bother you?” Monokuma grinned out at them. “All right then – I guess it’s that time! Everyone, please use the lever in front of you to cast your votes! Will you make the right choice, or the dreadfully wrong one? What’s it gonna be?”

Naegi frowned up at Monokuma for a moment. What had the bear been trying to get at? Something wasn’t fair – something that should bother them all? He cast his mind back over all the evidence they’d discussed – but no, it still all made sense to him. Fukawa had to be the culprit. There was no one else who could have committed this murder. Monokuma was just trying to confuse them, like he always did.

He looked down at the levers, where all his classmates’ faces stared back up at him in silent judgement. He hated to do this – but he knew he had no other choice. Naegi reached out and pressed the lever showing Fukawa’s face, choosing her as the blackened.

He must have been the last one to vote, because as soon as he’d finished, the Monokuma Vote machine began its usual whirl of faces, flipping dizzily between the colored portraits of the living and the black and white pictures of the dead. And eventually, one by one, all three columns of images stopped to show Fukawa’s face, with the word “guilty” flashing below it.

“That’s right!” Monokuma sang out gleefully. “The killer this time was Toko Fukawa! You’re absolutely correct!” He shook his head. “Aw, but I can’t believe how cold you guys are. Accusing a girl who isn’t even here to defend herself? How cruel!”

Naegi froze. He hadn’t even really considered it until this moment – but it was true, Fukawa wasn’t here. She’d been absent for the entire trial, and unlike all the other culprits, she’d never gotten the chance to speak for herself. Genocide Jill had done so, of course – but Jill wasn’t the one who had committed this murder, not really. They’d voted Fukawa to her death, without even giving her the chance to share her side of the story. Guilt curdled through his stomach, twisting together with the remaining effects of the poison in a violent nausea.

“Aw, but you don’t have to worry,” Monokuma went on, beaming out at them. “Your favorite headmaster will always play fair, even if you don’t – and I would never break one of my rules. We can’t just execute people who haven’t earned it, now, can we?”

Suddenly, the Monokuma Vote began spewing its usual bursts of confetti – but instead of letting it flutter harmlessly to the ground, this time it blasted the scraps of paper directly into Jill’s face. She coughed at the onslaught, gasped for a breath – and sneezed.

When she looked up again, her eyes had reverted to Fukawa’s light brown. She looked around the circle, confusion evident on her face – until her gaze settled on the Monokuma Vote, lit up with three of her own faces staring back at her. She stared up at the glowing images, all color draining from her own face until she seemed to be nothing more than a pale echo of the girl in the lights.

“So th-that’s it, then,” she said at last, her voice flat. “Did you even bother to have the trial, or did you all just v-vote for me as soon as you got the chance?”

“Of course we had a trial!” Naegi said. “We had to figure out what happened. We wouldn’t vote against anyone without being sure.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you spent a r-really long time talking about it,” Fukawa said. “It must have taken nearly five whole minutes to decide none of your friends would have done it.”

Naegi drew back a little at the venom in her voice at the word friends. She said it like she didn’t include herself in the group – but that wasn’t true. He’d always considered Fukawa one of his friends, just as much as any of the others. Hadn’t she known that?

“Picking based on that kind of criteria would be an open door to failure,” Togami snapped. Naegi looked over at the other boy, seeing his eyes cold with fury as he glared at the girl who’d tried to kill him. “We know exactly what you attempted.”

Addressed by her white knight, Fukawa finally looked away from the Monokuma Vote, turning towards Togami with the slow pull of a moon trapped in orbit around a dying planet. “What do you know?”

“Everything,” Togami said shortly.

“That’s what I th-thought you’d say.” Fukawa looked around the circle, eyes accusing. “You don’t know anything.”

“That’s not true,” Naegi protested. “We know that you didn’t really want to kill Hagakure at all.”

Fukawa’s head snapped around towards Naegi, and he fought not to take a step backwards at the intensity of her stare. He took a deep breath and forced himself to continue.

“You didn’t want to kill Hagakure, but you did want to murder someone,” Naegi said, Fukawa’s eyes burning into him as he spoke. “You were trying to kill Togami. You put poison from the chemistry lab on the needles from your sewing kit, and then dumped the poison bottle in the kitchen trash. You hadn’t decided how to use the needles yet – but Asahina gave you an opportunity when she invited you to a meeting in Ogami’s room. When you saw the open door, you assumed Togami had to be involved.”

Fukawa’s gaze flickered towards Togami at that point, her eyes shadowed. Togami glared back at her, vicious and unforgiving.

“But what you didn’t know was that there was another way to get the door open,” Naegi went on. “Asahina had gotten a screwdriver from me earlier in the day, and she’d passed it on to Ogami. The door wasn’t actually unlocked – Ogami just unscrewed the hinges. Togami wasn’t there at all – but you couldn’t have known that. So while Ogami and Asahina were out of the room, you planted the poisoned needles in the only place anyone would be able to sit – the mattress. When Asahina came back with Hagakure, you must have realized your mistake – but by then, it was too late to stop.”

Fukawa flinched at the words “too late,” but she didn’t say anything to confirm or deny the accusations Naegi was throwing at her.

“Ogami, Asahina, and Hagakure all got stabbed by the poisoned needles as soon as they sat on the bed,” Naegi continued. “The girls only got enough to knock them out, but Hagakure got the fatal dose you’d meant for Togami. And then, before he actually died, you blindfolded yourself with one of Ogami’s hand wraps and hit him with a weight. That left blood all over the scene, so that you could make yourself faint at any moment. You got rid of as much evidence as you could, hiding the needles from Ogami’s sewing kit and putting the poisoned needles in the trash where anyone could find them. And then, after you’d finished altering the crime scene, you took the blindfold off so that you’d appear to be unconscious like the others when we found you.”

Naegi looked straight at Fukawa, meeting her eyes directly. “You were the only one who could have done it. We didn’t vote until we’d figured all of it out.”

“Good for you,” Fukawa said, clenching her fists. “I’m sure you’re all proud of yourselves. You have all the a-answers, don’t you?”

“No. Not all of them.” Naegi bit his lip, watching her. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know this last answer – but she deserved the chance to tell them. He had to ask. “Why did you do it?”

Fukawa looked away instead of answering, her expression shuttered and unreadable.

“Well – it’s kind of obvious, isn’t it?” Asahina asked, tilting her head. “I mean – she wanted Togami, and he picked someone else. She found out he didn’t want her, and she was angry. Seems pretty simple to me.”

Fukawa’s laughter cut across the circle, sharp and bitter. “I-is that what you think? You think I was jealous, like some empty-headed manga heroine who c-cries into her pillow? I’m not stupid. I knew he didn’t want me.” She looked up, staring straight at Togami. “And I didn’t care. I wanted you, and that was enough.”

“So you expect me to believe you’ve been stalking me out of some kind of selfless devotion?” Togami sneered, rolling his eyes. “Or was your attempt at poisoning me a way of showing how much you care?”

“N-no. If that were all, she would have painted the walls with your blood days ago.” Fukawa clenched her fists. “I thought it was b-bad enough at home, waiting for the minute the police put all her crimes together and came for me – but this is worse. Locked up with people who don’t want me around, waiting for someone to decide to get r-rid of me – I could only stand this nightmare until now because I could dream of something else instead. My white knight, handsome and perfect and untouchable.” She fell silent, mouth twisting into an ironic grimace.

“So – that was why?” Naegi asked. “Because you couldn’t see him as an untouchable prince anymore?”

“He wasn’t the knight I wanted him to be – but he never stopped being untouchable,” Fukawa said darkly. “That was the problem. For years, e-every boy I’ve ever wanted has turned up dead, murdered with a serial killer’s signature style. I’ve had to live in terror, knowing that o-one day I’ll be blamed for everything she’s done. And now, when it would actually help to have a serial killer on my side – she isn’t.” She clenched her fists, staring at Togami. “She w-wouldn’t kill you. Even though I wanted to leave, even though you weren’t the knight I dreamed about, even though it would have been easy for her – she wouldn’t kill you.”

“Well – she did point out that killing someone here when we all know her style would be a pretty stupid move,” Naegi said. “And she said she didn’t want to kill anyone another way.”

Fukawa spun towards him, and her glare was as poisonous as her needles. “She said? She said? D-did you talk about it while trading friendship bracelets and braiding each other’s hair?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever done either of those things,” Naegi said, taken aback.

“Y-you might as well have,” Fukawa said bitterly. “You said it before – you’d be her friend.” She looked at Togami. “A-and you’d rather have her around than me.” Her shoulders began to shake. “Outside this place, no matter how a-awful things got, no matter how much people hated me – at least I knew there was one person they’d hate more. Until you didn’t.”

“You mean… you were jealous of Genocide Jill?” Naegi asked slowly, the pieces slowly coming together in his head.

“She takes everything I want and destroys it,” Fukawa said. “And now – when I f-finally wanted her to do it – she wouldn’t. So I did it for her.” A vicious smile spread across her face. “I h-hope she enjoyed waking up at the scene of a murder with no idea what happened.”

“You tried to kill me to get revenge on your alter ego?” Togami demanded, looking outraged.

Fukawa’s head snapped towards him. “I tried to kill you because I want you dead.”

“That’s not what she said, though,” Naegi said, remembering Genocide Jill’s explanation of the two girls’ shared feelings. “She said she only wanted to kill Togami if she couldn’t be near him – and she said that you and she always feel the same way.”

Fukawa froze, her expression going brittle. At last, she shook her head. “But I couldn’t.” She closed her eyes. “Look, the trial’s a-already over. You don’t have any more arguments to win. There’s no point anymore. This is the l-last time you’ll have to fake caring what happens to me. After this, I’ll be out of your hair.”

Naegi would have protested, would have tried to convince her that he wouldn’t fake that – but he didn’t get the chance.

“Oh, then are you finished? Is everything all nice and fair?” Monokuma grinned out at them. “Then I think it’s time for the blackened who disturbed the peace to pay the price. I’ve prepared a very special punishment for the Ultimate Writing Prodigy. Let’s give it everything we’ve got – it’s punishment time!”

Chapter Text

Chains shot out of the walls, locking around Fukawa’s neck, and she let out a strangled scream as they dragged her away through the door. Naegi stared after her until the doors slammed shut, wishing he’d been able to say more to her. This wasn’t fair. Yes, Monokuma had given Fukawa a chance to explain herself after the trial had ended – but he’d begun the punishment before the rest of them could give her the answers she’d deserved.

She’d thought they all hated her. Naegi’s eyes burned at the thought of how she must have felt, believing that none of them wanted her around. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for Fukawa to live with a serial killer in her head, blacking out and finding the crucified bodies of boys she’d had feelings for. And she’d believed that they’d rather have that murderous alter ego than her.

Had they ever given her a reason to think otherwise? Naegi remembered his own words to her the day before. Fukawa had asked whether he wanted to spend time with Genocide Jill, whether he wanted to be her friend – and he’d said yes. He hadn’t meant to imply that he’d be Jill’s friend instead of Fukawa’s. He’d just assumed that Fukawa knew he already considered her one of his friends. He should have taken that chance to explain. If he had, then maybe she wouldn’t have felt like she had to go this far.

Would it have stopped her if she’d understood? Would knowing that she wasn’t as universally hated as she’d believed have calmed her enough to reconsider her decision? Well, now he would never find out. He hadn’t spoken up, and she’d acted out of fear, and loneliness, and betrayal.

And now she was going to die, still believing all those awful things were true. She thought they’d be glad she was gone.

Naegi looked up at the head of the circle, where Monokuma smiled out at them from his overwrought throne. The mastermind had done this on purpose. There was no other explanation. They’d never put a time limit on any of the trial proceedings, allowing the students to talk until they understood everything – but this time, Monokuma had ended things and dragged Fukawa away before Naegi had the chance to say something to make her upcoming execution a little easier to endure. She would die believing the worst of them, and they would all have to live knowing it.

After too many agonizing minutes, the curtains on the opposite side of the room finally swung open, signaling for the students to leave their places at the circle and watch the scene play out. Naegi turned towards the curtains – but as he stepped away from his podium, the world shuddered around him, and only the fact that he stumbled into the railing prevented him from collapsing to his knees. Black spots exploded before his eyes as he clutched at the wooden rail, fighting a desperate, losing battle to stay upright.

And then an arm wrapped around him, pressing him back against a warm body and taking enough of his weight that he could regain some of his bearings. Naegi looked up into Togami’s face, wincing at the depth of concern he saw there. He didn’t want the other boy to worry any more about him, not when Togami was angry enough already about what had happened.

Looking over at the window, Naegi saw that Kirigiri’s eyes were on him and Togami, rather the scene outside. He would have pulled away – but Togami’s arms tightened around him as soon as he tried.

“Not anymore,” Togami said, in a voice that would carry even to where Kirigiri stood. “We are done playing her games.”

Naegi might have protested in other circumstances – but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to make it over to the window without assistance. He didn’t want to find out just what Monokuma might do if he thought that Naegi was failing to watch the execution. And besides, if this had to happen, then Naegi knew he needed to see it, whether Monokuma would force the issue or not. Fukawa had been his friend, even if she hadn’t understood it. She deserved to have him witness her last moments.

Leaning heavily on Togami, Naegi made his way over to the window, step by nausea-inducing step. And when he finally got close enough to see past the curtains, what he saw only made him feel sicker.

The scene beyond the window could have come from an old horror movie, with dim, flickering lighting revealing a filthy hallway leading into darkness, heavy doors with barred windows lining the sides. At one end, a sign saying “Monokuma Asylum” swung in the air, its faint creaking the only sound.

And then a wild crash came from the shadows, and three figures came rocketing down the hall. Fukawa was the in center, a heavy white straitjacket locking her arms in place and covering her mouth. The tall white-coated figures on either side of her seemed to be doctors – until they turned towards the window and revealed their smiling Monokuma heads.

The door directly in front of the window burst open, revealing a blood-splattered surgery table and surgical implements. The Monokuma doctors pushed Fukawa into the dank room, and the straitjacket only barely muffled her screams as they strapped her onto the table.

Naegi had to fight not to close his eyes as the Monokuma doctors circled the table to examine the surgical implements. They lifted blood-encrusted scalpels, rusty knives, and finally – grinning at each other – long metal rods that sparked blue with electricity.

Fukawa’s eyes went wide with terror as the Monokuma doctors pressed the wide circular tips of the rods to either side of her temples. She struggled against the straps, tried to scream through the jacket – but blue lightning jumped between the rods and convulsed through her entire body. Once – twice – three times –

And she stopped moving.

Naegi turned away from the window, burying his face in Togami’s chest. He knew he shouldn’t, not with all the others right there – but he couldn’t help himself. He needed the strength and comfort too badly to resist. And as Togami’s arms moved to hold him close, Naegi could feel the other boy’s hands trembling against his back – and he realized that maybe he wasn’t the only one who needed reassurance.

From behind them, Monokuma heaved a sigh. “You know, it just isn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be.”

Naegi looked up, about to ask what he meant – but before he could, a crash came from beyond the window. Naegi twisted in Togami’s arms to look back behind him – and he saw Fukawa standing up. She’d torn open the straitjacket and ripped away the restraints by throwing the table into a wall. Now she stood, looking around in mild confusion, a pair of scissors seeming to materialize in her hand.

That wasn’t Fukawa, Naegi realized as she twirled the scissors. That was Genocide Jill.

“I guess it can’t be helped, though,” Monokuma went on. “After all, the rules say that only the person who gets caught committing the murder gets executed – and I can’t break my own rules, can I?” He laughed wildly.

“You mean – Fukawa isn’t dead?” Naegi asked, staring up at Monokuma in shock. “You didn’t kill her because it would have killed Genocide Jill, too?”

“Oh, she’s dead all right,” Monokuma said brightly. “Or as close as I could get. That little electric display wasn’t just special effects, you know – it wiped her memory clean away. Everything that made Toko Fukawa is gone – and instead of a world-class novelist, you get stuck with the murderous fiend!” He sighed again. “But that’s the problem with rules – following them is just no fun at all.” He looked out at them, his eyes gleaming. “I guess that’s why you’re all trying to break them.”

And on the opposite side of the room, another set of curtains opened.

Chapter Text

None of the students moved, looking from Monokuma to the newly revealed window with wary eyes. Icy dread slid through Naegi’s veins, chilling him even with Togami’s arms still warm around him. What was going on? The mastermind had already forced them to watch Fukawa’s execution – what else could be outside that window? He didn’t know – but he knew that whatever it was, it would be just as horrifying as what they’d already witnessed.

“What do you mean, we’re all trying to break the rules?” Asahina asked, drawing closer to Ogami as if the presence of her best friend could ward off the fear filling the room. “We had the trial, didn’t we?”

“You sure did,” Monokuma agreed. “My heart was pumping away the whole time, wondering what would happen. I just couldn’t decide!”

“What could you possibly need to decide?” Togami demanded. “You have your cameras watching us all the time – you knew who killed Hagakure from the start.”

“Oh, that?” Monokuma’s eyes widened in a mockery of surprise. “That’s old news! Who’d bother with yesterday’s headlines when there’s a brand new scandal sweeping the nation? People only care about the fresh new things, you know – once you lose that cutting edge, that’s it!”

“Then what exactly are you saying?” Kirigiri asked, stepping up beside Naegi and Togami so that she could stare directly at the enthroned bear. “What are you accusing us of doing?”

“Huh? Don’t you know?” Monokuma tilted his head. “But I thought you knew everything! Oh, well, guess you can’t trust everything you hear!” He looked around the room. “It breaks your poor headmaster’s heart to say it, but it seems that some of you don’t like the rules that have been set to give you a comfortable, peaceful life here in this school.” He raised a paw, and wickedly sharp talons snapped out to gleam in the light. “Some of you have been cheating.”

Naegi froze, a horrible thought occurring to him. Could the mastermind know about Alter Ego? Was this about the data that Alter Ego had uncovered for them – or worse yet, for the AI’s attempt to hack into the school network? He’d completely forgotten about Kirigiri’s plan to distract the mastermind when they’d discovered Hagakure’s body – but surely an actual murder would have been an even better distraction than whatever Kirigiri had been preparing to do.

“No one has broken any of your ridiculous rules,” Togami said, glaring up at the bear. “We’ve all been very careful to follow the exact wording of your rules. If we’ve exploited loopholes, then maybe you should have been more careful about what you said.”

“Is that what you think?” Monokuma asked, grinning at him. “Are you sure?”

Suddenly, five bright beams of light began circling through the room, sending spotlights whirling across the walls and floor. Naegi grimaced, the dizzy patterns making his head spin again, but he didn’t dare look away when Monokuma was clearly in the middle of something.

“You think no one has broken any rules?” Monokuma went on as the spotlights danced around him. “Well, maybe your headmaster needs to hold a little session of the academic honor court to clear up this little question. Just who are the cheaters among you? Let’s find out… now!”

And with that, the spotlights froze, coalescing into two solid beams of light. One shone down where Asahina and Ogami had pressed together, while the other blasted full on where Naegi, Togami, and Kirigiri stood.

“What exactly is that supposed to prove?” Togami snapped, narrowing his eyes against the glare of the spotlight.

“Aw, you didn’t get it?” Monokuma asked sadly. “Oh, well, I guess I can’t expect you to follow along – after all, you’re the only goody-goody left!”

Togami’s arms tightened around Naegi. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“He’s saying that the other four of us have all broken a rule,” Kirigiri said, crossing her arms.

“That’s right!” Monokuma beamed at her. “We’ve had more rules broken in the last day than the whole rest of your time here – almost twenty-four solid hours of rule-breaking, in fact.”

Twenty-four hours – the time period that Naegi and Kirigiri had set for Alter Ego’s hacking attempt. That couldn’t be a coincidence, could it? That had to be what Monokuma was talking about. After all, Naegi knew that nothing else he’d done had even come close to breaking a rule.

Although now that he thought about it…

“Which rule are you talking about?” Naegi asked, frowning. “What are you saying we did?”

After all, he’d known all along that the mastermind wouldn’t like it if they found out about what he and Kirigiri had done with Alter Ego – but he wasn’t sure he’d actually call it rule-breaking. Thinking back over the list of rules from the e-handbook, Naegi couldn’t think of a single one that they’d violated. And they definitely hadn’t involved Ogami or Asahina in it.

“You don’t even know?” Monokuma tilted his head inquisitively. “Hmmm. Maybe I should have made it more clear. After all, it makes things so confusing when you add a new rule after the game’s in motion!”

“You’re talking about the new rule? The one about breaking down locked doors?” Naegi blinked. “But we didn’t break down any doors.”

“Oh? Didn’t you?” Monokuma asked, leaning forward. “Are you calling your headmaster a liar?”

The spotlight burned down on Naegi, sending drops of sweat trickling down the back of his neck. “No – that’s not what I meant.”

“Then what did you mean?” Monokuma pressed. “Are you saying I’m mistaken? That I don’t know a locked door when I see one? Or maybe it’s you who can’t recognize locked doors – what do you think?”

“We’re all well aware of what a locked door is,” Togami snapped, his fingers squeezing Naegi’s arm until it was almost painful. “Get to the point.”

“Aw, but I wouldn’t want anyone to be confused about it!” Monokuma said. “You’re still in school, after all – learning new things should be a very important part of your daily life! I think it’s time for a very special lesson, by a guest speaker who knows all about it.” He raised his clawed paw, pointing out towards the students – but he wasn’t aiming at Naegi.

His claw pointed directly to Ogami.

Chapter Text

Ogami didn’t flinch as all the other students followed Monokuma’s pointing claw to look in her direction. She held her head high as she looked back at the bear, her face settling into lines of grim resignation.

“I think it’s time for you to explain things to the rest of the class, Sakura Ogami,” Monokuma said. “Why don’t you tell everyone exactly what a locked door looks like – before and after you break it down?”

“We already discussed this during the trial,” Kirigiri said, before Ogami could answer. “We established that there is a loophole in the wording of the rule about breaking down doors.”

“That’s right!” Asahina said, her face pale. “Sakura didn’t do anything wrong! Taking the door off the hinges doesn’t count!”

“Oh? I don’t remember saying that.” Monokuma tilted his head.

“It’s clearly implied by the wording,” Kirigiri said, her gaze fixed unwaveringly on the bear.

“Is it? Is it clear?” Monokuma asked. He looked over at Asahina. “What do you think? Did you fight so hard to hide what happened because you think it’s clear?”

Ogami stepped forward, putting herself between Asahina and Monokuma. “Leave her out of this. I’m the one who broke the rule.”

“No!” Asahina grabbed Ogami’s arm. “No, you can’t say that – you didn’t!” She spun towards Monokuma. “It was my idea! It was my fault, she only did it because I asked! I made her do it!”

“Oh, really? Did you hold a knife to her head to force her?” Monokuma asked. “Have you developed amazing magical girl mind control powers?” His eye gleamed. “Or do you mean that you think planning the act is more disobedient than doing the deed?”

“Hina didn’t make me do anything,” Ogami said. She sent a fierce glare up at Monokuma. “I know what this is really about, and it isn’t my dormitory door.”

“Is that so?” Monokuma sounded puzzled. “I don’t know what I’m talking about? Then maybe you should share with the rest of the class!”

“Share what?” Asahina looked up at her friend, terror written across her face.

“I knew that there was a high risk that the mastermind would consider opening my door to be a violation of the school rules, but I didn’t care.” Ogami closed her eyes. “Because I’d broken that rule already.”

“Wh-what do you mean?” Asahina’s voice trembled as she clutched Ogami’s arm in both hands. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that I’ve kept my word in regards to the mastermind.” Ogami looked around at all of them. “I know that after everything I’ve done to work against you, none of you would ever be able to trust me again. My actions have caused rifts among you, and my continued presence only made it worse.” She sighed heavily. “I’d hoped to defeat the mastermind on my own and prove myself by freeing you all – but I see now that this is beyond my power. All I could do was try to remove the source of the breach among you, and give you a weapon to use against the mastermind yourselves.”

“What are you talking about?” Asahina demanded, her words high with panic. “Sakura – what did you do?”

“I broke down the door to the headmaster’s room.” Ogami smiled faintly up at Monokuma. “I think you’ll find that the lock and hinges are both beyond repair.”

“No.” Asahina looked like someone had punched her in the gut. “No, you – you’re lying. You can’t have done that. Someone would have noticed!”

“Of course I noticed!” Monokuma said brightly. “When a big hulking brute like the Ogre starts vandalizing school property, it’s not the sort of thing an attentive headmaster can miss!”

“If that’s the case, then why didn’t you punish her?” Togami asked.

“It’s rude to interrupt someone before they’re finished!” Monokuma said with a grin. “And I’ll have you know that I happen to be a model of ursine courtesy!”

Naegi frowned at Monokuma’s words. “What does he mean, before you were finished?” he asked Ogami. “Did you do something else?”

“I… intended to.” Ogami took a deep breath. “I knew I had marked myself for death when I broke one of the school regulations, but I had no intention of allowing the mastermind to execute me. Their threat against the hostages still stood, and although I no longer wished to act against any of you, I did fear for the hostages’ safety if I entirely ignored their orders. Therefore, I had planned to kill the only person among us who I could honorably act against in this situation.” She closed her eyes. “Myself.”

“What?” Asahina covered her mouth with both hands, tears filling the corners of her eyes. “You were going to go that far?”

“I saw no other choice,” Ogami said heavily. “Alive, I presented a threat to those I care for, both inside and outside this school. Dead, I could protect you all in the only way I had.”

Something clicked in Naegi’s head, and he realized what Ogami had intended. “The bottle of poison in the trash – that’s what you were going to use,” he said.

“That’s right,” Ogami said. She looked down at Asahina’s horrified face, and her expression wavered for the first time. “I’m sorry, Hina. I – I knew this would hurt you. That was why I didn’t want to say goodbye to you in person – I feared that if I did, I might lose my resolve. I didn’t even dare take my room key back before I acted.”

“So you planned to leave your corpse in a room where I had the only key?” Togami demanded, glaring at her. “I suppose you didn’t care that it would make me look guilty of your murder?”

“I wrote a note explaining my actions,” Ogami said calmly. “It would have absolved you of any involvement.” She looked over at Naegi. “If you found the poison, you should have seen the note, as well.”

Naegi remembered the ink-covered pages he’d found in the trash and nodded. “I think I did – but you’d crossed it all out. Did you change your mind?”

Ogami’s eyes went to Asahina, and she grimaced. “My own weakness got the better of me. I had found the envelope Hina left for me, but I had thrown it away unopened. But in that moment before I took the poison, I hesitated. We had argued, the last time we spoke, and I couldn’t bring myself to end it without knowing what her last words to me had been. And when I read the letter and found the screwdriver – I faltered.” Pain crossed her face for a moment before she locked it away. “Hina – in that note, you sounded as though you blamed yourself for all that had happened. I couldn’t let you go on believing that. And so I gave in to my own wish to see you one last time – and I opened the door.”

Tears were streaming down Asahina’s face now, her whole body trembling as she shook her head in silent horror.

“I knew that I had already doomed myself by breaking down another door,” Ogami went on. “I could no longer back away from my own death. But – I thought that I might be able to make your life easier if I spoke to you in person.” She looked straight into Asahina’s eyes. “You can’t let this stop you, Hina. You have to go on from it.”

“But I don’t want to go on,” Asahina said, her words barely loud enough to hear. “Not – not if this is what happens to you.”

“You must.” Ogami hesitated, then raised a hand to press against Asahina’s cheek, soft and fragile. “I – I never wanted to hurt you, Hina. Never you. I’m sorry.”

And with that, Ogami let her hand fall away and turned to face Monokuma. “All right. I’m ready to face the consequences for my actions.”

“Huh?” Monokuma looked up from where he’d been examining his talons. “Oh, are you done? With the daytime soap opera you had playing out here, I was waiting for a commercial break!” He threw his head back and laughed. “You say you’re ready? Well, sounds to me like you’re trying to jump the gun! Or did you forget?” He grinned out at them. “You aren’t the only rule-breaker under fire!”

As he spoke, the light blasting down on Ogami and Asahina blinked into darkness, leaving only Togami, Kirigiri, and Naegi in the spotlight.

Chapter Text

The spotlight burned on Naegi’s skin, the glare of the light making his head spin more than ever. If it hadn’t been for the anchor of Togami’s arms around him, he wasn’t sure he could have remained upright, even with Monokuma’s red eyes aimed at him. Naegi gritted his teeth and forced himself to focus, ignoring the way it made his head ache. He had to try to keep himself together – he didn’t dare face Monokuma at anything less than his best.

While he fought to focus, Kirigiri crossed her arms and eyed Monokuma with a slight frown. “Using special effects on us won’t change the facts.” She gave the spotlight a brief, dismissive glance. “Neither Naegi nor I have broken any of the rules, including the new one about locked doors.”

“Oh? Are you sure?” Monokuma asked, his voice taking on a sing-song cadence.

“Yes.” Kirigiri was unruffled by the mockery. “We’ve had nothing to do with any of the locked doors in the school.”

“She’s right,” Naegi agreed. “We were the only ones who had nothing to do with what happened in Ogami’s room, and we haven’t been near the other locked doors on the fourth floor.”

“And you think those are the only locked doors around?” Monokuma tilted his head. “Hmm. You know, I don’t think all of you are embracing your school life to the fullest extent.”

Naegi blinked at the sudden change of topic. “What?”

“You never take advantage of the opportunities available to a class of high school students!” Monokuma heaved a melodramatic sigh. “Maybe it’s because your headmaster hasn’t been giving you the full high school experience. Maybe I’ve been denying you the ability to succeed.”

“What the hell are you blathering about?” Togami demanded.

“I’ve given you the reading materials, but I’ve been remiss in checking up on whether you’ve done your homework.” Monokuma grinned out at them. “So in that case – I think it’s time for a pop quiz!”

A whirring came from the ceiling, and Naegi looked up to see the machine gun swing around to take aim at them.

“I hope you’ve been studying!” Monokuma said brightly.

Naegi couldn’t tear his eyes away from the stark, cold metal of the machine gun. Even after the horror of so many dramatic executions, the naked menace of a gun pointed at them was still chilling in its own right.

“So Naegi, why don’t you tell us,” Monokuma said, looking straight at him. “What exactly is a locked door?”

“Um.” Naegi thought about possible answers, trying to figure out what Monokuma meant. Was it a trick question? If so, he couldn’t see the catch in it anywhere. He tried his best to ignore the machine gun and gave the only answer he could think of. “It’s a closed place that’s been sealed with a key?”

“Hmmm. That’s a veeeery interesting answer.” Monokuma rubbed at his chin. “Sorry, Naegi.”

A violent burst of staccato explosions shattered through the air, and Naegi stumbled backwards against Togami as the floor quaked beneath their feet.

“You’re absolutely right!” Monokuma threw back his head and laughed.

Naegi looked down at the ground in front of him, where three bullets had gouged their way deep into the floor mere inches from his feet. He knew he probably ought to be afraid of how close the shots had come, but it was getting harder and harder to focus on anything past the roaring at the edge of his consciousness. Fear felt like it was happening to someone else, just a little too far away to reach.

“Is there a point to these theatrics?” Kirigiri asked, tapping her fingers against her crossed arms as if she were bored by the entire situation.

“Of course!” Monokuma said. “I just want to make sure that everyone listening can follow along. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m unfair! I’m very serious about my rules – even if the rest of you aren’t.”

“Then you’re saying that there’s something about the definition of a door that we haven’t understood?” Kirigiri asked, frowning.

“What is there to understand?” Togami’s voice might have sounded icy and controlled, but Naegi could feel the other boy’s hands gripping his arms tight enough to bruise. “A locked door isn’t something that can be mistaken. All you have to do is look at it.”

“But what if you can’t look at it?” Monokuma asked, sounding like he was genuinely curious to hear the answer. “What if the door isn’t physical? What if it’s – oh, let’s say – electronic?”

And then, finally, Naegi caught up to what Monokuma was saying. He wasn’t talking about any of the locked doors they’d found around the school. He was accusing them of trying to break into the locked school network.

Kirigiri had clearly worked it out, too. She glared up at Monokuma. “There was never any indication that your rule referred to anything other than the physical doors in the school.”

“Oh? So I have to spell it out for you?” Monokuma shook his head. “That’s the trouble with high school students today – you’re all content to coast along and let your teachers spoon feed information to you instead of using your critical thinking skills!”

“If the rule applied to metaphorical doors, you should have specified,” Kirigiri said, refusing to waver from her point. “You can’t claim we broke a rule if we didn’t know we were doing it at the time.”

“You didn’t know?” Monokuma asked. He paused, tilting his head and giving Kirigiri his friendliest smile. “But if you didn’t think you were breaking a rule, why did you try to hide it with that fake murder plot of yours?”

Kirigiri went very still, her eyes going wide.

“Oh? Did you think I didn’t notice?” Monokuma laughed. “Sorry, but I saw through your little game right from the start!”

“What game are you talking about?” Togami demanded, eyes darting suspiciously from Kirigiri to Monokuma. “What murder plot?”

“Oops – was that a secret?” Monokuma covered his mouth, cheeks blushing bright pink. “I guess that’s what happens when you stay on the straight and narrow – you don’t get to find out all the juicy secrets!” He tilted his head and grinned at Togami. “But on the bright side, if I have to get rid of all the rule-breakers, you could win the game by default!”

Togami went deathly pale, and Naegi could feel the other boy’s chest go still for a moment as the breath stopped in his throat. He groped for Togami’s hand, and gave a shaky squeeze to the other boy’s frozen fingers.

“Oh, that’s right,” Monokuma said into the silence. “You don’t want to win anymore. You want to live happily ever after with your high school sweetheart.” He shook his head. “That’s a shame.”

Togami wouldn’t look down at Naegi, his jaw tight and his expression locked into a haughty mask, but now Naegi could see through the ice to the bone-deep terror he knew would be flooding through the other boy right now. It cut through the distant roaring and dizziness in his head to pierce right through to his heart, and Naegi had to look away.

“But then again,” Monokuma said thoughtfully, “I’ve always been a sucker for young love. And let’s face it, that wouldn’t be much of a heart-pounding conclusion to our little game if you all got yourselves punished on a technicality.”

Naegi looked up at Monokuma, not quite trusting the faint hope beginning to bloom in his chest at the words.

“Besides, we have a rule in place about this already, don’t we?” Monokuma went on. “About who’s really at fault when more than one person is involved in a scheme?”

“You – you mean the accomplice rule, don’t you?” Naegi asked, after a long moment of thinking back on the rules. “When two people work together, the real culprit is the one who came up with the plan.”

“And we can’t go around changing the rules this far in, now, can we?” Monokuma said with a bright smile. “Accomplices don’t get anything out of their crimes – only the mastermind behind your nefarious rule-breaking plot will be punished.”

Naegi frowned. The one who’d come up with the plan – which of them would that be? And how did Monokuma think he could tell the difference? He looked over at Kirigiri to see if she knew, but she hadn’t moved a muscle since Monokuma had revealed her fake murder plot. He felt a little bad for her. She must have been terribly shaken to find out that she’d been seen through so easily.

“So for this little bout of rule-breaking, I’ve prepared a very special guest!” Monokuma said, his voice taking on an all-too-familiar cadence as he gestured to the open window on the opposite side of the room. “Let’s give it everything we’ve got! It’s punishment time!”

Chapter Text

The open window loomed from across the room, dark and foreboding, and Naegi wanted nothing more than to stay as far away from it as possible. Whatever Monokuma intended to show them through that window, he knew it would be terrible. He didn’t want to cross the room to see another set of horrors play out, not so soon after watching Fukawa die.

But he knew they didn’t have a choice. Hiding from the window wouldn’t stop the blow from falling. And so he began moving towards the other side of the room, one shaking step at a time.

Togami moved with him, still holding him steady and upright each time he swayed. Naegi spared a glance up at the other boy’s pale face, seeing the thin line of his mouth and the crease deep between his eyebrows, and a rush of guilt flooded him on top of everything else, for how many times Togami had been blindsided during this trial. He wished he could say something reassuring to show that he wasn’t as badly off as he seemed – but he knew this wasn’t the time or the place. With Monokuma watching, any attempt at comfort would just get turned on itself to make everyone feel even worse.

Finally, they crossed to the other side of the circle, where they could see through the second open window – or at least, where they would have been able to see through it if the space beyond hadn’t been pitch black. Naegi squinted into the darkness, but he couldn’t make out much more than a few vague shapes.

But before he could ask just what it was that Monokuma wanted them to see, light began trickling through the blackness as an aggressively yellow paper sun peeked up from the ground. The dismal, grayish light resembled the first stirrings of a cloudy dawn, unfolding to reveal a dirt-packed courtyard backed by a pockmark-riddled stone wall. Above it, a flag bearing Monokuma’s grinning face rippled in a faint breeze.

In front of the wall, a straw-stuffed figure stood, dressed in a black and white parody of a military uniform, with a red lightning logo on the chest where its insignia ought to have been. Its arms extended out in front of it, and balanced on them, propped against the mannequin’s chest, was an all too familiar laptop.

Naegi had been half-expecting it, but it still hit him like a blow to see Alter Ego’s innocently puzzled face looking out at them from the execution chamber.

“So that’s what this is about?” Togami asked, looking up at Monokuma with narrowed eyes. “You finally noticed Alter Ego’s data decryption and analysis?”

“Finally? Data decryption?” Monokuma yawned. “No no no, I knew about all that from the very beginning. I knew Fujisaki did something with that laptop, and that you were all using it to analyze data. I knew exactly how that was going to play out from the start!”

“You knew?” Togami asked, glaring up at him. “And you still waited until now to call it breaking a rule?”

“Of course not,” Monokuma said. “It wasn’t breaking any rules to decrypt the data in the laptop. That was just – oh, let’s call it a gift, from me to all of you, for being able to unlock something so difficult. So of course it wouldn’t break any rules for you to find the key to that.” He laughed. “But trying to break into the school network is a different story!”

“The network? What are you talking about?” Togami demanded.

“Still behind the curve, I see,” Monokuma said, shaking his head. “You’d better try to get some remedial tutoring if you want to keep up with the rest of us. I bet Naegi would be happy to give you some private instruction.” He gave the two boys a wicked grin. “But you’ll have to save that for after class. Both our lecturers are in place, and today’s real lesson is about to begin.”

Naegi frowned. What did Monokuma mean – both?

And then a horrified gasp came from behind them. Naegi twisted to look over his shoulder, only to see Asahina looking frantically around the rest of the room.

“Where’s Sakura?” Asahina demanded, spinning to get a look at the entire room. “She – she was right behind me, but now –”

Naegi glanced around, but even from the most cursory look, it was obvious that Ogami was no longer in the trial room. She wouldn’t have run, even if there had been any way to escape – which meant –

From the dingy courtyard beyond the window, a low, mournful bugle began to play. Naegi turned back to the window, just in time to see Ogami walk out to stand beside the figure holding Alter Ego, head held high as she put her back to the wall. Her expression of grim resignation and acceptance never faltered as she stared forward, hands clasped behind her back.

And in front of them, a long row of old-fashioned muskets rose up from the ground, aiming directly at the two figures.

“No!” Asahina screamed, grief tearing her voice raw. “No, you – you can’t do this! Please, please, it wasn’t her – it was my fault, it was my idea – please –”

Ogami’s mouth quivered as Asahina’s pleas collapsed into broken sobs, but otherwise she showed no reaction to what she saw through the window. Beside her, Alter Ego’s face had begun to shift from confusion to slow, painful realization.

Naegi remembered the way Alter Ego had spoken to him and Kirigiri in the bathhouse, so brave and determined to help them even at the risk of his own life, and he wanted to scream and cry himself. It wasn’t fair, not when Alter Ego had fought so hard for them. Not when Ogami had turned on the mastermind to give them a chance. It wasn’t –

The guns fired in an explosion of light, filling the courtyard with smoke as bullets thundered across it. The sounds echoed through Naegi’s pounding head, sending his perception spinning until he couldn’t tell the windowed execution chamber from the trial ground. Were the sounds ringing through his ears coming from there, or here, or somewhere inside his head? He couldn’t tell anymore, not with the barrage of noise assaulting him from all sides.

As suddenly as they’d begun, the guns ceased firing, leaving a silence as loud as the noise had been. Slowly, like the curtain rising on a stage, the smoke cleared away to reveal the ravaged courtyard, with chunks of stone crumbling away from the broken wall. The figure that had been holding Alter Ego had disintegrated into shreds of wood and straw, topped with mangled bits of plastic and circuitry. And beside the remains of the laptop –

Sakura Ogami stood, looking as whole and untouched as she had before the gunfire began, except for a single scratch along her cheek where a piece of the laptop had scored her face. Blood dripped down her pale face from it, but she hardly seemed to notice, staring out at them through the window with wide, horrified eyes.

“She’s – okay?” Naegi stared through the window, hardly able to comprehend what he was seeing. Ogami had begun to tremble from head to toe, but that was no surprise after being faced with a firing squad. Other than that, she looked fine.

“So the mastermind chose to spare their spy after all,” Togami said grimly. “I knew all that talk about switching sides was rubbish.”

In the courtyard, Ogami collapsed to her knees, paying no heed to the sharp stones and plastic that had to be gouging into her bare skin. Her shoulders shook as she bowed her head, soundless sobs rocking through her entire body. It was exactly like the way that Asahina had cried, in the moments before the execution began.

And then, in the silent trial chamber, Naegi realized just what sound was missing – and who hadn’t had anything to say about the missed execution.

Slowly he turned to face the rest of the trial chamber, dread cold in his veins as he realized just what he was about to see.

Asahina lay unmoving in a spreading pool of blood, the machine gun in the ceiling still aimed directly at her.

Chapter Text

Naegi stared at Asahina in blank horror, hardly able to comprehend what he was seeing. She hadn’t been named in a trial or dragged off to an elaborate execution chamber – she’d been standing among them all when she was cut down. It was just like the mastermind’s brutal murder of Junko Enoshima, when she’d broken the rule about attacking Monokuma – only somehow even more painful. They’d hardly had a chance to get to know Enoshima when she’d died, but Asahina had been their friend.

Maybe – Naegi bit his lip – maybe it was a trick? Monokuma had stopped short of two executions today already. It was just barely possible that this third one might be false as well. He tried to take a step in Asahina’s direction.

Togami held him back, hardly needing to exert any strength to prevent Naegi from moving. “Don’t,” he said shortly, giving the machine gun a pointed glance.

“But – she might still be alive,” Naegi protested.

Togami looked down at him for a moment, expression tightly controlled, then looked over Naegi’s shoulder towards Kirigiri. “You’re fond of examining bodies. Be useful for once.”

Kirigiri looked over at them, her face showing so little reaction that Naegi almost thought she must not have heard. But after a long moment, she stepped over to Asahina and knelt just beyond the pool of blood. Naegi couldn’t see exactly what Kirigiri did in the moments that she examined the other girl, but maybe that was for the best. If he couldn’t see for certain what had happened, then at least he could still believe it might be okay a little longer.

But Kirigiri only took a few seconds at Asahina’s side before she stood, shaking her head. “With that many bullets, it would have been instant,” she said, her voice low and tense.

Monokuma’s loud laughter shattered the moment, obscene in its wild glee. “Of course it was! It wouldn’t be much of a punishment if they missed!” He sighed and shook his head. “But you know, that’s the trouble with our world’s fixation on instant gratification. We want everything right away, but it’s never quite as satisfying – like instant coffee never has the same kick as the real stuff!”

“What – what are you saying?” Naegi couldn’t believe the bear’s flippant words in the face of so much destruction. It wasn’t really different from Monokuma’s usual inappropriate chatter – except that this time, it was.

He remembered Asahina sitting with him in the laundry room, the first one of his friends to relent in her suspicion of him. He’d seen the tears in her eyes when she’d told him she wished she knew how to be brave. And it wasn’t just her – Alter Ego’s smiling face flashed before his eyes, so determined to help even at the risk of his own life. They’d both been stronger than they’d known themselves to be – and they’d deserved better than what Monokuma had just done to them.

All at once, the shock and pain that had been hammering at Naegi ever since Fukawa had been dragged away all boiled into a single explosion of rage. “How dare you? They were my friends! How dare you kill them!”

“Huh? They?” Monokuma tilted his head, puzzled. “Do you mean you thought about that computer the same way as a person? That’s pretty pathetic. Are you going to replace them with a pair of basketballs?”

“Shut the hell up!” Naegi’s sheer fury, beyond anything he’d ever felt before, had temporarily burned away his dizziness, and he barely noticed that he was still swaying on his feet. “Alter Ego was just as much of a person as the rest of us, and he and Asahina were both our friends. And you killed them!”

“Call them whatever you want,” Monokuma said, shrugging. “It doesn’t change the fact that in the end, they were both nothing more than a pair of rule-breakers. I couldn’t let them hang around setting a bad example for the rest of you, could I?”

“But that isn’t right.” Kirigiri still stood at Asahina’s side, heedless of the blood spreading to lap at the heels of her boots. Her gaze was fixed so unwaveringly on Monokuma that she didn’t look like she would have noticed an explosion elsewhere in the room. “You keep calling her a rule-breaker, but Asahina didn’t break a rule.”

“Have you been sleeping in class or something?” Monokuma asked. “We already covered this! The culprit who planned to break down a locked door was the one at fault for breaking the rule.”

“And opening Ogami’s locked door with that screwdriver was originally Asahina’s plan,” Togami said, calculations plain behind his eyes as he frowned. “So you’re saying that unscrewing the hinges really does count as breaking the door? That’s a very arbitrary ruling on your part.”

“Oh, really? It’s arbitrary?” Monokuma said, sounding puzzled. “So you think the door wasn’t broken, is that it? You think it was exactly the same as it was before Sakura Ogami decided to play handyman with it?”

And as Monokuma said that, Naegi remembered how Ogami’s door had wobbled when he’d tried to close it. All the other doors moved smoothly and easily, but Ogami’s hadn’t – the strange clue that had made him think of the hinges in the first place.

Kirigiri clearly realized it at the same time he did, her lips going tight in an emotionless mask. “So the door was broken after all.”

“Of course it was,” Monokuma said brightly. “Your favorite headmaster had to put in plenty of safety precautions to make sure you could all feel snug and secure in your own rooms! It’s not so easy to unscrew those hinges – one tiny mistake, and the door will never open right again. Or in other words,” he grinned out at them, “it’s broken.”

“Which you failed to explain to us beforehand,” Kirigiri retorted. “You punished Asahina for breaking a rule without knowing she was doing it.”

“Did I? I don’t think so!” Monokuma raised his paws in anger. “I’ll have you know that I take my rules beary seriously! Asahina knew she was breaking a rule when she left that screwdriver for Ogami. If she’d really thought the better of it, she could have let Ogami know the plan was off – but she decided to let it proceed. She used Sakura Ogami to break down a locked door – and your loving headmaster can’t let that kind of behavior stand.”

“And yet in Ogami’s case, you did,” Togami pointed out, glaring over to where Ogami still knelt in the ruined execution chamber, tears staining her face. “She broke a rule even more blatantly than Asahina, but you seem content to let her escape punishment.”

“Oh, that? Well, I guess I did,” Monokuma said. “My heart was so moved by her touching little goodbye speech that I just couldn’t bear to finish her off. And after all, it’s not a very good punishment to give someone what they want anyway!” He laughed. “And this way, she even got to live long enough to see a pair of meaningless deaths!”

Naegi looked around at the aftermath of the executions – Ogami’s broken sobs, Asahina’s bloody corpse, and Alter Ego’s shattered circuitry – and said, “No. You’re wrong. These deaths weren’t meaningless.”

They all turned to look at him at those words. Even Ogami lifted her head a fraction to stare from red, streaming eyes.

“Everybody who’s died so far,” Naegi went on, the words pouring out directly from his heart before he had a chance to think them through, “the deaths of each and every one of our friends – they all make us stronger! And I swear to God, someday you will pay for this!”

“Holy moly!” Monokuma drew back in a mockery of fear. “You’re super mad – like unreasonably upset!” He shrugged. “Well, if that’s the case, I guess it’s time for me to bring things to a close. I’m outta here! You guys should get some rest – and think long and hard about the lessons I’ve given you today. I think we’ve all learned something important!”

And with that, he disappeared.

Chapter Text

Junko spun slowly in her chair, views from different cameras flashing in and out of her vision. Her classmates seemed to move in stop motion as she caught glimpses of them, slumping and shuddering in her absence. It was almost cute, the way all the bravado drained right out of them without a Monokuma present – like they forgot she could still watch them through the cameras.

Well, in Naegi’s case, it was probably the poison finally dragging him down. Junko brought her spinning to an abrupt halt in front of the screen with the best view of her classmates, giving her a good look at Naegi’s pale face. Whatever had been in that poison, it wasn’t mixing well at all with his other injuries – or maybe it was reacting to the lingering effects of the head injury and the tranquilizer she’d had to use to keep him unconscious down in that hidden room. She’d thought for sure he would have shaken that off by now! That poor kid just couldn’t catch a break.

Which brought up a puzzler for her. If Naegi died of chemical overdose, did she want to make them hold a trial? She did like the idea of giving Togami a constructive way to express his feelings about it! But then again, it wasn’t like there’d be a culprit to execute – and a trial without an execution at the end just sounded unsatisfying for everyone.

Well, maybe Naegi’s luck would finally kick in and he’d recover – though from the look of him, Junko thought that would take some time. It looked to her like his little burst of defiance after the punishments had cost him pretty badly. He sagged back against Togami so hard it looked like the heir was having some trouble keeping them both from crashing to the ground. Junko smirked. She’d never thought Togami would be much for catching swooning damsels. It was a real shame Fukawa wasn’t around to see him play into her fantasies for once!

Although that said, Togami wasn’t doing too badly as a white knight these days. He’d gotten awfully willing to draw his sword in Naegi’s defense – for all the good it was doing. Junko giggled to herself at the way he tried to look intimidating, sending Kirigiri a poisonous glare and positioning himself between her and Naegi as they headed for the elevator. He could posture about protecting his cute little boyfriend all he liked, but that wasn’t worth much when Naegi was oh-so-willing to let Kirigiri toss him into danger.

And it looked like Togami knew it, too. Junko turned to the elevator camera, giving herself a nice close up shot of the anxiety lines around Togami’s eyes and the grayish tinge to his face. Every time he looked down at Naegi, who’d closed his eyes and seemed to be drifting towards unconsciousness now, a muscle visibly twitched down the side of his neck.

Now, if that wasn’t the face of a boy primed to do something stupid, Junko didn’t know what was. Naegi might like preaching tiresome sermons about trust and friendship and working together, but for Togami, the head wounds and poison would speak louder. Junko sighed in sympathy for the poor boy. Togami always did have a difficult time sorting through new emotions – and now, with this onslaught of shiny new affections and vulnerabilities, with the feelings from his erased memories echoing back on top of everything else, he’d be at a loss for the best way to cope.

And what kind of girl wouldn’t help a classmate in need?

Junko spared a perfunctory glance at the monitors showing the execution chambers, checking to see whether she needed to spur Jill and Ogami to get a move on for the elevators yet. Ah, good, it looked like they’d both spotted the exits and had at least started moving. Jill made a beeline for the elevator, not looking much worse for wear despite her alter ego’s execution.

Ogami, on the other hand, looked ready to cause trouble. Junko frowned as she headed not towards the elevator, but back in the direction of the trial room. Oh, no, that wouldn’t do at all!

Junko vaulted up from her chair into the control room, and only just made it to the buttons in time. Even in the other room, she could hear the crash from the monitor as the heavy iron security gate slammed into place, locking the trial chamber – and Asahina’s body – safely out of reach. After all, what kind of classmate would she be if she let poor, grieving Ogami stare at her precious friend’s bloody corpse? No, no, much better to hurry her on her way.

Heading back out to the room with the monitors, Junko was just in time to see Ogami turn away from the iron gate and make her way to the elevator at last. So that made all of them – her only five remaining classmates out of the original fifteen. Junko had to give them a small, proud smile as she activated the elevator. They were doing so well! She’d known that entrusting this role to her beloved classmates was a good idea.

In fact, they were doing so very well that soon, she might need to start thinking about the endgame. After all, she’d given them so many clues that even the dimmest and most distracted of them had to be piecing a few things together by now. Junko flopped back into her chair, letting it twirl her around the floor one last time as she grinned. She just couldn’t wait!

The chair slowed to a halt in front of the elevator camera, and Junko beamed up at her classmates’ exhausted, broken expressions. They were so very close! She looked from face to face, drinking them in and committing the moment of despair to memory.

But as her eyes fell on Kirigiri’s face, Junko’s smile fell away and she leaned forward, concentrating intently. The pale girl stood in the corner of the elevator, not facing the door as usual, but staring directly at Naegi and Togami. Another person might have called her expressionless – but Junko hadn’t spent two years around her classmates for nothing. With that expression, combined with what Kirigiri thought she already knew – Junko knew exactly what Kyoko Kirigiri was thinking right now.

A slow smile spread over Junko’s face, darker and more terrible than before. Maybe Togami wasn’t the only weak point among the students after all.

Chapter Text

The elevator ride up from the last trial ground was the longest one they’d endured yet – or Togami supposed that might just be his own perception. After all, any amount of time spent trying to keep Naegi from collapsing was too long – and that didn’t even take the girls into account. A traitor, a serial killer, and a closed-mouthed manipulator were the last three people he wanted to be trapped in an enclosed space with.

Not that any of them seemed overly interested in approaching him and Naegi, at least. Jill was keeping her mouth shut for once, in what had to be some kind of minor miracle. She seemed content enough to lurk in the back corner, tapping a pair of scissors against her palm and staring at the doors like she was plotting the best way to stab them.

Ogami, on the other hand, barely seemed to notice her surroundings at all. When she’d finally trudged up to join them in the elevator, she hadn’t acknowledged anyone, staring down at the ground with an expression slack and broken. She’d taken things so far that Togami was starting to wonder if maybe it wasn’t entirely an act – maybe she had ended up caring about Asahina a little after all. Or maybe she just wanted them all to let their guards down. It was hard to say.

But as for Kirigiri – every time Togami glanced in her direction, he found her eyes just turning away from him and Naegi. She was watching them, and she didn’t care if he knew it. Togami narrowed his eyes in her direction, and though she didn’t visibly react, he was sure she noticed. Well, let her. If she intended to make a fuss about trying to enforce her stupid separation rule now, when Naegi couldn’t even stand on his own, he would make her regret it.

At least Naegi seemed mostly oblivious to anything else going on in the elevator, including the staring tug of war between Togami and Kirigiri. Togami suspected that only sheer determination to make it through the trial had kept Naegi on his feet this long. He stared unseeingly at the wall, and Togami couldn’t tell if it was dark thoughts or sheer exhaustion occupying his mind. He wanted to ask, to hear Naegi’s thoughts and understand his reactions – but he wouldn’t do that here, in front of those girls. None of them deserved to share that.

When the doors finally opened to release them back on the first floor, Togami did his best to hurry them out, but apparently Naegi could only move so fast. He gritted his teeth at the obvious effort Naegi had to put into every faltering step, locking it firmly into his memory. At some point, he would find a way to get an accounting from someone for every flicker of pain that he had to watch cross Naegi’s face.

The three girls quickly outstripped them without even bothering to offer to help – not that he would have accepted anyway, not from any of them. Jill still had her scissors out, Ogami looked liable to forget what she was doing and drop Naegi in her current state, and Kirigiri – well, the further she stayed away from Naegi, the better, as far as Togami was concerned. If she wanted to disappear into the dorms on her own, then good riddance.

“You can go on ahead if you want.”

Togami looked sharply down at Naegi’s quiet words. “What are you doing wasting your energy on spouting that kind of idiocy?”

“I’m not as badly off as I look,” Naegi insisted. “I could make it back on my own.”

Togami narrowed his eyes. He didn’t believe Naegi would lie to him – but he had no confidence in the boy’s ability to assess his own condition, either. Naegi might well genuinely think he would be okay on his own, but all Togami had to do was look at the other boy’s glassy, unfocused eyes and pale cheeks to know it wasn’t true.

“You can’t possibly think that I would actually abandon you in the middle of the hallway,” he said acidly. “You were just poisoned.”

“So were Ogami and –” Naegi’s voice faltered for a moment, “and Asahina, and they could still walk.”

“They didn’t get a dose of poison on top of a head injury,” Togami snapped. “And Ogami is twice your size – any idiot could tell that the same dose of poison would hit you harder.”

Naegi frowned. “I – I just don’t want you to worry.”

Togami’s eyebrows shot up. Naegi got badly injured again, and that was his primary concern – whether Togami was worried?

“Then be more careful,” Togami said. “And stop making stupid suggestions about trying to make your way back without me. If you have enough energy for that, then use it for walking instead.”

Naegi gave him a half-smile at that, as if Togami had said something much softer and more affectionate than he actually had. It was still sad, still a little shaky, but so genuine that Togami’s heart clenched up at the sight. God, he’d missed seeing Naegi smile – he hadn’t even realized how much until right now.

A sudden, desperate desire bloomed in him to lean down and cover Naegi’s mouth with his own, to kiss him until the last traces of sadness disappeared from his smile. He nearly did, right there in the middle of the hall – but the feeling of Naegi swaying against him brought him to his senses. He was obviously the only rational one here, if Naegi’s unreasonable insistence that he could walk on his own was any indication – he couldn’t let himself get distracted until they were safely locked inside one of their rooms.

“Come on,” he said shortly, dragging his eyes away from Naegi and forcing himself to focus on the hall around them. “We’re nearly there.”

They’d made it nearly to the dormitory hall by that point, to Togami’s relief. With every step, Naegi leaned on him a little more heavily, and Togami was starting to fear that if they’d had to go too much further, Naegi might collapse entirely. If that happened, would he be able to carry the boy to one of their rooms on his own? Naegi might be short, but he wasn’t that tiny.

Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. Togami breathed a sigh of relief when they finally got to Naegi’s door and Naegi began rummaging through his pockets for his room key. Naegi had left the various pieces of evidence he’d gathered behind in the trial chamber, but even without that, the boy still seemed to be carrying around an absurd amount of junk. Where had he even found all of that rubbish?

Naegi’s hand shook as he tried to get the key in the lock, clinking it against the edge of the knob instead. His vision had to be blurring, Togami realized, lips tightening as he tried to maintain a mask of iron control – but it was a challenge not to betray his concern when Naegi was having difficulty with something as simple as a lock. He reached out and took the key from Naegi, opening the door and hauling the boy inside.

They made it just in time. As soon as they’d crossed the threshold, Naegi’s strength gave out. Togami only just managed to brace himself to take Naegi’s weight as the boy sagged against him, and even so his shoulder still slammed into the wall hard enough that he knew it would bruise.

“Naegi?” Togami clutched at the boy’s wrist, not daring to breathe until he finally felt a pulse beneath his fingers. “Naegi, can you hear me?”

An unintelligible mumble was all the reply he got. Better than nothing, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. Most of his attention on the boy in his arms, Togami kicked the door closed before mostly dragging Naegi across the room and onto the bed. Hopefully this was all just exhaustion, and Naegi would be back to his usual self in the morning. Togami refused to let himself consider any other possibility.

Normally, he didn’t think much of sleeping in the same clothes from the day, but getting Naegi to change out of his clothes was clearly a lost cause. He tugged the boy’s shoes off as the bare minimum required before rearranging the blankets so that Naegi was snugly tucked in. Togami was relieved to note that at least some of the lines of tension eased from Naegi’s face as his head settled into the pillow.

With Naegi settled, Togami started to take a step away – only to find that Naegi’s hand had somehow ended up locked around a handful of his jacket. He looked down at Naegi, but as far as he could tell, the boy had finally surrendered to exhaustion. This seemed to be an unconscious reaction.

Slowly, trying not to wake the sleeping boy, Togami pried Naegi’s fingers loose from his jacket. It wasn’t good for the fabric to be crumpled like that, after all, and stressing the seams too much would tear it. He took the jacket off and laid it along the shelf at the head of the bed.

But before he could move again, fingers curled around his wrist. Togami glanced down again, seeing Naegi’s eyes fluttering blearily open. Well, that couldn’t be good for him.

“Go back to sleep,” he instructed, since that had to be better for Naegi than trying to force himself to stay awake just because Togami was still up.

Naegi shook his head dizzily, and Togami was fairly certain he wasn’t fully aware of what was going on at this point. “Stay?”

Something warm melted through Togami’s chest at the question. Naegi wanted him here – wanted him here enough that he needed reassurance about it before he could let himself rest. “I’m not leaving.”

This didn’t seem to be satisfactory, at least in Naegi’s barely-conscious state. His fingers tightened around Togami’s wrist, colder than they should be. “Stay,” he mumbled again.

Togami hadn’t actually felt tired enough to go to sleep yet himself – but he couldn’t bring himself to tell Naegi no when he was like this.

“All right,” he conceded, settling himself on the bed beside Naegi. He would just lie down here for a few minutes, just long enough for Naegi to fall into a deep, true sleep. Then he’d get up and think about the trial, and try to figure out just what he would need to do from this point on.

As soon as he lay down on the bed, Naegi pressed into his side, like a kitten curling up into a patch of warm sunlight. Togami sighed and wrapped an arm around Naegi, holding him closer. If this helped him rest, he supposed it was fine. And after the past few nights in an empty bed, not knowing where Naegi was or whether he was safe, there was something comforting about having the boy in his arms at last. Togami closed his eyes, just for a moment, and let himself enjoy the peaceful sensation…

Only to have it shattered a few hours later by the creak of moment from the other side of the room.

Togami sat up like he’d been electrified, staring across the room. “What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded, glaring at Kirigiri.

Chapter Text

Kirigiri stood in the middle of the room like she had every right to be there, leaning casually against the bookcase with her arms crossed.

“It certainly took you long enough to notice,” she said, unruffled. “I was starting to wonder if I’d need to shake you.”

“I hardly expected an intruder in my bedroom in the middle of the night,” Togami snapped. He sat up, carefully sliding Naegi off of him, and pushed himself out of bed. If he had to deal with Kirigiri, he wanted the freedom to move. “And you didn’t answer my question – what are you doing in here?”

“I came to check on Naegi,” she said. “He didn’t look like he was doing at all well during the trial.”

“No thanks to you,” Togami spat at her. “How does that justify breaking in –” He stopped mid-sentence, his own words catching up to him. Kirigiri might be manipulative and obnoxious, but she wasn’t stupid. She wouldn’t break into a dorm room mere hours after seeing Asahina brutally executed for the same crime. “How did you get in here?”

“Didn’t you realize?” she asked. “The door was unlocked.”

Togami rolled his eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous, it was –”

And then he froze, the events of that evening running through his mind again. Naegi had collapsed just after the door had opened, and it had taken both of Togami’s hands to hold him up. He’d kicked the door shut, that was all – and the doors didn’t lock automatically.

Kirigiri was right. The door hadn’t been locked. He’d been distracted enough by his concern for Naegi’s wellbeing to allow them both to fall asleep in a room that hadn’t been properly secured.

She raised an insufferably smug eyebrow at him. “Like I said.”

Togami glared at her, refusing to admit it out loud. “So you consider an unlocked door to be an invitation?”

“In these circumstances, it might as well be,” Kirigiri said, shrugging. “I’m surprised that you of all people would be so careless, after all the fuss you made over Ogami.”

“All of which was fully justified,” Togami said. “She’s an admitted traitor with orders to kill!”

“Exactly,” Kirigiri said calmly. “And Monokuma never told us whether the orders still stand, now that the last trial is over. I’d expected you to demand answers about that at the first opportunity.”

Togami scowled. So it wasn’t enough for her to point out that he’d made a serious mistake – she had to rub salt into the wound as much as she could. She grated on his nerves more than any girl he’d ever met, and he couldn’t for the life of him understand why Naegi cared about her opinion at all.

“If you’re only here to mock me, then you can get out,” he said, crossing his arms. “Actually, you can get out regardless of why you’re here. You are not welcome in my bedroom under any circumstances.”

Your bedroom?” Kirigiri glanced pointedly around Naegi’s dorm room.

“My point stands,” Togami said through gritted teeth.

“Naegi might feel differently.”

“If he were awake to hear it, I’m sure he would,” Togami snapped, stepping to block her view of the sleeping boy. “Unfortunately for you, he isn’t. He collapsed without even making it through the door, because of the injuries he got while alone with you. And if you think that I’m going to entertain even one more word about that self-serving separation you inflicted on us, then –”

“I’m not remotely interested in enforcing that any longer,” Kirigiri said, waving a dismissive hand. “I told Naegi as much earlier.”

Togami drew back, staring at her suspiciously. He didn’t believe for a second that she would retreat on the issue just because of a couple more deaths. “What do you mean?”

“It hardly matters anymore,” she said. “I learned what I needed to know. And if Naegi is as badly off as you seem to believe, then it’s good that he has someone looking after him. Try not to be so careless about it in the future, though – the next person to sneak through your door might not be so innocent.”

“You’re about as innocent as a snake.” He glared at her. “Now get out.”

She gave him a slow smirk before strolling for the door, as if to drive home the point that she was only leaving because she felt like it, not because of his order. He clenched his fists, wishing desperately that he could slap that look off her face – but he knew that the first thing she’d do would be tattle to Naegi about it. Naegi wouldn’t understand at all, no matter how obnoxious she was being.

The second Kirigiri was over the threshold, Togami shut the door behind her and locked it with a decisive click. He would have liked to slam it, but that much noise might wake Naegi up. It was a miracle he’d slept through the argument, really – that or a mark of just how badly drained his injuries had left him.

Togami looked over at Naegi, curled up on the side of the bed he hadn’t been able to touch while they’d been apart, and an unexpected burst of nausea hit him as the full impact of what had just happened sank in. Kirigiri had been here, in this room, while they were asleep and vulnerable – and she’d been able to do it because he’d left the door open. Careless, she’d called him – well, she’d been right, though he’d bite through his own tongue before telling her so. Forgetting to lock the door had been unforgivably careless, and it was only merest chance that nothing had happened. Kirigiri was bad enough, and he’d have to sort through what she might have meddled with later, but if it had been Genocide Jill or Ogami…

Well, Jill had made no secret of the fact that she’d like to murder him from the day she’d revealed herself. And as for Ogami – who knew what she was thinking now? With Monokuma’s order to kill still on the table, she could have seized the opportunity to provide the ransom for whatever hostages the mastermind had threatened.

Although now that he considered the idea – was the order to kill actually still valid? Kirigiri had said it as though it might not be. After all, Monokuma had revealed the order as part of his last incentive assembly – and as far as Togami could work out, the incentives only seemed valid until a murder occurred. They certainly hadn’t heard anything further about threats to the outside world, revealing secrets, or promises of money after those motives had caused someone to act. Kirigiri seemed to have concluded that the order for Ogami to kill would be abandoned in the same way – but would it actually be? She couldn’t possibly know.

No, there was only one person who could answer the question about whether Ogami’s order to kill was still active or not.

Togami looked up into the camera and said, “Monokuma! I want to talk to you.”

Chapter Text

Togami kept his eyes fixed directly on the camera as he waited for Monokuma to answer him, arms crossed with his fingers drumming against his elbow. He locked his face into the slightly bored, impatient expression he’d always worn back at the Togami Corporation, when he’d waited in the executive suite for a subordinate he’d summoned. It was hardy the same situation, but the memory let him draw on the type of attitude he wanted to present, especially after so many moments of the bear catching him unawares.

“Oh, my, what’s this? An unexpected middle of the night call to visit you in the wrong dorm room?” Monokuma finally appeared in the middle of the room, looking around as if he were surprised at where he found himself.

“I want to ask you something,” Togami said.

“Ohh? It must be a real emergency!” Monokuma’s paws flew to cover his mouth. “Do you want to ask me about the school’s stockpile of special lotions?”

“What?” Despite his efforts to appear cool and collected, Togami couldn’t stop a hint of pink from flushing his cheeks. “No!”

“Huh? That’s not it?” Monokuma asked, sounding shocked. “But why else would you want to talk in the middle of the night? Is it something… private? Something you can’t bear to talk about in front of anyone else?” He tilted his head, giving Togami a bright grin. “If you have any health questions about rashes or burning, Doctor Monokuma is open for business!”

Togami did his best to pretend that he hadn’t gone red at that blasted bear’s insinuations. “It’s nothing so childish. I want to know whether your order for Ogami to murder someone is still in effect.”

“Order?” Monokuma paused for a long time, staring up at the ceiling. “Oh, that’s right. She was supposed to kill one of you, wasn’t she?” He shook his head. “It’s so hard to keep ancient history straight, isn’t it? I’m a forward-facing bear myself – the future is where it’s at!”

“That isn’t an answer,” Togami said, scowling.

“Oh, my, so demanding!” Monokuma said, leaning away and sweating as if he were frightened. “You really do like to have everything laid out for you in black and white, huh?” He laughed loudly at that. “I like your taste! All right, then, if you want a plain answer – no! Sakura Ogami’s order to kill is no longer in effect – because she already fulfilled it!”

“She did what?” Togami frowned, his mind racing through the possibilities of what Monokuma could mean by that. When had Ogami had the opportunity to kill someone? Had she caught Kirigiri in the moments after she’d left Naegi’s room? Or – he remembered her claim about what she’d intended to do with that second bottle of poison. Had she gone through with her suicide threats after all?

“She sure did!” Monokuma said. “Breaking down her own door to carry out Asahina’s little rule-breaking plot sounds like causing a death to me! Be sure to congratulate her on a job well done!” He threw back his head and laughed again, the sound echoing around the room as he disappeared.

Togami scowled at the empty place where the bear had been, thinking over what he’d said. So Ogami could count her order as filled by Asahina’s execution? That didn’t sound like it ought to qualify to him, but he was hardly going to press the issue. At least now he could go to sleep with one less thing to worry about – that was one silver lining to Kirigiri’s intrusion, anyway.

He switched off the light and headed back over to the bed, deciding that he ought to try to salvage some rest from the remainder of the night. They’d presumably have a new area of the school to explore tomorrow, and he needed to be alert enough to search for potential clues or new threats.

But as he lay down in the darkness, he couldn’t clear his mind of the thoughts still swirling around about everything that had just happened. The thought of Kirigiri wandering around the room while he and Naegi slept sent cold shudders coursing through him, in spite of the warm blankets on the bed. She could have done anything in here – rummaged around in the room, planted something among Naegi’s possessions, or worse.

He couldn’t avoid the truth, not when it was this plain – she could have killed them both in their sleep, without even trying. Or worse, she could have just killed one of them, and left the other to take the fall. If he’d woken up beside Naegi’s dead body, with no idea what had happened – the thought was too horrifying to let himself finish.

It would have been so easy for something like that to happen that he couldn’t find any comfort in the fact that it hadn’t – not when he wasn’t sure why not. Had he thwarted her murder attempt by waking up unexpectedly, forcing her to pretend she’d wanted to have a conversation instead – or had she had some other plan that he couldn’t see? And if it had been something other than murder, then had she actually accomplished her goal before he’d sent her packing?

He didn’t know. He couldn’t know, not without understanding whatever goal she’d been aiming for by sneaking into this room. All he knew was that it had to be something underhanded. After all, even if the door had been unlocked, she couldn’t have known that from the outside. For her to have learned that the door was open, she would have had to try the handle in the first place – something that a person acting honestly wouldn’t have had any reason to do at this hour of the night.

The only bright spot that he could see in this whole mess was that at least Naegi didn’t seem to have been overly disturbed by everything that had happened in the room while he slept. The encounter with Kirigiri would have been so much worse if Naegi had been awake for it, what with his unreasonable insistence on continuing to treat her as a friend. At least she hadn’t had the opportunity to try to manipulate him again – after poison and a head injury, Togami shuddered to think about what other terrible things she could arrange.

Unable to escape from the unsettling thoughts of everything that might have happened, Togami moved closer to Naegi, wrapping an arm around the sleeping boy so that he could feel his reassuring warmth. Naegi nestled back against him with a small sound of contentment, his head settling against Togami’s shoulder as though even in sleep he knew that was where he belonged.

In an impulsive gesture that he doubted he would have gone through with if Naegi had been awake, Togami pressed his lips to Naegi’s temple in a soft kiss. “Stay alive,” he whispered, the words no more than a breath as his lips brushed Naegi’s skin. “Stay with me.”

With Naegi in his arms, warm and alive, some part of the anxiety plaguing Togami’s mind eased, just a little. For all the dangers they faced, there was something safe in a moment like this – a fragile bubble of peace surrounding them. He wasn’t ridiculous enough to think that it was anything more than an illusion, not when the mastermind had made certain no one could find peace in this nightmarish place – but at least for now, it could soothe away enough of his worries to let him rest. Tomorrow, it would all return, the murders and the betrayals and the questions – but at least when it did, he would have had this first.

Chapter Text

Consciousness returned gradually to Naegi, like the slow creep of the rising tide. Voices murmured to him as he woke, half-remembered words that he didn’t consciously recall hearing.

“Try not to be so careless…”

Kirigiri frowned at him, arms crossed and expression chilly. She was as distant and self-possessed as ever as she spoke the reprimand, sounding almost bored by the need to scold.

But echoing behind that, he could hear the same words said differently. Wry humor colored the words to soften an often-repeated lecture, with a smile more open than any expression he’d ever seen her wear. Ghostly fingers ruffled his hair with a casual touch that had never been part of their interactions.

“It’s so hard to keep ancient history straight…”

Monokuma’s words cut through the memory, sharp with false kindness meant to wound. His laugh set Naegi’s teeth on edge, with its gleeful pleasure in its own cruelty. He hated that laugh more every time he heard it.

And somewhere beyond that, faint and far away, he could almost hear another laugh, nothing like Monokuma’s except in the chills it sent down his spine. He knew that laugh, knew that he should recognize it, but reaching for the memory only made it drift further away.

“Stay with me…”

Another voice pulled him away from the horrors lurking in those thoughts, a voice that he would always recognize. Togami pressed close to him, whispering the words with a sincerity that made Naegi’s heart ache.

And the same words rang through his head again and again and again, spoken with every emotion from affection to grief, a plea so familiar he knew it in his soul. He’d heard those words before, so many times, and he could almost –

“Good morning, everyone! It is now 7 A.M. and nighttime is officially over!”

Naegi slammed fully into wakefulness as Monokuma’s announcement sounded, morning hitting him like a punch to the gut. His entire body ached with a bone-deep heaviness that went further than simple exhaustion, and the thought of needing to drag himself out of bed made him want to groan.

And then something shifted under him, and Naegi realized that he hadn’t been sleeping on the bed – or at least, not entirely. Prying his eyes open, he found that his head was resting on Togami’s shoulder, and the other boy’s face was blinking sleepily only a few inches away.

Naegi shifted a little, figuring he should probably give Togami the freedom to move around while he was still trying to find the energy to get up – but Togami’s eyes focused sharply on him the instant he tried.

“You’re awake?” Togami reached over with his free hand to brush Naegi’s hair away from his forehead. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Better,” Naegi said, as confidently as he could. He remembered their conversation on the way back to the dorms, though his memory got pretty fuzzy after that, and he knew that Togami had been seriously concerned for him. After everything that had happened, the last thing he wanted was to make Togami worry more.

“Hmm.” Togami eyed him dubiously. “It looks to me like you could use more rest.”

“Well – maybe I’m still a little tired,” Naegi admitted. “But I can’t go back to sleep. We need to go meet the others in the cafeteria.”

Togami grimaced. “I suppose we should at least keep tabs on what those girls are all doing.” But even though he said so, he didn’t seem inclined to move.

Naegi couldn’t blame him. He’d missed Togami so much when they were separated – and the mornings had been the worst. There had been a brief moment of disorientation each time he’d woken up, as his subconscious sought the other boy’s presence in the empty space beside him. Now that they were reunited, he just wanted to curl up around Togami and enjoy the time that they could finally have together.

But this wasn’t the right time for that. The others would worry if he and Togami didn’t make it to the breakfast meeting on time, especially after how shaky Naegi knew he’d looked the night before. And even apart from that, he wanted a chance to check on Ogami and Jill. The trial had hit those two the hardest of all, and he wanted to be sure they were okay.

So Naegi forced himself to pull away from the warmth of Togami’s arms and tried to push himself into a sitting position. The sudden shift made his head spin for a moment, his vision blurring briefly out of focus – but he managed to keep himself upright without collapsing again. Once his gaze steadied again, he gave Togami a smile.

“See? I’m fine.”

“Yes, I see you’re capable of sitting up for several seconds together.” Togami propped himself up on his elbow in a pointed demonstration of all the ease and grace that Naegi’s attempt had lacked. “The real question is whether you’re rested enough to maintain this elsewhere.”

“Definitely,” Naegi said firmly. “I slept all night, that has to be enough.”

“Did you?” Togami’s mouth twisted strangely as he looked at Naegi. “You’re sure that nothing disturbed you?”

“Actually, I think I might have gotten more rest last night than any of the last few,” Naegi said. He frowned, thinking back. “I had some weird dreams, though.”

“Oh?” Togami raised an eyebrow.

“Not – not that kind of dream,” Naegi protested, turning a little red. “I just dreamed that I heard Kirigiri and Monokuma and you talking, that’s all.”

“Ah.” Togami let out a long breath. “Well, I thought that might be it.”

“Huh? You did?” Naegi asked, puzzled. “Was I talking in my sleep?”

“No.” Togami sat up entirely rather than lounging, his expression growing more serious. “That wasn’t a dream. Both Kirigiri and Monokuma were here last night.”

“While I was sleeping?” Naegi asked, horrified. Kirigiri being in the room wasn’t too worrying – but the thought of Monokuma appearing in the room while he slept was just creepy. “Why?”

Togami studied Naegi for a moment, then shook his head. “If I don’t tell you, I’m sure she will.”

“Tell me what?” Naegi asked, starting to get worried at the look on Togami’s face. “Did something happen?”

“It might have,” Togami said grimly. “I doubt you remember, but you didn’t make it to bed under your own power last night. You collapsed just inside the door, and I had to carry you the rest of the way.”

“Oh.” Naegi blinked, a sudden image popping into his head of Togami lifting him over the threshold bridal style. “That was nice of you.”

“It was stupid,” Togami corrected him flatly. “Because in the confusion, I – well, the door ended up remaining unlocked.”

Naegi waited for Togami to continue on to whatever had him so upset, but he didn’t say anything else. “So… that’s how Kirigiri got in? I guess it was nice of her to check up on us.”

Togami stared at him. “Maybe I didn’t make myself clear. She entered this room while we were both still asleep. I only found out because I woke up and caught her at it.”

“Oh.” Naegi frowned. “Okay, I guess that’s a little strange. Did she say why she came in?”

“Did she offer an adequate explanation for sneaking into your bedroom without an invitation and hanging around doing who knows what while we were sleeping?” Togami said acidly. “No, she didn’t.”

“Then I’ll ask her about it later,” Naegi decided. “I’m sure she must have had a reason.”

“Yes, I’m sure she did,” Togami agreed darkly. “That’s what worries me.”

“Wait – you don’t think she was trying to – to do something to us, do you?” Naegi asked, startled. “Kirigiri wouldn’t hurt us!”

“She’s done so twice already,” Togami countered. “Every time you’ve been alone with her, you’ve been left so badly injured that you were unable to stand on your own.”

“Not every time,” Naegi protested. “And I mean – it’s not like she wants me to get hurt. It’s just a risk of investigating, that’s all.”

“A risk that she repeatedly asks you to take on her behalf,” Togami said. “I notice that she never seems to end up poisoned or beaten over the head. Whenever she wants to try something dangerous, she makes you do it for her – and it is going to stop.”

“She doesn’t make me do anything,” Naegi said. “I want to help investigate. And she didn’t even have anything to do with that needle – that was just an accident.”

“One that you don’t remember.” Togami shook his head. “Whether or not she’s deliberately causing you harm is beside the point – the point is that it keeps happening. Do you honestly believe you would survive another such accident, in your current state?”

Naegi opened his mouth to protest again – but then the look in Togami’s eyes finally sank in. Yes, Togami was furious with Kirigiri, blaming her even though it was really the mastermind’s fault that all this had happened – but there was more to it than anger. Of course there was, if Naegi really had collapsed last night. That must have been terrifying, knowing that it was poison that had caused it. Could Naegi really get upset at Togami when he’d been so afraid for Naegi?

“I see what you mean,” he said instead. “And – well, I’ll try harder to be careful.”

“Good. And if Kirigiri tries to talk you into any other stupid risk, tell me before jumping in head first,” Togami said, relaxing minutely.

But as he said that, the words triggered a memory in Naegi. Tell me first – the promise Togami had asked him to make about not returning to the hidden room again.

The promise that he’d broken.

He had to tell Togami about it, he knew it. He shouldn’t have even put it off as long as he had – only the separation forced on them could excuse the delay. This wasn’t a good time, not when Togami was already so angry at Kirigiri – but Naegi couldn’t see another option. Not telling would be as good as lying, in this situation.

“Uh – Togami? There’s something else I think I need to tell you about what happened while we were apart.”

Chapter Text

As soon as Naegi said the words, Togami’s expression changed, gaze sharpening and mouth thinning into an icy frown. “Does what you’re about to say have to do with Kirigiri?”

Naegi didn’t like the dangerous glint in Togami’s eye as he said her name. “You can’t get mad about it.”

“Meaning that it does have to do with her,” Togami concluded grimly. “Well, let’s hear it.”

“And you won’t get mad at her?” Naegi pressed.

“I doubt I could get any angrier at her than I already am,” Togami said, rolling his eyes. “Not unless you’re about to tell me that she endangered your life again.”

“No, it’s nothing like that,” Naegi said. “It’s not even something she did, exactly. It’s something I did while she was there.” He took a deep breath and met Togami’s eyes. “I’m really sorry, but I broke my promise to you.”

“Your promise?” Togami looked blank for a moment – and then he sat up ramrod-straight. “You went back to the hidden room?”

“Yes.”

“The room where she sent you so that she could check if the mastermind knew about it?” Togami demanded. “The one where you got knocked unconscious the second you stepped inside?”

“Right.” Fresh guilt began to gnaw at Naegi at the horror on Togami’s face. He’d known the other boy would be upset, but actually seeing it was worse than his imagination had been. “And – well, I know I promised to tell you first, but – well, it was during the separation, and we had to act fast. There wasn’t anything I could do.”

“You could have not gone!” Togami snapped. “I knew it, I knew she was going to try something when she got you alone –”

“It wasn’t Kirigiri’s idea,” Naegi interrupted, glaring at Togami.

“Oh, really? You just felt like wandering back to visit one of the places you nearly died?” Togami snarled.

“It wasn’t my idea, either,” Naegi said, trying his best to stay calm. “It was Alter Ego’s.”

That silenced the other boy for a moment, and he seemed to calm down a little as he considered the statement. “During the trial, Monokuma did say that you and Kirigiri were doing something with that computer,” he said eventually. “Something to do with electronic doors.”

“Right,” Naegi said. He glanced over at the camera, wondering if it was okay to say this where the mastermind could hear – but on the other hand, the trial had proven pretty thoroughly that the mastermind had known about their plan all along. “Alter Ego thought that he might be able to break into the school network, and he asked Kirigiri and I to help him do it.”

Togami frowned. “So there was an Ethernet port in the hidden room?”

“Yeah, and a cable,” Naegi said, nodding. “We thought that maybe if we could keep the mastermind from noticing, it might be all right. I carried the laptop under my jacket, and we pretended to have an argument about the room so that I’d have to go in again.”

“And yet again, somehow you ended up being the one to take the risk,” Togami said.

“No, I wasn’t,” Naegi said, biting his lip as Alter Ego’s cheerful face flashed before his eyes again. “It was Alter Ego who took the real risk – and Monokuma killed him for it.”

“And he thought about doing the same to you, in case you forgot,” Togami said, leaning forward. “Monokuma was more than willing to kill over that rule – and it sounds to me like you were the one participating, not Kirigiri.” He scowled. “This is exactly why I wanted you to talk to me before trying to go back to that room.”

“But we weren’t supposed to talk to each other then,” Naegi reminded him. “And – well, I did think about breaking the separation just for a minute, but if I’d suddenly left to go talk to you, the mastermind might have gotten suspicious. It was already so risky for Alter Ego – I couldn’t make it worse for him.” He sighed, dropping his gaze to his hands. “Not that it helped in the end.”

That was the worst of it – that everything Alter Ego had tried to do to help had been for nothing. Alter Ego had worked so hard to decrypt that data for them, and it had just been a part of whatever game the mastermind was playing with them. And then, when he’d gone a step further and tried to break into the network – well, if Monokuma was telling the truth, then all their precautions for Alter Ego’s safety had been worthless. When Naegi had carried the laptop to the hidden room and plugged it into the network, he’d been taking his friend to his doom.

“So you’re saying that you didn’t tell me before you acted because you wanted to protect Alter Ego?” Togami asked, his gaze so intent that Naegi could almost feel the pressure of eyes on his skin. “A computer program?”

Naegi’s head snapped up so he could glare at Togami, ignoring the way the sudden movement brought on another wave of dizziness. “He was my friend!”

“So that’s what it comes down to, isn’t it?” Togami clenched one of his hands into a fist, so tightly that his knuckles went white. “You’ll risk your life for any of your friends – even the ones who aren’t human. Even the ones who have sent you into danger time and again. All they have to do is ask, and you’re willing to throw your life away.”

“It’s not like that,” Naegi said, stung. “Look, I know you think that Kirigiri is trying to hurt me or something, but that isn’t it. She just wants the same thing all of us want – to get out of this place. It’s the same thing that Alter Ego was fighting for – and it’s what I want, too.”

Memories of his fallen friends blazed through him as he said those words. Fukawa’s terrified screams echoed in his head, full of her miserable conviction that no one would care when she was erased from existence. Asahina’s body crumpled before his eyes, riddled with bullets as “punishment” for the simple wish to speak with her best friend.

And beyond them, the others stretched out in a line of ghosts, each one bright with their own unique heartaches. Celeste’s dreams twisted into desperation – Ishimaru’s bond with Owada shattered, leaving him broken by grief – Fujisaki’s innocent expression of admiration brought on his own death – and of course, before any of the others, Maizono’s fears spurred her to use his affection for her and begin the killing.

They’d experienced nightmare after nightmare in this place, caught in the mastermind’s trap. And the longer they remained, the worse things would get. He didn’t just want to leave because he wanted to get away from this madness and return to his normal life – he wanted to get out because they all owed it to their friends who hadn’t been able to make it this far.

Naegi reached out and caught Togami’s hand in both of his, wrapping his fingers around the clenched fist. “I don’t want to stay here and let the mastermind keep pitting us all against each other. I refuse to watch my friends lose hope and die. Even if I have to take some risks to fight against it, that’s okay. This world that the mastermind forced on us – I don’t want to be part of it!”

“You’re dismissing those risks like they’re nothing,” Togami snapped. “This game has life or death stakes, even apart from the murders – both Asahina and Enoshima got killed for nothing more than rule-breaking! You can’t just take risks without considering the consequences. You’ve nearly been killed twice – three times, if we count Monokuma’s threat during yesterday’s trial. If it went wrong – if you died – for god’s sake, that isn’t worth it!”

“But if it could help us find a way to get out –”

“It doesn’t matter!” Togami’s hand twisted to wrap around Naegi’s in turn, gripping his fingers until they ached. “There’s nothing you could gain that could possibly be worth your life!”

“But –”

“I’d rather stay trapped in this hellhole for the rest of my life than lose you!”

Naegi stared at Togami as those words rang out between them. The other boy had gone pale, a look of horror crossing his face. He hadn’t meant to say that, Naegi realized. Togami hadn’t wanted Naegi to know the depth of his feelings – and maybe he hadn’t even known it himself until he’d heard his own words.

What was he supposed to say to that? Naegi didn’t have the faintest idea. Nothing in his very limited previous romantic experience had even come close to that kind of declaration. Togami was willing to stay here in this twisted killing game, locked away from everything he’d spent his life working for – just so Naegi wouldn’t have to risk his life? Naegi could hardly get his mind around the thought. It was staggering. It was world-altering.

It was wrong.

As amazing as it was to hear how much Togami cared for him, Naegi didn’t want that kind of affection – not something so rooted in terror and pain. Their connection could be so much more than that, he knew it – more than it could ever be while they were stuck in the mastermind’s game. They could build something beautiful between them if they had the chance, something that would give them strength instead of fear. Something like that was worth fighting for – it was worth risking everything for.

“Togami,” Naegi said slowly, “I – I get what you mean, but – you can’t say that. It isn’t what I want.”

Togami jerked back like the words had been a physical blow. “You – what?”

“I don’t want to be the reason you give up,” Naegi said. “That isn’t how you make me feel at all – and it isn’t what I want to be for you.”

Togami stared at him, looking inexplicably stricken by Naegi’s words. “I see.”

“Huh?” Naegi blinked, startled as Togami broke their joined hands apart. “Wait – what are you talking about?”

“You’ve been more than clear enough.” Togami stood, a cold mask settling over his face. “I told you my feelings, and you informed me that you don’t feel the same way.”

“No!” Naegi sat up straight, vision blurring in and out and preventing him from catching Togami’s gaze. “That’s not what I meant!”

“Isn’t it?” Togami said, and the ice in his voice hit Naegi like a punch to the gut. “It sounds to me like that’s exactly what you’ve been trying to tell me all morning. I don’t matter to you. Not as much as – as you do to me.”

“You do!” Naegi insisted, panic making his breath catch in his throat. “Of course you do! I’ve never felt like this about anyone before!”

“Really? Because you haven’t shown it!” Togami snarled, with a viciousness Naegi hadn’t felt directed at him since the start of their relationship. “You’ve jumped into danger on command for everyone else, all of your precious friends – but you couldn’t be bothered with the one simple promise I asked for. All they had to do was threaten to ignore you for a couple days, and you completely threw me over. You’ve shown more concern for a computer’s feelings than mine. You don’t – you aren’t –” He covered his face with one hand, taking a deep, shuddering breath.

“I’m sorry!” Naegi protested, his voice shaking from the terrible fear growing inside him. “I – I didn’t mean to hurt you, I’d never want that! I’ve just – I’ve had to make decisions, and –”

“And you haven’t chosen me,” Togami cut him off. He turned away, but not before a glimpse of his expression stole Naegi’s breath away. “Fine. I think I’ve made myself enough of a fool over you.”

“Don’t!” Naegi tried to scramble to his feet, to run after Togami – but his head swam so violently that he collapsed back onto the bed before he could.

And lying alone on the bed, he heard the click of the door closing as his vision slowly cleared on the empty room.

Chapter Text

The overwhelming tide of emotions flooding through Togami carried him across the hall, but by the time he’d entered his own dorm, he already regretted his hasty decision to leave Naegi’s room. He could still hear the pain shaking through Naegi’s voice – pain that he’d caused. The knowledge that Naegi would be miserable and alone now, maybe even crying, too dizzy and injured to leave the bed – it burned inside him, an almost physical compulsion to turn and run back to Naegi’s side. He wanted to go back, to gather Naegi into his arms, to hold him close and keep him safe –

But Naegi didn’t want that from him.

Togami slumped back against his door, pressing one hand hard against his mouth. He could hear his breath hissing through his fingers, harsh and too loud in the silent room. The bitter truth held him paralyzed, unable to turn away from everything he’d understood.

For days now, he’d turned his entire world upside down for Naegi’s sake. He’d abandoned his plans to win the game and joined the others as an ally. He’d gone chasing after Naegi time and again to rescue him from his injuries and keep him safe. For the first time in his life, he’d fought on behalf of a person other than himself.

And those actions hadn’t been the worst of it. He’d slept in Naegi’s arms, even in the middle of the killing game, trusting the boy not to hurt him. He’d been unguarded enough that all the other students had known of his vulnerability, allowing that obnoxious Kirigiri to manipulate him. He’d let his feelings for Naegi become his weakness, a weapon that could be wielded against him.

He’d never thought Naegi himself would be the one to use it to hurt him.

For all the confusing new emotions and shifting uncertainties that had hammered away at him since he’d first felt anything for Naegi, there had been one thing that had given him some measure of comfort – the thought that he wasn’t alone in it. Yes, he’d made himself vulnerable in a way he’d never been before, but it had been all right as long as he wasn’t the only one. He’d believed that Naegi had shared his feelings, matching him weakness for weakness – believed it unquestioningly enough that he hadn’t even hesitated to offer Naegi his heart.

He’d admitted out loud that he would do anything in his power to keep Naegi safe, something that he hadn’t fully understood until he’d heard himself saying the words. It wasn’t just a refusal to try to win the killing game, or the need to care for Naegi’s injuries, or the fury for the people who’d hurt Naegi – it went beyond that. Naegi mattered to him more than anything else in his life, to the point where leaving this place didn’t matter if Naegi couldn’t escape with him. He’d come to care too much for Naegi to be able to envision returning to a world without him.

No. Togami couldn’t lie to himself, not anymore. Not after what he’d realized.

He’d come to love Naegi, so deeply that that his heart ached with it. Now that he recognized the emotion for what it was, it pulsed through him with every heartbeat, so intense that it terrified him with its inescapability.

And Naegi didn’t feel the same way.

In the moment that Naegi had said so, everything Togami had believed about their relationship had come crashing down around him. He’d known that Naegi didn’t feel quite as strongly about protecting him as he did for Naegi, but he’d just assumed that was because he obviously needed much less protection than Naegi did. He’d thought that at the core of it, Naegi felt everything as strongly as he did. It had never even occurred to him that his feelings might not be returned.

An ugly, broken sound tore through the air, and Togami realized that he was laughing, shoulders shaking with the force of it. He tilted his head back against the hard wood of the door, closing his eyes as the bitter irony convulsed through him. How many times had some infatuated idiot thrown themselves at him, seeing reciprocated feelings where there was nothing more than contempt? Too many to count, with Fukawa only the latest and most disturbing in a long string of easily-manipulated fools. And now here he was, on the other side of it, caught in the trap of unrequited love.

It would be easier if he could blame Naegi for it, if he could twist the pain into resentment, let it burn away until there was nothing left but ashes and regret – but how could he? It wasn’t as though Naegi had been using him – as transparent as Naegi was, that would have been obvious, and Togami could have avoided it easily. No, Naegi was open, honest, and kind, and it wasn’t his fault that Togami had misunderstood just what that meant.

Naegi did care about him, Togami didn’t doubt that – but Naegi cared about every one of the students he’d met here at Hope’s Peak, even the murderers. Hell, he even cared about Fujisaki’s goddamn computer program. And Togami didn’t want to be on the same level as a laptop.

Thinking back on it now, he realized that Naegi had never actually said how he felt about Togami at any point in their ill-fated relationship. He’d obviously felt physical attraction fairly strongly, but that was hardly a shock. And he’d trusted Togami, even from the start – but who the hell didn’t Naegi trust?

No, Togami could see now that he’d always been the one to initiate, to push for more, to spell out his feelings. He’d sought Naegi out, over and over – even at the start, he’d been the one to drag Naegi into the archive. And now he’d handed Naegi his heart, just as thoughtlessly as he’d done the rest of it. How could he have expected anything more than rejection?

Slowly, throat raw and heart aching, Togami forced his eyes open and pushed himself away from the door. Part of him wanted to collapse onto the bed and bury his face in a pillow – but he refused to let this break him any worse than it already had. He might not be able to control the emotions clawing their way through his soul, but at least he would be master of his own actions.

Instead of collapsing, he went to prepare himself to face the day, stripping away the wrinkled clothing he’d worn in Naegi’s bed. He forced himself to step into the blisteringly hot shower without any hesitation about washing away any lingering traces of the other boy’s scent on his skin. And if the face that he tilted up into the shower spray was already streaked with salty tear tracks, he would never admit it.

Chapter Text

After going through his usual morning rituals, Togami told himself that he felt better able to deal with the new day. He’d scrutinized himself in the mirror to determine whether there were any outer indications of his feelings, and he was sure that the pallor of his skin and traces of red around his eyes would fade soon enough.

The only thing that gave him pause before he left the room was the small pile of room keys sitting on his bookcase. He really had to decide what to do with those. His own key was easy enough – he tucked it into his inner jacket pocket where he usually kept it safe. But that didn’t address the question of the other two keys – the ones belonging to Ogami and Naegi.

He hadn’t realized he’d taken Naegi’s room key with him when he’d left the other boy’s room. He’d had it in his pocket already, and he’d hardly been thinking clearly enough to decide whether to return it before he’d stormed out. He’d locked the door behind him, he was fairly certain of that – which meant that at the moment, Naegi was locked in his room with no way to leave.

Part of Togami rather appreciated that idea. At least this way he knew where Naegi was and that he wasn’t doing anything stupid. But keeping Naegi safe wasn’t his responsibility. Naegi had made that perfectly clear.

Togami sighed, picking up the key and frowning at it. He’d have to return this to Naegi, wouldn’t he? The thought of facing the other boy again, so soon after his resounding rejection, made Togami’s stomach twist. Naegi would want to talk to him, he knew it – and he wasn’t sure he could trust himself if faced with Naegi’s unhappiness. It would be so easy to let himself be convinced to return, to spend his time chasing after a boy who didn’t love him back.

No. No, he couldn’t let himself do that. This was all bad enough without heaping that additional humiliation onto the list of the other mistakes he’d made. He would just have to return that key to Naegi without seeing him, somehow.

Which still left the question of Ogami’s key. Togami scowled down at that one. He’d tried to return it to her the night before Hagakure’s murder, figuring that there wasn’t much point in continuing the inconvenient charade of locking her in her room when he’d been convinced she could leave any time she chose – but she’d refused to take it.

Well, he’d intended to speak with her anyway, to inform her of what Monokuma had said regarding her order to kill. That certainly lessened any concerns he’d had about her ability to wander the school at will. Maybe she’d feel differently about taking her key back now. Or if she didn’t, she could throw it away herself and leave her door open to the world, for all he cared. If that whole mess with the locked door had taught him anything, it was that confiscating keys was more trouble than it was worth.

Togami pocketed both other keys and left his room, making sure to lock the door behind him. With the hallway empty, he couldn’t quite resist the impulse to look across the way at Naegi’s door for a moment, the key’s weight unavoidable in his pocket.

It would be so easy to return. All he had to do was open the door, and it could be like the last hour had never happened. Naegi would smile, kiss him, curl into his arms –

But it wouldn’t be enough. Even the thought of holding Naegi felt hollow, now that he understood the disparity in their feelings for one another. No matter how soft and sweet his moments alone with Naegi might be, he knew that wouldn’t matter when it came down to making real decisions. Naegi had never chosen him over any of the others, not once.

Togami had let go of so much of his pride already, for Naegi’s sake – but he couldn’t do this. He wouldn’t. If Naegi didn’t want the love he’d offered, then he refused to beg for it, or to crawl back as if it didn’t matter. It did matter. If he had to be vulnerable, then he needed to know that the other boy had been defeated just as thoroughly by this relationship. He wanted Naegi to love him in return.

Togami tore his eyes away from the door, scowling at his stupid, useless thoughts. Indulging in that kind of melancholy in his own room was bad enough, but doing so in the hall was utterly unacceptable. He had to get away from this area before things got any worse.

But first, he did have to deal with the question of Naegi’s key.

After a moment’s thought, Togami braced himself and crossed the hall to press Naegi’s doorbell. When he’d left, Naegi had been barely able to sit up on the bed, despite his insistence that he felt much better. It was possible that he hadn’t even been able to make it to the door yet this morning, and was still unaware he was locked in the room. But hearing the doorbell would bring him over, if he was able to stand at all. If he wasn’t...

But after several agonizingly long moments, the doorknob rattled, as if someone on the other side was trying to open it. Togami pressed his lips together, trying not to react to the knowledge that Naegi stood less than a foot away from him, close enough to touch if the door weren’t in the way. That didn’t matter. He’d forfeited his right to touch Naegi, separating them more thoroughly than a closed door ever could.

Before he could do anything foolish, Togami slid Naegi’s key into the lock and turned it, leaving the knob to turn suddenly under the other boy’s hand. As soon as the lock clicked open, Togami turned and sped down the hall, leaving the key dangling from the knob as he walked away as quickly as he could without breaking into a full run. He only just made it out of the line of vision when he heard the door open behind him.

“Togami?” Naegi’s voice, trembling with a painful hope, caught at Togami’s heart, trying to pull him back like a moon captured in a planet’s orbit. If he’d called again, Togami didn’t know what he might have done in response, despite all his decisions to the contrary.

So before he could hear Naegi say his name again, Togami headed for the door that would take him into the rest of the first floor. Better to put some distance between the two of them until he could face Naegi with a greater degree of composure.

Chapter Text

Leaving the dorms so quickly left Togami with the question of where exactly he wanted to go instead. Anywhere that had the risk of Naegi’s presence had to be off the table, at least for now. The stupid breakfast meeting wasn’t even worth considering.

He might as well try to do something useful while the others frittered away their time in petty arguments and false friendships. Destination in mind, Togami made his way for the stairs, climbing until he reached the fourth floor. He could see that the next set of stairs continued upwards from here, but he could search that area later. He had a more important goal in mind.

During the trial yesterday, Ogami had claimed she’d broken down the door to the headmaster’s room, and Monokuma had confirmed it. Togami didn’t believe the rest of the rubbish she’d spouted about suicide plans and wanting to help them, but the state of the door did sound worth investigating. After all, with Alter Ego’s data analysis results, the headmaster had to be the primary suspect for being the mastermind – regardless of the pack of lies Kirigiri had tried to feed him on the subject a few days ago.

As soon as Togami turned down the hallway towards the headmaster’s room, he could see that something had indeed been done to the doorknob and hinges. Deep gouges marred the door in all those areas, and it no longer fit neatly into the doorframe. It looked like Ogami actually had been telling the truth on this topic.

But when Togami put out a hand to try to open the door, it wouldn’t budge. The knob turned easily under his hand, and the door slid from side to side without the hinges holding it in the frame – but no matter how much force he used, he couldn’t get it to open so much as an inch.

“What’s this? Seeing your headmaster in the middle of the night wasn’t enough?”

Togami turned around to see Monokuma standing mere feet behind him.

“It looks like you just can’t stay away from my lusciously fluff-filled figure, huh?” Monokuma went on, that awful grin spreading over his face.

“Shut up,” Togami ordered, raising his chin imperiously. The expression had never worked on that stupid bear yet, but at least it let him set the tone he wanted. “What happened to this door? Ogami said she broke it down.”

“Oh? And that got you interested?” Monokuma asked. “Were you planning to sneak in to find some naughty discipline of your own?” He laughed. “Sorry, but I’ll have you know I’m a very rule-abiding bear – teacher-student relationships are strictly off-limits! You’ll have to daydream during class just like everyone else.”

“You did something to this door, didn’t you?” Togami demanded, deciding it would be best to ignore the bear’s ranting. “You sealed it.”

“And just in time, too!” Monokuma said brightly. “If you’d been just a little bit faster, you might have managed to sneak in. And who knows what exciting mysteries you could have uncovered if only you’d had the chance.” His red eye gleamed as he grinned at Togami. “I guess it’s a good thing for me that you were too slow!”

Togami glared at the bear, cursing himself for not thinking of this sooner. Ogami had announced that she’d broken open the door in the middle of the trial, right to Monokuma’s face. Of course the mastermind would have taken the first opportunity to reseal the door. If he’d wanted to get inside the office, he should have gone immediately after the trial had ended.

But that would have meant abandoning Naegi. The boy had barely gotten to his room with all the help Togami had given – he never would have made it on his own. If he’d left Naegi’s room after putting the boy to bed, it might have been just fast enough – but there was no point in dwelling on what-ifs. For all Togami knew, the mastermind had resealed the door immediately after Ogami had broken it, and this was all a ploy to make them suffer.

Well, he wasn’t going to give the mastermind the satisfaction of seeing that he’d been disconcerted. “Fine,” he said, stalking past Monokuma and heading back down the hall. “Then I won’t waste any more of my time here.”

“Oh? You have somewhere else to be? Or do you have a strict schedule of moping to get back to?”

The innocent-sounding questions stopped Togami in his tracks, and he spun around to pin the bear with the most vicious look he could muster. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Monokuma gasped, covering his mouth with both paws. “Oops, was it supposed to be a secret? Well, don’t worry! I’ll be extra careful to save all the camera footage from this morning in a beary safe place!” He threw his head back and laughed.

Togami’s stomach heaved, and he had to swallow hard against the bile rising in his throat at the thought of the mastermind watching the moment when Naegi had broken his heart. Experiencing it had been bad enough when he’d thought they’d been alone – but knowing that an enemy had been observing him at that moment of painful weakness made him want to scream.

“I guess it’s just another case of a whirlwind high school romance ending in tears,” Monokuma went on, shaking his head in a mockery of sympathy. “Well, if you need a shoulder to cry on, all you have to do is ask!”

Shut up!” Togami snarled, cheeks flushing a burning scarlet at the realization that the mastermind had also seen his tears. He’d rarely cried in his life, not since he was a child, and never in front of anyone else – but leaving Naegi had brought him to it. And now the mastermind had another weapon to use against him.

“Oh, my, such violence!” Monokuma drew back as if Togami had frightened him. “I’m starting to worry for the sanctity of my lovely fur!” He gasped. “Is the pain of losing your high school sweetheart too much to bear? Are you going to turn to delinquency and rule-breaking?”

“Don’t be stupid.” Togami scowled at the bear, preparing to leave again. “I don’t know why I bothered. Nothing you say is ever worth listening to.”

“Is that so? Then I guess you don’t want to hear any secrets I came to tell you, do you?”

Togami froze at those tantalizing words. It was a trap – he knew it had to be a trap, the mastermind would never just share information to be helpful – but he had to ask. “What secrets?”

Monokuma grinned. “You came here to sneak into the headmaster’s office, right? So you must be curious about what’s inside!”

“Are you going to let me in?” Togami asked.

“After all the trouble I took to lock it up? No way!” Monokuma said. “But since you’ve had such a bad day already, I just couldn’t resist giving you a little something to turn your frown upside down!”

Togami stared at the bear’s beaming face, dread beginning to curdle through him at the possibilities of what he might be about to say. It hadn’t taken him long to realize that the more Monokuma smiled, the worse something was going to be – and right now, Monokuma was wearing one of his widest grins.

But as horrible as whatever was coming might be, it would be better to know. Whatever Monokuma was planning, Togami at least wanted to be able to see it coming.

“All right,” Togami said at last, crossing his arms. “What is it?”

“I know it was very upsetting for all of you to find out that your beloved headmaster’s office was locked,” Monokuma said, sighing heavily. “But it couldn’t be helped! After all, even the most approachable and friendly headmaster needs to keep a few things away from a school full of curious students – things that aren’t conducive to a healthy and fulfilling school life!”

“What kind of things?” Togami asked, frowning as he considered the possibilities.

“Oh, the usual things – barrels of honey, picnic baskets, maps for the best hibernation spots,” Monokuma said.

Togami shook his head. “Right. I should have expected that kind of nonsense.”

“You’re not interested in the delicious varieties of honey your headmaster keeps behind lock and key?” Monokuma asked. “Oh, well, can’t be helped – some people just don’t have very refined palates. I guess there’s really only one thing from that office that would interest a one-track mind like yours.”

Now they were getting somewhere. “And that is?” Togami prompted.

Monokuma grinned, eyes gleaming. “A weapon.”

Togami stared at the bear, waiting a long moment to see if he was going to elaborate. “And?”

“Huh? That’s not enough?” Monokuma asked, shocked.

“There have been weapons all over this school since we arrived,” Togami said, rolling his eyes. “What do I care if there’s one more?”

“Huh. I thought you’d be more interested.” Monokuma shook his head glumly. “I guess even the most dangerous weapon in the entire school isn’t enough to distract you from your broken heart – not even if it gives the wielder the ability to secretly kill everyone!”

“That does sound dangerous,” Togami said, making his disinterest in the subject clear. “It’s a good thing you went to so much effort to seal it away.”

“Oh – did I forget to mention that part?” Monokuma tilted his head with an innocent smile. “It wasn’t in the office when I sealed the door. It’s gone missing.” And with a last wild burst of laughter, the bear disappeared, leaving Togami to stare at the sealed office in growing horror.

Chapter Text

If Naegi hadn’t known that skipping the breakfast meeting would worry the other students, he might have let himself collapse back into bed and the temporary relief of sleep. His limbs still felt leaden from exhaustion, even after a full night of rest – it would be easy to sleep through the day and give himself the illusion this had been nothing more than an awful dream.

But he knew that wasn’t true, and pretending otherwise would only make it worse when reality set in. The room key clutched in his hand was more than proof of that.

When he’d heard the doorbell ring, he’d had a brief, awful moment when he’d believed that Togami had come back – that he’d regretted leaving so quickly and was willing to listen to Naegi’s explanations after all. In the long moments since Togami had left, the things he’d wanted to say had run unstoppably through Naegi’s head, things that explained that he’d never meant to hurt the other boy so badly. Hurting Togami was the last thing Naegi had ever wanted to do, and he’d thought that maybe, maybe he’d been given the chance to tell him so.

And then, after a confused moment of rattling a locked knob, the door had suddenly opened – and Naegi had understood. Togami hadn’t wanted to see Naegi after all. He’d just wanted to return the only thing of Naegi’s in his possession – Naegi’s room key. Naegi hadn’t even realized Togami had still had it – that he’d kept it after helping Naegi last night. And now he’d returned it, as if to say that he was washing his hands of Naegi. He couldn’t even be bothered to return it to Naegi’s face – he’d left the key dangling from the lock and run off before Naegi could even catch a glimpse of him.

Just looking at the key now made Naegi feel sick from how badly he’d handled everything. And the worst part was that he still wasn’t sure what else he could have done. He didn’t want Togami to give up on attempting to escape just because of Naegi. How could either of them ever live with themselves if they really did end up stuck here because of each other? That would poison everything between them, even more surely than the drug on Fukawa’s needles. They would have come to hate each other in the end, if they’d let that happen.

But Togami hated him now, anyway.

Naegi turned away from the key, trying to put that thought out of his mind. He didn’t know if it was really that bad, not for sure. Togami might have avoided Naegi when he’d returned the key, but that didn’t mean he’d keep doing it forever. Naegi was sure that given the chance, he could explain to Togami just what he’d really meant. He refused to let himself believe that everything they’d shared had been broken beyond repair.

Instead of dwelling on those depressing thoughts, Naegi made his way over towards the bathroom, using the wall to support his slow, trembling steps. He didn’t have much longer to get ready if he wanted to make it to the breakfast meeting.

With his head spinning already from his trip across the room to the door, Naegi moved as carefully as he could while preparing for the day. He made it through his shower by clutching hard at the door every time the steam overwhelmed his perspective and made the room tilt alarmingly, and he felt rather proud of the fact as he stumbled out of the bathroom. He was fine, just like he’d insisted to Togami, and he wished the other boy were here so he could show him.

When Naegi finally managed to drag himself out of his room, it was approaching the time that the breakfast meeting usually ended, but he was pretty sure it wouldn’t be over just yet. He should still be able to catch the others before they scattered. And – a burst of optimism struck him – and maybe Togami would even be there! He’d been attending the breakfast meetings lately, so it wouldn’t be impossible. And if he were, then maybe – just maybe he’d let Naegi talk to him.

But when Naegi finally walked through the cafeteria doors, the only person he saw inside was Kirigiri, sipping a cup of tea and watching the clock. A wave of disappointment washed through him at the mostly empty room – but he supposed he shouldn’t have let himself expect anything else. Togami obviously wanted to avoid him, after all. Why would he show up somewhere that he knew Naegi would be?

But that didn’t explain where the others were. Naegi looked around the room again, carefully, making sure he hadn’t missed Jill lurking in a corner or Ogami hidden back in the kitchen – but no. Other than Kirigiri, the room was empty.

She looked up as he made his way slowly across the room to drop into the seat across the table from her. The exertion left him a little winded, and he could see her watching as he tried to catch his breath.

“I’d thought you might be feeling better this morning,” Kirigiri said at last, setting her teacup down with a faint click.

“I am,” Naegi assured her, the words coming out more breathlessly than he’d intended. “I’m much better today.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Appearances are deceiving, then.”

“So – where are the others?” Naegi asked, frowning around the room. “How come you’re the only one here?”

“I was about to ask you the same question,” Kirigiri said, leaning back in her seat. “Your knight in shining armor seems to be falling down on the job.”

Naegi couldn’t stop himself from paling at the reference to Togami. He should have been prepared for the question – but it hadn’t even occurred to him that he might need to explain what had happened. After Kirigiri had finally relented on the separation issue, of course she’d have expected them to be together again. Naturally she’d have questions at the sight of Naegi all by himself. But the thought of answering, of explaining why Togami wasn’t at his side, made Naegi’s stomach twist.

Kirigiri watched him as he groped uselessly for an explanation, a slight frown on her lips. “I see.” She shook her head. “Well, I haven’t seen him since last night. You’re the first one to arrive here this morning.”

“What? The first?” His own worries flew out of Naegi’s mind as he realized what Kirigiri was saying. “You mean Jill and Ogami haven’t shown up yet, either?”

“That’s right,” Kirigiri said. “I was going to wait a few more minutes before checking doors.” She gave him a faint smile. “I suppose if you’re here, that’s one less room I need to check.”

Naegi was starting to get a bad feeling about this. He didn’t remember much of that elevator ride back up from the fourth trial ground, but he knew that both Ogami and Jill had been in bad shape after the executions. And at the end, when Ogami had been explaining why she’d been willing to break rules, she’d said… she’d admitted…

“We shouldn’t wait any longer,” Naegi said, forcing himself back to his feet despite the way it made his vision blur. “We should check on them now!”

“Are you sure?” Kirigiri asked, eyeing him dubiously as she got to her feet. “I could go, and you could stay here and try to rest. Eating something might make you feel better – at least some tea.”

The thought of food made Naegi’s stomach roil. “I can’t think about that now,” he said. “Not until we’ve seen that they’re okay.”

Kirigiri shrugged. “All right, then. Try to keep up.” She headed out the cafeteria doors at her usual brisk pace, leaving Naegi to follow as best he could.

Chapter Text

As Naegi left the cafeteria, he could see Kirigiri in the dormitory hallway, already ringing the bell outside Jill’s room. But by the time Naegi made it to her side, there was still no answer.

Kirigiri looked at him and shrugged. “She may have left already.”

Naegi nodded. He might be worried about Jill, after how unusually quiet he remembered her being last night, but she wasn’t his main concern. Not after everything Ogami had said.

As Naegi moved past Jill’s door to continue down the hall, a sense of déjá vu struck him. He, Kirigiri, and Togami had followed this exact path yesterday morning, when they’d rushed out to check on the students who hadn’t shown up for the breakfast meeting. Even Kirigiri had seemed unsettled as she’d tried door after door with no response – or no, even before that, when something had driven her into the cafeteria to begin her hasty search. Naegi just prayed that this hunt for missing students didn’t end as horribly as yesterday’s had.

Again, Kirigiri reached the door long before Naegi could, and he held his breath as she pressed the bell, hurrying towards her as quickly as he could. But the sound of his footsteps in the empty hall only reinforced the silence around them as the door remained stubbornly closed.

“Maybe she didn’t hear,” Naegi said, reaching out to push the bell again, longer and harder than Kirigiri had.

Kirigiri raised an eyebrow at him. “You seem very concerned.”

“Aren’t you?” Naegi said, Ogami’s words echoing in his mind. Dead, I could protect you all. “We shouldn’t have left her alone, not after what happened to Asahina.”

He reached out, intending to rattle the doorknob – but to his surprise, it turned easily under his hand. Had it not been locked? Or – Naegi remembered closing the door behind him after the investigation had ended. He hadn’t locked it, and Togami had still had Ogami’s key. He must not have returned hers – and Naegi wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that, when Togami had made such a point of giving his back.

He pushed the door, letting it swing open on the dark room. The lights were off – did that mean Ogami wasn’t here after all? His legs ached already at the thought of needing to scour the entire school for her – but before he could do more than contemplate it, a shape moved in the darkness.

“What… are you doing here?” Ogami’s voice croaked, thick and raw from too many shed tears.

“We came to check on you,” Naegi said, squinting into the room to try to get a look at her. He couldn’t see much more than a silhouette standing against the far wall. “You didn’t come to the breakfast meeting. Are you okay?”

And then, with a small sigh of annoyance, Kirigiri reached past him to flick on the light switch, and the dark shape resolved itself into Ogami. The girl sat slumped against the far wall, looking like she might collapse if she didn’t have the wall holding her marginally upright. Even from across the room, Naegi could see the redness to her eyes, the smudged streaks of tear tracks cutting down her face. She hadn’t even tried to clean up after the trial, her skin and clothes still grimy with blood and dirt from the firing squad.

As much as Ogami’s broken appearance hurt to see, Naegi couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. She was still alive. She might be unhappy and grieving for her best friend, but she hadn’t done anything drastic about it, not yet.

“Am I okay?” Ogami echoed Naegi’s question. “That’s what you’re worried about?”

“Well, yes,” Naegi said. “Yesterday – it was awful for everyone. You shouldn’t be alone after something like that.”

“No. You’re wrong,” Ogami said, her eyes like dark holes in her face as she stared at Naegi. “I should be alone. None of you should come near me.”

“That’s not –”

“Four people are dead because of me,” Ogami cut him off sharply, her voice rasping like she’d had to force the words from a closed throat.

“None of that was your fault!” Naegi said, eyes widening at the idea.

“Wasn’t it?” Ogami said. “You were all starting to work together – until I sparked the division among you that led to all of this. None of this would have happened if you’d all been able to work as a united front.”

“You can’t know that,” Naegi said, taking a few steps into the room. She hadn’t invited him, but he thought that this kind of conversation might be easier if they weren’t straining to speak from opposite sides of the room. “The mastermind would probably just have tried to use something else against us, and it could have been just as awful.”

“But we’ll never know,” Ogami said. “Because they used me.” Her shoulders heaved in a long, shuddering sob. “I should have killed myself the moment I chose to go against the mastermind.”

“What?” Naegi stared at her, horror hitting him like ice. She couldn’t really think that, could she? “Don’t say things like that! Killing yourself wouldn’t have made anything better – it would have just let the mastermind win!”

“And what do you think they’ve done now?” Ogami said, her face twisting with a gruesome laugh that chilled Naegi to the bone. “I thought that I could help you all – that I could give my life to protect you from the evil I’d been aiding. I thought I could fight. But I was wrong. This isn’t a battle, and we aren’t up against an enemy that we can beat. The mastermind will take everything from us, and there’s nothing we can do to stop them.”

“That isn’t true,” Naegi insisted. “If you just give up like that now, then it’s like saying that all the friends we’ve lost died for nothing!”

“They did die for nothing!” Ogami shouted, surging to her feet. “Don’t you understand? Every bond we make, every friendship we form, every time we choose to trust – those are what the mastermind is using to destroy us!”

Naegi rocked back at the words, unable to deny their painful truth. Ogami was right – every murder they’d seen so far had involved someone’s trust being betrayed. He’d let Maizono use his warm feelings towards her to manipulate him. Fujisaki had gone to meet Owada alone in the middle of the night. Yamada had believed Celeste’s lies unquestioningly. Jill had thought that her alter ego wouldn’t act against her. Trust had been woven into each of the murders, a stark warning against getting too close to anyone else.

And not just the murders. Looking at Ogami’s face, Naegi knew what she had to be thinking about. Asahina had been desperate to talk to her best friend – desperate enough to defy Monokuma’s rules. And that act of friendship had been the mastermind’s excuse for murdering her.

“What happened to Asahina was the mastermind’s fault,” Naegi said fiercely, looking up into Ogami’s eyes. “They’re the one who killed her. Not you.”

But Ogami just shook her head. “It doesn’t make a difference anymore.” She bowed her head, the sudden burst of fury draining out of her. “All she wanted was a few minutes to talk to me – and now I’ll never talk to her again.”

“Ogami…” Naegi reached out a hesitant hand to touch her shoulder in reassurance.

“Don’t.” She shook him off immediately. “Just – don’t say anything to me. Not right now. Just get out.”

Naegi bit his lip. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

“What?” Ogami looked up at him sharply, the look dark enough to make Naegi’s insides quail.

But he didn’t dare give in – not if what he was afraid of might be true.

“I don’t think you should be alone right now,” Naegi said. “Not when you’re so upset.”

Ogami stared at him for a long moment. “You think I’m going to kill myself.” She shook her head. “You’ll be better off if I do.”

“Don’t say things like that!” Naegi said. “Asahina wouldn’t have wanted you to!”

“You can’t possibly know what she would have wanted!” Ogami snarled. “She’s dead. She’s dead, and it should have been me!”

“It shouldn’t have been anybody!”

But even as he said the words, Naegi could see that he was talking to closed ears. Ogami’s grief was too powerful for him to break through right now. Maybe if he’d said this to her after giving her time to recover, she might have been more receptive – but if he waited to convince her, he might never get the chance at all.

If his words weren’t helping, maybe someone else’s would. Naegi turned to look back to the door, where Kirigiri still stood watching the exchange. He didn’t know what to say to her that wouldn’t make Ogami more upset to hear, so he just had to hope that she could understand his plea for help from his face. After all, she’d never had trouble seeing through him before.

Kirigiri tilted her head, looking at him for a long moment – and then she shrugged and looked past him to Ogami. “Killing yourself would be very troublesome for the rest of us.”

Naegi’s jaw dropped at Kirigiri’s blunt statement. How could she say something so coldhearted to a grieving girl who’d been threatening suicide?

But as he looked back at Ogami, some of the heartache clouding her eyes seemed to have faded a bit in the shock of Kirigiri’s words. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me.” Kirigiri crossed her arms. “The mastermind would certainly require us to investigate and hold another trial. We would have to prove that you genuinely had been the one to kill yourself – and then deal with the repercussions.”

Ogami frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“The true culprit is the person who planned the crime,” Kirigiri said. “That’s the rule. So tell me – what happens if the culprit herself is already dead?”

“There wouldn’t be anyone to execute,” Ogami said.

“Maybe.” Kirigiri shrugged. “Or maybe the mastermind would choose the next best thing – the person who seems to be driving you to it.” Her gaze slid over to Naegi.

“That –” Ogami went even paler than before. “That wouldn’t –”

“Are you really going to pretend that you understand what the mastermind will do?”

Ogami flinched at the cruel reminder of her belief that she, not Asahina, would be the one executed for the rule-breaking.

Kirigiri nodded sharply. “All right, then. I think that’s enough.” She turned on her heel and left the room.

Naegi looked from Kirigiri’s retreating back to Ogami’s slumped shoulders. “I –”

“You win,” Ogami said, her words low and bitter. “Are you happy now? You win. I won’t – do anything. Not now.”

“Ogami – I’m sorry,” Naegi said desperately. “I didn’t think she’d say something like –”

“It doesn’t matter,” Ogami interrupted, turning away. “Nothing matters anymore. Just go.”

Naegi hesitated – but Ogami did seem to have been convinced by Kirigiri’s argument. And with the way that Kirigiri had used him to manipulate the other girl, he could understand why she might not want him in the room any longer. He nodded and turned for the door.

Just before leaving, he looked back over his shoulder. Ogami stood at the corner of her bed, staring down at the clean, unblemished sheets, so different from the blood-stained mess that had been there yesterday. One of her hands rested on the crisp white pillow where Asahina had lain.

“I’m sorry,” Naegi said, one last time. “And – I’m glad you aren’t dead.”

He closed the door behind him as he left, leaving Ogami alone with her grief.

Chapter Text

When Naegi left Ogami’s room, he expected to see an empty corridor – but to his surprise, Kirigiri stood leaning against the wall just around the corner. As soon as the door had closed, she fell into step beside him, not saying a word as she slowed her pace to his tired steps down the hall.

Naegi frowned to himself as he considered the girl beside him. It had definitely been a huge relief when she’d decided not to be angry with him any longer. Arguing with his friends had always given him a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, one that had only gotten more intense now that they were trapped in this killing game. And now, with Togami angry at him, it was nice to have at least one person still on his side.

But as much as he hated the idea of starting another fight with Kirigiri right on the heels of their last one, he didn’t think he could just stay quiet. He stopped his slow progress, just before they passed through the gate to the other half of the first floor, and looked up at Kirigiri’s impassive face.

“Why did you say all those awful things to Ogami?”

Kirigiri stopped as well, a faint frown crossing her face as she looked down at him. She stared at him silently for so long that he started to think that she wasn’t going to answer. Maybe he really had made her angry again, and she was about to storm off without a word like she’d done in the music room when he’d refused to tell her about seeing Ogami and Monokuma fighting.

But before he could think of a way to soften the words he’d already spoken, she said, “Because one of us had to say something, and you wouldn’t.”

Naegi hadn’t expected the implied accusation in her reply. “Of course I wouldn’t have said anything like that! She was grieving, and you made her feel worse!”

“Maybe,” Kirigiri said. “But I was concerned with her actions, not her feelings. If a few words are all it takes to stop her from doing something stupid, would you want me to hesitate?”

“You didn’t see how she looked after you left,” Naegi said, the defeat on Ogami’s face flashing before his eyes. “She just gave up!”

“She’d done that already,” Kirigiri countered. “Even when Ogami claimed she wanted to fight, she intended to do so by letting herself be killed. When she struck against the mastermind, she meant for it to end with suicide. And even if she had the best of intentions, I don’t think that the mastermind would let her die a martyr. They’d twist her death and turn it against us somehow – and we can’t afford to give the mastermind that kind of weapon at this point.”

“So – you really think that what you said to Ogami is true?” Naegi asked. “You think that the mastermind would try to say that – that I was the culprit? That I drove her to it?”

An involuntary shudder rocked through him at the thought, like something cold and slimy had dropped unexpectedly against the back of his neck. If Ogami had killed herself after talking to him – well, it would be all too easy to blame himself for something like that.

But Kirigiri shook her head. “Not that specifically. Your words certainly weren’t having a very positive effect, considering her mental state – but that alone wouldn’t make you a culprit. You would have had to intend to drive her to suicide, and that would be extremely difficult for even the mastermind to prove. I just used it as an example that might get through to her.”

“So you don’t think it’s true.” Naegi frowned. “You used me as your example because you thought it would upset Ogami the most, even though it was a lie. I – I don’t think I like that you did that.”

Kirigiri gave him another long look at that, and Naegi wished forlornly that he could read at least a little of her expressions. Her intense scrutiny left him pinned like a bug on a microscope, all his thoughts and emotions plain for her to pick apart – but he couldn’t tell anything about her in turn, not unless she let him. Had his words made her angry, or was she softening towards his arguments? Nothing in her expression gave him a hint either way.

“Some lies aren’t meant to deceive,” Kirigiri said at last. “Sometimes a smaller lie can reveal a bigger truth.”

Naegi frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I didn’t want Ogami to kill herself,” Kirigiri said. “Not even if she herself believes she wants to do it. And so I said what I had to at the time. If my methods were unduly cruel, I can apologize later.”

Naegi nodded slowly. “I think you should – and I will, too, if you think that what I was saying was only making things worse. We can’t let her feel like she’s alone, not after Asahina.”

“All right,” Kirigiri agreed with an indifferent shrug. “But not until she’s managed to get ahold of herself again.” She turned back to the hall. “And there’s something else we need to address before we worry about that.”

Naegi wasn’t entirely sure that the issue was resolved – but it sounded like Kirigiri had said everything she intended to say on the subject. “You mean – exploring the rest of the school?”

“That’s right.” Kirigiri started walking again, and Naegi had to strain to keep up even though she slowed her pace to little more than a stroll. “The fourth floor had a blocked set of stairs, so I think we can assume there’s a new area available to us again.”

“Right.” Naegi tried not to sigh at the thought of climbing all the way up the many flights of stairs to the newly-opened fifth floor.

When they reached the first floor’s stairway entrance, Kirigiri paused. “If you aren’t up to it, perhaps you should wait down here.”

It was a tempting thought. Even that first staircase seemed to loom like an unscalable mountain. And really, was there even anything that he could find up there that would be worth the exhaustion he knew he’d be inflicting on himself for trying to climb it? It would only be new murder methods and questions without answers, if the last four floors were anything to go by.

But – no. Naegi shook himself. He couldn’t let himself think that way. If he just decided that there wouldn’t be anything worthwhile and gave up without looking, then he’d definitely never find anything. He couldn’t stop trying – especially not when Ogami was so close to breaking from despair.

And besides, if there really was a new area of the school open, then he was sure that Togami would already be up there, investigating it for any useful information. When Togami had wanted to avoid him in the past, Naegi hadn’t been able to find the heir at all – but now, at least, he had a pretty good idea of where Togami might be. Maybe if he did manage to make it up to the fifth floor, he’d be able to find an opportunity to talk to the other boy, just for a minute or two.

Naegi looked back at Kirigiri, setting his shoulders with determination. “I don’t want to wait,” he told her, trying to sound as confident as he could.

She shrugged. “All right, then.”

Without another word, she began climbing the stairs, leaving Naegi to trail behind.

Chapter Text

Naegi hadn’t realized that climbing the masses of stairs with Kirigiri would be so different from doing the same thing when Togami was the one at his side. It wasn’t that Kirigiri was being unkind about the fact that he couldn’t move fast at the moment – she even slowed her usual brisk pace enough that he could keep up, if he worked at it.

But that was just it – he was the one straining to keep up with her, while her occasional glances at the upper floors betrayed an impatience she wasn’t speaking aloud. He would have liked to move faster so that he didn’t waste so much of Kirigiri’s time, especially when she was being nice enough to walk with him – but after several flights of stairs, every step was beginning to make his head whirl as dizzily as it had the night before. He really could have used a break to catch his breath and let the dizziness subside a little, but Kirigiri’s steps never so much as paused.

Her lack of reaction to his weakened physical state only highlighted just how gentle Togami had been with him. When the other boy had matched his pace to Naegi’s, it had felt like they were walking together, just at an unusually slow pace, not like Naegi was holding him back from somewhere else he wanted to be. Togami had never once given Naegi the impression that he’d wanted to be anywhere other than by Naegi’s side. He’d paid more attention to Naegi’s health than Naegi himself had, slowing when Naegi’s footsteps faltered and pausing before Naegi ever had to ask for breaks. He’d checked Naegi’s head injury, made him tea, even held him upright and all but carried him to his room.

And Naegi hadn’t appreciated any of it. He felt his steps slow even more than they had been as harsh guilt weighed down on him. Togami must have offered up a hundred tiny gestures of kindness, each one so small as to be nearly invisible, but together comprising a softness that Naegi never would have expected the harsh-tongued heir to possess. Togami had certainly never shown that side of himself to anyone else. Naegi hadn’t even understood how much Togami had given him, freely and without hesitation. Was it any wonder the other boy had gotten fed up and left?

Well, he knew now, and the understanding was an almost physical pressure at his throat, as all the words of gratitude and returned affection begged to be spoken. That was just one more reason to add to the long list of why he had to try to talk to Togami and fix things as soon as he could. He couldn’t let Togami go another minute longer than necessary believing that Naegi hadn’t appreciated everything he’d done. Naegi should never have let these things go so long unspoken in the first place.

But before he could do anything like that, Naegi had to find the other boy – and that meant searching the newly-unlocked fifth floor. And as much as Naegi wanted to see Togami again, to throw his arms around the other boy and babble out all his explanations and apologies and affections in a mad rush that the heir couldn’t avoid or ignore – he knew he couldn’t focus on that alone. Exploring the new area was important, too, especially now that there were so few students left to search. If there were any secrets hidden on the new floor, he had to be alert enough to spot them.

So as Naegi finally struggled up to the top of the final staircase, he did his best to put the aching mess of his feelings for Togami out of his mind. It didn’t entirely work, not when the awareness that Togami wasn’t beside him gnawed constantly at the edge of his thoughts – but maybe if he pretended long enough, he’d be able to convince himself.

Stepping out of the stairway and onto the fifth floor, Naegi shivered at the chill in the air. It wasn’t just the exhaustion or the unsettling perspective shifts from the sudden bursts of dizziness – there was something different about this floor. Not that any of the new areas they’d found had been especially pleasant, but something about this particular floor sent unease prickling across the back of Naegi’s neck.

“I – I don’t think I like this floor,” Naegi said, pulling his hoodie and jacket tighter around him. It didn’t help much, though – the icy shivers snaking through him came from somewhere deeper than the air temperature. “This isn’t going to be a good place.”

“Probably not,” Kirigiri said, shrugging. “None of what we’ve found so far has been good.”

She didn’t seem to be taking his concerns very seriously, heading towards a pair of classroom doors without much hesitation. But Naegi supposed there wasn’t much she could do, even if she felt the same sense of fear permeating the area. The only options they had were turning back or pressing on – and turning back wouldn’t get rid of whatever dark secrets this floor held.

The first door turned out to be nothing more than an empty classroom, with blotchy black and white walls and more absurd chalk art on the board. Kirigiri gave it a cursory glance before letting the door swing shut again, not even bothering to go inside.

“You don’t want to look at it?” Naegi asked, following her to the adjacent classroom door.

“I’ll come back to do that once I’ve gotten an overview of the entire area.” Kirigiri smiled faintly. “I doubt you’d be up to inspecting the different rooms in the detail I generally use.”

Naegi had to admit she was probably right on that score, so he didn’t object as she opened the second classroom. This one didn’t look much different from the first. The only differences were the red and white zebra-print wallpaper and the chalk pictures scribbled on the board.

“Are those supposed to be us?” Naegi asked, squinting at the blackboard before Kirigiri could close the door on the room. The blackboard had a huge picture of a laughing Monokuma in the center, surrounded by three figures running in different directions – a long-haired girl, a boy with messy brown hair, and a boy with rectangular glasses. The words “I’m going to punish you!” were scrawled across the top of the board.

“Presumably.” Kirigiri rolled her eyes. “More childish taunts. I plan to ignore them.”

“Yeah.” Naegi gave the board one last glance before Kirigiri closed the door on it, his eyes lingering on the expressions of cartoonish terror on the figures’ faces. Childish or not, that picture gave him a bad feeling. Every minute they spent on this floor only made him more nervous about what else they might find here.

After leaving the classrooms, Kirigiri turned left down the hall, passing a few central displays of greenery. None of the other floors had had any kind of decoration, let alone something that would take as much attention as actual plants. Naegi gave those areas a wide berth as he trailed after Kirigiri.

When the hall split again, she took another left, towards a set of large sliding doors. Naegi glanced up at the sign above them, labeling the room a dojo, just before Kirigiri opened the doors and headed inside.

Naegi stopped short when he entered, staring around in shock at the graceful trees, the pink cherry blossom petals drifting in the wind, and the facsimile of a night sky arcing above them. With the lingering sense of dread he’d gotten as he’d walked through the halls, he certainly hadn’t expected to come across a room like this. The peaceful loveliness of the space felt wrong when held up against the atmosphere outside the doors, like seeing a rainbow arc across the sky above a fatal car wreck.

He wouldn’t have minded closing the door and leaving this unsettling room behind the way they’d moved swiftly past the others – but apparently Kirigiri felt that the dojo merited a more thorough investigation than the classrooms had. She walked inside and leaned over the display of armor on the left, inspecting it closely.

Naegi left her to it, heading out to give the trees a closer look. Were they actually real? He didn’t see how they could be, indoors with no access to the sun – but as he stood under the blooming branches, the delicate scent of cherry blossoms surrounded him. He reached out and ran a hand along a tree trunk, the bark realistically rough under his fingers. The trees didn’t seem artificial – but on the other hand, real cherry blossom trees wouldn’t be blooming at this time of year, would they?

The clunk of a closing door drew Naegi’s attention back to where Kirigiri was investigating. She’d moved across to the other side of the room and was now moving along the line of wooden lockers, opening each of them to glance quickly inside.

“Is there anything interesting in there?” Naegi asked, moving back towards her.

She closed the final locker in the row and shrugged. “Not much.” She turned away, looking around the room. “This room is quite elegant, isn’t it?”

Naegi blinked, looking from the weird cherry trees to the wall of archery targets to the row of lockers. “This is what you consider elegant…?”

Kirigiri looked away, appearing to be a little embarrassed. “I lived overseas for a long time, so this kind of Japanese-style scenery is refreshing.”

Naegi would have called it out of place, himself – but if Kirigiri found it pleasant, he didn’t see a point to arguing with her about it. “Do you want to stay here a while?”

She shook her head. “No. There are still other places to examine.”

This time, Kirigiri headed to the doors on the other side of the hall. As she pulled them open, a blast of wet heat hit Naegi in the face, entirely different from the chill of the rest of the floor. And as soon as he caught a glimpse of the room, he understood why. It wasn’t a room at all – it was a garden, full of lush green plants and bright tropical flowers.

And standing right in the middle of the room, staring up at a huge orange flower that towered in the middle of the garden, stood Genocide Jill, clutching a pair of bloody scissors in each hand.

Chapter Text

Naegi stared at Jill in shock, unable to process the contrast between the brightly-colored garden and the dark pressure emanating from the girl in the middle of it. Jill’s dark uniform had been shredded, sleeves sliced past the elbows and skirt torn into fluttering strips reaching so high up her thighs that Naegi would have turned pink – if it hadn’t been for the blood oozing down her limbs. The same blood glinted wetly from the tips of her scissors, and the sight of one fat drop of it falling to splatter on the ground broke Naegi out of his daze.

“Jill – what happened?” he called, taking a stumbling step forward. “Are you okay?”

At the sound of his voice, she whipped around, scissors whirling to point blade-first in his direction. Naegi stopped short, not quite daring to go any closer to the armed genocider.

“Am I okay?” Jill repeated, her voice far too bright and cheerful for a girl covered in blood. “You want to know if I’m okay? Man, you ask the most ridiculous questions, Makyutie – don’t I look like I’m okay?”

“Well – no, not really,” Naegi said slowly. “You’re – kind of bloody?”

“Oh, this stuff?” Jill raised an arm to inspect it, like she hadn’t even realized the blood was there. She ran a finger from the opposite hand across her arm with an almost puzzled air, before looking back up at him with a wide grin. “Don’t worry about that – it’s nothing to do with you!”

That wasn’t reassuring at all – not when a sudden, awful thought crossed Naegi’s mind. The blood on Jill’s arms and legs – the tears in her clothing, far too extensive to have been done by accident – the scissors in her hands, with blood on the blades proclaiming that they’d been used

Jill had even said it herself yesterday, during the trial – there was only one person she wanted to kill.

Nausea surged through Naegi’s body, sending the world spinning around him. His knees shook, going weak and watery, and if he hadn’t caught himself on the edge of the doorframe, he would have lost the ability to stand upright. He could hardly see the garden any longer as the colors bled sickeningly into one another. The only thing burned still and unmoving into his vision was the dark red of fresh blood on Jill’s hands, and the sight of it froze his breath in his throat.

And through the spinning world, he heard Kirigiri ask a question, her voice sounding like it came from very far away even though he knew she stood directly beside him. “That’s your own blood, isn’t it?”

Jill’s wild laughter rang through the air as Naegi’s vision began to clear again. “Mine? Is it mine? Well, it came gushing right on out of this body, so it looks like it’s gotta be, right? There’s not anyone else’s it can be – not anymore!”

So it was Jill’s blood after all, and not – not anyone else’s. An intense relief rushed through Naegi at the confirmation, so powerful that his hand shook where he clutched the doorframe. The blood on the scissors didn’t belong to Togami – wherever he was, however angry he might still be at Naegi, he was alive. That awful fight wouldn’t be the last time that Naegi ever saw him.

And hard on the heels of that thought, guilt twisted through him. How could that have been his first thoughts, when Jill had just said that she’d been injured? How could he have found anything good about the knowledge that one of his friends had been bleeding? That her blood was still wet on her scissors –

On her own scissors. Naegi forced his vision to snap back into focus at the thought, clenching his fists until his nails bit painfully into his palms, and he gave Jill a much closer look.

Now that he was paying attention, he could see that the blood trickling down her arms and legs hadn’t been splattered on her. Dozens of thin lines had been sliced into her skin, growing messier and deeper as they crawled down her thighs and up her arms. And the angles – Naegi might not have Kirigiri’s talent for examining bodies and understanding wounds, but even he could tell that Jill’s cuts were at the exact angle that would happen if she’d been the one to perform them.

“Jill…” Naegi said, slow horror creeping through him as he put the pieces together. “Jill… did you do that to yourself?”

Her answering grin twisted across her face, unsteady and off-kilter. “Didn’t hear anyone else offering.”

“But – why would you do something like that?” Naegi demanded. “You weren’t trying to – to –”

“None of those cuts could possibly be fatal,” Kirigiri cut him off, crossing her arms. “However, even the shallowest is deep enough to scar.”

“Always on the ball, aren’t you?” The look Jill shot in Kirigiri’s direction wasn’t entirely a positive one, despite her complimentary words.

“What are you talking about?” Naegi asked, looking from one girl to the other.

“They aren’t just cuts,” Kirigiri explained, not taking her eyes off Jill even as she addressed him. “They’re tally marks.”

“What?” Naegi’s gaze ran over all the marks on Jill’s arms and legs, dozens of them stretching out in row after row.

“It’s a common trick for serial killers,” Kirigiri said. “They like to keep track of their victims. Scarring her own body was risky, but no more so than the ones who keep a collection of mementos from the ones they’ve murdered.”

“But Jill hasn’t killed anyone,” Naegi protested, before rethinking that phrase. “Well – not lately.”

“Sure – not since yesterday!” Jill said. “That’s ages, right? What’s one night, when you really get down to it, huh? I mean, sometimes I’d fall asleep one night and wake up to find that days and days had just slipped away without me!”

Naegi frowned. “Are you talking about Hagakure?”

“That loser? Please! I’d have to take marks away from my tally if I wanted to include him,” Jill sneered.

“But who else –” And then another option occurred to Naegi. “Wait. Are you talking about Fukawa?”

“Give the boy a prize!” Jill twirled a pair of her scissors in his direction.

“But – that was the mastermind,” Naegi said. “You didn’t do anything to her. You weren’t even there!”

“Oh, no?” And suddenly, Jill bounded across the room to loom over Naegi, glaring right down into his eyes. “Tell me, then, if you’re so smart – where was I? You think I wasn’t there? You think I didn’t get tossed into a mental hospital and electrocuted? Well, who the fuck was it then?”

Naegi leaned back against the wall, glad he had the support against his back. The genocider’s eyes flashed red mere inches from his face, and he was alarmingly aware of the scissors spinning in each of her hands.

“It was Fukawa, wasn’t it?” he said, figuring that his best option was to answer her question as honestly as he could.

A pair of scissors smashed into the doorframe, less than an inch from his ear. “And what,” Jill went on, her voice low and dangerous, “have I told you about Gloomy?”

Naegi cast his mind frantically back through everything that Jill and Fukawa had ever said about their relationship to one another. They switched places – they were opposite personalities – they only shared emotions, not memories –

They shared emotions.

Naegi stared into Jill’s wild red eyes, understanding finally clicking into place for him. “You feel what she feels,” he said, voice trembling as the full horror of it sank in. “Which means – you felt her dying. The fear, the pain, the loneliness – whatever was going through her head, you would have felt all of it.”

“Oh, I like a guy who’s sharp,” Jill said, tongue curling out in front of Naegi’s face. “Lucky for you you’re not quite sharp enough for my tastes. Yeah, you bet I felt the whole death and dying sob fest Gloomy had going on – but more than that, you know what else I felt? You know what was going through her head?”

Jill leaned in close, hissing the words into Naegi’s ear. “How much she hated me.”

Chapter Text

Naegi stared up at Jill, looming over him with wild eyes and a smile bright enough to cut. Fukawa had hated her – was that true? He couldn’t say for sure, but Fukawa had certainly never expressed much affection for the murderous half of herself. And if that was how she felt, Jill would have known it.

What would it be like to have to cope with an existence like that? Naegi didn’t know exactly how Jill had come into being, but from everything she and Fukawa had said about it, Fukawa had been the original personality. Jill had been born from some dark part of Fukawa’s mind, only existing long enough to act on the desires Fukawa hadn’t been able to express. If what Jill said about it was true, then all her thoughts, feelings, and even her personality had been formed in response to Fukawa.

Would Jill have ever been able to interact with people on her own? Had she ever had the chance? She’d been so gleeful at the prospect of being allowed to wander around freely after the second trial had concluded and they’d all known about her existence – and when could she have had anything like that before this? She was a wanted serial killer, and the police report had already identified her as having multiple personalities. Any hint of Jill’s existence would have drawn suspicion to Fukawa immediately.

No, now that Naegi thought about it, he saw that Jill could never have had the opportunity to talk to others, not unless she’d been pretending to be Fukawa. Through however many years she’d existed, her only link to the rest of humanity would have been through her alter ego, the girl whose body and emotions she shared.

And now Fukawa was gone, ripping away the only other person who had consistently been in Jill’s life.

Naegi couldn’t even say for sure that Fukawa hadn’t died hating Jill. After all, Fukawa had been so lost to despair when she’d been erased, Naegi was horribly sure that she’d been furious at all of them at the time. And judging by everything she’d said about Jill, she hadn’t had any positive feelings towards her alter ego at all. If Jill said that Fukawa had hated her in those last moments – well, she was the one feeling the emotions. She was probably right.

But that awful ending didn’t have to eclipse everything else.

“I don’t think she hated you,” Naegi said, looking into Jill’s blood-red eyes. “Not really.”

“Yeah, right. Always got to be a sugar rush with you, doesn’t it?” Jill said, tongue curling close to Naegi’s cheek. “What do you think, would I get diabetes if I took a little taste?”

Naegi gritted his teeth and didn’t pull away, even as her tongue threatened to snake across his skin. “I’m serious. Monokuma’s executions – those bring out the worst in everyone. They’re meant to! But that doesn’t mean she hated you all along.”

“What, are you trying to cheer up a murderer now?” Jill laughed, and Naegi could feel her breath hot on his face. “Sorry, Macaroon, but the only thing that’ll get me going now is a nice rush of blood under my scissors!”

“So that’s why you cut yourself?” Naegi asked.

Jill’s expression changed as her eyes jerked over to her arm and the long line of tally marks stretching up. “No. I had to keep count.”

“Oh.” Naegi frowned, trying to follow along. “So wait – these are for yesterday? You mean all of them are for Fukawa? But – even if you want to count her – why would you need more than one?”

“Gotta count every time I kill someone, don’t I?” Jill said, shrugging. “That’s how I do it – the counting is the last thing I do, to seal the death off, like a nice little epitaph to remind me of a happy moment. So I have to do it, every time.” Her hand trembled around the scissors, clutching the metal so tightly her skin went white. “Every time I feel her screaming…”

She looked so uncertain in that moment, like the whole world was shaking around her, and it sent a wave of sympathy rushing through Naegi. Fukawa had been his friend, even if she’d died not knowing that he thought so. He couldn’t let the only part of her that lived on believe that she was equally alone. And so he gathered up his courage and reached up to place a comforting hand on her shoulder.

Jill immediately jerked away, scissors snapping along the edge of Naegi’s wrist as she retreated. “And what the hell is that supposed to be?” she snarled, putting some distance between them. “You think I need your pity, is that it? You think I’m sad and moping because Little Miss Gloomy left me high and dry? Well think again! I’m glad to be rid of that loser – she was nothing but a millstone around my neck, and without her dragging me down I’m free to embrace my gloriously murderous self to the max!”

“Really?” Naegi held his cut wrist to his chest, trying to use the edge of his jacket to put pressure on the wound before it could bleed too much. “Well – I just wanted you to know that if you do miss her, you’re not the only one.”

Jill’s hand lashed out, and Naegi heard a whistling sound beside his head. He turned to see a second pair of scissors embedded in the doorframe, a few strands of his hair drifting down from them. That had been even closer than the last.

Something wet trickled down his cheek. Naegi frowned, reaching up to touch it –

And pain seared hot and sharp along his cheekbone and over his ear, in the long line that Jill’s scissors had scored across his face. Black spots exploded at the edges of his vision, and Naegi found himself slumping back against the wall, gasping to breathe through the pain.

“I don’t miss her,” Jill’s voice hissed into his awareness. “I don’t care about her. And I definitely do not need her.” Blood red eyes burned in the center of Naegi’s wavering vision. “Say otherwise again, and you’ll lose more than a little blood.”

Naegi wanted to protest, but he couldn’t find the breath to say the words. By the time his vision had cleared, Jill had gone, leaving nothing behind but the two pairs of scissors still stuck in the wall beside his head. He reached up and tugged at one with his uninjured hand, but they might as well have been hammered in for all that he could budge them.

“Are you all right?”

Naegi looked up at Kirigiri as she peered at his face. “Yeah – I think so.” He would have wiped away the blood dripping down his cheek with the edge of his sleeve if Kirigiri hadn’t caught his arm before he could.

“Germs,” she said, giving his hoodie a pointed look. “You should go down to the nurse’s office and bandage that properly.”

Just the thought of facing all those flights of stairs again so soon after the first time made Naegi’s knees tremble in protest. And besides, he couldn’t go back already – not when he hadn’t even found Togami yet. This was still his best chance at knowing where the other boy would be, and he couldn’t give up on it so easily.

“Not yet,” Naegi said, hoping that his voice didn’t sound as shaky to Kirigiri as it did to him. “Not until we’ve finished checking the floor.”

“Hmm.” Kirigiri gave him a skeptical look. “Well, if you’re sure about it. We seem to be nearly done, anyway.” She pursed her lips. “But as soon as we’ve seen the rest of the area, you’re going to clean and treat that.”

“Sure,” Naegi agreed, relieved that she wasn’t planning to drag him downstairs immediately. Togami wouldn’t have been so easily convinced – he would have insisted that Naegi drop everything else, no matter how important, until he was certain that this new injury had been taken care of.

But Togami wasn’t here to object – that was the point. Naegi felt himself drooping at the thought of the other boy, and so he forced himself to put his imaginings of what Togami would have done out of his mind. Instead, he focused on following Kirigiri as she led the way out of the garden and towards the areas of the new floor that they hadn’t explored yet.

They passed the hallway back to the stairs and headed in the opposite direction. There was another door labeled 5-C tucked in a corner, but it looked like it was just going to be another of the identical classrooms to Naegi. Kirigiri seemed to think so too, heading past it and down a long, almost industrial-looking hallway.

As they walked, Naegi got the unsettling feeling that the lights were dimming around him. It didn’t seem to be true, at least not when he looked up to check the actual state of the lighting – but that didn’t stop the sensation of walking into the darkness.

Approaching the door sent a cold shiver down Naegi’s back as he realized that what he’d assumed was decoration was actually dripping white graffiti. Someone had painted the word RAW down one side of these doors – but since the paint looked like it was long dry, it couldn’t have been any of the students. They’d only gotten access to this area a few hours ago. Had the mastermind done it? If so, why would they bother? The sign above the door declared this room to be a Biology Lab – not exactly the sort of place Naegi would associate with that kind of graffiti.

When Kirigiri tried the door and found it locked, Naegi was almost relieved. Something about the writing on that door told him that whatever was beyond, he didn’t want to see it.

Kirigiri didn’t look anywhere near so pleased about it, though, her mouth twisting in a scowl. “Well, back to the last classroom, and then you’re going down to the nurse’s office,” she said, heading back the way they came.

Naegi sighed in disappointment as they headed back to that final classroom. He remembered how Togami had grumbled that the classrooms were boring when they’d explored the fourth floor together – it hardly seemed likely that Togami would be in there. Maybe he’d been mistaken that Togami would spend today searching the new area of the school – or maybe the other boy had spotted him and purposefully avoided him as they both searched the floor. Naegi wasn’t sure which would be worse.

As they approached the final classroom, a sudden sense of unease hit Naegi, startling him with its intensity. There was something here – something bad, something wrong

He opened his mouth to beg Kirigiri to stop – but before he could, she swung open the double doors.

And the sour stench of blood and death flooded out, choking its way down Naegi’s throat until he gagged from the foulness. Blackness flashed in and out of his vision as he gasped for breath, his sight flickering in and out as his coughing sent lances of pain through his injured face.

And in between the dizzying explosions of darkness and pain – he could almost see figures in the room, falling and bleeding out across the floor. Dizziness roared in his ears, and through it he could hear screaming, the desperate wails of voices that he almost knew. And in the center, always there at the root of it all – he could almost remember

Naegi sagged against the door, clutching at it in a desperate attempt to remain upright as the ground seemed to buck beneath his feet – but with the added pain from Jill’s cut to his hand, he couldn’t manage it. He lost his grip on the door, collapsing towards the ground –

Until a pair of strong arms caught him, giving him the strength and support not to fall apart as they lowered him gently to the floor. The familiar smell of fresh soap washed away the reek of corpses, letting him draw blessedly clean breaths. And when Naegi managed to open his eyes again, the ice-blue gaze peering anxiously down at him was the best thing he could imagine seeing.

And then Togami let go, leaving Naegi sitting on the floor in a heap as he straightened sharply. The cold mask from that morning settled back over his features, as if the concern on his face had never been there, and he turned to Kirigiri with a freezing glare.

“What the hell did you do?”

Chapter Text

Naegi sat on the floor trying to catch his breath as he looked up at the two students glaring at one another from either side of him. Togami stood in front of the classroom door, just a step beyond Naegi’s reach – though from the distance in his expression, he might as well have been across the room. Togami seemed like he was barely paying attention to Naegi at all, his eyes locked intently on Kirigiri like he expected her to pull a weapon.

She, on the other hand, looked completely unfazed by the glare being directed her way. She crossed her arms and met Togami’s eyes with a faint smile, as calm as if they’d just stopped to chat after meeting in the dorms.

“What makes you think I did anything?” she asked, raising one eyebrow in Togami’s direction.

Togami curled his lip in contempt. “Don’t try to play games with me. He has blood on his face!”

Naegi’s hand flew involuntarily to the cut on his face, wincing as the touch sent another burst of pain through his cheek. When he yanked his hand back, his fingers came away red – the cut was still oozing. Naegi grimaced. Maybe he should have listened to Kirigiri and cleaned it up before doing anything else, if it was going to upset Togami so much.

But then again, if Togami was upset by the sight – then that meant he still cared, didn’t it? It wasn’t that Naegi liked that Togami was unhappy – but if the sight of another wound made him angry, then maybe he hadn’t completely given up on Naegi after all, in spite of what he’d said as he’d walked out of Naegi’s room that morning.

“And you assume the blood is my doing?” Kirigiri asked, a hint of a mocking smile dancing at her lips. “That’s quite an assumption. I’d ask if you have any proof to back it up – but you would have had to be around to get that.”

“I don’t need to prove anything,” Togami snapped. “Not when you do this every time. Three repetitions makes a pattern – a very suspicious one.”

“But she’s telling the truth,” Naegi said, trying to interrupt the argument before it could escalate any further. “Kirigiri didn’t have anything to do with this.”

He might as well not have said anything. Togami didn’t so much as glance in Naegi’s direction, his only reaction to the words a faint twitch of the muscles in his jaw.

“Every time this happens, it’s because you sent him into danger in your place,” Togami said, eyes fixed on Kirigiri. “So let’s hear it – just what kind of idiocy were you trying to do this time?”

“I was investigating,” Kirigiri said. “You might recall the concept if you think back.” She stepped forward, brushing past him as she headed into the ruined classroom, her face not showing so much as a flicker of shock in response to the horrors within. “And I intend to continue.” She disappeared into the room, leaving the two boys alone in the corridor.

Naegi could see Togami preparing to either leave or go after her, and he knew he had to speak up before the other boy could.

“Wait – don’t go yet!” He braced his hand against the wall and tried to lever himself to a standing position, so that Togami couldn’t so easily look past him. “Please – I want to talk to you.”

Togami raised an eyebrow at him, his expression dauntingly cold – but at least he didn’t walk off in response. Naegi decided to count that as a positive sign.

“I wanted to explain what I meant earlier,” Naegi said, staring earnestly up into Togami’s eyes. “I don’t think you understood. It’s not that I don’t care about you – I do! That’s why I want to get out of here. I’d rather fight to have something good than just give up because we might lose it.”

“You’re accusing me of giving up?” Togami’s mouth tightened. “I never once said that I wanted to stay here. I want to get out of this place every bit as much as you do. I just intend to go about it sensibly, instead of your preferred tactic of jumping heedlessly into any danger that presents itself.”

“That’s not what I do,” Naegi protested.

“Oh, really? Then why is your face bleeding?” Togami demanded.

“That doesn’t have anything to do with this,” Naegi said. “I just said the wrong thing to Genocide Jill earlier, that’s all.”

“You always have a reason, don’t you?” Togami closed his eyes like he couldn’t stand to look at Naegi another second. “They didn’t mean to, or it was just an accident, or no one knew what would happen. It’s the same thing every time one of your precious friends gets you hurt, and you’ll never see it differently. You care too much about them all.”

Naegi didn’t miss the bitter emphasis on that word, even if he wasn’t quite sure what Togami meant by it. “I do care about my friends – of course I do. But it’s nothing like the way I feel about you. I can care about them and you – it isn’t a choice of one or the other!”

“Isn’t it?” Togami said, opening his eyes and raising his eyebrows. “I asked you to do one thing, and she asked you to do another. Sounds like a perfectly straightforward either-or decision to me.”

Naegi stared at him. “You think I’ve been choosing Kirigiri over you? That’s – that’s not it at all!”

“And yet here you are with her just hours after we argued,” Togami said, gesturing back at the classroom where Kirigiri was investigating.

That made Naegi frown. Togami might have some points in the rest of what he was saying, but that wasn’t fair at all. He glared at the other boy as anger began creeping up on him. “You don’t get to complain about that – not when you were the one who decided to walk out!”

“I’m not complaining.” Togami’s mouth twisted in disdain as he uttered the word. “I’m expressing justifiable unhappiness with your repeated insistence on making terrible decisions.”

“You mean because I won’t turn my back on Kirigiri and the others?” Naegi shook his head. “Well, if that’s it, then you’re right – I won’t. I’m not going to let you lock me up in a bubble because you think it might be safer. I’m not a child you have to take care of or a trophy you can keep hidden for yourself. If that’s what you think you want, then – then maybe you don’t care about me as much as you think you do.”

Togami glared at Naegi, hot fury burning away the icy mask he’d been trying to maintain. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

But Naegi could only shake his head. “If that’s what you want me to be – I can’t act like that. I won’t choose between you and everyone else.”

“If you cared enough, it wouldn’t be a choice,” Togami shot back.

The anger in Togami’s eyes scorched through Naegi – and almost as painful was the hurt he could see behind the anger. He’d done it again, hadn’t he? He’d told himself that hurting Togami was the last thing he’d wanted to do – and that was exactly what he’d done. How could he have done this?

How could he not? Naegi knew he couldn’t have said anything other than what he had, not when he believed it so firmly. Even ignoring the issue would be as good as lie at this point, when he knew how Togami felt about it. Maybe if he could have expressed himself better, or chosen different words, then he could have gotten through to the other boy – or then again, maybe Togami didn’t have it in him right now to hear what Naegi was trying to say.

Despite Naegi’s best efforts, one of the tears burning behind his eyes forced its way forward, trickling down his cheek to trace a line through the blood. Naegi reached up to wipe it hurriedly away, hoping Togami hadn’t noticed.

But of course someone so observant would have caught that. Togami’s expressed changed as he watched the tear fall. “Naegi…” He stopped, hesitating like he wasn’t sure what he wanted to say. A sliver of hope began to blossom in Naegi’s chest.

And then Togami shook his head, turning back towards the classroom. “Someone needs to make sure that girl isn’t causing trouble in there.” He headed back inside, leaving Naegi standing alone in the hallway, face damp with blood and tears.

Chapter Text

Togami strode into the ruined classroom, barely noticing the destruction around him. Despite his best efforts, all his thoughts were still centered on the boy standing pale and shaking outside the classroom doors.

He’d thought that he’d managed to put the miserable hurt of their argument that morning out of his head. Consciously dwelling on thoughts of Naegi had still been like stabbing knives straight through his chest – but if he just didn’t think about it, the hurt had dulled to something almost endurable. And this wreck of a classroom had been the perfect distraction, full of interesting possibilities and potential clues. He’d thrown himself into an investigation, putting any useless feelings very nearly out of his mind.

Until the door had opened and he’d seen Naegi standing at Kirigiri’s side, streaked with blood and on the verge of collapse. He’d moved on instinct, throwing himself across the room to stop Naegi from hitting the ground without actually deciding on the action.

If he’d had time to consider, he never would have done it – let Naegi deal with the consequences of his stupidity for once. Maybe a few extra bruises would have taught him to think a little harder.

But even as he formed the words to the harsh, cynical thought in his head, it felt hollow. Would he really have chosen to let Naegi be hurt if it was in his power to prevent it? Togami would have liked to say a clear, easy yes without any emotional encumbrances – but he couldn’t. Then again, he couldn’t say no, either. He didn’t know what he would have done, or what he would have wanted to do – and that uncertainty twisted through his gut like he’d swallowed a live snake.

It was intolerable – especially given the way Naegi had spoken to him afterwards. For someone who was oh so willing to bend over backwards trying to understand the others, he couldn’t be bothered to spare even a few seconds of thought for what Togami was thinking. To have the nerve to accuse Togami of not caring about him – even the memory of the words made Togami want to turn back and scream at the boy in rage. How could he say a thing like that, mere hours after Togami had laid his heart at Naegi’s feet?

Naegi had argued with him, insulted him, refused to agree with his perfectly reasonable requests – everything that should have made it ridiculously easy for Togami to gouge any lingering feelings for the boy out of his heart. This should have been all the proof he needed that Naegi wasn’t worthy of his love, and erased the constant hurt of his broken heart.

And yet it hadn’t. All it had taken was one pitiful tear falling down the boy’s face, and Togami had been no more than a breath away from surrender. His arms had ached to reach out and gather Naegi to him, so badly that he’d almost been able to feel the warmth of the other boy cradled against his chest. The words had risen up in his throat, sniveling endearments and pathetic assurances of the depth of his affection.

Knowing that he had that kind of reaction lurking in his psyche – it made his face burn with humiliation. God, Naegi really had ruined him. He couldn’t even hate the brat any longer, not even with every provocation in the world. Even now, part of him still wanted to turn around and return, to take back his own actions, to pretend none of this had happened - that was how much power Naegi still held over him.

Well, that didn’t mean he had to give in. He didn’t. He wouldn’t, not when Naegi had made his own position so plain. He might not be able to stop the prickling along the back of his neck reminding him that Naegi was right there behind him – but at least he didn’t have to act on it. He could choose to focus on something else instead.

And sure enough, when he finally succeeded in returning his attention to the classroom, he found Kirigiri’s behavior more than sufficient to distract him. Of course the wretched girl had seized his moment of inattention to zero in on the most suspicious place in the classroom, where several chalk outlines tangled together at the far side of the classroom, the floor around them marred brown with old blood. Kirigiri knelt just outside the bloodstains, peering down at the central place where the outlines crossed over one another – the place where a huge serrated knife gleamed from where it was embedded deep in the floor.

“Of course you’d gravitate right to the most obviously dangerous item in the room,” Togami said, crossing the room in a few quick steps so that he could stay firmly at her side. “Is it giving you ideas on how to make yourself more of a menace?”

Kirigiri looked up at him with a mildly irritated frown – as if his words were nothing more than a minor distraction. “Did you put this knife here?”

Togami blinked. That wasn’t what he’d expected her to say. Why would she ask if he had stuck a giant knife in the floor? Obviously the knife had to have been placed at some point after the bodies had been removed and the outlines had been drawn, but that was hardly reason to assume that he’d been the one to place it. In that cases, he would have had to have it in his possession to begin with, and he hadn’t seen anywhere in the school so far where anyone could have obtained such a large, shiny –

Shiny. Togami narrowed his eyes at the blade. Yes, now that he gave it a closer look, he could see that it certainly was shiny – far more than anything else in this classroom. Even the metal of the broken desks and chairs had grown dull and smudged, overlaid with the filth of being sealed away with blood and rot for however long this room had been closed.

But the knife shone bright and new against all the rest of it – and the conclusion was inescapable. The knife couldn’t have been sealed in this room from the start, not looking the way that it did. They’d only gained access to the room after yesterday’s class trial – so the knife had to have been placed this morning. And since he’d been in the room before she and Naegi had arrived, the question was obvious.

And Togami didn’t find himself at all inclined to answer it. He crossed his arms and scowled at down at the girl who had been the cause of his argument with Naegi. “And what would you do if I said that I did put it there?”

Kirigiri gave him a long stare, then shook her head. “I’d ask why you feel compelled to waste my time.”

From her tone, Togami knew instantly that she wasn’t talking about the hypothetical scenario he’d posed. She knew he was lying – had apparently been able to read the truth off him as easily as scanning a newspaper headline. Just who was Kirigiri, to be able to see through him like that?

He didn’t know. There was no way he could know, not when she’d been so secretive about her past. But finding out had just rocketed much higher up on his list of questions that needed answers.