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Life Could Be Beautiful

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There’s a shuddering as Saihara stares up at the sky, the scent of dead skin and malfunctioned smoke still hanging heavy in the air. It’s hesitant, of course, as Yumeno sniffles besides him and Harukawa's still trying to decide whether she should keep her arms crossed in feigned displeasure or limp at her sides. There’s a lot he wants to do, at that moment - he wants to scream, he wants to cry, he wants to--

What does he want to do? He can’t remember, all of a sudden.

“Saihara,” Harukawa murmurs, and he glances over at her. That’s him, isn’t it? If Shirogane didn’t forge his name, as well.

Who was Shirogane, again? There’s a taste of something like lead in his mouth and he wonders if he’s bleeding, bleeding like the blood from his head because Shirogane hit him over the head with a ball and bleeding like the hydraulic press that crushed the body that they thought was an astronaut’s but was actually a purple haired boy, actually a person they’d all have been better off with dead (and they were).

“Saihara,” Yumeno forces out, and who’s Yumeno, now? but he looks over anyways and suddenly the world is black and white for a second.

He places a hand to his forehead, and blinks as his vision pixelates. It’s gone in an instant so he dubs it as his imagination, but there’s a banging banging banging in the front of his skull nonetheless and when he swallows it tastes like lead and he wants to vomit, God he wants to vomit so badly.

“S̵a̴i̴h̵a̸r̵a̶?̷”

That’s me, he thinks, but he only thinks it because is it him? Some sort of philosopher or something or other said that the only thing the human brain can trust is itself because it thinks, ‘I think therefore I am’ and that makes sense, that makes sense but nothing here does it because is the word that Harukawa just tried to say supposed to be him?

He’s made it this far, he shouldn’t be deterred by something like nausea, be tricked by his own eyes cause that’s just dumb. He’s surviving for her, after all, that’s the only thing that’s kept him from driving a knife into his own skull but who was ‘her’, again? It was Akamatsu, wasn’t it? If he forgot that name he might as well die but whatever he might as well die right here, anyways, the way things were going. Something about the name, though, was important, and he tries holding onto it as he stares at his hands, his own pixelated hands that look like they’re going to evaporate at any moment. The sight makes him sick to his stomach, if he still has that.

“H͘͞aŗ̵U̷̡͡k͟͟a͢W͟a̸̡-̴s̵͟͡A͡n!̷” The nausea only increases. “Y̴̧U̴͢͝m҉e̷҉n̶̶̨͝O̕̕͢-̕͘͞S̷̴̡̛A̛̕ņ̷̸!̶͞.̸̰͊.̴͙̔”

There’s something going on, there’s something going wrong because when Saihara looks at the two of them they’re standing sideways and upside down and is he upside down, too?

Someone’s screaming and he thinks it’s him, but his voice isn’t that distorted, nor are the voices of the two companions besides him. He’s screaming, he’s clawing at his own skin, and he wonders if this is some sort of execution, if this is how they all felt when they were executed, too, how they were so sorry, how they would’ve done anything--

(but who were they?)

 

.

 

He wakes up screaming. There are so many voices, a whole cacophony of them that at first he thinks are just in his head but then he opens his eyes and there are people dressed in white looking at him, holding him down.

“Let me GO!” He wails, and his voice hurts to use and why’s that? Saihara’s been doing nothing but talking for the past couple weeks, talking about who’s dead, talking about who’s the killer, talking about who’s fault it is and talking about how it’s not him, how it can’t be him. He blindly lunges at them, mind wild with panic. They’re calming him down, shushing him, comforting him and he isn’t quite too sure how to feel about all this.

“Saihara-san!” One of the voices urges, “Please, we need you to calm down for your own safety!”

His own safety?

Even he didn’t care about that - especially he, actually.

Nonetheless, there’s something in the voices that gives him pause, that makes his limbs weaken just a tinier bit and suddenly he realizes that oh, his limbs were pathetically weak in the first place, weren’t they? He tries clenching his fists, tries to dig his nails into his own palms but he can barely feel a thing. The people around him smile sympathetically and lower him back into the pod.

Why was he in a pod in the first place?

He glances around and sees Harukawa and Yumeno in their own pods, putting up various degrees of struggle. “What…” Saihara croaks, winces.

“The killing game!” One of the people - a man with dirty yellow hair and a grey suit underneath his coat - smiles with a smile so fake that had it not been for his words, Saihara would’ve punched him. “It wasn’t real.”

It wasn’t real.

It wasn’t real.

Saihara doesn’t put up anymore of a fight, and wonders why he feels so terrible as he breathes in what he thinks is fresh air for the first time in as long as he can remember.

 

.

 

He sits on his bed, hands folded in his lap as he stares into the dark. Everything’s been explained to them, everything that Shirogane’s failed to leave in before she was smashed to bits, and there’s a certain surrealness in the whole ordeal that makes him blink.

What makes him blink even more is the fact that everyone - everyone - is still alive, from Hoshi’s skeleton to Momota’s blood splattered corpse to whatever remains of Ouma to Akamatsu's hanging form. The only exception to the rule is Kiibo, who’s never really died in the first place - he’s been turned into some sort of AI, and though the body he holds now is nothing like the body he had in the game, it’s infinitely better, or so they say.

“It’s like Alter Ego, in the original Danganronpa!” They say, and he nods like he understands.

When they finish telling him, they look at him with thinly veiled curiosity, obviously expecting some sort of reaction from him. “Well?” They prompt when he doesn’t say a word. “How are you feeling?”

“I don’t know.” He answers quite honestly, and after shakily standing on feet that haven’t been used in weeks, they put him in a hospital bed and stick an IV in his arm and promise he’ll be alright.

That’s one of them that believes that, he thinks wryly.

He plays with his fingers in the dark, idly wondering when any of the others will awake, if any of the others will awake. Saihara’s here, obviously, as is Yumeno and Harukawa but they’re the survivors, this is expected of them. Kiibo’s here, too, but he’s not sure if he can count the robot in the first place. Not like Saihara is ungrateful, though, just.

Just...what?

The monitor next to him that tracks his vitals hums in steady monotone, and he glances over at it. “If I took you out, would I die?” He asks. “Could I trade my life, so that they could wake up? So that someone else could have made it to the end, instead of me?”

There’s no answer, and he leans back into his pillow.

 

.

 

Sometimes, he’s tried getting out of his bed, tried to walk, but no success comes his way. If anything, he’s humiliated as nurses find him on the floor with wires pulled out and machines claiming that he’s (finally) flatlined. From what he’s heard, Harukawa and Yumeno have already long begun walking and he clenches his fists, tighter than he could when he first woke up from the pod. They’re not allowed to visit him, not because a nurse or doctor deemed it so, but because he doesn’t allow it.

He doesn’t answer when they question his choices, and instead requests that Kiibo is brought into his room.

The next day, a thin black laptop is presented to him, along with a portable charger. Swallowing, he opens the screen and holds down the power button.

There’s a flicker as the machine boots itself up with a faint whirring, and Kiibo’s face appears on the screen. Saihara blinks.

“Hello, Saihara-san!” Kiibo’s voice resonates, and the pixelated face smiles. “It’s good to see you again.”

He can’t speak, and thus types instead: its good to see you too

“Oh! Are you alright, Saihara-san?” Kiibo suddenly frowns. “You’re crying. Should I call for assistance?”

He touches his cheek and realizes that yes, it is wet. He types and tells Kiibo that no, he does not need to call for assistance, Saihara is fine.

“I’m glad! It’s been so long since I’ve talked to you, and I’ve missed you incredibly. I’ve talked with Harukawa-san and Yumeno-san before, but I heard that you didn’t want any visitors, so I was unable to talk to you. I’m so excited for everyone to awaken once again!” The head spins around on the screen. “I’ve been monitoring everyone else’s signs non-stop, and I must say, mostly everyone is doing well and should awaken within the next two or three weeks! Save for a few like Ouma-san, but even they are doing significantly better than they were when this whole thing started, and should awaken with time!”

Saihara stares at the screen, unsure of how to respond.

“...are you certain that I don’t need to call for any assistance, Saihara-san?”

A few hastily pressed keys. yeah, dw

 

.

 

There’s internet, and the first thing he does with it is search up his own name. The first results that pop up are videos captioned ‘SHSL DETECTIVES REACTION TO EXECUTIONS’ and ‘SAIHARA SHUUICHI DEATH COMPILATIONS’ and he closes the tabs so fast that he thinks he gets whiplash.

He asks Kiibo to narrow the search results to things that have happened before the killing game take place, and the robot (or was it AI, now?) agrees. The first things that come up now are newsletters, rumors proved true that he’s going to be on the next season of Dangan Ronpa ; what a lucky boy!

“Lucky me,” he says dully, and Kiibo makes a sympathetic whirr of agreement.

After those comes a blog entitled ‘the musings of saihara shuuichi’ and curiously, he clicks the link.

He discovers that he’s the one who’s made the link.

It’s a blog he made, a blog he made before he was completely brainwashed. The first thing he sees is a picture of himself flashing a peace sign next to an older man. It’s set as the icon of the blog, and he stares at it for a while, in a bit of a morbid curiosity.

“Forgive me, but is that you, Saihara-san?” Kiibo asks. Saihara nods and scrolls down a little further.

The latest post he’s made is one that isn’t even seven months old yet. The pathetically small time frame makes him want to laugh, to cry. The post itself consists of simply a video, and after a moment’s hesitation, he clicks it. It buffers for a moment, before settling on a slightly grainy image of himself.

“Hello, everyone!” The Saihara from inside the screen chirps, and the Saihara outside of it winces. “As you know from my last post, I recently auditioned for the next season of ‘Dangan Ronpa’! Now, I know many of you are theorizing if I got in or not, and let me tell you.”

Both Saiharas lean in closer.

“It’s a sec-ret!” He winks from within the screen, deliberately sounding out each syllable. “You’ll see if I’m on the roster once the first episode airs, yeah? How thrilling! Of course, I could just be faking this all to get more followers.” A pixelated shrug. “That’s up for you to decide!”

The video continues to play on as he rambles about some things or the other, and Saihara scrolls down to the comment section. The oldest comments are listed first, and the dates are few and far between. He can only assume that they’re some sort of classmates and acquaintances, some offering encouragement, some skepticism, and some commenting on things he’s got too little context to understand.

Further down, there are comments that are obviously made after the season began to air.

“i seriously thought that he was amamis killer!!”

“hes made it so far? im surprised”

“eh, why didnt he get killed instead of that miu girl? laaame, we need that fanservice”

“oh shit he actually made it to the end??”

“his personality irl is sooo different from inside the show what an actor!”

He doesn’t realize his hands are shaking too much to scroll down any further until Kiibo changes the screen to videos of kittens tussling with each other.

 

.

 

Kiibo is watching when he ends up standing on his own two feet for the first time without collapsing, and the sound of applause blares from the speakers. Saihara smiles despite himself.

“Congratulations!” Kiibo says.

“Good job!” says Yumeno from the doorway, and Saihara freezes.

“What are you doing here?” He doesn’t mean for it to come out so harsh, so violent because Yumeno hasn’t done the slightest thing wrong, but it does anyway. The girl flinches slightly before regaining her composure.

“Kiibo’s been telling me that you’re feeling better, and the doctors haven’t reminded me not to come in here for at least four days, so I decided to take my chances.” Yumeno shrugs. “Mind if we come in?”

“...we?”

Yumeno motions to a place Saihara cannot see, and Harukawa makes her way into his vision. He stares, blinks, sighs.

“Sure. Sorry for making you guys wait so long.”

“It’s no problem!” Yumenochirps, and she sits herself down on one of the chairs in the room. After a moment’s pause, Harukawa does the same, albeit in a calmer fashion. Saihara briefly considers sitting back down himself but fuck it, he’s been sitting and laying down for weeks on end, he’s gonna keep standing up for as long as he possibly can.

There’s a long, awkward pause before Harukawa clears her throat.

“So? How are you dealing with all this?”

Her eyes are kinder than they were in the killing game, and Saihara shrugs. “As well as can be expected, I guess.” He toys with a fingernail. “And you guys?”

Yumeno hums. “It’s…a lot to take in,” she admits. “I’m still debating whether I want my real memories back or not.”

Right. Their real memories.

For some reason it’s not possible to give the survivors their real memories back immediately, they have to sit and wait around and can either choose to get them back bit by bit or wait to see if they unlock themselves at all. At least they have a choice, though. According to the people taking care of them, the people who died inside the game don’t have a choice in the first place.

“We... we know how Momota acted before the game, and how Akamatsu and you did, too,” Yumeno continues on. “And everyone seemed...meaner. N-no offense!” She continues on, a small flush appearing over her cheeks.

“None taken.”

“But... if I get my real memories back. I don’t want to be a mean person.” Her fists in her lap clench so tight that her knuckles turn white. “And my memories, even though I know they’re fake, are real enough to me, so doesn’t that count for something…?”

There’s a long, quiet pause, and then Harukawa speaks up.

“I’m getting my memories back.”

Everyone in the room blinks, but doesn’t say a word.

“I’ve got a terrible enough personality as it is,” Harukawa continues on, “and didn’t that piece of shit Ouma sign up for this game for charity? Or those what the rumors are, at least. If even he can be considered kinder outside of the game, even by a little, then I’m gonna test my luck.” She cracks her knuckles. “Hell knows that my personality could be improved upon tenfold.”

“I think you’re great just the way you are, Harukawa-san.” Kiibo speaks up for the first time since the other two have entered the room. Harukawa frowns.

“Well, that makes one of us.”

 

.

 

Surprisingly, it’s Tojo who’s the first to awaken. Saihara expected (hoped) it would’ve been someone who had died earlier, who had suffered slightly less injuries.

(someone like akamatsu)

It happens when he’s playing some shitty game on coolmath dot com on Kiibo’s laptop, when the AI let’s out a squeal of excitement that startles him so much he nearly drops the laptop. “What is it?” he hisses, and Kiibo’s head is doing somersaults around the screen.

“Tojo-san!” he sounds breathless, and Saihara wonders how a piece of metal can be breathless. “She’s! She’s!”

Saihara's hands tremble. “Can you send me a live feed?”

Kiibo’s face winks. “I’m not supposed to, but--” The screen flickers to reveal a room of pods, and Saihara breathes.

Tojo's face looks stiff, stretched, out of place. She’s very obviously scared, her eyes flickering from side to side and hands clenched so tight to the edges of the pod that she looks like she might burst, and Saihara realizes that the last thing she probably remembers is dying.

He puts Kiibo’s laptop to the side, and the screen closes the live feed before switching back to Kiibo’s face. “Are you okay? Did I go too far?”

“N-no...no.” Saihara runs his hands through his hair and bites his lip. “You were fine! It’s just...Tojo-san remembers everything, doesn’t she? Like, before the game…”

“...yes, she does.”

“Did she know me before the game?”

“I’m not sure. You can probably go ask her yourself, in a day or two.”

He resolves to do just that.

 

.

 

It’s strange, seeing the formal, picture perfect Tojo in a bed. Her hair is much longer than it was inside the game, wrapped up in a messy bun that Saihara knows the Super High-School Level Maid would’ve never even dared to wear. There are bags underneath her eyes, and she smiles lightly as Saihara makes his way into the room.

“Saihara-kun! It’s good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you too.” He pulls up one of the stools so that he’s sitting directly by her bed. “How are you feeling?”

She shrugs, staring at her hands. Those are gloved, just like in the game, and Saihara admits that the familiarity is somewhat comforting. “Everything is really...strange.” She admits. “There’s something relieving about knowing that some country isn’t really falling apart because I wasn’t around to help it stay, but there’s also something...disheartening, I suppose? About knowing that you never even were needed in the first place.”

“You were needed,” Saihara cuts in, and Tojo lets out a tired laugh.

“So you still keep up that protagonist-like personality? That’s good. We need someone like that, now. It’s good to have someone so positive around.” She leans back, her head resting on the pillow. “I wonder where we’ll go after this. Apparently, I’m an orphan who worked at a fast food place before this. Isn’t that strange? My life as a SHSL was so dramatic, so thrilling...I was running a country, Saihara-kun! A country! And then it turns out that I’m just a nobody. I wonder what they saw in me that made them want to pick me for the game.” She bites her lip. “Maybe it’s because no one would have cared, had I not woken up.”

Saihara leans in and grasps her hand so tightly, so fiercely, that she looks at him in mild alarm. “I would’ve cared,” he assures. “As would Harukawa-san, Yumeno-san, and Kiibo-kun. You were the first to wake up that died, you know that? That means that you didn’t want to die, doesn’t it? You deserve to be here.”

Tojo simply smiles.

(saihara regrets wishing that someone else had woken up instead of her)

 

.

 

Gonta wakes up next, followed by Angie only a couple hours afterwards. Kiibo’s practically singing in joy on the laptop, but Saihara can’t find it in himself to visit the two of them. Instead, he hangs out in the lobby with Harukawa, Yumeno, and Tojo, all of whom which have been deemed strong enough to not stay in their hospital rooms anymore (though tojo still needs her IV). A nurse brought out a deck of cards, and all of them save for Harukawa have begun to play a lazy game where none of them really know the rules.

There’s a TV there, and Kiibo’s been connected to it and is switching through the channels. His head has grown a body in the TV, and walks around the screen, making comments on the shows that are being broadcasted.

A news station flips on. “Boring!” Kiibo blanches, and switches the channel but not before they all hear the word Danganronpa.

“Wait,” Saihara stands up, and Kiibo pauses. “Can you switch back…?”

He can, and does.

“--controversy that’s surrounding the show,” says one reporter, “and hundreds upon thousands are concerned about the wellbeing of the children who participated in the season. Unlike former seasons, which all happened in real time and in real life, this season all took place virtually after numerous riots and protests broke out over the inhumanity of the show. However, some experts claim that lasting psychological damage is practically certain for all the participants, and with the show cancelled indefinitely, there’s not much going for Team Dangan Ronpa.”

“What are we? Participants, or children? Make up your fucking mind.” Harukawa flips off the television set, and murmurs of agreement make themselves known around the room. Kiibo changes the channel, and they return to their card game.

 

.

 

Gonta and Angie join them soon enough, and both of them have changed - one more than the other. Gonta’s fiercer, stronger, more confident, and Saihara blinks in slight shock as the boy swears (“Goddammit!” He exclaims when he loses at cards). His hair is all nicely wrapped up in a braid that nearly touched the floor, and Angie spends her days weaving flowers into it. The girl herself hasn’t changed much, but she switches between first and third person too frequently for anyone’s comfort.

“I’m so glad that we’re all getting back together again!” Kiibo says, one day. “Pretty soon, we’ll all be a class again. Isn’t that nice…?”

Gonta lets out a grunt of agreement, Yumeno gives him a lazy thumbs up, and no one else says a thing.

 

.

 

Now that there’s a bit of a larger group, they begin to have group therapy sessions. Saihara loathes being in the same room as one of those people, but obediently sits through the session without much complaint. Small talk is made, paper with words he doesn’t register is passed out, and he watches the therapist drone on. It last for an hour and forty minutes, and Yumeno ends up falling asleep part way through it. Tojo hides a giggle with her gloved hand, and the psychologist purses her lips but doesn’t say a word.

It’s resolved, somehow, that they’re all to meet twice a week - on Tuesdays and Thursdays - and Saihara wonders if a little over than three hours a week of this is seriously supposed to erase weeks of the scars littering his brain.

 

.

 

Amami wakes up next, and Saihara visits his room a couple days later if only to get records set straight. The boy looks tired, far more tired than anyone else he’s seen so far, but still manages to grin when Saihara enters the room.

“Long time no see,” Amami hums. “I watched the entire fifty third season. Twice. You really did a good job.”

“I guess.”

“Hey, why so glum?” Amami’s head tilts. “Everything is going to be alright, now. Everyone is going to wake up, and we’re going to all be friends again and it’s going to be okay.”

Saihara frowns. “You’re oddly optimistic.”

“Am I?” he laughs. “I’m sorry.”

“No, there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just...surprised, I guess?” he exhales. Change the subject. “How are you dealing with everything?”

“Oh! Oh, that’s just the thing.” Amami runs his hands through his hair, and suddenly Saihara sees the lines of panic engraved deep in his eyes. “I. I don’t remember anything. Anything at all."

Saihara’s world flips. “What?”

“I don’t know who I am.” His voice rises with increasing levels of panic. “I don’t know why I’m here. My memories were supposed to come back when I woke up and then they didn’t and since they didn’t they tried reaching into my head and getting them out again and that didn’t work either and so I watched all the games that I was in and read all these articles that people have done on me and I still don’t know a thing about myself!” The heart rate monitor beeps with a little more frequency.

“Amami-kun…!”

“My dad came in. H-he apparently works here, you know? After my third season they hired him. My fucking dad came in and he looked me in the eyes and started crying and said that he was so happy to see me again and I didn’t recognize him. I couldn’t recognize him! I said he was lying to see if he actually was, tried playing one of those mind games, and he started crying all over again and then I started crying and we hugged but I still couldn’t recognize him, I couldn’t I just couldn’t.” Amami begins to claw at his hair.

“That’s not your fault--”

“They’ve gone through my head so many fucking times, erased my memories so many times that it fucking broke. It just broke, okay?” He lets out a laugh of helplessness. “It realized that so many of my memories weren’t needed anymore that it just kept on erasing them and now I don’t remember a damn thing.”

Amami begins to cry, and Saihara can do nothing but stare as his heart rate meter begins to rocket and nurses come in to usher him away, to deal with Amami.

 

.

 

“Do you think Amami-san will be alright?” Kiibo’s head rocks from side to side, fictional lip bit in deep concern. “Do you think he’ll still be our friend?”

“I think he’ll still be our friend.” Saihara soothes. They’re inside his room, and he sits opposite the way he’s supposed to, feet propped up where his head should be. “He talked about how happy he was that everyone would be friends again, after all.”

“But will he be alright!” Pixelated tears form at his eyes. “His well being is far more important, isn’t it?”

Saihara stares at the ceiling, teeth working over his lip before he lets out a sigh and shrugs. “Honestly?” He admits, “I have no idea. But he won’t die, right? His vitals are doing fine, and you said he was put on suicide watch right?”

“...right.”

“Then it’s just a matter of time. That’s what you said, right? A matter of time till everyone wakes up, and then everything will be alright?”

“I’m starting to doubt that myself.” Kiibo laughs nervously. “I really hope that everything will be alright.”

Saihara scowls. “Have more confidence in us.”

“...you’re sounding a bit like you did in those videos on your blog--”

He’s never closed the laptop so fast. He hopes the screen cracked, then instantly regrets it.

 

.

 

Hoshi and Momota awaken next. He’s asleep when it happens, but asks Kiibo to show him the footage the next morning. He obeys, and Saihara stares as their forms begin to bang against the pods’ glass lid almost simultaneously. Nurses flirt from pod to pod, shushing them, promising that everything was going to be okay, and Saihara finds his lip curling in disgust as he realizes how cookie cutter their responses were.

“They don’t give a shit about us. They’re just looking forward to the pay they’re getting from the government for taking care of us before this whole thing is shut down, don’t they?” He gestures tiredly. “Hey, Kiibo?”

“Yes?”

“Are you on their side? Do you care about us?”

Kiibo gasps. “O-of course! I care about all of our classmates more than anything in the world!”

“But are you working for them?”

“I’m...I’m not quite sure,” the head sighs. “I...I’m just a robot, after all. I think I’m piloted by my own will, but Shirogane-san and the audience took easy control of me during that last trial, did they not?” He smiles tightly. “I want to be my own person. My own...self. I’m independent from them.”

“Then can you do me a favor?” Saihara wants to cut straight to the chase.

“What’s the favor?”

“In the original Danganronpa, Alter Ego can change their face to whoever they want. They even changed their face to one of their dead classmates, to cheer up Ishimaru.” He leans closer to the screen. “Can you change your face to Akamatsu-san?”

Kiibo freezes.

“Can you?”

“I...I can, but--”

“Do it.” Saihara’s voice cracks. “Please.”

There’s a hesitation, but after a moment, the grey and white face pixelates out of existence. It’s replaced by a new face, by Akamatsu's and Saihara feels like crying.

“Is this better?” Kiibo says in Akamatsu's voice, and then he is crying.

“Yeah. It’s much better.” He’s trying to speak around the lump in his throat, but everything is happening so fast and he can’t breathe.

“Saihara-kun, are you alright?” says Akamatsu.

He can’t respond, and Akamatsu's eyebrows furrow in concern.

“Saihara-kun.”

He can’t.

“Saihara-kun!”

He--

Akamatsu's face is replaced by a concerned looking Kiibo. “Saihara-san!”

Saihara sobs. It’s an ugly, disgusting noise, but he’s an ugly disgusting person in the first place, isn’t he?

 

.

 

He’d be an asshole not to visit Momota, and so he does. The boy’s laying on the bed, and lazily glances over at the intruder. “Hey.”

“H-hey!” Saihara curses himself for stuttering.

“How long have you been awake?” Not cutting any corners, it seems.

“Three, almost four weeks.”

“Who else is awake?”

“Besides you?” Momota sighs and rolls his eyes. “Well there’s me, obviously, and Harukawa-san and Yumeno-san. Also Kiibo, but he’s kind of... in a laptop now. Tojo-san, Gonta-kun, Amami-kun and Angie-san woke up before you, and Hoshi-kun woke up at practically the same time you did.”

“Didn’t finish last, huh. Well, I guess that's something to be happy for.” Momota breathes through his teeth. “I watched the last episodes of the season, and man.”

“Yeah.”

“Fuckin', Shirogane-san?”

“Y-yeah.”

Momota clicks his tongue. “Wonder if she’ll ever wake up. Hope she doesn’t. Ouma-kun, too, or...” he laughs dryly, “Nah, take that back. He's got some decent points to him. Unlike yours truly. I signed up for this game because I wanted to kill people, as many as possible. For fun. Isn’t that fucked up?”

“I... think we’re all kind of fucked up.” Saihara thinks backs to Kiibo’s words, his comment on how he’s become more like the videos. He curses himself.

“Fair enough.” Momota rolls his head to the side, so Saihara can’t see it from where he’s standing. “Heard that Shirogane-san was brainwashed herself.”

“So?” Saihara tastes bile in his mouth.

“Nothing, nothing,” Momota soothes. “I just think it’s kind of funny how none of us were really at fault, in the end--”

"Oh, no way," the words fly out of Saihara’s mouth faster than he can stop them. “She was the one at fault. Don't try to pardon her.”

Momota turns around and stares at him for a little bit, silent. “Is,” he’s trying to formulate his words, Saihara can tell. “...is that really what you think?”

“Damn right.” Saihara's eyes narrow.

Momota coughs, waves a lazy hand. “Okay. Whatever works for you, bub.”

 

.

 

Hoshi joins them, now, on their daily card sessions in the lobby. He’s surprisingly good, with a cat plush (“It’s bull, the fact that they won’t give me a real one.”) in hand. The lollipop stick in his mouth works from side to side as he triumphantly beats Gonta in cards, who groans in frustration.

Amami congratulates the shorter boy, who smiles and tries to lower his hat before remembering that he doesn’t wear one anymore. It’s strange, Saihara thinks, seeing him without his hat; before the game, it was probably cut down to a buzz, but since the months he’s been asleep, it’s grown back to a bit of a shaggier fuzz.

He tries focusing on the hair to ignore the cigarette butt marks that litter Ryouma’s arms.

 

.

 

Everyone starts waking up all at once. First it’s Shinguji, who seems to have taken next to no toll on his body physically, cause he starts coming to the card sessions only the day after he’s woken up, with only an IV stuck in his arm. But he makes sure to keep a wide berth on Angie, and prefers to hang around Hoshi instead. If he’s got a problem with it, he doesn’t say anything.

Gonta offers to braid Shinguji's hair only three days into the boy’s return, and after staring at him with some sort of numb shock, he nods. It’s hypnotizing, how Gonta’s fists can carry the boy’s darker strands, weave them into a braid that’s identical to his own.

“Do you...like them?” Gonta asks almost hesitantly, and Shinguji smiles.

“Yes. They’re delightful. Thank you.”

Next up is Tenko, and when Kiibo announces the news from the television set Angie and Yumeno look ready to cry and Shinguji looks ready to puke. “When can Angie see her?” The girl demands, and Yumeno nods firmly in agreement, teeth sinking deep into her lower lip.

“Soon enough! She seems to be in a fairly stable condition. The later you wake up, the easier it is for you to return to normalcy - or at least, that’s what the patterns have been saying!” Kiibo smiles, and causes some digitalized confetti to fall over the TV screen. “Soon we’ll all be awake! Won’t that be great?”

There are some tensed muscles at the statement, and Saihara knows that not everyone agrees with the robots sentiments.

 

.

 

“Iruma-san has woken up!” Kiibo chirps from the laptop as Saihara watches anime late into the night.

“Good for her,” he sighs.

“Aren’t you happy for her?”

“Yeah!” Saihara straightens up, then gives pause. “Actually, I...don’t know.”

 

.

 

“Tenko hears that we’ll be able to meet our families once everyone wakes up!”

Saihara looks up with mild interest. The card playing group is a little bit smaller, today, with Amami absent for more attempts to try and fix his brain and Kaito gone to test his sickness and see how much longer he has. Shinguji's not there, either, but he’s rarely present when the Tenko-Angie-Yumeno trio is.

“Oh?” He taps the chair’s armrest. “That’s interesting.”

“Interesting?!” Kiibo’s face sputters. “Saihara-san, you’re going to be able to see your uncle again! Isn’t that cause for celebration?”

He stares at the cards in his hand, and mercifully, Hoshi speaks for him.

“I’m excited to see my cats again.” He points out, “And I’m excited to find out that there actually is someone out there, waiting for me.”

Harukawa flinches.

“Same!” Angie chirps. “Angie’s got an older sister, apparently! Angie’s memories are still kinda muddled and stuff, so she doesn’t remember all that much, but,” she lets out a wistful sigh. “I hope she’s nice.”

“I’m sure she will be,” Gonta promises. “I’ve got two folks at home, but... I’m not sure how they’ll react to Gonta now.” He laughs timidly. “I’m sure you all must think I’m far more... y’know, than I was back in the game, but to my folks this is the epitome of politeness for me. I’m not quite a gentleman anymore, but it’s an...improvement, I suppose?”

An improvement. Saihara plays with his fingernails and wonders if he’s got any improvement.

“We aren’t waiting on many more people to wake up, are we?” Tojo hums. “Let’s see... there’s Akamatsu-san,” Saihara flinches, “Ouma-kun, and Shirogane-san.”

A silence envelops the room.

“That is not that many people left!” Kiibo points out. “We can make it! Everyone can!”

Saihara prays the robot is right.

He prays that Akamatsu is the next to awaken.

 

.

 

Shirogane wakes up.

 

.

 

Saihara punches the wall and screams, to the point where a nurse comes in, calms him down, asks if he’s alright. “What does it look like?” He spits, and the nurse bites her lip before leaving. He skips the therapy session for that day because apparently it’s Thursday already, but he doesn’t care, doesn’t care, doesn’t care.

“Why hasn’t Akamatsu-san woken up yet?” he asks Kiibo from his bed, and if the AI still had a body, he’d be doing that ridiculous robot shrug.

“It won’t be long, now.”

“Why did it have to be Shirogane?!” He picks up a pillow, puts it on his face, and lets out a muffled scream.

“Maybe you should be giving her more of a chance..?” Saihara pulls off the pillow slightly and groans in Kiibo’s direction.

“Are you joking? After all she put us through? After all she put you through?”

Kiibo’s laptop whirrs, trying to sort itself out. “I’m trying to be a bit more open to things now. Maybe you should be, too?”

Saihara groans, flips over.

 

.

 

Harukawa has her memories returned, and Saihara doesn’t see her for two whole days. When he does again, she seems tenser, smaller.

“Is everything alright…?” He takes a step closer to her, winces as she retreats into herself.

“Nothing’s wrong,” she says, after taking a moment to sort out her words. “And I’m...I’m not saying that just to say it. Things are just…” Harukawa places a hand to her forehead, furrows her eyebrows. “I don’t know. There’s a lot I need to think about right now.”

She makes to leave, and Saihara stops her, grabbing onto her shoulder. “W-wait...Harukawa-san!”

She turns around, frowns. “Yeah?”

“Was…” He swallows. “Was it worth it?”

There’s a pause, a pause far too long for Saihara's liking, and he lets go of her shoulder. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t--”

“I think it was," she strokes her chin. “Yeah, I think I prefer knowing than living the way I was. My memories are much happier this way, anyhow. I’m much happier, and isn’t that what’s supposed to matter?” Harukawa looks up, looks him in the eye. “I think it depends from person to person, so I might not be the best person to ask. My other memories were filled of orphanages and of killing countless people, so it’s not like it would’ve been hard to step up, right?” She shrugs. “If you’re going to get your memories back, I won’t stop you, but I won’t be encouraging you either. This is a decision that you need to make, not a decision that should be influenced by, I don’t know, Amami’s loss of memories or Shirogane’s awakening.”

Saihara flinches slightly.

“Whatever you choose, though,” she presses her fingers against his chest, “I don’t think it can change you all that much, Saihara. You’re still a good person, when it comes down to it - even if you don’t believe so. And that's more than a lot of us here can say.”

“Y-you don’t know that.” Saihara’s eyebrows furrow, and Harukawa shrugs with a defeated sigh.

“Eh, suit yourself.” She turns around, the soles of her shoes clacking noisily against the linoleum floor.

 

.

 

Saihara's knuckles turn white as he stands next to Akamatsu's pod. After his seventh week of being awake passed him by, the doctors had finally allowed him to enter the pod room. He places a hand on the pod surface, heart wrenching.

“I don’t know if you can hear me,” he murmurs, “but...it’s a selfish thought of mine, but I really want you to wake up. We all do. You were meant to be the protagonist, not me, we all know that. I’m not suited for this role, a-and,” He hiccups. “I miss you. I want to watch you play piano. I want that more than anything in the whole world.”

Akamatsu doesn’t so much as twitch.

Sighing and wiping the tears from his face, he glances over at Ouma’s pod. He’s heard the rumors that the boy might not wake up in the first place, due to the fact that it wasn’t a consequence foreseen by the simulation, and he wishes that it was Shirogane that was still asleep instead of the boy.

He pauses, makes his way over to the pod. Kokichi’s spiky hair is more black than purple, now that he hasn’t dyed it in a while, and Saihara wonders if he’ll ever have a chance to dye it again.

“Did you realize that it was a simulation, along with the fact that it was a show all along?” He wonders aloud. “Did you only sacrifice yourself know that you’d wake up? Was it just a sham?”

Similar to Akamatsu, Ouma doesn’t move a muscle.

“If that’s really the case, then I’d prefer you didn’t wake up at all.”

 

.

 

Saihara hasn’t seen Shirogane since she’s woken up, and from what he’s heard from the others, neither have most of them - the only exceptions being Tojo and Shinguji. Saihara's lip curls when he considers how those three were the only ones who had intentionally killed any of the others, because all of the others had either been accidents or misframes or there was no other way out--

No. He can’t think that way. Saihara knocks his forehead with his knuckles and scowls. Isn’t he trying to be a better person than the one who made the videos on his blog?

Nonetheless, after Kiibo voices a request to be able to interact with them more, Shirogane pulls some strings to get an automated ping pong machine shipped in. After Kiibo possesses it (there are more than a few jokes about him being not unlike a ghost) they can play ping pong with the AI. It takes him a little while to get a hang of it, but once he does, Kiibo kicks ass.

“Sorry, Chabashira-san!” the robot apologizes as he scores against the girl. She’s given up on trying to maintain her hair’s ridiculous style, and has cut it short. “It seems that that was a game point, however, and I win!”

“Eh, if you’re going to win, don’t apologize to Tenko for it. It only makes her feel worse, you know?” She scowls and tosses the paddle over to Saihara, who’s been sitting on a cushioned chair nearby. “Your turn.”

Fumbling with the paddle, he makes his way over to the table, grabbing a ping pong ball on the way there. “You ready, Kiibo?”

“As I’ll ever be!”

Saihara manages to bounce the ball back two or three times before Kiibo smashes it firmly in his face, causing a plethora of laughter to fall from Tenko’s mouth. She doesn’t stop, even when Saihara glares at her, and after a few moments he gives up trying to fight against it at all.

They play a few more rounds, but Saihara can’t manage to score a single point against the robot. He holds the ping pong ball in the palm of his hand and stares at it for a moment while Kiibo plays a little victory jingle.

There’s a sudden pause in the jingle, and Saihara looks up.

“Something wrong, Kiibo?”

“A-ah, no! Not at all. Something good, actually.”

“What is it?”

“Akamatsu-san, well, she’s awakened!”

Saihara’s world turns upside down.

 

.

 

Akamatsu's asleep so he can’t go into her room, of course he can’t go into her room, that wouldn’t be fair. Instead he sits outside, hands working through his hair as every few minutes he checks through the window to confirm her status and see yes, she’s alive and yes, she’s okay. Sometimes she’s awake, but most of the time she’s asleep. Not like he can really blame her, in the end - when he first woke up, all he wanted to do was sleep and sleep and sleep. There’s a certain sort of irony with that, considering they had just been sleeping, for weeks, but…

A nurse asks him to leave at one point, because he’s in the way and Akamatsu will be ready in time, so please wait, but even that can’t dampen his mood.

 

.

 

“She’s awake!” he says to Amami, who smiles thinly from his wheelchair. He’s had to be put there, after the nosebleeds started and he couldn’t stand up without straight up passing out on the floor. A thin blanket covered in question marks (oh, the irony!) cloaks his legs, but despite this, Amami has kept amazingly optimistic. There’s a tiny table between them with some checkers, and yeah, Saihara’s getting his ass handed to him, but he’s too excited to care.

“I know.”

“She’s really awake! ” He continues on, fingers clamouring to jump over one of Amami's pieces. “I know you don’t remember her, but you talked with her tons, you had to have seen that from the videos!”

“That’s not false.” It was a trap, apparently, because Amami takes three of his pieces next turn.

“You were friends then, and you’re going to establish that relationship all over again.” He breathes, closes his eyes, smiles. “Isn’t that what you wanted? To be friends with everyone again?”

Amami pauses and stares at Saihara. “Yes,” he says after a moment, “but I’m not sure if that’s what you’re ready for.”

He pretends not to have heard the boy, instead focusing the black and red checker pieces in front of him.

 

.

 

When he hears that Akamatsu is accepting visitors, Saihara feels his heart leap in his throat. Swallowing, he pushes open the door to her room. She’s just sitting there, all plain and prettied up and he stands and stares and stares.

“Akamatsu,” he says finally, and the girl looks up and smiles.

“Saihara-kun,” she hums, and he runs in and wraps his arms around his neck. She pats the back of his head, and he can feel himself melt.

“It’s been so long.”

“Yeah.”

He doesn’t know what else to say, and neither does she apparently because they just sit there for nearly an hour before a nurse comes in and forces the two of them apart.

 

.

 

His ceiling is covered in glow in the dark stars, courtesy of Kaito and Angie. Saihara enjoys trying to count them at first, but then he begins to lose track around number fifty three and has to restart time and time again. Not like he minds very much - he has too much on his mind now to be upset, after all.

“Did you visit her today?” Kiibo asks, and Saihara smiles in the dark.

“Don’t you have access to all the video feeds? You can see her room. You know I went there.”

“True, but I wanted to hear it from you.”

Saihara let’s out a small scoff. “I’m not sure if I should be touched or not.”

“Nonetheless, I’m really happy for you.” Kiibo makes the room’s lights flicker.

“Trust me, I am too, Kiibo.”

 

.

 

“Is it painful?”

Harukawa looks over her magazine, teeth working over her lip. “Don’t tell me that you’re still unsure of whether or not you want to get your memories back, and you’re going to me for advice and reassurance.”

Saihara scratches his knee.

“Ooooh my God.”

“I want to know if it’s painful!” Saihara frowns. “I’ve heard rumors that it’s this real complicated shocking process, a-and they try to shock the memories back into you, or something.”

Harukawa snorts. “That would be amusing, but no. The process is really simple, but you’re put to sleep during it anyway, so it doesn’t matter. You feel like you’re going to puke all your guts out when you first wake up, but besides that, it isn’t all that bad.” She flips the page of her magazine. “The shocking thing was something they attempted for Amami. Didn’t work, obviously. Poor kid has all but given up on getting his memories back.”

“Oh. I see.” Saihara’s shoulders tense up.

“Jeeeez, you’re so empathetic.” She sighs and closes the magazine to look the boy in the eye. “Listen to me. No, don’t try looking away now," she calls Saihara out as he tries to avoid her gaze. “Amami isn’t feeling sorry for himself, and if you waste your life away by crying your eyes out for everyone who feels any sort of pain, you’re not gonna make it very far. God, how’d you make it through the killing game.” Harukawa leans back into her chair and reopens the magazine. “If you want to get your memories back because of the whole ‘meeting up with the family’ thing that’s gonna happen the moment Ouma wakes up, then go ahead. It’d be a good idea, actually. Yumeno said she was gonna do it herself, so you’d be the only clueless one. Besides Amami of course, but.” She laughs. “That can’t be helped.”

 

.

 

The operation doesn’t even take more than a couple hours, and though he nearly chokes on his vomit when he wakes up, he remembers.

There’s two completely different versions of his life sitting in his head, and he wonders how everyone else could bear it when they woke up from their pods. He’s kept bedridden for a day or two (time has long stopped mattering) but when he’s deemed well enough to continue as he had been for the past several weeks, he sprints all the way over to Akamatsu's room.

“I remember everything,” he breathes, and his head is buzzing so he doesn’t register Akamatsu's slight look of disappointment as she looks over him.

“I’m glad!” she murmurs, and closes the book that sits in her hands. “Do you remember your family, now? You’ll be able to meet up with them again, and actually understand who they are, right?”

Saihara nods breathlessly.

 

.

 

At night he dreams of murder mysteries he’s read late into the night and bruised eyes he’s carried home from school. He dreams of watching television, of watching teenagers kill each other, and wishing nothing more than to be like them.

He dreams of a time when he was happy.

...no, that’s not right.

He dreams of a time where he was happier than he was now.

 

.

 

He’s walking past the pod room, on his way to another one of the fairly useless group therapy sessions with Hoshi in tow, when he hears a scream from within.

Hoshi shares a glance with him before they open the push doors to the room, revealing the sight.

Kokichi’s woken up (Kokichi’s woken up!) and is fighting with the nurses despite their soothing words, eyes wild with panic as he pounds against their backs with useless fists. A disgusting amount of tears and snot pour down from his face, and Saihara recoils at the sight.

“I-I shouldn't be here!" wails the boy, “This doesn’t make sense!" Besides him, Saihara feels Ryouma tensing up.

“Do you want to leave?” he whispers, but the shorter boy shakes his head.

They watch until the nurses are forced to use a sedative to calm Ouma down, and then leave the room. Saihara places a gentle hand on Ryouma’s trembling head, but he shakes it off with a scowl. “Give your sympathy to someone who needs it.”

 

.

 

No one talks to Ouma, just like no one talks to Shirogane, and they spend the days leading up to the promised family meeting as they’ve spend most of their days for the past two and a half months - playing cards. For once, everyone (save for ouma and shirogane, of course) has gathered, and Miu let’s out an excited squeal as her callout of ‘bullshit!’ on Angie turns out to be accurate. Akamatsu is sitting next to Saihara, and he places his hand on hers, squeezes it. She doesn’t squeeze back.

“Hey,” Angie pouts, trying to deal with her loss by changing the subject, “do you think...everyone will still like us? Now that we’ve changed?”

There’s a long pause.

“Anyone would be foolish not to love Yonaga-san!” Tenko goes in and hugs Angie tightly to her chest. “And if anyone in Yonaga-san’s family doesn’t love her, well, then, Tenko will love Yonaga-san enough so that she doesn’t need any of their love, anyway! If they don’t appreciate Yonaga-san now, then they obviously never deserved such a gift in the first place.”

There’s a murmur of agreement around the lobby.

“I’ll love you, too!” Yumeno pipes up.

“As will I,” says Harukawa, and Saihara blinks in surprise. So much for her speech on not being empathetic earlier.

“You’ve always been important to me, Yonaga-san!” Kiibo hums from the television set.

“And to I.” Ryouma adds.

The students around Saihara begin to clamour to comfort Yonaga, and as his own voice joins the cacophony, he feels his cheeks and finds that he’s crying. Again.

“Damn.” He murmurs under his breath, and his vision blurs.

 

.

 

In a particularly brutal match between Gonta and Momota, the larger man had ended up ripping several of the cards apart before instantly apologizing profusely. Momota had accepted the apology, comforting him, but it hadn’t changed the fact that the cards were ripped to pieces before them and that they needed to clean up the mess. A quick lot had been drawn to decide who would be left to run and fetch another stack of cards, and the lucky winner (or loser, rather) had ended up being Saihara.

So he returns, not one but two packs of cards (just in case) held in deft hands and walking past some of the patients’ rooms when he notices that Shinguji's was open.

And that there was a crying noise coming from it.

...dammit.

Sighing, he pushes the door open to bear witness to the forgery of a folklorist. The boy, realizing that Saihara’s entered, tenses up and hastily wipes his nose. “A-ah, Saihara-kun!” He straightens up. “Sorry about that, I--”

“It’s alright.” Saihara sits down next to Shinguji. “We’ve all been crying a lot lately. Me especially. There’s no need to try and hide, or pretend otherwise.”

Shinguji pauses, nods uncertainly.

“Mind if I ask... why?”

The air is heavy with silence, and tiredly, Saihara leans over and begins to rub Shinguji's back rhythmically. The exercise is rhythmical, tiring, and soon he finds himself falling asleep before Shinguji's voice jerks him back into the world of the waking.

“I was disgusting inside the game.”

Saihara sputters a bit. “U-uh, well--”

“There’s no need to pretend I wasn’t.” Shinguji stares at his bandaged hands. “You want to know something? I don’t even have a sister. Or a sibling of any kind. I’m an only child. They manipulated me to the point of thinking I did have one, to the point of--” He holds a hand to his mouth and gags. Saihara rubs his back more.

“I don’t think any less of you for it…”

Shinguji lets out a bitter laugh. “Shut up, Saihara-kun. You’re a far easier book to read than you’d like to make yourself out to be. I don’t need to have the memories of a person who loved humans to be able to read you. Your judgement of others is written all over your face, and I’m pretty sure the only person you dislike more than me is Shirogane.”

Saihara stays silent.

“Whatever. I was disgusting. I deserve it.” The boy goes back to staring at his hands. “The family meetup is tomorrow and I don’t know if my parents even like me. God knows I don’t. I won’t blame them if they don’t.”

“...but you really want to be liked by them, right? You wouldn’t be so upset if you didn’t.”

His face crumples up. “Yeah.”

 

.

 

They’re all sitting in the lobby - everyone save for Shirogane, that is, ‘cause even Ouma is there - anxiously waiting for the doors on the other side of the room to open up and allow their family members in. There’s a tension in the air, so thick that Saihara could cut it, and he drums the arms of his chairs anxiously. Even Kiibo isn’t quite sure what to do, switching through channels so quickly that Saihara can’t even catch a split second of what’s on a single one.

“Hey,” Saihara clears his throat, and fourteen pairs of eyes are on him. “if nothing else, we’re all family, that’s got to count for something--”

There’s a sound of air releasing, of something opening, and suddenly everything filled with noise. Some people are yelling and running forward, and there was so much going on in the air that normally Saihara might’ve sat up and scanned the crowd for his uncle but instead he finds himself sitting in some kind of surreal shock. Angie’s hugging someone with black hair, Tojo's shaking trembling hands with an older woman, Gonta’s embracing a giant dog and crying as someone half his height rubs his head. Maki’s sitting on her chair still, magazine open in her hands but she’s not looking at it and Ouma’s standing up with his arms crossed, his feet anxiously tap-tap-tapping beneath him. Saihara swallows, gets up, it’s better if he just went to his room it’s better if he just--

“Shuuichi?” A specific voice makes itself known throughout the clamour. “Shuuichi!”

He feels his heart leap in his chest. “Uncle?”

“Shuuichi!” His uncle maneuvers his way deftly through the crowd and Saihara feels tears come to his eyes and dammit he’s crying again but he can’t move, can’t move out of the chair as his uncle lifts him up, the stubble on his cheek that Saihara doesn’t remember being there rubbing against his face and he’s crying, his uncle is crying, and for a moment everything in the world is alright.

 

.

 

“I’m so proud of you,” his uncle says.

“You shouldn’t be.” Saihara croaks out.

“I’m so, so proud of you.”

Saihara’s nose burns.

 

.

 

It’s two days after everyone’s been reacquainted with their family, two days after they’ve left and everyone’s left with an empty space they didn’t know was empty. Saihara’s at the lobby, using the newly installed hot chocolate bar to the fullest of extents when he sees Ouma walk in.

He very pointedly works at the bar, trying hard not to look over at the boy. But Ouma doesn’t even react to Saihara’s presence (if he notices him at all), instead opting to flick on the television. Saihara breathes.

Pour in the cocoa powder. Ouma shifts, trying to get a better position on the couch, trying to be more comfortable. He scratches his nose, changes the channel.

Pour in the hot water. It’s a news channel, and Kokichi changes that channel all too quickly. Not like Saihara blames him - the news has never seemed to bring anything appealing to anyone these days. Now there’s talk of the family meetings, and everyone’s trying to talk with the relatives of the participants of the fifty third Dangan Ronpa. Saihara hopes that his uncle is doing okay.

Pick up a spoon. He has to stir the cocoa powder mixture and the hot water together, after all. It won’t mix otherwise. The new channel sounds like it’s a foreign one, cause it’s not a language Saihara recognizes. Kokichi does, though, either that or he’s faking because he lets the remote rest at his side and stares at the screen with a blank expression on his face.

Gonta enters the room. Saihara is relieved that he’s not alone.

“Ouma-kun…!” Gonta says, and Ouma tenses up like a cat that’s been shocked. “I’ve been looking for you!”

Ouma stands up abruptly, hands stiff by his sides as he makes his way towards Saihara, towards the exit. Saihara tries to hurry up in the stirring process, but ends up spilling a little on his hand. He curses under his breath.

“Ouma-kun?” Gonta’s in pursuit.

“I’m sorry. Please leave me alone.” The tense tone in Ouma's voice is off-putting to Saihara, just a touch harsher than the soft tone he's heard the boy use beforehand. “Sorry for getting you killed! I don’t want to talk about it right now, nish--" Ouma cuts his own laughter off.

“That isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about!” Saihara can hear the frown in his voice. “You didn’t have anyone come for you during the family meeting, so I wanted to see if there was anything I could do.”

Kokichi passes by Saihara just as Gonta grabs onto his shoulder. The smaller boy kicks out at Gonta, lashes at him, and the taller boy let’s go in shock. “Sorry.” Ouma repeats, and runs away into the hallway.

Gonta looks over at Saihara, deflated. “Did I say something wrong?”

Saihara sighs and pats him on the arm. “No, I don’t think it was you.” He holds up the now-mixed cup of hot chocolate. “Want some?”

“...yeah, that’d be nice.”

 

.

 

“I heard that they’re going to be releasing some of us.” Amami’s requested that Saihara spend more time with him, and Saihara has had all the time in the world recently as Akamatsu seems to be avoiding him. He looks up in interest from his phone.

“Oh?”

“They’ve got a list of people who they think are good enough to go, and if those people want to go, they can. If they don’t want to go, they can stay another month or so, and then they’re gonna be kicked out for good,” Amami sighs. “What I wouldn’t give to be on that list.”

Saihara raises an eyebrow. “Do you not wanna be here anymore?”

“Like hell I do,” Amami spits. “I don’t remember anything, and everyone here looks at me with pity. There are tons of people who live with wheelchairs out in the world, tons of people with wheelchairs who live out there alone. I can at least start anew out there. In here, I’m frustratingly trapped. It smells like plastic and metal and.” He hisses through his teeth, and Saihara places a comforting hand on the boy’s back.

“If you get put on the list, why don’t we stick together, alright?” he soothes. “Memories aren’t all that great, I can assure you of that. You’ve gotta make them yourself, and frankly, I wouldn’t mind making my new memories with you.”

Amami sighs, looks over at him.

“...alright.”

 

.

 

There’s a list tacked up in the center of the lobby one day, and everyone clamours around to read it.

 

Saihara Shuuichi

Harukawa Maki

Gokuhara Gonta

Yonaga Angie

Tojo Kirumi

Amami Rantarou

Shinguji Shinguji

Iruma Miu

Shirogane Tsumugi

 

Saihara stares, a bit in disbelief. “Hey,” He turns towards everyone, “what are we gonna do about this?”

“I’m out of this place.” Amami declares from his wheelchair, making a peace sign over his head and grinning wildly. “ God knows I couldn’t stand being in here one more minute.”

“Wait,” Tenko frowns, “how come Amami-san, the person who’s restricted by a wheelchair, is deemed healthy enough to leave, but Tenko is not?”

“Or me!” Yumeno  frowns. “I’m a survivor, shouldn’t I be okay…? If they made a mistake, I'll just... cast a magic spell to fix it, and make me on the list.”

“Don’t worry,” Harukawa yawns. “I’m not going anywhere, and I’m a survivor and on the list. There isn’t going to be a lot that we’re missing, Yumeno.”

“I’m not going to be leaving, either,” Shinguji's voice is quiet, meek, and with a black marker, Saihara crosses out his name and Harukawa's from the list. “I’m fairly certain it’s a mistake that I was put up there.”

“Frankly, I don’t think I’m in top notch shape, either.” Iruma sticks out her tongue. “Fuck whatever those guys said. I’ve got an infinite supply of hot chocolate, I’m going to be using it as much as possible. Can’t get rid of me that easy.”

There’s a clamouring of ‘hear, hear’ as Saihara crosses out Iruma’s name as well.

“Anyone else?”

“Angie is--”

“No!” Tenko looks at the smaller girl and frowns, hands on hips. “Yonaga-san is going to go out into the world, okay? She has to make her mark out there, and clear the way for everyone else in here!”

Angie’s lower lip trembles. “But…”

“No buts!” Tenko looks at Saihara. “Saihara-san, if you cross out Yonaga-san’s name, Tenko will snap your neck herself.”

“Noted.”

He glances over at Akamatsu, who’s staring at him with a sullen intensity. Swallowing, he makes to cross out his own name.

“Wait.”

Saihara freezes.

“You’ve no reason to stay,” Akamatsu points out firmly. “Don’t cross out your own name.”

He stares at her with a sort of helplessness.

“If you’re trying to stay for my sake, then don’t.” She crosses her arms. “If we switched places, I wouldn’t be waiting for you, alright? So there’s no need to wait for me.”

Saihara recaps the marker with trembling hands.

 

.

 

Later, when Saihara checks the list, there’s a thick, dark line through Shirogane’s name as well. He’s yet to see her in all the weeks since she’s woken up, he realizes, but decides that it’s probably all up for the best.

 

.

 

There’s one last therapy meeting for Saihara before he leaves, one with just him and the other people who have decided to go with him. He wheels Amami’s chair into the room where Gonta, Angie, and Tojo are already sitting. Tojo's hair has grown long, now reaching to her mid back and falling in soft curls. In contrast, Angie has cut her own hair, the white bangs swept to the side with a flowery pink hairclip and barely brushing her shoulders at its longest point.

The therapist herself smiles gently at them all, notepad in hand. “Welcome!” she says, and Saihara has never been so eager to leave a room. Pulling out a chair for himself and making sure Amami has made himself comfortable, he nods with a forced smile.

“This is going to be less of a therapy session and more of a discussion of what you all plan to do once you leave.” the therapist begins. “Due to the fact that you all participated in the fifty third season of Dangan Ronpa, you all automatically get some prize money, which will be distributed to you in parts. Saihara-san, since you were the winner, you will be getting double the amount of everyone else. Congratulations!”

He shrugs, and the therapist’s lips purse.

“Anyway, do any of you have any plans once you leave? Are you going to move in with someone? A friend, a relative?”

“I’m staying with him,” Amami motions at Saihara. “At least, for the time being.” Saihara nods to confirm this when the therapist looks at him with a touch of skepticism.

“Anyone else?”

An awkward shifting of clothing.

“I’m glad we had this meeting, then!” She chirps. “Let’s just try considering the options we have laid out for us, here. Does anyone like the idea of moving in with a friend or relative?”

“That’s out of the question for me,” Tojo says softly.

“Angie is going to live with Tenko and Yumeno once they get released, too,” says the smaller girl. “she doesn’t want to live with her relatives right now. She might be convinced to live with them, instead, and betray a promise to her friends!” Her nose crumples up, and the therapist nods.

“And you, Gokuhara-kun?”

Gonta sighs, scratches his cheek. “Admittedly, I don’t have any particular plans, but if possible...I’d really rather not live with any of my relatives.” He lets out a nervous laugh. “S-sorry.”

“Oh no, that’s fine!” The therapist makes a few marks on her notepad before clicking the pen in her hand several times in rapid succession. “In that case, why don’t you guys all just live with each other? It doesn’t have to be anything permanent, but Team Dangan Ronpa can arrange for a large apartment flat for the five of you. We can pay for, say, six months in advance? And if you still want to live there for another six months, we’ll make another installment in the pay.” She leans forward. “How does that sound?”

There’s a murmur of agreement around the table, and the therapist makes a large gesture with her hand that Saihara can only assume is supposed to be a check mark.

“Perfect!” She hums. “Now, onto the next order of business--”

 

.

 

The goodbyes are tearful for some, some being Angie, Tenko, and Yumeno. There are some people that have not come to say goodbye. Two of those people, Saihara expects - Ouma and Shirogane.

What he doesn’t expect is that Akamatsu is nowhere to be seen.

When he looks at Momota with questioning eyes, the boy shrugs. “I asked her to come, but she said she was busy.” Is all he can supply, and it feels like a stab to Saihara’s chest.

 

.

 

They brought along a laptop with them - Kiibo’s laptop, to be precise, and once they arrive at the flat and plug the AI into the TV, he sparks to life.

“Wow!” he exclaims, and everyone winces and covers their ears because they didn’t realize that surround sound hadn’t been turned off. “Sorry, sorry!” The pixelated face turns red. “I lowered the volume! Sorry!”

“It’s no problem,” Saihara reassures. “No damage was done.”

“Except for the fact that I’ve permanently lost all use of my ears," Amami comments sarcastically. Kiibo begins to cry.

“A-Amami-san, I-I’m so s-sorry--”

“He’s joking,” Angie cuts in. Amami laughs dryly and nods as confirmation.

The flat itself is large, with two levels. The first level consists of a kitchen, a dining room, and a living room that looks out onto a huge glass wall. The second level overlooks the first and requires a staircase to be taken to it (with accommodations made for those with wheelchairs, once it was discovered that amami would be residing there). There are three bedrooms there, each with three beds, and Angie races up the stairs excitedly.

“Look, Kirumi!” she exclaims. “The bathroom has three vanities! We can put on makeup together!”

“I would like to join you in those endeavors!” Gonta calls out, and Angie squeals in delight. Kiibo makes a comment about how he’s regretful that he can’t put on makeup himself, and Saihara looks over at Amami.

“Well? What do you think?”

Amami’s lips purse. “I’m...not quite sure yet.” He admits. “Seems like a nice enough place, but it isn’t quite free, you know?” He rolls a lazy hand over one of his wheels, causing the chair to spin in place. “Doesn’t help that Team Dangan Ronpa paid for this. I’d much rather pay for this with my own dough, thank you very much.”

Saihara laughs lightly. “It’s not like any of us have any real jobs, besides having been in that season--”

“That’s what you think.” Amami's face splits into a grin. “I’m going to become a blogger. You can make quite a bit of money from those places, you know? Wouldn’t it be appealing? The tales of an amnesiac...certainly an appealing story, without a doubt!”

Saihara's mind wanders to the blog he made in another life. “...yeah. Actually, now that you bring it up, I might want to try it out myself.”

“Competition? Ohoho.” Amami chuckles. “ I see how it is.”

 

.

 

After playing with the idea for a bit, he decides to use Kiibo’s laptop. After making the robot swear not to tell a single soul about the ordeal, he puts on the clothes he wore during the simulation and straightens his hat nervously.

“H-hello!” He smiles at the web camera. “It sure has been a while since I’ve made a blog post, huh?” He laughs nervously. “This may come as a surprise to a few of you, but I’ve been trapped in a game of mutual killing for a couple months. Not an experience I would recommend to anyone else, just as an FYI.”

“Saihara, who are you talking to?” Amami calls out from the background, and Saihara cringes. “Did you invite someone over? Or are you video calling with someone back at the ward?” The blond boy races over with his chair and peers at the camera. “Oooh, are you recording something?”

Saihara sighs and turns off the camera. “I was. ” He scowls. “Until you interrupted. Do you mind?” He makes vague waving motions, and after sticking out his tongue, Amami scoots away. Saihara sighs and runs his hands through his hair, looking back at the camera.

“I think it’s good you messed up the first time! Now you have a practice session under your belt, yeah?” Kiibo whirrs.

“Yeah, I guess.”

 

.

 

Saihara awakens to sobs on the other side of the room. The bedrooms had been split up by gender, and at first he thinks that it’s Amami who’s crying, but a quick glance at his side of his room reveals that the boy is curled up on his bed, wheelchair looming slightly menacingly in the dark.

Glancing on the other side, he sees Gonta’s trembling form, and feels something squeeze his heart.

“...Gonta-kun?”

The sniffling slows down a little bit. “S-sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up.” He whispers, and Saihara hops out of his bed.

“No, it’s alright.” He soothes, and turns on one of the smaller lamps. It flickers once, twice, before steadying on a low glow and outlining the tear streaks down Gonta’s face. The boy wipes his nose with a too large hand, and sighs. “Bad dreams?”

“Yeah.” He breathes in deeply. “I keep on...keep on dreaming about dying. And it’s terrifying.”

“It’s not like death is a pleasant experience.” Saihara points out, and Gonta chuckles tiredly.

“You’re not wrong.” He agrees. “Before...all this, I was. Uh. Kind of a delinquent?”

“You?” Saihara can’t stop the chuckle that forms in the back of his throat, and Gonta flinches. “Sorry. That wasn’t right of me.”

“No, no. It’s fine. I’d probably laugh soon.” Gonta runs a hand through his hair. “When I met up with my folks, they had brought one of my friends from back then. Also a kid who was not exactly on the straight and narrow road. He kept on talking about how excited he was to see me again, which was all great and all but then he started talking about all this rough housing and how he was just waiting to see me pound someone’s skull in, and how he was proud of me for killing Iruma-san. Proud of me!” He bites his lip. “Saihara-kun, that isn’t the kind of person I want to be.”

Saihara stares at the wall. “...well, then you don’t have to be that kind of person. You were that kind of person, once upon a time, but that’s not who you are anymore, right? You’ve changed a lot, had a lot of character building experiences or whatever, and it’s made you out to be a better person, hasn’t it?”

Silence.

“You don’t have to be the ‘Gonta from before the game’ or the ‘Gonta from inside the game’. You can pick and choose and become your own person.” He pats Gonta firmly on the back. “You’re really empathetic, even for those that don’t deserve it, and that makes for a good person.”

“...do you think?”

“I know.”

 

.

 

The bed that he lays on after talking with Gonta is soft, but he lays on it as stiff as a board anyway.

 

.

 

The day afterwards, he ends up booting up the laptop once again. Clearing his throat, he opens up the recording software, stares at it for a minute or two, and then closes it.

Instead, he logs into his blog and writes a text written post. It takes him a while to get all his thoughts gathered together, and he winces at some of the awkward phrasing. Nonetheless, it’s certainly better than the botched video with Amami, and he posts it hastily.

For the next four minutes, he alters between closing and reopening the tab, not sure whether to look forward to the comments that might or might not come in (if any will come in at all).

“Saihara-san, what are you doing?”

He shuts the laptop down.

 

.

 

“You can see what they’re all doing back there, right?” Saihara’s watching television, and Kiibo joins him by sitting on the edge of the set.

“Yes. I can kind of...split up my self? If that makes sense? So there’s a me that’s interacting with you right now, and a me that’s currently interacting with Hoshi.”

Saihara raises an eyebrow. “Impressive.”

“Thank you! ...though, it’s not really.”

He chuckles. “Hey, mind giving me an update on Akamatsu-san’s status?”

A long, drawn out pause.

“Kiibo?”

“...that’s not permissible. I’m sorry.”

Saihara stands up and scowls. “Why the fuck not?”

“She herself has requested that I don’t relay any information about her to you.” The AI gasps. “Oh, but I just did, didn’t I? I’m so terribly sorry. I’ll have to go apologize to Akamatsu-san later.” Kiibo flickers away from the TV’s existence, and Saihara is left staring dumbfounded.

 

.

 

Tojo comes home with several boxes of ice cream one day, causing Angie to squeal in delight and Amami to instantly claim the entire container of double brownie fudge (with chocolate chip pieces). Gonta is, without a doubt, not happy with the circumstances, and begins to argue with the boy, causing Kiibo to flicker the lights on and off and Angie to scream ‘discourse, discourse!’

After Tojo walks over to the window and threatens to drop all the containers down onto the street below, rendering them all uneatable, everyone quiets down.

It turns out that Amami wouldn’t have been able to eat the entire container, anyway, because halfway through his second bowl he gets sick and Saihara has to rub his back as he pukes into the trashcan. Angie manages to make her way through an impressive eight bowls, however, and Gonta comments on how it’s probably going to go in some sort of book of Guinness World Records. Or something.

Kiibo turns on the TV and makes it stream some obscure foreign music, and Tojo begins to dance. She’s a much better dancer than initially suspected, and wearing the red dress and black leather jacket that no one knows from where she got it, she’s just about drop dead gorgeous.

Amami manages to stand up for the first time without immediately passing out, and Yonaga holds his hands as they awkwardly shimmy around Tojo. Gonta offers Saihara a piggyback ride which he gratefully accepts, and together with Kiibo the six of them just have fun, without a damn care in the world.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been that happy in ages.” Tojo lays down on the couch, silver curls sticking her to her face.

“Same for Angie.”

“And for me,” Amami chimes in.

 

.

 

The sugar keeps Saihara awake until 4 am, and after tossing and turning in his bed for hours on end, he decides to go and clean the kitchen since no one else actually bothered to do it. He nearly slips and falls down on the stairs, barely catching himself on the next to last step, and he breathes shakily.

He flicks on the light switch in the kitchen, and surveys the mess. Angie only ate vanilla ice cream, so it isn’t hard to distinguish her work. The purple bowls she ate from still have a little bit of dried ice cream residue in them, tinted yellow from exposure. Picking up the nearest bowl, he gets to work scrubbing out the insides with a wet cloth.

It takes faster than he expected, and soon enough, he’s finding his vision get blurry from sleep and a stack of clean, unbroken bowls on his right. Yawning, he shuts off the kitchen light, ready to head back to sleep, when he notices a figure sitting next to the glass wall.

“Amami-kun?” He calls out. “Shouldn’t you be asleep…?”

He walks a couple steps closer to the boy, only to see that Amami's head is nodded over and that soft snores rise from his mouth.

Carefully, Saihara wheels his chair a couple feet away from the glass window before making his way back upstairs.

 

.

 

The comments pouring in on Saihara’s blog aren’t necessarily unpleasant (though a few are), and after a couple minutes deliberation, he decides to password protect the blog.

“Can you give this out to all the other participants of the game?” He asks Kiibo, sending the AI a notepad file.

Kiibo is silent for a second or two, busy opening the file. “This? As a password? Really?”

Saihara shrugs. “It works for us, doesn’t it? And isn’t it fitting?”

“It’s quite...cheesy.”

“It’s fitting, isn’t it?” Saihara says with a touch more emphasis, and the laptop whirrs.

“I suppose that’s one way to interpret it, yes.”

 

.

 

Another wave of people are released from the hospital, though perhaps a more appropriate term is ‘pair’, as only two people end up leaving - Tenko and Yumeno. Saihara offers that they stay with the rest of them, at the flat, but they politely refuse. Once Angie finds out their response, she leaves the flat, as well.

“Angie is gonna miss you guys!” She declares, leaving a lipstick covered kiss on everyone’s cheeks. Tojo laughs lightly.

“We’re going to be keeping in contact. It’s not like anyone’s leaving for good. We still have each other - don’t worry your pretty little head about anything.”

Angie grins wildly and closes the door behind her.

 

.

 

Tojo is, surprisingly, the most positive person out of the five people left in the flat. She wakes up bright and early the next morning, whipping up a plate of pancakes and placing it in front of Saihara's face. “Eat,” she demands, and he stares.

“But--”

“Eat it.” She puts her hands on her hips, and besides him, Amami begins to dig into his own plate. “I’ll take personal offense if you don’t, and trust me, you don’t want that.”

She cracks her knuckles, and glancing at her red fingernails, Saihara swallows and obeys her commands. It’s not quite as good as the meals he had inside the simulation, and Tojo probably knows it herself, but she’s trying, dammit.

And that’s far more than Saihara was doing, so it’s not like he had any place or any right to critique her. These plates are far more real than the ones inside the simulation would have ever had, anyhow, and that should be reason enough to enjoy the food.

“Thanks for the meal,” he murmurs around a mouthful of pancake, and Tojo beams.

 

.

 

Seeing a massive ant farm stationed on the coffee table in the middle of the lobby is a bit of a shock to Saihara's system, to say the least. He blinks, staring at it for a bit before Gonta strolls in with a mug of coffee in hand.

“Oh!” He smiles pleasantly. “Do you like it?”

“It’s certainly something,” Saihara admits.

“I’m trying to get myself to like bugs.” Gonta continues on, setting the mug down next to the farm. “I actually...kind of hate them. Isn’t that strange?” He laughs lightly. “They’re creepy and crawly and get in all those unpleasant places that you don’t want them to. It’s so strange that I found them appealing and lovable back there, when I think that they’re anything but over here.”

Leaning forward, he taps the glass, watching the ants scatter. “Maybe it’s because they weren’t that I liked them…?” he hums. “Maybe there was something about how grotesque they were that I found them appealing...but, it’s not like anything matters now.” He laughs lightly. “You wanna watch a movie? I’m trying to get some bonding time in with these guys, and a movie just might be the perfect way to do it.

“S-sure,” Saihara sputters, and Gonta laughs.

 

.

 

When he gets a notification that he’s been emailed by kaede.akamatsu@danganronpa.org, Saihara feels his heart leap through his chest. With trembling hands, he opens the email.

The subject line is blank, and the email itself is nearly, too.

Dear Saihara, it starts, I’m sorry that I have to do this via email, instead of face to face. I don’t have the courage to, otherwise, which is shameful of me.

I don’t think we should be friends anymore.

Saihara’s world crumbles.

It’s nothing personal, I just don’t think that it’s appropriate for us to be talking anymore. Our relationship is far different than it was inside the game, and I think that’s something that the both of us need to realize.

I’m sorry.

 

.

 

Amami’s the one rubbing his back, now, as they both stare outside the glass window onto the city below them. In the back of Saihara’s mind, it occurs to him that he has yet to actually explore the city itself, but at the moment he can’t find it in himself to care.

“I loved her so much.” His voice cracks.

“I know.”

“I-I don’t care that she’s different than she was inside the game,” he sniffles, wipes his nose with his sleeve. “I...I don’t know what I did wrong. W-was I too clingy? Too obsessive? That’s probably it.” He laughs bitterly. “ God, what an awful excuse for a human being I am. I knew things were going too well. I knew I shouldn’t have woken up.”

Amami’s rubbing pauses for a moment, resuming again after a few seconds.

“You don’t mean that.”

“I do.”

“Saihara-kun,” Amami says softly, “it wasn’t your fault. Trust me on this one. I...I think Akamatsu is still trying to sort out a lot of her emotions herself. It’s only been a couple months since you’ve woken up, and even less for her. A lot of this might be...self-hatred. A lot of this is wounds that just need time to heal them.”

“Time still leaves scars.”

Amami shrugs. “It’s better than an open, gashing wound, isn’t it?” He sighs. “Saihara-kun, please, don’t beat yourself up over this. Things will get themselves sorted out. You’re not as bad of a person as you make yourself out to be. This won’t be the last time you talk to Akamatsu.”

“...do you promise?”

“I swear it on my life.”

Saihara pauses, takes a shaky breath. “I...I miss her. So much.”

“I know you do.”

 

.

 

Saihara tries opening his blog on a new browser.

> Password? The screen queries.

we have gained loss He types.

The blog opens up.

Chapter Text

Tenko Chabashira slams her cup of coffee down after draining it one go, licking her lips and letting out a satisfied wapaah! to bring emphasis to her actions. Across the counter, Yumeno surveys her over her own cup of hot chocolate, a single eyebrow quirked.

“Careful, you’ll get whiplash. 'n I don't have enough MP to cure that right now,” she comments, but Tenko simply rolls her eyes.

“And? Tenko won’t let that get her down! She’s a far stronger person than that.” Yumeno shrugs in response and goes back to drinking from the mug. It’s a gift that Angie got her from Disney World when they visited it together a couple weeks back - one of those extra large ones, with a base color of red and Minnie’s face plastered on one side of it. Yumeno loves it to bits, but then again, there isn’t much that Tenko or Angie has given her that she doesn’t.

“Whatever you say,” The smaller girl mutters, shivers. Tenko gasps a bit overdramatically.

“Yumeno-san! Are you cold?”

A frown. “Actually, now that you mention it…”

“Leave it up to Tenko!”

Their house is only one story, but it’s a house in the first place, and that’s more than they had initially been expecting. It’s far away from the Team Dangan Ronpa’s headquarters, so that’s a major plus right there. The kitchen opens up into a small living room, which in turn opens up to the porch - a small, beautiful porch with a grill to roast marshmallows over and small candles to surround it. Tenko pushes open the sliding door, stepping onto said porch and breathing in the fresh, morning dew.

“How refreshing!” she hums, and Yumeno snorts in the background. Paying no mind, the black haired girl picks up the blanket draped over one of the wicker chairs. Similar to the cup Yumeno had been holding, its Disney themed - though it’s more ‘Tinker Bell’ focused than ‘Minnie Mouse’. What with the magic theme, it’s no wonder Yumeno adores it more so than all the other blankets that have been purchased for her--

Or, is that right? Tenko frowns as she drapes the blanket over Yumeno, who lets out a sigh of relief. “Thank you,” she murmurs, pulling the edges of the blanket closer around her small frame.

“It’s no problem,” Tenko reassures, and it isn’t, is it? She turns to the refrigerator and pulls out a jug of orange juice, pondering something that she probably should have pondered over a year ago, when they had all first awakened. The moments in which Tenko had auditioned for a role in the latest game had been all but engraved in her mind, after all, and it wasn’t something she was likely to forget - a meeker girl who had wanted confidence, who had wanted strength (and hadn’t she gotten it?). It seemed like a lifetime ago, and in a sense, it was.

But she hadn’t specified what Super High-School Level she had wanted, had desired, and although it was no guarantee that anyone would receive a talent that they petitioned for, it was certainly an option for them to request one. After all, Saihara had requested to be the Detective right from the get-go and he had gotten it, hadn’t he?

Tenko briefly plays with the idea, wondering if Amami had been able to choose his SHSL before being dubbed as the Super High-School Level Survivor, but shakes her head in frustration after a few moments. It isn’t her place to say anything, if he did.

“Hey, Yumeno-san?”

The girl looks up. “Yeah?”

“What’s your opinion on magic? Do you still enjoy it?”

Even after the killing game?

The unspoken words hang heavy in the air, but both of them would be fools if they didn’t admit that they were there.

Yumeno pauses, a faraway look in her eyes as she chews on her bottom lip. “That’s...something I wouldn’t have expected Tenko to bring up this late.” She admits, and Tenko laughs guiltily. “But...I suppose that I’ve never really thought about it.” She rocks back on her chair, neck leaning back to gaze at the ceiling. “I can’t say that I’m nearly as passionate or comfortable with it as I was inside the game, but I don’t... dis like it? You would think that magic would’ve been ruined for me, considering all that’s happened, but I still...like it. The mystery and the pizzaz, it all has some sort of appeal to it, don’t you think? It’s not worth hating it over something like the killing game.”

Tenko rubs her chin. “Yumeno-san is wise.”

“I...wouldn’t say that.” She takes another sip from her mug. “I think it’s some kind of perspective? Some sort of perspective you'd see on...a cliche positivity blog.” Yumeno snorts. “Speaking of blogs, have you checked Shuuichi’s recently?”

“Oh!” Tenko jumps up. “Tenko has not! Thank you for the reminder.” Planting a kiss on the smaller girl’s head that caused her to sputter indignantly, the girl makes her way over to their singular laptop.

 

.

 

Months back, when Kiibo emailed her the notepad with the words we have gained loss inscribed upon it, Tenko had laughed her ass off. “Tenko knew that Saihara-san was a cheesy piece of shit,” She had wheezed, “but this? God, Tenko is getting second hand embarrassment from this.”

Kiibo makes a sound of agreement (or at least, what Tenko assumes is a sound of agreement) as she plugs in the password when prompted to. The blog opens up for her without any trouble, and she stares at the latest post.

It’s under a read more, (can’t get to Saihara behind his seven proxies, apparently), and after clicking it, the words beneath don’t look like there’s much to be desired.

To my dear classmates, it starts off, and Tenko wonders if they were ever dear in the first place or if they can even be considered classmates, welcome to my blog! I’m not too sure what to write here, but I intend for this to grow to be a place where we can reconvene our thoughts. I think it’s important that we uphold some kind of connections with each other, no matter the circumstances that divide us! After all, we’ve all been put through something that has caused us to forge deep, important bonds with each other - bonds that won’t easily be replaced by anything. It would be terrible if such bonds were to be destroyed, and thus, I have created a blog for some of my daily and weekly musings! I...can’t think of anything particular to say now, and I apologize for how awkward this post is turning out. If you ever wish to contact me, you can always contact me at shuuichi.saihara@danganronpa.org, just like you can contact any of us with the emails provided to us by Team Dangan Ronpa! So please, don’t be a stranger!

Tenko huffs and closes the post before checking to see if anyone else left any comments on it. “What a melodramatic person.” She mutters, running a hand through her hair. “We’re all nearly adults now, some of us are already. Stop being so clingy.”

 

.

 

She turns on the laptop, feet tapping in impatient frustration as the screen slowly loads. It takes far too long for her liking, but it’s not like they have much money to go around, not like they can spend money getting the newest and freshest laptop every month. Sure, they’ve got prize money, loads of it, but even with the three of them combined (and one of them being a survivor) they’ve got to be frugal because none of them have jobs.

(all of them are too scared to have jobs)

...that being said, they did just go to Disney World, which is by no means a cheap trip to make, but. It was worth it, if it made them happier even for a couple hours.

Saihara’s blog loads up without much trouble, but a quick refresh of the page confirms that either the boy has yet to wake up, or he has yet to find something to write about.

“Nothing here, sorry, Yumeno-san!” Tenko calls back to the kitchen, and the redhead shrugs.

“Eh, it’s not like he’s a real good writer anyway.”

“That’s harsh!” Angie walks in, bunny slippers that are several sizes too big for her slapping noisily against the wooden floor. “Angie thinks that Shuuichi is trying his best!”

“Good morning to you too,” Yumeno tries to take yet another drink from her mug, but apparently, the mug is a long time empty. Sighing, she hops off of the stool she was sitting on and places it into the sink, which is already cluttered with dish upon dirty dish.

“Tenko sees how it is.” She places a dramatic hand to her forehead. “Yonaga-san just doesn’t love us anymore, and wants to move back into that flat with a boy now, Yumeno-san…! How tragic!”

“That’s untrue!” Angie stomps her feet on the ground. Slap, slap, slap.

“Oh, really?”

“Yes, really.”

“Alright, then.” Tenko cracks her neck. “What does Yonaga-san want for breakfast? Tenko’s in a cooking mood today.”

There’s a pause as Angie taps her chin, considering her options. “Weeell,” she stretches out the word, “Angie was going to have some yummy Lucky Charms and pour some sugar and skittles over them--”

“That is not healthy,” Yumeno blanches.

“--buuuuut on second thought, she could go for some pancakes,” Angie hurriedly adds, “chocolate chip pancakes. With tops of whipped cream, thank you very much!”

“Coming right up!” Tenko winks and removes an apron from a nearby hook, tying it around her waist.

Yumeno groans. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

“If you can help it, please don’t. It’s quite a mess to clean up!”

“We’ll see.”

 

.

 

Shirogane’s rich now, richer than all of them combined, and even though Tenko has only spoken to her twice since the game ended (once where she asked why the girl had done it and gotten no response, a second time because she decided to invite the cosplayer to play a game of ping pong out of pity) apparently, that was enough for her to send over gifts nearly constantly.

A good majority of Tenko’s wardrobe consisted of expensive foreign indie clothing that Shirogane had bought for her, and she’d be lying if she said she didn’t love them. The soft colors made her feel pretty, made her feel beautiful, and as she looked at herself in the mirror with a mint colored sweater and stone wash jeans she thought she looked alright.

(God knows that she rarely thought that of herself most days)

“Heeey, Tenko’s heading out!” She called, tapping the toe of her foot against the floor. “We’re out of chocolate chips, so she needs to get more! Tenko hopes Yonaga-san doesn’t mind that her breakfast will probably end up being a late lunch instead.”

“Angie doesn’t mind!” The girl calls back. “She can just go back to her original choice and eat a bunch of Lucky Charms instead!”

“I swear I'm gonna cast a hex on you--"

Tenko doesn’t hear the rest of Yumeno's frustrated noises, instead opting to push open the door. It’s later in the day now than when she grabbed the Tinker Bell blanket from outside, and the dew has faded away into a warmer glow. She breathes in deeply, savoring the air and the feeling of being alive as she makes her way down the sidewalk, towards the bus stop.

The neighborhood itself is pleasant, quiet - full of older couples living out their last days or younger people who’d much rather be left alone in peace than out there in the city. Sure, they know who Tenko is - God, who doesn’t - but it doesn’t make them look at her differently, with pity or disgust or anything as they wave cheery ‘good mornings!’ at her as she walks down the street.

“Ah, Chabashira!” says one particularly older woman at the stop. Tenko bows.

“Minako-sensei!” She grins. “What brings you out to town today?”

“I was planning on getting some new, uh…” Minako snaps her fingers together, trying to recall what it is she wanted to say, “Threads! Yes, that’s it, threads. I’m looking for a bit more of a vibrant look, now! I’ve heard from some that getting new ‘threads’ is what you need to get the kick of life back in you, so.” She cracks her knuckles. “I’m here for anything that will get the ‘kick of life’ in me, frankly.”

“Tenko thinks that Minako-sensei is quite lively, with or without new clothing!”

The woman chuckles. “Thank you, dear, but there’s no need to lie for my sake.” She sighs. “Speaking of lively, however, there was another young person whom I saw looking for you.”

Oh? Tenko gives pause.

“I believe they might have been one of the other contestants in that game you were in…? I never watched it, as it was far too ghastly a game for me to stomach.” Minako hesitates. “Forgive me if I went too far, dear.”

“Tenko doesn’t mind in the slightest!” She reassures, but her mind is too preoccupied as the bus pulls in and they both step inside.

(she’s afraid that the person might be a certain person with a zippered mask, but hell if she’s gonna admit her fears; tenko’s strong, now, even if she wasn’t strong before)

 

.

 

The shop is called ‘Tomorrow’s Bounty’, supposedly because even though many don’t consider the food there ‘normal’ with its star shaped fruits and foreign cereal flavors, its going to be appreciated ‘tomorrow’, in the future.

Angie’s probably the biggest fan of the place, but that’s only because of the ridiculous amount of sugar and chemicals in there. Yumeno hates it and Tenko’s honestly neutral. They’ve got good deals there, though, and their chocolate chips tasted normal enough, so yeah, she was gonna buy her chocolate chips there, cute redhead magician like it or not.

There’s a jingly tune as she enters the shop, and the cashier - a young blond girl with straight hair pulled back in a ponytail - gasps, straightening herself up. “W-welcome!” She stutters, “We just got a new shipping of Cosmo Flakes, if you’re interested! Quite tasty for a midnight snack, and they’re aesthetically pleasing, to boot.”

Tenko smiles kindly but shakes her head. “Tenko’s just here for some chocolate chips. You’ve got any?”

“Of course!”

The girl steps into the back, into the shadows and Tenko flinches as there’s a shine not unlike a knife and her breath catches in her throat--

“Excuse me? Are you alright?” There’s a bag of chocolate chips in front of her and Tenko’s fine, she’s fine, she’s always been fine.

She nods stiffly before digging into her bag, pulling out several bills and placing them on the counter. “Keep the change,” she chokes out, and grabs the bag without saying another word.

 

.

 

Her memories are muddled, to say the least; fucked, to say the most.

Tenko Chabashira’s father is loving, a kind man who has supported her from day one, who has been nothing but supportive as at eleven years old she tells him that she’s not a boy, she’s a girl who also likes girls and he pulls her close to his chest and tells her how proud he is of her, how courageous she is, how he’ll get started on changing the legal papers right away and get her the proper meds and she’s sobbing, sobbing, sobbing in joy.

The SHSL Aikido Master has a father who comes home with a bottle in one hand and a belt that serves as a whip in the other and his breath smells like awful, awful alcohol and she hates the smell, hates those awful, awful boys and that serves as the backspring for her career in aikido and she’s sobbing, sobbing, sobbing in hate.

During the family meeting her father stares at her and she stares back. He’s trembling, just a bit, and while she’s sure it’s from happiness a tinier piece in the back of her head screams hesitance.

“Tenko,” he says, reaching out with a smile that’s far too kind for her. She flinches, and his face is riddled with hurt.

“Don’t touch me.” She says softly. “...sorry.”

“It’s alright.” The pain is all too apparent in his voice, the voice of a kind person, but all Tenko can hear is the tired lull of a drunken man.

 

.

 

She considers going home straight away to get started on the pancakes, but decides against it. Angie wouldn’t be hungry after eating that disgusting mess of a breakfast, after all. Tenko had time to walk around.

The coffee shop that she goes to is nice, a small place that goes by the name of ‘Aroma Mocha’. The smell fits the name, and as the door swings open, she’s hit with a waft of the smell. It’s pleasant, to say the least, and she breathes it in enthusiastically.

“Uwaah, look what the cat dragged in! Fancy seeing you here, Miss Andry!”

For a moment, Tenko can’t breathe and she stares at nothing, breaths coming out just a millisecond faster than usual before she tells herself that no, no, nothing’s wrong here, and her vision focuses.

Iruma’s leaning in front of her, her unruly hair tied into two childish pigtails and dip-dyed pink. Tenko raises an eyebrow.

“Is it really a surprise, Iruma-san?” She sighs. “Tenko thinks it’s obvious you were searching her out.”

“Oh?”

“Tenko lives out in the middle of nowhere, practically. There is no reason for Iruma to be here.”

Iruma pouts. “Ah, you’re so mean!” She places her hands on her hips. “Like, so what! I just wanted to spend some time with my pal! Is there anything wrong with that?”

“...we’ll see.”

Ignoring the girl’s pleas, Tenko makes her way over to the counter and orders a small latte from the barista, already pulling bills out of her wallet. That, too, is Disney themed - and half covered in glitter due to an unfortunate incident where Angie bought far, far too much of glitter-based paint and then had tripped with the lid off.

It’s served up soon enough, and Tenko takes the cup with a stiff smile and a small nod as Iruma practically breathes down her neck.

(she was supposed to like girls, right? so why did this one make her so uncomfortable right now?)

“Finished?” Iruma hums. “We should stay here together, discuss things, and stuff!”

“...no, thanks.”

“Ehhh?! Why not?”

“Tenko has places to be.” She sits at a stool by the bar meant specifically for one, but Iruma cannot seem to take a hint, and stands directly behind her. “After she finishes up this cup, she has to go.”

“In a small town like this?” Iruma sits on the fucking table and Tenko has to hold back the gag that’s begun to form in the back of her throat. “Stop bullshitting me, fam. And even if you are going somewhere, what’s to say that dear ol’ ‘Ruma isn’t allowed to come with?”

Tenko shifts uncomfortably. “What do you want.”

“I want to catch up with an old friend.” The girl sticks her finger right into Tenko’s cup, causing the girl to let out an unpleasant noise before sighing and letting the girl do what she wanted. “You and your squad have been cut off from the rest of all of us for, like, a super long time. I wanna know what’s up, okay? Separation isn’t a healthy coping mechanism, or whatever. Need a healthy orgy to shake things up a bit.”

“Tenko’s not entirely sure if that’s true or not," she says, ignoring the inappropriate comment. "Tenko’s pretty sure she’s heard that it’s different for everyone, anyway. Separation might just be a good coping mechanism for us, and a bad one for you.”

Iruma withdraws her fingers from the cup, knuckles whitening, and Tenko bites her tongue.

“...Tenko is going home, after this. You can tag along, if you’d like.”

“Oh, hell yeah. That’s what I’m talking about.”

 

.

 

When Tenko first wakes up, there is a bangbangbanging in her head and as she stares up at the ceiling, she feels a lump forming in her throat.

There are so many people around her, in that disgusting sterile white color that makes her wanna puke for the sheer joy of tainting the color but she can’t move, she can’t move and everyone’s staring at her and why isn’t she fighting back why isn’t she doing anything why why why whywhywhy whywhywhywh--

“Tenko Chabashira!” One of the figures say (because they can hardly be considered people now that she thinks about it). “Congratulations! You’ve made it through the 53rd season of Danganronpa. Even if you were technically killed in it, but.” They chuckle. “You’ve done a great job.”

She almost wishes that she hadn’t survived, if only not to hear those words.

 

.

 

“Home!” Tenko calls out, opening the door with a slam. “With company.”

Angie’s face peaks around the corner almost comically. “Miu!” She gasps, and runs into the older girl’s arms. Iruma laughs and picks her up, spinning her around in circles. “Angie has missed you!”

“Trust me, I’d have missed me too!” The taller girl places Angie on the ground before poking her nose with a little ‘boop’. “How have you been?”

“Terrible.” Angie pauses. “Ah, Angie can’t even lie about being terrible as a joke. We went to Disney, a while ago!”

“Or so I’ve heard! I saw a couple of those photos, and trust me, you look as cute as a button with those mouse ears!” Iruma sighs wistfully. “Oh, if only I could have been there!”

“There’s next time.” Tenko removes her shoes and makes her way into the kitchen, tapping Yumeno on the head on the way in. “Hey, Yumeno-san, wake up - we’ve got company.”

The redhead blinks sleepily, lifting her head up and yawning. “Did I fall asleep?” she drawls. “Sorryyy.”

“Yeah, you did.” Tenko places the bag of chocolate chips on the counter, and turns away for a single second to put on her apron.

When she looks back, Iruma has ripped open the bag and is already stuffing some of the chocolate in her mouth, not a trace of guilt on her face.

“Hey!” Tenko snatches the bag away, causing even more chocolate to spill out on the floor. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Eating those delicious chocolate chips.”

“...Tenko doubts they’re very good.”

“They’re gross,” Yumeno confirms, and Angie makes an indignant noise.

“They obviously don’t know what true taste is like, as you can see.” She huffs. “But at the very least, it’s more for Angie, isn’t it? And for you too, if Iruma wants.”

“I would like that.” Iruma hums.

“Well, none of you are allowed to have any. Not if Yonaga-san wants her pancakes.”

Yumeno sticks her legs out from under her, letting out another barely stifled yawn. “I think she could go without them, honestly. It’d probably...no, it definitely would be much better for her health. Also, she wouldn’t be puking it up all over.”

“That was one time!”

“Alright.”

Tenko begins to take out the other needed ingredients, unable to keep the smile from her face as Angie and Yumeno bantered. It was annoying, but.

She definitely liked it.

 

.

 

“A party?”

The whole day had been spent talking with Iruma, watching movies, playing Apples to Apples (because Tenko was firm on not allowing a game of Cards Against Humanity, no matter how much Iruma had begged) and eating some of Angie’s disgustingly sweet pancakes. Yumeno had been passed out on the couch for most of the time, and after a while, the white haired girl had joined her. Their limbs tangled awkwardly with each other, but they lay there, peacefully sleeping.

“I’m not speaking Greek, am I?” Iruma snorted. “Yeah, a party. In roughly two weeks, it’s gonna be the day Ouma woke up - the day all of us were awake and together again. Isn’t that reason to celebrate?”

Tenko considers exactly how un pleasant it was to have everyone awake again, but nods anyway.

“And I thought to my genius self, why not have a get-together? You saw how much fun we all had today, and that was just when you added me to the equation. Not like I’m anything to laugh at, but.” Iruma blows on her nails and rubs them against her shirt, grinning. Tenko isn’t all that impressed.

“So what? You want to have the get-together here?” Tenko groans. “Iruma-san, the gesture is appreciated but we just don’t have the money for this kind of thing.” She runs her hands through her hair. “Besides, the hustle and bustle is too much for the kind of life we want to live now.”

Iruma picks up one of the chocolate chips left on the table and toys with it between fingernails that are a hot, bright pink - far too bright for Tenko’s taste. “Is that what the other two sluts here want?” she hums. “Or what you want?”

Tenko scowls.

 

.

 

Iruma leaves the next morning, before anyone else wakes up, and Angie’s upset. “Angie wanted to spend more time with her!” She wails.

Tenko clicks her tongue, lies about how it’s ‘such a shame’ and sits down at the computer, absentmindedly checking Saihara’s blog. It’s been updated, and she clicks the read more.

To my dearest classmates, The latest post starts off as usual, and Tenko snickers at the cheesiness, it’s been awhile since we all last convened together, didn’t we? Personally, I’ve really missed talking to all of you, and I’m sure that there are some of you that share my sentiments.

“Tenko doesn’t.”

In fact, I know for sure that Chabashira-san does!

Tenko blinks.

She, along with Yonaga-san and Yumeno-san, have all agreed to host a party at their house in two weeks time! It’ll be an all day thing, and if need be, you can even sleepover - be sure to send a kind message their way for their generosity! It’ll be barbeque-esque, and we can use this time to all catch up with each other. Please, message either me or Chabashira-san if you have any questions.

There is a long pause as Tenko stares at the screen. Behind her, Angie pours sugar into her cereal bowl, causing Yumeno to yell at the girl and for Angie to blow a raspberry before hopping over to Tenko.

“Oh!” She gasps. “We’re hosting a party? Angie didn’t know that! She’s so excited!”

Tenko picks up the chair she was sitting on and slams it on the ground.

“Mother fucker!”

 

.

 

Therapy is bullshit, it’s all bullshit and Tenko’s got an odd fixation with the number fifty three as she counts the stars Momota and Angie have put on her ceiling, that they’ve put on everyone’s ceilings, apparently. At some point, when she’s laying awake in nothing but a hospital gown and socks and flicking the room’s light on with the hospital remote, she picks up a sharpie and begins to connect the stars.

There’s a bright, big sun, a sun as bright as Akamatsu's smile and a star as bright as Saihara’s eyes and Tenko connects those two. The latter connects to another spiky star, a star as sharp as Maki’s knives and then that connects to a star as dark as Momota’s death, and it’s all so cliche and dumb and stupid and Tenko knows it’s dumb and stupid, but you know what? She’d gone through hell and back, she could reflect stupid nonsensical imagery in the plastic stars on her ceiling if she wanted to.

Hoshi’s star is small, in the corner, far away from most other stars.

Amami's star has many lines protruding from it, but none of them make any connections.

Ouma does not get a star at all.

Tenko stares at the ceiling, head bent backwards as she tries to determine which star is her own, but ends up calling a nurse for a piece of gum, chewing it up, and sticking it on top of one of the other stars

It’s perfect, she thinks, and connects that star to Yumeno's and Angie’s.

Her rest is peaceful, somewhat, that night.

 

.

 

Of course she tries to get Saihara to change the date, to change the location, to destroy the party altogether but a tired and slightly pathetic ‘please, Chabashira-san?’ from the other side of the phone is all it takes for her to cave in. With a sigh, she agrees to Iruma’s plan and the detective practically squeals in delight.

Saihara’s a child, she thinks tiredly, jokingly. There’s an aching in the back of her head as she lays across the couch, looking up at the ceiling and wondering why Angie didn’t put any stars up there.

“Maybe Tenko will do it someday,” she lies to herself, and yawns, turning on the television with a lazy click of the remote in vague hopes that Kiibo might come to visit and hurriedly lowering the volume as it blasts sound throughout the house.

“Hey, keep it down!” Yumeno calls from another room.

“Sorry, that was Tenko’s bad!” she calls back, and closes her eyes as the news reporter’s lullaby of a report on a particularly interesting kid who has accomplished something or other rocks her to sleep.

 

.

 

The days rushing up to the barbeque is all a flash, a blur and Tenko’s counting out bills and sweating and God why did they go to Disney they don’t have the money why was she so dumb.

“Please, don’t worry about the expenses!” Saihara had assured. “This is a group effort. We’re not expecting you to pay for all the food and whatnot - God, if we were, that’d make us a horrible group of friends, wouldn’t it?” The boy laughs statically on the other end of the line. “Seriously, it isn’t a problem, Chabashira-san. The only thing you need to worry about is getting yourself ready, and that Yonaga-san doesn’t keep herself up the entire night before the party.”

Fingers tighten around the phone’s cord.

“Chabashira-san?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve got it.”

Tenko puts the phone down, only realizing that she referred to herself in the first person after she’s walked over to the kitchen to prepare herself a cup of tea.

The mug ends up shattered on the kitchen floor, and she curses.

 

.

 

Saihara and Iruma arrive a day early, and though Tenko appreciates the gesture, she still scowls when Iruma enters the room.

“Aw, why the angry face?” Iruma pouts. “I’m wounded, I really am!”

Tenko only lets out a snort before motioning for the two of them to make themselves at home.

Angie’s ecstatic that there are more people in the house, as usual, and invites the two of them to finger paint with her in the backyard. “Angie’s prepared a huuuge paper banner for all of us to decorate tomorrow!” She says excitedly. “Everyone’s going to be able to leave their own fingerprints on it, and it’ll be like this huge memorial thing! Plus! Plus Angie dug into her own savings and bought…”

She pauses for dramatic effect, rummaging into her bag before pulling out a scrapbook already coated in sparkly and over the top stickers.

“This!” Angie squeals. “Isn’t it great? Angie can fit so many amazing memories in here!” She giggles happily. “Hey, wanna take a photo right now?”

“Right now?” Saihara hums.

“Yeah! Angie also got an instant camera when we went to Disney - we can take a selfie right now and stick it in the scrapbook! Immediately! Isn’t that super cool?”

“It is indeed!” Saihara claps Angie on the back, and despite herself, Tenko flinches.

(why was she so jittery she trusted saihara he was one of her best friends he would never hurt a girl he would never hurt angie what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck)

“Chabashira-saaan,” Yumeno drawls as the other four people in the room crowd together behind Angie’s instant camera. “Join us!”

“Ah, sorry!”

“Say cheeese!”

“Cheese!”

There’s a flash of light. Angie hurriedly grabs the photo the moment it slides out.

“You touched the black part! You can’t do that before it’s all developed! Now you’ve gone and ruined the picture.”

“Ehhh? Really?”

“You did this at Disney too…”

“Did Angie really!?”

“Yeah...”

“Well, no matter! We can take another one! Everybody say ‘cheeeese’, once again!”

“Cheeese!”

 

.

 

Chabashira’s frying some sort of meat that Saihara promised was edible, half asleep but desperate to get a head start on tomorrow when Iruma makes her way into the room.

“Oh, Iruma-san, what’s--”

Iruma bolts, but not before Tenko gets a good glance at the mascara running down the girl’s cheeks.

She doesn’t have much after the game, but at the very least, she’s gained lightning like reflexes that let her grab at Iruma’s wrist.

“Let me go,” Iruma growls, struggling under Tenko’s grip.

“Not until you tell Tenko what’s wrong.” Her voice is stern.

Iruma gives up quickly, all too quickly, and it makes Tenko wince slightly. “Nothing’s wrong.” She mutters.

“Tenko may not be smart, but she’s definitely not that dumb.”

There’s a long, drawn out silence before Iruma sighs and turns towards Tenko, wiping a hand across her eyes and smearing the mascara all over her face. “Promise not to tell anyone?” she whispers.

Tenko nods tensely.

Iruma takes in a shaky breath. “I’m so scared,” she finally admits. “I’m so, so scared of how everyone’s going to view me. I’m trying so, so so hard to be that spunky, flamboyant, perverted...” She makes a gagging noise. “...person from in the simulation.”

Her chewed up nails tighten in Tenko’s palm.

“But I’m not,” she chokes. “All the worst bits of the person from the simulation stuck with me, and the best bits are nowhere to be found. Tell me, how is that fair? I want to be that person who's got the world wrapped around her finger and doesn't give a flying fuck what others want to do with her save for fuck her. But that's-- that's not me! Fuck!"

She throws her face into Tenko’s arms. “Do you know how hard it is to realize you were just the fanservice of the show?” Iruma mutters. “I come out of that dream, and the only thing people say to my face is how they want to fuck me. That’s so disgusting! I’m so disgusting!”

“You’re not.” Tenko promises. “You’re not.”

Iruma sniffles and pulls away from Tenko. The apron is smeared with black and red. “Easy for you to say.” She mutters. “You weren’t thrusting your boobs in everyone’s face in the simulation. You were respected.”

Tenko bites her lip.

“I’m going to wash up,” Iruma declares, and that’s just what she does.

 

.

 

To everyone’s surprise, it’s Shirogane who arrives first - Saihara and Iruma didn’t really count, since they had come to set things up.

“Oh, hello, Shirogane-san!” Tenko blinks, opening the door. The girl is dressed in a black crop-top that suits her figure quite well, an olive colored jacket laid on top of it. Tenko smiles. “And here Tenko thought that you were being generous, giving her all that clothing! Seems you kept the best pieces for yourself.”

Shirogane laughs stiffly, twirling a strand of hair that’s now far darker than it ever was in the simulation. With a start, Tenko realizes that the girl wasn’t even wearing glasses. “You can have some of it, if you’d like,” she murmurs. “I’ve got several.”

“Tenko was joking, joking! Don’t worry about it.” She steps to the side. “Anyways, come on in! If you brought any food, just set it on the kitchen counter for now. Tenko will sort through it later when she’s gotta grill stuff.”

“Oh, I just got some ice cream, so it’d probably better that you put it in the freezer for now.” Shirogane lifts up a plastic bag filled with several containers of the sugary treat. “So it doesn’t melt, and all that.”

“Sounds good! Just don’t let Yonaga-san see it, because she’ll be finished with all of the containers before you can blink.”

“That’d be unfortunate, wouldn’t it?” Shirogane laughs lightly, and steps inside.

“Oh, Chabashira-san, who came?” Saihara calls out from another room, and Shirogane is frozen. Tenko does not know how to reply.

“Chabashira-san, who is it--”

Saihara stops in his tracks as he sees the Mastermind.

“Shirogane.” 

“I-I’ll just put these on the table.” Shirogane chokes out, and basically throws the ice cream containers down.

“The bathroom’s over thataway.” Tenko supplies helpfully.

“Th-thank you.” The girl bolts, and the sound of a lock clicking into place is heard.

 

.

 

Kiibo buzzes to life just as Hoshi arrives, who’s bought several packages of hot dogs and buns. He plops them on the table along with Shirogane's ice cream. The girl has yet to leave the bathroom.

“Hello, Hoshi-kun!” The AI chirps. “It’s been awhile since we’ve talked!”

“Yeah.”

“How are you faring? How are your cats? You've been keeping your devices off for the most part, so I can't really keep in contact with you!"

Hoshi blinks.

“I think we can calm down on the questions, Kiibo,” Saihara soothes. “Hoshi-kun, if you need anything, be sure to let us know, alright? I heard Gonta-kun went out and bought a ping pong table just for this, so we can play later, if you’d like.”

Kiibo gasps from the television. “Oh, if only he could’ve brought that ping pong machine from the hospital…! Then I could play with you guys, too!”

Tenko snorts. “And let you beat our asses again? Yeah, right.”

Hoshi chuckles, shifts, and Tenko’s stomach turns over on itself as she catches a glimpse of fresh cigarette burns.

 

.

 

True to Saihara’s word, Gonta, Kirumi, and Amami all arrive within a half hour of Ryouma, Amami with several grocery bags on his lap Gonta carrying a large tennis table.

“Where should I put this?” He practically growls, and Tenko swallows despite herself.

(stupid boys making her afraid of nothing she wasn’t six anymore dammit and even if she was those were fake memories)

“The backyard is fine!” She hums. “Actually, while you’re there, do you mind getting the grill started? Tenko wants to start grilling some food soon.”

The boy gives her a thumbs up, while Amami grins cheekily and holds up the bags. “We’ve got food.” He announces.

“...so I see.”

 

.

 

Ouma arrives next, albeit with no bags of food, but with a large pet carrier by his side. “Hey.” He says, when Tenko opens the door, and it takes everything in her power not to send the small boy flying out, headfirst, onto the sidewalk behind him.

“Hey.” She says. “What’s that you’ve got there?”

“My cat.” He holds up the cage and, sure enough, there’s a small calico cat inside the cage. Tenko leans down and smiles at it softly, and it mewls back. “Her name is Simon.”

“...Simon?”

“You know, like Simon says.” A pause. “It was funnier when I was naming her.”

“...come on in, then.”

Ouma does so, and Hoshi looks up from the couch in vague interest. That interest instantly triples as he registers what Kokichi’s carrying, and pulls himself up from his seat.

“What the hell?!” He hisses. “We were allowed to bring cats?” He curses underneath his breath. “God, I would’ve brought so many cats.”

“I mean, I never said you couldn’t.” Tenko points out, and flinches when she realizes that she referred to herself in first person.

(again)

“So many cats.”

Ouma shifts awkwardly. “You can play with her, if you’d like.”

“Please.”

The cage is opened, and Simon practically leaps out and into Ryouma’s arms. The boy suddenly becomes softer, far softer and kinder than Tenko thinks she’s ever seen him. He did carry around stuffed animals cats back in the hospital, though, she reasons. It shouldn’t be a surprise to her that he’s so good around the animal.

Ouma sits on one of the wicker chairs, watching Hoshi stroke Simon’s ears and hum to her softly.

“Oooh! Angie wants to take a picture!” The girl squeals, and Hoshi scowls.

“Don’t you dare--!”

But the photo has already been snapped, and the girl scurries off, giggling wildly.

 

.

 

Akamatsu arrives with Harukawa and Momota, and it’s hard to ignore the violent flinch that Saihara has when she walks into the room. The latter two don’t seem to notice the obvious tension, however, and continue to chat up a storm as they drop more bags on the table. Tenko should probably pick that stuff up, she realizes, but after a few moments of reasoning with herself she decides that she can leave it for later.

Akamatsu makes a beeline for the corner furthest from Saihara, already opening up a book she’s had prepared. The boy takes a couple steps towards her, decides against it, and tries going into the bathroom. It is still locked, and he scowls.

 

.

 

Gonta has finished setting up the ping pong table, and he and Kirumi have started a game, with Amami cheering intensely for both sides and Angie taking photo after photo. Tenko’s almost ready to join them when the doorbell rings again.

“Coming!” She calls, and opens the door.

Shinguji is there, standing with his (terrible, horrible, awful, disgusting) face mask. It’s different than the one he had in the game, this time simply a medical mask with a dog mouth placed onto it.

“H-hello.” He says, tensing up.

Tenko does not reply.

“I...I brought some food?” He holds up plastic bags, the receipt still hanging out. It’s obvious he’s just bought them on the way here. “There’s some, uh, sausages and...and ribs, I guess.”

Silence.

“...can I come in?”

“Yeah.” Tenko turns on her heel. Time to join that ping pong game.

 

.

 

“Give him a chance,” Saihara urges Tenko as she sits on her hospital bed, knuckles white. “He’s changed a lot, you know. We all have.”

“He fucking murdered me.” Tenko spits.

“Chabashira-san…”

“Not only Tenko!” She throws her hands into the air. “He murdered Yonaga-san, too! You can’t forgive that, you know! Murdering not one, but two people. And! And!” She waves a finger at the television. “Tenko watched the tapes, too! Of that trial! Don’t think she didn’t! And God.” She makes a gagging noise. “If that wasn’t some of the most disgusting shit.”

“Do you think he doesn’t know that?” Saihara says, tiredly. “Shinguji-san probably hates himself more than you do, right now. He doesn’t even have a sister. In fact, he’s...quite a kind person, outside of the game.”

“Oh, is he now?” Tenko scoffs bitterly.

“Yes, he is.” Shuuichi is more firm, now. “He’s been going out of his way to be at everybody’s service, now. He’s been incredibly kind. Hell, once Yumeno-san woke up crying and Shinguji-san went and comforted her. At four am. I don’t know about you, but I sure would be reluctant to wake up at four am to comfort someone when I’m having nightmares of my own.”

“Tenko doesn’t want him anywhere near Yumeno.” She cracks her knuckles.

“God, Chabashira-san.” Saihara leans back, sighing. “I know this is hard for you, but you have to be open, don’t you know? It’s been weeks since you woke up, even longer since he has. Soon we’re going to be released and you’re going to bear a grudge with you your whole life, and then what? Do you think it’s a good idea, bearing that weight? Because I sure know that bearing a grudge is not a good idea.”

Tenko stands up. “Oooh no.” She scowls. “Don’t you start that shit with Tenko, mister. You’re such a filthy hypocrite.”

“H-how am I a hypocrite?!”

“Two words.” She holds up her fingers. “Shirogane Tsumugi.”

Silence.

“Well? What was that about bearing grudges?”

“T-Tenko…” Saihara pleads. “It’s different--”

“That’s Chabashira-san to you.” She snorts, and storms out of the room. “Like fucking hell is it different.”

 

.

 

There’s a sound of the lock to the bathroom finally clicking open, and Shirogane emerges, eyes red and puffy. Tenko looks up.

“Oh, Shirogane-san!” She smiles. “Tenko was just wondering if she needed to kick the door down to make sure you were alright in there”

Shirogane laughs stiffly. “There’s no need for that,” she promises, but her eyes are dancing to and fro as she looks around the room.

“Saihara-san’s outsides” Tenko supplies.

“A-alright. Thank you.” Shirogane promptly sits down at the counter and pulls out something from her pocket. At a first glance, Tenko thinks it’s a beaded bracelet, then a necklace, but upon closer inspection she realizes that it’s a rosary.

“Tenko didn’t take you for a religious person, Shirogane-san.” The girl in question turns red.

“If it makes you uncomfortable, I-I can put it away…”

“No! No no no. It’s fine.” She waves a dismissive hand. “If you don’t mind Tenko’s asking, why’re you into religious stuff now?”

Shirogane turns the beads over in her hands, searching for an answer. “Well, I guess I just...needed something to believe in?” She laughs weakly. “Sorry, that sounds really dumb and cliche.”

“Nah, Tenko gets what you mean.”

 

.

 

“Aren’t you going to join them?”

Ryouma looks up from petting Simon. “What?”

“Join the people playing ping pong.” Tenko motions at the table. Amami’s switched in, now, playing a tenative game with Yumeno. The girl hardly seems to be trying, and Tojo's helping out Amami, anyway, but whenever the blond ‘scores’ a point the entire backyard erupts in cheers and he grins a smile a mile wide.

“Why should I?”

“W-well,” Tenko’s flustered with her words, now. “You were a tennis player, back there, and--”

“So that means I have to like it here? That I have to be good at it here?” Hoshi's face is dark, darker than Tenko’s ever seen it outside of the game.

(stupid, stupid boys)

“Tenko apologizes.” She sighs. “She hopes she didn’t hit a sore spot with you.”

“You kinda did, but whatever.”

Despite Hoshi’s words, he moves away from his seat next to Ouma and onto the deck, closer to the ping pong game. Simon comes with him.

 

.

 

“Did you feel that?”

Tenko glances away from the ping pong game to look at Yumeno, who is staring at the sky.

“Feel what?”

The sky opens up, basically puking buckets of water onto the people below.

“Feel that.”

There’s a screeching as everyone rushes inside, some giggling, some screaming as they make their way indoors. Ryouma’s clutching Simon to his chest, shielding the cat with his jacket as he shushes her and soothes her, confirming that yes, she’s alright. Ouma’s pacing frantically inside, and sighs in relief as Hoshi walks in with the cat. Surprisingly, the two sit together, stroking Simon who never seemed to be perturbed in the first place. Tenko’s about to comment on it, but the cat’s probably helping them more than they’re helping the cat, so she decides against it.

Saihara’s already handing out towels, the token mother of the group, and Tenko begins to rub Yumeno's head with hers when the boy frowns.

“Hey, I made sure I got towels for everyone, but I’m left over with one. Who didn’t get a towel?”

“Probably him.”

Momota's comment makes them all look outside, and sure enough, there’s Shinguji, standing with his head tilted back and hands wide out to the sides as he practically embraces the rain. His hair’s stuck to the back of his neck, and honestly, Tenko finds it all a bit disgusting.

“He looks...pretty sad,” Shirogane says, softly.

“He can join the fucking club,” Tenko mutters.

There’s a silence of nothing but the rain pouring down before Angie’s camera flashing snaps them all back to reality, and Yumeno's running forward to put a towel on his head and Tenko’s scowling.

 

.

 

They managed to save some of the food, fortunately, and after pulling over chair after chair everyone’s sitting at a crowded table with improvised cups. Tenko finds herself wedged between Shirogane and Amami, somehow, the Mastermind obviously uncomfortable with having to be so close to any of the other students, but Amami especially.

The amnesiac himself doesn’t seem to care one way or another, chatting up a storm with Kirumi besides him. Tojo cuts her food into tiny, precise pieces and seems to be listening with more of a genuine intensity than Tenko’s seen her display beforehand.

They’re one of the few holding conversations around the table, however. Ouma and Hoshi are sitting next to each other, Simon wedged between them as they pet the cat in turn. Ouma’s turned white, practically, by the fact that Gonta’s sitting next to him, but the larger boy doesn’t seem to give two shits on his behalf. Gonta himself is talking in earnest to Yumeno, who seems to be more asleep than anything else.

Tenko scowls when she sees Shinguji on the girl’s other side.

(get the hell away from her, monster)

“E-excuse me, everyone!” Saihara clears his throat nervously, directing everyone’s attention towards him. Tenko realizes with a start that Akamatsu's sitting next to him, and she raises an eyebrow.

Akamatsu doesn’t exactly look happy with the situation, however, and is focusing intently on her food. Figures.

“I-I hope you all don’t mind me asking this, but.” Saihara swallows visibly. “This get-together was organized so that we could catch up with each other, right?” A few nods. “In that case, shouldn’t we try talking about what’s been going on in our lives?”

The silence is deafening.

“I’ll start.” Saihara says hurriedly. “Uhm, I’m assuming most, if not all of you, read my blog, otherwise you probably wouldn’t be here, but I’ve been keeping that up. I’m currently living with Tojo-san, Amami-san, and Gokuhara-san.” He motions at the three in turn.

“Don’t forget me!” Kiibo calls out from the television.

“A-and Kiibo-san! Of course, though he kinda lives with most of us,” Saihara chuckles dully. “I’ve picked up...knitting. As a hobby. I’ve been making mostly scarves nowadays, but…”

“It’s the middle of summer, buddy,” Momota comments.

“I’m getting practice in.” Saihara shifts. “I’ve sold a couple, too. Does...anyone else want to go?”

There’s the awkward noise of everyone pointedly looking at their plates to avoid attention before Tojo clears her throat. “As Saihara-san just stated, I’ve been living with him, Kiibo-san, Gokuhara-san, and Amami-san for the past year or so in the flat provided to us by...by some sponsors.”

Three guesses for who those were.

“I’ve recently taken up tap dancing classes.” She adds. “And I decided to try my hand as a hairstylist. I’ve been practicing on a couple of our neighbors whom have so graciously given up their hair, which I find rather daring, and in a couple months I’m going to begin hairstyling school.” She breathes in steadily. “I think I’d like to pursue that sort of a career.”

There are a couple polite claps around the table, and Angie snaps a photo.

“I-I,” Shirogane chokes out a noise, and as everyone’s eyes turn toward her, she looks as if she wants to melt right into the ground. “I’ve started a small indie clothing line. It...it isn’t much, b-but people seem to be interested in it, so…” She breathes in deeply. “Yeah. I-I like it very much, a-and it’s...it’s nice.”

Tenko pats the girl on the back, and she glances at Tenko gratefully.

Amami raises a hand. “I want to be a professional gamer,” he declares, and Tenko snorts. The boy glares at her. “What?”

“You’re not the kind of person Tenko would peg to be a gamer. Or, actually, on second thought.” She rubs her chin. “Yeah, Tenko could see you eating ‘Doritos’ and chugging ‘Mountain Dew’ all day. Nonetheless, you wouldn’t be a very good gamer.”

Amami shrugs. “Whatever. What’s up in your life, Chabashira?”

Tenko freezes. Mercifully, Angie pipes up.

“Angie wants to try being an actual artist.” She hums, playing with her camera. “She knows that the memories from the simulation are fake, but...they were enjoyable memories. Angie liked being an artist, and she liked being able to create stuff that made other people happy! Even if some people were meanies and didn’t like Angie’s art, or if she had nasty artblock.” She stick out a tongue. “She’s trying all sorts of art now, and right now Angie’s trying out photography and scrapbooking!” She points a camera over in Maki’s direction. “Say, cheese!”

Harukawa frowns. “No.”

The camera flashes, and Angie carefully takes out the photo before waving it in the air to dry. “Still an amazing photo.” She hums.

Momota clears his throat. “I tried getting back into astrology, since my life-threatening illness is less life-threatening than before.” He scratches the back of his head. “Space is really cool, and I definitely love it, but I’m not sure if being an astronaut is quite my. Thing, you know?” He shrugs. “So I’m still figuring that out. Considering being a doctor, ‘cause that’s cool and all, and also I. Know firsthand how depressing it is to have an incurable illness, especially as a kid. I want to be able to help those little chaps who are sick, so being a doctor seems like a good idea, yeah?” He laughs lightly. “Not sure if I’ll pursue it, but...yeah.”

“I think that’s a noble career to pursue,” Akamatsu speaks for the first time that night, and Saihara’s flinch is so violent that Tenko knows Akamatsu must have seen it, must have noticed it so why the hell is she so blatantly ignoring him.

“Ah, thanks, Akamatsu.” Momota grins. “And I’ll have lovely Harumaki here as my assistant nurse, so what’s not to love?”

Harukawa slaps his hand away. “Yeah, right. Like I’ll be the assistant.”

Iruma interrupts everyone by slamming her hands violently on the table. “Hey, I’m not sure if you guys saw, but while our lovely trio of hosts was off in Disney, yours truly was venturing off in…” She waves a dramatic hand. “The good ‘ol United States of America! Isn’t that grand?”

“Is it really all that grand?” Yumeno drawls. “Seems like a pretty sucky place to me.”

A couple murmurs of agreement from around the table, and Iruma pouts.

“Eh, you all are so mean!” She huffs. “No class what! So! Ever!”

“Says you.” Momota raises an eyebrow.

“Yes, says me! Because guess what?” Iruma puffs out her chest. “In a couple months, I’m going to be moving to the USA and starting my modeling career! I’ve already got contracts signed and everything, and the way things are looking, I might even be able to jump start a career as a foreign movie star. Isn’t that exciting?”

There’s a silence at the table, and Tenko can feel a bubble rising in her chest.

“Come on you guys, can’t you even pretend to be happy for me?” She scowls. Ryouma raises a tentative hand.

“I...didn’t even know you knew how to speak English.” He admits.

“Well duh I do! I’m trilingual.” Iruma raises three triumphant fingers. “English, Japanese, and French, thank you very much. Japanese is my first language, obviously, but.” She puffs out her chest. “I’m not one to brag, but I’m not just another pretty face. I’m a super duper smart one too. Hence, why I was the SHSL Inventor, I guess.”

“Is this...really something you want to do?” Shinguji cuts in. Iruma frowns.

“Kid, I’m not a person who just leaps into things willy nilly.”

“B-but...even after.” Shinguji inhales. “Even after the game? As much as I hate to put a damper on your fun, and as much as I hate to bring this up, the world...the world sees you as you were portrayed in the game. It sees all of us as we were portrayed in the game.” He motions around the table, hand trembling so much that Tenko thinks it’s going to fall off. “To the world, you’re just...Miu Iruma, the SHSL Inventor, not Miu Iruma, the intelligent fashionista who’s making a name for herself.”

Tenko can see Iruma visibly deflate, and something inside her tightens.

“Tenko’s happy for you.” The bubble in her chest finally bursts, and Iruma looks at Chabashira in surprise.

“Pardon?”

“She’s super happy for you.” The words are spilling out now. “You’re pursuing what you love, and you’re going to move to a place that you love, right? You’re going to do things that make you happy, a-and isn’t that what really matters? In the end?”

“Yeah!” Kiibo buzzes from the television, and Tenko stands up triumphantly.

“Yeah! Everyone here. We...we should be more like Iruma-san!” She points at the girl, who beams. “We need to stop...stop dwelling in the past. And looking towards the future! We’re not just participants of the fifty third season of Danganronpa. We’re our own individual people! We shouldn’t be tied down by our past! Or by what we’ve done in the game!”

“Yeah!” Angie lifts her fists into the air.

Ouma stands up from the table suddenly, silverware flying. Everyone pauses to look at him.

“Ouma-kun, I think the rain is slowing down.” Saihara supplies helpfully. “You can go outside for some fresh air, if you’d like.”

“Thank you,” Ouma chokes out, and dashes from the table. Momota rises.

“Yeah, you know what? I think I could go for some fresh air, too.” He cracks his knuckles, and Harukawa sends him a warning look that he completely ignores. “Iruma, you go for what you want. You wanna be a fashionista in the states? Go for it. I’ll be with you all the way.” He flashes a smile.

“Oh! Thanks, everyone.” a flush covers Iruma's cheeks, but Momota is already out the back door.

“Tenko will check in with them.”

She can’t bear the intensive aura of everyone staring at her.

(especially shinguji)

 

.

 

Tenko checks in with her father only once after leaving the ward, and discovers that in the time that she was in the simulation, her mother had passed away.

She had been sick for a long time, apparently, and though it was possible for her to be cured, the medicines were too pricey and the Chabashiras were far, far too poor. The money from the killing game would have been more than enough to pay for treatment, but lucky for Tenko, the money wasn’t distributed to everyone until after the killing game occurred due to some sort of fucked up contractual agreements that contained too many words and too little sense.

Tenko Chabashira decides that she hates money.

 

.

 

Ouma’s collapsed on the ground, a swath of purple hoodie and hair that’s practically been swallowed up as he heaves heavily. Momota's standing over him, and Tenko doesn’t quite understand what’s happening because why the hell are these kids fighting, stupid, stupid boys.

“You have no right to be here.” Momota’s voice is flat.

“I know.”

“You keep on shoving your face where you shouldn’t be. God, your expression today was sick.” Momota's face is dark. “You have some sort of nerve to be showing your face up here when you knew Harumaki had requested you stayed away.”

“I know,” Kokichi is grabbing fistfuls of grass like air, “I know I know I know!”

“What keeps you coming back? What are you so afraid of, or not therefore?!”

“Momota-san, please--”

“Why are you acting like you didn't do anything outside of the game?"

Ouma’s face goes paler than white and hits the ground with a soft thud.

 

.

 

Boys are dumb, Tenko thinks. They’re dumb because they keep on making fun of other girls on the playground, dumb because they pull at her hair, dumb because they beat each other up for no good reason whatsoever, dumb dumb dumb.

Boys are dumb, and here she is, witness to living proof of it. You might’ve thought that living (or dying) through a killing game would give one a little wisdom but, apparently, it did not.

 

.

 

They call an ambulance, and after a few minutes debate, it’s Saihara who ends up leaving with Ouma in tow. The kid comes to only after he’s been placed onto the stretcher, and Tenko’s surprised that he isn’t panicking immediately.

There’s a tense silence in the house afterwards, the rain all but dried up. Simon meows, and Ryouma rubs her head absentmindedly. The boy is shaking himself, Tenko can see that from this distance, and if she was closer to him she’d probably wrap an arm around his shoulder and offer some encouraging words.

The way things were now, though, Tenko didn’t know if anyone was close to Hoshi. She hoped that changed in the near future.

Momota paces around the building for a few minutes before announcing that he was leaving and storming out into his car. Harukawa and Akamatsu leave with him, the latter rushing to the driver’s wheel despite Momota’s protests.

“H-hey!” Angie breaks the insufferable silence. “Angie still has her banner!”

“Pardon?” Gonta looks up.

“Angie had this biiiiig banner placed outside, that she took inside, that we were all going to finger paint and keep as some sort of memory! U-uhm, Kokichi and Kaede and Maki a-and Kaito may...may all have left. But!” She clenches her fists determinedly. “We can still make a beautiful and heartfelt work of art! They can all sign it later!”

Gonta sighs. “Yonaga-san, I’m not sure if this is the time.”

“I’ll do it.” Shinguji stands up, and Tenko wants to knock him flat on his face. Angie brightens up like a flower, and quickly rolls out the long paper banner. It spans the length of the living room, and Tenko blinks in surprise. Where had she even gotten that…?

“Angie knew she could count on you, Korekiyo!” She hums, and pulls out a bunch of finger paints from seemingly nowhere. “Take your pick! You can put one handprint, or two, or even more, in one color or a thousand…” She hums.

Shinguji sticks one hand into the blue paint, and one into the pink. After a moment’s hesitance, he sticks his hands onto the paper, leaving them there a few moments before removing them and wiping them on his jeans.

“Anyone else?” Angie pipes up. “Angie has plenty of paints, don’t worry about using too much!”

After only a few moments, everyone begins to contribute to the banner. Simon ends up walking over the thing, leaving a colorful pattern of paw prints in her wake. It’s a huge, disgusting mess, but Tenko finds it somewhat beautiful.

 

.

 

Everyone, save for the people who had already left, decide to spend the night. Tenko gives up her (admittedly massive) bed to Shirogane, Tojo, and Iruma - not to mention Amami, but he ends up sleeping in his wheelchair anyway, so it’s not like he’s taking up any additional space.

The other residents are drenched around the house, hanged like wet rags to dry. Angie stuck in her tiny bed, and Hoshi had grabbed a sleeping bag and slept on the floor in her room. Simon had snuggled up besides him. Shinguji and Gonta had ended up sleeping in Yumeno's room, while Yumeno herself had opted to sleep on the couch next to the drying banner. Kiibo didn't really need a place, but even if he had, he was off checking in on Ouma and residing in Momota's GPS. By the time all the sleeping arrangements had been made, Tenko found herself without an inch of room to sleep in.

Instead she sits on the porch, the night breezing through her hair. It’s begun to grow back since she cut it at the hospital, slightly, now reaching to a comfortable high-back length. She twirls a strand in her hair as the front door opens, revealing a beheaveled Saihara. He shuts the door behind him, locking it with a resounding click.

“How’s Ouma-san doing?”

“He’s fine.” Saihara sighs. “Had some sort of anxiety attack or something. He’s...not dealing well with waking up, I guess.”

“Who the hell is?” Tenko snorts. “He should get his shit together. We’re not here to pull his weight for him.”

“I suppose.” Saihara sighs and sits in the wicker chair opposite Tenko. “Hey, Chabashira-san?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m...I’m glad to call you my friend. I’m extremely lucky to have a friend as dear as you, actually.”

Tenko blinks, considering his words before sighing at letting the back of her head rest on the chair.

“Same here. Thanks, Saihara-san.”

 

.

 

Saihara’s snores echo around Tenko’s ears, and frankly, she thinks that she should be snoring herself, but the only thing that she can find herself doing is staring at the stars up in the real sky. She tries to find everyone, just like she found them on her ceiling in the hospital room.

She traces the non-existent lines between them until the sound of sobs from the other room make her start in surprise, and suddenly she’s dashing over to Yumeno's side and cradling her as the girl shivers and shakes.

“What’s wrong?” she soothes, begs, and the spaces around Yumeno's eyes are wet.

“Chabashira-san?”

“Yes?”

“You’re here?”

“Yes, Tenko’s here.” She swallows. “I’m here.”

Yumeno's chest flutters like a butterfly, and she strokes the side of Tenko’s cheek. “Thank God.” She murmurs.

“What was your dream about, if you don’t mind Tenko’s asking?”

A pause. “The game.”

Ah.

“And?”

A longer, more held out pause. “Ch-Chabashira-san…”

“Yes?”

“Promise me...promise me you’ll forgive Shinguji-san.”

Tenko’s fingers tighten involuntarily, and Yumeno's eyes widen.

“Promise me!”

“...alright, Tenko promises.”

Yumeno closes her eyes, and sleeps peacefully.

 

.

 

“Chabashira-san, was it? Chabashira Tenko?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance! Please, just sit down anywhere! Anywhere you’d like!”

“...there’s only one chair.”

“Well, you could sit on the floor.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel even more inferior?”

“That’s not the intention, no.”

“Alright, mister.”

“Nonetheless, thank you for coming here today! It’s the favorite part of my job, to see young women such as yourself come and...and…”

“What? Volunteer to have themselves killed?”

“Aha, that isn’t quite how I’d like to phrase it.”

“And how the hell should it be phrased?”

“You’re not quite dying, after all.”

“After all.”

“Aren’t I supposed to be interviewing you?”

“Yeah, supposed to.”

“Right.”

“Get to it, then.”

 

.

 

Tenko can barely keep her eyes open as she hears the crack of the door opening up. She blinks blearily, groaning as the blurry figure in her vision stiffens.

“A-ah, I’m so sorry for waking you up, Chabashira-san.” The figure whispers, and Tenko realizes that it’s Shinguji.

“No need to apologize.” Tenko stretches and stands up, stumbling before finally regaining her balance. “Leaving without saying goodbye?”

Shinguji shifts awkwardly. “W-well, I wouldn’t want to impose on you any longer. You...you obviously don’t want me here, anyways.”

Bullseye. Tenko raises an eyebrow. “That’s...awfully kind of you to say, frankly.”

“Is it?” Shinguji laughs. “I do believe that’s the first time you’ve complimented me.”

“Wowzers.” Tenko cracks her neck and swallows tensely.

Remember Yumeno's words, dumbass.

“I’ll get going, then--”

“Wait, Shinguji-san.”

The boy freezes.

“You’re...not quite as bad as you look. You’re not the same person you were in the game.”

His shoulders begin to shake.

“Tenko has been giving you a really tough time, when you’ve been doing nothing but kind things thus far. Tenko’s...no, I’m sorry for that.”

“I-I’m,” Shinguji's voice is raspy, forced. “I’m sorry too. F-for what happened in the game.”

Tenko waves a sleepy hand. “Don’t worry about it.”

Shinguji nods tensely, and then, after a moment’s hesitation, pushes the door open and sprints through it.

Chapter Text

Hoshi Ryouma doesn’t understand why the flight attendant had filled his tiny, plastic cup up to the brim with ice cubes. Sure, if he was just a regular passenger and this was just a regular plane, then yes, she would be trying to give him as little soda as possible and it would make sense, because he was supposed to buy more soda or whatever. But the way things were now, Hoshi was on a private jet and had the entire plane at his beck and call, basically, so the whole ‘trying to get him to buy more soda’ thing didn’t apply here.

Unless they were just trying to make his life more of a hassle. Frankly, he wouldn’t put that past them. Sighing, he holds the plastic cup up to his mouth, letting the bubbles fizz onto his lower lip. It wasn’t an unpleasant sensation, but after only a few moments, he grew tired of it and emptied the contents of the cup into his mouth. He let the liquid swish around tentatively, there.

It tasted nice.

can’t breathe can’t breathe can’t fucki--

Ryouma sputters and spits the soda out.

“Are you alright?”

Hoshi looks up to see the flight attendant gazing at him with some vague amount of concern. He’s about to answer honestly when her tiny blank and white Monokuma pin catches his eye, and he scowls.

“Whatever.” He mutters, turning away.

 

.

 

He owned five cats. Two of which, he had owned before the game had started - a male tabby called Omelet and a female siamese called Yuki. They both were on the more energetic side, leaping around and leaving claw marks on the furniture that Hoshi would trace over with his finger in a quiet satisfaction.

Omelet and Yuki were solid, and they were real, and they had life in them.

After the game had ended, the doctors had suggested that he get a therapy trained animal. He got two.

Mimi and Oe-sama were both solid colors - a black and a warm coffee color, specifically. Mimi was certainly the calmest of all of Hoshi’s cats, and though she had never been declawed, Hoshi can’t recall having seen her claws save for the few times she would sharpen them on the scratching post he had set up in the center of the room.

Oe-sama was calm as well, but calm in the ‘holier than thou’ way. He was a no nonsense cat, a cat that meant business and demanded attention by placing himself firmly on Hoshi’s arms, hissing at the cigarette that teased itself near his skin. The hissing wouldn’t stop until, with a sigh, Hoshi would extinguish the cigarette underneath his boot and Oe-sama would smile (as only a cat could do) contentedly.

“Are you pleased, your majesty?” He’d say, and Oe-sama would glare at him sarcastically.

The fifth cat he owned was one he had seen while in the shelter. Jerrie was an old girl, so old that the shelter was considering putting her down, so of course, Hoshi put his foot down instead. Apparently the -ie at the end of the name made ‘Jerrie’ feminine, versus ‘Jerr y,’ which was apparently masculine, and Hoshi found it all bullshit but you know what? Jerrie it was. English was a stupid language, and the only reason he had picked it up in the first place was because…

B-because, uh…

Because what?

Hoshi’s fingers tighten around his knee, and Oe-sama hisses, nuzzling the fingers away from his knee and onto his head. Sighing, he shifts position in order to tease the cat’s chin. Oe-sama begins to purr, and the gentle lull soothes him to sleep.

 

.

 

Most of everyone’s parents lived close by, and at first, that had been the case for Ryouma as well. After some time, however, they had taken advantage of the massive amount of money he had earned from the killing game and moved all the way to America, to Hawaii.

Not like Ryouma really cared, honestly. He had signed up for the game in the first place in order to get money for them, after all.

Hoshi isn’t leaving Japan, though - not now, not yet - and Team Danganronpa had readily agreed to lend him their plane whenever the need should arise. If Hoshi had been the person he used to be before the game, he might’ve found the idea of practically owning a private jet somewhat intriguing. The way things were now, however, it simply made him play with the idea of ‘what altitude did the plane have to be in order for a person to be able to--’

But that wasn’t a thought he should pursue.

 

.

 

They had found out that he had a history of suicidal tendencies, and had amplified it for the game.

Apparently, in all their fifty two seasons, Team Danganronpa had only had two suicide cases. Both of these cases had been met with tons of raving reviews, and the pure tragedy of the cases brought tears to all the audience’s eyes. So, of course, when they were presented with a chance of getting in good reviews again when the show was in danger of cancellation, they had leapt on the opportunity like a starving lion.

Cats had a habit of getting into Hoshi's life, it seems.

According to some stupid source or other, they had expected him to snap back into being ‘happy’ and ‘not depressed’ once he awoke, like a rubber band, but obviously stretched this rubber band too far because it just snapped apart. Unfortunate, they had clucked, and after cheaply taping the band back together they had left him be.

Not like this rubber band would ever work again.

Therapy didn’t work when you knew that the person sitting in front of you worked for the people who paid doctors thousands of thousands of thousands of dollars to break your mind, to make you wish you were dead.

At least he makes a good case in court. There’s no way he’s letting Team Danganronpa have even the slightest hopes of getting a season fifty four.

(what if they brainwash you and put you in that game huh what if they make you the mastermind huh?)

He clenches the stand with white knuckles and stares straight ahead as he tells them his story like he’s explaining the plot to a cheap thriller novel.

Garbage analogies always seemed to have a way of rolling off his tongue.

 

.

 

The arrival to Hawaii is soft, quiet. Most of Hoshi’s life is soft and quiet, nowadays. Everyone walks around him like they’re stepping on eggshells, always full of ‘are you alright Hoshi’ and ‘is something wrong Hoshi’ and ‘if you need anything we’re right here Hoshi’ and he hate hate hates it.

It’s all a harsh contrast from the killing game, when everything was a bunch of loud loud loud and fast fast fast, fast and furious, and he was not talking about the movies.

He was allowed to take his therapy cats with him - Mimi and Oe-sama - but the other three had to stay home. Not like he was complaining, because he was lucky enough to bring any cats in the first place, but the feeling of five warm breathing water bottles curling around him and keeping him safe is something he misses.

“Ryouma!” His older sister exclaims as he walks out of the plane. She dashes over to him and sweeps him up in her big, strong arms, and Hoshi has to fight down the feeling of panic that comes with being held so, so high up. “It seems like it’s been ages since we’ve last talked, dear! I’ve missed you so, so much.”

“Missed you too, Hinoka.” He mutters, and she finally puts him down. “You got purple highlights. It looks nice on you.” He notes.

“You think?” She twirls the end of her hair with a lazy finger. “Mom and Dad didn’t think so. Got kinda pissed at me, actually, but Asugi thought it was alright. So did lil’ Sakura. I  fact, she loved it so much she got pink highlights to match.” She squeals happily. “Isn’t that cute?”

“Yeah.” Hoshi sighs, and tries not to think about how much he doesn’t care, about how his hands are itching to grab ahold of a thoroughly lit cigarette. “I think it’s really sweet.”

 

.

 

“I’m so excited you’re going to let me meet your siblings!” Kiibo squeals from Hoshi’s phone. “You never talk about them much, and you’ve made a real firm rule about not letting me stay on any of the electronic equipment when you’re hanging with them, and I’ve respected that rule, but!” Kiibo inhales. “I’ve always been super, super duper curious! And now I get to meet them…!” He spins happily around the screen, and Hoshi sighs.

“Yeah, you sure do.” He’s sitting at his table, in the kitchen of the house that is not the house of his family, thank you very much. It’s the residence of one of the former participants of Danganronpa, a winner, but they’ve long moved out. They still own the house, ‘cause they’re rich and famous as fuck, and Hoshi is astounded by how well they seemed to sleep at night when they told him over video call that he was free to use it whenever he came over to Hawaii.

Well, it might’ve just been the quality of the call that made it seem like that, but whatever. There were probably some sick fucks who would love going through the killing game again.

(hoshi thinks he would, if he could be guaranteed as the first victim slot)

Kiibo rambles on and on about how much he loves family - like the AI has a first hand experience with that, right - until there’s a knock on the door. Hoshi straightens up, to go get it, but Kiibo winks at him through the screen. “I’ve got it!” He hums, and the door swings open, revealing a slightly stunned little girl and boy, the latter of which was probably in his midteens.

“The door is controlled via an electronic lock!” Kiibo explains via the speakers, and the television boots itself to life to reveal Kiibo’s astoundingly large face. The girl and boy step in nervously.

“Kiibo, this is Asugi and Sakura.” Hoshi gestures at the two, who wave meekly. “They’re my younger brother and sis. Asugi’s sixteen, Sakura’s eight. Asugi, Sakura, this is Kiibo. He’s, uh…” Hoshi trails off helplessly.

“I’m four whole years old!” Kiibo supplies. “I was created simply for the fifty third season of Danganronpa, but, well, look how that turned out, am I right?” He chuckles, obviously trying to lighten the mood, when Asugi bows suddenly in the direction of the television.

“Thank you for taking care of our older brother!” The blond boy chokes out, and Kiibo blinks in surprise as Sakura joins him, short pink hair swaying past her shoulders.

“Mmm, yes! Thank you very much!” She squeaks, and Hoshi has to look past them to force out the lump that forms in the back of his throat.

“Uh, well, thank you very much!” Kiibo sputters, as only an AI can. “I don’t think I did a very good job, but thank you nonetheless…! I’m honored to make your acquaintance!”

 

.

 

The beach outside his house is a private beach, ‘cause there’s no way Hoshi Ryouma is going to be going to walk in the same sand as other ‘filthy, common’ people. He’d be plagued by reporters, by the paparazzi, by who else ever wants to spy on him having a panic attack because his piece of shit ass can’t even stand looking at the ocean without having his breath catch a bit too much.

Or at least, that’s what everyone says. Whatever. People stopped caring about him after the first two years. There’s the occasional email he gets from some up and coming news station every once in awhile, hoping that they’ll be the first to get an interview from the mysterious and edgy Hoshi Ryouma that he just ends up deleting. He wants to say that he’s almost impressed, except he’s not - he’s just constantly annoyed by their attempts.

He kicks his heel in the sand, the morning rays creeping out over the horizon. It’s pleasant - or at least, it would be more pleasant if it weren’t for the fact that there was the daily paparazzi ringing his doorbell. Hoshi groans.

Whatever. It’s better than it was when he first came out, where he couldn’t walk two steps without feeling like he was going to be strangled by all the interviews flooding his way. It baffles him how the others could take it all in stride, taking interview after interview like it was nothing. Or at least, most of them could - Shirogane and Ouma were light years away from holding any sort of interview, so it’s not like Hoshi was alone on that matter.

The sea is deafening, it’s gentle waves lapping onto the shore, and after several moments Hoshi removes his cigarette, opens his mouth and screams.

Fuck it if someone hears him. He screams and screams and screams, starting out too strong and faltering partway through when he has to take a breath but he still screams. His hands shake, bare toes digging even deeper into the sand before he just runs out of fuel and stops.

There isn’t some romantic explanation for why he did that, he realizes. He just needed to scream.

The waves scream back, and his cigarette paints patterns on his arms.

 

.

 

When Tojo shoves him into the water, at first, it is a moment filled with panic and fear, because he wants to die but not like this, not like this, not like this

But after a few moments, there’s a calm that washes over him and the waters, as foreign and as cruel as they had seemed beforehand, were now friends that beckoned to him, soothing him, reassuring him. He fought so hard before, but now that...that all seemed foolish. There was no reason to fight, there was nothing to fight for in the first place.

C’mon, beckons the water, it isn’t that hard!

And just like that, he dies, drowned in an instant and eaten up by fish in another. Not like he actually knows the second part, though - just the first bit.

The darkness is comforting. A dark, shallow void where nothing seems to happen, and Hoshi stares through his water-sodden shoes. The darkness stares back and, after a moment, Hoshi begins to walk.

He walks for a long time. He walks for a very, very long time. It’s not like there’s very much to do, not when he’s dead.

...is this what being dead was like? Where was God? Hoshi scowls, pauses temporarily in his walk. The idea of being dead is just a little bit strange right now, and the idea grates against his consciousness. Something just doesn’t line up, like he’s trying to put on the wrong cap to a too large pen, but his head is far too foggy to process anything for some reason so he lets that thought pass him by. Being dead did that to you, he figures.

Water pools at his feet. He can’t stand being in it, and it doesn’t help when one day (day? time wasn’t a thing here) the water begins to rise.

He tries running a little faster, even though there’s nothing to run from or to run to, but the water laps up his legs hungrily. Not for the first time, he curses his height and wishes he had longer legs.

When the water reaches up to his chest, he expects to be able to float on the top but instead, his feet stay stuck firmly to the bottom, as if they’re made of lead. Briefly, Hoshi considers that he should be panicked in this situation but no - he’s long dead, this shouldn’t matter in the first place.

With that, he completely stops moving, the water rushing over his head and completely consuming him and he can’t quite breathe, but he could never ‘breathe’ in the first place, could he? The water is soothing, anyway, isn’t it?

It’s true he’s happy this way, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

“...sn’t it?”

The noise is jarring, and Hoshi doesn’t like it.

He doesn’t like the hands grabbing at him, pulling him out of the water he’s so content in, he’s so happy in for once in his life.

(or death)

“Please stop,” is something he doesn’t say, but he does struggle against the hands nonetheless, pulling back and trying to stop them from taking him out from the water. Please, for once leave him submerged there, leave him alone--

“Hoshi-san, isn’t it?” Says a person as white as bone, and Hoshi opens his eyes blearily, mouth agape and gasping for air.

“Hoshi-san!” One of the attendants says, smiles. “You’ve done it! The fifty-third killing game is over. My condolences for dying so early in, but congrats on getting through it!”

“...what?” He says, and he does not speak as they lavish him with praise that he does not deserve.

He wish he was back under the water.

 

.

 

At one point, he decides to go out for some shaved ice. A sweet tooth isn’t exactly a fact that he’s proud of, but who cares? It tastes good and if it grants him even a millisecond of forged pleasure then hell yeah, he’s going for it. Hoshi walks on over to the nearest shaved ice parlor, hoodie up as he orders a piña colada with a little bit of a cherry flavor, please and thank you very much.

“Where are your parents?” The attendant asks, and Hoshi only flinches a little as he draws out his id card, taking care to cover up his name and enough of his face that it isn’t suspicious, but they still won’t be able to tell who he is.

At the notion of the fact that he’s nearly twenty-one makes itself known, the attendant gasps a little and makes thousands of apologies that mean jack. Not like Hoshi has brought himself to care anymore, after all. He just tiredly asks for his piña colada (with a little bit of a cherry flavor) again.

The attendant gives him a discount, so Hoshi guesses that it’s worth it but he still feels bad so he leaves a pretty big tip. The shaved ice is good, after all. Real good, even if the chemicals make him gag a little bit but he nearly shoves the whole thing in his face in a single go as he walks outside, sitting himself down on one of the chairs and wincing as his legs swing freely, high above the ground.

A bit of his shaved ice slips from his cup and onto the ground, landing with a dull splat that makes him wince. He curses under his breath, leaning forward to sweep it up when a stray cat beats him to it.

He freezes, stops, grins.

“Ah, hey, kitty.” He says softly. “Do you like that?”

The cat continues to lap at the spot of ice, either oblivious to or ignoring Hoshi’s voice. He likes to think it’s the latter, because cats are far smarter than anyone ever gives them credit for.

After a pause, Hoshi dumps out half of his shaved ice next to the cat, and it promptly begins licking that instead. Tentatively, he reaches out and scratches the cat behind its ears. It’s tail flicks, but other than that, it doesn’t respond. Hoshi takes that as a sign that it’s a-okay for him to continue, so he does just that, spending his Tuesday morning by finishing up his piña colada (with just a little bit of cherry) flavored shaved ice, scratching a stray cat behind it’s ears.

 

.

 

“Soooooooo, Ryouma.” Hinoka’s sipping lemonade from a mug, a tiny umbrella sticking out of it that Hoshi honestly finds ridiculous but he’s not going to be saying shit about it. It’s late in the morning, and the two of them are sitting on Hoshi’s deck. “What have you been up to, back in Japan? Have you got a job?”

“Nah.” He flicks one of the scabs on his arm. Sometimes, the cigarettes burn a bit too much and he itches it when he’s not supposed to, and it bleeds and scabs over, making his kind-of-very-ugly scabs even uglier.

“Mmm, I guess you don’t need one, since you’re world famous and everything, right?”

“Uuuuh.” Hoshi drops his sunglasses over his eyes, before taking them off and staring at them. “Yeaaaaah. I guess. Team Danganronpa has my living quarters covered for practically ever, and even if they don’t, I’m pretty sure the government will. And I’m not a super spender or and I don’t splurge on things or whatever, so I’ve got enough money to last me a long time for food and whatever. I just take care of me and my cats, and that’s about it.”

“And sometimes you buy cat themed merchandise.” Hinoka adds.

Hoshi sighs. “And sometimes I buy cat themed merchandise.”

“Like your shitty tourist shirt.” She motions at Hoshi’s clothing with a perfectly manicured finger, and he scowls.

“Excuse you.” He mutters. “I have the absolute best taste in fashion, thank you very much.”

“Your taste in fashion is ‘anything that has a cat on it’.”

“Did I fucking stutter?”

 

.

 

Before the game, he had been an active part of the affectionately (ha!) named ‘Fanganronpa’ forums. Of course he had, there’s no way he would’ve signed up for the game if he wasn’t at least some sort of fan. Or, actually, that fact was debatable for some of the members of the cast but that didn’t quite matter.

The memory comes to him like a fog one night, and tentatively, he searches up the username ‘ryoumahohohoshi’ on a website he know he’s been active on at least sometime somewhere (after Kiibo agreed to go along with his plan, albeit with a touch of hesitance) and finds his very own fanganronpa story. He’s stared at the link for a very, very long time without clicking it - to the point where Kiibo nearly blocked the link from ever appearing on his laptop, and he had to beg the AI to not do the deed - and contemplated exactly how projecting himself into a fictional piece of writing turned into this.

He fights with his mom one day on the trip, about how he’s safe and twenty years old and leave him alone and with mind ablaze, he marches on over to his room, opens his laptop and breathes. Kiibo isn’t there, no one is there to stop him, and he clicks the link.

There’s a lot to take in, from the sheer number of hits and bookmarks and kudos on his fic to the links that read ‘fanart’ and ‘stories based off of this one’ and he feels a small flicker of pride within him as he remembers linking those there himself.

(did you just feel pride?)

His blood runs cold.

(why the hell did you think that. you know you don’t deserve that.)

Lips chapped, the boy scrolls down, intent on reading the story anyway, damaged conscious be damned. Hoshi gets about a couple sentences into the author’s notes before his eyes glaze over. He sits like that for a while, for a while bit too long, but who cares?

“Hoshi-san?”

He blinks, and suddenly, Kiibo’s pixelated face is there in front of him. “Oh.” He clears his throat. “Uh, hey.”

“Are...are you alright?” Kiibo bites his fictional lip in concern, and Ryouma scoffs.

“Of course I’m alright.” He mutters gruffly, and before Kiibo can say another word about it, he shuts the laptop.

 

.

 

The prospect of moving in with his family has occurred to him many, many times. Living on his own without a job isn’t exactly easy, after all, especially after going through good, fun ol’ killing game event like he had. His parents had insisted on it, actually - time and time again. And he had nearly agreed, nearly.

Nearly.

The look of pity isn’t one that he can take. He does not want to be pitied, and even if he had, he does not deserve to be pitied. It’s a simple matter of the fact.

“Ehhh, Ryouma-oniisan…” Sakura’s lip juts out as she pouts, hands held in front of her. “I don’t think you should be alone...I don’t want you to be alone! I wanna hang out with you!” She’s trying to do that thing, where she makes herself look small and vulnerable, and had Hoshi had any height to his name , it might’ve even worked.

Unfortunately for the both of them, achondroplasia blesses Hoshi and he’s still significantly shorter than Sakura.

“Sorry, kid.” He says, and he has to straighten up to pat her head even though he’s twelve years older than her. “Maybe next time, huh? Hawaii is nice, but Jerrie, Yuki, and Omelet need me back home.”

“Then just take them with you!” Sakura’s chin is trembling, now. “I want you to stay!”

Ryouma sighs. “Kid, you may want that, but I don’t. Yearly visits and skype calls are going to have to last for now, alright?”

He boards the plane, ignoring Hinoka’s sympathetic stare into the back of his skull because he doesn’t need that, doesn’t need sympathy, doesn’t need pity from his own older sister.

 

.

 

The night that he returns back is a bad one.

He burns through a whole back of cigarettes, all twenty of them leaving in tiny puffs of smoke that dance on his skin no matter how much Mimi and Oe-sama and even Jerrie hisses at him. The house smells like shit by the end of the day, like smoke and honey (and not the good kind) but Ryouma can’t bring himself to really care.

Hoshi’s mind is a mess, a huge fucking mess and it doesn’t help when he checks his phone and Kiibo’s staring at him in concern from the screen.

“Hoshi-san, are you alright?” He whirrs in concern, and Hoshi lets out another puff of smoke.

“‘Course.” He mutters. “Have I ever not been fine?”

Kiibo’s face rolls around in the screen, as if the AI had been considering saying something but ultimately decided against it. Well, whatever. Good for him, Hoshi guesses. He doesn’t turn off the phone, though, and Kiibo takes it as an invitation to go on a whole talk about everyone else’s lives, about how well they’re doing, about their daily shenanigans and about how much fun they’re having without Hoshi in their lives, huh!

Hoshi does not understand why he is even the slightest bit jealous, and after a while, he drops the phone onto the bed, facedown.

“Hoshi-san?” Kiibo’s voice is muffled. “Hoshi-san!? Are you alright!”

“I said I was fine, didn’t I?” He mutters, and opening his window, Hoshi looks at the river across the street from his house.

C’mon! the water says, crashing against the rocks at the bottom, and Hoshi takes a little bit too long to shut the window behind him.

 

.

 

He checks Skype one day. He doesn’t do it often, ‘cause the only people he has added are the people from the game and he really, really doesn’t have any want or will to talk to anyone, let alone any of them (save for Kiibo but, well, that couldn’t be helped). Hoshi just intends for it to take a second, for him to click the tab and then immediately log out, but the only person who’s online makes him pause and click their profile in intrigue.

It’s Gonta. His profile picture is a bit unnerving, depicting the boy holding a bat with several nails embedded in its head and a nasty grin on his face, and Hoshi frowns a little bit before shaking his head. Whatever. He is literally not in any position to judge anyone in their post-game decisions. Gonta wanted to wave bats around and become a delinquent? Fine. If that made him happy, Hoshi would fucking support the kid.

Without thinking, he sends a request for a video call. He’s about to press ‘end call’ and then message Gonta about how it was a misclick, sorry, his bad, but Gonta picks up frighteningly quickly and Hoshi finds himself staring at the boy.

“Hello!” Gonta grins from the other side of the screen. “Hoshi-san! How are you?”

“Ah, hey, Gonta.” Hoshi is suddenly painfully aware of the fact that he’s in his pajamas and a cat hoodie. “I’m alright, thanks. What about you?”

“I am doing great, thank you for asking!” Gonta says, when a voice behind him resonates.

“Gonta, who are you talking to?”

Gonta’s pixely figure turns around. “Amami-kun! Hoshi-kun decided to do one of those video calls with me, so we’re catching up with each other! Though we’ve just barely started.”

“Oh snap!” Amami’s face slides into the frame as he rolls in on his wheelchair. “Heeeey, Hoshibro!”

“Please...don’t call me that.”

“Fine, my good Broshi.”

Hoshi is too tired to say anything.

“What is the haps with you? I have, like, not heard a peep from you for months. You really should keep in contact more!”

“Oh, sorry. I’ll try to interact with everyone a little more.” Hoshi smiles stiffly, and tries not to bring up the fact that he was blatantly lying through his teeth. “But enough about me. What’s going on with you guys?”

Both Amami and Gonta begin speaking over each other animatedly, each eager to share their own individual daily lives with Hoshi with such vigour that it makes the smaller boy laugh.

He fights down the terrible, terrible feeling of jealousy that begins to creep up his throat. He has no right to be jealous of either Amami or Gonta. He knows this.

 

.

 

The first time someone notices the scars on his arms at the hospital, he’s surprised it takes so long. There’s a panic as at first they’re concerned for him, because who the fuck gave the kid they tried to make commit suicide so many packs of cigarettes, who gave him a lighter in the first place and then they’re upset at him because of word of this gets out the there are sure going to be some legal issues, oh dear oh no oh my!

Hoshi’s put in solitary confinement for two whole days ‘for his own safety’, but it’s not really solitary because Kiibo hangs out with him the whole time. He’s allowed to keep his cat plushie and, in fact, he gets a second one. If Ryouma knew that these kind of actions equated to getting more cat plushies, then holy shit, he would’ve done this all a lot sooner.

“Hoshi-san…” Kiibo whirrs through one of the monitors, and Hoshi raises a singular eyebrow.

“Hmm? What is it?”

Kiibo pauses, searching for the right words (which Hoshi thinks is silly, because the AI has a literal infinite database). “I...I don’t want you to think that you ever have to do anything like this.” He says softly. “Hoshi-san, you’re worth so much more than this. I know you don’t hold yourself in the highest regard, but, please…”

“Please what?”

“I...I can’t imagine living a life without you. Without any of the people from the game.”

Hoshi makes a sharp laughing noise, and Kiibo flinches (or, flinches as well as an AI confined by a monitor can). “What? Do you think I’m going to do myself in?” He spits, and Kiibo’s head rolls around uncertainly in the screen.

 

.

 

“It’s my birthday tomorrow,” He says to Yuki, who looks up at him curiously from her place by the heater. “I’m going to be turning twenty-one.”

Yuki’s ear flicks, as if to say good for you before she turns back to playing with one of Hoshi’s shirts. It’s falling apart at the seams, that much is obvious, and Yuki is definitely not helping as she tears away at the fabric with her teeth and her claws.

“Isn’t that weird?” Hoshi hums. “Like, when I was younger I was so eager to grow up. I wanted to be older, I wanted to be an adult, I wanted to be…” He trails off and sighs. “I thought I would be in many different places than I am right now when I was turning twenty-one. I did not think that I was going to be turning twenty-one all alone in my own depressed, little world with no company but some cats.”

Yuki looks up.

“Not that cats are bad company, of course! You’re the best company I could ever ask for.”

Yuki looks back down.

“I just...I dunno.” Hoshi sucks through his teeth. “At twenty-one, I thought I was going to have a will to live. Now I have everything but that. I’ve got money, I’ve got a family who wants the best for me, I could probably do anything I wanted ‘cause I’m a fucking celebrity, I…” Hoshi trails off as he ticks the items off his fingers and groans, rolling his head around on his neck. “I really, really don’t know, Yuki.”

From across the street, the water calls.

 

.

 

He turned eighteen at the hospital, because of course he did, he had been kept in there for so long that of course he was going to be turning eighteen by himself in a piece of shit hospital surrounded by people in white coats who gave less than two shits about him and, more importantly, no cats.

Well, whatever, he was going to have a good time with the people who were left.

Who just so happened to be Ouma and Shirogane. So, scratch that last statement.

It’s definitely an awkward celebration, Shirogane and the staff singing ‘Happy Birthday’ far too loud while Ouma whispers along. Hoshi stares as they hand him a triple layer chocolate cake made by who he assumes is one of the most famous bakeries in Japan, because of course that’s how it’s going to happen. Eighteen silver candles stick out, forming a star pattern with Hoshi’s name smacked in the middle of an expanse of white frosting.

“Make a wish!” One of the staff members says, and it takes him three tries to blow out all the candles but everyone claps anyway when he succeeds. He cuts himself a large piece, Shirogane cuts herself a moderately sized one, and neither Ouma nor the rest of the staff members touch it at all.

“What, is this poisoned?” Hoshi mutters around a mouthful that he can’t taste. “Everyone else can dig in, you know.”

“Oh, I wish.” Shirogane comments, taking an extra large spoonful. “I’d be enjoying this cake so much more if it was poisoned.”

“I would actually eat it in the first place.” Ouma adds, and they all laugh tiredly.

It’s no secret why they’re the last ones in the hospital.

 

.

 

The screen stares into his skull as the clock in the bottom left reads 23:58 in bold . It’s only two more minutes until it’s July first, till he turns twenty-one, till he can legally drink back in America and till it’ll be twenty-one years since he entered the world.

(well, technically he’d have to wait a couple more hours ‘cause he was born at five thirty-three in the morning or something but honestly, whatever, fuck it)

Mimi positions herself beneath his chin, rubbing the side of his face and purring loudly. He rubs her head, eliciting a pleased response from her. Out of a lack of thoughts, Hoshi absentmindedly clicks through his bookmarks, through various cat blogs and calming music tags before finally settling on his twitter.

It’s not like he tweets there often, if ever, but there’s that big ol’ verification check by his name and a good many people have followed him for the collection of the entire cast of the 53rd Danganronpa game, and who could blame them? Hoshi is certain that if he was still the person he was before he entered the game, before they brainwashed him, he would be doing the same.

After staring at the screen for several more seconds, Hoshi swallows nervously. “Fuck it,” he mutters, and types into the tweet text box. Before he has time to consider how bad of an idea this is or not, the digital clock in the bottom left corner of his screen declares it’s the first of July, happy birthday Hoshi and he’s pressed enter.

 

hoshi ryouma @officialhoshi

it’s my birthday today. i’ve turned 21.

24:00 - 1 July

 

Responses come back quickly, far too quickly for his taste as followers (fans of Danganronpa, he realizes, and feels bile rising up in his throat again) reply with ‘Happy Birthday!’ and ‘wishing you all the best hoshi sama!! o///’ and ‘ha ha you’re old enough to be banged now’ and ‘idiot he was old enough to be banged for a couple years now’ and Ryouma nearly closes his browser altogether, nearly crosses out the whole ordeal from his mind and even deletes the tweet when his direct messages notify him that he received, well, a message.

Realizing that he only enabled mutuals to message him, he clicks it curiously and sees a message from @makiharukawa.

‘Happy Birthday’, the message reads, ‘I hope things are going well for you, and that the next year will treat you kindly.’

Within seconds, he’s kneeling over his toilet while Mimi mewls in concern, trying not to think about how Harukawa had held his motive card in her hand, how she had noted it was blank and wow, it seemed he didn’t really actually have anyone who even vaguely liked him so what was the point of him being alive in the first place, huh?

Stupid Hoshi.

 

.

 

At some point, he works up the courage to check the comments on his fanganronpa fic. Kiibo’s over with Iruma, or Shirogane, or Gonta or Tojo or someone that isn’t Hoshi, so he can’t interfere - and that’s good.

He decides to go from the most recent comments, backwards, because isn’t traveling back in time fun?

The comments aren’t fun, aren’t fun in the slightest, as it turns out. Hoshi sits there for nearly an hour, scrolling through comments that at first range from ‘holy shit he was a good writer’ to ‘his murders were incredibly gruesome for some reason weren’t they?’ to ‘wouldn’t it have been funny if he was killed in the way he had described it himself and his guts were spilling out for everyone to see, too bad the murders in the actual show aren’t nearly as gory as they used to be due to ratings’ and, finally, ‘it’s strange how there are so many suicide murders in his stories, aren’t there? do you think he’s okay?’

‘no, he’s fine’ says a reply, ‘he’s totally a okay. he would’ve made it more clear if he wasn’t, don’t you think?’

‘oh, yeah, of course.’

‘uh, but @ryoumahohohoshi !! if you’re ever reading this!!! remember that we’re here for you, no matter what!!!! your work is suuuper good and i’d be super sad if, like, someone like you died you know?? then i wouldn’t be able to read your stories anymore and that would suuuuuck ass!!’

“It’s good to know,” Hoshi says, leaning back in his chair, “that the only reason some internet stranger thinks I should be alive is because I wrote a good fanganronpa story. Otherwise, it seems that they would have been a-okay with my dying.” He sighs. “Sorry to say, I’m not writing that fangan anymore. Actually, I don’t think I’ll be writing it ever again.”

In fact, he thinks, he’s going to delete it.

And that’s just what he does.

 

.

 

(the water’s calls to him are so loud that night, so loud that he finds that he can no longer ignore them)

 

.

 

“Hoshi Ryouma, was it?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“Pleasure to make your acquaintance! You’re auditioning for the fifty-third season of Danganronpa, I presume?”

“No shit, Sherlock. Why else would I be here?”

“I’ve been here for hours on end, please allow me whatever small pleasures I can afford.”

“Whatever.”

“On that note, then--”

“Before my audition officially starts, though, I want to make something clear - I really don’t want to survive this game.”

“Pardon?”

 

.

 

The bridge across the street does not have very high railings, but it stands very, very high above the rocks and the waves that crash against them. That makes it a perfect fit for Hoshi, when he himself isn’t very very high and needs to lift himself over the railings. He nearly falls right over right then, when he’s climbing, but catches himself for some dumb reason.

He can’t fall not now, not yet.

The water is calming, a calm so wonderfully gracious that he isn’t quite sure why he was fighting against Tojo the first time around. That had been silly of him, hadn’t it? Silly Hoshi.

The water speaks to him.

Will it hurt?

No, not at all.

...are you sure?

Well, maybe just a little bit. But not very much, and only for a moment,

What’s it like?

It’s just like you’re going to sleep, except you’re walking. There’s one step forward, then two, and just like that!

It’s that easy?

There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s a lot easier than living, anyhow, even if it did hurt.

Which it doesn’t?

It doesn’t.

...alright.

The water calls to him, crackles past the static in his brain and, into the future, he takes a step

 

Forward.

 

.

 

A hand catches him just as he’s about to fall.

 

.

 

He does not fight back - he cannot fight back. He is far too tired for that.

“Hoshi,” says Maki Harukawa, “I am so, so sorry.”

 

.

 

The car ride to Maki’s place is awkward and silent. Harukawa is the one driving - of course she’s the one driving, it’s not like Hoshi can even drive in the first place how pathetic is that - and Hoshi stares out the window. It’s a long drive - a drive that takes hours and hours and hours, or at the very least, that’s what it seems like. Realistically, he knows he should be grateful that he’s in a car and not some public bus. After all, he doesn’t think he could stand being surrounded by so many people right after an incident like that.

“So,” he drawls, “how come you were visiting my house at midnight out of the blue?”

“I wanted to check in on an old friend.” Harukawa states, and Hoshi scoffs.

“Since when were we friends?”

“Since we met.” Harukawa flicks on her turning signal before driving around a corner. “Don’t ask questions when you shouldn’t. Besides, I could ask you why you were trying to throw yourself off a bridge, couldn’t I? It’s a two-way street, my friend.”

Hoshi turns his face away from the window, and stares directly at Maki. The moonlight pours onto her face, casting shadows over her hair’s fringe and lighting up her eyes as they drive. “It’s cause I wanted to die,” he states, and Harukawa flinches. “I’m not lying about shit. It’s what you wanted me to do, isn’t it? Back in the game? You wanted me to die, and now I want me to die, so our motives finally aligned.” He sighs and turns to face the window again. “Then you went and pulled this shit. Thanks.”

The next several minutes are held in a tense, awkward silence, Hoshi not intent on continuing his train of thought.

“Kiibo was concerned and wanted me to check in on you.” Harukawa finally spits out, and Hoshi raises an eyebrow.

“Oh?”

“That damn AI has been spying on you, just like he’s been spying on every single one of us, and apparently he was concerned about your well being and wanted me to check in on you since I live the closest to you even though, you know, it’s a two hour drive so I wasn’t actually planning on doing it cause I thought you seemed okay but Akamatsu got drunk again tonight and broke the television and Momota was just yelling nonstop and I just couldn’t stand being in that fucking house for another second, so I thought to myself ‘hey, Maki, why don’t you check in on Hoshi like Kiibo’s been begging your ass to for months?’ and so I did. And then you were trying to throw yourself off the bridge when I came, and you kept on resisting and I thought you were okay and then you pull this shit and. Just.”

Harukawa exhales, fingers tightening on the steering wheel and knuckles turning white. Hoshi bites his lip.

“It’s been a long night for everyone,” he says softly, and Harukawa chuckles.

“You don’t fucking say. And it’s only, what?” She clicks something on the car’s dashboard to make the digital clock light up, “Yeah, there’s still ten minutes till midnight. I am so looking to passing out on my bed tonight.”

Hoshi runs his fingers over his cigarette burns. “Hey, Harumaki? I’ve...got a question.”

“Don't call me that, and shoot.” The girl readjusts the mirror. “Literally, I am too dead tired to care about anything. I could spill the beans about anything right now, and I would most definitely regret it in the morning, but for the moment? Yeah, you almost just died, I’m ready to provide you with some answers.”

Hoshi inhales shakily. “Are you and Momota...you know,” He makes some suggestive motions with his hands when Harukawa looks over quizzically, and the girl promptly blanches.

“Oh. Oh  God no,” she mutters. “Momota is a nice kid, sure, if you’ve got a fucked up definition of nice. If I had to pick a dude, it’d probably be him, but it’d be awkward as hell. In the game I definitely had some of those feelings towards him, but.” She shakes her head. “After the game, I thought I still did have those feelings for a little while, and then he woke up and I realized that ‘hey, maybe things aren’t gonna work out’ and then, after I got my memories back, I saw him as nothing more than a close friend.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, so to answer your question: no, I am not--” She takes her hands of the wheel for an instant to imitate the hand gesture Hoshi had made, “--with Momota. Any other questions?”

“Yes, actually,” Hoshi says. “Why aren’t you taking me back to my house?”

“What, so you can live there?”

Hoshi nods, and Harukawa snorts.

“Hate to break it to you, buddy, but I don’t think you’re going to be allowed to live alone in your own house for a very, very long time. You’re going to be hanging with my posse for a while. It’s pretty chill, actually! Akamatsu and Momota are great company, surprisingly. Akamatsu makes killer dishes, and Momota can apparently, like, fry ice cream?”

Hoshi, despite himself, chuckles. Harukawa laughs lightly. “It’s one of the most surreal things ever. I didn’t even know it was possible, but Momota’s an expert. He can fry absolutely anything, though if you ask him to accomplish anything else in the kitchen, you’re out of luck. And he’s been studying a lot for college, recently, ‘cause he wants to study abroad in the States, but nonetheless, he’s trying.”

“What kind of dishes does Akamatsu make?”

“Oh, she works magic with food,” Harukawa hums. “Trust me on that. I swear, they should’ve made her the Super High-School Level Chef instead of the Pianist - though she’s a wizard at that, too! We saved up and bought her a piano a year ago, for Christmas, and she plays the most beautiful tunes on it.” Harukawa sighs. “You’ll love it with us.”

“Sounds like you care very much for them,” Hoshi comments, but doesn’t comment on how Harukawa had been trying to escape the both of them only moments before.

“You bet your ass I do.”

They ride on for a couple more minutes in silence, before Hoshi works up the courage to speak again.

“Can I ask another question?”

“Technically, you just did, but yeah.”

“...I left my cats at home. Can we...go back and go get them? Please?”

Harukawa groans in exasperation, but flicks on her turning signal again to make a sharp U-turn.

 

.

 

Momota flings open the door at four in the morning, squinting through the darkness as Hoshi and Harukawa stand before her, a cage held in each hand. “What…” he sputters, stops. “What is going on here?”

“Hoshi’s gonna be living with us for a while,” Harukawa supplies. “There’s another cat cage in the back of the car. Do you mind going and getting it, please?”

There’s a drawn out pause before Momota shrugs. “Yeah, you’ve got it, fam.” He ruffles Hoshi’s hair as he walks by. “Welcome to the family, kid.”

“I’m pretty sure I’m a year older than you.” Hoshi mutters, but Momota pays no heed.

“Kaede's passed out on the couch, so try to be a little bit on the quieter side, okay? I mean, I doubt you’ll wake her up, but you catch my drift.” With that, Momota walks past the both of them and towards the car. Harukawa steps into the house itself, and Hoshi follows.

It’s a surprisingly big house, with two large floors that make it obvious to Hoshi that the house is sponsored by none other than good ol’ Team Danganronpa, which makes him curl his lip slightly in disgust. It isn’t fair to Harukawa or Akamatsu or Momota, Hoshi knows that, but that doesn’t stop the feeling of pettiness that rises up inside him.

There’s a set of wooden stairs directly in front of them when they walk into the house, and Harukawa nearly steps up them before pausing and glancing back down the hall. “Wait here,” she says, and puts the cat carriers down gently before quietly making her way into another room. Hoshi, being the epitome of an obedient person that he was, decides to not ‘wait here’ and follows her.

Akamatsu's passed out on the couch, hair a mess and a can of beer hanging from the tips of her fingers. Harukawa's already smoothing out the girl’s hair, lips pursed as she takes the can of beer away from her. She looks like she’s about to throw it out - almost - but after a moment’s hesitation, she downs the can in a single gulp and lets out a satisfied ‘ah’ noise. Hoshi chuckles despite himself, and Harukawa's whips around, frowning.

“And what are you laughing at?”

“Nothing.” He mutters. “Aren’t you supposed to take me to my room?”

“I am.” Harukawa walks by him stiffly, picks up the cat carriers again, and walks up the stairs. Hoshi follows her into the guest room.

 

.

 

The next morning, Hoshi sits at the kitchen table, legs swinging freely as he counts the ticks inbetween the clock as he waits for time to pass. He hadn’t slept a wink last night, and a half-filled coffee cup sits idly before him. He’s refilled it five times, now.

Harukawa and Momota walk into the kitchen within five minutes of each other, Momota barely passing out a tired “Mornin’, Hoshi” while Harukawa smiles gently at him and says nothing. Hoshi hates the way she’s tip-toeing around him, but says nothing.

After a couple more minutes of a silence filled with morning noises, Akamatsu herself walks into the room, a boasting a spectacular bedhead. “You guys won’t believe it, but this fucking cat --” she starts, and then stops and stares agape as she catches sight of Hoshi. He shifts awkwardly under her gaze. “Oh.”

“Good morning, Akamatsu,” Harukawa says stiffly. “Hoshi’s going to be staying with us for a while. He’s brought his five cats with him, so you’re going to have to get accustomed to them for a while. Uh, what are their names?” She looks helplessly at Hoshi.

“Omelet and Yuki,” he lists off, “Mimi, Oe-sama, and Jerrie. I’ll tell you which is which when it’s not eight in the morning.”

“Fair enough,” Akamatsu condones, and opens the fridge to get some orange juice.

 

.

 

He is three weeks into his stay with Momota, Harukawa, and Akamatsu as he stares at the ceiling, head numb with tiredness as Oe-sama pads over his chest, demanding attention. It’s a hot night. As for why, Hoshi isn’t quite sure, but he’s not getting out of bed to check it out. He could stay in this bed for hours, for years if he wanted. He’s just that tired, and Harukawa has confiscated all possible lighters and matches, so despite the cigarette pack that sits on the bedside table, he can’t smoke shit.

“Hey, my guy,” he hums tiredly as Jerrie nuzzles his cheek, and he scratches the underside of the cat’s cheek, eliciting a small purr from her. “How are you feeling about this whole ordeal? Do you like living here?”

Jerrie mewls and rests her grey muzzle in the space between Hoshi’s chin and his collarbones, and he chuckles to himself. Oe-sama, who had still been standing on his chest, jumps a little at the sudden movement which only makes Hoshi laugh harder.

“I think...it’s surprisingly nice,” he whispers. “It’s better being surrounded by people that care about you than, well, being surrounded by none at all. Though…” He trails off, and as if to prompt him onwards, Jerrie raises her head. He chuckles, and continues.

“When I was younger, I liked animals a lot more than humans because people were so nerve wracking that I could only relate to animals.” He laughs. “Isn’t that dumb? I find that a little dumb. Or at least, I did at first. But, like...the way things are now, I don’t think there’s a single person in the entire world that I like more than any of you guys.” He strokes Oe-sama’s head as the tomcat leans in and licks Hoshi’s nose. “And that’s considering myself, obviously. I’m so glad you guys are able to stand my presence. I know if I was a cat, I wouldn’t be able to stand myself.”

Jerrie makes a low sound that rises up from the bottom of her chest, startling Hoshi and causing him to blink in astonishment before he chuckles.

 

.

 

There’s seven packs of cigarettes in the kitchen. There’s two underneath the sink, hidden away with all the cleaning supplies. There’s another two next to the vase, packed prettily in plain view as the daisies wilt. There’s three up in the medicine cabinet, on the second shelf with all the pills, and there’s one in Akamatsu's hands as she sits across the counter, chewing one of the unlit cigarettes in her mouth.

“Are you just gonna…” Hoshi trails off. “Like, not light them?”

Akamatsu looks at him like he’s sprouted two more heads. “Not right now.” She hums. “Sometimes I feel like lighting them, but most of the time, I just stick with unlit ones. Don’t want lung cancer or whatever cigarettes give you too early, yeah? I’m only twenty-two; I am young. Besides,” She scoffs, raising an eyebrow, “we’re not allowed to smoke around you, remember? There’s nooo lighters to be found, so this is the life we’re living. A tragic, unlit cigarette life.”

“And yet chewing on them, unlit, is okay? Alcohol is alright?”

“No one asked for your opinion, squirt.”

Hoshi flinches at the nickname and curses himself for it, because Akamatsu notices and her expression grows softer and that hurts so, so much more than the ‘squirt’ comment.

Akamatsu clears her throat awkwardly. “Hey, you know, i-if...if you’ve got scars from anything, your punk power increases by fifty PPP.”

Hoshi blinks. “What?”

“Punk power points.”

“Where the hell did that come from?”

The girl wrings her hands, “I don’t know!” She spits through gritted teeth. “Listen, this is my attempt at trying to comfort you. Scars are cool, and they aren’t something you need to be ashamed of, so don’t feel like you need to wear long sleeved shirts even when the heating breaks and it’s boiling just cause you need to hide your scars on your arms.” She takes out the cigarette from between her lips. “Just...make sure you don’t add onto them, okay?”

Hoshi stares at his arms. “Okay.” He says in a very small voice.

Akamatsu smiles, and for a second, Hoshi thinks he catches a glimpse of the person he thought he knew inside the game.

 

.

 

One night he wakes up and he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe.

There’s a terrible, terrible pounding in his chest and in his head and when he tries to stand up from his bed, he collapses on his own legs (can’t even support your own pathetic weight huh) and feels the tell-tale signs of an upcoming vomit session rising up in his throat. He knows making it to the bathroom is far too much to ask for, so he crawls over to the trashcan and vomits there instead.

Omelet and Oe-sama sit besides him, mewing in turn and rubbing their faces against his body. Their presence is appreciated - he’d be lying if he said it wasn’t - but frankly, it makes too little of a difference and he wonder where exactly he is in life if even his cats aren’t enough to comfort him in the state he is.

Omelet must sense exactly how big of a piece of shit he’s being, or something along those lines, because he pads away, leaving Oe-sama to curl around Hoshi’s arms and tentatively lick his healed-up wounds. He flinches slightly, but Oe-sama continues his rhythmic pattern as Hoshi burps and then lets another volley of vomit throw itself into the trash can with repulsive, disgusting splats.

“Hoshi,” says Harukawa from his doorway with Omelet at her side, “are you alright?”

Hoshi tries to respond, but his stomach decides otherwise. He wants nothing more than to melt into the floor, melt out of this plane of existence, but Harukawa tentatively makes her way over to him and begins to rub his back.

“There, there.” She murmurs softly. “There, there. There, there. There, there.”

They sit like that for a very long time, long enough for Hoshi’s stomach to rid itself of all it’s contents (and then some) and instead leaving Hoshi with an aching pit of self hatred. He groans slightly, closing his eyes and rocking back on his heels. Harukawa brings him closer to her chest, and surprisingly, Hoshi does not flinch violently away from human contact.

“Hey,” she whispers, “I’m really proud of you for making it this far. I know it isn’t easy, living the way you are and feeling the way you feel, but you are making it. You are doing so, so great.”

“That’s a lie,” Hoshi whispers back before he can stop himself.

“No, it’s not.”

He chuckles tiredly. “You know, I thought you were supposed to be an assassin, not a child caretaker.”

“You weren’t around for that bit,” Harukawa points out, “and besides, you aren’t a child, are you? You’re twenty-one, now. I’m barely older than you, for God’s sake.”

“Oh? How old are you?”

She laughs and cuffs him lightly over the ear. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you it isn’t polite to ask for a lady’s birthday?” She points out. “But I’m twenty-two. Turning twenty-three in February.”

“Oh. I see.”

They sit like that for a couple more minutes, before Harukawa whispers, “hey, shouldn’t you be cleaned up a bit?” and Hoshi replies “shit, yeah, you’re right, sorry about causing such a mess” and she says “no it’s no problem please don’t worry about it” and, just like that, Hoshi washes his mouth out with a cup of water and lays back down on his bed.

He sleeps peacefully, with his cats curled up besides him.

 

.

 

The 7-Eleven across the street from their house is pleasant (far more pleasant than the bridge that Hoshi almost jumped from, at the very least), so when Momota suggests that they head over there just to ‘hang’ Hoshi is all for the idea, stuffing his hands into a hoodie that’s a couple sizes too big for him. They order a large pepperoni pizza and Hoshi is just about to order a nice ol’ Chillers Iced Coffee on top of that when Momota shushes him.

“C’mon, dude, get the slurpee instead!” He insists.

Life is too short to argue, Hoshi decides, and gets a grape Panta slurpee, if only for old times sake. Momota purses his lips at his choices, but orders a blue raspberry Panta slurpee to match.

They sit down by a window, watching the cars drive by, through the dirty city. “Hey,” Hoshi says, and Momota looks up, “why do you hate Ouma so much? Like, I get being pissed at him for what he did in the game, ‘cause God knows I hated him inside the game too, but…” Hoshi swirls the slurpee with his straw, reluctant to drink it just yet. “But it’s been nearly four years since then, and we all know we’re all better then that now, right? And in the game you, like, became bros with him and said you respected him for how he died or whatever...so what happened?”

Momota lets out a sharp bark of laughter, and it makes Hoshi flinch just the slightest bit. “God, Hoshi, you’re kinda gullible.” He drawls. “Yeah, I kinda forgave him for what he did in the game, and I even tried to be friends with him after the whole fact, back in the hospital! And then. And then.” He laughs venomously and practically inhales a good portion of the slurpee, smacking his lips together. “Let’s just say he did some pretty shitty things to me and Harumaki-san when we were all trying to recover.”

“Harumaki-san and I.” Hoshi corrects uselessly, and Momota shrugs.

“Toe-may-toh, toe-mah-toh. You’re ignoring the point here, Hoshi. The thing is, Ouma’s just as shitty a person outside the game as he was inside of it. He made that painfully clear whenever I tried talking to him, and trust me, I tried.”

“O-oh.”

“‘Oh’, indeed.” Momota snorts and takes another sip of the slurpee. “C’mon, drink it! If you drink it fast enough it numbs your brain, which is honestly a great alternative to, like, drugs.”

At that, Hoshi begins drinking up his slurpee, wincing at the brainfreeze that makes itself known all too quickly.

“Isn’t it great?” Momota prompts.

“Y-yeah. I love the feeling.” He means it. The cheap chemicals taste great on his tongue.

 

.

 

Saihara’s daily musings, as the boy dubs them, are, well, a-musing.

(ha ha. what a pun hoshi had there.)

Sometimes the posts are long, detailed events of Saihara’s time living with Tojo, Gonta, Amami, and Kiibo. Sometimes these posts are accompanied by a video, depicting them sharing a pizza while Amami animatedly tells some ridiculous story or other while Gonta ‘accidentally’ releases his ant farm onto the pizza, making Tojo groan and Hoshi, from across the screen, to chuckle.

Of course, Saihara isn’t a narcissist - in fact, he’s anything but - and he encourages others to send videos, pictures, and stories of their own. Iruma is the most frequent contributor, sending video after video of the latest commercial she’s been in or her latest photoshoot or sometimes it’s just her, sitting in the bathroom, putting on makeup, and rambling about her day. Everyone else has made at least one post, albeit far less frequent - Angie draws pictures of people, Shirogane sends links to her clothing lines, and even Ouma sends the occasional video of his cat.

So checking the blog becomes something he unknowingly looks forward to, and when there’s an announcement that a location and date for the fourth annual gathering has been decided, he finds himself looking forward to it, almost.

“Mmm, do you guys wanna go?” Akamatsu’s sitting upside down on the couch, legs up over the backrest and her hair brushing the floor. “I, like, get that it’s fun and all to meet everyone and whatever, but honestly? I find myself feeling uncomfortable during it more so than actually enjoying it.” She chews on the unlit cigarette in her mouth. “I don’t wanna go this year.”

“I don’t care either way.” Momota yawns. “It’d be nice to see Iruma-chan again in person instead of just in those stupid photo shoots but like, if y’all don’t care--”

“I would like to go.” Hoshi butts in, and he hates how everyone stares at him with a slightly raised eyebrow. He curses under his breath. “Like, if you’re super opposed to it then, fuck it, it isn’t worth the fighting, but I think it’d be nice.”

Harukawa makes a popping noise with her lips. “Nah, I agree with you, Hoshi. I would like to go as well.”

Akamatsu’s eyes widen. “Uwah, I see how it is.” She spins herself around to sit more comfortably on the couch, propping up her chin with her hands. “Fine, we’ll go. But I am not talking to the detective.”

Hoshi winces slightly. “I wasn’t on planning on...forcing you to do anything you didn’t want to do. Making you talk to Saihara wasn’t even slightly in the ballpark.”

Akamatsu rolls her eyes. “Whaaatever.”

(hoshi wonders if the nice girl from inside the game existed at all, or if he just imagined her.)

 

.

 

“Okay KIDS!” Harukawa barges into the living room, holding up a DVD case in her hands. Akamatsu, Momota, and Hoshi all look up from the card game they had been playing. Absolutely none of them knew the rules to said card game, and were relieved for a distraction. “We. We are going to be popping our, uh…” Harukawa makes a vague hand motion. “Our...biggest bottles? Yeah. We are going to be popping our biggest bottles tonight. Who is with me?”

The room resounds in silence, before Momota speaks up.

“Is that...Smurfs 2?”

“Yes,” Harukawa says.

“What happened to the first one?” Akamatsu frowns.

“Who cares? We are going to watch the second Smurfs movie, and we are going to love it!”

“Where is the Harumaki I know and love and what did you do to her,” Momota comments dryly, and Harukawa sighs.

“I’m trying to get everyone together, alright? We haven’t really had any solid bonding time yet, so I figured that it was about time that we did. I bought the cheapest movie that was at the store, and the first Smurfs movie was fifteen yen more expensive--”

“Fifteen yen?!” Akamatsu spits. “Why couldn’t we have just gotten that one? We won’t know what’s going on!”

“Read the wikipedia article,” Harukawa says, and with that, slides the disc into DVD player despite everyone’s numerous pleas and begs for relief.

After some time, Momota surrenders and announces that he’s going to pop some popcorn, and that’s just what he does. There’s a disgusting amount of butter and salt in it, to the point that it makes Hoshi want to puke over it, but after some time he either grows used to it or learns to fool his brain into thinking that the food itself is actually good. Whatever way the cookie crumbles, they sit there, Akamatsu and Harukawa on one side of Hoshi and Momota on the other, Omelet sitting on Momota's lap and jaws widening as he yawns, watching the movie.

Akamatsu turns on her phone and reads the wikipedia on not only the first but second movie as well, reading it out loud and spoiling the entirety of the film before they get very far at all. Momota, surprisingly, is the one who’s upset - not Harukawa - and yells accusing remarks at Akamatsu while she grins tiredly and Hoshi tells them to all just shut up and watch the movie.

Someone could take a picture right then and there and if someone saw it and didn’t know the context, they could’ve said that they were a picture perfect family, so perfect that photoshop couldn’t make the situation any better.

 

.

 

Not all nights are picture perfect.

One night, Momota comes home with a black eye and a split lip that dribbles blood down his chin. Mimi is in Hoshi’s arms, the both of them sitting in the living room as he walks in, and the both of them start. Momota raises his hand in a small greeting.

“Hey.” His voice is slurred.

“Hey,” Hoshi can barely force out the word, but fortunately, further conversation from him isn’t required as Harukawa walks into the room at that very moment, asking if Momota is finally back before seeing the boy herself. Her eyes grow wide.

“What happened?!” she gasps. “Oh my God. Oh my God.”

A scowl forms on Momota's face. “Eugh, it’s no biggie, Harumaki,” he mutters, and tries to shove past her.

“Uh, I’d say it’s a ‘biggie’.” Harukawa blocks Momota's path, and his scowl only deepens. “Momota, you’ve been out for hours, to the point where I was considering calling the police--”

“You weren’t,” Momota bites. “You wouldn’t.”

“I was worried,” Harukawa forces back. “Momota, you can’t just disappear like this! You can’t just leave and then return home all beat up!” Her voice is trembling. “I’m afraid that one day you’ll leave and just never come back, or that you’ll end up lying dead in an alleyway and we won’t even know it! Momota, you can’t--” Her voice cracks, and she inhales. Hoshi recognizes the faraway look in her face all too well as Momota begins yelling insults back at her, about how she shouldn’t even give a shit and how she’s so obsessive and clingy, though that’s mostly because he makes that expression himself all too frequently.

He closes his eyes and tries to block out all the noises, humming off-key too loud for eleven minutes past midnight, Mimi snuggling closer to him like a furry water bottle. After a while, Akamatsu walks in and hands him a can of beer that he gratefully accepts and opens with trembling hands.

Hoshi wonders if the only reason things have been alright in the house are because they’ve all been making an extra hard effort to keep the mood up with him around.

 

.

 

It’s an eight hour drive to the ski resort that Saihara has planned the gathering at, and after the boy (and Team Danganronpa) had pulled a few strings, it seemed that they would be the only ones attending the ski resort for an entire day. Hoshi was thrilled at the prospect, Momota made a comment about how he was upset that he wouldn’t be seeing any cute girls or boys, and Harukawa whacked him over the head and reminded him that everyone would be wrapped up in piles of jackets and scarves and hats and goggles so it’s not like he would even be able to see their faces, dumbass. And even if he had, it’s not like anyone would even want to consider going on a date with him.

Momota sticks out his tongue, Hoshi mournfully bids adieu to his five cats, and they all shove themselves and what little equipment they have into the van and drive away.

Harukawa is the one driving, obviously, and Momota sits at shotgun and takes control of the radio much to everyone’s disapproval. After the seventh playing of ‘hey now, you’re an Allstar, get your game on, go, plaaaay’, Harukawa had pulled over and said that if Momota did not stop that very instant, she was going to turn around and drive back home and it would be Hoshi that Momota was disappointing, not her.

Hoshi wasn’t quite sure why he was used as blackmail, but Momota shut up anyway, so good for Harukawa, he guesses. Akamatsu sits with him in the back seat, playing some sort of mobile game on her phone and paying absolutely no attention to Hoshi. Usually, he wouldn’t be upset by this - he’d be delighted, actually - but at the moment, he craved a little bit of human interaction.

It was, like, a once in a blue moon occurrence. Cut him some fucking slack.

“What are you playing?” Hoshi hums, leans over.

She tilts the phone’s screen in his direction, and he gasps.

“No way.”

“Yes way,” she hums.

“There's this sort of a game out there?”

“Yeah. Neko Atsume has been around for a long time. Have you never heard of it?”

“No?!”

“Well, my little buddy.” She leans over and hands the phone to him. “I am here to enlighten you. Though, I should note, you’re, like, way behind on things, ‘cause this game used to be super popular years back so you totally missed the huge fandom surge. Some might consider that for the better, though, so whatever--”

They spend the next several hours just talking and having a good time, and Hoshi finds himself looking forward to the rest of the trip.

 

.

 

“Yeeeessss lads! Motherfuckin’ Iruma Miu is in the house!” Iruma bangs her bedazzled snowboarding boots against one of the tables as Hoshi enters, and Yumeno pretends to gag.

“Ugh, don’t tell me you’re actually planning on wearing those?” she mutters.

Iruma only grins.

“And I thought you were supposed to be a super famous model, with an amazing fashion sense.”

“I don’t make the clothes, hun. I just make them look good.” Iruma pulls her hair back into a singular ponytail instead of her typical two, but it doesn’t seem to make it any more tame than the mess that it usually is.

“Oh, more people!” Tenko waves, finally noticing the new people entering the room. Saihara notices Akamatsu and flinches. “Hello! Tenko welcomes you.”

Hoshi waves a tentative hand while Akamatsu grins wholeheartedly. “Hello, Chabashira,” she says lightly, “and Iruma and Yumeno!”

Hoshi doesn’t understand Akamatsu. Saihara stares at them all, puppy dog eyes. It’s a bit pathetic, if Hoshi is being honest with himself.

“Heya!” Iruma hums, and removes her jacket to reveal a shirt with the words MEGA MILK imprinted on it. Momota promptly begins to lose it, cackling wildly as he high fives Iruma. Iruma beams from ear to ear while Akamatsu chuckles and Harukawa groans, putting her face in her palms.

“I’m so thrilled that we’re all together again!” Someone’s laptop has been set up so that Kiibo can join in on all the ‘fun’ shenanigans. “I mean, technically, I’m allowed to see you all whenever I want, but everything is so much more fun when we’re together, right? And we can only do this once a year, so doesn’t that make these memories all the better to cherish?”

There’s an awkward silence before Saihara butts in. “Yeah, I agree with you, Kiibo-kun!” he says, and Hoshi winces at the desperation in his tone. “I love hanging out with you all! Every single one of you is important to me.”

Akamatsu scoffs, and Saihara wilts.

 

.

 

“H...hey."

The gaze that Ouma gives Hoshi is one that Hoshi absolutely, positively hates, and he scowls as the boy approaches him as he’s putting on his ski boots. “The hell do you want?”

Ouma flinches violently, and Hoshi curses himself for continuing to forget that the ‘Ouma outside the game’ is a stark contrast from the ‘Ouma inside the game’. “Sorry, that was my bad.” He feels like he’s talking to a cat of some sort. “It’s nice that you approached me, honestly. What’s up?”

The boy fidgets nervously, and it takes everything in Hoshi’s willpower not to tell him to spit it out. “Uh, it kinda came to me as an accident, but…” He inhales. “I. I kinda caught wind of what was going on with you and how you tried to, y’know, and uh--”

“You what?!” Panic flares up in Hoshi’s mind, and Ouma flinches again.

“D-don’t worry, please, only I know! It’s only me. And Kiibo-san I guess but he...he kinda knows everything. And maybe other people know but if they do I’m not aware of it and uh.” Ouma’s fingers tease at a purple scrunchie around his wrist that Hoshi never realized was even there, snapping it back and forth like it’s a habit. “I. I just wanted to say that I really don’t think it’s worth it and there are people that...that care about you and. Dying would just be selfish, and...and.” Ouma’s lips flutter. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. I hope you feel better, and...if you ever need someone to talk to, hit me up, I guess?”

Hoshi stares. “O...kay?”

“P-please take care of yourself. There’s only one of you, after all, and y-you’re important.”

There’s a nervous noise that sounds almost like laughter as Ouma walks quickly away, already shoving a coat that looks like it’s a couple sizes too big for him on. Hoshi sighs, convinces himself that Ouma’s just spouting the same shit the good-for-nothing therapists at the hospital fed them for months, and resolves to skype with the boy after the annual gathering is gone and done with.

 

.

 

It is only when Hoshi is standing atop the snowy mountain with no way out of the situation other than to go down that he realizes that he has absolutely no idea how to ski.

Iruma's already rocketed off, making it all of eight feet before falling face first into the snow. Gonta, on the other hand, seemed to be an expert on skis, zooming ahead with Tenko not far behind. Hoshi chews his lip nervously, glancing over at Harukawa who stands stoic besides him.

“Do you, uh.” He shrugs. “Have any idea how to ski?”

“Nope.”

“That response was a bit too deadpan for my liking.”

Harukawa sighs and puts on a grin that’s far too awkward for her face. “Uwaah, Hoshi-chan, I am so fucking excited to be here, skiing, even though I know nothing! I can learn from the experience and have, like, tons of fun! Yoooosha!”

Hoshi gags. “Okay, on second thought, please stop. I’d rather die than have to hear you say that again.”

The girl’s face settles back to the normal, lower maintenance expression that it usually has. “That’s what I thought.” She sighs. “Look, you agreed to do this, I agreed to do this, we all agreed to do this. We are going to make it through this annual gathering, just like we made it through all these other annual gatherings, and we are going to have fun while we’re at it. Alright?”

Hoshi looks back at the slope. “This is so dumb,” he declares. “This is not how I wanted to kill myself.”

Harukawa’s lips twitch. “I guess I’ll just give you a hand, then, if you’re so reluctant yourself.”

Before Hoshi can even react, Harukawa’s pushing him down the mountain and he’s screaming in fear.

Moments later, as the cold wind whips at his face, that fear transforms into childish delight.

 

.

 

Surprisingly, Hoshi’s rampages are somewhat decent. He only wipes out twice - twice! - which is certainly less than can be said of Iruma, who for some completely absurd reason, has removed her shirt to reveal a cute neon pink bikini underneath. She cackles wildly as Harukawa mutters that she should learn the definition of decency while Yumeno simply shrugs and mutters that it’s better than the MEGA MILK shirt and at least she still has sweatpants on. Hoshi is inclined to agree with both.

It’s such a comment that makes Iruma huff and triple dog dare him to go skiing over a ledge. “What ledge?” He frowns, having seen no such ledge.

“This ledge.” Iruma declares, and with her snowboard, begins to make a ledge for Hoshi to jump off of. She sticks the snowboard down in the snow, landscape, and packs snow against it until a rather large ledge has formed. She steps back, dusts herself off, and admires her handiwork.

Hoshi begins to count the minutes he has left to live. “Do I have to?” He mutters.

“Yeah.” Surprisingly (or perhaps not so), it’s Harukawa who speaks, not Iruma. “C’mon, let’s see you fly.”

Hoshi mutters something about betrayal and how he now knows how to never trust anyone again, ever™ before launching himself at breakneck speed down the slope.

He sure goes flying, alright - flying over the edge, over the ground, and headfirst into a tree. He lays there, groaning, as the tree’s branches shudder and bury him completely in snow.

 

.

 

“Are you alright?”

Hoshi’s gaze flickers up at Shinguji, whose hair is secured firmly underneath a beanie save for a few tumbling strands. Hoshi’s nose is still running as he shivers from underneath the blanket. It hadn’t been humiliating of levels of embarrassment after his horrific fall into the snow, but his face was still dusted red when they had removed him, and it had not been from the cold. Hoshi shrugs awkwardly, looking to the side and sighing.

“The fuck does it look like, dumbass.” He instantly regrets it as Shinguji’s face morphs into one of fear far, far too quickly for his taste, and he smiles lightly. “I’m jokin’, jokin’. Thanks for the concern, bub. Worse case scenario, I catch a bit of a cold. Getting covered by a little snow didn’t kill anyone.”

Shinguji hesitates. “Uhm, well, actually…”

Ryouma’s look of exasperation shuts him up quickly, and he flushes a light pink. “Sorry,” Shinguji murmurs, and Hoshi is struck with how pretty the boy looks in that moment. “I...I just, I don’t know. Sorry if it was creepy of me to act concerned or overreact like that.”

Hoshi huffs. “Man, that’s not creepy. Caring for other people isn’t creepy, and people who say that it is can go fuck themselves.” He shifts underneath his blankets and sneezes. “Like...I appreciate the concern. Thanks, Shinguji.”

Shinguji twirls one of the strands of his hair absentmindedly. “It’s no problem.” He murmurs. “Uh, do you wanna like...play a game of checkers? Or something?”

A raised eyebrow. “Or something?”

“I-I’m not that good with conversation starters. Sorry.”

“Nah, it’s no problem.” Hoshi yawns, shivers again. “Hit me up.”

Shinguji stands up and bows before walking away, fabric making scratching noises as he scours the lobby for a box of checkers. Hoshi takes a quick glance around the room, taking note of the other people in it. Ouma seemed to have brought his cat to the gathering for yet another consecutive year, and honestly, it’s not like Hoshi could blame him. Hoshi had been tempted every single year to bring his own cats to the gatherings and yet, for some strange reason, had yet to. Ouma needed that cat, anyways - he was still sitting alone.

Saihara was still staring after Akamatsu, who was very pointedly ignoring him by hanging out with Momota and Harukawa, it seemed. Hoshi sighs and wraps the blanket tighter around himself. He wasn’t involved in that drama fest, and he sure as hell wasn’t planning on it - not for a long while, at least, and most definitely not this very instant.

Kirumi and Amami continued to be attached at the hip, even if Amami still had trouble walking. According to Saihara’s blog (and via Tojo), the boy had begun walking around the apartment on his with the assistance of crutches. Amami still seemed to remember jack shit about his life before or during the game, but his disgustingly optimistic smile is still stationed firmly on his face despite that. Or perhaps, Hoshi considers, it’s because he doesn’t have to deal with all that terrible shit that he can look himself in the mirror and not wish he was dead every other day.

Iruma and Shirogane seemed to be chatting up a storm, Tenko butting in with the occasional comment. Despite Hoshi’s obvious grudges against Shirogane, he was glad that she seemed to be more comfortable talking with others, even if those ‘others’ were a very selective group of girls. But whatever, girls liked girls, he knew how the cookie crumbled in their class.

...their class.

His class.

Hoshi breath catches ever so slightly as he realizes just how much everyone in the room means to him just as Shinguji comes back.

“Sorry if I took too long, uhm,” he clears his throat, “I brought you some checkers and some hot chocolate in a...martini glass. Because there weren’t any mugs left for some reason, so I used a martini glass. I think it has some sort of class to it, though. If you don’t want to drink it because you don’t like the martini glass, I can get something else or like. Even go out and buy a mug for you--” Shinguji pauses. “Are you crying?”

“No.” He lies.

“It’s...it’s alright to cry.” Shinguji awkwardly sits down next to Hoshi and wraps his arms around the smaller boy, even as he turns away. “There, there.”

Hoshi wipes at the tears which, much to his his horror, only seem to be increasing in number. “I don’t need you to comfort me, idiot.”

“Oh my, is Hoshi-san alright?” Gonta calls out, and Hoshi curses his existence as he walks over. “It seems you need a hug, young man!”

“I’m twenty-one, leave me the fuck alone--” Hoshi’s face is smothered as Gonta’s pecs are shoved directly into his face, and he makes a noise.

“A group hug?” Angie squeals. “Angie loves group hugs!” Hoshi can feel another pair of arms enveloping him.

“I don’t need this!” Hoshi’s voice squeaks, and he wants to die.

“Aw man, there’s nothing wrong with needing a hug, Hoshi my dude!” Iruma comforts. “Hell, I love group hugs! Everyone, join in on this mess!”

“Whatever you say.”

Hoshi sputters. “Harukawa, you too?”

“Don’t get upset at Harumaki or anything!” Momota butts in.

Hoshi’s protests are drowned out as, one by one, everyone adds themselves to the group hug, from Akamatsu's soft touch to Tenko’s rough ‘well, Tenko guesses she can make an exception to boys just this once’ and even Ouma’s tentative addition. Kiibo makes a comment about how he’s annoyed he can’t be in the hug, and Saihara turns on his phone before shoving the phone into the center of the hug. Kiibo thanks him.

The martini glass full of hot chocolate has spilled onto Hoshi’s lap, but he can’t find it in himself to care as for the first time in a long time, he finds himself genuinely happy.

Hoshi Ryouma thinks that he will enjoy the next couple years of his life. In fact, he looks forward to them.

Chapter Text

Iruma Miu has heard time and time again how fame blinds you, how it prevents one from being able to see clearly, but frankly? She finds that in all her life (and temporary death), her vision has never fit the definition of 20/20 moreso than it has when she steps out onto the runway and the crowd goes absolutely wild.

There’s someone over the loudspeaker describing her attire that’s just perfect for your summer body (though that began the whole controversy of whether or not it was one’s body who should be ready for summer or summer who should be ready for one’s body, but Iruma didn’t have that sort of a luxury to decide what to do with her own body in an industry like this) and oh how it folds in perfectly, how it shimmers, how it fits her figure, buy it buy it buy it!

She tosses her head when she reaches the end of the runway, perfectly white teeth set in a perfect grin that makes the audience clap even louder, if that was possible. She holds it for a couple more seconds longer, twisting her figure this way and that, before she turns completely around and makes her way back down the runway.

The artificial lighting sends ten shadows below her going out in all different directions, and though rule number one in model school - which is for models - is that she should keep her head up on the straight and narrow, Iruma can’t help but flicker her gaze down anyway.

There are too many shadows there, she thinks, and then she backtracks and thinks it is somewhat fitting because isn’t it those who have the most impressive forms that cast the largest of shadows? The crowd cheers, and she steps behind the curtain, helpers already tearing away at the current clothing to be replaced by the new.

 

.

 

The water tracking its way down her throat is more than a welcome relief, and Iruma doesn’t stop drinking it from the moment the cap comes off freshly in her hands till she’s crushed the bottle, draining it of every last drop and smacking her lips in a satisfied ‘ah’. “You know, you should stay hydrated.” She notes to Yuzuru, the assistant carefully undoing all the pins in her hair. “Like, I read this article the other week that if you don’t drink enough water, you’ll die. Isn’t that fucked up?”

“I think that’s common knowledge.” Yuzuru notes in a way that’s more tired than dry. “Hold this for me, would you?”

Iruma takes the handful of pins offered to her and fingers them. “Might be. But it’s still important, right? Sometimes common knowledge becomes so common that we forget about it and take it for granted, and we’re right back where we started!”

“You didn’t ever strike me as the philosophical type.”

“Oh, that’s the trick!” Iruma puffs out her chest and motions at her breasts. “Speaking of philosophical shit, the other week I watched this anime about like...psychs and shit? The inner human mind or something? And there was this banging nurse, and her purpose was to like...distract the patients with her sexiness so she could inject them with these meds that turned them into furries!” She laughs. “And their furry selves represented their inner struggles or something. It was pretty cool.”

Yuzuru hands Iruma a couple more pins. “So, in this sort of a scenario, you’re this ‘banging nurse’ who injects other people with medication by distracting them with your sexiness?”

“My point is, others can’t see my brilliant genius because they’re so dazzled by my equally brilliant looks.” Iruma rolls her eyes like it’s the obvious, and picks up one particular pin from her hand. It’s a bit bended, probably because someone tried to force it into the tangled mass of her hair a little bit too hard, but the light bounces prettily off of it anyhow. “What are you doin’ later tonight, Yuzuru?”

“Oh, what am I…?” Yuzuru seems taken aback by the question, and Iruma can see him pause and blink in the mirror before he clears his throat and returns to removing pins. “Well, I guess I’m going to go home and hang out with my boyfriend. He wants to be a model too, after all.”

“You’ve got a boyfriend?”

“Yes, I do.” Yuzuru smiles stiffly and, apparently done with taking the pins out of Iruma’s hair, begins to brush it through. “He was a big fan of Danganronpa. Stopped being a fan a couple seasons before yours, since he realized quite how much of a mess it was, but, well, better late than never, right?”

“Well, it wouldn’t have mattered, since the game ended.” Iruma says. “No offense, but your boyfriend has shit taste. Before he started hating Danganronpa, of course.”

“Ah, fair enough.” There’s a jerk of the brush that makes Iruma grit her teeth, but she thinks it’s more of an awkward coincidence than anything else, because Iruma knows that Yuzuru doesn’t have a spec of pettiness in him.

“But, of course,” Iruma repeats, “he’s doing better than me, right? Since I ended up auditioning and dyin’ and shit. But I did land a super sweet and super cool modeling career, so like, I’m living the life, right?”

“Of course.” Yuzuru says the phrase for a third time, and that makes it so Iruma finds how dumb it really sounds. “But straying away from that topic, would you like your hair up in two ponytails, as you always do?”

“You’ve got it!”

Yuzuru gets to work, picking up a pair of black scrunchies. “You know, I’ve always found that such a hairstyle reminds me a bit of Junko Enoshima.” He notes. “And you’re a model, just like she was, and you even dip dyed your hair pink...what an irony, correct?”

He finishes quickly, and Iruma thanks him graciously as they both walk outside of the changing room and he locks the door behind him. She hands him the pins she had been gathering for him, and Yuzuru thanks her.

Once he walks out of sight, she yanks the scrunchies out of her hair with sweaty, frantic hands.

 

.

 

When the Super High-School Level Inventor awakens after she’d been strangled with toilet paper, of all things, she finds that it’s too hard to breathe when there are dozens of nameless faces crowding around her, saying sweet nothings and promising her that she was perfect.

“You were a fan favorite!” They promise. “Don’t tell anyone, but we’ll be slipping something a little extra into your paycheck - not nearly as much as one of the survivors, but certainly more than one of the other losers. You were perfect, hon!” And they say ‘hon’ like she’s a specimen, like money will make up for the fact that she was the most perverted person on the entire show.

“Of course I was.” She agrees around a scratchy throat, and that’s what’s waking up from a coma is like.

Waking up as a model consists of standing in front of a mirror as even more faceless names poke and prod at her body, pulling her tangled hair with brushes that are ten times more expensive than they need to be and calling her beautiful, perfect, etcetera etcetera but their point is that she pulls in the big bucks.

“Of course I am.” She shoves foundation on her neck to hide scars that aren’t there, winged eyeliner that confirms that she’s promising that Iruma was ready to fly into whatever the world might throw at her today and anything and everything along that.

Because she was Iruma motherfucking Miu, after all, and maybe her tits were big on the screen and maybe her father put his hands where they shouldn’t be when watching her but she’s got a shield of makeup and money and fame.

Yuzuru begins applying her lipstick, and smacking her lips, she flips off the mirror. “I’m fucking gorgeous.” She says to no one in particular.

“Oh, I kno--” He begins, but she shuts him up with a dry glare.

 

.

 

The car hits a bump in the road just as Iruma’s adding another layer to the concealer on her throat, and she curses as her hand hits her neck unpleasantly. “Are you alright?” Kiibo asks, concern evident in his voice.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She scoffs. “Did you know? Your voice sounds terrible coming from the car speakers.”

“I apologize, but your phone is turned off, so I cannot exactly inhabit that, and I would prefer to accompany you before such a big interview!”

“Well, I would prefer that you didn’t.” Iruma takes out a small tube of lip gloss and begins applying it, glancing at her handheld mirror. “The great Iruma Miu doesn’t need anyone accompanying her on an endeavor such as this, thank you very fuckin’ much. Besides, it’s not a big interview like you build it up to be, you know? I’ve met with bigger wigs than this.”

“Mmm! Perhaps!” Kiibo makes a clicking noise with what Iruma would say is his tongue, but he doesn’t have a tongue in this form, exactly, does he? The attempt at fitting in with humans was there, at the very least, so she supposed that she had to hand it to him. “However, it is the first interview I caught wind of before it happened, so I want to support you!”

“Maybe I don’t want you to!” Iruma finishes applying her lip gloss and places it away along with her mirror in favor of reaching for a stack of stapled together papers. She knows she should have reviewed it all earlier, when she was supposed to, but a scripted interview wasn’t very hard in the first place. She could look over the paper twice and she would be alright. It’s not like the answers were all that different from interview to interview, after all.

“You certainly seemed to appreciate my presence far more inside the game, you know!” Kiibo notes, and Iruma groans and rolls her head back on her neck as she thinks of the times she held Kiibo over the repair table and said he was so, so full of...dirt.

“Like that’s an argument you haven’t made twenty fuckin’ thousand times,” she mutters, “but I guess an artificial intelligence wouldn’t mature the same way humans do, then. Shows how much you might know.”

The speakers turn off for a second, the tender feedback that Iruma hadn’t even realized was there disappearing quicker than ever. She looks away from the interview script nervously.

“A-ah, sorry about that. Did I go too far?”

“No!” Kiibo gasps the speakers back to life, and then, softer, “n-no, you didn’t. Don’t worry!”

“Then I won’t.” Iruma skims through the packet till the end, slightly surprised. This particular interview was with a talk show host, one that had openly been a passionate fan of Danganronpa, even after the game had long been over. She was expecting at least one comment on the game at the very least, or a jab at her former talent of the Super High-School Level Inventor, but...as things turned out, it seemed that the interviewee had abided by the ‘no Danganronpa, not once not now not ever’ rule that she had set.

Well, that was nice. Kinda fishy, but nice.

“A-anyhow! I am quite excited to see how you’ll perform this time around.” Kiibo cuts in.

“I’d hardly call it a performance, but whatever floats your boat.” Iruma waves a lazy hand. “It’s not all glitz and glamour, really. It’s just kinda boring and stuffy. Though it’s more interesting when we start recording it live, but that’s not happening till tomorrow. Today’s just a practice.”

There’s a pause from the speakers, and then, “O-oh! Thank you for this information!”

Iruma yawns and begins to look at the interview once again, from the top.

 

.

 

“And the person of the hour arrives on the scene!” The talk show host is more than welcoming as Iruma walks through the swinging doors, hands on their hips and a smile on their lips (wow, look, she could’ve been the super high-school level poet!) as they usher her in. “I’m so touched you could make it! So incredibly happy that you could spare us some time.”

“Yeah, well, my time is worth a pretty penny.” Iruma blows on her black nails. So she’d been listening to some ‘My Chemical Romance’ lately, so what. It’s not like the pennies that were being paid were falling directly into her pocket, anyways, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbled and she’d have to deal with it.

“But of course.” The host bows hurriedly. “It’ll be over quickly and smoothly if you cooperate. I trust that you’ve looked over the script enough?”

Iruma nods just as Kiibo says “Ooo, I’m so excited!” from her bedazzled phone, and she freezes as the host looks at her quizzically.

“Pardon me, but…” His face twists into one of confusion, bemusement, and Iruma huffs and shrugs her shoulders.

“I got this new app.” She says it like it’ll explain something before sticking her phone into the back pocket of her jeans. “Now, let’s get this show on the road, shall we?”

 

.

 

Some people use drugs to cope - many big wig celebrities did, actually - but Iruma? She preferred hot chocolate.

Admittedly, she was kind of young to be taking drugs (not like there was a ‘you must be This Old in order to take drugs’ rule, but, well) and it’s not like they were easy to obtain without suspicion at the hospital, but nonetheless, if she had an infinite supply of hot chocolate then Iruma Miu would prioritize that over some weed any day of the week.

She would prioritize hot cocoa over most things, actually. For example: if the person who murdered her was standing in front of the hot chocolate machine and there was no way for her to access it without talking to him unless she wanted to wait longer, she would go right up to him and talk.

And, actually, that’s just what she did.

“What is up, Big Dick?” She hums, and gently shoves him to the side with her shoulder as she reaches for a plastic cup, and Gonta gasps a little bit, causing his cup of hot chocolate to spill over the brim and onto Iruma’s shirt (not the MEGA MILK one this time). “Aw, shit.”

“I am s-so sorry!” Gonta stutters, and goes to dab out the stain with one of the napkins handy dandily provided by the hot chocolate stand but Iruma bats it out of the way.

“It’s no biggie.” She hums, “unlike your wiener. Ha!” She laughs at her own joke, ignoring the stain that is now going to permanently reside on her painfully white shirt till she puts it through the wash, and Gonta shifts uncomfortably.

“Iruma-san, if it isn’t too big of a deal…” He says quietly, and Iruma quirks an eyebrow. “I-I would prefer if you refrained from making jokes of that caliber. I’m not a big fan of them. Apologies.”

Iruma shrugs and opens a hot chocolate packet before dumping it directly into her mouth. “Owkay. Nowt taken.” She says around the powder. Gonta stares.

“I’m not sure that’s safe, Iruma-san!” He sputters. “W-wasn’t there a challenge a while back that caused a lot of people to die because they took it, or at the very least put them in harm’s way?” He works his fingers together into a fist as Iruma pours some hot water into a cup and dumps it into her mouth. “I wouldn’t like it if you were hurt!”

“Oh, really?” Iruma huffs, eyeing him. “Funny that you’re the one who says that!” And then, when Gonta flinches, she says “Sorry, sorry! I’ll make it up to you later. Or something.”

“N-no, it’s fine!” Gonta promises. “Excuse me, though.”

Iruma watches Gonta’s retreating back before opening another hot chocolate powder packet and dumping it down the hatch.

 

.

 

Surprisingly, interviews aren’t as stressful as one might think. Sure, there’s a live audience in front of you and who even knows how many were watching at home (and who wouldn’t want to be watching her, the great Iruma Miu), eyes glued to the television set and listening to every word she says, even if most of the words aren’t actually hers but a script written for her by someone pretending to be her.

So, just like the game, basically.

There’s some sort of opening sequence that Iruma doesn’t pay attention to before the talk show host says “and heeeeeere’s Iruma Miu!” and sets the whole crowd off, applauding and such as she struts out on her heels and hair wrapped up all nicely into a bun. Her dress is strapless, half white and half black as everyone pretends she’s not dumb enough to miss the blatant Monokuma reference. But whatever - it was a cute dress, only reaching down to her knees at the longest length, and she looks gorgeous in it.

She looked gorgeous in most everything.

There’s a shake of hands as she pretends to have met the host for the very first time, wow, such an honor, before they sit down and the talk begins.

“What sort of plans do you have for the future?”

“What’s your opinion on the scandal of this celebrity, hanging out with this other one?”

“Have you ever been in any scandals, Miss Iruma Miu? Would you like to be in any scandals?” (Cue laughter, but maybe.)

It’s more than easy for her to fly through it all, looking like she’s barely even trying as jabs at her physique are made, jabs at her sense of fashion, how even though she was a fashion model, when she wasn’t on the job she seemed to wear the most disgusting of fashions, why was that?

“Oh, it’s a joke between me and some of my friends!” She says the lie someone else has prepared for her, toying with one of her earrings with what appears to be mindless effort. “About how I can make anything look good. And you agree, don’t you? I mean, just look!” On prompt, the screen behind the two of them lights up and a grainy photo from an over-obsessive fan depicts Iruma wearing jorts and laced boots that go up all the way to her crotch. The audience laughs, so, chalk that one up to an overwhelming success.

Or at least, she says it’s a joke though it’s really more of a big ‘fuck you’ to her manager but, well, whatever. He was still in business, wasn’t he?

“Moving on--”

And that’s what they do, discussing tabloid articles about the recent tragedy of some important death or other in some country that Iruma knows she should care about, but she can ask Kiibo about the news later. He was more than happy to oblige, after all, but for now she says what they scripted for her - that her condolences were sent out, that she hoped everyone there was dealing with it appropriately, amen and such.

“But,” the talk show host leans forward in their leather chair, “don’t some of your friends live there?”

Iruma runs through the script in her mind and doesn’t recall this. “Uh, no? What friends? What friends d-does a girl need other than clothes, aha,” and the audience laughs.

“I’m speaking of your friends from Danganronpa, of course!” the host specifies, as if it’s supposed to make a difference, and Iruma feels her blood run cold. “You’re all still friends, right? Even after how you acted in the game?”

That wasn’t on the script.

That wasn’t on the script.

“Y-yeah! All still friends.” Iruma reassures, “We’re all still good and jolly and fuckin’ happy--” that’s going to be censored but he deserved that, “--so you don’t need to talk about that, alright?”

The audience’s laughs are forced and awkward, and Iruma wonders if some of them are recorded if only to make the silence in moments such as this practically nonexistent. The talk show host clears his throat, nods, and leans back into his chair. “Of course, of course.” He hums, clearly frustrated, and the interview continues on like nothing happened.

 

.

 

“Iruma!” Yuzuru calls out as she walks into the changing room. “Iruma, are you alright?” Then, when she doesn’t respond, “Do you need anything?”

“Yeah. A stiff drink.” She tears pins out of her hair, taking a couple tangled clumps out that sting her scalp but honestly? She cannot be brought to care. “I’m driving myself home, thanks.”

“I-Iruma?!”

But she’s already out the door.

 

.

 

On the way home, she buys two new containers of concealer. They’re out of her exact shade, so she has to buy one that’s a little bit lighter, but whatever. At least there’s something.

“Are you Iruma Miu?” The cashier asks when she places the two tubes on the table. “My friend is a huge fan! Absolutely loved you in Danganr--”

“Sorry. You’ve got the wrong person.” Iruma says dully, and grabs her concealer and books it from the store.

She spends a grand total of two hours and thirty seven minutes inside her bathroom, putting on the concealer and taking it off and putting it on and taking it off off off and putting it on on on. It takes another eleven minutes for her to stare in the mirror long enough and convince herself that she can walk out of the tiled room without crying, and she does just that.

However, she didn’t say anything about what would happen once she made it past ‘getting out of the bathroom’ and into ‘laying on the bed’, and she finds her mascara being ruined once all over again.

“Iruma-san!” Kiibo calls from the speakers, and Iruma wants to run around the apartment with a baseball bat and smash every electronic piece that she can spot. “Iruma-san…! Are you alright?” Iruma mutters something under her breath, and the television flickers on. “Can you repeat that, please? I didn’t quite pick up on that…”

“Fuck off, Kiibo!” She screams into her pillow. Surprisingly, he obeys. The television turns itself back off.

 

.

 

It’s on impulse - but then again, what does Iruma do that isn’t on impulse - when she creates the group chat on Skype with everyone from the fifty third season of Danganronpa. Sure, it might not have been her wisest course of action when she thought back on it, especially considering Saihara would rip Shirogane’s throat out in a heartbeat and who even knew what beef Momota had for Ouma. And of course, Akamatsu’s truly unnecessary deterrent of Saihara - and they called her one for needless dramatics! Iruma scoffs.

 

Iruma Miu added Saihara Shuuichi, Amami Rantarou, Harukawa Maki, Shinguji Korekiyo, and 11 others to the group chat.

 

Iruma Miu has renamed the group chat from ‘Untitled Group Chat’ to ‘hey if i’m a fucked up traumatized kid and you’re a fucked up traumatized kid then who’s driving the plane? (the answer is kiibo who can split himself up into 25 different personas at any given time)’

 

Perfect. Iruma gives herself a high five and glances at the status of the people in her contact list - which, as it happens, was consisted solely of her fellow classmates. Slash survivors, slash enemies, slash friends, but, well, you got the point. Most of them were offline, anyhow, save for Amami whom she had never, not once, seen offline, coupled with Hoshi, Gonta and Angie. Kaede was on ‘do not disturb’, and Iruma wouldn’t put it past any of them to put themselves on invisible to hide their presence, but they couldn’t hide from this chat she just made…!

 

Akamatsu Kaede: I’m not sure what this chat is, nor why I was included in it. Instead of leaving, however, I’m just going to put it on mute and never check it.

 

...unless they did something like that. Iruma swallows and began to type.

 

Iruma Miu: hey hey hey what is UP gamers!

Iruma Miu: i made this group chat in order for a very!

Iruma Miu: special!

Iruma Miu: request!

Amami Rantarou: Oh hello Iruma-san!

Amami Rantarou: All the names here are quite convenient! I can add the few people I had yet to add to my contact list in, now.

Iruma Miu: see it all works out lol

Iruma Miu: its just yet another showing of my prowess and genius! ;P

Iruma Miu: anyway

Iruma Miu: i made this group chat for a very specific reason

 

Shirogane Tsumugi has left the group chat.

 

For a moment, Iruma’s fingers hover over the enter key, tempted to add Shirogane back to the group chat, but she decides against it. The mastermind probably had enough shit going on in her life, and if she didn’t feel comfortable being in the chat, well, Iruma would be a hypocrite to force her to stay.

Apparently, though, her fingers hovered several seconds too long, as quickly she’s notified that Saihara’s begun to type.

 

Saihara Shuuichi: And what might that reason be, Iruma-san?

 

A little spiteful, are we?

 

Iruma Miu: chillz saihara my bro

Iruma Miu: so ive been thinkingggg being a model kinda sometimes sucks ass

Iruma Miu: and i like need a mcfucking BREAK!!!

Iruma Miu: I NEVER GET BREAKS!!

Kiibo: I feel as if that isn’t true, Iruma-san.

Kiibo: You’ve gone to all our annual gatherings, with or without the permission of your manager, and sometimes skip photo shoots in order to go out on excursions of your own.

Gokuhara Gonta: I am inclined to agree

Iruma Miu: shut.

Iruma Miu: AnywAY i have decided that i’m going on yet ANOTHER VACATION

Saihara Shuuichi: Not the wisest of your decisions.

Iruma Miu: and im going 2 take two people with me so THE NEXT TWO PEOPLE TO SAY SOMETHING IN THIS CHAT GET TO GO TO HAWAII WITH ME

Shinguji Korekiyo: Why was I put in this chat

Ouma Kokichi: i hate hawaii

Ouma Kokichi: wait

 

Iruma tents her fingers and takes a moment to breathe. Alright. Okay. This was fine.

 

Iruma Miu: well congratu fucking lations kids you two are heading with me to mother fucking HAWAII.

Shinguji Korekiyo: What is going on

Ouma Kokichi: no

Iruma Miu: you shits dont have a mother fucking choice

Iruma Miu: ill break into your houses and handcuff you and throw u in my fucking private plane ur coming with ME

Gokuhara Gonta: Ooh, kinky

Saihara Shuuichi: ...that’s pretty illegal. Breaking and entering, for one thing, and then assault...

Iruma Miu: bitch u think i care

Shinguji Korekiyo: How do I leave this chat

Ouma Kokichi: iruma i. really really don’t want to go

Yonaga Angie: angie will take ouma’s place!!! (9 ‘v’)9 she would LOVELOVELOVE to go to hawaii!!!

Ouma Kokichi: yeah please

 

She almost agrees with the suggestion, fingers typing an awkward “ye sounds good w/ me!” before she considers Ouma for a second. True, it probably would be a far more enjoyable vacation if literally anyone besides Ouma - or Shinguji, for that matter - came with her, and Angie seemed to hold no qualms against Shinguji despite his, well, murdering her, so there would be no issues there.

But…

 

Iruma Miu: sorry but im a gal who doesn’t go back on her word uwu

Gokuhara Gonta: Please don’t use uwu

Iruma Miu: owo

Gokuhara Gonta: Stop

Yonaga Angie: aww thats ok!!!

Ouma Kokichi: no its not i want out

Ouma Kokichi: please let me out i dont have the money to go on a vacation

Shinguji Korekiyo: You’re going on a vacation, Ouma? I hope you enjoy yourself

Iruma Miu: shinguji youre coming too fuckign read the backlog

Shinguji Korekiyo: Pardon

Shinguji Korekiyo: What

Shinguji Korekiyo: No?

Ouma Kokichi: i need to stay home and work so sorry not all of us can be rich like you iruma

Iruma Miu: ill pay you to go on this vacation

Shinguji Korekiyo: Alright, then, sure

Iruma Miu: YES

 

Ouma continues to complain but Iruma already knows that he’s going to agree, even if it takes a little while, and she smirks to herself. She’s excited.

 

.

 

“So,” she slams a manila folder on the desk of one of many managers whose name she’s long given up trying to get, “I’m taking a break. For two weeks.”

The man looks up, pained face furrowing into his default expression of a frown. “...pardon?”

“You fucking heard me.” Iruma almost feels a flutter of unconfidence in her chest at her manager’s disapproving shock, but she’s on a roll, modelling career be damned. “Photoshoots? Any of those modelling shows or whatever? Better push ‘em back or cancel them, because I will be off in Hawaii with a martini glass full of alcoholic chocolate milk in one hand and the cheapest, most chemical filled cone of shaved ice in the other.”

Maybe it’s because it’s seven in the morning and it’s been a rough week, or perhaps it’s because her manager is just that fucking dumb (Iruma likes to think it’s the latter) but he glances down at the manila folders and then back up at her in a tired stupor. “Pardon?” He repeats again, and Iruma grits her teeth.

“I am going on vacation. I am not doing work.” She leans across the desk, so close that she can smell her manager’s revolting morning breath - ugh, had she seriously agreed to work with him when he was the kind of guy who didn’t brush his teeth in the mornings? Diiiisgusting! - “Got that, dumbass?”

“You can’t…” He swallows, and then, “you can’t do that.”

“Uhm, bitch!” She quickly flips the folders around, turning through the papers frantically before landing on the section she had circled in bright neon pink ink. She jabs a finger at that. “It’s in the contract or whatever. I’m allowed to take breaks when the need should arise, for my--” Iruma flutters her eyelids dramatically, “ --mental health.”

Her manager frowns. “Your mental health is fine.”

“Last time I fuckin’ checked, your job is making sure I looked pretty at the right place and at the right time, not keeping a check on my mental health.” Iruma points out.

“I don’t need to be a psychiatrist to tell you’re just dandy.” Her manager stands up. “So unless you have signed proof from a real one--”

Iruma hands him a signed slip from her therapist.

“...well, then.” Her manager sits down gruffly, a deep furrowed frown on his face. “Have...have fun, I guess.”

“I will, thank you very fuckin’ much!”

Her manager mutters something under his breath, and Iruma leans in, cupping an ear.

“Hmm, what was that?”

“I said, I wish this was Japan.” he says a little louder. “Idols aren’t allowed to do whatever the fuck they want over there. Managers have a lot more control over them there, as they should. You think you know what’s right for you, but really, you’re ruining your own career right out from under you. Then again,” her manager rubs his chin, “I don’t think anyone expected someone like you here. Ha.”

Iruma stares blankly at her manager. “Oh. I get it. You’re a self-centered asshole.”

“Like you’re one to talk.”

Iruma slams the door behind her with gusto.

 

.

 

Personally, Iruma thinks she looks pretty hot in her crop top and shorts, the epitome of a ‘sexy mysterious tourist’ photoshoot. She’s got both hands on her hips as Shinguji and Ouma arrive in boring hoodies and jeans, and she clucks her tongue disapprovingly.

Unacceptable.

“Okay, I hope that you were planning on using those clothes to burn as fuel for the plane, because there is no way I’m letting you guys enter the land of Hawaii wearing that shit.”

Ouma scratches his cheek. “Ehh, like you’re one to speak - wearing a neon green shirt is bad enough, but your shorts are, like, a bright red color as well...you look like a christmas tree. A bad one.”

“Wha--”

Shinguji crinkles his nose up, pulling on his black sick mask. “I’m inclined to agree.”

“You. You two. I trusted you. I extended to you the metaphorical hand of kindness, I offered you help when you were down, I did everything for you and--”

“Nooo you didn’t.”

Iruma pouts. “Jeez, talk about party poopers. But jokes aside, you guys are going to be wearing some good ol’ tourist clothes that I bought for you with my own money, and if you refuse then you’re not going on this trip.”

“Bye.” Ouma turns on his heel, and Iruma groans.

“No, you’re coming, but just...wear the clothes, alright? It’ll get you into the mood.”

“Hey, Iruma-san,” Shinguji cuts in gently, “a bit off topic, but...this has been on my mind. Why’d you take the both of us, when we’re probably the biggest downers? The worst possible people to take on a vacation.”

“I think I’m a great vacation partner.” Ouma says, and Shinguji eyes him tiredly.

“But you don’t want to be here.”

“Nah, not at all.”

“My point has been made.” Shinguji waves a vague hand in Iruma's direction. “Please, do us all a favor and don’t take us on this vacation, alright? There’s still time for you to let us go, and to bring someone else with you.”

Iruma eyes the two of them. “Oh? And who do you suggest that I had taken, if not the both of you?”

“Yonaga-san literally volunteered to take my place.” Ouma says it all too quickly. “I really really didn’t want to come.”

“But you’re here, right? And I didn’t even have to break into your house to bring you. Not this time, at least.”

Ouma shifts uncomfortably. “...the way you say that makes it sound like you’re planning on pulling us onto another vacation.”

“You’re ignoring that you came of your own free accord.” Iruma hums, but Shinguji cuts in before Ouma can make a retort.

“I think Momota-san could have come, right? He would have loved this sort of a thing. And Yonaga, since she already volunteered.”

Iruma taps her chin. “Okay. Yonaga, maybe, but Momota? No fuckin’ way. He’s too busy hanging with Bakamatsu, Harukawa, and Hoshi. Probably having fun, if you know what I mean. I’ve said this before, but Hoshi is totally the perfect height for--”

Ouma gags and Shinguji clears his throat uncomfortably. Well. Tough crowd.

“...but I’m not here to make anyone feel like they’re having a bad time.” She spreads her arms out wide to the sides. “Come on, vamanos! Let’s go! There’s changing rooms on the plane.”

With that, she digs into her duffle bag and tosses a shirt and pair of khaki shorts at each of them. Both of them have distinctly different methods of catching it, Ouma missing the mark by a wide berth and Shinguji standing stiff, like a pole, as the clothing falls on top of him.

“Good job!” says Iruma tiredly, and steps onto the plane.

 

.

 

The ride is pretty quiet, for the most part. Ouma had promptly fallen asleep on one of the couches, while Shinguji had brought a book on the history of rakugo with him and sat next to Ouma, a couple feet to the right. Iruma, personally, was pretty set with her copy of Devil Survivor 2 secured firmly in her hands from her place across the plane, adjacent to Shinguji. What she wasn’t set with, however, was the steadily growing feeling of uncomfortableness between her thighs.

“Iruma-san,” Shinguji speaks up, and the girl glances in his direction. “Do...do you need to use the restroom?”

“Nah, I can hold it in till we land.” Iruma scoffs, but her jiggling leg says otherwise. Shinguji isn’t convinced, either, and eyes her tiredly.

“Please, spare us the mess of you accidentally pissing yourself now and just…” He motions at the bathroom stall on the other end of the plane, “go.”

Shit, she really did have to go, and while going in her panties was probably somebody’s kink, it sure wasn’t hers. Closing her 3DS (which was adorned in sparkly pink stickers of rabbits and clouds), Iruma made her way over to the bathroom at the back of the plane.

Very, very pointedly, she keeps her gaze forcefully away from the paper towel roll on the side of the cubical as she opens the door. It’s kind of hard, admittedly, which the space in the cubicle is pretty cramped in the first place so there aren’t many places to look, so after a couple moments, she just closes her eyes as she sits on the toilet seat.

Iruma tries focusing on literally anything besides the roll of paper towel rolls - hey, where does all the waste go in a plane like when they’re flying do they just open it up when it gets too full and they’re flying over a cornfield or something and it just falls out and fertilizes the fields is that what they do like you never know man - but it’s not an easy task, especially when she finishes what she needs to do and clean herself up.

Tentatively, ever so tentatively, she reaches for where she knows the paper roll is. It takes a couple moments to feel around and grasp for it, but when her fingers brush over the familiar shape, she feels her heart leap.

It’s dumb, she knows it is when she’s been doing this for literal years, but it was easier to do it on the ground where she had little fancy fabric cloth ass wipes and - well, whatever.

Clenching her teeth, she quickly cleans herself up and tries to ignore the shaking in her frame before she flushes it all down the drain and scrubs her hands so hard that they became raw. Even though she hadn’t put her concealer on all that long ago, she adds a couple dabs to her neck and spreads it around with a tired smirk. Satisfied, she steps out of the bathroom and closes the door behind her, effectively locking the toilet paper roll away.

Shinguji doesn’t even look up as she makes her way back to her seat, and Ouma lets out a particularly large snore as the plane hits turbulence.

 

.

 

“Ah, here we are!” Iruma hums as she walks into the bathroom, observing the toiletries that the hotel had ended up providing them with. “The JOHNSON’S® product line - their baby lotion, their baby wash, and, most importantly--” She holds up a yellow bottle and tosses it outside of the bathroom, hitting Ouma on the head. “JOHNSON’S® baby shampoo.”

“That hurt.” Ouma whines.

“Isn’t that... baby shampoo?” Shinguji points out. “Why would we need baby shampoo? Or baby products, in general.”

“Because you’re babies, of course!” Iruma huffs and waves a finger at the two of them. “I’m just stating the obvious, here.”

Shinguji sighs and throws his bags onto one of the three beds, the one closest to the bathroom. Ouma is about to throw his on the one furthest from Shinguji, but Iruma lets out an ear piercing screech that makes him take pause. “W-what is it?”

“That’s my bed!” She wails, and throws the JOHNSON’S® baby wash onto that bed. It breaks open and spills some of it’s contents on the sheets. “Still my bed! It’s next to the television set, after all!”

Ouma eyes the mess and then sighs, throwing his belongings onto the bed in between Iruma’s and Shinguji’s. “You know what? Whatever floats your boat.”

“We’ve got a nice v-view!” Shinguji stutters, motioning outside the window. It’s true - they can see the ocean from here, despite the fact that they’re on the first floor.

“Then we’ll have the absolute best of sunsets.”

 

.

 

Snorkeling is the first endeavor that they plan to embark on. Not anything super extreme or super deep - just exploring a small coral reef directly offshore - but that doesn’t keep Iruma from squealing delightedly in excitement as she dons sparkly neon pink flippers. Shinguji and Ouma go for a bit more subtle shade of black, and Iruma openly scoffs at their terrible fashion choices.

She dons a pale yellow (shinguji calls it piss yellow, and she would be upset but the quip made ouma snicker so she chalks that one up as a score) bikini that doesn’t leave all that much to the imagination at first, but once one of the lifeguards told her that they advised a bit of clothing over the shoulders and stomach area in order to protect snorkelers’ skin from any sharp debris that might be floating around, Iruma equipped her signature ‘MEGA MILK’ shirt. Ouma and Shinguji both wore wetsuits that went down to their wrists and knees.

“You’re not going to pick up any cute chicks that way! C’mon, show off a little!” Iruma hums. “What else is a guy good for?” Ouma shifts uncomfortably at the joke.

“...Iruma, I’m not straight.” He points out. Iruma blinks.

“Oh. Makes sense, I guess.” She hums. “Then, what about attracting cute studs?”

Shinguji sends the most withering glance in her direction, and Ouma coughs awkwardly about how she completely missed his point and he wasn’t exactly like that, but she had already turned on her heel and gone.

After sitting through a presentation on how the coral is a living breathing organism as well and they should respect its life and all that for a good twenty minutes, Iruma pays for a five hour snorkeling session and they are left to their own devices.

“So, who’s going first?” She hums. “We’ll go out on twos to start off, and I know I definitely want to go first, so who’s gonna be the primary victim?”

Ouma and Shinguji look at each other, and then back at Iruma.

“Well, now, don’t volunteer all at once!” She sighs, and fingers one of the bikini’s shoulder straps, “If you don’t pick now, I’m going to goooo wiiiii--”

“I’ll go.” Ouma cuts in, and Iruma raises an eyebrow in surprise. The relief on Shinguji’s face is painfully apparent, and he pats Ouma on the shoulder as the shorter boy begins to walk away.

“And I’ll attend your funeral.”

“He’s not going to die.” Iruma rolls her eyes, but soon enough, both she and Ouma are in the water. “I’ll come back for you in half an hour or something, so just sit tight until then!”

The change from being above the water to under is like entering a completely different world, the dull shine of the sun reflecting off of the waves becoming a sort of a spotlight, highlighting coral pieces and giving them an almost otherworldly glow.

The first time she sees it, accompanied with the fish flirting in and out, she’s so shocked that she forgets she’s supposed to keep her teeth clamped around the snorkel, gasps, and swallows in a couple mouthfuls of disgusting, salty sea water. She shoots up, coughing frantically and causing Ouma to rub her back in a panic, asking if she’s okay, if she needs anything, if she’s...y’know, the d-word.

“Bitch, I’m fine.” She wheezes, and when Ouma doesn’t look convinced, she dunks her head back underneath the water, not caring if he panics again or not.

This time, she knows not to let go with her teeth but instead instead clenches on determinedly, and the view most certainly does not disappoint.

She’s heard the phrase many times, how everything is a ‘whole new world’ under the sea (whether it be from the numerous blog posts she’s read on the internet or the knowledge that she’s managed to derive from Disney’s hit movie The Little Mermaid) but she had taken it as a coined term, as something that had been repeated so many times because it had sounded nice on the tongue that it had long lost it’s meaning.

But this really, truly was a whole new world.

...even if thinking such a cliche statement made the back of her throat burn a little bit.

There’s an array of colorful coral not far below her feet, the sunlight dappling it pleasantly. It gives the appearance that it’s dancing, almost, interrupted only by her dark shadow that breaks up it’s shape. In addition to the coral, though, there’s actual, literal dancing fish abounding. Their scales catch the sunlight just right , and it’s almost blinding how beautiful they are. If she hadn’t just learned from her mistake, she’d probably be gasping.

A quick glance up at Ouma confirms that the boy is enjoying himself as well, hair dancing around the frame of his face and giving him a far fuller expression than the gaunt look she hadn’t realized he had. Admittedly, it’s not like she paid very much attention and there was the fact that half of his face was covered by a pair of goggles and a snorkel, but, well, whatever. Her point was made, and he should appreciate her compliment, even if he wouldn’t have been able to hear it.

There’s an upturn of his eyes as he notices that Iruma’s looking his way, and he waves, only to have a fish flirt in front of his face, startling him. He lets out a muffled yelp and several bubbles float to the surface, making Iruma guwaff and have to rise to the surface again for another breath of fresh air.

It’s an enjoyable experience overall, though, and Iruma has to give the fishes more credit than she originally intended to give them. Their colorful display is prettier than any of the clothes she’s donned on the runway, after all, and Iruma’d rather they be the models than she, if she was speaking perfectly honestly.

They can spend such an experience out for only twenty minutes or so before Ouma almost crashes into a turtle and Iruma has to push him out of the way and he decides that he’s had enough - for now, at least.

“Alright, Shit goo jeez!” She says as Ouma gets out of the water, wrapping a blanket around himself and putting a purple scrunchy on his wrist that she recalls seeing before, dimly. He snaps it against wrist as she says “It’s your turn!”

“You pronounced my name...strangely.” Shinguji points out, and Iruma shrugs.

“It was an English thing. C’mon, the water’s great!”

As the skepticism on his face grows and he makes no motion to get in the water, Iruma sighs and tosses him a pair of goggles and a snorkel. “You don’t know what you’re missing out on until it’s too late.” She hums. “Didn’t you want to come on this vacation?”

She walks into the water, making it about thirty feet in before she glances back to see how Shinguji is doing. He’s managed to secure the goggles and snorkel on and now simple stands ankle deep in the water, waiting.

“Hurry the fuck up!” Iruma groans. “I don’t have all day!”

Shinguji nods determinedly from the beach, and swallowing, takes several steps forward. Then several steps more.

He manages to make it pretty far, all the way up to his waist. Iruma swims back out to meet him, patting him on the back. “Nice!” She says, and as he beams, she dunks him underneath the water.

It’s all fun and games at first, when she’s laughing and Shinguji lets out a blubbering noise.

It’s a little less fun when Shinguji doesn’t pull himself back out and Iruma has to drag him back to shore and Ouma has to reassure the forgery of a folklorist that he’s not being swallowed up by a vat of oil.

 

.

 

Iruma runs back to where Shinguji and Ouma sit underneath their pink umbrella. “I got some towels from one of the lifeguards!” she says, and holds the multicolored towels up in her arms to show them off. “Also a free voucher for this food place that’s apparently really good. We can go there tonight, if you’d like!” She waves that around, too.

Shinguji’s trembling too much under the smaller and thinner towel that he’s equipped, but Ouma smiles gratefully and nods, taking a couple of the towels from Iruma and wrapping them around Shinguji’s shoulders. After fumbling with the food voucher to throw it inside of the hoodie she’s wearing, she wraps the remaining towels around Shinguji once Ouma has finished up.

“H-how are you feeling?” Ouma stutters, and Iruma admires Shinguji for the amount of dry sarcasm he can fit into his gaze.

“Like I’m burning alive,” he mutters. “We’re in Hawaii, on a beach in the middle of the day and you’ve wrapped me in at least…” There’s a pause as he sticks his hand out of the mass to count on his fingers, “...I’d say around twenty two, twenty three towels. I’d appreciate some water,” and then, softer, “please.”

Iruma’s already turning on her heel but Ouma beats her to the punch anyway, feet slipping against the sand as he runs back towards the lifeguards. Sighing, Iruma sits herself next to Shinguji and removes a couple of the towels. “What about that?” She hums, and Shinguji nods.

“Sorry about this.” He mutters, and Iruma finds herself snorting.

“You don’t need to apologize for something like this,” she comforts. “You died in a vat of oil,” and he flinches at that, “which is kinda really similar to water, I...I guess? I can’t say that I’ve ever died in a vat of oil, but I’m still uncomfy around fuckin’ toilet paper, so I get where you’re coming from.”

“...Toilet paper?” Shinguji scoffs.

“E-eugh! Wh-who said this was a judgemental zone?” She hates the way that she still cowers at comments, but she’d be damned if she said she wasn’t working on it.

“N-no, that’s my bad, as well.” Shinguji whispers softly. “I...never actually watched anything past my murder. I mean, I know what happens, for the most part, but not the specifics. I never sought them out, and no one really told me, so…” He whistles softly. “You got killed via toilet paper?”

“Y-yeah.” Iruma clears her throat. “Well, at the very least, Ouma’s gonna be happy that you didn’t watch anything past the third trial, because that’s when he got super nasty.”

“Wh-when’s when I get super nasty?” Ouma says, returning with four bottles of water.

“Nothing! We were making a joke,” Iruma lies, but Ouma doesn’t look all that convinced as with fumbling hands he unscrews the top of one of the water bottles and hands it to Shinguji. A little bit spills over the bottle’s lip, causing Ouma to stutter out an apology, but Shinguji reassures him that it’s alright and takes the bottle, downing it quickly.

“Uhm…” Ouma sits himself down by the two of them, hugging his knees close to his chest. “When I was talking to the lifeguard, they suggested that if we wanted to see some more fish and stuff we could try going to one of the aquariums instead…? I think it would be nice.”

“Yes!” Iruma leaps upon the opportunity immediately. “Aquariums? Yes. Totally perfect. Definitely up for that.”

“I think the question is, is Shinguji-san up for that.” Ouma points out, but Shinguji waves a tired hand as he finishes off the bottle.

“Unless I’m required to swim inside the tanks, I should be alright,” he reassures, and Iruma beams.

 

.

 

The aquarium trip is a far larger success than the snorkeling attempt turned out to be, in the end. There’s one not far from their hotel, not far from the beach that they can see if they go up a couple floors and look at it from the balcony. Iruma thinks it’s kinda dumb, at first, because couldn’t they just look at the fishes by going into the water? Having an aquarium right by a beach seemed kind of counterproductive, in her opinion.

That being said, there’s probably more than one situation similar to Shinguji’s, so she guesses it isn’t all that useless.

“We’re going to the gift shop first!” Iruma declares the moment their tickets have been purchased and they’ve walked into the central area, filled with white tiles and fishes of light swimming on the walls. “I wanna get me some souvenirs!”

“Why would we go there first? Doesn’t it make more sense to go to the gift shop after we’re done making memories from the aquarium?” Even though he has his mask on, Iruma can tell that he’s frowning. “I don’t really understand how your logic proceeds here.”

“Shinguji, you say that like we aren’t going to go to the gift shop again after we’re done looking at all the stuff at the aquarium.” She huffs. Shinguji’s eyes widen.

“My wallet hurts just from hearing that.”

“No, it’s nice.” Ouma yawns, snapping the purple scrunchy against his wrist. “I would like to go to the gift shop eventually, so this works!”

Beaming, Iruma leads the two of them into the gift shop (conveniently labeled ‘GIFT SHOP’ in bold neon letters, in case there was any confusion). It’s not super fancy, not quite as fancy as the artificial fishes swimming in the ceiling in the main lobby, but it’s still more than pleasant to be in. Iruma hums as she browses the stock.

“You guys want anything?” Iruma asks, but both Shinguji and Ouma shake their heads.

“I like window shopping.” Ouma says.

“Fair enough!”

“Oh, welcome!” says a voice in English, and Iruma glances over at the counter where an older woman in uniform sits.

“Do I know you?” Iruma stares, and the woman laughs.

“No, probably not. I’m just here to assist you, should you need anything. If you need any fun facts or tidbits of fish knowledge to enrich your life, then I’m your woman.”

“What did she say?” Shinguji asks nervously, and Iruma ignores him.

“Thank you very much, but I consider myself an expert in fish knowledge.” She huffs and pats her chest determinedly. “So your assistance isn’t needed, but I appreciate it dearly!”

“Oh?” The older woman leans over the counter. “Tell you what, sweetie. If you can properly pronounce the name of Hawaii’s official state fish, then I’ll give you a stuffed animal of it.” She motions at an array of the fish plushies behind her. “On the house.”

Shinguji glances almost nervously over in Iruma’s direction, but she snorts. “I’ve got this.” She reassures, and then, flawlessly, she says “Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.”

The cashier lets out a small ‘woah!’ as Shinguji and Ouma clap politely, still confused. “Well, fair’s fair!” she hums, and picks up one of the fish plushies from the shelf and hands it to Iruma, who promptly squeals. “You don’t usually see foreigners who can pronounce that sort of a word, nowadays, but you did a fine job.”

“It’s all thanks to High School Musical.” Iruma says, “Specifically, the second one. Specifically, the outtakes. It was such a good number.”

She sighs airily as the cashier exchanges a confused glance with Shinguji and Ouma. Whatever. She had her Humuhumunukunukuapua’a stuffed animal, and no one was going to take that away from her.

 

.

 

“You’re a P to the U to the S-S-Y!” Iruma practically snarls the letters out, and Shinguji is left looking uncomfortable as they stand on top of the cliff, the sounds of the rainforest resounding around them.

“Iruma-san…” He whispers. “I-I don’t know English, so your joke is somewhat lost on me. Assuming that was a joke that was made at my expense, which, from your tone and expression, seems like it was.”

“Ugh.” She throws her hands into the air, exasperation apparent on her face. “I did not purchase this amazing, once in a lifetime ziplining opportunity just so you could chicken out on me last minute. You’re afraid of heights, in addition to fuckin’ water?” Shinguji sends her a tired glare and she shudders. “E-eep! Sorry! It’s just like…even Ouma is doing it.” She motions at the boy, who was currently screaming as his purple swath of hair flapped wildly in the wind from the speed of the zipline. “If anyone was going to have a problem with this, I thought it would’ve been him.”

“Just because I don’t have a trauma connected to a particular event doesn’t necessarily mean I want to do something of the sort.” Shinguji points out. “I am not...a fan of flying over such a height suspended by only some straps of cloth and a small piece of metal. There are many people for whom this snaps and they’re sent plunging to their death, and frankly, I would not like to be counted in their number.” He shakes his head. “Not a fan of plunging to my death from several thousand feet.”

“Pussy,” Iruma says once again, in English, and Shinguji sighs.

“I told you, I don’t understand English.”

Iruma snaps her fingers together. “Damn. Well, in that case, what if I bought you some lessons on how to learn English? Then you can learn what insult I’m insulting you with.”

Shinguji works his teeth over his lip.

“Ohoho, holy shit.” Iruma wheezes. “Is that seriously all it takes?”

“I mean...I have wanted to learn the language for quite a while, and if you’re going to offer it to me for something as simple as this…” Shinguji rubs his hands together. “A brush with death would not exactly be terrible in a situation such as this, then.”

“Shinguji-san,” Iruma says, a little gentler now, and Shinguji looks up abruptly at the use of such a formal suffix. “If you’re going to be bribed via such an underhanded tactic, then I’ll feel really bad, okay? I can’t have that kind of shit on my conscience, you know!”

There’s something along the lines of ‘I’ve got more than enough shit on my conscience as it is’ that goes unsaid, but Shinguji gets the message anyway.

“No, I should make the most of this vacation.” He says determinedly, and Iruma pulls her eyebrows up into a slightly impressed grimace.

“I’ll pay for your funeral, then! On top of your English classes. Or instead of them, I guess, since you’ll be dead. Lol.”

All that being said, once Ouma joins them at the top of the cliff with sweat coating his brow, Shinguji has a harness strapped firmly on. He fidgets with his hair, not sure if he wants it all down in fear of it being caught up in the mess, but Ouma seems to get the hint and removes his purple scrunchy from his wrist.

“H-here!” He wheezes, and Shinguji puts it on gratefully. In minutes, he’s flying, flying, flying down the zipline and Iruma drowns out her own thoughts with whoops and shrieks of excitement on his behalf.

Shinguji is smiling the entire way down, Iruma knows it, even when he grows too small in the distance for her to be able to make out the features on his face. If he wasn’t wearing his mask, of course.

 

.

 

Food is yummy, and you know what’s even yummier than food? Food on a cruise ship, that’s what!

Or at least, that’s what Iruma decides, though Shinguji looks at all the food and then the prices and groans pathetically. “I feel bad for making you pay for this all,” he mutters, removing his mask in order to eat.

“Eh, don’t feel bad!” Iruma waves a subtle hand. “I honestly want to pay for you guys. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have forced you two on this trip, right?”

Ouma winces and Shinguji opens his mouth as if to say something in response, but the waiter comes with their food soon enough so Iruma doesn’t worry about what they were saying as she cracks open her absolutely delicious calamari, the sunlight reflecting off the waves blinding her, almost.

(almost, almost, she almost wishes she was on her runway)

 

.

 

Even though she’s facing the other way, Iruma can see the dull sheen of Ouma’s phone reflected in the television mounted on the wall. There’s some part of her that wants to yell at him to close the phone, because she’d be damned if she didn’t want to get a good night’s rest and it was, what? Two in the morning? But another part of her pointed out that - well, let him have this.

She closes her eyes, and as if on cue, there’s a noise not unlike shifting blankets.

“Ouma-kun?” Shinguji says sleepily, and Ouma gasps.

“U-uh, sorry...did I wake you up?”

“No, it’s perfectly alright,” Shinguji reassures, even if he doesn’t really sound like he’s in the world of the waking in the first place. “Can I ask what you’re up to?”

“Oh, I’m…” Ouma’s voice trails off, and then he clears his throat once again. “I’m looking at pictures of Simon.”

“Simon.” There’s a long pause. “A...significant other?”

Ouma laughs, and there’s something about it that’s a cross between the ‘nishishi’ from inside the game and the gentle laugh that Iruma might have labeled as something that he actually grew up with his entire life. “No, she’s my cat.”

“Ah.” Shinguji chuckles as well. “Do you mind if I look at your cat?”

There’s a shifting of fabric once again, so Iruma assumes that Ouma’s showing his phone’s screen at Shinguji. Her theory is only further proved as Shinguji clicks his tongue and lets out a small ‘wow’. “She’s beautiful.”

“I know, right?”

There’s a full minute of pause, before Shinguji yawns tiredly. “Well, thank you for that. Goodnight, Ouma-kun.”

“O-oh! No problem!” Ouma turns off his phone. “Goodnight Shinguji-san!”

Iruma turns over.

 

.

 

Visiting volcanoes are high on the list of ‘things to-do at Iruma’s amazing, awesome-sauce Hawaii vacation!!!!!!’ even if they occur a little bit later. Both Shinguji and Ouma look nervous at the prospect of looking at a real live volcano, but Iruma brushes them off and promises them that things will be a-okay, because guess what? They will be!

“What are you doing with those postcards?” Ouma asks when they’ve gotten themselves at the actual volcano, lava gently bubbling out of the mountain’s top and their only protection between the volcano and actually burning to death on lava (though that was how Shinguji put it, so it was an exaggeration more than anything else) being a firm steel platform.

“I’m getting us all souvenirs.” Iruma hums. “Could you two be a dear and hold my ankles, would you? I’d prefer not to burn to death.”

Both of the boys sputter as she leans forward the moment the staff’s back is turned, three postcards in each hand as she scrapes them against the surface of the lava. The corners burst into flames, and hurriedly, she begins to blow them out. “Pull me back in!”

They oblige, though not fast enough for the tour guide to miss Iruma leaning out far further than is allowed. Though they get a talking to as the model stomps out the postcards, Iruma doesn’t regret it a bit as Shinguji and Ouma grasp their burnt postcards to their chests like Iruma holds her tubes of concealer.

 

.

 

It’s the day before their final one that Iruma has a tour planned around the streets of Honolulu, the bustling wares appealing to her wallet and making Shinguji’s wilt. In addition to the activities that she has planned, however, there’s also several landmarks that were on the tour list, some of which Ouma in particular had been extremely excited about.

“I j-just think...it’s really cool, y’know?” he had answered when prompted, and Shinguji had cracked a joke about how shouldn’t it be he, the phony folklorist, who should have this topic appeal to him? It had been a perfect laugh for a perfect family, Iruma thinks.

The tour itself is pleasant enough, with Iruma buying them all shaved ice cones that taste disgustingly of chemicals and a new tube of concealer for herself, since the sun’s been making it sweat all off faster than usual and she needs to keep her neck protected somehow, right? Ouma and Shinguji enjoy their cones, though, even if neither of them had their flavors picked for themselves. Oh well, that’s just how the cookie crumbled, wasn’t it? None of the other members of their tour seemed to realize who they were, either, so that was yet another score on their part.

“Ah, we’re running a bit low on time!” The tour guide calls out in English from several feet ahead, “My apologies, but we’re probably going to have to take a bit of an uncomfortable route if we want to stay on track. We’ll have to cut out a couple of the shops--” Iruma groans at this, “--but if you want to see them yourself, I can mark them for you on the way back, alright? I just want to make sure you guys see all the sights before you have to go today!”

There’s an appreciative cheer, and the tour guide smiles. “We’ll have to squeeze through some buildings, and it’s a tight squeeze, so go single file, alright? The last person gets to carry this flag, so who wants to--” Iruma raises her hand, and the tour guide chuckles out an “alright, then!” and hands it to her.

“Why’d he give you that?” Ouma asks as Iruma turns the flag around in her grasp. “What did he say?”

“We have to take this shortcut through some buildings.” Iruma waves her hand absentmindedly, beginning to walk after the tour guide as he shows them where they have to squeeze through - a small alleyway only a little wider than a foot across. “That’s it, right there! I have to carry up the end of the line. An important task for an important gal!”

Ouma’s face pales slightly and he begins to snap his purple scrunchy against his wrist. “Oh.”

“Pshh, what’s got your panties in a twist?” She huffs. “Don’t tell me you’re scared of tight spaces like that? Afraid you’re going to get squished?” Iruma squishes Ouma’s cheeks together as he looks away, uncomfortable. “Squish, squish!”

“Iruma-san…” Shinguji warns, and Iruma blinks.

“Ah, wait, seriously?”

Ouma pauses, then nods. Iruma curses and runs her hands through her hair.

“Well, okay, fuck.” she mutters. “You know what? You’re going to be fine. I’m going to hold your hand and you’re going to hold this--” She hands the flag to Ouma, “--flag, and we’re going to march on through it all with no issues, okay? You can close your eyes too, if you want.”

Swallowing, Ouma takes the flag and closes his eyes. “A-alright!” he says, and the tremble in his voice makes Iruma feel guilty, fuck. And to think she had planned to kill this kid, once.

Well, he hadn’t exactly been like this back then, she reasons.

The other tourists filter through the alleyway, and pretty soon, it’s their turn. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” Shinguji hums, and Iruma is certain that if he didn’t have his mask on at the moment, his mouth would be pressed into a thin line.

“I’ll be fine.” Ouma reassures, even if his voice says anything but.

“You heard him!” Iruma says, and then suddenly, she’s dragging them both forward with her hands and shoving Shinguji into the alleyway in front of her. “Go.”

He sputters, but after a few moments, consents and begins to walks at a fairly quick pace. The walk through the alleyway is a bit on the longer side, unfortunately, and after about twenty seconds, Iruma glances back at Ouma, who still has his eyes tightly shut.

“How’re you doin’, shitstain?” she asks, and Ouma shoots a stiff nod in her direction. She chalks that up as a score and looks back forwards. Sure, he may be uncomfortable, but they could get through this eventually, right? Just had to do - ah, what did that stupid Disney fish character say? Just keep swimming, was it, right? Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming! Just keep swi--

“There’s a really tight squeeze up ahead!” Their tour guide calls out. “You’re going to need to walk sideways for a couple seconds!”

“Shit.” Iruma mutters.

“What did he say?” Shinguji demands, and Iruma swallows.

“Ah, Ouma, you know how you’re nervous around this sort of a tight space?” she calls back. “How would you do if the space was ever...like, tighter?”

A pause, and Iruma glances at Ouma, slightly worried. “Is...that a dirty joke?”

“N-no!” she sputters. “Not this time. Uhm, it’s just going to get so tight that you’re going to need to walk sideways now, alright? Can you handle that? C-can you walk like a crab? Cause, y’know, they...they walk sideways.” Iruma laughs, and Ouma does not.

“I can handle it.” he says very softly, and with that, angles his body so that he’s parallel with the two walls. Iruma and Shinguji follow suit slowly afterwards, though now Iruma grabs onto Shinguji’s hand so that she can look back at Ouma and continue walking.

Within a couple more seconds, they’ve reached the portion the tour guide was referring to - a portion where someone decided to add several large metal garbage containers, causing the squeeze-area to be even smaller than usual. “Alley oop!” Iruma says once Shinguji enters the area, then she, then Ouma.

For a couple more seconds, it goes perfectly fine.

Then Ouma opens his eyes.

At first, it’s all good, all normal, and Iruma figures that he probably just worked himself for no reason and now that his eyes were open, they could proceed fine, of course! They could visit that cool cathedral that the tour guide had been going on and on about earlier and, more importantly, the makeup shop that sat adjacent to it.

Then Ouma stops moving completely, and Iruma is stopped by the tug on her arm. Shinguji follows suit, stopping as well. “Is everything alright?” He asks, looking concerned.

“Y-yeah,” Ouma says, looking anything but, and he fumbles around the flag as he reaches for his purple scrunchy, still tied securely around the hand that Iruma’s holding. He snaps it back and forth so violently that Iruma winces at the sound it makes, slapping against skin till she’s sure that it’s raw.

“You’re not.” Iruma pouts.

“I-I,” Ouma protests weakly, but his breath catches in his throat and when Iruma squishes his cheeks to make him face towards her, his eyes look at the space behind her (and she wasn’t talking about Shinguji). His chest flutters like the butterfly pattern on her latest spring fashions, and with that, she looks between the space they have to go and the space they’ve already gone, deduces that the latter is the faster way out, and begins pushing Ouma out.

“We’re ditching the tour.” she states, wiggling the flag out of Ouma’s fingers and passing it back to Shinguji. “Be a dear and hand that to the person in front of us, would you? Say ‘we have to go’, alright?” She says ‘we have to go’ in English, and though Shinguji’s pronunciation is horrible and she isn’t sure if the little girl with pigtails understood what he was saying in the first place, they’re on their way out and that’s what matters.

“I’m a-alright.” Ouma’s a liar, a good one, but somehow not here, not now, because Iruma is sure not even Akamatsu could be fooled by a lie such as that (the Super High-School Pianist, of course, not the person that they knew now). “I-I want to see the...the tour!”

“When you’re having a panic attack?” Shinguji says simply, and Ouma shuts up, sweat pouring down his brow.

Shinguji’s apparently a pretty good bodyguard, glaring at any of the tourists who so much as glance at Iruma as she picks Ouma up, bridal style, the moment they get out of the alleyway and book it down the street.

 

.

 

“Look at this cool soccer ball I found!” Iruma holds up her discovery, beaming from ear to ear as Ouma and Shinguji look at her from the back porch.

“Iruma-san...that’s a bedsheet you tied over in itself.” Shinguji points out. “Besides, why not just call it ‘football’...? ‘Soccer’ is the word Americans use.”

“Well, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, right?” Iruma hums and holds the ball in the crook of her arm as she places her hands determinedly on her hips. “Now, the two of you are going to play a good ol’ game of American soccer with me, right here, right now!”

Ouma groans and pulls the neck of his shirt over his face, while Shinguji adjusts his sick mask (which today was a neon blue color). Pouting, Iruma steps away from them into the small grassy expanse in the back of the hotel. It’s early in the morning, on a weekday to boot, so no one else is there save for a couple squirrels. The hedges around the expanse even provide the illusion that they’re completely separated from the city, or at least they would if there wasn’t a cacophony of car horns around them.

“Play a game with me!” she hums. “That over there is goal numero uno,” A hand wave at the space between two beach chairs, “and that’s goal numero dos.” A motion at the porch.

“There’s three of us. We can’t split ourselves up evenly if there’s only three of us.” Shinguji points out. Iruma huffs.

“You say that like I can’t take on two malnourished young males,” she says, and the both of them flinch at that comment. “A-ah, sorry! I’m pretty underweight, too! Or at least, I would be if it weren’t for these beauties.” She motions at her chest, and no one is impressed.

“Alright.” Shinguji heaves and steps out of his chair, not a speck of amusement on his tired face. “Ouma-kun, are you up for this?”

Iruma’s opening her mouth to say that two’s more than good enough, but to her great surprise, the smaller boy is lifting his body up as well and stuttering a place next to Shinguji. “S-sure!”

“Perfect, then!” Iruma drops the swath of tied up clothing on the ground, kicking it between herself in order to try and get a feel for it. It doesn’t work out. “I’m going to be shooting at over yonder porch, and you try and get behind me. Dealio?”

“Dealio,” Ouma says, and Shinguji darts forward to kick the ball out from underneath Iruma’s legs and between the two beach chairs they had designated as one of the goals. Iruma can do nothing but gape as Shinguji turns around to high-five the shorter boy.

“One to nothing.”

“H-hey! I hadn’t said that we were ready to start yet!” Iruma sputters. “Th-that one didn’t count!”

“Yes it did,” Ouma chirps, and attempts to kick the bedsheet-turned-ball through her legs once again. However, he is unsuccessful as Iruma anticipates the kick this time around, pulling her knees together to block the ball and then shooting it back at the porch. Shinguji, startled, catches the ball, and Iruma howls.

“Now that’s not something that would be allowed in official soccer!”

“This ball wouldn’t be allowed in official soccer.” Shinguji points out helplessly, but drops it on the ground and plays with it between his feet.

“Alright, now you’re gettin’ into it!” Iruma huffs. “Ouma, take your hands out of your pockets! You can’t play a game like that!”

“Sure I can,” he says, but Ouma takes his hands out of the pockets of his khaki shorts anyway. Iruma flashes a thumbs up his way.

They continue kicking the ball back and forth until the rain begins. Ouma darts inside almost immediately, putting his hands over his head and glancing backwards from the shield of the alcove. Shinguji stays out for longer, humoring Iruma before his shirt alone holds a gallon of water and he has to call it a day.

When they both get inside, Iruma stands in the rain alone and lets it wash over her. It isn’t until Shinguji’s cries get more insistent for her to get the hell in here that she steps away, soggy excuse of a soccer ball in hand.

.

 

The rain certainly sets a tone, and after everyone’s all good and inside, Iruma wrangles her shirt and squeezes out the last of the water, effectively leaving her with nothing covering her upper body but a bra. She almost doesn’t care this time, almost decides that ‘fuck it, they’ve seen enough of me maybe they’ll stop caring at this point’ but to her surprise, Shinguji hands her a blanket and covers up her shoulders. “You look cold.”

“Thanks,” she says, and somehow that’s even more surprising.

Ouma blow dries his hair till it’s all poofed out and Shinguji decides to let his dry more naturally by untying the ponytail he’s kept for most of the vacation and letting the hair spread around him. Iruma herself puts her hair all up into a towel hat, in which response to Ouma mutters something about he could never understand nor get such hair towels to work, which is dumb, but, whatever.

“You know what a great way to end this all off would be?” Iruma finally says as they don’t watch the television that plays in the background.

“What?” Shinguji asks.

“We get drunk out of our minds.” Iruma points at the cooler at the foot of the bed with her toes. Ouma frowns.

“I’m not sure if that’s the wisest of ideas…”

“I’m not sure of a lot of things, but fuck you,” Iruma hums. She leans over to the cooler and pulls out a crate of beer cans. Ouma catches the can when she tosses it over to him, and Shinguji does too, though they both look equally bewildered. Iruma, frankly, doesn’t give too fucks and cracks open her can, beginning to down it like it’s the end of the world.

It feels like that, in a sense, and partway through it she chokes on nothing and has to take a break in order to regain her breath. A quick glance at Ouma and Shinguji confirm that they’re both drinking the beer too, though Shinguji is going slower than Iruma’s pace and Ouma is even slower still.

Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for the edges of Iruma’s mind to grow fuzzy (only two and a half cans) and she lets out a relieved yawn. Thinking was hard, mega hard, anyway. And this was a vacation, even if it was the last rather pathetic day of said vacation. She deserves to not do hard stuff. A big no-no.

She manages to finish off four cans before any of them speak, throwing the empty tins into a pile that was accumulating at her feet. Shinguji and Ouma contributed. “So like...hear me out.” she drawls. “What if in...in the killing game. They gave us alcohol.”

Shinguji looks at her dryly. “Iruma, we would have been underage,” he points out, and Iruma spreads her arms wide.

“So? It was a fuckin’ simulation,” she snorts. “Wouldn’t have mattered whatever we did to ourselves, because it would be all wiped the fuck away once we woke up. Besides, even if it was real, they let us make all those stupid fuckin’ sex jokes. They gave me the biggest,” she makes a vague hand motion, “y’know, and I sure wasn’t old enough for that sort of a thing yet. They didn’t care, though. Didn’t care that whatever we said was broadcasted onto live television.”

“That doesn’t mean it was good, though,” Ouma says, and his voice has a weird note of confidence in it that probably comes from the alcohol. Iruma opens another can.

“A lot of things aren’t good. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do them.” She chews on her lip, and then says something she knows she’s going to regret. “I mean, confessing that you liked Saihara would probably be a baaad move on your part, but probably would’ve gotten some unresolved tension out of the way.”

Ouma stands up suddenly the same time that Shinguji says “Ouma-kun liked Saihara-kun?!” and Iruma’s got the dumbest grin on her face. Still didn’t know how to hold her own alcohol well, it seems.

“Oh that’s riiiiight, Shinguji,” she hums. “You didn’t watch past your own murder! Well, I’ve got some fun facts for you.” She snaps her fingers together, and Ouma practically trembles in (rage?). “In that sweet in between time, after your execution and before my death? Ouma tries talking to his beloved Saihara-chan, tries convincing him to join his side, and you know what happens?” She stands up on shaky legs and toys with the collar of Ouma’s shirt. “He gets rejected. Of course.”

Ouma sneers, and Iruma wonders why she likes that expression so much. Shinguji shifts uncomfortably. “I-I think this is going...too far,” he murmurs. “I don’t care how anyone acted in the game. That’s all behind--”

“Of course you think it doesn’t matter.”

It’s Ouma who says that, not Iruma, and she blinks as Ouma juts out his chin.

“You were into your sister,” he states, and Shinguji flinches so violently that even in Iruma’s foggy mind, she begins to wonder if she toed the line a bit too much. “You don’t want anyone to hold that against you. You don’t want any association with the person you were inside the game.”

“Y-yeah!” Iruma says, and she doesn’t really get why they’re ganging up on Shinguji when he’s done nothing particularly wrong (right now) but the boy stares at them in shock anyway.

He bites his lip, and then says - “Just because you two haven’t changed at all from the game doesn’t mean other people haven’t.”

Iruma gasps out an “Ex- cuuuuse me!” the same time that Ouma yells “I’m nothing like the person from inside there!” while looking every part of a Super Evil Supreme Leader and Shinguji looks like he wants to burrow away into a little hidey hole and never peep out, not once, not ever.

“I’d say you’re something like the person inside the game.” Iruma huffs. “You can pretend to beg and cower like some little kid all you want, but that’s a lie, right? That’s all you’re ever made up of. Lies and lies and more lies. You’re proving it now, aren’t you?” And when Ouma doesn’t respond, she adds, “You were the one who killed me. Who killed me and Gonta.”

“And you tried to kill me.” Ouma’s face is dark, and the terrifying grin Iruma thought she’d never see again is sitting there, all pretty and terrible. She shudders. “How can you throw accusations like that around when you tried to kill the entire class, by killing me and then making them get it all wrong, huh?”

“And you say that like you didn’t try to make everyone think you were the killer in my trial!” Shinguji points out. “What if they had all believed you, and then what? You’d be responsible for all their deaths, right? Which aren’t even real, because--” Shinguji throws his hands up in the air. “Not sure if you guys remember, but we’re still alive.”

“That wouldn’t have happened,” Ouma bites. “I was just pretending to be your killer to draw you out. I knew what I was doing, I always do.”

“Oh!” Iruma gasps. “Oh! Look at you go, Ouma! Such confidence, such swagger! Always getting what you want, even when your beloved Saihara-chan rejects you flat-out, and the only way you can cope with your feelings is by just,” Iruma clasps her hands together and flutters her eyelashes, “confessing to yourself in an empty room devoid of anybody but with a live audience watching, referring to Saihara as the person whom you fell in love with. Even though- Even though! He will never. Like you. Back!”

“Well fuck me, then!” Ouma swears. “The game messed me up, alright? Sometimes it sucks to suck. I got really messed up, and the person I was before the game is all ruined and stuff, so--”

“You think your image got ruined?” Shinguji rolls his eyes. “I was the most popular kid in my entire class! I was trendy and everything, and now I’ve turned into this sort of a person. We can’t all have what we want, can we?”

“Well at least you had people, then! They know you were faking it!” Ouma bites. “They know that you weren’t that terrible before the game!”

“People suck ass,” Iruma says. “I hate people. And being all popular and trendy isn’t cool at all, you know? After all,” she thinks of her manager’s disgusting face, of his breath, “after all, no one gives a shit about you, alright? They only care that you look pretty and cool and whatever during it all. No one cared about us in the game. In fact,” she adds.

“Iruma-san--” Ouma’s eyes narrow, Shinguji’s eyes widen.

“In fact,” Iruma’s reaching hysterics now, “no one cares about us now! We’re just in it for the tabloid articles and other than that? Everyone would be better off with us dead, honestly, because if we die alone then they can martyr us and whip up some sob story about how the ‘evil turned good’ or were secretly good or whatever because that’s all we’re worth, just another newspaper headline, just another paycheck, because wouldn’t it be better if terrible people like us were dead!”

There’s a slap to Iruma’s cheek, and she expects it to be by Ouma’s hand but when she opens her eyes, it’s Shinguji who’s standing up and breathing heavily while Ouma stares from his position on the bed.

Something in her mind says “maybe we’ve gone too far” and she stares at Shinguji as he mutters “Sorry, that was pretty terrible of me.”

“No, it’s okay,” she consoles. “We’re all pretty fuckin’ terrible people. All of us. Besides, I deserved that.” Iruma rubs her cheek, and Shinguji lets his hands rest limply by his sides. Iruma gives the boys a stiff nod each. “Went too far with all that. Big ‘pology and everything.”

“I said worse things,” Ouma mutters, and even though the terrifying grin is gone Iruma can still hear the Super High-School Level Supreme Leader speaking. “Alcohol was a bad idea. Good thing it wasn’t in the game.”

She laughs at that, then blinks as Shinguji picks up a box of tissues. “Aw, were you crying? Sorry.”

Shinguji shifts awkwardly. “Uh...actually, it was you who is...y’know.”

“Lying is a sin--” she begins, but as she touches her cheek she realizes that aw shit, she was crying, aw shit her mascara’s running, aw shit, that alcohol really took a number on her and she probably said a little more than she should’ve. She takes the box of tissues.

Iruma sniffles pathetically, and she wishes more than anything that the ground could just swallow her up, that she had never left to go on this stupid vacation, that she had stuck behind her shield of perfume and makeup and lights and she could still see with 20/20 vision from stiletto heels on the runway. But no, here she was, getting wasted out of her mind with two people that didn’t even want to go on this shitshow with her.

Speaking of which--

“Sorry for draggin’ you two here with me.” She blows her nose noisily. “Neither of you wanted to go on this thing, and I forced you to come anyway just ‘cause you were the first to reply in a group chat. That was really shitty of me. Sorry. Ouma,” she looks up at the smaller boy, “you didn’t have to come. I should have let Angie go instead, though I don’t think she would’ve enjoyed this all very much anyway.” She laughs tiredly.

There’s an awkward silence as Iruma tries to wipe her face before Ouma fidgets and says “You didn’t force me to go.”

Iruma blinks. “What?”

Ouma looks even more uncomfortable by the minute. “I...purposefully sent a message as soon as I could,” he mutters. “I w-wanted to go on a vacation. I immediately regretted the decision and tried to play it o-off, but...that doesn’t change the fact that I initially wanted to go on the vacation in the first place. So,” he shrugs, “you didn’t do anything wrong.”

All she can do is blink as Ouma grows even more fidgety while Shinguji clears his throat. “I...genuinely had been surprised that I was included in the group chat and hadn’t been looking to join the vacation, but overall, I am indeed happy that I was included in the trip. If asked, I would go through this all again without hesitation.”

Those words are enough to send Iruma over the edge all over again, and a new plethora of sobs wracks her shoulders. She tries to hold it in - she really, truly does! - but soon enough she finds two pairs of arms awkwardly hugging her from the sides, trying to offer some sort of comfort.

“Isn’t it funny?” she mutters. “We’re probably the worst kids from the game.” The word ‘kids’ slides out without her meaning to, but she realizes that it’s kinda true. “Like, Shinguji’s got his whole…sister thing going on, Ouma is Ouma, and I’m a disgusting perv who gives everyone the absolute dumbest and most insensitive of nicknames. Like, even though Shirogane organized all that shit, she didn't let anyone catch onto it until the very, very end. We had days and weeks and months to be terrible, but she was only hated for a few hours…” Iruma chuckles. “Fuck my life…”

They stay like that for at least thirty minutes, maybe more, but when they wash their faces with cold water in the hotel’s bathroom afterwards, Iruma does not apply any concealer to her neck and she feels a hundred thousand times more confident than she ever has from her perch on the runway.

 

.

 

Leaving the hospital is especially invigorating, especially when she gets to leave only a couple days after Tenko and Himiko do. She stands in front of the hospital’s doors in tepid anticipation, glancing behind with hands on hips and a grin on her face. “So!” she states. “See you guys later, I guess?”

There aren’t many people there - only Shirogane, Akamatsu, and Gonta, and frankly, that doesn’t surprise her one bit. She doesn’t expect many people to miss the person who made consistent sex jokes, nor the person who began to drain the no-longer-infinite supply of hot chocolate. But that was the sort of thing that happened, she supposes. Couldn’t be liked by everyone that you met, right?

“Where are you going, Iruma-san?”

Surprisingly, it’s Shirogane who asks the question, even though the girl hadn’t been present for anyone else’s leave of the hospital. Well, it made some sense. That the biggest killer of them all would want to bid her farewell, she means. Iruma yawns and examines the nails that Shinguji had painted earlier in the day.

“Mm, probably just gonna tour the country for a while!” she pulls the answer out of her ass. “Might as well travel while I can. Try and get some connections in good ol’ America. After all, people weren’t as big fans of Danganronpa over there as they were over here. Maybe they’ll be a bit more accepting of the whole situation?” she shrugs. “Wishful thinking, but whatever. I’ll get to taste that American ‘hot dog’ on the way! Maybe dye my hair. Probably pink. Get that ‘Junko Enoshima’ vibe going for me.” She laughs. “You’ve seen people comparing me to her, right? It all works out in the end.”

“I don’t think you’re anything like her, for what it’s worth,” Akamatsu says, and Iruma raises a tender eyebrow.

“Thanks, nice tits, but I’m sorry to say that I don’t give two shits about what they say,” she hums. “I just like the aesthetic that gal had going on. The ponytails were a nice touch, really.”

There’s an awkward silence when no one really knows how to respond to Iruma, and frankly, she can’t blame them. Letting out a frustrated groan, she turns around and pushes out the double doors. “I’ll be seeing you fucks, then--”

“Ah, Iruma-san!” Gonta pipes up, and she glances back, annoyed.

“What?”

“W-well!” he stutters, running his hands through his hair in a habit Iruma hadn’t realized that he had developed. “Just...make sure to take care of yourself, alright? Keep in touch through Kiibo.”

Iruma stares at him like he’s just sprouted another head before snickering. “Sure, sure, Mister big d--” she pauses, corrects herself. “Big heart.”

She steps out for real this time, and doesn’t look back.

 

.

 

She’s always had the resignation form on hand, a printed out copy that she’s carried around mostly for shits and giggles, to take out when she’s had a particularly bad day and stare at it in the dark and yell at it and cry all over it and leave dirty smudges and snot stains on it so she has to throw that copy away and print out two new ones to take its place. It gives her a sense of freedom, no matter how false it may be, and she likes it.

That’s why when she’s crying, her first instinct is to pull out a copy of her resignation form and stare at it for a while. Shinguji notices. Ouma’s already asleep in bed, worn out.

“What are you doing with that?” he hums, and Iruma blinks, blushes, and pulls the form closer to herself.

“Mmm...it’s just something I keep on hand,” she mutters. “You don’t need to worry your little pretty head about it.”

Shinguji stares. “Alright,” he says just as Iruma begins to get uncomfortable. “See you tomorrow?”

“See you!” Iruma agrees.


.

 

The next morning, she finds the resignation form filled out in neat, clean handwriting. All she needs to do is sign it.

 

.

 

Iruma stares as the paper floats out of her grasp and into the ocean. A bird shits on it.

 

.

 

“Keep in contact now, you hear?” Iruma hands Shinguji’s phone back to him before picking up Ouma’s, whose only response is to blink in quiet confusion. “I made sure to mark my contact as your absolute favorite, which for some dumb reason, it wasn’t already. That isn’t how the great Iruma Miu plays it, after all! You two have got to get your priorities straight!”

“Why did you set my background to…” Shinguji starts, then stops. “Nevermind.”

“Oh? What did she set your background to?” Ouma leans in, trying to get a view of Shinguji’s phone screen, but Shinguji leans far away, shielding the imagine of Simon from Ouma’s eyes.

“Nothing.”

“That’s a lie,” Ouma sighs, but leans away as Iruma hands him his phone back, this time with a new phone background of the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a plush taking a selfie with the one and only Iruma Miu. He doesn’t comment on it.

“I’ll be seeing the two of you around for sure, alright?” Iruma blows a kiss. “The next gathering is coming up soon, so you better be there or be square!”

She doesn’t pay attention to their dull responses of ‘bye-bye’ as she opens the door to Yuzuru’s car, climbing into the front seat and sliding in a disc containing the album of some sort of foreign band before the blue-haired boy can say anything.

“I trust you had fun, then?” Yuzuru eyes her. “I’m happy for you.”

“Thanks!” Yuzuru begins to drive the car out of the airport, and reaching into the glove compartment, Iruma grabs onto one of the lollipops she put there several weeks beforehand. “‘Preciate it.”

“Don’t...don’t tell me you’re going to eat--” Yuzuru begins, and Iruma pops it into her mouth. He sighs. “I suppose if that’s what makes you happy, I most certainly won’t be the one to stop you.”

“Thanks!” Iruma repeats, and Yuzuru hits a traffic light.

“I...I notice that you don’t,” he motions at his neck, and Iruma touches her own, “ah...I’m glad. You were going through a lot of concealer, and whenever you washed it down the drain, it would clog it up a little bit. And it looked a little uncomfortable to have so much on in an area that no one paid attention to. Whatever happened, I’m happy for you.”

Iruma grins. “Ah, I’m happy for me too!” she lies. “You’re such a dear, Yuzuru-chan.”

Chapter Text

The blades of the ceiling fan whirr duly above Maki Harukawa’s head, a steady rhythmic pattern that she isn’t quite certain aids her headache or diminishes it. Summer is in the full swing of things, heat beating down through the sheets like it's a sin, and the only thing keeping her from declaring that she’s already in hell are the scritch scratch es of Hoshi’s cats on the floor.

Or, actually, now that she considers it, those could very well be demons, scritch scratch ing their way around lava-cooled land and cursing her into eternal damnation.

She sighs and turns over, listening to the fans and decides that yes, it does only make the throbbing in her head increase with time. If she wasn’t already burning alive, she’d probably stand up and turn off the fan. But that was far from the case, so there she was, a painful headache and exhausted in the heat to match.

After determining that she probably wouldn’t get any sleep with the way things were going, Harukawa sighs, rolls her wrists, and sits up. The digital clock on her bedside table is facing away from her, so she has to go out of her way to lean over and grab it (and wonder in hindsight why she thought pointing the clock in a direction that she couldn’t see would be productive).

It reads four twenty-two in the morning, and Harukawa’s lips curl as she thinks about how Momota would probably make a joke about how ‘oh, you missed the weed number by two minutes, what a tragedy!’ but Momota was in another room at the moment, so what he thought didn’t matter.

Assuming he didn’t run off at two am to God-knows-where, but that thought makes Harukawa pinch the spot between her eyes.

She opts instead to slip on a pair of socks that Saihara sent over as his prowess in knitting had begun to increase. They weren’t of the highest quality, exactly, but they kept her feet warm and they were sold to her at a good price (free) so Harukawa took advantage of that.

Harukawa slips out of her room and down the stairs, losing her footing on the next to last step and cursing the bruise on her ankle that’s sure to appear the next morning. Akamatsu isn’t passed out on the couch and Hoshi isn’t lying in the middle of the living room floor with a cat on his stomach, so that’s a great way to start off her day (if you could start your day off at four twenty-two in the morning).

The several sets keys they own are underneath the kitchen sink in a small pouch, right next to the bleach, but Harukawa’s gaze doesn’t linger on the bottle for once as she grabs the car keys and hightails the hell out of her house, gets in the car, and starts driving.

She drives in ten mile loops for an hour or two before she returns home and finally feels the anxiety in her stomach bubble down.

 

.

 

She sets Saihara’s blog to notify her on her phone for a reason she doesn’t remember, which is all well and good when Saihara doesn’t decide to stay up till an ungodly hour and update the blog just as she’s returning home from the drive and trying to sleep. It makes the phone by her face vibrate and flash colors into closed eyes, and she groans before begrudgingly opening up the app.

It’s one of his monthly recap posts, where he reviews what occurred in the past month (as so it happens in monthly recap things). Where everyone is, how they’re doing, if anyone’s dead yet or not. So far, no one’s dead, and Harukawa is almost disappointed. (that’s a joke.)

Shinguji, Ouma and Iruma had apparently visited Hawaii. The former most of the three seemed to have had enjoyed taking photographs, and there’s one of Iruma and Ouma snorkeling while Shinguji flashes a peace sign at the camera, one of some fancy food they had at a restaurant, one of Iruma balancing herself over lava(?!) and one of Iruma standing with her head up in the rain, clutching a soggy bedsheet underneath the crook of her arm. It’s pretty, almost. Harukawa screenshots it, and closes her eyes at the white flash. She scrolls a little faster over the photos of Ouma.

She goes down a bit further. Shinguji’s first rakugo performance is scheduled in… a little over a year and a half, after the gathering after next. Harukawa doesn’t know anything about it, other than Tojo is in charge of it, and she trusts Tojo more than most of the other participants of the show. Maybe. Ish. things were complicated one way or another.

More scrolling. A message from Saihara that she doesn’t bother reading. It’s the same old, usually, where he pretends he knows something about coping methods or how to heal and relays such information. Sometimes Gonta gives an input, sometimes Tojo does too, sometimes Amami writes something down and forgets he did the next time he looks. One way or another, Harukawa doesn’t care.

Hoshi submitted a couple photos of his cats to add to the gallery, and Harukawa nearly shuts down her phone altogether until she notices one where she’s in the frame. She hesitates.

Hell if she knows which cat it is, but she’s passed out on the couch with her hair all string like and in front of her face. Some of it has fallen in her mouth, and one of the cats is pressing its paw against her cheek. Harukawa feels her lip curl. She wishes that Hoshi had told her about the photo beforehand, then chases that thought back in her head because she shouldn’t deny Hoshi anything when she killed him, practically, basically. Is killing him, currently.

Something in her chest aches. She closes the app and tries to sleep. The fan whirrs above her head.

 

.

 

When Harukawa wakes up from a restless sleep at eight forty-seven in the morning and walks into the living room, Hoshi’s laying on the floor with one of his cats (she thinks this one is named is omelet but it could be oe-sama too). She steps over Hoshi, and lazily, he blinks up at her.

“Hey,” Hoshi says.

“Hey yourself.” Harukawa snaps her fingers at the cat, who turns its head towards her. Maybe this one was Jerrie? “Get up. Have you eaten breakfast yet?”

“Mm.”

“Was that a ‘mm-hm’ sort of ‘mm’, as in, yes, or a ‘mm-mm’ sort of ‘mm’, as in, no?” Harukawa walks over to one of the cabinets and pulls out a box of cereal. They’re running low. She should probably go out to get some more soon. That, or order some online. Either or worked.

Hoshi stares at the cat on his chest (she was going back to her original thought process about this one being oe-sama) and gently bops its nose. It flicks an ear. “The second one,” he says, and Harukawa groans.

“Do you want me to shovel down cereal down your throat like you’re some sort of an infant?”

“Who knows. Maybe I have some sort of a baby kink,” Hoshi plays with the sole of the cat’s paws. “Goo goo ga ga.”

“You’re going to make me vomit in my mouth.” Harukawa makes a gagging noise and opens the refrigerator with a foot. “You didn’t do a body swap with Iruma or anything, right? Cause that would be,” she grabs a jug of milk and drops it on the ground, spilling its contents on the floor. “...something, yeah.”

Hoshi looks up from his spot on the floor and the cat that was sitting on his chest rockets away. “Oh. Shit. You need help cleaning that up?”

“No, I’m...good.” Harukawa leans down to pick up the jug, her lips pressed into a thin line. “I hope that didn’t wake Akamatsu or Momota up…”

“Nah, Akamatsu’s already awake.”

Harukawa looks up. “Oh?”

“Yeah, she bought one of those cat backpack things on impulse and went on a run with Oe-sama. She was awake even before I was so that’s...seven?” Hoshi wiggles his fingers, beckoning at the cat that ran away from his chest (and that harukawa now knows is not oe-sama). “I mean, I got up ‘round eight, soooooo...I dunno.” He shrugs. “‘s not my business.”

Harukawa stares for a couple seconds before placing her final guess on the cat as Jerrie. She grabs a swath of paper towel rolls from its place besides the sink and placing it on the steadily growing pool of milk. “No, it’s not.” she affirms. “Anyway, cereal is fucked up so I’m going to warm up some prepared waffles and you’re going to eat it up.”

“M’kay.” Hoshi stands up and snaps his fingers. “C’mon, now, Mimi.”

Mimi mewls and Harukawa groans. Hoshi looks up at her in confusion. “What?”

“Nothing.”

 

.

 

When Hana is seven years old, she sits on her back porch in the scorching summer heat. She picks at a scab on her knee until it starts to sting a little too much so she bites her lip and puts her hands between her legs and dirties her already torn lace white dress that Mother claimed to have belonged to Grandmother, but Hana saw her buying it at the store last week. She knows she’s being childish and unreasonably stubborn - she knows it! - but that doesn’t stop her from feeling the way she’s feeling.

Taichi, the big fat stray cat that Maki had insisted on adopting, flicks his tail as he stretches himself out in the sun on the porch’s concrete railings. Hana sticks out her tongue at him. He doesn’t even react. She inhales through her nose, crusted slightly from blood and mucus both, and uses Maki’s advice to count to ten to try and calm down. It doesn’t work.

With a groan, she stands up and stomps on the ground and lets out an ear piercing screech. Taichi perks his head up and jumps off the railing, landing on the furthest side from Hana, the grassy side. Frankly, she doesn’t care, but she does wear herself out within two minutes and has to sit down and calm the lightheadedness that had come from not taking a single breath for a while.

Hana runs her hands through her now-short hair, her lower lip jutting out in a pout just as Maki opens the beautiful glass sliding door behind her and sits by her side. “So? How do you like it?” The taller girl asks, petting Hana’s hair. Hana swats Maki’s hand aside, and it obediently retreats back to her lap.

“Like what? This shitty haircut?”

“Ah ah ah! Language!” Maki tuts and pokes Hana’s cheek, only making the girl’s scowl deepen. She swats it back again. “C’mon, it isn’t that bad. It matches mine, after all!” She twirls a finger around her own hair, a couple shades darker than Hana’s. Hana says it’s the color of scat, Maki says it’s dirt that’s been out in the sun too long.

“You say that like it’s a good thing.”

“It is!” Maki gasps overdramatically, “I mean, who wouldn’t want to be just like me?” She tosses her hair.

“Me, for one.” Hana says, and Maki pouts.

“Understandable, I suppose! You’re too young to see true class.”

“I’m...three years,” Hana takes a moment to stick out her fingers and count them out, “yeah, three years younger than you. Not that young at all.”

“Oh, the sweet days of youth! How I wish I could return.” Maki continues to drawl, and Hana slaps her. The older girl laughs. Taichi meows.

 

.

 

Momota returns home a quarter till two in the morning and Harukawa has to pretend she isn’t falling asleep when he opens the back door up and tries to sneak in quietly. She wonders if she should be merciful, decides not to, and flips the switch, light spilling onto the kitchen tiles like buttercup seawater. Momota flinches.

“You’re home,” Harukawa says matter of factly. “It’s late.” That’s another fact. “You had them worried.” Another fact, though not the whole one. Momota puts his hand behind his head, a gesture that’s too reminiscent of the game for Harukawa’s liking.

“Yeah, well,” he shrugs. “I’m old now. Old, er, older. Not ancient or anything. Not uh,” he waves a hand, “is Shinguji-kun the oldest? Shinguji-kun’s age. But old enough to go where I want to.”

“At two in the morning?”

“At two in the morning.” Momota strokes the goatee that has only grown in length after the game. It’s faded out from the bright purple-magenta hue it had held beforehand, now leveling out into some sort of natural reddish brown. It’s discerning, and Momota must realize that, because he chooses to re-dye it every couple months or so, even if he can’t get the exact shade right. “Anyway, I’m not in the mood to talk about this right now. I’m,” he interrupts himself with a wide yawn, “I’m going to bed. ‘Night, Harumaki.”

“I,” Harukawa rolls her eyes. “Momota, this discussion isn’t over just because you say it’s over. You can’t just go to bed, just like that. There are things we need to talk about--”

“So we can talk about it in the morning,” Momota says. “You’re the one who said I should go to bed earlier, right? Well, I’m trying to go to bed right now. And you seem to be trying to stop me from doing that. Funny how those sort of things work.”

“Momota--”

“Goodnight, Harumaki.”

He runs up the stairs before Harukawa can say another word, and she’s left standing alone at the bottom of the steps. She sighs and walks over to the bathroom, reaching for a brush to undo some tangles that inexplicably got into her hair, even if she’ll just get a bedhead and have to redo it all in the morning. Harukawa doesn’t know why she even tries.

She resolves to bring up the topic to Momota again in the morning.

(they don’t talk about it in the morning)

 

.

 

They don’t move to a big house immediately. Harukawa doesn’t want to move into the middle of nowhere, Akamatsu does, Momota doesn’t either, so two outnumber one and they move to an apartment smack dab in the center of Tokyo and apparently that satiates Akamatsu’s hunger for...whatever it was she hungered for, a little bit.

“It’s different than I remembered,” the blonde says, stepping into an apartment with three bedrooms all with water mattresses and one bathroom and a living room with a chandelier in it. “Tokyo, I mean. Not this apartment. I’ve never been in this particular apartment before.” A pause. “I don’t think.”

“When was the last time you came here?” Harukawa opens up the fridge and looks inside. There’s already food in there, a big abundance of it. Good. She didn’t want to go shopping. She closes the fridge.

“During a piano--” Akamatsu realizes what she’s saying a bit too late, and closes her mouth. “Actually, I don’t know, I guess.”

Momota snorts and Harukawa doesn’t say anything. When they unpack, she picks up big pieces of newspapers, sticks them to the wall, and scrawls various goals on them with big, thick black sharpie.

  • Teach yourself a decent party trick
  • Grow a plant and also it cannot die within a week
  • Understand the news
  • Learn a new language
  • Don’t buy “cool” new brands just because they look shiny or their names are in caps it doesn’t actually mean that they’re cool necessarily.

Akamatsu stares at Harukawa’s list and says “That’s certainly…”

“A list,” Harukawa confirms. “Yes, that’s what it is. It’s a list.”

They spend the night drinking not too much wine and laughing as they stare out the window at the brightly colored nights of the city. Momota is smiling and so is Akamatsu and so is, Harukawa realizes with a start, she. It’s a pleasant enough feeling, so pleasant that they decide to (re)watch the infamous anime rendition of the very first Danganronpa game and regret it only a little bit.

It takes the paparazzi over a week to realize where they live. Momota rips off the latest “you should have died you were an assassin your execution would have been so fucking cool” sign from the door and announces that they’re going to move somewhere else. Harukawa doesn’t object.

She falls asleep on Momota’s shoulder on the train ride to their new home. One of the paparazzi that apparently followed them from their apartment snaps a photo and places it online. When Harukawa stares at it, she thinks about how in another life, in another game, she would have felt her heart flutter and her face flush with embarrassment at the photo, coupled with a stuttered “I-I don’t like him that way!”

But in this life, she simply stares at it and fights down the bile reaching up her throat as they unpack in a new, bigger house surrounded by no one but Team Danganronpa employees, former and current both. No paparazzi in sight. She shows it to Momota. “Look what picture they took.”

Momota looks at it. “Huh,” he says.

She reuses the newspaper list from their apartment. She doesn’t cross out any of the items on the list.

 

.

 

Omelet pushes his paws into Harukawa’s stomach. She’s laying on the couch, covered by a blanket with a book in her hands that she’s not reading. “Why do they do that?” asks Harukawa, and Hoshi looks up from across the room.

“What?”

“Why do they do that,” Harukawa mimics the motion with her hands, then points at Omelet, who has not stopped, “thing.”

“Oh, you mean kneading?” says Hoshi, and Harukawa shrugs.

“If that’s what that thing is called, then yeah.”

“It’s something cats do as kittens, when they want milk.” Hoshi is in his zone. “They knead into their mother’s stomach in order to nurse. Even though they don’t nurse as adults, they still associate the motion with feeling. Safe, I guess? So they continue to do that motion even as adults. Whether it be that they’re stretching, they’re hungry, they love you...there’s a multitude of reasons.”

Harukawa looks at Omelet. He continues to knead his paws into her stomach. “Interesting,” she says.

“I know, right?” Hoshi has a sparkle of life in his eyes and Harukawa wishes she could see it a bit more often.

 

.

 

Maki holds Hana close to her chest whenever the smaller girl can’t sleep. “Shh,” she says whenever Hana protests, “if you’re too loud, the monsters underneath your bed will hear you and gobble you all up.”

“Monsters aren’t real,” Hana says, clutching her blankets close to her chest. Maki raises an eyebrow.

“Oh, really? Well then.” She hums a small sing-song tune, half to herself. “You can say that, but try saying it again when they’re eating up your toes bit by bit.”

Hana squeals as Maki tickles her. “Stop it!”

“Stop what?” Maki blows raspberries into Hana’s stomach, and the girl laughs and shakes.

Maki hums louder and louder so that they can’t hear the oppressive noise silence of their house’s marble and gold tile halls anymore.

 

.

 

“I want to go to college.” It’s an idle thought that Harukawa tosses out like she tosses rice around the pan in front of her, a satisfying sizzle coming up as it hits the surface. It’s probably good enough to be eaten, now, but a little piece of her wants to see how long she can toss the rice and keep it from burning. That little piece wins.

“So do I,” says Momota. “You knew that shit, though.” There’s the sound of a newspaper being turned. “So? What do you wanna major in?”

Harukawa pauses her rice stirring. “I didn’t think you’d be interested.”

“Why wouldn’t I be? I mean, there isn’t much fucking else to be interested in around here.” He snorts. “I’m just here to support you, I guess? I dunno what you want me to say.”

She burned the rice. Harukawa fucked up. She curses and begins to pour the rice out of the tray and onto a plate. It’s got gold on the edges or, at the very least, fake gold, a sure sign that it’s leftovers from Harukawa’s time before the game. Her mom sent it over along with a box of various other belongings in an attempt to...who knew. Reconnect with her daughter? Apologize? Appeal to her?

But for now the plate serves more practical uses than sentimental ones, only holding the rice that Harukawa had burned. After looking at the mess for a few beats, Harukawa wonders why she tried in the first place and tosses out the majority of the rice and dumps the plate in the sink. She’ll clean it up later. Probably.

“I don’t know,” she says after Momota’s probably given up on an answer. “Maybe something to do with business? Or history. I wouldn’t...mind being a teacher, I don’t think. Or a business person. It’s boring and kind of menial work, but I think it might suit me. Or maybe I’ll go to med school with you.” She shrugs. “I just don’t want to be stuck in limbo.”

“Fair enough. You don’t have to go into college knowing what you want to major in.” Harukawa turns and sees Momota flashing her a thumbs up. “If we go to school together, we could totally be roommates. If we don’t study around here.”

“I’d...prefer to keep on living here,” Harukawa admits, and Momota’s grin falters for a second she almost doesn’t see.

“Fair enough.” He leans back into his chair and yawns, fanning himself with his newspaper. “That makes one of us.”

Harukawa tries to find a new pack of rice.

 

.

 

Akamatsu gets into a fight with Momota, Hoshi’s asleep on the couch (or is pretending to be, she didn’t care one way or another) and Harukawa is grabbing the keys from underneath the sink once again and gets herself out the door before anyone can notice. It’s early - Harukawa checked the clock before she left and she thinks it said five hours after noon.

She drives for a while and she doesn’t know where she’s going until she pulls to a stop outside one of the orphanages that reside in Japan and takes the key out of the car. She sits there for a good ten minutes before opening the door, reconsidering that, and closing the door again. And then reopening the door for good measure and trying to step out before she realizes that she never undid her seatbelt. Harukawa curses under her breath and does that.

The tiled floors are much nicer than the moldy wooden planks that the assassin remembered in another life, and she distributes her weight out experimentally, as if she’s hallucinating and actually she’ll hear a creak if she hits just the right spot. She doesn’t, but there is a distinct “a- hem” from across the room, and looking up, she sees the most picture perfect and stereotypical old woman with glasses perched on a hooked nose and chains falling daintily behind her ears sitting behind a desk made out of marble.

“You’re...that girl from Danganronpa, aren’t you?” says the older woman. “Yes, you’re the assassin!” Harukawa’s gaze forces itself away from her and towards the potted plant by her side. It’s dying.

“Sorry,” says Harukawa before she can stop the words from leaving her mouth. “I-I, I’m not interested in getting a kid. Right now. So I’ll go.” She licks chapped lips. “Also, I didn’t make an appointment or anything. I just dropped in. I’m also sorry about that.”

“No! No no no,” the old woman waves a hand, “please stay. If you just want to hang out with the children, that’s fine too. They love any visitors, and I’m sure that they’ll be besides themselves when they find out a Danganronpa participant - and survivor! - decided to come by. Really, if it was available, I’d probably have paid you to come here.” She laughs to herself. “You were popular, here. Quite popular.”

“Okay, then,” Harukawa considers how much she has left to lose (none) and nods. “I. Guess I’ll stay.”

“Wonderful!” She glances down at a sheet she apparently had prepared for whenever a Danganronpa participant walked in and decided they wanted to hang out with the children at the orphanage. “Well, they’re just having dinner right now. On the finishing up end of things. I’m not sure how long you can stay, since visiting hours are closing up soon, but-- ah! Look at me talk, now. I’m making it sound like you should be thanking us for accommodating to you, but it’s we who should be thanking you, really.”

She stands up and walks around her desk. Harukawa shifts her weight awkwardly from foot to foot, an uncomfortable feeling rising up in her chest. The last time she remembers being around children was in an orphanage where she learned how to kill like she was breathing - and that memory was essentially null and void, now.

The woman opens a side door and Harukawa’s just about to follow before a stream of children begins to filter out. They don’t notice her in the first three seconds, but on the fourth one of them says “Oh, a visitor!” and on the seventh one of them says “Oh, that’s Harukawa Maki! From the final season of Danganronpa!” and that sets them all off and over her.

The next hour is a blur, and she sees stars for the most part of it, jiggling one child per knee and letting them thread their fingers through her hair. It’s a lot more pleasant of an experience than Team Danganronpa had her remember it to be. If she had been herself (had she been herself? the thought makes her head hurt) during the game, she surely would have preferred being the Super High-School Level Child Caretaker than. Well, you know. The other thing she was.

She’s pretty sure she remembers killing children. She remembers killing a lot of people.

“I want to fall in love!” says one of the girls, interrupting her thoughts by playing with Harukawa’s fingers and fitting them between her own. Harukawa marvels at how big her hand is compared to theirs. It makes her feel big and strong. (it makes her feel like a killer). “Hey hey, how did it feel? To be head over heels with that astronaut guy…” She sighs dreamily. “I wish I could fall so totally in love with someone. And be absolutely heartbroken when they die, sacrificing their life for mine! How did you feel when he died?”

Harukawa thinks about the stressful nights she spends waiting up for Momota. “Our relationship isn’t the same that it was inside the game,” she says simply.

“Aw…”

They ask her more questions, about how if she was really an orphan, how it felt to kill someone, how it felt to find out everything was fake, how it felt to find out that she wasn’t an orphan when she told them she wasn’t and how it felt to find out that there really was a family out there waiting for you. She answers them with textbook answers that roll off her tongue far too easily, and soon enough, the old lady that sat in front of the desk comes by and tells the children that it’s time for her to go, and it’s time for the children to go to bed.

The children wave behind her and say “Come again! Please!” and “We love you, Miss!” in tiny, squeaky voices and Harukawa wonders if the people who had parents that came in twos or even ones were really the lucky ones.

 

.

 

When Harukawa wakes up from the game, she thrashes until she cracks the glass above her head and the attendants have to put bandages on her hands because she cut herself, of course she cut herself because she’s the violent assassin. That’s what she does. That’s how they wrote her.

Needless to say, she doesn’t like how she’s written, so when doctors eye her over and ask her if she wants her memories back along with everyone else, it isn’t a question of if she’ll do it but rather how soon can she get it done.

And they come, of course, ricocheting into her head like hail. It leaves her dazed and she ends up walking around with a magazine in her face, pretending to read it because she can’t bear the thought of talking to others right now. They don’t comment on how it’s upside down. She’s thankful.

Momota stares at her as she walks through the hallways like she’s having a fever dream because she forgot her magazine in the bathroom after another false vomit alarm and asks if she’s alright. She stares at him with a glare so tired that he practically flinches.

“Well, are you alright?” she asks.

“I asked first,” Momota replies.

“And I asked s-- ah, whatever.” Harukawa pulls at the hair she considers chopping off with a pair of safety scissors, in order to look more Hana-like, then decides against it. “Doesn’t matter. Nothing fucking matters.”

“Okay, edgelord.” Momota chuckles. He’s laughing at her. Harukawa flips him off and tries to remember how many fingers she has.

 

.

 

“Oh. It’s kayaking this year.”

Harukawa glances up at Akamatsu, who sits from her spot at the computer. It’s late; not late enough that they would consider going to bed yet, and not late enough for Momota to consider going out on an excursion, so the screen illuminates the blonde while the rest of them litter themselves around the living room. Momota on the windowsill, Hoshi and (Jerrie?) in the center of the room, and Harukawa curled up in a chair with her phone. “What, now?”

“The annual gathering is going to be kayaking. In Ishigaki. Specifically, Choro. There are some nice coral reefs there…” she trails off wistfully, accompanied by the scrolling of her mouse in the background. “Iruma, Shinguji, and Ouma all just returned from Hawaii or whatever. They went snorkeling and put some pretty sweet pics on the blog. So I kinda wanna go.”

“In Ishigaki?” Momota says, and though Harukawa can’t see her face from this angle, she knows Akamatsu is rolling her eyes.

“Yes, dumbass, Ishigaki. The island of Ishigaki. The island that belongs to the country known as Japan, where we live. Currently.”

“Nah, I get that, I get that, but…” Momota rolls his neck around and Harukawa directs her attention back to her phone, already bored. There’s a news article about someone being upset that some Olympic medalist or other didn’t actually race against a live great white shark, side by side, and she clicks it out of pure curiosity. It isn’t very interesting. “That’s like...on another island. A long ways off. Maybe we could, I dunno, skip--”

“No. Not doing that.” Hoshi speaks up from his spot on the floor, and Harukawa snorts slightly while Momota glares in her direction.

“Yeah, I want to go too, so island or not, we’re going.” Akamatsu says. “I’ve never gone kayaking before. Have any of you guys?”

“Nope.” says Hoshi.

“I have,” says Harukawa.

“I think I...might’ve? I dunno,” says Momota, and Akamatsu holds up her fingers in a peace sign like gesture.

“So, half n’ half. Split pretty evenly.”

Akamatsu goes on to ramble about some random facts she found on the wikipedia page, and Harukawa is glad because this is the happiest she’s seen her in a while.

 

.

 

Hana feeds Taichi a bowl of milk straight from the fridge only to find the fat cat retching an hour later. When Maki finds out, she has to sigh kindly and explain to a panicking Hana that cats are lactose intolerant and that it probably isn’t a good idea to give Taichi milk in the future.

There’s a long pause as Hana balls up the bottom of her dress with tightly held fists. “Is...Taichi going to die?” she says in a very quiet voice, and Maki has to laugh at that.

“No, Taichi isn’t going to die,” she promises. “He’ll be fine. Just don’t feed him milk in the future, alright? It makes his stomach all achey.” She rubs her stomach, and after several seconds, Hana repeats the motion with a tentative smile.

“I’m glad. You would be very sad if Taichi were to die, right?” she says, and then, “Would you be very sad if I were to die?”

Maki freezes for a second and then laughs lightly. “You won’t die. I’m old and ancient and you’re a little baby, so I’ll die long before you do.”

“I am not a baby!” Hana puffs out her cheeks and Maki laughs.

 

.

 

She feels just as old as the woman from the orphanage, using a paper map to navigate her way to Choro, but there’s some sort of a nice aesthetic to sitting with the paper on one’s dashboard with staticky radio blasting itself out into the car and everyone arguing in the background (but a good natured friendly argument not like the ones when momota comes home at three am or akamatsu is drunk out of her mind).

Harukawa even bought the most touristy outfit she could for the occasion, sunglasses she got for a hundred-ish yen sitting on her forehead and a white t-shirt under a flower print button up one. Momota said “hey isn’t that something like what Miu was wearing on the Hawaii trip on one of the days” right before they left and Harukawa looks at him with a glare that holds the strength of a poisoned arrow. That’s the end of that discussion.

Surprisingly enough, they’re not one of the last ones there, for once. The typical crew is there - Saihara talking over something with Tojo, Gokuhara playing some sort of hand clapping thing with Amami (harukawa wonders how he’ll be able to work out the whole kayaking business in a wheelchair but as long as he gets things done then, whatever). In addition, Ouma sits on the tip of one of the kayaks, snapping away at the purple band around his wrist and holding a phone, which presumably contains Kiibo, in his hand. He’s talking to it, so that only confirms Harukawa’s suspicions.

Saihara catches sight of them before anyone else, and waves merrily. “Hello!” he says. “Gosh, I’m really glad you all could make it!”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world!” Momota takes several large steps towards the black haired boy, already wrapping his arm around his shoulder and striking up a conversation about some nonsensical game concerning hats and possession of dinosaurs.

Harukawa glances over in Ouma’s direction. He waves, and she shudders at the gesture and looks the other way. Tojo, having lost a conversation partner in Saihara, walks over to them. Her hair has grown even longer still, falling in wavy locks that would have made Harukawa jealous in another life.

“I hope the ride here wasn’t too bad,” she says, purposefully avoiding Hoshi’s gaze.

“Nah, it was fine.” Akamatsu answers for them both, yawning and tapping her mouth with a stray hand. “Tiring, though. It was hot and that kind of shit is...yeah, tiring. Also, closed windows, so I couldn’t do,” she reaches into the pocket of a grey hoodie and pulls out a packet of cigarettes, “this shit.”

“Weren’t you supposed to not smoke around me?” Hoshi hums idly. Akamatsu flips him off as she tries to light the cigarette with a Hello Kitty lighter, getting it on the fourth try.

“Fuck off, squirt. I know you couldn’t be paid to touch another one of these babies.” Tojo rolls her eyes and covers her mouth with a dainty hand as Akamatsu takes a drag and puffs the smoke into her face. “Sorry about that.”

“No you aren’t,” says the grey haired girl, “but thank you for the sentiment anyways. I appreciate it.”

“No problem!”

Harukawa wanders away from their chatter, instead opting to sit on the grass near the water. Saihara and co. (with danganronpa’s money, probably) apparently had rented out several kayaks and life vests for their use during the gathering, and they float, half in and half out of the water. All of them are singles, save for one double which she assumes are for Amami and Tojo, probably, but she could be wrong on both accounts.

She very purposefully ignores Ouma’s too-loud conversation with Kiibo. As pleasant as the AI is and as much as she would like to talk to him since he next-to-never decides to hang out in her house, she’d rather die than interact with Ouma, probably.

She sighs and pulls at blades of grass as she waits for the others to arrive.

 

.

 

She ends up putting on life vests next to Yumeno and Angie, the latter of which hums happily adjusting her straps. Harukawa fumbles with hers, frustrated at the lack of nimbleness of her own fingers, and Angie clucks her tongue. “Let Angie help you with that, Maki!” she says, and does just that. Harukawa’s arms dangle uselessly at her side.

The white haired girl finishes the task quickly and uses the extra straps to fashion a little bow. There’s an identical one on her own life vest, and she points at it with a bright pink fingernail. “See? We match!”

“That we do,” Harukawa agrees, and Angie beams a grin a mile wide before glancing over at Yumeno.

“Oh! Himiko! Are you having trouble with fastening your life vest?”

The girl glances up as if snapping out of a daze. “Hm? Oh,” she shrugs. “Sorry. ‘M just out of MP, it seems...it’s kinda a pain to do this sort of stuff…”

“That’s alright! Angie will do it for you, then!”

Harukawa watches from the side as Angie hums a cheerful tune, tying up her life vest as firmly as she had with Harukawa’s. She finishes off the procedure with a bow, like beforehand. “Now we all match! Go team!”

“You’re really good with your fingers,” Harukawa comments. Angie glances behind her and brightens up.

“Oh! Do you think so?” She looks at her hands and smiles happily. “Thank you! Angie has been practicing a lot of different things recently! Most recently it was model airplanes, but then, uhm.”

Yumeno shifts awkwardly.

“That didn’t exactly work out! But that’s totally alright, because God gave Angie another revelation!” She claps her hands together. “Now Angie’s trying out nail painting! Before all of that it was scrapbooking and photography, but those kind of fell flat too…” She pouts, and her lower lip juts out. “But now Angie owns a cool polaroid camera since she tried photography! She can take a photo and it’ll come out instantly! And apparently it’s a cool ‘aesthetic’ or whatever. Shuuichi likes it when Angie submits her photos to the blog, at least!” A pause. “Do you like my photos, Maki?”

“Yeah?” Absentmindedly, she runs a finger through her hair and realizes how tangled it is. She’ll probably have to put it up instead of just letting it rest in two ponytails anyway, so she takes out her red scrunchies and places them on the grass. “Yeah. I, I remember seeing some of them. You’re right, it is a pretty good aesthetic.”

Angie claps her hands together happily. “Angie is so happy you agree with her! She took her camera along with her for the kayaking trip, so--”

Yumeno coughs, and Angie stiffens up.

“Oops! Actually, Angie might have broken her polaroid camera. Silly and dumb, sorry!” She taps her skull with her knuckles and sticks out her tongue. “She can get one later, then! The next time she sees Maki! And then we can take a picture!”

“...sure. Sounds good with me!”

“Perfect!” Angie waves and begins to skip away. “Alright! Byeonara, Maki! Angie is going to go get a yellow kayak!”

The girl skips away happily, flip flops slapping noisily against the grass. Harukawa watches as she trips over her own feet and head first into a kayak. She winces.

“Hey, Harumaki! Hurry up!” Momota calls over from where he’s helping Amami settle into his own kayak. Sure enough, the green haired boy is sharing a kayak with Tojo, as Harukawa predicted beforehand.

“Alright, coming!” Harukawa glances around. Her red scrunchies sit neatly in Yumeno’s hands. “Hey, mind if I have those back?”

Yumeno doesn’t respond. She turns the scrunchies around in her hands.

“Yumeno? I’d really appreciate if you handed those back.”

Yumeno finally glances up, opening and closing her mouth like a gaping fish before placing the scrunchies back in Harukawa’s hands. “I’m,” she says, and it sounds like she’s gasping for air, “I’m so so sorry. I wasn’t going to steal it. I, I swear.”

The taller girl fastens one of the scrunchies around her hair, and another around her wrist. She vaguely recalls Ouma doing the same with a purple scrunchy. Color coordination still seemed to be relevant, apparently. “Uhm...okay? It’s just a pair of scrunchies. I honestly wouldn’t care if you stole them but I need it to,” she motions at her bun, “keep this mess under control. No need to get so panicky over it.”

“I’m sorry,” Yumeno repeats, and then, “if….I had enough MP I would cast a spell that keeps your hair all under control. Whenever you want it. But I don’t. I’m really sorry.”

“Thanks,” says Harukawa, but Yumeno is already scrambling away after Angie.

 

.

 

She’s in a daze as Shirogane paddles up to her, parallel to her kayak. “Harukawa-san, do you mind if I--” she begins, but when Harukawa looks up at her she stutters and averts her gaze. “Oh, oh, nevermind. Forget I said anything.”

Shirogane begins to paddle away, but Harukawa sighs and grabs the girl’s kayak. “No, you can stay. I don’t mind talking to you.”

Shirogane says, “Oh,” and then, “thank you, thank you...I apologize about all this. I’m touched you wouldn’t mind talking to someone like me. Considering, uhm…” She swallows. “Nevermind.”

Harukawa rolls her eyes. “There’s so much bullshit going around and, frankly? I have too many bad feelings directed at others to have any directed at you, for the moment. Besides, you were brainwashed, right? Along with the rest of us. Anyone who holds your actions in the game against you is hypocritical.” She laughs. “We’re all fucking hypocrites, honestly.”

The mastermind flinches at the word ‘brainwashed’, and her mouth opens and shuts for a couple seconds before she pulls a strand of hair behind her ear. “Y-yeah. It’s...yeah. I guess that’s why we’re here, then.” She laughs almost nervously, pumps a fist. “Hypocrites...unite!”

“O...kay.” Turn the conversation somewhere else. “Well, what have you been up to? Clothing business, right? Or whatever. Seeing your photoshoots are...interesting. Also. Shinguji lives with you.”

“Yes, I’m in the clothing business,” Shirogane smiles lightly. “And Shinguji-kun does currently reside with me. Though perhaps the statement of me residing with him would be a bit more accurate. The place where he studies rakugo is quite nice, honestly speaking. Though it is a bit of a drive on Sunday…”

“To where?”

“To church, of course!” Shirogane’s face lights up like a bulb. “It’s...ah, incredibly embarrassing to say, but I’ve turned a bit more religious now, it seems?” She laughs awkwardly and pulls at a strand of hair. “It’s. Oddly comforting, I suppose. The idea that someone can love you, no matter what you’ve done.”

Harukawa nods uncertainly. “If someone like that existed, then--"

“Oh, but He does!” Shirogane smiles. “God does!”

Harukawa stares at the other girl before clearing her throat. “Ah, uhm...that’s good. Good for him. Good for you, too.” She places a hand over Shirogane’s. “I, don’t exactly understand any of that religious stuff, but I’m really glad that you’re figuring out what kind of life you want to live. You certainly seem…” She considers the statement. “Happier? Yeah. And that’s more than can be said for a lot of people here.”

“Thanks.” Shirogane smiles. “I told Team Danganronpa I was considering becoming a nun.” There’s a long pause. “That was a joke. W-when I told them, they all laughed.”

“Ah.” Harukawa makes a noise that’s supposed to sound like laughter but just sounds like one of Hoshi’s cats coughing up a hairball. She curses herself.

“Well, they all laughed.” Shirogane waves a tired hand as she repeats herself. “Of course they did. I thought they were genuinely humored for a good half a second before realizing that they probably just laughed because they knew that if they didn’t I might try and kill myself.” She laughs. “Even at something as small as that.”

Harukawa isn’t sure what to say and simply settles on “Oh.”

“Anyway, sorry to bring the mood down,” Shirogane hums. “I was lying there, of course. About them being afraid that I would kill myself. Not the laughing bit. I stole that line from somewhere, actually. A book, maybe. About a guy who tried to die but either didn’t or couldn’t and then everyone around him walked on their tiptoes when they found out and he wished that he never told anyone in the first place. So, you know,” she taps a gracious hand on her bosom and flashes too long lashes, “like a certain yours and truly .”

The gears turn in Harukawa’s head a couple seconds too slow. “Shirogane, did you try to--”

“Oh, no,” she laughs. “Not yet. But-- the idea has crossed everyone’s minds, you know? When the therapists did those one on one things in the hospital, practically everyone brought it up. Some people didn’t, but those sorts of people were Hoshi-kun so. Well, we all know how he ended up, hm?”

“Hoshi’s doing better.” Harukawa doesn’t know why she’s getting so defensive. “We all are. It’s taking time but we’re doing it.”

Shirogane’s gaze flickers from Harukawa to Akamatsu and then back again. “Okay,” she says.

“You’re not convinced.”

“How can I be convinced by someone who isn’t convinced of something themself?” She looks at her hands. “But look at me, getting all edgy and such. I’ll give you a coupon for some new clothes later as an apology.”

“Yeah, how’s that going for you?” Harukawa is eager to change the topic. Shirogane adjusts her glasses.

“Not bad, I suppose. As well as it can be expected for someone like me, as you might assume.” She shrugs. “I got a death threat or two recently, so that was exciting. Hadn’t gotten any since a little bit after the first gathering, so...it’s been a couple years, yeah. Good to know I haven’t lost my touch, though! I was. Getting a touch worried.”

“Shirogane…” Harukawa bites her lip, and before she realizes what she’s saying, asks, “are you going to be safe?”

“Of course! Why wouldn’t you think that?” Shirogane laughs bitterly. “Don’t say it-- are you worried for me? And after I had written you to be such a heartless killer, too...well.” She pushes her kayak away from Harukawa’s. “While Ouma-kun’s...well, you know, of course. Yours, on the other hand, is disappearing. Guess it’s different for everyone, hm?”

Harukawa helps Shirogane push their kayaks apart, and the girl with faded blue hair drifts off into the river.

 

.

 

They decide to take a break by a sand bank, a sort-of island that promises them a chance to take a breather. Tojo talks with Amami, Tenko with her trio, but save for that, it’s fairly silent. Awkwardly silent. Harukawa’s grateful for that, though - she doesn’t know what she would say if someone actually walked up to her and tried to start something.

She kind of wishes she had a cigarette right now. Sighing, she glances over at Akamatsu, who is preoccupied with her phone. She probably had a few more cigarettes, right? Yeah, she’d be caught in a zombie apocalypse and still have a full pack or two on her at all times.

Harukawa stands up to walk over to the blond, but Saihara is faster. “Akamatsu-san!” he says, and Harukawa already knows that this can only end in disaster.

Akamatsu looks at her phone and doesn’t look up.

“A-Akamatsu-san? Is it alright if I talk to you for a minute?”

“You’re talking to me right now, right?” She looks at her watch. “You’ve already used up roughly fifteen seconds out of your sixty, so better get chopping.”

Saihara looks stunned for a moment, and then inhales steadily. “I just-- I just wanted to...catch up, I suppose?” he says quietly. “I mean...we haven’t really. Talked? Or had an actual conversation for...a long time. Years, maybe, even.”

“That’s certain a fact.”

“I was wondering if you would be up to...I don’t know, hang out for a day or two? I-it’s not a date or anything romantic, of course, but I would certainly like to spend some time with you. If just to tie up some loose ends or, or whatever. I know it’s a long shot, most definitely, but…” he exhales. “It would most certainly mean a lot to me if you were to accept.”

Silence is his only response.

“Akamatsu-san, please?”

Her lip curls. “Leave me alone.”

Akamatsu pushes Saihara away with a single hand, and Harukawa knows she didn’t mean for it to be so rough of a push but it is anyway and he loses his balance and falls. Water splashes away at everyone in near proximity - which includes Harukawa. She scowls and wipes away at the spots. Well, she was bound to get wet on a kayaking trip. At least it wasn’t she who had fallen in. (she immediately feels terrible for thinking that).

Saihara sits in the water, drops rolling off his hair and plopping down with tiny drip, drip, drop s. From Ouma’s hand, Kiibo asks “What happened?”

Akamatsu looks up from her phone and points and laughs and laughs and laughs. Saihara’s lower lip trembles.

 

.

 

She oversleeps.

It wouldn’t be that big of a deal, normally, but today is the day that Maki leaves the house and Hana doesn’t say goodbye. She doesn’t say goodbye.

Mother scolds her in the kitchen over it while Hana half-heartedly pokes at an uneaten omelet and ruins the ketchup design that she probably should have taken a moment to admire beforehand. She yawns into the crook of her arm and nearly falls asleep on the table all over again.

“Was it really that hard to set an alarm to wake up for your sister?” Mother asks as she wipes out down the counter that a maid could’ve wiped down. “Really, Hana. You’ll need to apologize to Maki once she returns from her trip.”

Hana scratches her nose and nods just as the phone rings.

It announces that Maki Harukawa passed away in a car accident, and Hana didn’t say goodbye.

 

.

 

Akamatsu is whistling as Harukawa pulls her away by the wrist. Momota looks at her on the way, mouthing the words “be careful--” but all she can hear beyond the buzz of her mind is anger.

“Someone’s upset!” Akamatsu finally says as they get far away enough from the group that no one will hear them. “I wonder why, hm?”

“Sure you do.” Harukawa huffs and crosses her arms tiredly. “Okay, like, I get you aren’t a fan of Saihara, but maybe you could be kinder with how you treat him,”

“Should I?” Akamatsu laughs bitterly. “Maybe when he stops acting like I’m a fucking, I dunno, damsel in distress is the wrong way to put it because I’m pretty sure he thinks I saved him but. When he stops putting me on some sort of pedestal. I think I’d like that.”

Harukawa pinches the space between her eyes. “He’s stopped doing that,” she says tiredly. “we all changed from who we were in the game. For the better.” The last bit is added almost rebelliously, a statement she places down in order to convince (herself? akamatsu?).

“Oh! Oh! Oh!” Akamatsu rolls her eyes. “Wow! Huh! So that’s how you’re playing your cards.” She feels around her pockets. “God, I need a smoke. Or a beer. Preferably both.”

“You just had a smoke, okay? You don’t need another one.” Harukawa rolls her eyes. “Listen, just... behave for the rest of the gathering, alright? You’re the one who wanted to go, so stop picking fights with Saihara. That’s what I’m doing with Ouma.” She motions at the boy, who thankfully isn’t facing their way. “Avoid him if you need to. Completely ignore him. But like, in...in a nice way, I guess?” She sighs. “You get what I mean. Behave.”

“So I’m the bad guy!” Akamatsu throws her hands into the air tiredly, patience obviously worn to a thin. “Obviously I’m the absolute worst, most terrible person. Absolutely terrible.”

“Oh, stop throwing a temper tantrum.” Harukawa hisses, “Jesus, what happened to the Akamatsu from inside the game?”

There is a pause, and Harukawa gets a sinking feeling in her chest as Akamatsu stares at her with a gaze made out of ice.

“God forbid,” she says, “that I act like the person I was for seventeen years of my life but not the person I was brainwashed to be for less than two days. Everyone else is so desperate to throw the person that they were in the game behind them, but when I do it? And when I’m happiest being the person I was before the game?” She scoffs bitterly. “Yeah, everyone throws a huge fucking fit because obviously I am too terrible for that, and obviously I should act like, I dunno.” She waves her hands. “Saihara’s knight in shining armor, a person who you all can look up to. Did it ever occur to you that, that that’s not who I am? Not who I want to be? But, well, like I said,” she shrugs, “God forbid.”

“Akamatsu--”

“God forbid!”

The girl spins on her heel and begins marching towards the rest of the group, who seems to have declared their break time all over and done with. Harukawa drags her hands down her face. She curses her mouth.

 

.

 

In order to avoid the awkwardness that is Akamatsu Kaede and Saihara Shuuichi (not to mention Ouma), Harukawa ends up paddling her kayak next to Iruma. She has a little ziplock baggy around her neck and is chatting merrily to it. It’s only after closer inspection that Harukawa notices Kiibo’s face spinning merrily around the screen.

“Hey,” she says, unsure of how to start a conversation, and Iruma looks up.

“Ah, hey hey, Harumaki!”

“Hello, Harukawa-san!” Kiibo’s voice is slightly muffled through the plastic. “How are you?”

“Don’t call me that,” she says, and then when Kiibo’s expression wilts, “no, Harukawa-san is fine, just not. Harumaki.”

“Whatever you want, flat chest.” Iruma snorts. “Keebler and I were just having a nice conversation about all the trees and shit we’re floating past. Like,” she motions upwards, “it’s really nice, yeah? The canopy is pretty. Dappling the light and shit or whatever the word is.”

“I never took you as the type of person who would describe something with a word as tender as ‘pretty’,” Harukawa says, raising an eyebrow. Iruma scoffs.

“Well, I never took you as the type of person to. Uh.” She pauses, shrugs. “Whatever. Didn’t take you to be the type of person that you are.”

“Thanks,” says Harukawa dryly.

“A-anyway! Harukawa-san, did you know,” Kiibo interrupts the conversation hurriedly, “that all the gold that has ever been discovered in the history of the world is only roughly enough to fill out roughly three Olympic sized swimming pools? Don’t you think that’s a pretty small amount, considering how long the world has been around?”

Harukawa blinks. “I suppose it is.”

“Mm-hmm! That’s what I thought too. It’s really weird how things are, once you put a little bit of thought into it all! The world is so incredibly strange.” Kiibo hums and spins around on his phone. “Hey, I have an idea! Why don’t you two put your kayaks parallel to each other, and then place your paddles on top of each of them but, like! Crossing over each other?” He pulls up a small photo that fills up the phone screen. “Like so! That way you can continue to talk, we can continue to talk, without you worrying about paddling, I suppose?”

Harukawa looks up at Iruma, who has already set herself to work.

“Don’t just fuckin’ stare at me, virgin. This needs to be a cooperative effort sort of thing. If you wanna float next to me, you gotta make the effort.” Iruma hits Harukawa’s kayak with one of her paddles, causing a hollow echo sound to vibrate the entire craft.

“Alright, then.” Harukawa picks up her own paddle and lays it across her kayak and onto Iruma’s.

 

.

 

The kayak makes a grating sound as Harukawa pulls it up against the sand. According to Tojo, they can just leave them here and someone will come by later to pick them up and take them back to wherever they rented it from. She voices some vague concern about someone stealing the kayaks, but Amami looks at her and says “Team Danganronpa is on it,” and she can’t think of a good argument for that, really.

It’s a little bit scary how much they depend on Team Danganronpa, she realizes. Especially when they had grown to hate it to such an extent beforehand. She frowns and places her hand on her chin. Dependency is bad, isn’t it? Or over dependency, at the very least. She read that in a book. Somewhere. Or online.

“Ah, Harukawa-san--”

Harukawa looks up as Shirogane stumbles towards her, flustered. “Hm? What is it?”

“I, I got a new phone,” the girl straightens out a pale yellow sundress that Harukawa hadn’t been able to see properly while she had sat inside of her kayak and pulls out a phone from an unseen pocket. The screen is already cracked. “And there’s a new number on it, too. Would you be alright with, uhm…”

Her voice trails off and she sounds like she’s embarrassed, almost. Harukawa sighs and holds out a hand, and Shirogane places it into her hand daintily. She punches in her own number as a new contact and, then, as an afterthought, adds a heart next to her own name.

“Here.” She hands the phone back to Shirogane, who smiles happily.

“Thank you, Harukawa-san!” she says, and then looks down at her phone. “O-oh! Thank you!”

“It’s a joke,” Harukawa adds lamely. “Also, Momota’s calling me, so I should go.”

“I-is he? I don’t hear him…”

“Bye, Shirogane.” She gives her a lazy goodbye salute and hurriedly shuffles away towards the car.

 

.

 

When Ouma wakes up, he’s a stuttering mess. Harukawa takes one look at him and calls bull immediately, earning her a tired glance from Yumeno, who had had the (mis)fortune of being with her in the room at the time.

“Ouma-kun is...different,” she says, looking at the ceiling. “We’re all different, yeah? We were different before the game. We have different memories now.” She glances over sideways at Harukawa and yawns. “It’s the same for you, yeah? You can’t say that Ouma-kun is a fake for acting kinder than he did in the game when the same goes for you.”

“I was kind,” Harukawa shoots, and Yumeno gives Harukawa a look so disbelieving that she has to duck her head down in embarrassment. “Okay, maybe I’m-- kinder now. A bit.”

“A bit,” Yumeno agrees with a smirk, and that's the end of that.

What it doesn’t end, though, is Harukawa and Momota sitting in the lounge working on a laughable attempt to catch up on coursework and Ouma walking in on their session. Both of them immediately sit up straight.

“Relax,” he says tiredly, but there’s no stutter or nervousness in his voice. “I’m just getting a snack.”

He walks by Harukawa’s chair and she leans forward, not wanting to get too close. Momota smiles and Harukawa wants to punch him for what he says even before the words leave his mouth.

“You should study with us, Ouma-kun!”

“No,” says Harukawa at the same time that Ouma says “Oh, I couldn’t intrude.”

“There. That settles it.” Harukawa straightens out one of the pencils in front of her. “Come on. There’s a lot we need to cover, Momota. Not a lot of time to waste.”

“On second thought, I’d love to join.” Ouma pushes out a chair and sits next to them, and despite the hunched up shoulders and tensed elbows he seems like he’s the epitome of confidence to Harukawa. She curls her lip, but doesn’t say anything. “This is all pretty easy stuff, huh! You guys must be kinda dumb.”

Harukawa concentrates on her paper. Momota whistles, but it falters. “What level of education do you have, then, Ouma-kun?” he asks.

“I’ve graduated from college,” says Ouma, and then, “that’s a lie, of, of course.”

The words send chills down Harukawa’s spine, slight stutter or not, and she exchanges a glance with Momota, who looks as unsettled as she feels. The taller boy clears his throat and straightens himself up.

“Hey, Ouma-kun.”

“Y-yeah?”

“What do you plan to do once you leave this place?”

“Oh, that’s...hm.” Ouma stares at one of the problems without looking at it. “I...don’t know, honestly speaking. I guess it’s just whatever Team Danganronpa has planned for us? Or, well,” he laughs, “I’ll just...go with the flow. That’s the best option for now, right?”

Harukawa laughs under her breath and says “what a little shit” and Ouma glances over at her.

“S-sorry? Did I...say something wrong, Harukawa-san?”

“You said a lot of things wrong, in the game.”

Momota gasps. “Harumaki!”

“What? I’m not wrong. And don’t call me that.”

“Harukawa-san is, is better for her...I think,” Ouma glances over at Harukawa, searching for confirmation in her face. She frowns.

“I really hate how that sounds coming out of your mouth.”

His face is an awkward shape of muscles that shouldn’t be there, and Ouma’s trying to figure it out himself before he settles on what is probably supposed to be a smile. “Oh,” he says, “I see.”

Momota’s eyes flicker between Ouma and Harukawa. “There’s no need to act as we did inside the game, now,” he says, almost singsong like.

“I know.”

“O-oh. Cool.” Momota stands up and stretches. “Well, I’m done studying for. Now.”

“I guess it’s just me and Harumaki-chan, then--”

Harukawa stands up so fast that the table shakes and Ouma lets out a yelp. “What the fuck,” she says. Ouma blinks up at her with too round eyes. “Don’t do that. You-- you.”

“Me,” Ouma states again, resting his chin on the palm of his hand. He picks up the pencil Harukawa abandoned. “Indeed, what should I not do, Harumaki-chan?”

“That.” She doesn’t like how this feels.

“Oh?” He drops the pencil and leans back. “Sorry. Won’t touch your property, then.”

“No, not that.” Harukawa tries to feel exasperated beyond the need to strangle Ouma that creeps into her fingers and she hates how they lock up like that because she is not a killer. “Ouma, stop with the name thing. That’s,” she thinks back on Yumeno’s words, “that’s not you. You’re not the person they wrote you to be.”

“And why should I?” He kicks up his feet onto the table, causing some of the papers to slip off and onto the floor. “Harumaki-chan, you just said that you didn’t like when I called you Haru kawa-san. You need to make up your mind about what truth you want me to be!”

Momota groans, rolling his head on his neck. “Okay, like, don’t try and fly that shit by us,” he says, “because this shit ain’t the killing game. There isn’t anything deep about,” he makes vague hand motions, “‘truths’ or ‘lies’ or ‘ideals’ or ‘hope’ or ‘despair’ or. Or anything. It isn’t anything that deep. It’s just...fuckin’ real? There’s no need to get. Psychological or philosophical or whatever you want to call it. There aren’t a million layers to go through.” He laughs. “Like onions. Like Shrek.”

“Okay!” says Ouma. “That sounds exactly like something dumb you would say, Momota-chan. You’re so dumb that you couldn’t even realize how I was pulling everyone’s leg this entire tim--”

Ouma’s body hits the hospital wall and it isn’t Momota who threw the punch, but Harukawa herself. It fills her with - adrenaline hatred pleasure joy fear - and she rocks back on her heels. Ouma doesn’t move. Her knuckles sting from the impact.

Harukawa almost regrets it. Instead, she curls her fingers around her elbow and says with a voice that doesn’t betray how scared she feels, “Is he alive?”

The boy looks up with a smile sitting on his face, as pretty and as terrible as it was inside the game. “Ouch,” he says in a lilting tone that either means he’s laughing or seriously dazed. It’s probably the former. Momota makes a noise that Harukawa thinks is supposed to sound like a snort, like something confident, but it definitely doesn’t come off like that.

“Unfortunately, yeah,” he says. “I...hey, let’s go.”

He moves his arm in a way that’s probably supposed to support a jacket that isn’t there, realizes his mistake, and walks a little bit faster. Harukawa stands over Ouma and feels every inch of the person that Team Danganronpa wrote her to be.

“I thought,” Ouma tries to say something, catches his breath, starts again, “I thooooought murderers never returned to the scene of the crime. Or was, was it that they do? Can’t recall.”

“You’re not dead,” says Harukawa, “and I’m not a murderer.” With that, she turns on her heel.

 

.

 

One day Harukawa wakes up to hear piano music wafting up from downstairs, and to say the very least, it takes her by surprise. She stumbles out of her room with pajamas still on (lacy ones from before the game - she didn’t grow much, even if her hair did) and sees Hoshi leaning against the doorframe of his bedroom, rubbing at his eyes sleepily and yawning. He waves at her. She waves back.

It doesn’t take a genius to guess where the noise is coming from or who was playing the piano, which is a good thing, because Harukawa most certainly wasn’t a genius. She walks downstairs to the living room with Hoshi in tow and finds Momota already there. She thinks that he passed out, at first, all drained and tired like, but his eyes flicker open for half a second when they walk into the room.

Akamatsu herself is wearing a pink vest and a skirt with music notes and Harukawa has to bite her lip and how similar she looks to the person inside the game. It isn’t a coincidence because neither of them are idiots (don’t have to be a genius to not be an idiot) and the music note hair clips in her hair are a bit too on-point for her to deny any accusations Harukawa might throw at her.

And Harukawa might not be the nicest person but she’s trying, so that means she isn’t saying anything as she sits at Momota’s feet on the couch. He scoots them in a little bit so that they have more room to sit, and Hoshi walks over to the windowsill where one of the cats stretches itself out, basking in the sun.

They sit there for several minutes, and Harukawa almost fall right back asleep with how calming the music is. She feels...relaxed. She doesn’t know when the last time she felt this relaxed was.

“It’s Grieg’s ‘Morning Mood’,” says Akamatsu, breaking her out of her reverie. She’s finished, it seems. “It wasn’t originally a piano piece, but I adapted it to the piano myself. Took a little bit of time, but,” she flexes her fingers proudly, “no match for the Super High-School Level Pianist, whether I be a phony one or not, right?”

“Right.”

 

.

 

“Hey kids,” Harukawa drops several plastic bags onto to counter. “Guess what fucking time it is. You get three guesses.”

“What the hell is that?” says Momota.

“We’re heading to Ikea. Sorry, lied about the three guesses thing.” Harukawa tosses her hair behind her back. She really needs to get it cut. “If you don’t come with me, I’ll,” she stares at the plastic bags, “think of a suitable punishment at a later date.”

Momota stares at her. Akamatsu stares at her phone. Hoshi stares at Yuki. Yuki spots a fly and, after making a particular mewling sound in the back of her throat, leaps up, catches the fly, and eats it. “Don’t do that,” Hoshi says absentmindedly, and Yuki makes a chirping noise.

“I’m gonna be the one driving, since it’s certainly quite a drive to the nearest Ikea and I know you guys hate driving.”

“Has there ever been a time where you haven’t driven us anywhere? If the drive has taken more than fifteen minutes,” Akamatsu calls out, still not looking up from her phone. Harukawa rolls her eyes.

“Get in the car, everyone.”

Surprisingly enough, there aren’t any objections to her proposition. Harukawa feels a nice feeling rise up in her stomach and, for once, she doesn’t push it back down.

Hoshi pats Yuki goodbye and they’re on their way.

 

.

 

She doesn’t cry at first during Maki’s funeral. It’s at first, because before they’re halfway through one of her younger cousins looks her in the eye and says that she’s a monster. That gets the waterworks going pretty well, and her lower lip trembles as she wipes her nose with the sleeve of a black kimono that costed more than what the people around Hana priced Maki’s life at, probably.

Hana sniffles and toys with her hair. She was overdue for a haircut when Maki passed, and now that she’s gone, they aren’t in any hurry to fix her up, so, long her hair shall stay. Hana sniffs again and thinks about how at least one good thing came out of all this, then curses herself for thinking that anything beneficial could arise from her sister’s death. She bites her lip so hard she’s pretty sure blood comes out.

The juzu Mother gave her she holds tightly to her chest as the priest chants out a section from a sutra. She doesn’t really understand what he’s saying, and honestly, she could care less. She fumbles with the juzu’s beads to keep herself occupied. Hana doesn’t know why they’re holding the beads when they’ve never been religious. Maybe it’s to chase away the fear that Maki has completely faded out of existence, that maybe her spirit is still out there, somewhere. Hana clutches the juzu a little bit tighter.

One of the people seated directly behind her - presumably another one of her cousins, not like she’s ever gotten close enough to them to actually know their names - complains about the amount of money they had to bring as a condolence gift. “They’re so rich, they don’t need any more money--”

Hana digs her fingernails into her leg. It stings.

Mother tugs at her sleeve. “We need to offer incense,” she whispers. Hana gets up and follows Mother’s orders.

She hopes the afterlife is real. She hopes Maki is still watching and knows what she plans to do.

 

.

 

“I want to get the ice cream,” says Akamatsu the moment they step into the store.

“Me too,” says Hoshi.

“Me three,” says Momota.

“We are not getting ice cream until we have finished shopping,” Harukawa says. Akamatsu rolls her head back and groans at the ceiling.

“What are we even going here for, if not for ice cream?” Momota says. “We don’t need any new furniture. All the furniture we have in our house is fine. We all have beds, the toilets work, there’s a place to sit, also there are good cabinets and refrigerators for storing. Stuff. This is fucking useless.”

“There are children here,” Akamatsu hums.

“My cats have been using a lot of furniture as scratching posts,” says Hoshi. Harukawa motions at him.

“And thank you, Hoshi, for that valuable input,” says Harukawa. She looks at the shopping list she wrote on impulse after bartering with herself for several minutes about whether or not she should (that’s what people do, right? write shopping lists? or is that being too try hard? do only older people know how to do that? is it considered uncool or immature for someone my age to not have that information in your head, on the ready?). “We’ve got a lot of chairs. We need a proper seat for Akamatsu’s piano.”

“That would be great,” Akamatsu agrees, nodding to herself. “Yeah, I’d love that.”

“Good. That’s why it’s on the list.” Harukawa adds a little star next to that item on the list almost proudly with the tiny stub pencils that Ikea provides. When she looks back up, Momota is getting inside one of the shopping cards. “What are you doing.”

“I’m ready for you to push me around in this absolutely wonderful little shopping card of mine!” Momota shifts around, trying to make himself comfortable but obviously not succeeding.

“There’s a weight limit on that, you know,” Harukawa says tiredly. “If you put too much stuff in there, it will collapse. Do you want that to collapse underneath you, sending you plummeting to the depths of hell?”

“I do,” says Akamatsu.

“It’s not gonna fucking collapse,” says Momota. The shopping cart creaks eerily. “It’s not gonna.”

“Okay, then.” Hoshi is the one who says it, surprisingly enough, and he begins to push Momota’s cart. Momota starts up in surprise before grinning wildly.

“Yes, Ryouma, my dude. My bro,” he says. “I knew I could absolutely, positively, count on you in these sorts of situations. A trustworthy mate.”

Hoshi begins to run at a high speed, pushing Momota’s cart in front of him before finally letting go. It sails out in front of him while Momota screams and children scramble out of the way before crashing into one of the walls.

“Untrustworthy! Taken off of my friends list!” Momota climbs shakily out of the cart. “And most certainly uninvited from my birthday party!”

“Cool,” says Hoshi. Akamatsu snickers and Harukawa sighs as adults shoot nasty glares in their general direction.

 

.

 

“Holy shit.” Momota picks up a bamboo plant. “We’re buying this.”

“No,” says Harukawa, “it isn’t even furniture. Nor is it on the list. What’s the point of buying stuff when it’s neither of those things? It’s just a waste of money, that’s what it is.” Momota doesn’t put the plant down, and Akamatsu and Hoshi don’t make a move to stop him. “Put that down!”

“And this too.” He picks up another, near identical bamboo plant, completely ignoring her. “We’re naming them. We are naming these bamboo plants.”

Harukawa groans. “We are not buying and naming two bamboo plants on impulse.”

“Hey, this is Team Danganronpa’s money, right? So we’re not the ones buying the bamboo plants. They are. We’re just doing the naming part.”

“Makes sense to me,” says Akamatsu.

“No, we’re buying the bamboo plants using their money. We’re still the ones doing the purchasing of the bamboo plants.” Harukawa sighs, exasperated.

“Well,” Hoshi starts off slowly, “doesn’t that kind of make it...more tempting to buy the bamboo plants? It’s. Sort of a free-revenge card. Ish.”

“We don’t have an unlimited supply of money from Team Danganronpa,” Harukawa points out. “They’re a dying company. I’m fairly certain they’re in debt.”

“Then let’s add to that debt,” says Akamatsu. “They can be in debt because we bought and named two bamboo plants.”

Harukawa picks at her nails. “Alright,” she says, and then hurriedly adds as the three of them high-five each other, “just. I’m not the one taking care of them, alright? And you better not drown them. I’m not going to live with the guilt that there was a plant murder in my house. That would be too much for me to handle.”

“A plant murder in Team Danganronpa’s house,” Momota corrects, and Harukawa rolls her eyes.

She almost imagines hearing someone say something like “oh, aren’t those people over there from those kids in Danganronpa?” and someone else says “no, they look too old” and then “idiot, they’re growing up and older now” but she chooses to ignore it. She won’t let the paparazzi ruin their experience, not here, not now.

 

.

 

By some sort of miracle, they manage to get every item on their list (plus a few extra stuffed animals) and now sit on the steps outside of the store, leading into the massive parking lot. All of them hold a singular ice cream cone in hand, save for Akamatsu, who has two and alternates between licking them both. The first bamboo plant that they bought (named jonathan) rests at her feet.

“That was...fun,” Hoshi says, holding the second bamboo plant (named sherwin) between his legs.

“Told you it was going to be,” Harukawa says.

“No, you didn’t,” Momota points out. “You just kind of forced us to go. If we didn’t, you made it pretty clear that you would, fucking. Well.” He makes a violent throat cutting motion across his neck, accompanied with several choking noises. His performance makes him lose his grip on his ice cream, and it falls to the ground with a dull splat. “Aw. Hey, Kae--”

“Don’t even think about it,” she says, taking a bite of one of her cones. “If you wanted two, you should have bought two. Now, these are mine.” She licks her lips happily, and Momota sighs.

“We have a couple gallons at home,” Harukawa says, but Momota waves a dismissive hand.

“It’s no matter. It’s not Ikea ice cream. That shit is my lifeblood. And look what happened.” He motions at the cone he dropped. “It’s dead. Finished. Gone. Destroyed. Just like my heart. My heart is nothing but a stain on the ground, a piece of filth, of garbage. It is less than worthless. It hurts to look at, even.”

“Chill,” says Hoshi, and Momota sniffs over dramatically.

“Fine. I’ll just take my buddy Jonathan--” he reaches for the bamboo plant by Akamatsu’s feet, but she shuffles it out of the way. “Oh, come on.”

“Sucks to suck,” says Akamatsu, and stuffs the rest of her cone into her mouth and humming pleasantly. “Oh man, that was some good shit. Too bad you threw your,” she waves her hand, “heart, ice cream, whatever, all away.”

Momota sighs.

 

.

 

“So,” says one of the therapists with hair as red as Harukawa’s eyes (thanks to surgery, of course), “we know there are some...unresolved tensions between you two.”

Ouma says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about!” Harukawa just stares and counts the cracks in the plastic, suddenly aware of what a mess her hair was in. Ouma doesn’t have a hair out of place.

“Momota should be here too,” she says, and Ouma nods in agreement.

“Mm-hm! I miss Momota-chan.”

“Neither of you were able to leave the first wave of the hospital, nor the second,” the therapist points out. “And honestly speaking, I doubt you’ll make the third one either. Momota-kun made it onto the list, but he chose to stay for…” They shrug. “Whatever reason.”

“I was on the list for the first, though,” Harukawa says. “unlike a certain scum.” Ouma just smiles and swings his legs. She wonders if he stayed up all night preparing that mask, after they informed them ahead of time of this meeting. A poor choice on their part, in Harukawa’s opinion, but maybe they thought that if they sprung this out of the blue, one of them would break down in a panic or something. At least Ouma didn’t run away, like she had thought he would.

“But you didn’t go, and after some inspection, it’s good that you didn’t. You weren’t on the list for the second, after all.” The therapist leans forward, pursing their lips as they rest their elbows on their knees. Harukawa shrugs and busies herself with her hair.

“Whatever.”

The therapist breathes through their teeth and sets the fakest smile Harukawa has ever seen on their face. “Let’s start out simple, then,” says the therapist. “What are the feelings that you two feel for each other?”

There’s a couple beats of silence. “I volunteer Harumaki-chan to go first!” says Ouma.

“Wow, how generous,” Harukawa snorts. The therapist looks at her with the most pathetic and pleading expression and she rolls her eyes. “Fine.”

She looks at Ouma, who continues to look at anywhere but her and swings his legs with even wilder abandon.

“I think,” she finally settles on, “Ouma’s character is rather pathetic. After rewatching the fifty-third season of Danganronpa, it is fairly clear that some sort of pity is what the viewer should feel for Ouma. After all, if he didn’t do what he did, Team Danganronpa would have gotten their way, right? And even though he was despicable during Gonta’s trial and really just a terrible person all around outside of it, it’s just written off as him doing it for the greater good.” She shrugs. “Ouma did terrible things inside the game, proving him to be a terrible person. Just because he did it for the so-called ‘greater good’ means jack shit.”

Ouma makes a noise. Harukawa ignores it. “Frankly, I wish that he hadn’t been included in the game at all. He’s just an all-around terrible person. He never took anyone else’s feelings into account and always assumed that he knew all, and that his word was law, or some shit like that. He was far too high and mighty.”

She exhales, and the therapist bows their head politely. “Thank you for explaining your qualms, Harukawa-san.”

“First time I’ve ever been thanked for bitching about something.” Harukawa rolls her eyes, and the therapist winces at her phrasing before turning to the boy at the other end of the table.

“Well, what about you, then, Ouma-kun?”

Ouma draws idle shapes on the table with his finger. The therapist clears their throat.

“O-Ouma-kun?”

He looks up, as if he had heard them for the first time. “Oh, are we done here now?” he says. “Good, ‘cause it was preeeetty boring! And also I have nothing to say to this old hag.” He adds the second bit like it’s an afterthought, sticking out his tongue. Harukawa has to hold back every muscle in her body from strangling him.

“No, we are not done here,” the therapist says. “Please, Ouma-kun. Can you tell Harukawa-san how you feel about her?”

“Okay!” Ouma taps his chin and frowns. “I think Harumaki-chan...is super stinky. Whenever I walk by her, I make this expression!” He scrunches up his face. The therapist makes a cough that sounds like a laugh. Harukawa doesn’t move a muscle.

“Ouma-kun, please,” says the therapist. “Answer seriously.”

“But I was being serious!” Ouma gasps, far too overdramatically for Harukawa’s taste. “Harumaki-chan does stink!” He stares at his hands and smiles. “Also, I think she’s an idiotic murderer who tried to kill me far too many times. Murdering isn’t a kind thing to do!”

“You killed Gonta and Iruma, though,” Harukawa bites back, and Ouma whistles. Harukawa lets out a frustrated groan out loud.

The therapist puts their pencil down on their clipboard and looks between the two of them, sighing. “Neither of you are leaving until you, at the very least, apologize to one another.”

“Apologize for what you brainwashed to do?” Harukawa says indignantly, not happy with the turn of events. “Do-- do you know how idiotic that is?”

“Harumaki-chan is right!” Ouma says. “For once!” The therapist pinches the space between their eyes.

“Brainwashed or not, the animosity you hold for each other is still clearly there. Apologizing and acknowledging that both sides were somewhat in the wrong is the first step in a recovery process.”

Harukawa stares at Ouma for a couple seconds while he looks anywhere but her. “Fine,” she says through gritted teeth, “I apologize for strangling you and trying to kill you in the game, Ouma.”

“Apology not accepted!”

“Ouma-kun, please accept the apology,” says the therapist.

“Nope!” Ouma drops his face against the table. “Actually, I just realized that I’m really tired, so I’m going to go to bed now. Goodnight, everyone!”

“Ouma-kun--”

Overly exaggerated snores fill the room, and Harukawa nearly grabs the potted plant that sits within arms reach and smashes it against Ouma’s head. Nearly.

Instead she just stands up and marches out the door while the therapist calls after her and Ouma snickers.

 

.

 

They haven’t even finished taking off their shoes and washing their hands upon arriving home and already, Akamatsu is picking up her phone. She must have gone out and gotten a new case when Harukawa wasn’t looking, because the pink and green print isn’t something that she remembers. “Oh, someone took our picture,” Akamatsu says, and tosses the phone to the side and herself on the couch. “Great.”

“I mean, that isn’t a new occurrence,” Momota says. “The paparazzi are always doing this sort of stuff. It sucks ass, but we’ve got to deal with it, I guess.” He sighs and smacks his lips. “Man, that ice cream was good. That long ass drive was more worth it than I had thought it would be.”

Harukawa walks up to the fridge and pours herself a glass of water. “We can always go again,” she says.

“Just tell me when you want Oe-sama to ruin some of the furniture,” Hoshi adds, “or any of the cats, for that matter. I’m sure they would love to comply. The scratching post we have is all worn out. Something new would be great for them.”

“Also, I just want to make the announcement that Momota-kun and I are leaving the household,” says Akamatsu. Momota makes an indignant noise. “Oh, c’mon. It’s true.”

Harukawa stares at the water inside of her glass. “This is the first time I’ve heard of this,” she says very calmly while feeling not very calm. “Am I allowed to ask why?”

Akamatsu whistles a tune and Momota shoots a glare at her that she doesn’t see. “Well...I want to study abroad in America or something,” he says slowly. “Most people my age are graduating college around this time in their lives, while I went through a killing game instead, I guess. It...happens.” He laughs, but there’s no humor behind it. “You get it, right? Wanting to go to college?”

“Yeah, but I’m planning on going to college near here, so we can stick together,” says Harukawa.

“You’re going to college?” says Akamatsu. Harukawa ignores her.

“I don’t,” Momota reaches for his goatee, stops midway there and lets his hand rest by his side, “I don’t know what the nice way to phrase this is, Harumaki, but--”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Okay! Alright. Harukawa.” Momota tosses his hands in the air. “Maki. I don’t know how to phrase this nicely, but we’re not a bunch of kids. We’re adults who have been living together for, what? Four years? Five years?”

“Five years,” Akamatsu confirms.

“Yeah, okay. Five years. I’m twenty-three. So is Kaede. You’re nearly twenty-four. We’re maturing, Maki. We’re,” he makes a flapping motion with his hands, “leaving the nest. None of us like each other romantically so we’re not going to stick together that way, and we’re not a bunch of college roommates who’re splitting the bill between themselves. We’re not, fuckin’.” He groans. “We’re not your kids. We’re not.”

Harukawa stares at Momota, finds his gaze too uncomfortable, and focuses on one of Hoshi’s cats instead.

“I, I know that.”

“Do you?” Akamatsu hums. “No offense, Harukawa, but you’re super overbearing. Like...I dunno. I love you but now I kind of want to,” she shrugs, “leave the nest? Ah, Momota already said that, I’m just repeating him.” She blows a raspberry. “But we’re going. You can’t stop us.”

“Kaede’s right,” Momota points out.

Harukawa is silent.

“Don’t you think you’re being a little...harsh?” Hoshi says, and they all look over at him in surprise. He shirks away from the attention, “I, I mean...this. You kind of sprung it on her out of the blue. A bigger warning would have been nicer. More eloquent phrasing.”

“I suppose,” Akamatsu says, “but I’m not the most eloquent of people. Nor is Momota.”

“Forget about it,” Harukawa says. “Just...if you’re gonna go, go. I don’t care.” She turns. “I’m going to bed.”

“Harum-- Maki?”

“I’m going to bed,” she repeats firmly, and speeds up her step till she’s practically running upstairs. She slams the door shut and breathes.

 

.

 

Hana stands in line and inhales as she straightens out a dress made of lace that dances down to her knees and snow white gloves that reach her elbow. Most of the other people she sees there are dressed in school uniforms, but she doesn’t exactly have that going for her (unless she purchases one just for this occasion, which admittedly, had crossed her mind) so she wears the most doll-like outfit that she can find.

She fits right in with the other dolls who audition, which is good, she guesses. Some of the survivors from past seasons have oh-so-graciously shared their audition tapes with the public, and some of the dead participants have had their tapes shared anyway because hacking was still a thing even in a so-called eutopia. Hana studied the tapes like her life depended on it, but all the things she could discern were things they advised you when you arrived at the audition place.

“Fit in, but not too much.”

“Make sure you give them something to remember.”

“Don’t make stupid gambits.”

“Just...be yourself!”

Hana pulls at rings that turn her fingers blue and groans. She definitely went overboard with bling. She glances at the person next to her; a boy with blue hair and a bowlcut. “Hey, want one of these?” She waves her fingers in his face and he blinks. “It’s worth a looot of money.”

He stares at them and says “Did you like...put drugs in there, or poison, or something?” A longer pause. “Are you high?”

Hana snorts. “No, idiot. I just don’t want these.” She pulls off the biggest ones with her teeth and drops them in the boy’s outstretched hands. After she thinks about it for a second, Hana also pulls off her heels and drops them there, too. “They were pinching me,” she explains. “I don’t want to wear them anymore.”

“Are you...sure there aren’t any bombs hidden in here?” He’s nervous, but Hana rolls her eyes as the usher tells her that it’s her turn.

“Positive,” she promises, “now go get yourself an. I don’t know. Video game console.” With that, she steps out of his sight and into what feels like yet another bright spotlight. The door shuts behind her, and then she’s the only bright thing in the darkness. She breathes out and wiggles her toes, painfully aware of how naked her feet are.

“Name, please?” says the static filled speakers.

“Harukawa Maki,” she says, and just like that, Hana dies.

(and maki comes back to life)

 

.

 

“I’m gonna miss you,” Momota says. He’s standing on the wooden steps

“Then don’t leave,” Harukawa says simply. Momota laughs at the statement. Harukawa doesn’t, so he awkwardly turns the laugh into a cough and pulls on the collar of his leather jacket. He probably thought it would make him look cool, Harukawa realizes. It doesn’t, of course. She can spot the twenty layers of try hard that he’s piled on.

(at least he’s trying. that’s more than what she’s doing, she realizes.)

“Take...take good care of yourself, alright?” he says, and then glances over at the cat settled in Hoshi’s arms - Mimi. Momota leans down and ruffles the cat’s head. “And you too. And you.” He directs the final statement over at Hoshi, who snorts.

“Okay, dad.”

“Hey, get your ass over here,” Akamatsu calls out, rolling her neck and taking her sunglasses on and off. She’s also trying, Harukawa realizes. That makes her just a bit bitter. “They’re not dead, you’re not dead. You’re going to see them soon enough.”

“Maybe you aren’t being, fuckin’, sentimental enough?” Momota calls back, then smiles one last time at Harukawa at Hoshi and waves goodbye. Akamatsu gives them a lazier wave, and just like that, they finish piling their luggage into the taxi and drive off.

Hoshi pulls Yuki a little bit closer to his chest. Harukawa steps back inside. “Going back in already?”

“I mean, is there a reason for me to stay outside?” It comes out harsher than she intends it to, but Hoshi doesn’t seem to mind. He shrugs.

“I guess not.”

She marches inside and up the stairs and into Akamatsu’s room. It’s completely stripped bare, bare to the bone, so she groans and walks into Momota’s room. He’s left a grand mess strewn around on the floor, of course, and she doesn’t know why she would have expected anything else.

His telescope is mounted next to the window, in a corner of his room that he’s probably touched less than once a month (as the mess around that area is definitely the most sparing).

Harukawa thinks about the piano they bought Akamatsu. She stares at the telescope that they bought Momota. Both are nearly out-of-the-box levels of new. Harukawa could probably sell them for a good amount of money. Maybe.

She kicks Momota’s telescope to the ground and feels satisfaction hearing the glass shatter into a thousand pieces. She grinds the fragments under her heel. It makes the most grating sound she’s heard in a while, and frankly, it sends a good feeling down her spine. She stomps on it again, and the shards go through her sock and prick her heel. Cursing, she glances at it. Sure enough, there are little red (not pink) dots speckling her foot, accompanied with pieces of glass. Harukawa takes off her sock, removes the glass, and decides to leave Momota’s telescope be.

Maybe she shouldn’t have done that. Maybe she should have kept it, and she and Hoshi could use it to look at the stars and make up constellations like they all did when they laid on their hospital beds and counted the plastic stars that Momota and Angie had stuck up.

Maybe she regrets it a little, but for now she puts the palms of her hands into her eyelids and sighs. They could sell Akamatsu’s piano, then, if they couldn’t sell Momota’s telescope.

“Fuck you,” she says, and it sounds like she has a bad cold.

 

.

 

The day Hana (maki) receives her acceptance letter from Team Danganronpa is the best one in her entire life.

Her parents yell at her. They’re angry at first, then firm, then crying, then begging.

“What would Maki say to all this,” they plead, “if she were still alive?”

“Maki is still alive,” she says it with such a firmness that they look her in the eye and almost believe her.

They threaten to cut her hair if she doesn’t quit the show right now, right and immediately, in fact they’ll let her grow it long like she’s always wanted as long as she doesn’t sign up for that show and for once, she doesn’t even care about that.

Maki (hana) looks forward to the time that she will spend inside the game.

 

.

 

She goes downstairs, slipping on the bottom steps because the socks she’s wearing aren’t exactly slip-proof and she isn’t paying as much attention as she should be to steps that are notoriously known for being extremely slippery.

“Feeling better?” Hoshi says it surrounded by boxes upon boxes of Ikea furniture in the living room. Oe-sama (she’s got the names down, ish) sits with his head poking outside one of the boxes, and she smiles at that. Slightly.

“That’s...something you could say.” Harukawa sits next to Hoshi. “I don’t really want to talk about that right now, though. We have a bunch of furniture we need to assemble right now, correct? How about we do that.”

Hoshi shrugs and says “Sure.”

They decide to start off with something simple, something simple being a chair because Momota was a child prodigy inside the game so that had to count for something and Akamatsu could understand diagrams better than any of them. Despite its simplicity, they still need to go onto Youtube and watch a tutorial video because simple paper instructions were just too hard for them.

By the time they’re done, Harukawa manages to choke down the burning feeling under her nose and Oe-sama has fallen asleep in Hoshi’s lap. He pets the cat without even looking, and Harukawa looks at her hands, then at the digital clock underneath the television. It reads three minutes after midnight. It’s late.

She wishes that Akamatsu was passed out on the couch, a can of beer hanging from her fingertips. She wishes that she was waiting for Momota to arrive home. She wishes that they were all sitting on the couch and watching some terrible movie about emojis being able to express more than one emotion and thus needed to be terminated by a hideous smiling thing that cost a foreign animation studio fifty million dollars and they wouldn’t watch it with subtitles and in a language that none of them understood and they would all laugh and point out how terrible it was and they would be together and they would be happy.

She wishes that she hadn’t handed Hoshi a video that made him give up on life. She wishes that she was not the person she was.

Harukawa says “I’m sorry,” at the exact same time that Hoshi says “I miss them.” Both statements catch each of them off guard, and Harukawa has to bite her lip and compose herself before she can continue finally.

“I-I shouldn’t have given you your motive video,” she says. “That...that was despicable of me. You trusted me, you gave me back my motive video and didn’t tell anyone my secret, and I knew you wouldn’t have told anyone in the future, but…”

“You didn’t want to risk that,” says Hoshi bluntly, and Harukawa nods.

“Yeah, I guess. I didn’t.” She toys with her hair. She should get it cut, soon, probably.

“Did you…uhm,” Hoshi makes a vague hand motion. “You know. Actually. Know what was on the video?”

“I don’t know.” That’s one statement that she answers more honestly than anything she has said in a while. “I don’t remember. I don’t know if it’s a glitch in the game or if I just have that bad of a memory, or maybe my memories from the game got messed up once I got the memories that were not, well, from the game. But. I.” She leans down and holds her head in her hands. “I don’t know.”

There’s a silence between them and she adds, “I’m not a killer. I’m not.”

Hoshi reaches out as if to touch her arm and then awkwardly retracts it. “I know. Uhm,” he repeats, “thank you.”

“No problem.” Harukawa looks back at the chair they finished putting together. “Also, Akamatsu and Momota are losers, so don’t busy yourself with worrying about them.”

“I think I’m just the most upset that I never got to try Momota’s fried ice cream,” Hoshi says, and that makes Harukawa snort. “Ah, no, seriously. You sold me on staying here once you said that Momota could make fried ice cream, and then he never did, so like...what was up with that? False advertising? Seriously, that’s a crime in of itself.”

She chuckles, stands up and cracks her neck. “I think...we did some good work,” she says.

“We completed building a singular Ikea chair,” says Hoshi. “Just one.”

“We did a good amount of work, and we should reward ourselves,” Harukawa repeats. Hoshi snorts, but a gentle smile fits itself on his face.

“Then, maybe we could go to bed early and get a great night’s sleep.”

“Sounds perfect.” Harukawa begins to make her way up the stairs. “Night, Hoshi.”

“Goodnight, Harukawa.”