"And that..." Informed Gundham, reclined in the seat that still dutifully restrained him, "is Cumulous Gemstone Cassowary Chlo-E."
The Breeder smiled faintly at the brown-and-white Zodiac General that had taken to burying itself in his scarf. Chlo-E had always been one for affection - though notably only with Gundham.
That was merely how they preferred to conduct their business.
While they spent most of their time within the safety of Gundham's scarf, they were a skilled strategist. There was no doubt in his mind that they were a worthy General.
"Oh - right. 'Chlo-E...'" Makoto nodded his understanding, gently caressing the orange mass within his hand. "And what about this one?"
"Turncoat Arsenic Hammer Donov-N," Gundham articulated the title. "-He is quite passive, in appearances… though make no mistake... this is merely an act. For behind that front of 'cuteness' lies a feral beast..."
This was - somewhat feigned. In truth, Gundham knew Donov-N as a docile hamster, deriving from a docile breed.
"Oh! I see - they're all names, huh? Like, Donovan!" Makoto beamed, seemingly proud of his discovery.
Gundham's murderous glare cut his excitement short. "...No. Not like 'Donovan.' The title is like Donov-N!"
"R-Right! Uh... sorry. My mistake..." Naegi cleared his throat. "...'Donov-N'... I'll remember it this time!"
"..." Gundham lowered his head, smirking again. "...Good instincts..." Playing around with the Ultimate Hope's head was a fun little game. There wasn't much to be done - he was rather a dullard for someone who supposedly murdered Enoshima herself.
Tanaka had to entertain himself with demeaning jests in order to resist the urges that came with his presence this close.
That wretch has no right to behold my Generals... he's no right to stand before me in superiority! He'd no right to speak to me as an equal - or be so insolent!
It made Gundham despise him more and more - everything he did. But it came to as easy realization: Makoto Naegi is an idiot. But - he's not an evil being... in fact...
Tanaka realized he'd been conditioned to hate him due to his overwhelming nature as a good person. That only conflicted him.
He wanted to appreciate the indulgence of his hamsters and their names, and the listening of his claims at last, but... Gods. How he fantasized already about escaping from his frivolous bonds and tearing the internal workings from Makoto's stomach.
Ritual execution after ritual execution. Sever his limbs. Burn them.
And for what? For he hath done me no wrong at all... He knew Makoto was a fair and just human, but every instinct that surged through his veins wanted to inflict terminal harm upon him.
Makoto smiled politely, somewhat sheepish. "So you've been fighting off your despair this long? That's really admirable, you know."
Gundham blinked, his eyes lifting from Rem-E perched upon his hand to view Makoto instead. "...Hm? Do you truly believe so?"
Makoto nodded quickly. "I do! Really... I mean, I don't really know a lot about what happened to everyone but - the fact you've been trying to stay true... that's really admirable, that's all. Are the others like that too?"
Gundham paused, before shaking his head. "No." The answer was simple.
"-They're not...?" Makoto seemed confused, but only a little. "Just you, then?"
"I suppose I cannot say I witnessed their turn... however, neither seemed resistant." Gundham struggled to himself, attempting to turn his hand, fastened securely in place by the cuff, around in order to take hold of Rem-E and run a thumb over his soft fur.
Naegi paused, before taking notice of his struggling. "Do your - uh... do the Zodiac Generals make you happy?"
It was an oddly open question, but it felt so personal. Like the admittance was some betrayal to himself, or a blow to his pride. Makoto simply wanted to know how he felt?
"They are my only companions in this wretched realm..." Gundham murmured, attempting in vain to reach his thumb far enough back to reach Rem-E.
Rem-E did not often like to be touched, but sometimes he simply required Gundham's attention to aid his nerves. It was the Breeder's will to qualm his anxieties.
He seemed anxious, staying idle, trembling, refusing to stand from all-fours, and that made Gundham upset. He had no will to feed into his despair - he had to aid his companion.
"They seem really nice. Like you trained them well..." Makoto tried his best to stand taller, but seems more interested in admiring the cute hamsters. He continues to focus his gaze on Gundham's trapped hand.
"...Do you want me to loosen that for you?" He offered quietly. "Just so you can pet - uh - Feral Wind-born Plague Rem-E?"
He'd remembered the name? That roused a faint smirk to Gundham's lips. He flexed his fingers for a moment. "The dragonsteel used to suppress my power cannot succumb to 'loosening.' It would appear to be either on or off. Are you certain the removal of such a thing is wise? For... it is the only thing holding back my ultimate power!" Gundham warned.
In truth, Gundham just wasn't sure what he'd do if he were freed. For as much as Gundham yearned to be liberated for his bonds, if only for pride and the need to escape, he did not know what uncontrolled urge could arise from his being let loose.
"Hmm." Makoto seemed to understand what Gundham was warning him against. "I mean... hey. You said you wanted us to let you out so you could help us find Mikan and Nagito, right? Well... if you can prove that you're not a despair after all, wouldn't you be able to help us find the others?"
"...I suppose such a thing would be true..." Gundham grumbled. "-Tch. Fine. If you choose to risk the fate of the universe, so be it!" He tensed in his seat, sucking in a quick breath.
Makoto smiled, expression childish in its glee. "Okay! I think it should be..."
Gundham trembled involuntarily as Makoto knelt beside his chair, squinting at the buttons on the side. With a few prods and flippings of switches, it all came undone without ceremony.
Just like that, Gundham's left wrist was free.
The first thing his hand did was snake back defensively, blending in amongst his pelted crown.
After a few more moments, the Breeder reached out, lifting up Rem-E and drawing the hamster closer to his face.
That made him smile.
Rem-E, still favoring all-fours, squibbled up his concerns to the breeder.
"How now... I've missed you..." Gundham cooed, stroking the General between the ears and setting him back on his shoulder.
He breathed out a quick exhale, allowing his hand to grab tightly to his arm and squeezing.
How that his hand was free, the urges suddenly shook him with violence, snarling and spitting at his face - why aren't you acting!? Now is your chance!
Makoto remained oblivious, moving slowly back in front of the chair. His expression remained boyish in its naivety. "See! There you are! All your Generals seem happy to see you, too."
The Ultimate Hope squinted obliviously at Gundham's hair, not noticing the conflicted look of anguish that was creeping onto the Breeder's face. "-Hey, uh... Fros-T is eating your hair. That's bad for it, right?" He quietly reached out a hand to discourage the rodent.
That was it.
Each inch nearer he drew, Gundham's heart raced, his breath quickened. He'd been mentally trained for a moment like this, and holding back only grew into more of an impossible feat. He was just so close. He could practically smell the bloodshed he yearned for. He could practically feel his fingers gliding through organs and blood to rattle his spine out of place. He didn't know why - he didn't know how to stop the urges.
But here they were, ingrained in his skull, murder him, murder him, murder him.
Finally it was too much.
His gloved hand shot forward like an agitated cobra, fingers latching around Makoto's throat and tightening with strength he'd never found within him before.
Almost immediately a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
The feeling of his veins from under the gloves - Gundham constricted tighter and tighter. Squeeze out his life.
He jerked him down to his knees.
Makoto had let out a startled squeak, suddenly in distress as he attempted to pry Gundham's fingers from his throat. He was easily willed to his knees.
"-Wait - wait-" He choked out.
Gundham's smile found despairing bemusement. How pathetic the Ultimate Hope was, fragile between his fingers. Useless and cowardly and undeniably stupid.
It made Gundham exhale a string of delighted giggling, shaking his victim around like a doll.
Torturing him was pleasing.
Watching the tormented expressions on his face was delightful! One on Gundham's face presented itself to match.
This was too much - this was a high he hadn't felt in a long time. The joy of stealing a life.
He would strangle the Ultimate Hope himself! How wonderful! What a beautiful accomplishment! He'd waited his whole life-
"You can stop-! You can - fight it!" Makoto encouraged, voice hoarse and weak.
"Silence," Gundham mocked, like a parent scolding a child.
--Suddenly he snapped back to his senses. What am I doing!?
He let go, but his desires fought back.
He struck Naegi roughly across the jaw, before grasping a hold on his hair.
Then ramming him, again, again again into the metal arm of the chair.
Gundham could only grin, trembling as his actions lose his control.
He wanted him to bruise. He wanted him to bloody. He wanted to see him cry and break and beg him for mercy.
Every sign of pain begged him to go on.
Then Tanaka's willpower resurfaced again. Stop! Stop, what are you doing!?
The memory snapped back into place. The last time he'd lost his control like this was with his very own mother.
He finally let go, pulling his hand away and forcing it against the arm of the chair again, horrified with himself. "...By the Gods..." he had to speak, so that's what he said.
Shivers still danced through his hand, like withdrawals from the fresh dose of pain.
"Put the cuff back - put the cuff back-!" He hissed to Naegi, squeezing the arm of the chair again. "I've made a terrible mistake..." Cursed. The cursed hand of his wicked arm... moving on its own to carry out the deeds of the damned. Miserable curse.
Makoto stood shakily, quickly (while somewhat disoriented) approaching the arm of the chair again before taking a knee.
Gundham would never find the will to apologize for lashing out before, but it was needed here.
"-My apologies," he breathed. "...I couldn't refrain - my apologies..." A genuine, sorrowful ichor spilled from his tone.
Makoto held Gundham's hand down with both of his own, burying his freshly bloodied face in his sleeve. "...A second... sorry..."
Gundham bit his lip to swallow another despairing smile. Harming an innocent - it was terrible and sinful. Such an act surged the despair drug through his veins.
And suddenly the doors opened, and both the fighters looked up.
Before Gundham could get a proper glimpse at who had come in to stop them, Makoto had stepped in front of the remnant, shielding him with his body.
"-Hey! Wait-! He's okay now! He's fine - he just had to get that out of his system, that's all. He's getting better... he stopped all on his own."
Naegi took up Gundham's hand in his own, causing the Breeder to flinch slightly in surprise.
The Ultimate Hope displayed their held hands, exposing the shaking Despair to the guards and officials that had crowded the doorway to stop their meeting.
"He just needs a little more time - can we have a little more time?" Naegi begged. "Just a little longer."
There was an uncertainty between them, muttering erupting from the group before the door closed unceremoniously again.
Makoto breathed out a relieved sigh, falling quietly to his knees again as he snapped the cuff back over Gundham's wrist. "I'm sorry," he said meekly.
Gundham squinted. "For what do you apologize?"
"I shouldn't have forced you to feel comfortable around me so quickly. It's - a slow thing, I know. And - I don't know. I'm just sorry this all happened to you."
Gundham could see his face now. Spotted with red marks, his lip oozing a small pink trail of blood. But even after the attack in recent, he kept up that boyish, apologetic smile.
"...You practice forgiveness with such ease...?" Gundham asked.
"Yeah..." Makoto nodded. "You were trying! And I could tell you were trying. You're trying not to be a despair. And that's what matters." He smiled more brightly. "-I think you can overcome it! And - I think somehow I can let you help us with the investigation. But for now we can just try to talk about your Generals some more - and think of ways to get over this more slowly. Do you think that'll work?"
"..." Gundham looked away. How could someone like this have been the person to first master and overthrow the reign of despair? He was someone so simple, so painfully naïve and so willing to forgive.
He was easy to dismiss as someone weak, but history would prove him otherwise.
What was this?
This feeling of desire? The one rooted deep within his chest, choking his need to lash out again.
The one that felt so frail, but so persistent?
It wasn't a new feeling, he'd felt it multiple times throughout his reawakening as a despair. And yet...
This was the first time Gundham recognized it for what it was.
No matter how foolish Makoto's proposal was, he wished to believe in it. He would believe in it - and he'd see it through.
His despair was slowly devouring his soul, shrouding him in the darkness of impossibility. But that feeling still existed.
Could he do it?
Could he cling to hope?
The Breeder nodded.
"...Indeed," he applauded. "...I believe it shall."
A being of light and darkness. Angel and demon. Hope and despair.
And now where would destiny pull his strings?
There was still so much more to do. Can I persist?
Into the next withdrawal Gundham would go. He'd have to be more resilient this time.
The age of starvation was only beginning.