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Normie DRV3 Requests

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Shuichi:

Messed up kid. Dark and pessimistic, with a twisted personality and a lot of weird kinks. He has something of a fetish for the morbid, and is bullied heavily for his eccentric behavior and strange interests. Majorly masochistic. Loves both physical and emotional pain. Neglected by his parents, and has a history of suicide attempts and self harm. His parents are neglectful, leaving him mostly to his own devices. Signed up for the killing game in a misguided attempt to get attention… and join his favorite TV show in the process.

Rantaro:

A poor boy from a large family. Always short for money, to the point of often not knowing where his next meal will come from. Ostracized and bullied for his disheveled appearance and obvious poverty, and generally bad at making friends. Kindhearted and easygoing at his core, but a little too jaded when it comes to the hardships he’s been through. Convinced that there’s nothing better for him, thinks that he has no hope at living any better, and joined the killing game in order to make money for his family.

Kaito:

A delinquent who, after a few mistakes in life, wound up hated and feared by the people around him. An unwilling loner who dreams of having people love and look up to him, but has no idea how to go about getting that. He’s convinced that no one will ever like him, and his own pessimism tends to bring him down. He lives in an abusive household, where he’s beaten regularly to try to knock the bad behavior out of him. He signed up for the killing game in the hopes that it would make him famous and loved.

Kiibo:

The pet project of a certain inventor. A thinking robot famed for his “humanity”, and used almost exclusively for tests and scientific exhibitions. Despite his near-human level of consciousness, he’s treated like nothing but a machine. Accustomed to being seen as subhuman, with a shy, skittish personality and a tendency towards the eager to please. High levels of anxiety, mostly due to the threat of being dismantled. Forced to be the camera of the killing game as publicity for his creator.

Ryoma:

An average teenager, almost to a fault. Often forgotten by those around him, with his unusual appearance the only thing that stands out. Shy, with a reserved personality and a lot of social anxiety. Often bullied for his height and passive nature. He dreams of being someone special and tough but does very little to help himself. His family life is distant, and between that and an utter lack of friends, he struggles a lot with depression. Signed up for the killing game in an attempt to become popular and noticed.

Gonta:

Harsh and stern, and feared by the people around him for his size and strength. His parents are distant, practically abandoning him to his own devices as soon as they were able to. The neglect did his mentality no favors. Sees himself as unlovable and frightening, with dangerously low self-esteem. He has an extremely gentle side buried underneath everything but is too consumed with insecurity and misery to show it. Signed up for the killing game in what amounted to an indirect suicide attempt.

Kokichi:

A nervous, frail boy with a massive amount of anxiety. Horrifically abused by his peers and family, and left convinced that the only attention he’ll ever have is pain. Extremely dependant on others, with a strong fear of being forgotten or abandoned. Clings to what little attention he gets, no matter how negative, and will do almost anything to get someone to acknowledge him. An easy-to-manipulate sort of person who can never manage to stand up for himself. Signed up for the killing game on the whim of someone else.

Korekiyo:

A painfully introverted, weak-hearted boy who lives under the constant control of his domineering older sister, who socially isolates him in an attempt to make him depend on her. Denied all friends and social contact after their parents passed away, and taught to have an extremely negative view of himself. Sexually abused by his sister, and sees himself as unworthy of any affection anyone could offer him. Forced to sign up for the killing game after his Sister got tired of the few threads of rebellion showed.

Kaede:

Cold and unfriendly, with a tendency to isolate herself from any potential friends. Sees herself as worthless, and has an abysmal self image. Her home life is abusive and strict, something which has done nothing to help how she views humanity as a whole. Convinced that the world is a cruel place, but secretly dreams of having friends that will prove otherwise. Pushes people away because she refuses to trust them, then longs for attention once they’re gone. Signed up for the killing game after giving up all hope.

Tsumugi:

Plain, but disturbingly submissive. Accustomed to being hurt by others, and too convinced that she deserves it to ever fight back. Bullied throughout her life, and has a strong tendency to take on the traits that people want to see in her. Neglected by her parents, and mostly left to suffer on her own. Sees herself as too weak and useless to ever earn being treated any other way, and deep down, sort of enjoys whatever attention she can get. Signed up for the killing game in something of a suicide attempt.

Maki:

Quiet and rather shy, but jaded into a hatred of the world by poor circumstance. She grew up in an abusive, neglectful orphanage, and suffered through a lack of care and an abundance of abuse all through her childhood. Sensitive and easily frightened, and downright paranoid when it comes to adults. Used to being unwanted, and considers herself unlovable due to never being adopted. She signed up for the killing game when the orphanage decided that she could make them money through it.

Himiko:

A frail, sickly girl whose health left her unable to make friends or have a normal life. A victim of Munchausen by proxy, with a mother who mistreats her in order to fake her symptoms, despite rarely allowing her real medical care. Her body is weak, and she’s grown exhausted and depressed due to the things her body is put through. Dreamed of magic that could make her well all through her childhood, and tends towards the childish and delusional. Signed up for the killing game in an effort to get away from her mother.

Tenko:

Shy, anxious, and reserved, with a perpetually nervous outlook and a dangerously low opinion of herself. Sexually abused by both family members and boys at school, and developed a hatred and fear of men because of the abuse. An easy person to take advantage of, and almost painfully naive. Doesn’t trust easily, but when she falls for someone, she falls hard. Low-energy and rather apathetic. She signed up for the killing game when the abuse got bad enough that she decided that she’d rather be dead.

Angie:

An upbeat, cheerful sort of person who covers up her pain with a smile. Despite being depressed and anxious on the inside, puts up a happy front in the hopes that she’ll someday believe it. Bullied for being dark skinned and “looking like a foreigner”. Her parents are cult members, and she lives on the verge of being pulled out of school and isolated from the world. Twisted from her upbringing, with a strange, dangerous view of the world. Signed up for the killing game in an attempt to get away from her family.

Miu:

Horribly bullied, with a long history of physical abuse from her family and peers. Suffers from severe anxiety and dangerous panic attacks. Struggles to believe that anyone could ever want to treat her kindly, and has massive trust issues when it comes to any offered kindness. Expects to be hurt and taken advantage of, and resents everyone that’s harmed her, but can only dream of being brave enough to do anything to help herself. Signed up for the killing game when her life got bad enough that death seemed better.

Kirumi:

From a wealthy household, and raised in a strict, unloving environment. Expectations have been piled on her since childhood, and despite her best attempts to seem confident and unaffected, tends to be almost breaking from the stress. Poor at taking care of herself, and tends to prioritize schoolwork and other obligations over her own health. She’s a disaster socially, and terrible at making any kind of connections. Signed up for the killing game in a misguided attempt to gain fame for her family.

Chapter Text

It hadn’t seemed like a big deal at the time. Even though you’d never had a problem with it, you knew people got bullied. You tried to stay away from it, honestly, unwilling to deal with the drama and fighting. You’d never paid much attention to the people that got picked on, at least until you’d met her.

Miu was, in every sense of the word, a disaster. She was nervous to the point of being annoying, constantly anxious around you and worried that she was doing something wrong. Even when you tried to help her, she did nothing but crumple, practically trying to hide from you. You’d had no idea why she was so pathetic. Even though you had some idea that she was bullied, you’d never thought it would be so bad, and it was only watching her cower that finally convinced you that something had to be done.

The two of you were sort of friends anyway, if one could count Miu’s frantic attempts to get you to not to hurt her friendship. You were rather fond of the girl, after all, and wanted to do something to help her out.

So, the next time you caught Miu surrounded in the hallway, a group of girls blocking her escape and hissing mean things her, you decided it was time to do something.

“That’s not nice, you know,” you said, walking up the group. It was a flimsy plan, but if all else failed, you could always call a teacher over. “How ‘bout you find someone else to pick on? Miu didn’t do anything wrong.” The poor girl was already cowering like a frightened rabbit, the beginnings of tears leaking out of her eyes.

But the girls dispersed, pausing only long enough to glare at you. You’d figured that the people willing to pick on someone as delicate as Miu would be cowards themselves, and it appeared that someone standing up to them was all it took to make them leave. You were satisfied that you idea had worked, but now, you were faced with an even greater problem. Miu had collapsed to the floor as the other girls scattered, and was currently looking at you like she could decipher no reason for your help beyond you being the next bully.

“Come on,” you said as gently as you could. “stand up. Here, I’ll help.”

You extended a hand to Miu, which she hesitantly took, noticeably shaking as her clammy skin came in contact with yours.

“I think we should go somewhere else for a bit. They could be back with someone tougher,” You suggested, after helping Miu to her feet. “is that okay with you?”

Miu nodded nervously, refusing to meet your eye. There were still tear tracks on her cheeks, and she was pale from fear. You wondered for a moment if she’d eaten today. Wasn’t it stereotypical for bullies to steal people’s food or lunch money? Maybe you’d have to help her get something to eat after she’d calmed down.

You led Miu through the quiet part of the school and into an empty classroom. Locking the door behind you, you’d hoped you’d be left alone there. It wasn’t against the rules to hang out in such a place, but you’d be cornered if more of the bullies came after you. Miu herself jolted when the lock clicked, looking at you like you were about to hurt her. She hadn’t said a thing yet, and had the same cornered bunny look you’d gotten used to from her.

Gently guiding her to sit down, you tried to talk again, hoping that you’d get some response out of her. Miu was pretty quiet, but she was just as likely to whimper excuses around you as she was to stay silent.

“Are you okay? They didn’t hurt you, did they?” you asked, trying to keep your voice gentle.

“N-No. I’m fine. . . Just, j-just a little scared.” Her voice was as quiet as ever, stuttering and tripping over her words. At least she’d finally said something. It was getting a bit weird to have her so silent.

“That’s good! Er, not the scared part.” You smiled, hoping she’d relax a little. It was frustrating to be around someone that looked at you like you were going to torture them at any second, and even though that was probably what she was used to, you wished she’d relax a little. “I’m glad you’re alright.”

“That’s. . . You shouldn’t c-care. . . I’m n-not. . .” She’s stuttering worse than ever, looking down at the floor and refusing to meet you eye. It’s like she never considered that anyone would want to save her.

“I was just trying to help,” you replied, still smiling. Talking to Miu was an exercise in patience and gentleness, and you were never quite sure how to handle her. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No!” she squeaked. “It’s just. . . you d-don’t have to waste your time on me. I don’t w-want to be a bother.”

She was sitting curled up, legs pulled halfway to her chest, and you could make out faint bruises on her arms where her sleeves were falling back. The poor girl probably didn’t have a very happy home life either. She looked like she was trying to hide behind a few locks of her long, tangled hair, still unwilling to meet your eye. Her posture radiated fear, and the shake in her sweaty hands gave away just how nervous she still was.

Your thoughts whirled around for a moment, trying to decide what to do next. You wanted her to relax a little, but you were still unsure of how to do that, what could possibly make her more comfortable around you.

Settling on a dangerous idea, you stood up suddenly, making Miu flinch. You immediately sat back down, this time in the seat beside her instead of across, placing yourself very nearly in her space.

Taking one of Miu’s hands, you smiled as gently as you could.

“It’s okay. I don’t mind helping you. You really are worth my time.” Miu was shaking, her hand still sweaty and cold, and she let out a panicked squeak as soon as your skin touched hers.

Miu was staring at you like some kind of frightened animal, but made no move to yank her hand away, and you wondered how long it had been since anyone had approached her with anything resembling kindness. Her eyes were wide, unblinking, and there was a faint tremor starting up in her that shook even your hand touching hers.

“You, y-you don’t mean that,” Miu whispered, still staring at you with damp eyes. “Why would you mean that? I’m n-not worth your time, I’m not worth anyone’s time, and y-you’ve been nice enough to me so f-far. . . Why would you have to d-do any more? I can’t p-pay you back, I can’t do anything f-for you but be a nuisance.” She was shaking even harder now, hand clutching yours like some kind of lifeline despite what she said.

“No, really. I mean it.” It felt like this was turning into some kind of argument already, like she couldn’t possibly accept that someone could be so nice to her.

“I. . . I don’t believe it,” Miu whispered after a long pause, followed by a yelped “please don’t hurt me” as soon as you opened your mouth.

“That’s okay. I wasn’t really expecting you to believe it right away. I promise I’m telling the truth, though. I’m sick of seeing you get picked on, and I’m going to start doing something about it.”

Miu didn’t say anything after that, just averted her eyes and curled up more. However, she didn’t make any moves to disentangle her hand from yours, and her fingers, cold and skinny, with bitten short nails, stayed firmly latched onto your hand.

You stayed quiet for a while, satisfied that Miu didn’t act like you were going to hurt her at any second anymore, and eventually, you noticed that Miu was a little bit closer to you than she’d been a few minutes ago.

Smiling softly, you didn’t say anything. If holding your hand and sitting a good foot away from you was the best she could do, you welcomed it. It had occurred to you that you were really willing to stick this out, to try to stay friends with her even if she was strange, frightened, and a social outcast. Iruma Miu was not a bad person, and you were realizing more and more how attached you’d grown to her in the short few weeks you’d been friends.

Eventually, it would be time to go back to class, but for now, you were happy to be close to Miu, happy to see her with a face other than one of terror or pain. You gave her hand another gentle squeeze, and even though you couldn’t see her face through the curtain of hair she was hiding behind, you had a feeling that she was happier than she wanted to let on.

Chapter Text

The day started like any other. Kokichi woke up, cold and curled up into a tight ball under the thin covers of his bed. It was fall, and the chill in the air was far from welcome, considering that his family couldn’t always manage to pay their heating bill, and the nasty old apartment that they lived in wasn’t the best at keeping out the cold.

Kokichi shivered, curling up on himself and wishing he didn’t have to get up and go to school, wishing that he could stay in the at least sort of warm bed for a while longer, instead of having to move himself from the meager heat and out into the horrors of school. If he stayed home, someone would call his mom, though, and then he’d be in for a world of pain.

So, reluctantly, Kokichi pulled himself to his feet, swaying a bit as a wave of dizziness hit him. He’d had his head slammed into a wall by bullies a few days ago, and the dizzy, sick feeling and headaches weren’t quite gone.

He hadn’t dared to tell anyone, of course, for fear that his mom would pitch a fit about the medical bills. It wouldn’t do for him to get mad at him again over something he couldn’t control, and Kokichi didn’t want to face her wrath on top of the pain he already had to deal with. Despite popular belief, he wasn’t stupid.

After changing into his uniform (and shivering through every second he wasn’t in the relative warmth of his pajamas) and washing up in the bathroom, Kokichi stumbled to the split kitchen and living room of the small apartment he shared with his parents.

He knew that there wasn’t any food but his dad’s alcohol and some spoiled leftovers, but he opened the fridge for a moment anyway, frowning at the disappointment that nothing had changed overnight. He’d been sort of hoping that someone would have gotten enough money to go grocery shopping, if only so he wouldn’t be stuck going to school hungry again.

So, instead of daring to poke at the obviously rotten food in the back of the fridge, Kokichi slipped on his shoes, grabbed his coat, and stepped out into the cold, mentally bracing himself for another miserable day at school.

The walk to school was long and chilly, and before he was even a few blocks away from his apartment building, Kokichi was shaking, shivering in his thin excuse for a winter coat. The thing was years old, and only his lack of growth meant that he could still put it on. Even though it was only fall, his small, skinny body got cold easily, and he always spent an unfair amount of time freezing compared to his larger, taller classmates.

As he passed warmly lit storefronts and office buildings, Kokichi shivered in envy. What he wouldn’t do to be able to slip into someplace warm and hide for the day.

But, eventually, his dreams of going somewhere away from the torments of his everyday life ended. Kokichi paused for a moment, looking up at the wall around his school. This was a rather poor neighborhood, but he could have sworn the building looked more dilapidated every time he saw it.

Strongly considering lying about being sick in an attempt to go home early, Kokichi walked through the hallways and up the stairs to his classroom. He was praying that he wouldn’t encounter anyone cruel today, but those hopes were quickly dashed as a much larger boy shoved him from behind, nearly sending him tumbling down the stairs. Kokichi caught his balance, just barely, but his head was swimming at the sudden jolt, dizziness catching up to him all over again.

“Have a nice trip?” One of the boys laughed, and the group around him burst into snickers, surrounding Kokichi on the landing that he’d scurried up to. Oh, he hoped they wouldn’t actually push him down the stairs.

But all that happened was a few taunts and shoves, a couple pulls at his overgrown, tangled hair. The hits and pulls hurt, but the words almost hurt more, continued reminders that there was nothing he could do to stand up for himself. When he was younger, he’d made up lies about his dad being in the military, his uncle being a police officer, anything to get the bullies to leave him alone, but he’d soon learned that those lies didn’t work. Now, he just stayed quiet, praying that no one would get too mad at him.

Eventually, the bullies realized how late it was, and scrambled off to class, leaving a bruised Kokichi on the stairs to wander to class himself, once again late.

“Sorry, sir, I overslept,” he lied when the teacher questioned him, all eyes on the small boy as he tried to slip into the room unnoticed. It was a flimsy excuse, and one he’d already used five times in the last month. At least they couldn’t call his mom for being late.

Class was long and boring, and Kokichi found himself increasingly lost. He wasn’t a stupid kid, but between the stress, headaches, and tardy and missing days, he had a hard time keeping up in school. It really wasn’t fair that he had to do the same things as everyone else while suffering twice as much.

When he was called up to the board to fill in an answer, he tripped over his own feet and hit his chin on the hard tile. His answer still was incorrect, and he slunk back to his desk to the laughs and jeers of his classmates. When he was chosen to read from the textbook, he hit at least three words that he didn’t know, and lost track of the page as soon as he was called on. In short, it was a miserable day, and Kokichi found himself wishing that he’d stayed in bed.

If only his mom wouldn’t find out about him skipping school, he’d stay home every day. . . Well, and if wasn’t for the fact that getting picked on was the only real attention he got, and his more reliable bullies threatened to find someone else every time he missed too many days.

That was the worst part, Kokichi thought as he made his way to the lunchroom, how dependent he was on what little negative attention he got from the people who picked on him.

He didn’t have money for lunch, of course, but if he got on his knees and begged, sometimes the upperclassmen who liked to pick on him would let him have their leftovers. It was humiliating, but every once in awhile, one of them would jokingly pat him on the head, and well, that was more positive attention than he’d usually get in months.

“Please, may I have some?” he found himself begging, alone with his bullies in a quiet corner of the school that no teachers checked, looking up at one of the meanest girls he’d ever known.

The kids laughed, as usual, but eventually one of the boys tossed him a half eaten package of yakisoba bread. Kokichi greedily scooped up the plastic wrapped food, tearing into it before anyone could take it away. He downed the bread in four huge bites, not hardly stopping long enough to chew, even though it made the others cackle. If his parent’s paychecks didn’t arrive soon, this could be the only food he got all day.

The kids got bored soon, though, and with only the bread and the last fourth of a package of chips in his stomach, he was left to wander back to class, still horribly hungry.

The rest of the school day was just as miserable, class just as tense and stressful, and by the time the day’s classes were over, Kokichi felt absolutely exhausted. In three classes, he’d been forced to lie about why his homework wasn’t done, and every time, the teacher had yelled at him in front of the entire class. Worst of all, the loudest man had actually made him break into tears, something that, of course, none of the other students missed.

And that was how Kokichi found himself well and truly cornered behind the school, the same group of boys that had picked on him in the morning back for more. They were miming tears, laughing amongst themselves at how pathetic Kokochi was, and when one of them smacked the back of his head when he didn’t laugh along with them, Kokichi felt like crying all over again.

“Come on, runt, have a sense of humor!” one of them cackled, yanking on Kokichi’s uniform so it tightened around his neck.

Kokichi choked and forced a laugh, even though it came out sounding more like the croak of something dying. One of the boy’s hands was on his shoulder by now, and the heat emanating from his hand was the nicest thing Kokichi had felt all day. For just a moment, Kokichi caught himself wishing that these boys wouldn’t get bored for a while yet.

But all too soon, it ended, the boys leaving him with a shove to the ground as a parting gift, running off at the imagined sound of a teacher coming close.

Kokichi pulled himself to his feet miserably, body aching from the hitting the hard ground. He’d been cold all day, and being outside again was just making it worse. He longed to get home quickly and bury himself in bed before anyone else could get mad at him.

On the way home, Kokichi stopped by a store advertising the fifty-first season of what was said to be the most popular show in the country. Honestly, Kokichi found it distasteful. The whole thing was about some barbaric killing game, and Kokichi did not find murder to constitute as entertainment.

The whole thing was just sick.

At home, Kokichi closed the door behind him quietly. It was the time of day when his dad would be home, and waking the man up was a one way ticket to getting hurt, badly. He slunk back to his room and hid, wishing that there was a lock on his door so no one could sneak up on him.

After trying futilely to work on homework for a few hours, and getting distracted by the throbbing in his head every few minutes, Kokochi gave up. His stomach hurt almost worse than his head, hunger feeling like it was gnawing a hole in him. He had to find something to eat, even if it meant risking the leftovers he knew would still be waiting.

Slinking out to the kitchen, Kokichi prayed that no one would notice him, but before long, his hopes were dashed.

“Kokichi! What are you doing out here? You’re supposed to be studying!” the shrill voice of his mom yelled, the woman popping out from her bedroom to glare at him. Kokichi winced. He’d almost rather wake his dad up than deal with this.

“Is. . . is there any food today?” he nervously asked, wincing at how his mom’s eyes narrowed.

That’s what you ask about, you ungrateful pest? I’m out working hard to take care of you all day, and the first thing you ask about is your dinner? You know what? Just for that, you can go to bed without dinner. Oh, and if I don’t see an A on your next test, you’ll be in trouble! I don’t work so hard just so you can slack off, you know.” His mom had been stepping closer as she talked, and with a final, sharp swat to Kokichi’s ear, she shooed him back to his room, slamming the door behind him.

Worst of all, he hadn’t missed the fresh bottle of alcohol in her hand. It would probably be awhile before she bothered to buy food for anyone but herself, and that meant Kokichi would be stuck begging for scraps from school for a while longer.

So Kokichi gave up and went to bed.

Pulling his small body into a tight ball, he curled up under his thin covers, trying desperately to ignore the aching feeling in his stomach. His mind was still stuck on the boy who’d put his hand on his shoulder today, that little bit of attention the only thinking making him want to wake up in the morning.

If he was lucky, maybe one of the girls he begged from would pat his head tomorrow.

Chapter Text

For once, Kokichi wasn’t enjoying being stuck in a situation where he had to work with someone.

Normally, group projects were a blessing to him, a rare chance to interact with someone who was forced to at least tolerate him for long enough to get their work done. The attention he’d received in the few group projects he’d dealt with in high school had been enough to keep him going for weeks, even if he had gotten beaten up at the end of every one.

When it had been announced that his school would be cooperating with a neighboring high school for that year’s culture festival, and that the students would be forced to work on their projects in groups, Kokochi had been ecstatic. He’d been looking forward to have the chance at the undivided attention of someone who literally couldn’t push him away, something he’d be willing to endure anything for. Just like the last times, even getting hurt wouldn’t be so bad if he got someone to pay attention to him for a while before it happened.

This time, though, the person he’d been stuck with was the exact opposite of anyone Kokichi wanted to interact with.

The boy was skinny and small, nowhere near as short as Kokichi himself, but still noticeably more petite than the average high school boy. His hair was greasy, cut in a shaggy, unkempt style that looked like he hadn’t washed it in weeks. He was sweaty and awkward, had tripped over something and sent himself crashing to the floor within moments of meeting Kokichi, and couldn’t tear himself away from his phone long enough to even make decent eye contact.

His name was Saihara Shuichi, and he was by far the most irritating, uncomfortable person Koichi had ever met.

Even Kokichi, who was fully expecting to spend the time with the other boy stumbling over his words and begging not to be hurt, wasn’t expecting to deal with someone who was just as bullied as he was. Saihara was obviously unpopular (Kokichi couldn’t imagine anyone who would like the little creep), and while Kokichi did feel a sort of camaraderie with the other victim, Saihara’s whole personality ruined any chance of sympathy he may have had.

“Saihara, could you please get off your phone? We n-need to get started on the group project before it’s too late,” Kokichi stuttered, frustrated, but still afraid of what the other boy could do to him if provoked.

“In a bit. The new Danganronpa trailer just came out, and I have to analyze it b-before any other fans get to it.” Saihara was practically drooling, staring at his phone like it contained the secrets of the universe.

Honestly, it wouldn’t be so bad if he’d just pay attention to him. In Kokichi’s mind, nothing was unbearable as long as someone was at least a little bit nice to him. If this gross outcast of a boy would just look at him, give him some attention, anything at all, Kokichi would be happy to fail the project in favor of spending time with him. Anything would be preferable to missing out on someone who was willing to talk to him and sit with him and act like he wasn’t some kind of pest. But this, this was just being ignored, and Kokichi hated that above all else.

“Well, we’re gonna get in trouble if we don’t get it done. . . do you want to find out what happens when the teachers catch us just sitting here?”

Kokichi was squirming in his seat, vaguely terrified. He wasn’t used to standing up to anyone this much, but with bruises still fresh along his ribcage, he didn’t want to risk his mom hearing about him acting out again.

“I can do all the work, y-you know? Just tell me what you want done, and I’ll make sure it works out. That’ll be better than getting in trouble, right?”

Chewing on one fingernail, Kokichi tried to make eye contact with the shifty boy, praying he’d make some kind of progress.

“Fine, fine. . . do whatever you want.” Saihara waved a shooing hand at him. “I don’t care if I get in trouble; this show is way more important. And anyway. . . it wouldn’t be so bad if the other kids got mad at us for not working. . . maybe one of them would want to kick me around. . .” Saihara was muttering to himself by the end of that but Kokichi still picked up on enough.
So on top of being creepy, this kid was some kind of sick masochist who liked being picked on. Saihara at least had the decency to look nervous, hands shaking as he stared intently at the screen of his phone. It was sickening, and Kokichi wished he could have been paired with anyone else.

“Come on, please?” Kokichi tugged lightly on the other’s boy’s uniform sleeve, getting more worried by the second. His throat was tightening up, already afraid of what would happen if he got in trouble again.

“I s-said do it y-yourself!” Saihara yelped, standing up suddenly. “J-just do whatever you want; I’m busy!”

The other boy was shaking, noticeably, and it was the moment that Kokichi finally made direct eye contact with the other that he realized what was happening.

“Do you, do you w-want me to hurt you or something? Are you seriously trying to get me to be mean to you cause you won’t help?” Kokichi was almost laughing; it was just too ridiculous to believe.

He was on the bottom of the social order no matter how anyone looked at it. He was the last person any sane human being would see as a bully, and this boy’s frantic attempts to get Kokichi to bully him. There was something very wrong with this situation, and Kokichi didn’t even know where to start in describing it.

“C-Come on. I’m not the kind of person who can do that! I probably g-get bullied more than you!” Kokichi stepped forward, staring at the other boy as he spoke. This was the longest conversation he’d had with anyone in weeks, and the attention starved part of himself was starting to savor it.

“No you don’t!” Saihara finally said, “I’m the most hated person in my whole school!” Kokichi tried to ignore the sick bit of pride in Saihara’s tone.

Kokichi hated himself for how involved in this mess he was getting, how desperate for the other boy’s attention he was starting to feel. It wasn’t his fault that no one had talked to him this much in weeks, was it? It definitely wasn’t his fault that it felt so good to have someone pay attention to him in a way that didn’t involve pain.

Saihara was gnawing on his bottom lip by now, wearing down the already chapped and peeling skin. He looked every bit as nervous and Kokichi felt, and the second he made move to step forward, Kokichis instincts kicked in.

“I’m sorry!” he squeaked, falling to his knees and scooting backwards, covering his face with his arms. “I d-d-didn’t mean to insult you! I won’t d-do it again I p-promise!”

Before he knew it, tears were rolling down his cheeks, thick and hot. It had always been an easy reaction of his to cry when he was stressed, and the tears had started before he had even a chance to control himself.

He’d ruined everything. Saihara might have been the kind of person who was willing to be nice to him, but with one stupid, stupid comment he’d ensured another person who would do nothing but beat him. Kokichi whimpered, trying to think straight. His head had fallen straight into panic mode, and it was all he could do to keep his focus on how not to get hurt.

But Saihara didn’t seem to be doing anything. A chanced glance from under wet eyelashes showed that the other boy looked almost as nervous as
Kokichi felt, standing with one arm raised like he was about to try to help.

“Um, I’m. . . you didn’t insult me.” Saihara had moved on to wring his hands, phone abandoned on the table behind him. Some stupid advertisement for the show he liked was still playing obnoxiously in the background.
Kokichi still ducked his head back down, unwilling to look at the other boy. Every instinct he had said that this was dangerous, that he was about to get hit.

Saihara swallowed heavily, looking at Kokichi like he didn’t know what to do next. He probably didn’t. They both weren’t used to anything but being picked on and abused, and it was no wonder, really, that neither of them knew how to get along.

But, eventually, Saihara scooted closer, sitting down on the floor next to Kokichi and burying his own face in his knees. When Kokichi dared lift his head, he saw that the other boy was shaking too, the one stupid curl of his hair that wouldn’t lay flat quivering noticeably in the air. Honestly, they were both absolutely pathetic.

This whole situation was a disaster. They were both supposed to be working on their project right now, not curled up in a corner crying and shaking, but they both had seemed to fail spectacularly at anything resembling cooperation. Kokichi thought bitterly that it was just his luck that he got stuck with someone just as pathetic as he was. He could have been running errands for someone bigger and tougher than him right now, ensuring that someone who usually picked on him would look at him with praise for a few moments, but instead, he was left with someone every bit as worthless as him.

Somehow, the two spent almost the whole work time like that. Saihara had retrieved his phone at some point, and sat contentedly next to Kokichi, the faint sounds of whatever he was watching filling the room in a gentle hum.

Kokichi himself kept crying for a while longer, unable to stop the flow of tears that happened whenever he got stressed. He was still bitter that he was stuck with someone so useless, but fear and worry were winning out over irritation, and by now, he was mostly concerned with making it through the day without getting beaten. Not like it mattered, really. He’d beg to get hit if whoever did it would touch him gently afterwards, so what was he really afraid of from someone just as shitty as him.

He wasn’t a total masochist, not like Saihara, who had actually seemed intent on goading him into getting mad. That was just crazy. At least Kokichi was focused on the attention that came after the pain, not the getting hurt itself. He couldn’t imagine wanting to get hurt for just the pain of it, no matter how hard he tried to understand where the other boy was coming from.

Eventually, it was time for the two of them to go home. Kokichi stood on unsteady legs, pointedly ignoring the sweaty hand that Saihara offered. He was not looking forward to doing this again tomorrow.

Chapter Text

School, for Ryoma, was a miserable thing. He was forgotten, average, only ever remembered for being small and strange looking. He hadn’t had a real friend since he was young enough that he could still fit in, and in the years of being entirely alone, he’d become very used to being horribly outcast. It didn’t matter that everything about him was average; if anything, his sheer normalcy made it easier to overlook him.

After a long, normal day of school, teachers and students alike all choosing to look away from him, Ryoma felt honestly ready to crash. He couldn’t wait to get home, away from everything, where he could curl up in his room and forget about how isolated he really was.

Being alone was really the only comfort he had; at least when it was just him, there were no groups of friends, no people around him to remind him of how forgotten he really was. Seeing people together was really the worst, having to deal with the knowledge that he’d never have anyone who cared enough to stick around out of anything other than temporary pity over the “weird kid” who was perpetually alone.

The only thing Ryoma really did anymore was sleep and mess around on his phone, curling up in bed and blocking the world out. It was so much easier than putting effort into anything.

He’d considered never leaving his room more often than he’d really like to consider, just holing up in his room and never coming back out. It would be so much simpler than continuing to put work into school and making friends and living. Everything seemed like a pain anymore, even the time he used to spend on hobbies feeling boring and worthless. It was like there was no point in living at all for him anymore.

So when class finally ended, when the students were finally allowed to leave the misery that was school and group back up into their little clusters of friends, Ryoma was equally glad to be done pretending like he cared about anything to do with anyone around him.

Ryoma packed up his things quietly, trying not to think about how hard it was to reach his bookbag on the floor. His height was a sensitive enough issue without thinking about it every day.

He left the classroom unhappily, trying to ignore how everyone else had friends to meet up with and talk to while he was nothing but alone. At least he didn’t have anything left to do but collect his shoes from his locker. Then he’d be able to go home and forget about all of this.

Downstairs, there were even more students clustered together, and Ryoma felt a small pang of jealousy. No matter how used he was to being alone, it still hurt to see everyone else having fun together. The sooner he could get home and be away from all of this, the better.

As he opened his shoe locker, one of the ones on the lower shelves (for reasons he’d rather not acknowledge as pity), Ryoma noticed something strange. There was a letter resting on top of his outdoor shoes, a piece of light pink paper that had most definitely not been there when he’d gone into school that morning.

Picking up the letter hesitantly, handling it as if he was afraid that it wouldn’t continue to exist, Ryoma took the letter out of his locker, inspecting it for any signs of what it might be, or why it would have been left for him.

“To Hoshi Ryoma” was written on the front in neat, cute writing, the kind of thing he’d only seen in girls’ notebooks or shoujou anime. Opening the letter (very carefully, he’d been saving the envelope forever if it turned out to be what he was starting to think it was) produced an equally pink, folded up piece of paper with a long letter written on one side.

As he read it carefully, Ryoma’s heart did a strange flop in his chest. This couldn’t be real. This couldn’t be for him. It had to be some kind of mistake.

The letter was one of those secret admirer things that gushed and went on and on about how wonderful he was, all the good qualities about him that someone else had somehow managed to see. It was a love letter, and Ryoma could scarcely believe that it could really be for him.

Hands shaking, Ryoma read over the letter again and again, not noticing that most of the other students had passed him by. He was completely engrossed in the first bit of interest anyone else had shown him in years, desperately searching for any sign that it might be a trick.

This kind of thing couldn’t be for him, could it? The only thing making him even question that it wasn’t some kind of mistake was that the letter itself was directly addressed to him.

Eventually, Ryoma realized how late it had gotten. He’d read over the letter at least five times already, slowly pouring over every word, and after neatly folding it, sliding it back into the envelope, and placing it safely in his bookbag, he was still as shaky as he was when he’d first gone over it.

This whole situation felt like some kind of fantasy, and he was half afraid that he’d wake up soon and discover that it hadn’t been real.

The walk home was spent full of worries slowly fading into a giddy, overly happy sensation that was horribly foreign to him. Unless this really was a trick, someone cared about him enough to leave such a sweet letter where he could find it.

Maybe he’d meet the person who left it soon? Maybe they wouldn’t decide to hate or pity him after actually getting to know him? It was a strange feeling in every sense to think that someone actually felt fondly enough towards him to write such a sweet thing, full of compliments and nicer words than he ever would have used to describe himself.

One thing was for sure, Ryoma was going to be reading over the letter again and again for days to come.

Chapter Text

Her sickness came and went, the symptoms changing every time her mother found something new to worry about. She’d had everything from fevers that lasted for weeks to body aches that never quite went away. Himiko had been sick for so long, and in so many ways that she’d sort of forgotten what it was like to be well. She’s only been six years old when it all started, and she had only the fuzziest of memories of before everything started happening to her.

Himiko’s mother had always loved fussing over her, though, and almost seemed to enjoy it when Himiko was too sick to do anything but lay in bed and depend on her. Himiko had always pinned that on her mother having a doting nature, but the older she got, the stranger it seemed.

A small part of Himiko suspected her mother of doing it to her. She didn’t know how, she didn’t know why, and she did know that if the doctors hadn’t been able to prove anything yet, she’d never be able to make the case on her own. It would be pointless to try to accuse her mother of doing something to hurt her when all the doctors saw was a kind, loving woman who had spent the last ten years of her life doting over her perpetually ill daughter.

In the past few months there had been a bit of a lull in the sickness, enough of one that Himiko had been able to get up a bit, do more things, even consider going out.

Yes, the timing perfectly matched up with her mother having to go to work more often, and a new caretaker being put in charge of giving Himiko her medication every day, but Himiko didn’t particularly want to think about what that meant. It would be better for everyone’s sake if she didn’t start to suspect the person who had taken care of her for so long.

The really strange part was that her new caretaker had actually suggested getting her out of the house for a while. Himiko’s mother had insisted that the air outside would make her sicker for as long as Himiko could remember, but the new woman claimed that it would do her body good to get out and do something instead of spending all day in bed.

Himiko had spent most of her life in bed, with no friends and nothing to do but surf the internet and learn the most advanced, detailed rules of her favorite games. She liked magic and the games about it, and had spent an embarrassing amount of time while sick learning the kinds of things that almost definitely made her some kind of horrible nerd. It really wasn’t her fault that magic games were more entertaining than the kinds of TV her mother allowed in the house, though, so Himiko didn’t exactly find it fair to judge herself for what she liked.

Her new caretaker had suggested finding something to do with her games to go out and explore, after spending weeks watching Himiko playing with her cards on her bed, filling her notebooks with tiny, neat writing on her roleplaying characters and the adventures that she made up for them herself.

It was a bit sad that, since she’d never been able to make friends, Himiko was the only person who’d ever been able to work on her games, and a part of her lit up at the chance to get to know people who liked the same things she did, who could help her develop her characters better, teacher her new rules in the card games she liked, and know all about the same exciting things she’d only been able to witness through the screen of a phone. It hardly sounded real that she might be able to go out and do the kinds of things she’d only ever read about before.

So Himiko’s caretaker, after seeing the way her charge’s face had lit up at the very mention of being able to go out ad meet people with the same interests, had made some calls.

It wasn’t easy to find activities that Himiko’s mother was okay with, especially considering how paranoid the woman was about her daughter's health and what the outside world could do to it, but Himiko listened intently as her caretaker asked local groups if they’d be willing to let a sick, young girl join in their activities for as long as her health would allow.

And that was how Himiko found herself in her wheelchair, outside her house for the first time in years that didn’t have something to do with a doctor’s visit, alone in front of the building where a roleplaying group was meeting up.

It felt strange already to be outside of her home, and Himiko knew that she was going to be the odd one out in the group already. There was no way anyone else here would be quite as isolated as she was, alone as she’d always been with nothing but her “magic” to rely on. Himiko had spent so much time by herself that she couldn’t picture any healthy person ever understand how much these things meant to her, and a part of her wondered
if she’d be made fun of for being quite as invested as she was in the world of magic that had always been all she had.

Himiko wheeled herself up the long ramp that had been set up special for her. It was embarrassing enough that the place had to make special accommodations for her, all so that one ill, pathetic high school girl could make it to a meeting that she never belonged in in the first place.
And that was the worst part. These were all people who knew each other, who had been doing this for years. She’d clearly be someone who didn’t belong, a new person in a world one those who were already close.

It pained her already to think of having to sit on the sidelines and watch while everyone else had fun, and Himiko felt her stomach churn a bit at the very thought, and a part of her wished that she’d get sick again just so she wouldn’t have to deal with this. She didn’t want to have to sit through being excluded and ignored and probably laughed at for trying.

There was no way a group of people like this would welcome in the sick girl like it was nothing, and as Himiko paused in front of the door that would lead to whatever happened next, she felt sick for reasons that had nothing to do with her illness.

But before she could open the door and awkwardly wheel herself inside (her caretaker had thought it would be better if she went in by herself and called if there was any trouble), a young man opened the door for her.

He was short and skinny and smiling widely, wearing an outfit that Himiko recognized as the perfect replica of one from one of her card games, even down to the elf ears secured on top of his own. It was shocking to see someone looking like a character straight out of her games, and for a minute,
Himiko wondered if this might not be so bad. Maybe everyone would be as into this as she was?

“You’re Yumeno, right?” the boy said, smiling widely. “The girl who was supposed to join us today?”

“Oh, um. . . yeah. I’m Yumeno.” Immediately, Himiko felt foolish. She’d just repeated what the boy had already said like some kind of idiot. It had to show that she was used to being locked up in her room alone with no one but her mother to talk to.

“Great! Come on in! Oh, and do you need any help with the chair?” Himiko flushed and shook her head as soon as the boy pointed out her wheelchair. She could technically walk, she just got tired when she was up for too long, and her mother had insisted that she take the chair in case she got weak and needed to sit down immediately. Not leaving her wheelchair was one of the rules for her going out in the first place, and as tiring as it was to pull herself around, it would be even worse to let a stranger help.

Himiko wheeled herself inside on the boy’s direction, following him into the large, open room. There were close to ten people gathered around a long table, piles of cards, dice, board games, and fantasy weapon supplies stacked up and around where they were sitting. Nearly everyone but her was in costume, and suddenly, Himiko felt self conscious.

Should she have dressed up for this? It wasn’t like she had a costume, so maybe she shouldn’t have even come. There were at least a couple people who were wearing normal clothes, and that and the boy’s excited eyes on her were the only things keeping her from slipping away before she could make an even bigger fool of herself.

As Himiko was guided to her seat, one of the few girls not in costume approached her. She immediately started on some friendly conversation, acting like Himiko was a friend she’d known for years instead of a total stranger somewhere she didn’t belong.

While Himiko knew the topic of conversation (it was one of the card games she’d been playing for years, albeit by herself), it was beyond strange to hear a real person as interested in it as she was.

Himiko had never been outside long enough to make any friends. She had vague memories of going to school with other kids back before she’d gotten sick, and even having friends over sometimes, but that had all ended once she’d started to get ill. Her mother had always said that interacting with others would make her worse, maker her sicker, even put her in the hospital if she wasn’t careful. This was the first time she’d been allowed out by herself in over ten years, and even though it was easy to trade lines about which knights had better resistance to fire magic, Himiko found herself stumbling over her words.

She felt stupid, strange, and out of place, like she was pretending to be something she wasn’t, and it was getting harder and harder to keep up with the excitable girl in front of her. It had been so long since she had anyone but her mother and caretakers to talk to, it felt just strange that she was actually talking to someone her age.

A couple other people had scooted closer, joining the little conversation, and Himiko was starting to feel squished in. She still felt like the odd one out in her wheelchair, even if everyone was sitting down by now, and while a part of her wanted to smile and enjoy talking to people about the things she loved, a much larger part of her was worried that she was doing something wrong.

“You okay, Yumeno?” one of the girls eventually asked, still smiling like Himiko wasn’t going to be laughingstock of the place as soon as she left.

“Y-Yeah. . . Just tired, that’s all.”

“You’re not getting sick, are you? We can slow down if it’s getting too tiring!” And that was what she hated most. Sick as she was, being treated like in invalid by her peers had been a nightmare Himiko had dreaded for years, especially the pity in everyone's eyes when they looked at her knowing that she could collapse at any moment.

And that was when Himiko decided that she wasn’t going to be looked down on an more today.

“I’m fine,” she said, forcing a smile that was hopefully more real than it felt. “We can keep talking. I’m a little tired from being out, but I don’t feel sick.”

And they believed her, the conversation continuing like nothing had ever happened.

Himiko started forcing herself to say more, butt in in parts of the conversation that she normally would have left alone. This could very well be her only afternoon out, if her mother had her way, and Himiko was determined not to be remembered as the ill girl who’d been too tired to talk properly.

Just because she was small and thin, just because she was stuck in her wheelchair, that didn’t mean everyone here had to remember her as sick and fragile. Himiko was tired of being thought of like that, even if it was true.

So Himiko kept talking, kept allowing herself to say what she wanted instead of staying quiet for fear of sounding stupid. It was surprisingly fun to be able to talk about what she loved, especially since everyone near her understood just as much as she did (well, a little less; she did manage to teach some of them a few strategies that they’d never heard of), and for a few hours, Himiko was able to forget about how tired she always felt, the permanent sense of sickness that hung above her like a dark cloud, waiting to strike as soon as she let her guard down.

It was sort of fun, to be able to pretend like she had friends for a little bit. Maybe her mother would even allow her to go back, if going out this once didn’t make her too sick later.

By the time it was time for Himiko to go home, she was tired, yet deeply satisfied. It had been fun to talk about what she loved, to let herself act without worrying that she was going to overtax herself or make someone angry, and she really did want to go back.

When her caretaker arrived to drive her back, Himiko was smiling widely, tired, but happy. The woman smiled right back at her, asking her about her day, and if she’d been alright by herself. That in itself was totally different than the frantic fussing and guilting comments her mother would usually have when Himiko tried to do something by herself, and suddenly, Himiko wished that she didn’t have to go home.

It would be nice to go back tomorrow, if she could, Himiko thought, to be able to talk about magic with, dare she say it, friends. It was enough to make a small part of Himiko think about the kind of magic she’d dreamed of when she was little, the kind that could save sick little girls and make it possible for them to go out into the world again.

Maybe there was a little bit of magic that had gone into today, Himiko thought, the kind of spell that had made her brave enough to make the decision not to be pitied anymore.

Himiko didn’t want to think about how sick she’d probably be tomorrow, how angry her mother would be that she’d tired herself out and made the sickness worse, how horrible she’d feel when she found out that she couldn’t go back, but for now, she didn’t have to. The car ride home was dimmed by the dark glow of evening, streetlights shining as they drove by, and Himiko found herself smiling.

It had been a good day.

Chapter Text

Somewhere between continuing to rescue Miu from bullies and offering her your kindness whenever you could, the poor girl had gotten attached. You had been about as nice as you could to her, wanting to make her days a little better even if she had to deal with being picked on all the time.

You’d been bringing her food once you learned that her money for it usually got stolen, helping her hide out in empty classrooms during break so no one would find her and do anything cruel, chasing off her bullies whenever you caught them, and generally doing everything possible to be a good friend to a girl who seemingly had none.

Miu wasn’t exactly open about her life outside of school, but from what you’d picked up, it wasn’t good then either. She definitely didn’t have any friends outside of you, and what you’d dragged out of her about her home life didn’t sound promising. In short, you were probably Miu’s lifeline, the only person who was anything resembling nice to her in her day to day life. It wasn’t really a surprise that she was latching onto you like you could slip away at any second.

She’d started practically following you around, hovering just out of sight whenever the two of you were on breaks. She’d already expressed a fear that you’d get picked on too for associating with you, and that was probably the only thing keeping her from practically clinging.

You could never get over the way her face lit up when she saw you every day at break, a sweet, shaky smile that looked shocked every time, like she couldn’t quite believe that you’d really come back. It was moments like that that had endeared Miu to you, and were probably the reason why you felt the need to keep trying to protect her. She obviously needed it.

And Miu was pretty cute. She wasn’t an ugly girl at all, even if she did look like she needed to take better care of herself and gain some confidence. Her personality, nervous as it was, was sweet and genuine. You’d never known her to say bad things about anyone (well, except herself), and for all the bullying she went through, she was honestly more shy and frightened than bitter.

The more you thought about it, the more you realized that you were getting pretty attached to her, too, used to the constant presence of your nervous, worried little friend, used to sitting with her every day and making sure she was doing alright.

You genuinely wanted to do nice things for her, to make her smile for more reasons than just being happy to see you.

“Hey, Miu? Do you wanna go somewhere after school?” It was a tentative question, one that you were willing to take back instantly should she react badly.

“Eh!? W-Why would you wanna d-do that with me. . .” Miu stuttered in response, ducking her head almost immediately and refusing to meet your eye. Well, you wouldn’t consider that to be a bad reaction.

“‘Cause we hang out everyday anyway, why not do something more fun than sitting around? I thought it might be nice to go have fun with my friend.” You didn’t miss Miu’s flinch at the last word of the sentence, nor how her hands were starting to shake.

“If you r-really insist, I guess it’s okay. . . I mean, it’s not like I can stop you.” You purposely ignored how wrong some of that sentence was. She didn’t sound unwilling, at least, and that was better than you’d expected.

“Great! How about we go to a cafe or something, then? So it’ll be pretty much like this, just in a different place. That shouldn’t be too hard on you, right?” You smiled, trying to act like this was no big deal. If Miu felt safe with the idea, she’d be more likely to agree.

“Y-You don’t have to think about m-me. I won’t be a burden if you want to do s-something! I’ll do whatever you w-want!” Miu was getting a bit worked up, probably flustered by what you were discussing. It wasn’t like she was used to going out with friend.

“Okay, then we’ll meet up after school tomorrow. I’ll take you somewhere good, promise! You can leave the plans up to me!”

You didn’t miss the way Miu started to cower by the end of that, obviously nervous about the whole thing. You had a feeling she’d wind up enjoying herself, though, so you tried not to think too hard about the little bit of nervousness the idea was causing right now.

The two of you spent the rest of the day talking about whatever came up; easy, simple subjects that wouldn’t escalate the situation any further or cause Miu any more stress. The poor girl still looked horribly nervous, though and you couldn’t help but worry if she was really going to be alright. Had it really been a good idea to invite her out?

By the next day, though, most of your worries had faded. This would be good for her; it never hurt anyone to have a nice date at a cafe with a friend, and Miu of all people probably needed to get out more in situations where she wouldn’t be hurt or afraid. You were going to make this a good day for her no matter what you had to do, one that Miu would surely remember as one of the few times someone had made a genuine effort to make her happy.

After school, instead of meeting up with Miu in the same empty classroom as usual, you stood outside the school gates, waiting for her to work up the nerve to approach you.

Eventually, Miu slunk up to you, head lowered and eyes shifting back and forth, like she was afraid of what would happen if the two of you were seen together. Her lank hair was falling in her face, strands of it sticking up at odd angles and fairly obviously tangled. Her face was pale and tense, worry pinching at the lines of her features. Her clothing was rumpled and wrinkled, probably from being shoved down earlier in the day. She looked like a mess, honestly, but you couldn’t be happier to see her. Just the fact that she was coming with you at all was enough to make your day.

“Miu! You really came!” you grinned, patting her on the shoulder with a gentle hand.

“Y-Yeah. . . Can we get going? Please? Before s-someone s-s-sees,” Miu stuttered in response, practically shaking as her eyes darted back and forth.

Obligingly, you started walking, taking one of Miu’s clammy hands as you went, and ignoring the little squeak she let out as soon as your skin made contact with hers.

By the time the two of you got to the cafe (after a rather awkward walk filled with Miu looking so nervous you were almost afraid she would be sick), Miu was actually shaking, still making the same miserable, worried face, like she was afraid that anyone who saw her with you would get angry then and there.

“Let’s sit down,” you said, “Would you rather sit outside here, or go in?”

Miu had a long moment of internal debate, looking sicker by the second until she eventually murmured a quiet “inside, please”.

You weren’t sure what exactly was going on inside her head, but from how nervous she looked, you had a feeling it wasn’t anything good. She was probably worried about messing up and making you angry, or being seen with you and somehow causing you harm; some typical, baseless worry that you’d much rather help to calm.

So the two of you slipped inside and sat down, Miu immediately hiding her face behind the menu and refusing to look at you. You scanned your own menu as well, and eventually settled on something that looked good, all while sneaking glances at your increasingly worrying date.

You wound up having to order for Miu, reading off the item she was nervously pointing at, and you didn’t miss the sigh of relief she made when you finally spoke up and intervened. It was half sad and half cute that you had to do so much for her, and you honestly didn’t mind. It was nice that you could do nice things for her and help her feel more comfortable, especially considering how new the whole situation probably felt.

After making nervous small talk for a while, your food arrived. Miu looked almost too sick to eat, but she managed, taking small bites of her treat and letting out a small whimper at the first delicious bite.

Maybe she didn’t get to have nice food too often? If her family was poor or cruel to her, it would make sense if food like this was entirely new. Thinking about that, you were more glad than ever that you’d insisted on taking her out. Miu probably needed the time to relax, and good food and the company of someone she could trust couldn’t hurt, either.

The only downside was how Miu kept flinching and trying to hide anytime someone new walked into the cafe.

She acted like she was afraid of something, and it was only the desire to keep the little date going that kept you from asking. The poor girl didn’t need anymore stress while she already looked close to falling apart.

“Is the food good?” you asked with a gentle smile, eyeing how Miu had already nibbled away at over half of her treat.

“Y-Yeah. I’m, I’m g-glad I came.” Miu gave the first hint of a real smile she’d shown since you mentioned the date, finally looking up and meeting your eye. “I’m r-really happy to be doing something with you.”

That line alone probably took all the courage Miu had in her, and if the way she hid her face directly after, pulling her hair in front of her to hide what had to be a blush was any sign, she probably wouldn’t be able to manage anything like it again for a while. You were happy, though. That small confirmation that the date had been worth it was enough to make the day good for you, your mission to give Miu a good day out a success.

The rest of the little date was spent filled with small talk and awkward silences. Miu was absolutely horrible at keeping up a conversation, and kept trailing off into nervous stutters any time meeting your eye became to much for her. She looked so nervous she could almost be sick, even if she was still managing to sneak small bites of her food, and you were almost worried that she wasn’t having fun. This was typical Miu, though, and it wasn’t like the nervous behavior was anything new coming from her. You still did your best to make sure she felt safe, leading the conversation with ease and stopping every so often to reassure her that no one was going to get mad at her for just being here with you.

When it was time to go home, you paid for the food, ignoring Miu’s yelped protests that you didn’t have to. You were fully intending to walk her home, too, make sure she was safe, but Miu ran away before you could follow her, evidently too embarrassed to face you any longer.

Even though Miu had seemed like a scared rabbit for half the date, you wanted to do it again. It had been nice to get her out and do something nice with her, and you wanted to see that sweet, happy smile more than just the once.

You walked home in contented silence, glad that you’d been able to do something good for Miu that day, and delighted that she’d actually seemed to enjoy herself.

Chapter Text

As one of the older kids in the orphanage, Maki was allowed to walk by herself to and from class, without the supervision of the older kids. She was also well behaved (tame) enough that the adults didn’t see any reason why she shouldn’t be allowed to go places by herself. It wasn’t like she was the type to act out and do any harm.

But recently, the same old scenery that she saw every day on her way to school had been interjected by something, or more accurately someone new.

You, a recently hired police officer assigned with keeping an eye on the area where kids walked to school. It was a simple job, but the first time anyone had been assigned to it, and most of the kids in the rather poor, dangerous area were fascinated with a real police officer being right in front of them.

From what Maki knew and saw everyday, it wasn’t like you were cutting down on trouble. One person couldn’t keep an eye on everything, and whenever your back was turned, the same bad kids as always got up to trouble. Your presence didn’t really change a thing.

Even so, judging only from the few times you’d happily started a conversation with her as she walked, Maki had never met anyone quite so friendly, especially not to someone like her.

She wasn’t used to adults taking any interest in kids except when it benefited them, and being talked to like an equal was something entirely new.
You were too nice for a place like this, too nice for your own good, and Maki wasn’t looking forward to watching the naive sort of happiness you had get crushed by the misery inherent to where you were assigned.

“Good morning, Maki” you chirped, greeting her for what had to be the tenth day in a row. You seemed to know all the kids in the area by name, and greeted everyone you saw every morning you were on patrol.

“Good morning. . .” Maki mumbled in response, a bit afraid to talk to someone who was so obviously above her.

That was the worst part about you being so friendly; since you were an authority figure, if she did or said anything wrong it could go straight back to the orphanage. She had to be on her guard around you at all times for fear of slipping up, and that in itself was more extra stress than she ever would have wanted.

“How are you doing today?” you asked, still grinning ear to ear. “Got all your homework done?”

“I’m doing fine, and yes.” That was a lie. Some of the younger kids had kept her up with her screaming all night, and Maki had had to spend the time that was supposed to be for homework taking care of them. Not like you’d ever know.

“Good! Hope you have a good day at school.” You were so friendly it was almost sickening, setting every nerve she had on edge.

The next day was exactly the same. You grinned, smiled at her, and greeted her with the same sort of open joy that made Maki’s stomach turn. No one here was that happy. It was just unnatural to see someone smiling so widely every day, and proved to the core that you weren’t from the area. There was very little to be so happy about in the life Maki lived, and you clearly had a much happier life than anyone here if you could manage such a bright and happy demeanor every day. Maki was almost jealous.

Maki kept walking as soon as she’d greeted you back. She didn’t dare not be polite, but she didn’t exactly want to stop and talk to a police officer either. She didn’t need your kind of joy first thing in the morning, after all.

However, that morning, one of the girls from her school, an older year delinquent, took the chance to shove her a mere few blocks away from your patrol.

Shoved to the ground, Maki rolled over just as the girl kicked her in the side, snapping out some demand for money. Maki just curled up and hid her face, not bothering to respond. She never brought money for lunch (her orphanage was much too poor), and the other girl would never believe her if she said she had nothing to give.

After a few more kicks and screeched demands, Maki was on the verge of tears. Just because she had no way of ending this didn’t mean she wasn’t afraid, and the fear of what would happen when the girl finally found out was almost as painful as being kicked around.

“Hey, knock it off! Bullying isn’t allowed here! Stop and go on your way now, or I’ll have to intervene.” Of course, you’d be the one to catch what was happening.

The other girl scattered quickly, leaving Maki laying on the ground. It probably wasn’t worth it to get in trouble with the law, even if it meant looking like a coward in front of one of her potential victims (and even if your threat was pretty useless). This had to be one of the rare times that you actually managed to stop some kind of trouble in the area. There was surely too much going on for you to manage everything, and it was apparent to Maki that she’d just gotten lucky this time.

Pulling herself to her feet, Maki tried not to look at you. There were still tear tracks on her cheeks, her clothing was rumpled, and who knows how pathetic she’d looked on the ground getting kicked at.

A horribly weak part of her wanted to cling to your arm for safety, but the rest of her was smart enough to know that that would get her nowhere.

“Are you okay?” you asked, extending a gloved hand towards her. Shaking, Maki swatted it away. She couldn’t bear to look any more weak in front of you today.

“I’m f-fine,” she said, traitorous voice trembling.

“If you say so. Come on, let’s get you to school before it gets late.” Wait, what? What exactly did you plan to do?

“What d-do you mean? I’m fine on my own.”

“Yeah, but it’s my job to keep everyone safe. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t make sure you were safe today, right? I’ll just be walking to school with you to make sure no one tries anything again, okay? That’s not too bad, is it?” You were still smiling, as warm and friendly as ever, and Maki was feeling more and more like she didn’t know what to do.

So she turned around and walked away, knowing that you’d follow. There wouldn’t be any good in trying to stop you, and for all she was afraid of having an authority figure sticking so close, it might be kind of nice to have some protection while the bullies would be angry at getting stopped.

The two of you walked in the opposite of silence, your constant small talk filling the air. Maki did her best to politely answer, but her words were clipped and short. She still didn’t feel comfortable around someone like you, even if she did have to admit that you’d saved her.

“So, Maki, what kind of place are you from? I know you live in the area, but is there anything you’re willing to share?” You’d just gotten done talking about your own home.

“It’s an orphanage. A cheap one. There are about twenty kids there, and I’m one of the oldest.” She intentionally avoided mentioning how that meant she’d be on her own soon. No need for your tender heart to make you want to get involved.

Honestly, Maki was still trying to calm down. She felt shaken from being kicked around earlier, and was aching to be left alone to collect her thoughts. It was impossible to relax with you so close, even if a small part of her liked the safety of a police officer keeping close watch on the surroundings.

“Oh, I bet that’s an interesting place to live. Is it like having a lot of siblings?” Of course, you’d find a way to make even living in an orphanage sound positive.

“Not really. We’re poor, and no one gets anything, because if one person did, everyone else would have to have the same thing. The other kids are more like competition than siblings, honestly.” What was she doing being so honest with you?

“Hmm, that does sound like a problem. I’d have no idea what any of that is like.”

Of course you wouldn’t. You’d probably grown up in some happy home with at least one parent, loved in ways that Maki couldn’t begin to imagine. She’d always thought it was unfair that so many kids actually got to have families, but when that line of thought had started to make her cry every time she went there, she’d forced herself to quit thinking about it.

“It’s. . . n-not all bad. I’m never really lonely, and we all at least learn how to take care of each other. The adults are usually too busy running the place, so the older kids are the ones who make sure everyone is okay.”

Why was she telling you this? There was no need to make her home look better, and spilling pointless details about her life really had no point to it.

“That’s good. I’m glad you’ve had people to look out for you.” Your smile did a strange, fluttery thing to Maki’s chest, suddenly bringing to mind that you were the first person in years to pay so much attention to her alone.

In the orphanage, there was no time for individual care. Everyone was lumped together, and authority like you never had the time or patience to consider what an individual wanted. This was the first time in as long as Maki could remember that she’d had a long conversation with the focus totally on her, especially with the other person genuinely interested in what she had to say.

For a police officer, you were much nicer than Maki had expected. This went far beyond mere duty, but Maki couldn’t help but be grateful for it. The kind of attention she was receiving made her whole chest feel warm, even if rationally, she knew you were just being polite.

The conversation continued, Maki relaxing incrementally with every exchange. It was feeling less and less weird to be talking to you, and by the time the two of you reached the school gates, she’d caught herself actually getting a bit invested in the casual conversation. It wasn’t so bad to have someone to talk to, someone who at least acted like they cared.

You waved goodbye to her as she stepped inside the school grounds, smiling widely and wishing her a good day. For a moment, it felt almost like having a family member see her off, and Maki soon felt shameful heat prickling at her eyes again.

Wiping furiously at her tears, Maki tried to ignore what had happened. It wasn’t fair that you’d gotten at her emotions this much, and she didn’t want to think about how happy it had made her to have someone to walk with for the day. No one had bothered making sure she made it to school safely since she was young enough that the orphanage still worried about it, and someone actually caring if she was alright was such a new feeling that it almost brought tears to her eyes all over again.

It wasn’t fair how nice you were to her.

Over the next few weeks, it almost seemed like you went out of your way more and more often to talk to her. Maki had talked to you almost every morning since then, discounting the ones where she’d almost been late, and as much as it made her nervous, she was starting to get used to the routine.

You talked to her every morning like she was someone you were happy to see, and regardless of how short or blunt her answers were, you seemed happy that she was there at all.

It was an entirely new feeling of being wanted; no one had ever showed so much interest in her outside of the younger kids wanting attention, and Maki hardly knew what to do. She’d never been spoken to like she was worth anything, before, and it was beyond confusing to have to deal with someone who could make her stutter and turn away with just that same old smile and a few friendly words.

A few days, you’d even walked to school with her again, saying that it was your job to make sure she was safe, and it wouldn’t hurt to patrol the area while keeping an eye on one of the kids.

Every time, you’d talked to her the whole time, treating her like more of a person than the orphanage or anyone in it ever had. You acted like her opinions mattered, listening intently to the few words you got out of her, and you remembered everything she told you. You acted like she was important, like what she said actually had worth, and that in itself was a new feeling altogether for a girl used to being forgotten in a crowd of poorly cared for kids that adults had long since given up on.

The worst part of it all was how many feelings Maki was starting to have. Ever since that day when she’d realized how much you looking out for her felt like family, she’d been unable to think about you for long without her face going hot, mind immediately jumping back to how nice you’d been out of nothing but the selfless desire to do her good.

Talking to you was getting harder and harder, oddly enough. The more comfortable she felt around you, the more used to your presence she became, the more Maki stuttered and tripped over her words, voice trailing off half way through a sentence or shaking so badly she could hardly speak. What you were doing to her was unfair, the weird bit of happiness that filled her chest every time she saw you smile at her in the morning, but Maki never wanted it to end.

Sometimes, she entertained the thought that you wouldn’t do this for just anyone, that she was special to you, that your kindness maybe meant more than someone doing their job.

It couldn’t be true, but the very thought of someone caring enough to do so much just for her made Maki feel shaky and warm inside. Even the idea that you could be looking out just for her was a wonderful one, and while it was almost painful to admit to herself that your care meant so much, Maki wasn’t going to let the one happy dream she’d had in a long time go that easily.

Maybe, if she pretended long enough, you would start to care for her in that way.

Chapter Text

School field trips had to be created to make them all miserable. Or at least, that was what Kaito thought in the middle of one. His whole class had been carted off to some science museum, a weird, boring one filled with all kinds of robotics and computers that were so far beyond Kaito’s realm of knowledge that they ceased to be interesting.

They’d been there for hours too, walking around aimlessly while a teacher rambled on about what everything was, even though it was clear that he too didn’t know.

For someone like Kaito, who had no friends to whisper to while everyone stood around, the trip was practically torture. He couldn’t be more bored than he felt in that moment, he thought, shifting his weight and crossing his arms. The one lunch break they’d gotten hadn’t been nearly enough to interrupt the tedium, and going on the fifth hour of “scientific exploration”, Kaito was rather wishing he’d just skipped school that day.

Yeah, like that wouldn’t get him smacked around again by the no good old man. Skipping was out of the question anymore, no matter how badly he wished he didn’t have to be in school.

The next exhibit, though, was something entirely different. After getting done with the computer he was currently trying to explain, the teacher announced that the next thing they were going to see was one of a kind, lended to the museum for a short time only in preparation for field trips like the one they were on. The class was herded along like usual, but this time, instead of some random piece of metal and wiring waiting for them, there was what looked to be a person.

Said person, who the teacher soon introduced as a super high tech robot designed to mimic human behavior, was a little less human when Kaito looked close. It was pale, too pale, with shockingly blue eyes and the most focused gaze Kaito had ever seen. Its hair was a disaster of fluffy, not quite natural looking strands that looked like they hadn’t been combed in months, and the fact that it was stuffed into a replica school uniform only made how oddly inhuman it looked like stand out more.

The thing was a pretty good imitation of a person, Kaito thought, staring at the realistic sculpting of its features, the almost nervous looking posture, the. . . fucking terrified expression currently etched across its features.

The robot was staring at the students like they were a threat, eyes wide and features screwed up in something like fear. The expression was shockingly genuine, and almost made Kaito reconsider that this thing was a robot at all. Nothing artificial could look so scared, not with that kind of realism. It couldn’t just be programmed to look like that, could it?

By now, the teacher was walking around the robot, gesturing to it as he explained what made it so special. He was talking about it like it wasn’t even there, like it wasn’t following his every move with those piercing, terrified eyes like it expected to be hurt at any second. It even flinched when the man waved his hand a little too quickly towards it. That just hurt to watch, even if the thing was artificial.

But then, just when Kaito thought the thing couldn’t get any more pathetic, the teacher actually turned to speak to it, asking some inane and already explained question about who made it and what it was for.

“I’m. . . I’m Kiibo. I was made by Professor Idabashi’s research team. My purpose is to mimic human behavior in ways never before considered.”

“See,” the teacher said, cutting the robot off and ignoring the way it cringed, “it’s supposed to think it’s human! But of course, there’s no way a a mere robot could have feelings. And yet, we’re trying to treat the thing like it could ever be a person. Isn’t that fascinating.”

That, Kaito thought, was the last fucking straw.

As the students dispersed, following the teacher into the next room, Kaito stayed to the back of the group. They were leaving the robot alone, with no guards in sight, and Kaito was overcome with a very stupid idea. He didn’t exactly want to get in trouble so soon after his last incident of acting out, but seeing that poor robot being treated so poorly was making his blood boil. If only to do something to rebel against the idea that something that could look that scared didn’t have feelings, he was going to do something that even he knew was a bad idea.

Slipping back into the room with the robot, Kaito put on a smiling face. He may have been a delinquent, but that didn’t mean he was going to scare this thing anymore than it already had to be.

“Hey there buddy! The teacher said he wants you to step outside for a sec so we can see how you function. That okay?”

“But. . . I wasn’t told of this prior to the exhibit. Are you sure that’s what the researchers want?” The robot was still looking at him with those huge, blue eyes, filled with a kind of terror Kaito didn’t want to consider what would have had to have happened to put it there.

“Well, plans changed. Teacher wants it to be a surprise for the kids, y’know? Come on, let’s just slip out the back way here. . .” Kaito shooed the robot towards the back exit, the one he’d seen from outside that would lead to a staircase to the ground.

The robot complied, nervous as it looked, walking smoothly in the direction Kaito guided it, still looking at him with suspicion and fear. Kaito had a feeling that if it wasn’t a robot, it would be shaking, and that mental image just made him feel all the sicker.

The robot went down the stairs with no problems, something that Kiato found a little bit impressive. It had to be pretty well made to navigate like that, didn’t it? Kaito didn’t think just any robot would be able to move around so easily in a new environment, not even one as obviously well made as this one.

On the ground, Kaito looked around. There was no one in sight; no students or staff, and the whole area looked clear from the building to what he could see of the parking lot. Perfect.

“Alright, buddy, I gotta be honest with you. The teacher didn’t ask for this; it was my idea. It didn’t look like they were treating you very good in there, and well. . . I felt bad. If you wanna get out of here now, I’ll take the blame. You can leave if you want to, and the researchers will never know that it was anything other than some punk messing around with their experiment.” Wow, his idea sounded even worse out loud.

The robot’s eyes narrowed immediately, staring at Kaito with something that was definitely suspicion. Well, suspicion mixed with the same sort of unguarded terror that hadn’t left since he’d first seen the thing.

“I. . . cannot leave,” the robot eventually said, electronic voice shaking. “I can’t function on my own; I need regular maintenance. . . and, and they would find me. I wouldn’t be able to get away. T-Thank you for your efforts, though. I assure you, this is the most concern a human has ever shown me.”

The robot turned to leave, but Kaito stopped it, grabbing its arm before it could get too far.

“Well then. . . let’s at least make today good! Come on, I’ll skip school and take you somewhere nice. You look enough like a person that it should work!” By now, Kaito was getting determined. The thing sounded miserable, and he wasn’t willing to give up.

“But, won’t we get in trouble for that?” The robot asked, its face legitimately filled with concern.

“Yeah, probably, but it’ll be worth it. I’m guessing you don’t get treated like anything but shit here? I’ll at least be nice to you for today. You up for it?”

The robot was practically withering under Kaito’s gaze, looking more nervous by the second. It kind of made sense that it’d be afraid of people, but seeing such an advanced creature cowering like it had reason to fear human contact made Kaito feel downright angry. Nothing deserved to be treated like that, even if it was artificial life.

“O-Okay. I’ll go with you. I’m incapable of denying orders, so. . . I think I h-have to.” The robot looked up at Kaito with huge, blue eyes, and by now

Kaito was sure that it would be shaking if it could.

Fuck, he was in over his head. The two of them had barely made it to the parking lot, and he already didn’t know what to do with the thing. This had been a stupid idea from the start, and by now, it was too late to go back. He’d told the robot that he’d give it one day of being treated well.

The two of them scurried to the edge of the museum’s grounds, trying to avoid attention. No passerby would have any idea what was going on, perhaps, but that didn’t mean it was a good idea to have anyone remember them who didn’t have to. Kaito had shoved his hat down over the robot’s head as an extra precaution, hiding its mess of hair and massive blue eyes, but even that wouldn’t hide it from someone who knew what they were looking for.

Eventually, they made it away from the museum, ducking into an alley not too far away, but hopefully out of sight. The reality of the situation was slowly sinking in, and, knowing he couldn’t go back now, Kaito was struggling to think of what to do with his new charge.

“Um, first of all, what’s your name?” Shitty small talk, but as good a place to start as any now that they were safe.

“Kiibo. It’s more of a serial number than what humans have, b-but. . . is that good enough?” the robot trailed off, looking like it was afraid of what would happen if it gave a wrong answer.

“Okay, Kiibo, is there anywhere you wanna go? I don’t got many ideas for where to take a robot for fun, so do you have any opinion?”

“I don’t have opinions. I do whatever my creators order me to.” Well that wasn’t helpful. Pretty damn cruel, considering how smart this thing clearly was, but not helpful in the slightest.

Apparently, Kaito had no choice but to make the choices for the both of them.

So, Kaito decided, a park was as good an option as any. Fresh air might be nice to a creature that had spent its lifetime indoors being gawked at like an experiment. At least, if Kaito was in the thing’s place, he’d appreciate the chance to get out and do something for once.

Kiibo spent most of the walk looking around with wide eyes, blatantly staring at everything they passed. He’d probably never been outside before, at least not in the residential streets that Kaito was leading him down, and it made a sick sort of sense that he’d be so fixated on what was going on around him. It was almost like a little kid seeing everything with wonder for the first time, and Kaito felt sick to his stomach.

The robot was pretty damn close to human, wasn’t it? Hadn’t it been designed to be as close to a person as science could make it? Didn’t that make it kind of sick to treat it like nothing but a machine? Kaito wasn’t a scientist, and he definitely didn’t know the “correct” answers to those questions, but even he could tell that this thing had been treated poorly.

At the park, as soon as Kaito told it it could sit down, Kiibo flopped down onto the grass, staring up at the sky like it was the first time he’d seen it. That in itself was a depressing thought, and one Kaito didn’t dare entertain for long.

The robot still flinched pathetically when Kaito sat down next to it, reacting instantly to the sudden movement, but Kaito considered it progress when it didn’t immediately scoot away.

At the very least, it would remember that there was one person in the world that hadn’t hurt it.

Kaito didn’t consider himself a nice guy. He was a delinquent, a bully, a loner always a few steps outside of everyone else’s radar. He wasn’t used to being nice to people, especially not without getting something in return, and the very fact that he was doing this was beyond confusing to even himself. Whatever had possessed him to save the robot, it had gone against every bit of sense he has left in his stupid head.

Whatever happened next, when the school and his dad caught wind of what he’d just pulled with the robot, he was probably going to be in for the punishment of a lifetime. He’d be lucky if he got away bruised for a week, probably, and if that thought didn’t make him shudder a little, he’d be lying.

And yet, looking at the thing, still wearing that stupid replica of a school uniform, Kaito’s hat smushed down over its face and messy hair, he didn’t regret doing it a bit.

Kiibo seemed perfectly content to sit in the sunlight for hours, and as noon faded into mid afternoon, Kaito still didn’t know what to do. The robot hadn’t complained in the slightest, looking as happy as could be to be out in the breeze and fresh air, and somehow, Kaito couldn’t bring himself to make it move. Even though they probably shouldn’t stay in one place for long, even though it probably would have been more fun to actually go do something, it seemed vaguely special to let the robot sit in peace.

“So, what’s it like, being a robot?” A stupid question, but the best Kaito could come up with.

“Hm? Oh, u-um. It’s. . . I don’t know how to explain. I guess that’s like asking a human “what’s it like to be a person?”. . . It just. . . is.”

“Y-Yeah, that makes sense.” Feeling foolish, Kaito tried to find something to say next. “Um, are you glad I brought you out here? I don’t want it to be like, bad for you and not know.”

“I am not programmed to express opinions out of experimental contexts. It doesn’t matter what I like and do not. B-But, thank you. I don’t think anyone has ever asked if I care about anything before.” Kiibo was looking at him again with those huge eyes, making some unreadable expression.

Everything it’d just said sounded miserable, but it was still acting like it was an honor that a human had cared at all.

The more he learned, the more he felt sick to his stomach.

“Look, once we take you back, I ain’t gonna be able to do this again. They’re never gonna let me back in that museum as long as I live. So. . . enjoy this. I’m not getting my ass whooped over this for nothing, you hear?”

“Y-Yes. It’s. . . nice, to be out here. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to just sit somewhere for so long unless I was charging.”

“What do they usually do with you?” Somehow, Kaito had the feeling he didn’t want to know.

“Experiments, mostly. St-studying my reactions to certain stimuli and if they measure up to the standard of ‘human’. There’s a lot of researchers, so I’m usually busy until I need more power. Oh! And exhibitions. I g-get taken around to places like today and shown off for my technology.” Kiibo said most of that with an even, almost scientific tone, only offset by the way its voice was still shaking a bit.

“You’re pretty smart, aren’t ya? Is it really okay to just use you like that?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you’re like, a person. There are human rights and stuff. It’s not okay to just push people around and treat ‘em like junk. If you have free will, it’s kinda creepy just to order you around like you don’t” Somewhere along the line, Kaito had gotten genuinely angry about this.

Kiibo was silent for a long time, staring at Kaito with blank eyes. It looked like it didn’t know what to say or how to process what had just been said, and, if it was a human, Kaito was sure it would have been stammering, trying to think of what to do next.

“Thank you,” it said, “that’s the first time a human has expressed any kind of. . . care about my wellbeing. I had never thought about being treated in any other way, so I can’t say I either agree or disagree with you. But, I can’t express how amazed I am that a human actually cares whether I’m being treated properly.”

Kiibo’s face had slowly slipped into the first smile Kaito had seen from it all day, a small, hesitant thing that seemed almost out of place on its dull face. It wasn’t a bad sight, though, and a part of Kaito was glad to see some emotion other than fear from it.

The day had been fading from afternoon to evening, though, and soon, Kaito decided it was time to take Kiibo back before anyone really pitched a fit.

The two of them walked back the same way they’d come, Kiibo shaking a little less than before. It seemed happy with the day at the park, even though it had been simple, and Kaito had a strange sense of satisfaction from seeing the robot so much happier, so much less afraid of him than it was when they first met.

Maybe he’d done some good today. It was a nice thought, even if Kaito had a feeling all he’d done was get himself in trouble and give some scientists heart attacks. Kiibo had sure seemed to enjoy the day, enjoy being treated something like the person it was meant to be for once, and that in itself made Kaito feel a little more sure about what he’d done.

Looking at the robot’s nervous face, eyes focused ahead, mouth set in a determined line, wind-mussed hair poking out everywhere, Kaito was sure that he’d done something right.

And, well, it couldn’t hurt to let Kiibo keep the hat.

Chapter Text

You were the nicest person Kokichi had ever met. Even though he was pathetic, even though he was worthless, you showered him with attention the likes of which he’d thought he’d never have.

After years of being nothing but bullied and hated, keeping himself going on only the small scraps of attention he could steal from the bullies who thought it was funny to see him beg and melt, your affection was so good he hardly knew what to do with it.

You’d reached out to him even while he was nothing more than the scum of the earth, a bullied pest stepped on by those around him. Kokichi didn’t dare think something like you’d taken an interest in him from first sight, but perhaps you’d started to become interested after just a little while of knowing how pathetic he could be.

Thinking nothing of what would happen to you if you were caught associating with the class punching bag, you’d offered him a hand, like you hadn’t seen how everyone else treated him like he was dirty.

It was the first time in years anyone had looked at Kokichi with anything other than barely disguised disgust or sadistic glee, the first time he’d seen genuine pity and care in someone’s eyes, and he’d very nearly fallen apart under your gaze. You looked at him like you cared what became of him, taken his hand with a firm, careful grip, and stolen his heart all in one fleeting instant.

Kokichi had fallen so hard it made him dizzy.

He’d immediately started following you around like a lost puppy, clinging to your side as if it didn’t matter that he’d get smacked away. He couldn’t expect you to want him, but even hate was better than being ignored by someone so radiant.

And, in the greatest miracle of his miserable life, you had decided that he was worth keeping around. You’d allowed him to stay beside you, allowed him to act like you were something other than the one person who could tolerate his pathetic existence. And oh, Kokichi was pathetic next to you. You were a person with friends and family who cared about you, a life beyond being pushed around and hated, and a reason to live that went further than being too scared to die.

You were so far above Kokichi it should have hurt his neck to look, and somehow, he’d managed to reach a point where you wanted him around. He could still hardly believe his luck that you actually wanted to pretend to be his friend, even if it earned you dirty looks from everyone else who knew him.

You still defended him like it was worth it, and even if he’d lost half the attention he got from bullies in the past month, spending time with you made up for every moment he lost. Perhaps he could imagine that you were putting some kind of claim on him, making it so that no one else in the world was allowed to hurt him. That kind of idea was just too good to be true.

After noticing that Kokichi tended to fall behind in school, you’d offered to study with him any day he was free. Kokichi had responded that every day was free for him so quickly it was embarrassing. And thus, the two of you had arranged to meet in the library after school every day.

“Did you see how this one went in class? We’re supposed to analyze it from the text here.” You talked to him like he was a person, not just something to step on and forget.

“N-No. I d-didn’t see it. I’m sorry.” It was still habit to flinch and cover his face when he said something wrong, even if you hadn’t done anything to hurt him yet.

“That’s okay. We’ll go over it again until you understand.” You were so kind, so much more than Kokichi deserved.

The real reason why he hadn’t heard what you were going over wasn’t one you’d be happy about. He’d been cornered in the bathroom and smacked around, shoved so hard that his ears were still ringing. The bullies were getting more vicious now that their target had some support.

You had sat so close to him, leaning in to look at his work in way that meant he could feel the heat radiating off of you. Kokichi was always so cold. It would be so wonderful to get just a bit closer, maybe just enough to feel the material of your uniform. He didn’t dare move out of turn like that, but it was nice to enough to imagine getting so close to you.

“I’m sorry I’m s-slow. You don’t have to waste your time on me. I won’t be a bother, I promise!” Force of habit had him squeaking out something pathetic, trying to make up to you before you got sick of him.

“It’s okay, Ouma. I’m here to help you, remember? It’s okay if it takes you a while to get it.”

As much as Kokichi wanted to obey you and get everything right the first try, make sure that you didn’t get bored of helping him, his head hurt more than he wanted to admit, the pain of not eating for a couple days, not sleeping properly in the chill of his room, getting smacked around by bullies who had been even more angry with him than usual all cumulating into a headache that felt like his skull was splitting in two.

“I’m, I’m trying. P-Please don’t be mad at me, I’m doing my best I s-swear.” Kokichi was getting more nervous by the second, the fear that you would finally get sick of him closing in.

“Are you alright, Ouma? You don’t look like you feel very good.” Reaching out, you gently pressed one hand to Kokichi’s forehead.

All at once, it felt like Kokichi was about to combust. You’d gotten close to him a couple times like this before, and every one, it felt as if his heart could beat out of his chest. Your touch was so much better than bullies mockingly patting his head. Whatever Kokichi could have possibly done right to make you touch him so kindly, he wanted to do a thousand times again.

“Let me guess, you’ve been getting picked on again? Poor thing, why didn’t you tell me.” You scooted in closer, meeting Kokichi’s flickering eyes. You were in his space now, like no one else ever wanted to be, and even the headache meant nothing next to this.

“Y-Yeah. They w-were just messing around, though! You d-don’t have to w-worry yourself about it.”

“It matters to me. I don’t like seeing you hurt. And you’re in pain, aren’t you? You’re making that face like something hurts.” You’d only known him for a month, and it was like you knew everything about him. It was so easy for you to tell when he was hurting. . . was he really that obvious?
Kokichi couldn’t find anything to say after that, and ducked his head in misery, ignoring the way the motion made the world spin. You shouldn’t have to worry about him. You shouldn’t have to worry about anything, honestly. You were too good for fussing over someone as pathetic as him.

If he’d been alone, Kokichi would have curled up into a little ball and waited until he could speak again, until the world quit whirling around him too quickly to keep up with. These overwhelmed moments always made Kokichi feel sick, and the only thing stopping him from pulling himself into a little coil of misery was you sitting next to him. He couldn’t worry you anymore than he already was. He couldn’t be more of a bother to you.

“Hey, it’s okay. Relax, Ouma, I’m not mad at you. It’s okay. You’re okay.” You were murmuring to him now, closer than ever and reaching out just enough to brush gently against his knuckles with your warm fingers.

Kokichi shuddered at the contact, squinching his eyes shut and trying to calm down.

Eventually, thankfully, the world slowed down, returning to the dull throb of his headache and the one blessedly warm pinpoint of your skin on his. Kokichi took a deep, quaking breath, trying to ignore how the air whined and wheezed through his chest. He sounded sick, like you had reason to worry.

“I’m okay. I c-can get through th-this. Let’s g-get b-back to stud-dying, if that’s alright?” It wouldn’t do to make you worry any more, to be any worse of a wreck than he’d already shown you.

You looked at Kokichi with worry (the kindest thing he’d ever seen), but turned back to the books, soft voice slipping into another lesson. This kind of thing happened often enough that you were used to it, used to seeing the kind of pathetic person Kokichi really was.

But he was happy, so very very happy that you actually cared. You were still the first person to treat him like anything but the worthless being he knew he was, and Kokichi treasured every second that he spent with you. You didn’t get mad at him, you didn’t yell, you didn’t push him around, and Kokichi was so grateful he could cry.

If what he had to do to keep earning this was push aside his pain and study with you, he could do that forever.

Chapter Text

Rantaro was used to being looked down on. Between being so poor he didn’t have the money for clothes that quite fit and having to work a part time job while still in high school just to make sure his siblings wouldn’t starve, he was more than accustomed to being seen as somehow below others his age.

In all honesty, he was no stranger to being picked on, either. He’d gotten tougher in his older years, more willing to fight back and defend himself, but he was still personally acquainted with what it was like to be pushed around and abused.

(Sometimes, his parents lost their tempers too. Those days were never good, but even Rantaro could understand why they did what they did.)

And yet, seeing someone even more easily picked on that him made Rantaro’s chest hurt in ways that he knew was sympathy.

There was a boy from another school who he’d caught some mornings on the way to class being shoved around by the rougher looking kids Rantaro had learned to stay away from. The boy was was tall, but thin as a rail, fragile looking in a way that made the parts of Rantaro that were used to looking after his siblings worry. He had a strange, feminine look to him, with cowering posture and the same black face mask every time Rantaro had seen him.

Rantaro always thought it was sad when people got bullied, even though he knew there was little he could do about it, but after weeks of seeing the same boy cornered and practically trembling, the protective instincts he was used to feeling over his siblings were starting to kick in.

He’d made up his mind to do something the next time he saw the boy getting picked on, even if it was as simple as offering him a hand. There was no way he could chase off bullies, of course, but there had to be something he could do to help out.

(Moreso to get rid of the guilt than do anyone else good, but who would ever know that from the outside?)

That next time came sooner than Rantaro expected, when, for the second time in a week, he caught the boy slumped against a fence, eyes bruised and posture practically shrinking into himself. His dark hair was falling into his face like a curtain to hide behind. He looked pathetic, and the guilt Rantaro had been feeling for a while surged back to life.

After checking that there were no bullies in sight, Rantaro walked up to the boy, offering a friendly hand and trying to ignore the way the boy flinched back in terror.

“You okay, man?” Rantaro asked, lighting up his face with what he hoped was a friendly smile.

The boy ignored the hand, ducking his eyes to avoid eye contact with Rantaro and shrinking back even further against the fence. Even from the way he was slumped over, Rantaro could tell that this boy was taller than him by at least a couple inches, which surprised him. What was someone so intimidating (and that’s what those sharp, shifty eyes and that mask were) doing getting picked on?

“Come on. They’re gonna come back if you just sit here. We gotta get to class, right?” Trying again, Rantaro questioned why he was doing this. He had no reason to help this person beyond making himself feel better.

“I. . . have to go home,” the boy said, lurching to his feet with unsteady legs. “I’m sorry for bothering you. . . you don’t need to worry about me.” His voice was quiet and shaky, as if he wasn’t quite used to talking.

“Home? Isn’t it time for class? At least, I haven’t heard about the other schools being on a different schedule,” Rantaro laughed, but the sound was empty and fake.

“Sister said I have to stay home today. . . It’s my fault for trying to go out.” The boy was slurring his words, sounding like he wasn’t all there, and

Rantaro abruptly realized that he’d started talking to utter crazy. Great. This was just what he wanted to deal with.

The boy tripped over his own feet, falling to one side. The bruising around his eyes suggested that he’d been hit in the head recently, and Rantaro wondered if the strange behavior could be explained by some kind of head injury. He stepped forward to catch the boy anyway, trying not to notice how alarmingly thin and light he felt.

“Okay, buddy. You do that. Just don’t go dying, okay?”

(It would probably be considered his fault if anything happened to the boy, and that would be a problem.)

The boy stumbled and caught his balance, just barely getting himself upright. He kept going, though, down a street in the opposite direction of any school Rantaro knew, long limbs shaking as he struggled to keep himself up as he trembled.

Apparently he really was going home.

Disregarding that this was one of the stranger things that had happened to him in a while, Rantaro turned to head to school. His guilt over seeing the boy so often had been relieved, and there was really nothing else he could do. If that kid was that crazy, nothing Rantaro could do would help him, and it would probably be better to stay out of the problem.

He had things to do anyway, siblings to worry about and money problems to fuss over. There was no time for worrying about strange, bullied kids beyond making himself feel better, and now that that was accomplished, he had little reason to care. The strange boy would just have to take care of himself now, since he’d refused what little help Rantaro had offered. It was no longer his problem, no longer his issue to deal with.

(It wasn’t like he’d really wanted to help in the first place.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sister had been getting more restless lately. She’d gone from demanding Korekiyo stay home from school about once a month to keep her company to insisting that he do so at least once a week. She was unhappy, visibly so, and even having her precious little brother around to do as she willed wasn’t doing anything to improve her mood.

Korekiyo was getting worried. Could something be happening at school? Sister was old enough to be in university by now, but it seemed like she’d been skipping classes. Perhaps she was being picked on? Perhaps she wasn’t getting along with one of her teachers? Perhaps the work was too stressful for her? Whatever the reason, Koreikyo couldn’t stand to see his dear sister in such a bad mood.

Unfortunately, Sister’s mood also meant that she was taking things out on him more often. It really wasn’t her fault that she was having a hard time, and Korekiyo understood completely why she was snapping at him more, getting angry more easily.

If he’d been better, maybe she wouldn’t need to be upset all the time. If he’d done more to help her, maybe she wouldn’t have to take things out on him. It was surely all Korekiyo’s fault that she was unhappy, all because he was too timid and useless and bad.

Of course, Sister told him that, made it very clear that she would be happier if only he could be better. The words were painful to hear, for all Korekiyo cared about his Sister’s well being, but he knew that they were true. It was all his fault that Sister had to be miserable, and the only thing he could possibly do to apologize was give every part of himself towards making her happy. It wasn’t much of an apology, but there was little anyone quite as pathetic as him could do for someone.

Those were the thoughts filling Korekiyo’s head as he was out on errands, Sister’s shopping list clutched in one thin, bony hand. She’d made a list of things she needed, and since she was much too tired from school to get them herself, Korekiyo had been told to go out after his own classes and fetch her everything she wanted.

Korekiyo hadn’t eaten in awhile (Sister had told him he’d been bad, so he has to wait for her to forgive him), and he was stumbling a bit as he walked, legs not quite listening as the deep exhaustion in his body slowly ate its way through him.

That stumbling soon betrayed him, as one shaky step where his legs buckled under him for a moment ended in him half crashing into someone.

. . . Someone who felt like a brick wall.

Looking up, Korekiyo took in the person he’d run into. It was a boy in a high school uniform, taller than even Korekiyo himself, and built so thickly it looked like he was all muscle. His hair was wild and untamed, his expression sour, and Korekiyo felt a bolt of terror that this person was going to be very angry about being bumped into. Oh, Sister wouldn’t be happy if he came back late thanks to being beaten up.

The boy turned, glaring at Korekiyo with cold, piercing eyes. One huge hand rose twitched at his side, and Korekiyo flinched on instinct, fully expecting to be hit for being clumsy.

“Are you okay?” the boy asked, stoic face not changing even as his voice was tinted with concern. “You look like you’re sick. Do you need to get help?”

“N-No. . . I’m fine. Thank you for your concern,” Korekiyo stuttered out, barely thinking about the words slipping out of him.

Korekiyo’s hands were shaking, his whole body feeling weak. Between not eating and the residual terror of knowing that he could be hurt at any moment, what little strength was holding him up was fading fast. Sister wouldn’t be happy if he took too long to get her things, but there was no way he could just walk away from the conversation and risk offending the much larger boy.

“Are you sure? You don’t look like you feel very well. It would be bad if you just collapsed in the street, you know.” The boy was still painfully stern, but the little bit of concern he was showing was more than anyone save Sister had expressed for Korekiyo in ages.

“Yes. I’m a-alright. I have errands to run, I have to get going. I’m s-sorry. Please excuse me.” Korekiyo was afraid to end the the conversation abruptly, but in his head, time was ticking.

Tilting his head in something like apology, Korekiyo kept moving, shaky legs taking him in the direction of the next store. He felt like he always did when Sister hadn’t allowed him to eat for a while; dizzy and floaty, like nothing around him was quite real.

He could feel the other boy’s eyes on him as he walked, probably checking to make sure he wasn’t going to just fall over where he stood. It was a fair assumption; Korekiyo felt like he could tip over at any second, his body felt so weak and distant.

Eventually, though, the feeling of being watched left him, and Korekiyo was left to wander towards the next store he has to visit; a pastry place that carried Sister’s favorite treats. There were three things on his list that he had to get from there, and even though the immediate smell of sugar and cake made his stomach twist painfully as he stepped in the door, Korekiyo knew that he had to stay focused.

Pushing the encounter with the other boy from his mind, Korekiyo surveyed the sweets in front of him. Sister’s list had been very specific, and he knew he’d be in trouble if he got anything wrong. It wouldn’t do to be too focused on something that mattered little in comparison to what he had to do. That was the kind of thing that caused him to make mistakes.

There was no time to be thinking about anything but how to make her happy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gonta’s parents had been gone for close to a week. They’d told him to watch the house, left him with just enough money to make sure he didn’t starve, and took off on a trip that they claimed was for business. They hadn’t so much as called in the time that they’d been gone, hadn’t done anything to check in and make sure that Gonta was alright.

It hurt a bit to think that they didn’t care even enough to check in, but Gonta was used to it. They’d been doing things like this since he was old enough to take care of himself (Unfortunately, that wasn’t very old. He always had been a mature, responsible child.), and Gonta was more than accustomed to spending days by himself.

When he was little, it had hurt to be left alone for so long at a time, but Gonta hadn’t had much of a choice but to get used to it. By now, it hardly bothered him to wake up every morning and go to bed every night in an empty house.

Like every day, Gonta gotten up, gotten ready, and forced himself to go to school. It didn’t feel like there was much reason to bother with showing up anymore, not when it had gotten to a point where most of the other kids would hardly look at him for fear of him finally snapping and hurting someone.

That was the part that hurt the most, when they looked at him like he was dangerous or willing to do people harm. Gonta had never wanted to hurt anyone. It wasn’t his fault that he was naturally built tall and large, that exercise cleared his head when he was lonely and falling into dark thoughts.

(No one cared about any of that. No one cared about him.)

But Gonta kept going. Even though his parents would neither know nor care if he dropped out, he kept going.

Some part of him still wanted to be a normal kid who went to school and smiled every day and had friends, and he couldn’t quite bring himself to give up on the hope that someone wouldn’t be afraid of him.

School was tiring, though. Gonta wasn’t very smart and had a hard time focusing when he tried to study. He always got low scores, something that only increased his reputation as a dangerous delinquent, and just forcing himself to endure the disapproving stares of the teachers was hard enough.

Honestly, it was a miracle he forced himself to go to school at all.

But Gonta did it anyway. He walked to school every morning, all by himself, trying not to pay attention to how even kids from other schools kept a wide space between him and them.

There was a boy who had stepped in front of him, today, probably fairly tall (nothing compared to Gonta), and wearing a ratty, worn down uniform with fraying threads and visible holes, quite possibly a size too small. Probably poor, Gonta thought, looking at the obviously tear in the bottom of the boy’s book bag.

Suddenly, though, the boy seemed to notice Gonta’s presence behind him. He whirled around, looking up at Gonta’s impressive height with wide eyes.
Gonta braced himself for the boy to duck his head and run away, but instead, he stepped back until he was side by side with Gonta.

“Wow, man, you’re pretty tall,” he said, grinning and actually making eye contact with Gonta. “You from the school over that way?” He pointed nonchalantly, acting like he didn’t care that he was talking to someone who looked like they could snap him in half.

“Y-Yeah,” was all Gonta could get out, throat closing in on him suddenly now that someone was actually talking to him.

“Don’t talk much, do ya?” the boy continued matching his pace to Gonta’s. “I didn’t know there were many bodybuilders still in high school.”

“I’m. . . not. I’m just like this.” Despite the fact that Gonta knew the boy was joking, he couldn’t help but defend himself. He’d always hated people thinking that he looked the way he did on purpose.

“Oh. Well that’s pretty cool. You must not get messed with much, huh? I’m Amami, by the way,” the boy said, not seeming even the slightest bit afraid of the massive person next to him.

“No. Most people are afraid of me.”

“I can see why, man. You look like you could snap someone in half!”

Gonta couldn’t help but flinch at that last part. He hated being reminded of how huge and scary he was, that everyone who avoided him had a good reason for being afraid. It was painful to even think that they were justified in wanting to stay well away.

“I wouldn’t, though. I don’t hurt people. . .” It probably wouldn’t do any good, but Gonta wanted to at least try not to seem dangerous.

“Can’t say I’d do the same if I was your size,” the boy laughed, “There are some people my dad owes money to that I’d like to scare off. Hey, think you could intimidate them for me?” It was obviously a joke, but Gonta's heart sunk all the same. He hated being seen as someone that would do something like hurt someone.

“Ah, crap. It’s late,” the boy gasped, looking down at his watch. “I gotta get to school. Later!” And with that he jogged ahead, quickly vanishing into the clusters of kids that Gonta knew would never dare talk to him.

The whole experience had been borderline surreal; Gonta couldn’t remember the last time someone had actually approached him, much less treated him like anything other than someone to be afraid of.

But that one moment of being talked to like he was a person, like someone though he was a friend was shockling pleasant. Gonta had never imagined that anyone would be willing to talk to him like that, to not flinch away every time he so much as looked in their direction, and there was a vague sense of happiness, of fulfillment that someone had wanted to be near him even for a little bit.

Today might not be such a bad day after all.

Chapter Text

As much as it pained you, there wasn’t much you could do to help. You were always too shy, too weak, too gentle to do any good when it came to protecting your girlfriend. You worried about her more than you could ever express, afraid of something really bad happening to her when you couldn’t be there, and the worst part was that you knew you wouldn’t be able to do anything even if you were there for her.

At home, Angie lived a nightmare. She didn’t like to talk about her family, but you had a vague idea of how cruel and delusional her parents were. You didn’t like thinking about how she lived, you heart aching at the very thought of what she had to go through.

School wasn’t much better, either. Even there, Angie was picked on for being different, for not being able to keep up with the trends that ruled the other girls. You were the only one who knew it was a thin thread even keeping her allowed to go to school at all. Her parents had wanted her homeschooled for years, and would take any sign of her being “high maintenance” to as evidence that she was being negatively influenced.

You were really the only person she had, the only one who wanted to be around her no matter how she stood out. You’d looked past her ancient tattered clothes, messy hair, and permanent, clearly fake smile to see someone hurting horribly underneath, and you’d fallen head over heels from the first time you saw the real her.

Angie didn’t like letting her true self slip, though. It was like she was always afraid that if she let her smile drop for a second, all the pain she’d been holding back would consume her. You didn’t like to admit it, but you feared that might be true.

“Hey-o!” she chirped, first thing in the morning and as brilliant as ever, “I think today’ll be a good one! Don’t you think so too?”

Translation, she hadn’t had to do anything ridiculous for the sake of her family’s cult today, and was praying that she wouldn’t have to. She’d never quite said it was a “cult” in so many words, but you knew what you’d heard about.

“I hope so! Is everything going okay, you know, at home? I-If that’s okay to ask!” You couldn’t do much to protect Angie at school, but the least you could do was offer support if things were going poorly for her at home.

“Oh. . .” Angie trailed off, face dropping for a heartbreaking second. “It’s. . . okay. There was a ‘meeting’ last night, but y’know, what can you do? I didn’t get my homework done, but it’s not like anything bad happened.”

“Okay, good. I-I mean, not about the homework! The nothing bad happened part! You know what, here! Copy mine so you don’t get in trouble.” You quickly fished your own homework out of your bag, sliding it over to Angie in the hopes she could get it done before class started.

“Thanks,” she smiled, quickly pulling out a pencil and her worksheets and scribbling rapidly on her own paper.

You’d saved Angie like this more times than you could count, offering homework answers when she didn’t have time to work or food when he parents forced her on some weird diet or a place to sleep when she couldn’t stand being at home for a moment longer. It hadn’t exactly been an easy relationship, but you liked to think the happiness in her eyes was a bit more genuine than when you’d first met her.

Before long, class started, and you spent the whole time lost in thought, staring at Angie’s messy clothes, wild hair barely pulled back, and sweet, concentrating expression. It was half out of being so in love you could hardly take it, but half out of worry.

You had a feeling that today, like every day, she’d get picked on. It was never bad enough to catch the teachers’ attentions, but the other girls were relentless when it came to making Angie feel like an outsider. You could hardly believe that people you’d known since elementary school could be so cruel to someone, and yet, the moment you’d started trying to stand up for Angie, they’d done the same to you. Whatever social status you had before dating her had flown out the window within days, and by now, you were just as low on the food chain as she seemed to be.

You didn’t regret a second of it.

As soon as the two of you got the chance, the moment class ended, you’d both sneak off to some empty classroom to hide out, waiting for the next class and making sure that no one could find you to do any harm. It was the best either of you could manage to protect each other, and it just had to be enough.

That was exactly what happened, as soon as your morning classes were over. Angie stood up, slipping out of the classroom as quickly as she could, and after waiting just a couple moments to make sure she’d be ahead of you, you followed her, making your way to one of the hiding spots on your rotation list (an attempt to make sure no one caught onto where you’d be at any given time).

You found Angie in the classroom you’d decided on, lip freshly split and hair hanging in her face. One of the other girls had probably tripped her on “accident”, something that happened just rarely enough to keep passing it off as not being on purpose. Your blood boiled, but you forced the feeling down. There was nothing you could do without getting yourself in more trouble than she already was.

Knowing better than to ask, you sat down next to her, tucking your legs up and pulling your bag over to rest beside your chair. Angie had gotten her smile back together by now, all evidence that she’d been blank faced and shaking a few moments ago all but gone.

“So, what are we gonna do today?” she asks, messing with the low, loose ponytail she’s wearing today.

“Would you be okay with drawing? I was thinking we could pass pictures back and forth and take turns on them? Just silly little doodles, so they don’t have to be good.” Angie wasn’t used to coming up with her own ideas, and more often than not, you had to make little choices for her.

“Oooh, sure! That sounds super fun!” Wiping at the last trickle of blood on her chin, Angie leans forward, making the first few marks on the notebook you’d pulled out.

She draws something that looks rather like a flat flower, and passes the book over to you. You add onto it, turning into a star and adding another one nearby, then passing the notebook again.

Angie’s face is scrunched up in concentration, staring intently at the page as she draws little circles with her pencil. Her hair is falling in her face, most of the strands in front falling out of her ponytail and into her eyes. Her clothes are rumpled and slightly the wrong size, as if no one bothered to buy her a new uniform when she hit her last growth spurt. The wound on her lip is just starting to bruise, and if you could ignore that, she’d be the cutest thing you’d ever seen. Actually, she still kind of is, it just hurts a bit to look at the evidence that you can’t protect her.

Angie keeps doodling, taking longer than both your turns put together, and by the time she passes the notebook back to you, there are at least ten stars and a smiley face in the sky along with them.

This is honestly as peaceful as it gets with her. In moments like these, you don’t have to think about what’s waiting for Angie as soon as school is over, the tiny chance that she’ll never come back to class for some reason or another, the worry that her parents are going to do something really dangerous eventually.

It’s nice to just sit with your girlfriend quietly, doing something that makes the both of you smile.

Actually, she’s never really admitted that you’re in a relationship, just nodding along with you when you bring the subject up. It’s not like she’s denied it, not that she’s shown any sign of not wanting to be with you, but you can’t help but feel like she’s not as in favor of the relationship as you are. Her parents would surely never allow her to date someone (they’re iffy about friends), but maybe that’s not the whole reason?

You don’t want to think about that. Whatever it is that makes Angie hold back her true feelings when with you has to be the same thing that makes her smile no matter how much she’s hurting.

It’s better just to assume that what she says is what she means.

Chapter Text

Dates with your girlfriend were a rather rare thing. She didn’t like going out in public, possibly out of some kind of fear of other people looking at her. Kaede had a problem with humanity as a whole, and you were well aware that you were the only person she tolerated, much less regarded with anything resembling fondness.

You’d had to ask her for days to get her to be willing to go out with you, even for something as simple as a movie and a meal at a local cafe. From the first time you’d brought it up, she’d shot you down with a cold “no”, and even though you’d persisted from there, you weren’t sure if she really wanted to go with you in the first place, or if she was just caving to spare herself the irritation of being bothered by you any longer.

Honestly, you were used to that kind of behavior from Kaede. She never seemed to be happy about anything, and you knew better than to take it personally when she was cold to you.

If anything, you considered it a good sign that she put up with you at all, allowing you to spend time with her no matter how obvious it was that your brand of happiness was little more than an annoyance. You appreciate every moment you got to have with her, no matter how grouchy Kaede could be with you.

No matter what, you were going to do everything in your power to give her a good day. You couldn’t control if Kaede liked going out places or not, but there was a lot you could do to make the experience a hopefully overall pleasant one for her.

First thing in the morning on your day off, you’d gotten up early, washing up and getting ready in record time. You made sure to pick out a nice outfit and make sure you looked your best, wanting to make a good impression on your girlfriend on what would probably be the only date for a while. Kaede wouldn’t agree to this kind of thing too often.

You wondered if Kaede would dress up too. It didn’t seem like her to want to go along with your plans so easily, but you could always hope that she’d give in and wear something cute. It would be awfully nice if you got to see her in something other than the plain old school uniform you were used to seeing every day. Kaede wasn’t really one to care about her looks, though, and you honestly couldn’t remember a time when she’d done anything to make herself look cute.

You were out the door quite a while before the two of you were supposed to meet, wanting to get to the arranged place early and make sure you wouldn’t miss Kaede.

Walking quickly, you made it to the bus station that would be dropping her off, her home just a bit more than walking distance away from yours in the other direction. She’d probably be a little bit late just to spite you for making her leave her house on an off day, but you didn’t mind. It wasn’t like you weren’t used to that kind of behavior from her.

Eventually, the bus pulled up, and Kaede stepped out, surprisingly completely on time. Her expression was sour, but she was wearing a cute, pink sundress, frills falling softly around her knees and a pastel bow tied over her chest. Her hair was pinned back in a soft updo, and looking closely, you thought you could even see the faint sheen of lipgloss, something just a bit darker around her wide, deep set eyes.

It was clear she made an effort for you, for once, and you were already elated. This was more commitment to a date that you’d even seen from her. Maybe she was just as excited as you were?

“Kaede! I’m so glad you made it!” you smiled, waving her over and resisting the urge to grab one slender hand.

“I said I would, didn’t I? It’s not like I’d skip on you after I told you I’d show up,” her tone was harsh, but lacking the chill you knew well when she was talking to someone she genuinely didn’t like.

“Mhmm, but I’m still really happy you’re here. Something could have come up, you know? And I really wanted to have today with you!”

“C-Come on already. Do we have to stand around here where everyone can stare at us like a freak show?”

You had a feeling she was just embarrassed that you were being nice to her, but you complied, taking one of her small, soft hands in yours and starting to walk before Kaede could protest. To yourself, you thought about how cute her hands were, how small and feminine compared to the cold personality you were so used to.

“So, are you ready for today? We’re gonna have a snack first at this really great cafe I know, and then go to a new movie that’s just out! It’s a romance, y’know? One of the sweet ones that all the couples love. It’ll be just like we’re a couple of normal people.”

Kaede’s face crinkled up into an unhappy look, glaring a bit as soon as you said “normal people”.

“Ugh, do you have to put it like that. It’s bad enough that I have to get crowded into a theater with all these people, don’t tell me the movie’s gonna be sappy shit too?” Her voice was harsh, but nowhere near as angry as you were expecting.

“I think it’ll be fun. We’ll be out doing something nice together, and of course I’ll be happy ‘cause I’m with you. Will you at least try it for me?”

“Y-Yeah, but only cause you’ll cry about it if I don’t. . .” You didn’t miss the way Kaede’s voice trembled a bit, or the way her face went ever so slightly pink at your words. She was more affected by this all than she wanted to let on, and you knew better than to pick at the kind of thing she’d rather let go.

The two of you kept walking, mostly in silence now that Kaede had gotten overwhelmed. You didn’t want to press the issue any further for fear of upsetting her, and knew enough about the way your girlfriend would react to things to know that asking any more would end in a blow up.

She never was good at taking affection from you.

Eventually, you reached the little cafe where you had intended for the two of you to have a meal before the movie, and, with you politely holding the door for Kaede as she scoffed, both of you stepped inside.

The cafe itself was a cute little place, plain and simple, with pastel decorations and a homey feel. There were open windows on every wall, streaming in sunlight and fresh air, and the whole room smelled like cake and sugary tea. You’d been coming to this place for years, and knew the inside by heart, even if this was the first time you’d be taking Kaede inside.

One of the waitresses led you to your seat, a cozy little booth near the back of the room (you’d called ahead, asking for this spot specifically so Kaede wouldn’t have to be near as many people), and Kaede tucked her skirt under herself and sat down, staring at you across from her with something in between frigid disdain and barely concealed nerves.

You knew that Kaede was borderline afraid of crowds, too many people getting too close to her triggering some kind of fear response in all the worst ways. She usually tried to act like she hated other people, like her disdain for the world was the end of the story, but you’d seen up close just how wrong that was, the genuine fear in her eyes when a crowd of shoppers had boxed you two in on the way home from school.

After seeing that kind of fear from her once, you’d made up your mind to make sure she never had to feel like that again.

“What are you gonna order?” you asked, smiling widely.

“How should I know? I’ve never been here before, s-so you might as well choose for me. It doesn’t matter what you pick; all this sweet stuff tastes the same.” Kaede crossed her arms and looked away from you, making what was supposed to be an angry face.

You just smiled, ordering the sweetest, most elaborate thing on the menu for her when the waitress returned, not missing the way her eyes flickered back to you as you confidently ordered something so fancy.

The two of you kept talking back and forth until your food arrived, Kaede obviously getting annoyed with how you refused to be anything but happy. It was a rare sight to see her smile, much less express genuine happiness, and she always made it very clear that you being happy all the time got on her nerves like nothing else.

You could see, though, how happy she was to have someone smile at her every day. You knew Kaede’s home life wasn’t the best, and it wouldn’t hurt either of you for you to make sure you were a bright presence in her life. At least that way, there would be one person who was.

When your food arrived, you saw very clearly how Kaede’s eyes widened at the sight of her layered, frosting smothered piece of cake. It was massive chocolate treat drenched in white icing and covered in strawberries, and you had a sinking feeling that this wasn’t the kind of thing she got to eat at home.

“Does it look good?” you asked, mouth full of the first bite of your own treat.

“Y-Yeah. It’s fine,” Kaede replied, cutting off a massive chunk of the cake and shoving it into her mouth.

You were well aware that Kaede was skinnier than a girl of her height really should be, but you didn’t like thinking about why exactly that might be. Her behavior around food only hinted at bad things.

“I’ve said this before, but I’m really glad you made it. I’m so happy I get to have a date with the best girlfriend in the world.” Shoving your own insecurities down with compliments, the nicest thing you could think to say slipped out before you could stop it.

“Wh-What w-was that for?” Kaede demanded, eyes going wide as she very nearly choked on her cake. “Don’t just say things like that!”

“Sorry, sorry. I mean it, though. You’re wonderful, and I’m so glad I get to be with you. I really hope you like the movie and the food and everything; it means a lot to me that you have fun too.”

Kaede made a face like she was dying and looked at you with wide, unhappy eyes. Some of her hair was slipping out of the updo she’d pinned it in, and her hands were visibly shaking where they hovered over the edge of the table.

“I get it a-already. You don’t have to be so sappy!” she snapped, turning her head away and glaring at the far wall.

“Okay, I’ll stop. I want you to be comfortable too,” you smiled, unfazed by the cold behavior. This was just Kaede’s way of telling you that she couldn’t handle what you were saying.

Eventually, the two of you finished your food. You paid the waitresses, happily footing the bill for Kaede’s massive slice of cake as well as your own, and the two of you stepped back outside into the sunlight.

Kaede wasn’t frowning anymore, even though her expression could by no means be called a smile. You were tempted to say something about how cute she looked today, but decided against it, fearing that you’d overwhelmed the poor girl enough for one day. You two still had the movie to get to, after all, and you didn’t want to ruin anything.

You were still determined that this would be a good day for her.

Chapter Text

Kokichi had been having another miserable day. He’d woken up cold and alone after a tauntingly realistic dream of laying curled up to someone’s chest, and everything had gone downhill from the moment he realized that the warmth beside him wasn’t real and fading fast.

His mother had denied him breakfast because one of his teacher’s had called about him not getting his homework in for two weeks straight, and after getting yelled at until the moment he was forced to step out the door, Kokichi’s head was left ringing and throbbing with pain. His headaches had been getting more frequent lately, and he had a feeling it at something do to with a mix of too much stress and too little food.

Speaking of too little food, it had been a full day since he’d last eaten, and even that was on what was practically scraps over the past week. It had been a bad week for getting anything to eat, and Kokichi’s stomach currently felt like it was trying to eat a hole in his abdomen. It ached horrible, a deep gnawing feeling like something inside him had teeth, and Kokichi wanted nothing more than to spend the day in bed instead of having to get up and face everything that threatened him.

If he did that, though, then no one would talk to him all day, and after such a painful morning, Kokichi couldn’t imagine anything worse than going another day without someone paying attention to him.

It was pathetic, he knew, but he couldn’t help but long for even the cruel affections of the people who picked on him, the occasional shove or touch that didn’t hurt, the rare chance that someone would mockingly push his shoulder or pat his head. Some of his bullies were touchier than others, and

Kokichi couldn’t stand to go too long without what little attention he could scavenge from them.

Even if his home life was bad, being away from what little attention he got from the bullies at school was worse, the one highlight of his otherwise miserable days easily lost if someone else who was an easier target showed up. Kokichi hated the idea of being forgotten almost as much as he hated the bullying itself, so he had little choice but to forced himself to take the pain in order to have someone, anyone pay attention to him for a little bit.

So Kokichi had gotten up, dragging himself to school on shaky legs.

No one had bothered to pick on him that morning, not even the usual bullies who would intercept him on his way into the school, and Kokichi had felt his heart sink as soon as he made it to his seat (for once on time), with no one having attacked him.

Could this be one of the rare days when the bullies left him alone? Or maybe they’d found someone else who gave better reactions than a skinny kid who could barely keep himself upright? Maybe they’d just forgotten about him entirely? Either way, Kokichi’s day was looking grim, and he found himself wishing all the more that he’d stayed in bed where nothing could hurt him.

It was practically painful to think of making it through another day without anyone so much as looking at him, and Kokichi found himself drifting through the teacher’s morning announcements, not paying a bit of attention to anything but his own tormenting thoughts.

That was why, when the words about a transfer student being introduced today left the teacher’s mouth, Kokichi very nearly fell out of his chair. He hadn’t heard anything about that before. Could he really just not be paying enough attention?

Kokichi actually sat up and listened for this part. He was curious to know what kind of person would be joining the school. . . and especially if they’d be the sort that would show any interest in him. Perhaps they’d be a terrible bully, the kind of person who would zero in on a weakling like him and make his life a living hell. Perhaps they’d be someone so kind that he’d never even enter their minds, so far below their social circle that his existence meant nothing. Perhaps they’d be just as hated and looked down on as he always was.

There were a world of possibilities, and Kokichi was quickly getting caught up in all of them. He was starting to worry, a sick feeling squirming its way into the pit of his stomach where he couldn’t pull away. There were so many ways this could go so horribly wrong.

That’s why, when the person finally stepped into the room, Kokichi couldn’t hold back the little squeak that tore its way out of his chest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You hadn’t wanted to go to a new school. You’d been happy enough in your own, where you had friends and a history and a place among everyone else. You hadn’t wanted to disrupt the careful balance you’d spent years working to achieve.

Your parents went on and on about possibility and exploration, all the fun things that could happen if you stepped outside of your comfort zone and did something new, but you hadn’t wanted to hear any of it. You weren’t happy about being suddenly moved to a new school, and that was final.

Yes, you were happy that your father had gotten a good job in a new city, one that allowed you all to afford a much nicer house than before. You were also happy that you’d moved into the nicest neighborhood you’d even lived in, and that your test scores were good enough to let you into the best (well, only) high school in the area. You also were pretty confident that you could make new friends if you had to. Always rather popular, you had no doubts that you could get along with whoever you had to in a new place.

However, none of that could measure up to the feeling of standing outside a new classroom all alone, ready to step into a new school life. You were sort of terrified, to be honest. But all too soon, you heard your name being called, and, taking a deep breath, you forced yourself to step into the waiting classroom.

. . . and you came face to face with what had to be the cutest boy you’d ever seen.

Even sitting down, you could see that he that he was almost painfully small, oversized uniform hanging off the sharp angles of his little body. His dark hair was overgrown and falling into his face in untamed strands, framing delicate features set in a too thin face. Wide, dark eyes stared back at you from above cheeks that had to be the only plump part on his body, and looking at his borderline terrified expression, you could feel yourself developing one massive crush.

Quickly putting on an even face, you introduced yourself to the rest of the class, all the while having to stop your eyes from flickering back to the boy in the second row.

The teacher assigned you a seat one row back and a bit to the side of your mystery boy, and you happily took it, putting away your things and settling in for class. Of course, you were going to spend most of it keeping an eye on the cutie in front of you, but no one else in the room had to know that. You were very glad that your seat gave you quite as nice an angle.

Class passed very quickly with you staring at the boy, noticing all the little things about him like how his hands trembled as he held his pencil, how he absentmindedly played with strands of his hair as the teacher talked. Oh, you were completely smitten.

As soon as the bell rang for lunch break, you were up out of your seat, following the boy out of the classroom and catching up to him quickly, ready to introduce yourself.

“Um, excuse me,” you said, lightly tapping him on the shoulder as you walked.

The boy instantly shrieked, twisting around and staring at you like he’d been shot. He was practically shaking, and you thought you could see the beginnings of tears in his wide eyes.

“Sorry, sorry. I probably should have given you more warning, huh? I’m- well, I kind of introduced myself in class already. What’s your name?” you asked with a kind smile, trying to put the boy at ease.

“Uh. . . O-Ouma Kokichi,” the boy stuttered out, pointedly looking away from you as soon as your eyes met.

“Okay, Ouma. Would you be alright with getting lunch together? I don’t know anyone here yet, so it’d be great to make a friend.”

Ouma very nearly started trembling at your words, looking even further down as you leaned to try to meet his eye. He seemed absolutely terrified, like no one had ever just talked to him before, and you suddenly had a bad feeling about his place in the school.

“I d-don’t. . . I don’t h-have any money for lunch,” he whimpered. “You don’t h-have to eat with me. It’d j-just be weird for m-me to sit there while y-you ate.”

Immediately, your heart sank. Ouma didn’t even have enough money for food? That was horrible. Even worse was the bitter tone he said it in, as if he fully expected you to make fun of him for not having the same resources you did.

“Okay. I’ll pay for it then,” you smiled. “I have plenty of money on me for two. Come on, let’s go eat!” With that, you grabbed Ouma’s tiny, cold hand, gently tugging him along after you before he could say no. There was no way you were going to just stand there and let someone as cute as this go hungry while you had the means to help.

Ouma stuttered and shook, frantically trying to jerk his hand away from yours, but you held tight. It wouldn’t hurt a kid this small to get a good meal in him, especially with the bad feeling that was only growing in your chest with everything you learned.

“What would you like?” you asked him when you’d made it to the cafeteria, still holding onto his skinny hand to make sure he didn’t slip away. “I can pay for anything, so go ahead and pick what you want.”

“I d-don’t– I c-can’t ,” Ouma whimpered, making a miserable face in your direction, as if he had no idea what to do.

You kept smiling reassuringly, rubbing small circles over his bony knuckles with your thumb, and eventually Ouma managed to whisper one of the cheaper items on the menu.

Still holding onto his hand, you ordered your food and his, making sure to ask the staff for extra food in Ouma’s portion. You happily paid the bill for both (of course, you had chosen something cheaper than usual), and let go of Ouma’s hand just long enough to grab the food, passing him his tray and gently nudging him in the direction of an out of the way table.

Ouma hesitantly sat down, eyeing the food in front of him like it might bite, and only took a bite when you sat down beside him, possibly in an attempt to avoid having to talk to you.

“So, Ouma, I’m sorry for dragging you around like this, but you look like you could use the food. No idea what goes on in your home life, but take it this time. I won’t charge you anything. Is that okay?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kokichi felt like he was dreaming. You, the transfer student with the soft eyes, had talked to him like he was something more than the school punching bag, actually touching his hand and treating him like he deserved you wasting your money on him.

And now, there was a huge, hot plate of food in front of him, steaming and fresh, the smell making his whole stomach twist painfully. The first bite had made his whole mouth light up with what felt like electricity, drool dripping out and down his chin from the moment the taste hit his tongue. It had been so long since he’d gotten fresh food like this, his whole body felt dangerously close to rebelling from just the sensory input so far.

Having a full, warm stomach after months of living off of scraps and sneaked bites at home would be almost unimaginable.

It was everything Kokichi could do not to fall on his knees and start thanking you, scraping over the cold floor to express how grateful he was for the kindness. Whatever kind of person you were, spending your own precious money on trash like him meant that you were practically a god in his eyes.

And oh, you were still trying to talk to him, continuing to smile and look him in the eye even as he shoveled another massive bite of food into his mouth. It wasn’t like he could ever expect you to be this nice again, but it wasn’t like he could ignore the person who had fed him.

“Y-Yeah. It’s okay. Th-Thank you so much for buying me food. I don’t know how I can repay you, but I’ll d-do anything, I r-r-really will!” Whatever you’d demand in return for feeding him, Kokichi felt like he could do anything to keep such kind eyes on him for a little bit longer.

“No, wait,” you said, “I just said I’m not gonna charge you anything. It’s really okay. You look hungry, and knowing that you got a good meal in you is enough for me.”

How could a person this kind exist. Was he dreaming? You were sitting mere inches away, warmth from your leg slowly seeping across the gap and into his cold skin. It had been so long since another person got so close to Kokichi without the intent to hurt, he could feel himself shaking at the proximity alone, much less the unbelievable kindness.

“Th-Thank you so much! I, I have to do something to make it up to you. It’s n-not fair for you to just waste your money like this. . .” Trailing off, Kokichi was painfully aware of how small and weak his voice sounded, words squeaking pitifully out of his throat.

“How about being my friend, then?” you asked, smiling so gently it made Kokichi’s heart twist. Oh, what had he done to deserve this. “And let me buy you food sometime again soon. You’re kinda tiny, and, no offence, I feel kinda like you’re not eating enough. Would that work?”

“Wh-Whatever you want! I’ll r-really do anything, so, um, p-please the friend part sounds really good!” All of that fell out before Kokichi could stop himself.

You looked at him in something like shock for a moment, pretty face going slack for just an instant in surprise. Had he messed up? Had he said something wrong? Would you ever want to talk to him again after he’s said something so stupid?

“That sounds wonderful!” you said, face breaking out into a grin. “Like, not to be weird, but from the moment I stepped into that class you seemed like the kinda person I want to be friends with. If you don’t mind, I’d really like to help you out a little. Um, sorry if this is too forward, but do you get bullied? It just kinda. . . well, I had a bad feeling, I guess.”

Kokichi gulped. “Y-Yeah. . .” He suddenly felt embarrassed, like he shouldn’t be admitting something like that to you. What if he was too pathetic, and you decided that you didn’t want to be friends with him after all?

Your hand moved towards him, and Kokichi flinched, instantly expecting to be hit for saying something wrong or making you feel uncomfortable.

Instead, your warm hand landed on his shoulder in a gentle pat, scrunching up the loose fabric of his uniform. Kokichi couldn’t hold back a little gasp, the contact, the heat going straight to the part of his consciousness that fed on attention from anyone it could.

Fingers clenching, Kokichi tried to control his breathing. He felt on the verge of panic or tears or something else, so overwhelmed by so much kindness all at once that his shriveled little heart couldn’t take it. Suddenly wishing he could curl into a little ball and hide until things stopped being quite so overwhelming, Kokichi swallowed heavily, trying to meet your eye.

“It’ll be okay,” you said softly, hand still rubbing tender circles in his shoulder. “I might not be able to stop everything, but I don’t like people picking on my friends.”

Was that really an offer to protect him? Could you really be so kind (deluded) as to think it would be worth your time to try to keep him safe? Either way, Kokichi felt absolutely shaken. In all his years of life, no one had tried to protect him before, and the feeling, while new, wasn’t unpleasant at all. The kind of attention you were giving him was like the rare scraps he got from bullies magnified by a hundred, and Kokichi could practically feel himself becoming addicted to it already.

He’d do anything for you to keep looking at him with such a soft expression, keep touching him with such gentle hands.

After that, the two of you ate together in near silence, Kokichi much too busy shoving food into his mouth to keep talking to you. You watched him eat with a face that seemed almost fond, and Kokichi tried unsuccessfully to keep himself from blushing under the gaze.

Unbelievably, he felt full when the food was gone, skinny stomach bulging out a bit under his uniform from so much food going into it at once. It had been. . . well, maybe forever since he’d felt so warm and full, and best of all, he still got to walk back to class beside you.

Kokichi was suddenly, painfully glad that he’d gotten up today. The time he’d spent with you just today was possibly the best thing to ever happen to him.

And he’d take any kind of pain to make sure your attention stayed.

Chapter Text

You weren’t one to feel pity easily. As one of the more feared delinquents around your school, you were used to people practically running on sight, too afraid of your violent reputation to risk getting close. To have the reputation that you’d achieved, you’d had to be tough, not letting anyone close for long enough to learn your weaknesses. By now, you were probably too strong to have to worry about it, but the mentality of “don’t care about others” was deeply ingrained.

For that and a lot of other reasons, you despised group projects. Working with other people, other stupid kids from your school was like torture, so boring you could hardly stand it.

When this particular group project had been announced, you’d leaned back in your chair, cracking your knuckles and practically daring anyone to partner up with you. No one had, of course, and it was only because the teacher had intervened that you’d been paired up with anyone at all.

The person that the teacher had forced you to partner with was a small, skinny girl wearing a loose, torn uniform. She looked vaguely dirty, and had an expression like a frightened rabbit hiding behind a massive curtain of dark brown hair. She looked at you like you were going to eat her, practically shaking in her chair as she looked at you from across the room.

At first, you’d thought it was kind of funny that you’d been paired with someone so terrified. She seemed like it wasn’t just because of you, though, considering how she’d flinched away from even another kid who gave her a mocking pat on the shoulder after your pair had been announced.

Her name was Maki, the teacher had said, Harukawa Maki, and she was getting one of the better scores in the class. That was why she had to be paired up with you, because your own low score required so much help that the teacher had resorted to hoping an ace student would rub off on you.

Now, the two of you were left sitting side by side in the courtyard, open notebooks strewn around you. You were sitting with your back to a tree, leaning up against the solid wood and tilting your head back. Maki was kneeling in the grass in front of you, sitting with a back so straight you could swear there was a stick keeping it that way. She was still making a face like you were going to hurt her, and that pathetic expression was getting so annoying you were tempted to scare it off her face. It’s not like you were going to do anything to her.

Maki was writing in her notebook, going over the notes from class with the kind of dedication you could only hope to achieve, and every so often she’d look up at you with a face like she wanted to say something.

“Yeah, what do you want?” Eventually, you snapped, unable to take her ridiculously wide doe eyes any longer.

She squeaked, sitting up even straighter and ducking her head like she was afraid you were going to spring forward and hit her, fingers gripping white-knuckled on the notebook she was holding.

“Um. . . we n-need to work on the project. It’s a group one, so. . . I can’t do it alone.” Her voice was quiet and meek, so soft you actually had to lean forward to hear it, and you didn’t miss how her nails tore little holes in the paper as she drew up the courage to talk.

“Yeah, so what? I don’t care if we fail.” You didn’t. Not one bit. It wasn’t any of your concern if either of you got a bad grade. You were failing the class anyway, and one little project wouldn’t make any difference in that.

“Because!” she yelped suddenly, falling forward a bit with exclamation. “I’ll get in trouble if I fail this. I can’t, I c-can’t not turn it in right.”

Maki looked absolutely terrified, for reasons that seemed to go even deeper than being frightened of you. There was a wild glint in her eye that you were very familiar with; it was the face someone made when they knew that they were in grave danger. What was she so worried about? No one’s parents would kill them for flunking one group project when it was someone else’s fault.

“Not my problem,” you said, turning away. “I’m sure your parents will be able to get over one bad grade.”

Her face fell at those words, dropping from wild terror to something stone cold and unhappy. “I don’t have parents. I live in an orphanage, and th-they won’t be happy if I bring home a failure. You don’t know what that place does!”

Oh, well that changed some things. You’d read plenty about horrible orphanages when you were a kid, not that you thought they existed, but it was certainly a little more plausible that she was afraid of someone other than her parents. At least, maybe she was telling the truth, and something awful would happen to her if she didn’t get the right grades.

“Ahuh? What would they do to you?” Your tone was meant to come out as mocking, but it turned out to be half curious instead. You really were sort of interested in what kind of place she was from by now.

“I-I don’t want to talk about this!” Maki squeaked, scooting away from you and turning around, placing her back to you and looking at her notebook again.

“Hey, don’t be like that.” You scooted after her, pulling yourself over to the spot beside her and placing one hand on her skinny shoulder. “You’d be better off telling me, or we’re both gonna get bad grades.”

Maki flinched as soon as your hand made contact with her, face screwing up in something like terror. She gritted her teeth, looking back at you unhappily. She clearly didn’t want to talk about it, and while a small part of you felt bad for forcing things out of her, you were much too curious to just let the conversation die.

“F-Fine. I’d probably get beaten, and have to sleep in a closet for a week for being a ‘bad influence’ on the younger kids. If I’m lucky, they’ll start skipping out on my meals too. Are you happy n-now?”

Somehow, the way she said that, coupled with the frightened rabbit expression slowly creeping over her face did something to you. She was telling the truth. Just looking at her, that kind of fear couldn’t be faked. In a sudden surge of anger, you couldn’t stand it. That kind of thing, adults taking out their power on kids who couldn’t do anything to defend themselves, made you absolutely furious.

It had been one thing when all that would happen was that Maki would get snapped at by her parents. It was entirely another thing that a girl who’d done nothing wrong would get locked in a closet and tortured for something that was someone else’s fault.

“That’s not fucking fair,” you snapped, internally cringing at how Maki flinched and cowered.

“It’s j-just h-how it is. . .” she stuttered, looking at you with those wide, dark eyes that were staring to make your whole chest feel funny.

“Yeah, well it’s not okay. It’s downright sick, you got it? It’s not okay for adults to do stuff like that to someone who can’t fight back.”

“I k-know. That doesn’t mean there’s anything we can do to stop them, though. People like me just have to live with it.” Eyes flickering away, Maki looked down, mouth scrunching up into a little scowl.

“Fine. You know what? If they do anything to you, tell me about it. I’ll break their jaws for you.” You were dead serious. Something about hearing how Maki was treated was making you downright furious, and you currently wanted nothing more than to do exactly that. Whoever thought it was okay to pick on kids like that deserved to get their jaw busted with an empty beer bottle.

Maki jerked back in shock, looking at you like you’d just offered to hide a body for her. This was probably the first time anyone had so much as offered to stand up for her, and that thought made you just as upset.

You made an equally bitter face, clenching your fists beside you and trying to control your breathing. It would just scare Maki more if you got angry in front of her, and right now, the absolute last thing you wanted to do was make the poor girl any more upset than she already had reason to be. Even you knew better than to get mad around someone used to being hurt and abused.

“Okay. Never mind. The offer still stands, but I guess we gotta work on our project now, huh?” Maki looked at you like you’d lost your mind. “Yeah, I said work on it. It’d just be mean to leave you to get starved cause I’m a dipshit who won’t cooperate.”

“Y-Yeah. . . I mean! Okay! Thank you! So, first of all, we have to organize what our part of the paper is going to be on. I took notes in class, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get it sorted out. . .”

Maki kept explaining what you had to do for the project, all in better words than you ever could have figured out for yourself. She turned out to be pretty sharp, not that you were expecting any different after hearing about her grades, and with her help, even you were able to get through most of the work. This would be the first time in years you’d done anything properly for school, and it was all so one girl wouldn’t get in trouble at home because of you.

Maybe you were starting to go soft. Maybe Maki’s surprising cuteness was starting to get to you. Either way, you found yourself very unhappy with the idea of anything bad happening to her. It just didn’t seem fair that she would have to suffer.

The more you thought about it, the cuter Maki seemed. Sure, her hair was a little dirty, hanging a sleek, lank curtain around her doe-eyed face, but it looked just as soft. Her face was admittedly pretty too, and her small size, while probably due to underfeeding, definitely had some charm.

Maybe you were starting to fall for a her a little, you thought, considering how suddenly protective you felt over the poor girl. It definitely wasn’t fair how she was treated, and it was pretty unusual for you to want to do something about that. Normally, you wouldn’t care what happened to anyone else; other kids were idiots who deserved what happened to them, but Maki was different. And somehow, you were going to protect her.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t like Gonta was used to being near others, but you seemed smaller and more frail than most. The height difference between the two of you was obvious, well over a foot between the two of you, and something about how small you were made something like protectiveness flare hot and determined in Gonta’s chest.

You were the nicest person he’d ever met, by far, and he’d do anything to make sure you’d continue to feel fondly towards him. Whatever he’d done to make this relationship work in the first place had to be the best decision he’d ever made.

Somehow, you weren’t afraid of him. It was practically inconceivable that someone as outwardly helpless as you wouldn’t cower in fear of the boy twice your size, with a dark, scary expression and too much muscle for any normal high school boy. The fact that you’d given him a chance in the first place was something like a miracle, and that you’d actually wanted to stay by his side was one even more so.

Just the fact that you wanted to be near him on a regular basis had Gonta’s heart pounding so heavily he feared it would burst. You were willing to be seen in public with him, to go on dates with him, and Gonta could hardly believe how lucky he was that you were.

Right now, the two of you were walking home together, your small, gentle hand clasping his massive one, swinging back and forth as you chattered happily away about your day at school.

Gonta, as usual, was staying quiet and letting you talk. Part of him didn’t want to risk offending you by saying something wrong, and a much larger part just plain didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t like he’d gotten many chances to talk to people so casually before you, after all.

“And so, the teacher totally chewed this girl out. It was kind of her fault for being late again for such a stupid reason, but don’t you think that’s kind of mean?” You were looking up at him with loving eyes, and Gonta could hardly find the voice to reply to you.

“Yeah. Not fair at all,” was all he could get out, throat feeling tight under your gaze.

You kept talking happily, even though he could hardly respond. You were pretty used to Gonta not saying much, and after he’d one day managed to explain why it was so hard for him to get words out around you, you’d never once complained about it, gladly filling the many gaps in conversation that resulted from his lack of experience.

It was actually sort of comfortable to just walk side by side with you, listening to every detail of your day. You were the closest thing to a friend Gonta had ever had, and he’d spent so long missing out on casual conversations and pointless chatter that even one-sided moments like this felt like the best things to happen to him.

Your tiny hand shifted in his, soft fingers brushing against his skin, and Gonta shivered. It still felt so strange to be close to someone, to be able to touch someone without them flinching away, and he feared he’d never get over your loving touches.

For all his height and strength, he was practically helpless in front of you, reduced to choking over simple words and quivering over a mere touch.

It would be pathetic, if every moment close to you wasn’t so good.

“And we got so much homework today. I swear I have an hour in every class,” you continued, still smiling at Gonta like he wasn’t doing anything wrong. “It’s so unfair that they give us so much. I mean, what do they think we’re gonna do when we get home? Students need breaks too, don’t you think?”

“Yes. I agree.” Once again, little in response. You never seemed to mind, but Gonta couldn’t help but feel bad that he couldn’t give you a proper conversation like a real boyfriend should.

You were so tiny next to him, like a little doll next to a full sized person. It made Gonta feel all the more clumsy and rough, like he could break you without trying if he made a wrong move. It didn’t matter that you acted like he’d never do anything to hurt you; Gonta knew his own strength and he knew that that it was far too much to trust around someone so good.

The two of you kept walking, your happy voice filling the air around you, and little by little, Gonta’s tension started to ease.

A part of him still hoped that he would never do anything wrong, that these beautiful moments of companionship would never have to come to an end, and in these moments of peace with you, Gonta could almost believe that that would be true. It almost felt like these happy days would never end, and for all he wanted to believe that, Gonta couldn’t help but pretend like it was true.

Holding your hand like this, everything felt well, like nothing could ever come between the two of you, even his own mistakes. It felt safe, like he could relax and believe that all would be well.

“What do you think about the gym renovations? I hear we’re not going to have PE for a month.” And just like that, Gonta finally managed to say something, words slipping out easily now that he could breathe.

You smiled back up at him, replying with your own, detailed opinions on the matter, and Gonta couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride. He’d done something right. He’d done something like a boyfriend was supposed to, and the open praise in your eyes was enough to make his whole chest feel warm.

Pathetic as it was, your opinions of him meant everything, these little moments of happiness with something he did giving Gonta the strength to go back to an empty home for another day and spend hours away from you. He wished he never had to leave, that you could come home with him and fill the empty rooms with happy words for once. It was a happy dream, even if Gonta knew all too well that it couldn’t come true.

You really were the most important person in his world.

Chapter Text

Sister had never allowed him to have friends. She’d always been insistent that staying in the presence of anyone but her for too long would corrupt Korekiyo to the point where he’d never be good enough for her ever again. Up until recently, Korekiyo had believed that. He’d never once tried to reach out to anyone else or make friends, believing his precious Sister’s words even when it meant he’d have to be alone.

But Sister was spending more and more time at school these days, working late and spending less and less time with Korekiyo. It was like she didn’t care about him anymore, and in the gaps between Sister’s watchful gaze, Korekiyo had wound up with you.

He’d never once considered the thought of having a partner, Sister’s care coming before everything else in his world. It had never been important to reach out to anyone else, but you’d slid into his life so slowly it hadn’t seemed like breaking one of Sister’s rules at all.

At first, it had just been you protecting him from bullies, standing up for Korekiyo when he was too exhausted or weak to do anything to protect himself. Even he’d realized how pathetic it was, but you didn’t seem to care. You’d progressed from just keeping an eye on him to a weird sort of uneasy friendship made difficult by Korekiyo’s unwillingness to relate to anyone other than Sister. He’d opened up to you eventually, though, too floored by someone actually caring about him to resist for long.

From there the friendship had slowly shifted into a deeper relationship, and while Korekiyo still would never dare to mention your very existence to Sister, he was starting to get used to having someone other than her in his life, strange as it was.

None of that stopped it from being beyond bizarre that you cared about him, though. Korekiyo had gone so long believing that no one but Sister could tolerate him and his unlovable self that having you tell him differently was almost impossible to take in. You’d had to be so slow and so patient in explaining that you really did care about him that Korekiyo still felt ashamed of himself for being so dense.

That didn’t stop him from still having a hard time believing you, though. It was just implausible that you could care about him for anything other than some selfish reason (not that he would be against that; your care was worth anything).

Laying with his head in your lap, Korekiyo was so tense he felt like he could shake to pieces. He wasn’t meant for being coddled like this, and it felt so wrong to be in place of being petted and cared for like he had some purpose beyond serving someone better than him. Korekiyo was only used to doing things for Sister’s benefit; he’d never even considered what it would feel like to be treated like this before you, and it was getting harder and harder to handle how kind you could be to him.

You were so much smaller than him, his awkward, lanky body curled up like some ugly insect next to your small, doll-like self. It made Korekiyo feel all the more worthless to be close to someone as beautiful as you.

He didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve a soft, small hand carding through his thin, lifeless hair like he was worth taking care of. You were wasting your time on trying to coddle him; he should be the one doing things to please you, making the time you already had spent on making him happy worth your while instead of just taking and taking and taking and–

“Kiyo, are you alright? You look like you’re spacing out.” You’d leaned down to look him in the eye, face so close to his that Korekiyo’s heart did a funny, near painful flip in his chest.

“Y-Yes,” he said, closing his eyes so he wouldn’t have to be faced with your purity so close to him. “My apologies for worrying you.”

As much as he wished everything could go back to the way it should be, with him doing things to please you instead of the other way around, Korekiyo would never dare go against what you wanted. He couldn’t risk losing whatever kind of temporary love this had to be.

He felt like curling up, folding his unsightly body into itself and avoiding as much of your gaze as he could. It felt so wrong to be the focus of your attention for so long, to have your eyes and hands and affection all on him all at once. It wasn’t right for him to be paid so much attention to, not when he hadn’t sacrificed something to somehow earn it.

“Seriously, Kiyo, you’re making a face like you wish I wasn’t here,” you said again, still twisting warm, small fingers in his hair.

“I-It’s alright. . . I’m j-just thinking.” It wasn’t a lie. He’d never dare lie to someone as important as you.

“About something your sister said again?”

Korekiyo froze up. Normally, you wouldn’t mention her around him, some unspoken agreement to leave Sister and everything she did out of your relationship.

“. . . y-yes,” he said after a long moment, once again closing his eyes so he wouldn’t have to face your displeasure.

“That’s okay. But whatever you’re thinking she said, it’s not true. You deserve to be paid attention to sometimes, okay?” Oh, how did you always know exactly what to say? It was so unfair that you could practically read his thoughts with such ease. Sister was one thing, but being able to hide nothing from you made things so hard.

Korekiyo didn’t say anything, not quite knowing how to respond to something that his mind couldn’t quite process as true. He wanted to believe you.
He wanted to do everything you said to make sure that you’d never ever want to throw him away, but it was so hard to accept.

In a move so brave it shocked even himself, Korekiyo rolled over, looking away from you and finally hiding his face. He felt like he was about to cry, and Sister had always made fun of his crying face for being ugly. You shouldn’t have to see that, not after all you’d done was be nice to him.

But instead of getting made at him, you made a soft, humming noise, still stroking soft fingers through his hair. You were being gentle, not pulling or tying knots like he knew Sister would in the same situation, and that just made the tears come faster. He didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve your kindness. Whatever had possessed you to treat him so sweetly had to be something that would pass eventually, and Korekiyo dreaded the day you’d finally get sick of him.

He wasn’t good enough to be yours, and you both knew it. He wasn’t worth your time and care, and especially not the trouble you’d go through if Sister even found out that he was straying from her.

A single tear leaked out of Korekiyo’s scrunched closed eyes, and he had to fight to hold back a whimper. Why were you being so nice to him? What had he done that made him deserve soft hands and gentle eyes and the love of someone small and beautiful and precious?

(And what could he do to make sure it would never end?)

Chapter Text

It wasn’t unusual for Shuichi to get bullied. He was entirely used to being picked on and pushed around, and after years of his only social contact coming from the shoves and hits and taunts he always received, he’d reached a sick point where he enjoyed what they did to him.

Shuichi knew it was wrong. He was well aware that he was sick and strange, that there was something very, very wrong in the way he thought, but for someone as low as him, what did it matter? He could be as disgusting as he wanted and nothing would ever change. It’s not like anything could get worse, and even then, he liked what they did to him anyway. The threat of bullying had ceased to shape his behavior, and the result was a strange, reclusive boy who lived for being hurt.

And that’s why when, one morning before school, when Shuichi was cornered in a dead end of the hallway, a group of boys standing around him in a vicious circle, he couldn’t be happier.

On his knees, Shuichi was practically drooling. These boys were the vicious ones, the ones that liked to smack him around and really make it hurt. It was all he could do not to fall forward, cling to their ankles, and beg to be kicked. If he did that, they’d probably get creeped out and leave him alone, though.

“Come on kid, fight back!” one of the boys yelled, aiming a painful kick at Shuichi’s ribs.

The hit felt like it collided with his lungs, for all it knocked the air out of him, and Shuichi fell to the side, gasping for air and clawing at the tile floor. It hurt, but it was so much attention.

“Creepy little shit!” one of them yelped, “He’s grinning, can’t you guys see that? Damn, this kid is nasty.”

The same boy took a step forward, kicking Shuichi under the chin and laughing at the snap his jaw made as it was slammed shut. Spitting out a bit of blood from where he’d bit his tongue, Shuichi looked back up at his tormentors, leering grin ever present, if a bit shaky from the pain.

“Do you like this, you freak?” another one asked, laughing and glaring with cruelty in his eyes.

With no hesitation, Shuichi nodded, bobbing his head so quickly it made the room spin. He had no reason to hide how he felt. If anything, it might make them hit him more.

“Fuck, that’s creepy! What’s wrong with you, huh? What kind of weirdo likes getting kicked around? Does anything actually hurt you, or are you some sick freak who gets off on whatever pain we dish out?” The leader of the boys was grinning ear to ear, pure desire to do harm in his eyes. It made Shuichi’s heart leap.

A wicked look slowly crept over the lead boy’s face. Stepping forwards to where Shuichi was sprawled out on the tile, thin fingers twitching against the cool surface.

With no hesitation, he stepped on Shuichi’s outstretched hand, grinding the heel of his uniform shoes down on the fragile hand below him. Shuichi yelped despite himself, body trying to curl up and get away from the pain. His hand jerked and spasmed, fingers twitching, but he made no move to pull away.

The boys laughed even louder at how pathetic their prey was being, but just as they were about to make the next move, a voice sounded from behind them.

“Hey! Knock it off! Quit picking on him already; I’ve called a teacher and you all are about to get suspended if you don’t move it!” It was you, a student from the third year, and in the very first moment he met you, Shuichi felt a strange connection that he wouldn’t realize the depth of until much later, when it was much too late to go back.

The boys scattered quickly, curses filling the air as they fought to get away quickly enough to avoid punishment. Shuichi was too busy watching them leave to notice the flash of teeth as you grinned.

“W-Wait!” he yelped, “D-Don’t go. . .” But it was too late. The boys had all fled, taking Shuichi’s one source of attention for the day along with them. It was enough to bring tears to his eyes.

“Are you alright?” you asked, looking down at Shuichi’s sprawled out, faintly trembling form.

Shuichi gazed up into kind eyes, features schooled in an expression of mild concern. No, you probably weren’t the kind of person that would hurt him. Heart sinking, Shuichi tried to think of a way to reply. Your eyes on him for so long were making him nervous, palms sweating and throat closing up, and it was hard to find his voice.

“S-Sort of. . .” he eventually got out, trailing off quickly as the ability to talk soon left him. Shuichi wasn’t used to being the center of someone’s attention for so long, and since you weren’t hurting him, he had little idea of what he was supposed to do.

“What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” You immediately kneeled down to his level, looking at him with the most gentle eyes Shuichi had ever seen.

“Y-Yes. . . N-N-No– I’m. . . I wanted them to h-hurt me,” finally came out, the words sticking like syrup in Shuichi’s throat. Talking to people was so hard, it was no wonder he was so bad at it.

A strange look descended on your face, and Shuichi swallowed heavily, sliding himself to his knees and looking away. Oh, he didn’t know how to handle a situation like this.

“It’s okay,” you said, oh-so gently. “You don’t have to be afraid of me. Come on, I’ll take you somewhere safe where those boys won’t be able to find you again.” You took his bony hand with one of yours, achingly warm against the permanent chill in his skinny body. With ease, you hauled Shuichi to his feet, and took off down the hallway with him in tow, stumbling along behind you.

Shuichi was in too much shock to resist you. He didn’t particularly want to get away from the boys (he’d rather hoped that they’d come back and hurt him some more), but he didn’t dare go against someone who was paying attention to him either. The attention was already making him a little bit dizzy. . . or maybe that was the wound to his jaw. Either way, he’d never say no to someone who was willing to look at him and touch him and act like they wanted to keep doing it.

You drug him halfway through the school, finally stopping in the part that had been under “renovations” for the last six months. This part was technically off limits, but students came here all the time to hide out from bullies or get up things they shouldn’t.

Sliding open the door of an empty classroom, you pulled Shuichi inside behind you, guiding him gently to a still-standing desk. You gestured for him to sit down, and Shuichi instantly obeyed.

“We should be safe here. So. . .” you said, trailing off for a moment, “I don’t know how to put this, but I’ve known about you for a while, Saihara.” That got Shuichi’s attention quickly. He wasn’t used to being paid attention to, and especially wasn’t used to being remembered as anything but creepy and strange.

“And, well, Saihara. Can you look at me for a second?” You stepped closer, leaning into Shuichi’s space and trying to make eye contact. Shuichi resisted for only a moment before the threat of a direct request won out over his nerves. He turned to meet your eyes, feeling his whole body shudder at the most personal contact he’d had in months.

“Are you listening, Saihara? This is very important.” You were smiling, but Shuichi suddenly had a feeling that that expression wasn’t all it seemed to be.

“Y-Yes,” he gulped, trying desperately to hold the eye contact you’d ask for even as he was starting to tremble and shake, palms breaking out in a sweat as a few more drops rolled down his face.

“Saihara. . .” you whispered, finally breaking eye contact and leaning in close to whisper to him, “I want to hurt you.”

It was like the world stopped. Could you really be serious? You’d been so nice to him before, what if this was just a cruel trick? But oh, the cruelty would be nearly as good as the offer itself.

Shuichi shook and whimpered, not daring to pull away from you for an instant. He could hardly believe that this was really happening to him, that the same person who’d looked at him and held his hand and tried to save him was also offering to give him everything he wanted.

“I can be meaner than any of those pathetic bullies,” you smiled, “I promise I’ll do worse things to you than any of them ever imagined. Do you believe me, Saihara?”

Your posture was still easy and calm, leaning back now that you’d finally pulled back and away from his face. Shuichi was missing the warm puff of your breath against his ear already, and the desire for more contact alone made him want to agree with everything you said. But really, you didn’t look like the type who could do a lot of damage. All he really knew about you was that you were a third year who was offering to hurt him. . . but, that alone had to mean you willing to do something.

Shuichi nodded frantically, making the whole room spin and twist with the movement again. He didn’t want to do anything to risk you getting sick of him or deciding he wasn’t worth hurting.

“Good boy.” Those words alone made every nerve in Shuichi’s body light up, a high whine slipping out of his throat as his eyes widened comically.

“I’m going to hurt you now, okay? Hah, why do I even bother asking, you’re going to love it, aren’t you?” Your tongue flicked out over your lips, revealing a flash of white.

You took a step towards him again, reaching out and taking one of his skinny hands in yours.

Shuichi’s whole body lit up at the contact, skin on skin making him shake even harder, the sheer intimacy of the situation doing horrible things to what little composure he had left.

But instead of handling him gently this time, you took one finger in a careful grip, slowly starting to bend it backwards. There was a wicked look in your eyes that Shuichi had finally realized the meaning of, and as you got far enough that his tendons started to burn, Shuichi’s throat finally opened up.

“Thank you!” He squeaked, the pain of his finger being twisted lancing up through his arm like a blade. You were barely touching him, and it already hurt so much. “Thank you so much! Please don’t stop!”

His voice sounded pathetic even to his own ears, high tones squeaking and grating. Shuichi had never really like talking in front of people any more than he had to, but you were different. You he had to make sure to thank for everything you did for him.

“You like this?” you asked, releasing the first finger and moving on to the next, pulling it back with the same excruciating slowness.

“Yes!” Shuichi whined, dragging out the vowel pitifully in what was nearly a keen. “I love it. I love it so much. Please please please keep going!” He was so pathetic. He was the lowest of the low. It was no wonder that you wanted to make him suffer.

He was drooling by now, a thin line of saliva dripping from his mouth and onto the front of his uniform. Sweat was beading on his forehead, and hands, dampening through the fabric clinging to his upper body.

He felt so disgusting. He knew it was true. And you still wanted to hurt someone like him.

You kept going with the next two fingers, twisting them back just far enough that the ache made Shuichi’s whole arm twist and jerk. Even when you let go, the pain lasted, the dull ache of something stretched too far stabbing at his nerves.

When you were done, you leaned down, still smiling, and pressed a gentle kiss to Shuichi’s knuckles, the same place that you had just abused, Shuichi’s heart leapt somewhere into the vicinity of his throat at the motion, another high pitched noise sliding past his teeth. It was so much all at once, the pain and attention and your eyes only on him for so long. The kiss was just the last straw in overwhelming him.

As soon as you pulled away, Shuichi fell to his knees, legs giving out on him without your commanding presence to hold him up. Hand stinging and aching, he slid to the ground, tile cold through the thin fabric of his uniform.

Looking up at you like this, Shuichi felt borderline worshipful. Whatever he’d done to deserve this, he never wanted it to end. He’d do anything, anything for this to continue, for you to take him apart and look and him and touch him and make him feel like he was worth something to you, even if only as a punching bag.

“Class is going to start soon,” you murmured, looking at Shuichi with something like fondness. “If you want more, meet me after school. My parents won’t be home today, so we can play for a few hours. . . if you’re up for it, that is.”

With one last satisfied glance at Shuichi’s pained form on the ground, you turned around and left, leaving Shuichi to collect himself on the floor.
He wanted to call out to you, beg you to come back and kick him around some more, but he had a sickening feeling that getting too pushy would end everything. If all Shuichi had to do to get more of this was come to your house after school and be patient until then. . .

He could handle that.

Staggering to his feet, Shuichi pulled himself back to class, the pain radiating out from his hand the only sign that he hadn’t just hallucinated you. As usual, people pointedly ignored him as he made his stumbling way to his seat, but Shuichi, for once, didn’t care.

He had you now. Your perfect, wonderful self that would give him everything he needed and smile at him and touch his hands and whisper in his ear and make him feel like he could really be someone’s toy.

Class passed in a happy blur, Shuichi drifting on the fog of pain and elation all the while. Before he knew it, it was late afternoon, time to go home for everyone else. For once, though Shuichi had a place to be, something other to do than slip home and hide out in his room while rewatching the best episodes of Danganronpa.

Instead, he scurried out to the main gates, scanning the area for your familiar form. When he found you, Shuichi’s heart leapt. You were waiting for him by the gate, cool eyes picking him out of the crowd in a second. Shuichi didn’t miss the way your eyes lit up when you saw him, and his heart did a funny little flip in his chest. This was the first time anyone had actually waited for him, much less with the intent of being so deliciously cruel to him later.

“I’m here!” he squeaked, running up to you and glancing at your face for a second before looking back down.

“Good. I’m really glad you made the right choice,” you said with such a gentle voice. “Come on, my house is only a little ways this way.” With that, you took Shuichi’s hand, the same one you’d mangled earlier, in yours and started to walk.

Shuichi swallowed heavily and followed you with no resistance, allowing you to lead the way for him. He could hardly believe that you were willing to hold his hand again, even if this was just a precursor to something much more painful. Even worse, you were running your thumb gently over his knuckles, sending shocks of contact up his spine like lightning.

It would be impossible to keep himself together like this.

By the time you two made it it your house, Shuichi was drooling all over again dizzy eyed and swaying on his feet. You’d been touching him for so long that he could hardly think straight, skin on skin contact melting whatever parts of his brain were keeping him together in the first place.

You just smiled softly, looking into his unfocused eyes for a long, dizzying moment, and pulled him inside your home as Shuichi’s hear twisted in his chest.

This was really happening. You really wanted to take him in and hurt him and do everything to take him apart. Shuichi could hardly believe he had been allowed into a classmate’s house, as if he wasn’t some creepy little freak with a long history of being hated.

Once inside, you gestured for him to go upstairs, kicking off your shoes and gentle guiding him towards where you wanted him to go. Shuichi bit his lip at the obvious gesture of control, and immediately obeyed.

You let him into your room, leaving Shuichi standing awkwardly, hesitantly by himself while you closed and locked the door, trapping the both of you inside. You were making a serene face that Shuichi by now knew as as face of wanting to hurt him, and he shuddered. No one had ever looked at him like that before, like he was nothing more than prey.

You came up to him, getting behind him and breathing hot over his ear once again. Shuichi shuddered and shook, trying to stay on his feet. He could feel it already. You had every intention of torturing him.

“Ready, Saihara?” That was all the warning you gave.

Grabbing onto the hand you hadn’t yet hurt, you twisted Shuichi’s arm up behind his back, jerking it up and in with such sudden roughness that Shuichi couldn’t help but gasp. None of the bullies he’d ever experienced had been quite so direct. You were so special. You were so perfect.

Continuing to twist, you forced Shuichi’s hand up into an uncomfortable position in the middle of his back. It felt like his whole arm was going to shatter, and faintly, Shuichi could hear himself making high, gasping noises, pain dragging little sounds out of his chest. It hurt terribly, and his body already was starting to jerk around like a worm on a hook.

You kept forcing his arm up and back, making it feel like something was about to snap, and then, in a sudden motion, you kicked Shuichi’s legs out from under him, sending him crashing to the floor.

Holding on even when he hit the ground, you straddled Shuichi’s back, still forcing his arm up. You were breathing just as heavily as he was, giggling faintly at the desperate little noises he was still making. It was the single most electrifying moment of Shuichi’s life, and between feeling your weight on his back, the pain thudding through his knees from the fall, and the all-consuming ache of his arm being yanked into a bad angle, Shuichi felt like he could die happy.

“Come on, Saihara. You want this, don’t you? Why don’t you ask nicely?” You were outright laughing now, the most emotion Shuichi had seen from you all day, and happiness immediately started to glow in his chest.

This was because of him. You were happy because of him. Your smile, your laugh, it was all because he was laying down and allowing you to make him ache. Shuichi was drooling onto your floor, shaky smile stretched so wide that the saliva freely dripped down his chin.

“Please don’t stop!” he gasped. “I want this. I want you to hurt me. Please, please, please keep hurting me! I want you to smile because of me and do whatever you want to me and make me useful to you. I’d be happy if you killed me.”

The words all slid out before he could stop them, slurred out between desperate gasps into the floor his face was smashed against. Every word was true, and Shuichi was too deep into the pain to even think of caring that he’d basically bared his soul to you in one moment.

You were quiet for a long moment before, where Shuichi couldn’t see it, a wide grin stretched across your face. You wouldn't say it to him for a long, long time, but this boy was absolutely perfect for you.

Before Shuichi could beg again, you smashed his head into the floor, rubbing his face into the small puddle of saliva underneath him.

“You’re serious, aren’t you? You’d really do anything for this! What a sick little freak!” Hauling Shuichi up and around, looking at his damp, dizzy, pain-addled face, you leaned in close to his ear once again. “You love this, and we both know it.”

Not giving him a chance to respond, you drew back one hand and slapped Shuichi directly across the face. His head whipped back, neck cracking from the force, and almost instantly, a thin trail of blood pooled around his now split lip. Tears were quickly welling in his eyes, and honestly, Shuichi couldn’t tell if they were from pain or happiness.

You hit him again and again, smacking his head back and forth, red bruises blooming in your wake. Shuichi yelped and gasped after every hit, tears streaking messily down his aching face, but took everything you did.

In all honesty, he couldn’t be happier. This was everything he’d ever wanted, someone’s attention entirely on him. If you killed him, wiped out his life in a murder painful enough to be on his favorite TV show, Shuichi honestly though he’d thank you for it. This was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for him, more attention than he’d ever received.

With one more aching hit to his face, though, the pain ended, and Shuichi was left reeling. His whole face throbbed and stung, and he was certain he’d be bruised black and purple in by the time he went to bed. It hurt wonderfully, and Shuichi was already praying you wouldn’t be done.

But instead of hitting him again, you leaned in, face mere inches from Shuichi’s own.

“What a good boy,” you whispered. “You’re taking it so well. From now on, I’m the only one who’s allowed to do this to you. No one can hurt you like this but me. Is that clear?”

Shuichi nodded as quickly as he could, squeaking out a quiet, but enthusiastic “yes”. It didn’t matter if this cut the attention he’d receive from now on in half. You deserved to be the only person who could touch him. You were the only one who hurt him this way, and Shuichi was willing to do anything you said to keep it that way.

Smiling like that cat that ate the canary, you leaned in even closer, breath ghosting over Shuichi’s bruised lips. In the gentlest motion he’d even known, you brushed your soft, perfect lips against his own, pressing your mouths together as kindly as Shuichi had only been able to imagine a kiss would be.

Gasping, Shuichi’s hand scrabbled over your back, fingers clenching and spasming under the sudden attention. It was so good. This was the closest another person had ever been to him, and it was the final straw.

Tears spilling out of his eyes all over again, Shuichi started to sob, heavy gasps wracking his skinny body as he cried.

He was making loud, awful sounds into your mouth, jerking against you and scrunching his eyes closed to try to stop the tears. He felt pathetic, and was loving every second of it, every precious second of closeness with someone who actually cared enough to kick him around like a toy.

In one final move of cruelty, you bit town, tearing a small chunk of skin out of Shuichi’s lip. The blood poured down his chin immediately, seeping into the front of his uniform in thick drops.

Shuichi cried out, gasping, fighting back the urge to bury his face in your chest and cry until nothing was left in him.

Instead, he stayed in his own space, crying until the tears dried up, all while you watched him like you couldn’t be more fascinated by his pain. It was exhilarating to have his agony so on display, and Shuichi found himself breathing heavily by the time he’d calmed down, face flushed and red hot with a cross between embarrassment and excitement.

Eventually, you’d let him into your bathroom to clean up, eventually he’d walk home aching and by himself, and eventually he’d fall asleep in his dark little room, body hurting everywhere he could feel.

But for now, Shuichi could only enjoy this moment with you.

Chapter Text

Kaede was very used to hating people. She’d learned early on that there was nothing to trust in the human race, and had held the same grudges for humanity for most of her life.

A part of her was smart enough to realize that it was stupid to be so hateful over something she couldn’t change, but a much larger part of her was much too angry to care. She couldn’t stand most people, as boring and cruel and worthless as they were, and while she hid the true depths of her anger while around those who would care, her heart was filled with the kinds of horrible things she could never say.

Honestly, she was bored of even being alive. Every day was the same, the same old boring act of pretending like she wouldn’t rather see all of the people around her gone. Kaede was honestly sick and tired of being forced to act like she gave a shit about the wellbeing of anyone else.

Even walking home from school tired her out anymore. Just putting up with the people around her was enough to make her want to lay down and hide in bed for the next week, and it was only fear of getting in trouble for skipping school that kept her from doing exactly that.

However, her uneventful walk home from school soon became a lot more interesting.

Seeing a large group of kids gathered around in one place, Kaede gulped and ducked behind a corner. She had a bad feeling about this many people altogether, and didn’t want to even walk past while they were all there. It wasn’t like she was afraid. . . just. . . okay, maybe she was a little bit afraid.

Being afraid of people was one of the more embarrassing things that Kaede had to deal with. As much as she hated them, too many people together made her heart beat too fast, whole body going cold as she even thought about walking into the middle of such a large group.

Whatever the kids were doing, Kaede couldn’t make it out from her place behind the fence, much more concerned with staying hidden than whatever her natural curiosity demanded.

Eventually, though, the group started to part, the kids backing up and starting to disperse. By the time most of them had gone their separate ways, Kaede could see past them enough to tell what had caught their attention in the first place.

There was a person on the ground, wearing the uniform of a nearby school, and laying back against the wall of the building behind him like a ragdoll. He looked completely limp as if he didn’t have the will left in him to move, and what Kaede could make out of dark hair, skinny limbs, and rumpled, baggy clothes did not give her a good impression of whoever this kid was.

He was probably getting picked on like Kaede knew so many kids did. She was a social reject herself, and the only reason that she wasn’t actively bullied was because she tended to bite back when provoked.

Sighing, Kaede managed to steel herself to walking past the boy. He looked pretty exhausted, not the type to give her trouble, and she had to get home soon anyway, or face her family’s wrath. That thought alone was enough to put some extra speed in her cautious steps, more afraid of the people waiting for her than one bullied boy.

As she walked past him, the boy suddenly looked up, head jolting up so quickly that Kaede let out a little squeak, pulling her bag in close to herself. The boy’s eyes were wide and dark, and he was making such an open, desperate face that Kaede abruptly felt like she was seeing something she shouldn’t.

“Are you. . . going to hit me too?” the boy asked, voice as high and soft as some girls Kaede had heard. No wonder he got picked on. He seemed weak and useless to even her.

“Wh-Why would I do that?” Kaede gulped, suddenly noticing the blooming bruises along the boy’s cheeks and brows. So he’d been getting beaten up, then. That explained the group of kids, but not the weirdly happy look on the boy’s face, as if he was somehow glad that a small crowd had decided that he was worth ganging up on.

“Everyone else did. I f-figured you were one of th-them.” The boy’s voice lost some confidence when Kaede didn’t immediately do something to him, eyes quickly flickering away from her face.

“Well, I’m not,” Kaede replied bluntly, still wishing she’d just kept walking. She’d only exchanged a few words with the boy, and already she was feeling like she’d be happier anywhere else.

But, something about the boy’s open, hopeful expression gave Kaede a wicked idea. She could probably hit him too. It wasn’t like anyone would stop her. They were all alone on an empty side street, and the boy himself seemed like he was almost hoping she’d do something to him. It would be so easy to get a few hits in, take out some of her stress, then pass the blame to the kids that were there first.

Kaede swallowed heavily, weighing her options. She still needed to get home, and quickly, but the boy was still looking up at her like he was hoping she’d decide to smack him around.

“Are y-you sure?” the boy finally asked. “You seem like everyone e-else to me.”

In a moment she’d later regret, Kaede’s body moved on its own, leaning forward and slapping the boy across the cheek before she could stop herself. Rage flared in her chest instantly, hot indignation at being compared to the other stupid kids that had lowered themselves to picking on him.

“Take. That. Back,” Kaede hissed, pulling her hand back for another hit. Oh, she wanted to smack that stupid longing look off of his face.

“I’m s-sorry,” the boy yelped. “I didn’t m-mean to upset you!” And yet, even as he apologized, he was looking at her with those same eyes, a look that practically demanded she do it again.

He was staring by now, and as soon as Kaede registered his eyes on her through the rage, her blood went cold. She’d hit someone; gotten close enough to actually do damage, and, and, he might want to hit her back now. She could have made him mad for all she knew, could have walked right into getting beaten up herself.

All at once, Kaede felt a wave of panic crashing over her. She wasn’t used to interacting with people at all, especially not giving in to some sick masochist’s desire to be smacked around, and the fear was quickly growing.

Muttering out something that sounded like an apology, Kaede turned and ran, bolting away from the scene before anyone else could realize what she did. In all her hateful years, she’d never actually acted out at anyone like that, never gotten involved in real violence, and the real thing was already making her sick.

Kaede ran all the way home, tripping and falling twice, but barely noticing the pain and blood dripping down her knees. She bolted inside, slamming the door shut behind her and slumping down directly inside, body collapsing as soon as she was safely away from the source of her fear.

Fortunately, in the one source of comfort she could think of, no one was home to hear her cry, desperate gasps and choked up sobs soon filling her small home.

Bawling before she could stop herself, Kaede leaned up against her front door and cried, not bothering to move from her place directly inside. She was terrified, a sick sense of fear that someone had seen what she’d done filling her stomach and chest. If her parents ever found out that she’d hit someone, she’d have much worse than a slap happen to her, and with the reality of what she’d done sinking in, Kaede was on the verge of panic.

Eventually, once she’d calmed down enough to pull herself to her feet, Kaede slunk back to her bedroom, locking the door behind her and pulling the curtains shut.

Her parents would be home before too long, and she didn’t want to have to face them. Honestly, she’d probably hide in her room until she had to go to school again. She already felt too sick to eat dinner, something like guilt eating away at the inside of her chest.

As much as she hated humanity, Kaede could barely understand why she’d done something like that. Not only had that boy not done anything to her (he deserved it he deserved it he deserved it), but she was risking her own neck as well by acting out. Oh, if only that boy knew how easy it would be to ruin her life just by reporting the incident, Kaede was sure she’d ben in so much trouble she’d regret it for months.

Flopping down in bed, Kaede curled up and tried to forget about what had happened. She was worried sick, terrified of what would happen if her parents ever found out, guilt eating at her like something with teeth.

When she finally fell asleep, it was restless, filled with thoughts of everything she hated about the world.

Chapter Text

There was absolutely nothing funny about not being able to afford to eat. At least, that’s what Rantaro thought to himself bitterly after he’d been made fun of for not having a lunch for what had to be the thousandth time. When would the bullies think of something actually insulting to make fun of him for, instead of something he just couldn’t help?

His class was on a field trip to some fancy art museum that Rantaro would normally never be able to afford, and the bus ride to another prefecture to meet up with a cooperating school meant only that there were all new people to pick on and make fun of him.

Bullies, people who found it funny to pick on those too poor to defend themselves, had to be a universal thing. Half of the kids that had been laughing at him today were wearing uniforms from the other school. Rantaro would have honestly expected them to be a little bit better behaved, considering that this was supposed to be some kind of chance to show off, but with few teachers around, there was apparently no reason to play nice.

Leaning back, Rantaro looked around. There were kids everywhere, both schools too poor and understaffed to afford enough teachers to keep an eye on them all, and everyone was goofing off.

There were groups of kids everywhere, all types from delinquents to whatever passed for rich kids around here, and the sheer amount of people was actually sort of shocking. Rantaro had never really thought of his school as big, but when the population was doubled, the change was impressive. It was actually sort of a wonder he’d been singled out to get picked on out of so many other options. It sort of made him wonder how even the kids from the other school could sense that he was too poor to eat.

Well, besides the fact that he was one of only a couple kids who hadn’t brought a lunch.

What really caught his eye, though, was the group of kids that had moved on from picking on him after seeing just how little of a reaction they’d get from it. They’d surrounded a kid from the other school, a small, skinny boy wearing a uniform much to big for him and sporting the most overgrown, messy hair Rantaro had ever seen on someone who actually bothered with coming to school. They had the poor boy cornered like a pack of vultures, and Rantaro actually felt a pang of sympathy.

Upon closer inspection, he saw that one of the taller boys was dangling a pack of yakisoba bread above their victim, just out of reach of how high he could jump. The shocking part was that the boy was playing along, batting after the bag like he actually thought he could get it.

The kids around him clearly found this hilarious, and Rantaro could only watch with sympathy as the boy was pushed back and forth, the bag kept just out of reach of his skinny hands at all times.

Eventually, the kids relented, dropping the food into the boy’s waiting hands and cackling as he tore into it, stuffing half the food into his mouth in one frenzied bite. It was sort of sad, even though Rantaro couldn’t deny that he was feeling nearly as hungry as the boy looked.

With a few more shoves and jeers, the kids started to get bored. Someone had knocked the boy over, and he hardly seemed to notice, too absorbed in getting as much of the food into his mouth in as short a time as possible. Yikes, it was getting pathetic to watch. Rantaro could see why the kids were starting to walk away. There was a clear line between entertaining and just plain sad.

Once the kids had finally all walked away, though, Rantaro hauled himself to his feet. He’d been starting to feel guilty, watching the kid get pushed around as much as he had without doing anything, and the only way to get the weight off his conscience would be to act.

Walking over, Rantaro took in the boy’s small frame, huddled on the ground and chewing frantically, a gigantic bite of yakisoba bread stuffed into his little mouth.

As soon as Rantaro even got close, the boy was practically glaring at him, making as scary a face as someone with a mouth full of food possibly could. Despite the brave face, though, he was shaking heavily, tiny hands practically quaking around the half-full wrapper he was still hanging onto.

“You okay?” Rantaro asked, trying to seem casual as he squatted down next to the boy. “I, uh, saw you getting roughed up there.”

The boy swallowed heavily, forcing down a huge mouthful of bread so he could talk. “Yeah, I’m good. You d-don’t have to worry about me.”

Oh, so he was going to try to act tough. That was sort of a shock. Rantaro had somehow taken him as the type to crumble and cry when confronted about the bullying.

“You sure about that? I mean, I was in your place not too long ago, and it wasn’t that ‘good’ for me.”

“Y-Yeah, I’m sure. See? I got food,” the boy smiled almost triumphantly. “You just don’t know h-how to do it right. If y-you play along, you d-don’t have to go without lunch.”

“Oh, I don’t know how to do getting bullied right? That’s pretty brave for someone who was getting taunted a few seconds ago, don’t you think?” Despite the serious words, Rantaro wasn’t mad. It was actually sort of funny that the kid was proud of himself for getting a meal. And pretty sad.

“We’re, w-w-we’re on the s-same level,” the boy stuttered out. “I can t-tell. Even though we’re from different schools, you’re l-like me.”

Rantaro had a feeling it was more so the food that was loosening the boy’s tongue, but he’d take it. It was much better than the kid cowering and acting like Rantaro was the next person to hurt him, like Rantaro had expected when he approached.

“Same level, huh? Guess I can’t exactly deny that!” Rantaro laughed, flopping down onto the ground next to the boy and taking a quick glance at their surroundings. It wouldn’t do to get cornered while he wasn’t paying attention.

As soon as he stopped talking, though, the boy shoved another massive bite into his mouth, forcing almost all of what was left of the bread down his throat in one go.

“Careful. You’re gonna choke if you eat that fast.” A warning like one he’d give his sisters slipped out before Rantaro knew it. Sort of understandable, considering that this boy seemed more like a kid than some of his years-younger sisters did.

The boy stayed quiet, making a strange face as he frantically chewed. Probably afraid Rantaro was going to try to take it away if he didn’t eat fast, and that was kind of a sad thought. Poor kid probably had reason to think like that.

Rantaro couldn’t exactly say that he was bullied. Yeah, he got picked on from time to time, but it was nowhere near as bad as the kind of torment he knew some kids went through, both at school and at home. Judging by the bruise-dark marks under the kid's eyes, the sunken-in look to his cheeks, the wild expression slowly seeping across his face, he was the type who Rantaro knew he could never compare to.

Honestly, Rantaro knew he should consider himself lucky. He had a family that loved him, even if his parents could be short-tempered. He had sisters to take care of, enough food not to go days without eating, and a relatively peaceful school life.

Just looking at this kid, Rantaro knew that things could be a lot worse.

Before long, the lunch break ended and the kids were left to go their separate ways. Rantaro hauled himself to his feet, stretching lazily and preparing himself to go back to a boring day of paying attention to what the teachers said.

The boy beside him was currently licking the inside of the bread wrapper for any trace of food that might be left, tongue flickering against the plastic like some kind of little animal. It was sad, and Rantaro left him be. It would be kindness enough not to make fun of him for being hungry.

As he regrouped with his own class, leaving the boy behind, Rantaro could only be thankful that his life wasn’t quite that bad. He’d never had to be thankful for getting kicked around, never had to rely on that for food, and that alone was something he should be happy about. If he had anything, it was the knowledge that he wasn’t that hated by the world.

And yeah, maybe he had a strange feeling of hoping the boy would be okay. No one deserved to be treated like that, really.

Chapter Text

Some days after receiving the love letter, Ryoma hadn’t let his hopes fall. He was still praying that whoever had sent the thing, whoever had dared to leave it in his locker for him to find would be brave enough to actually talk to him, if only so he could know who they were.

For once, he had something to hope for, flimsy as it was, and that hope was very literally what was keeping Ryoma alive. Nothing else in his day to day life had changed, and if it hadn’t been for that one, pink piece of paper someone had decided to put in his locker, Ryoma wasn’t entirely sure he’d still be coming to school. He’d been dreaming of just not showing up for months now, and who knows, it could have been the day.

Now, though, he had a reason to want to go to school. Any day could be the day the person who wrote the letter came to talk to him, and Ryoma was absolutely terrified of missing that chance.

He’d do anything, anything just to know who had sent him the letter, if only so he could keep pretending like they might be interested in him for real someday. Even if they didn’t want to talk to him just yet, just knowing that he hadn’t been forgotten after the letter was sent would be enough to give him something to continue on. It would still be better than nothing.

So Ryoma kept hoping, coming to school every day despite being ignored by everyone around him still, all the hopes that one of these people would turn out to care.

He didn’t even want to think about the letter being a joke, the very idea that someone somewhere was laughing at him for buying into their little trick, even though it was a very real possibility. It was more likely than not that someone was just messing with him, but Ryoma couldn’t bear to let go of the idea that there might actually be a person who was interested in him.

On the second week after receiving the letter, Ryoma had had another average morning. He’d dragged himself out of bed, eaten whatever breakfast he could make himself while his mom was at work, and forced himself to go to school, all over the letter.

The feeling of exhaustion and boredom had only been getting worse, the feeling that he shouldn’t bother getting out of bed at all, and as he’d tapped on his phone on his way to school, Ryoma tried not to think about just how fragile a hope he was counting on. It would be so easy for the person who had written the letter to never talk to him again, for him to just go on hoping forever and never have anything come of it.

His day had been as boring as ever, with no one bothering to talk to him. Even the teacher’s seemed to skip over him when asking the class questions, as if Ryoma’s height made him a danger to talk to.

And oh, how he hated being so small. Not only did everyone look at him like he was some kind of freak, his unnatural appearance was probably the main thing keeping him from having any friends.

It was fair, really. Who’d want to associate with the midget, as people put it?

But Ryoma had to push those thoughts from his mind. He wouldn’t be able to keep going if he thought about those kinds of things for long, and with his patience for daily life already wearing thin, thinking about those things was treading a very dangerous line.

As he made it to his shoe locker at the end of the day, though, all too ready to go home and not have to face the world for a while, Ryoma noticed that there was someone there; a student of the school, from a grade a year above him, standing nervously beside his locker as if you had some business there. Ryoma, for just a moment, let himself hope.

“Um, can I help you with something?” he asked, trying not to trip over his words as he looked up at you. Oh, this was the first time he’d started a conversation with anyone in weeks.

“Oh! Um, that’s, I was wondering if, well, and so so so sorry if this sounds stalker-y, but have you gotten a letter lately?” you replied, sounding almost as nervous as Ryoma felt.

“Y-Yeah. About two weeks ago. . .” Ryoma’s heart was tightening up. You’d mentioned a letter. The letter. Oh he hoped it was the letter.

“So you got it?” you asked hesitantly, staring at him with wide, hopeful eyes. “I’m sorry, was it too forward? I hope I didn’t offend you or something by popping up out of nowhere like that.”

“N-No! You didn’t! I really loved it!” The words slid out before Ryoma could stop himself, and as soon as he realized what he said, how your face was going red, his own started to heat up just as badly.

“I’m, I’m glad you liked it,” you said after a moment, smiling so gently it made Ryoma’s heart beat twice as fast. “I spent a long time writing that, and well, I’m glad it went over right! I was all worried you’d think I was creepy, so I couldn’t bring myself to say anything until now.”

“I did! It was, um, the first time anyone’s said anything like that about me. It made me really happy. . . Ah! I’m sorry! Was that too weird?”

Ryoma felt like he was choking on his words. You were really here. You were really talking to him. It was like some kind of dream. He couldn’t bear the idea of saying something wrong and scaring you off, especially since you seemed like you actually wanted to talk to him.

But instead of looking uncomfortable, you smiled. “Good! Not the part about it being the first time, though. That’s just sad.” Ryoma’s heart fell. “Sad that no one else has seen how great you are. I really meant every word I wrote, y’know?” And with a whoosh it was back up.

But then the realization that this all might just be pity sunk in, the thought that maybe you were just humoring him or trying to be nice. That had to be it, didn’t it? Why else would anyone be this sweet to him with no prior motivation.

“You, y-you don’t have to do this, you know. . .” Ryoma said, trailing off miserably. Even if it had just been for a minute, he’d been so happy. He’d be able to hold onto this for weeks. “You don’t have to pretend to like me.”

You looked at him strangely for a moment, as if you weren’t quite sure what he was saying, and Ryoma braced himself for the rejection.

“What are you talking about? I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t like you. I’m not just pretending, I swear!” You looked genuinely upset, and Ryoma suddenly felt as if he might have just made things worse.

“S-Sorry! I shouldn’t have doubted you!” Ducking his head, ignoring how it made him feel even shorter and smaller next to you, Ryoma tried to apologize. Knowing his luck, you’d get mad and never talk to him again, and just the thought of that was making Ryoma’s stomach tie itself in knots.

“Ah, it’s okay! You don’t have to apologize! I’m sorry you’d think someone would be that mean to you,” you replied, sounding painfully kind.

Leaning down, you put one gentle hand on Ryoma’s shoulder, probably not knowing how that simple touch made his heart triple its beat. Oh, you were so close. One of your hands was on him, your face was so close to his, and Ryoma was starting to feel unsteady. This was altogether too much for his heart to take, the attention alone making his head go fuzzy and his knees go weak.

Eventually, though, you pulled back, standing awkwardly as Ryoma tried to catch his breath. You probably thought you’d offended him, even though that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“S-Sorry,” Ryoma stuttered, feeling like he was apologizing for the hundredth time. If you weren’t sick of him after all this, you were some kind of saint, but considering that you apparently had feelings for him, you probably already were. “S-So, um, did you want something?” he finally got out, cringing internally at how rude it sounded.

“Oh! Yeah, um, I was gonna ask if you wanted to go out with me sometime? N-Nothing special, just like a cafe or a movie?”

You were asking him out. Someone was asking him out. Ryoma could hardly believe his luck. The whole situation still felt borderline unreal, as if he could somehow wake up and realize it was a dream.

“I’d love to! Would you, maybe wanna go today? I-I m-mean, I’m free anytime, but, but, y-yeah.”

Honestly, Ryoma was worried this would all vanish if he waited. You were actually saying that you wanted to go out with him, and Ryoma was half afraid you’d change your mind if you two didn’t go then and there.

“Um, okay! I’m really sorry if this is too sudden, but I’m free too if you wanna go.” You smiled at him with unbearable tenderness, and Ryoma felt his heart thud so hard he could swear it should be visible. You were too nice to him. He didn’t deserve this. He couldn’t be good enough for you.

And yet, the two of you left school together, walking side by side like some kind of couple. Ryoma could hardly believe his luck, that he’d found someone who was willing to be seen in public with him.

The two of you left the school, heading out towards the city, taking turns suggesting places as you went.

“Um, if you have cash on you, we could try the cafe idea?” you asked. “I don’t know if I could pay for both of us, but I know a good place.”

“Yeah, maybe. I don’t get too much allowance, so I don’t know if I could pay. And, uh, I’d feel bad making you pay for me. . . Wanna try downtown? We could go listen to music at the CD store until they kick us out for not buying anything?” It was a half joke, and when you smiled, Ryoma’s chest went tight.

“That sounds good! I’m a little afraid of getting kicked out, though. Maybe I’ll buy something while we’re there? Just to make sure we actually don’t get forced to leave.”

“Good idea. I’d help out, but I don’t know how much cash I have to spare. There’s a good reason why I just go there to listen, I guess,” Ryoma laughed, surprised at how much fun he was having.

In all honesty, Ryoma hadn’t gone anywhere like this in ages. He’d been doing nothing but hiding out in his room for the past few months, too depressed to do much of anything else, but going with another person, even just talking about it, felt totally different. Already, Ryoma felt like he had more energy than he’d had in ages.

The two of you kept walking, both smiling and cracking jokes here and there as you talked. You seemed actually sort of comfortable being with him, which was a surprise, and Ryoma was just so happy to have someone around who was tolerating him that he could hardly express his joy.

In a brave moment, probably caused by how mixed up and giddy he was feeling, Ryoma slowly reached up and brushed his hand against yours. He was hesitant, but he could probably die happy if he got to hold hands with someone as cute and nice as you.

When your hand wrapped around his, Ryoma nearly choked. Despite initiating the contact, he could hardly believe you’d actually accepted.

Walking hand in hand, Ryoma was content. He was happier than he’d been in ages, all because you’d been brave enough to send that letter, brave enough to try to talk to him. The whole day felt like some kind of dream, and even though he was still praying that he wouldn’t wake up, Ryoma was happy.

Chapter Text

Kokichi was very used to not eating. His family rarely had the money to pay for school lunches or leave food laying around, and with his parents eating out more often than not, Kokichi was left to fend for himself. Neither of his parents particularly cared if he ate or not beyond what would keep him alive, and they also didn’t care where he got his food from.

The other problem was that, when they did bring food home, his parents, especially his mother, liked to use food as some kind of punishment. If he’d balktalked lately, if he’d gotten a bad score on a test, if he’d been bad in any way, he’d get to watch while his parents ate while getting nothing for himself. It was miserable, and there was absolutely nothing Kokichi could do about it.

So he went to school hungry, begged whatever food he could away from his classmates, and spent days trying not to think about what felt like a hole in his stomach.

Since becoming friends with you, though, Kokichi had been eating even less. You hated when he got picked on, and by protecting him from bullies during your shared lunch break, you were also cutting out his main way of getting food.

Kokichi knew you were just trying to be nice, that you thought you were helping him, but he’d been hungrier than ever lately, and could have sworn his ribs looked like they were poking out even more than before.

The most embarrassing moment of all had been during one of your lunch breaks, when Kokichi was sitting next to you, eyeing your food and trying not to drool over it. He didn’t know your situation. You could be just as poor as he was, and you could need whatever food you got too. It would be stupid of him to take from you, no matter how badly he wanted to.

Just looking at the food was making him feel lightheaded, though, stomach rolling against his ribs painfully. He couldn’t ask. He couldn’t dare. If he was too demanding you’d get angry and never speak to him again.

That was what Kokichi was most afraid of. If you found out how pathetic he really was, you’d never want to talk to him again. He’d gotten so used to your attention, he thought he might die without it, and losing that affection and kindness would be what ruined him.

Kokichi couldn’t dare ask for your food, then, no matter how he ached to. Between the possibility of making things worse for you and the ever looming threat of losing your friendship altogether, he was certain that doing anything selfish would be a deadly move.

But you’d been watching him, too, and you hadn’t missed the way the poor boy was practically salivating at the sight of your meal.

“Here, Kokichi. Do you want some?” you asked, passing your bread roll to him with a smile.

Kokichi’s hands shook around the food. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t take this. You were going to yank it back and get mad at him for ever trying.

But the food in his hands was painfully tempting. It had been close to two days since Kokichi had last been able to eat, and he could feel saliva pooling in his mouth just from looking at fresh food so close. He felt like his abdomen had a hole in it, a solid knot of pain located right where his miserable stomach churned, and just eating would be so easy.

“Go on, it’s okay,” you said, smiling gently, and Kokichi’s willpower shattered like glass.

Before he could stop himself, Kokichi had half the roll stuffed in his tiny mouth, chewing frantically and practically trying to force it down his throat. He was so hungry. Even shoving it down his throat, the roll tasted amazing, and all too soon, in just three massive bites, it was gone.

When Kokichi could think again, there was drool smeared down his chin, crumbs on his hands, and a completely different pain in his stomach. He was licking the crumbs off his skinny fingers before he could stop himself, not even considering how pathetic it might look in front of you.

Oh. You were right there. Watching him.

All at once, Kokichi’s heart practically stopped. He’d been so awful while you were right there, so greedy and messy and gross. The embarrassment hit him like a semi truck, and one quick glance at your pitying eyes was enough to have him ducking his head down, face blazing red and hot in the shame of being seen at his worst.

Kokichi had never had any problems with being pathetic in front of people. He’d lick bullies’ shoes if it meant getting some attention from them, no matter how cruel, but you were different.

He’d actually thought he could be friends with you, that you might actually like him a little bit and want him around even if you had other options. It was pathetic to even hope, but he’d tried so hard to make sure you’d see him as someone worth talking to.

And now he’d ruined it all.

Kokichi was curled up and shaking before he could stop himself, consumed with embarrassment and fear. He didn’t even realize that you were scooting closer, concern etched across your features at the scene before you.

You’d sort of known that Kokichi didn’t eat. He was small and skinny, tinier than any kid his age could be, and in the one rare moment his shirt had rode up and exposed his stomach, all you’d seen was a concave line and painfully visible ribs. It hadn’t quite registered that there was something wrong until now, until you’d seen Kokichi stuff food into his mouth like he was starving and it was finally sinking in just how messed up this was.

“Hey, Kokichi, it’s okay,” you crooned, reaching out to gently run one hand down Kokichi’s bony back, not missing how the vertebrae poked at your hand as it went.

Kokichi, meanwhile, whimpered in utter misery, shaking under the attention. People didn’t touch him other than to hurt him, and even though your achingly warm hand over the fabric of his uniform made him want to shake and cry and crawl into your arms and never get away

He couldn’t. You had to be mad at him. You had to be upset. He’d eaten your food and been so ugly and gross and now you were going to hate him for it all. He’d ruined everything, and it was all his fault.

“It’s alright, I’m not mad. Everything’s going to be okay,” you were whispering, still gently stroking his back, and slowly, slowly Kokichi started to calm down.

It took awhile, but his breathing started to return to normal, the harsh, sharp breaths of panic easing out into something a little more even, the shakes wracking his frame slowly fading away. Kokichi still felt like the world was crashing down, but it was a little easier to calm down and listen to you, focus only on what you were saying.

“Feeling better?” you asked, and Kokichi forced himself to nod. “Good. I’m really sorry I scared you. I promise it’ll be okay.”

No no no no that was wrong. You hadn’t scared him, he’d ruined everything. It was all his fault for taking your food and being bad and freaking out and making you upset. You weren’t supposed to just forgive him like this. You weren’t supposed to tell him everything would be okay.

But before he could voice any of that, you were pressing your spoon into his hand, pushing your partially eaten plate of food over in front of him.

“Here, Kokichi. I want you to eat all of this. I promise you’re not being selfish; I want you to have it, and I want you to eat.” You were still smiling, as if Kokichi hadn’t been horrible to you already, still rubbing his back.

Kokichi eyed the food miserably. It was tempting him. He was still so hungry. Just a simple meal of curry rice, steamed vegetables, and a roll of melon bread on the side was making his stomach feel like it was turning itself inside out. He really was pathetic.

But with your gentle coaxing in his ear and fresh, hot food in front of him, Kokichi couldn’t hold out for long. He took the first hesitant bite while meeting your eye, practically shaking in fear that you’d take it away.

When you didn’t make any move to stop him, Kokichi’s hunger kicked in. He was shoveling food into his mouth before he could stop himself, barely tasting the food in favor of eating as much as possible as quickly as possible. Everything was so good. He was so hungry. His stomach was starting to ache from having even this small amount forced into it, but Kokichi couldn’t stop eating even if he wanted to.

He finished the food quickly, soon licking the last crumbs of melon bread off of his hands, and even though he knew you were watching, Kokichi couldn’t help but feel content.

This was the most food that had been in his stomach in weeks, the most full he’d felt in longer than he could remember, and even though there was a dull pain seeping through his stomach, he was content. It felt amazing to be full, especially after so long of going hungry.

“Thank you!” Kokichi squeaked, abruptly remembering his manners and whirling around to face you. “Thank you so much!”

“I’m glad you got something to eat,” you said gently. “It seems like you needed that more than I realized. I’m really sorry I didn’t notice sooner that you were so hungry.”

Paling, Kokichi forced himself to respond. “I-It’s not y-your fault. I shouldn’t b-b-bother you like this. I’m s-sorry.”

“Hey, no, it’s okay. I’m your friend, I’m supposed to help you when you need it. I’m not mad at you for eating when you needed to. I’m really glad you finally got something to eat.”

You seemed serious, and Kokichi could hardly believe his ears. It shouldn’t be possible for someone to be this nice to him. He didn’t deserve it. He’d done nothing but take and take and take from you, and you were still going to smile at him and call him your friend? His mother would have scolded him for being greedy. Bullies would have pushed him down and made fun of him for wanting too much. This just wasn’t natural.

Kokichi didn’t know how to respond, and stayed quiet after that, still staring at you like he wasn’t sure what to do with himself.

Lunch ended soon enough, and the two of you went your separate ways back to class. Kokichi was still feeling shaken, unsure of what to do with himself now that you’d been so accepting.

Class passed quickly, as it tended to when Kokichi was stressed. He still felt strange, unsure of what to do. The situation was unbelievably strange to him, and the fact that you still waved goodbye to him when the two of you were heading home made him all the more confused. He’d been greedy and gross and selfish in front of you, and you still wanted to be his friend? It was strange enough that you liked him in the first place, but this was just bizarre.

He continued to think about the same, tiring things for the rest of the night, mine buzzing around thoughts of what it could possibly mean that you were being so nice. Kokichi kept on thinking through all the time that he normally would have spent doing homework, which, strangely, he completely with almost no trouble.

Maybe being full really made that much of a difference? Kokichi’s stomach still felt heavy and warm, his whole abdomen buzzing with a content sort of feeling, and he realized, suddenly, that he hadn’t thought about eating all night.

Kokichi fell asleep feeling warmer than he was used to, and still wonderfully full. He slept well and easily, and woke up curled up and warm all over, no nightmares having bothered him.

Could that all been because of you? If so, he’d have to work much, much harder to make sure he properly repaid you for doing so much good.

That day, after classes were over, you pulled Kokichi aside. Lunch break had passed without him seeing you, as this was the day you had a club to meet with, and it was even harder than Kokichi thought to face you now.

His face heating up at just the memory of what he’d done, Kokichi tried his best to meet your eye. You were the only person he’d care about something like this with, the only person he’d ever bother with trying to look good in front of, and it felt downright shameful that he’d showed you just how hungry and pathetic he was, even if you hadn’t been mad.

“Kokichi, do you want to come somewhere with me today? I have something I’d like to do with you,” you asked, as if it was no big deal that you were practically asking him out.

“Y-Yes! I’ll do wh-whatever you want!” Kokichi yelped out much too quickly. He’d never say no to you, even if it meant getting in trouble when he got home. Your opinion meant so much more than that of his parents, and Kokichi would do anything to make sure that you’d stay so kind.

“Great! I’ll lead the way, okay?” you said, grinning happily.

You guided him out of school, and towards the downtown area, one warm hand wrapped around his to make sure he didn’t get lost.

It was easy to follow you, to slip into a rhythm of doing whatever you said and being happier that way, and Kokichi tried not to think to hard about what that meant, how important you really were.

Eventually, you stopped in front of a small building. Looking up, Kokichi’s stomach went tight. It was a cafe. Now that you knew how hungry he was, were you going to eat in front of him and make him watch? Kokichi didn’t think he’d care too much even if you did, so long as you’d still look at him and talk to him and be so kind.

You led the two of you inside, taking a seat near the back. Probably for the better, so no one could see how pathetic the person you were with was.

Ordering without asking him, you picked out something that sounded ridiculously fancy and sweet. It made sense that you’d want the best thing they had, Kokichi thought. If the point of this was to see how he’d react to not getting any, you’d want to tempt him with the most appealing.

“This is for you, okay?” Wait, what?

Kokichi said about as much, stuttering inelegantly as he tried to make sense of what you were saying.

“It’s for you,” you repeated. “I’m ordering this for you. I want you to eat as much of it as is comfortable, is that alright?”

Stumbling over his words, Kokichi tried to ask you what you meant, what you were really doing. Sharing your food with him when it was already in front of you was one thing, but going out of your way to order something for him and make sure he ate is was entirely another. It didn’t make any sense, and there was a sick feeling boiling in Kokichi’s chest.

The food arrived before more could be said, a massive slice of chocolate cake drenched in icing and piles of fresh fruit. The whole thing was probably bigger than Kokichi’s spread hand, and he eyed it with near wariness at the sheer size and fancines.

Pressing a fork into his hand, making sure his fingers curled around it, you smiled invitingly, making a gesture at the cake.

“It’s okay. I want you to eat this. It’s for you and I’ll be really happy if you eat it,” you said, smiling kindly and brushing your fingers over the closed knuckles of Kokichi’s bony hand.

Hesitantly, warily, Kokichi scooped up a small bite of the cake, not daring to tell you know. Even while trying to take as little as possible, he wound up with forkful of frosting and berries, chocolate cake buried under the sweets, and Kokichi glanced at you one more time as he lifted it to his mouth, as if checking if this was really okay.

You nodded again, encouragingly, and Kokichi flushed. He shouldn’t need to be walked through eating a piece of cake.

As soon as the first bite hit his tongue, it was over. Kokichi was shoveling bites into his mouth faster than he could think about it, making a high, whimpery noise that wouldn’t stop as he went. It was so good. It was the best thing he’d ever eaten. You were the only person that would ever be this nice to him, and it was so much more than he deserved. Half of the piece was gone before he could slow down, and even then, he felt half frantic as he ate.

“It’s okay, Kokichi, you can go slow,” you murmured, running one hand down his back again. Kokichi shuddered and whined, pausing with the fork shoved in his mouth, and tried to do as you said.

“There’s going to be more, you know. I’m going to make sure you don’t go so hungry anymore,” you continued. “You act like you’re starving, and that’s not okay. I promise I’ll take you out for food as often as I can.”

Hardly believing what he was hearing, Kokichi blinked back desperate tears that had suddenly sprung to his eyes. You couldn’t be serious. This was too much. You couldn’t possibly be this kind. Kokichi couldn’t believe what he was hearing, but the sweet cake still in his mouth was physical proof. You’d gone out of your way to make sure he ate, and that alone was probably the nicest thing anyone had ever done for him.

“Thank y-you. . .” Kokichi whimpered around a mouthful of cake that he still hadn’t chewed. He felt disgusting and greedy, but if this was what you wanted, he couldn’t exactly say no.

Gently running one hand up and down his back, you kept talking, going over how you were going to make sure he had enough to eat, all in soft, gentle tones that made Kokichi shake. He hesitantly took another bite of the food, hoping you wouldn’t be mad at him for eating while you were talking, and whimpered again when it only made you praise him more.

This hadn’t been what he expected at all, but Kokichi believed you. He’d never dare disagree with what you said anyway, but this time, it all felt real.

Chapter Text

Shuichi very frequently forgot to eat. His home life wasn’t exactly the best, and with parents who cared very little what happened to him, it was all too easy to let basic needs slip, especially when he was focused.

There were really other things on his mind, like Danganronpa and school and who the next person to hurt him would be. Shuichi didn’t have a whole lot of time to be thinking about if he’d remembered to eat enough that day, not when he had reruns of his favorite show to watch and research to do on who would appear in the next season when it came out.

You’d changed a lot in his life, though, been nicer to him than Shuichi could have ever imagined anyone being. You actually seemed to care what happened to him, didn’t just want to see him suffer like most of the people who bothered to interact with him, and Shuichi wasn’t sure how to take it.

He was skinny, he knew, unhealthily so, seemingly made up solely of bruised skin and protruding bone. Shuichi was plenty used to seeing his scrawny self, and maybe that was why it hadn’t occurred to him just how thin he’d gotten between years of obsession and lack of self care.

You noticed. You always noticed when something was wrong with him, and always did something to help in whatever way you could.

“Hey, Shuichi, are you eating enough? Like, not to be rude, but you’re looking kinda skinny,” you asked, while the two of you were sitting together after school, in a rare pause of Shuichi ranting about Danganronpa.

“I’m f-fine,” he replied, still tripping over his voice like the first day you’d met. Talking to other people was always so hard.

“Really? Look at this,” you grabbed Shuichi’s hand, wrapping your fingers around his wrist and showing how much space was left. “I can fit my hand around your wrist, easy, and that is not a good thing. I’m not picking on you or anything, but I never see you eating, even at school.”

Shuichi looked down at your grip around his hand, shuddering slightly at the feeling of warm fingers brushing against his cold skin. He looked so pale, so bony next to you, your hands twice as thick as his skinny ones.

“Y-yeah? If you, y-you think I should, I guess I c-could try. . .” He’d never really thought about it, how much he was eating. It had never mattered what he looked like, if he was healthy or not, and while his parents would keep him from starving to death, no one before you had cared if he was really getting enough to eat.

It was strange, that you cared so much, that you were so willing to go out of your way to make sure he was okay and well.

Shuichi felt dizzy with the attention, the same overwhelmed feeling he always got when you talked to him and looked at him and treated him like he deserved just as much as anyone else in the world.

A part of him still wished you’d hit him, push him around like everyone else and make him hurt with those beautiful hands Another part of him treasured your gentle touches far more than he ever could the pain.

“Yeah, I think you should. I don’t want my best friend dying, y’know?” you smiled, the grin looking half faked and tense. “Do you wanna go out and get something, while we’re talking about it? I’ll pay for your part, I’m just a little bit worried. You’re always awfully pale.”

Your care was making Shuichi feel shaky and weak, the attention going straight to the pitiful parts of him that ached for more of whatever this bizarre sort of attention was. Shuichi had never known he was suitable to be treated so kindly, but you somehow managed to break every assumption he’d had about his place in the world.

“O-Okay. I want to. . . g-go somewhere you like, th-though. So you don’t have to be too miserable for t-tending to me.”

Looking out from under the brim of his hat, Shuichi prayed you couldn’t see his eyes. He always felt so nervous when talking to people, even you, and it was so much easier when they couldn’t see him.

You agreed, smile still a bit thin, and the two of you walked a short distance to a local fast food place that you claimed was one of your favorites Shuichi spent the whole walk trying not to meet your eyes, clasping his hands together nervously and looking down at his thin fingers.

Oh, he really was pathetic, so thin and pale and fragile. It was no wonder why people wanted to hurt him, when he was so visibly breakable and frail, obviously someone who barely belonged in society, let alone in the social groups of people his age.

You were the miracle, the one person who’d look twice at otaku trash, someone so bullied and hated, and see someone that you could call your best friend. Shuichi loved pain, but he loved your attention even more.

It wasn’t right, that you tried to take such good care of him, but Shuichi would never dare tell you no when you tried to help.

At the restaurant, you shooed Shuichi off to find a seat, telling him you’d order for him, since you were paying. Shuichi had a feeling you were just trying to keep him from resisting what you ordered out of whatever self hate or desire for misery he had. You were probably right to do so.

Sitting down at an empty table towards the back of the eating area, Shuichi buried his head in his arms. He couldn’t stand to face so many people at once, even the amount in a mostly empty restaurant.

He was shaking, vaguely, the feeling of your hand around his wrist still vivid in his mind, the knowledge that you were buying food just for him, because you were worried about him being okay buzzing around the inside of his head like it was alive. You were so nice. It wasn’t fair. Shuichi didn’t have any way to deal with someone treating him so kindly.

He was so used to being picked on and pushed around, your kindness barely made sense. You treated him like he deserved to be taken care of, and Shuichi didn’t have the first idea as to how to deal with it all.

Eventually, you came back, carrying a tray with the biggest hamburger Shuichi had ever seen resting on it. The thing, still wrapped, was close to twice the size of his closed fist, and sitting beside it was a massive vanilla shake, topped in whipped cream that was practically dripping down the sides of the cup. There was a second, smaller burger there too, but Shuichi had a feeling that it was the huge one that was meant for him.

You set the tray down in front of him, taking the smaller burger for yourself and sitting down beside him. Shuichi shivered all over again at how close you were, a heavy shudder running through him like a wave.

“Alright, you don’t have to eat all of it, but please don’t hold back ‘cause I’m here. I bought this so you could get something to eat. It’s for you, and I want you to have as much as you want, okay?” Oh, you were so nice, Shuichi didn’t know how he was going to stand it.

Fingers shaking, Shuichi picked up the warm, heavy burger, slowly peeling back the wrapping that covered it. You were watching him, he knew, taking bites of your own food, and that alone was enough to make it hard to focus, hard to think of anything but you there beside him.

Unwrapped, the burger was a monstrosity of meat and cheese and dripping sauce. You’d ordered it mostly plain, he noticed, probaby unsure of what he liked, and that little bit of concern make Shuichi’s stomach clench.

It was warm in his hands, the smell sinking into him and making his gut feel tight and hollow, and Shuichi was suddenly, acutely aware of how little he’d had to eat in the past week.

“Th-This is really for m-me?” he asked, hesitantly, still half afraid that if he did anything wrong, you’d take the food away.

“Yep. Absolutely. The burger and the shake are all for you. I want you to eat as much as is comfortable, I mean it.” You were smiling again, but it looked strained, like you weren’t as happy as you were trying to be.

Not wanting to make you upset, Shuichi took the first bite of the burger, a small, careful mouthful that he hoped wouldn’t look too gross to you watching him. It said something, that he actually cared about being gross in front of you, and Shuichi almost didn’t want to think about what that meant. No one else had ever mattered quite so much to him.

The flavor burst across his tongue instantly, hot and salty and tangy from the sauce. The burger was still deliciously warm, better than any of the cold leftovers Shuichi had had in the past while, and he found himself swallowing rapidly, barely bothering to chew before the next bite.

Trying to force himself to go slow, reminding himself that you were watching, Shuichi took bite after bite of the burger, hoping it would make you happy that he was eating something. You seemed to care if he did, and that alone made him want to do whatever he could to keep you pleased.

That didn’t even describe how good the food was, how good it felt to have something so substantial in him for the first time in ages.

Eventually, you nudged the shake over to him, smiling gently when Shuichi’s eyes flicked up to meet yours from under the brim of his hat, nervously making the kind of eye contact that made his stomach churn.

“You have this too, if you want it,” you said softly, looking so tender Shuichi could hardly stand it.

Obediently, Shuichi took a gulp of the shake, shivering at the contrast of cold and sweet after the burger. It felt like he could eat all of this, even the massive hamburger on his own he was so hungry, and Shuichi had a feeling he wouldn’t mind a stomach ache later if it came from you. The pain, knowing it was because of you, would be something he’d treasure.

Still forcing himself to go at something resembling a normal pace, Shuichi managed about two thirds of the burger and half of the shake before his stomach started to complain, uncomfortably full after more food than he’d put it in months went in all at once.

Biting his lip, Shuichi put what was left of the burger down, looking over at you from under his hat. “I think. . . I th-think this is all I should eat. . .” he trailed off, unsure of if you’d be unhappy.

“Okay,” you said, instead of snapping at him, “I’m really glad you ate something. Thank you for trying so hard for me.”

You stood up, taking what was left of the food with you to throw away, and Shuichi was left to himself once again. It still felt surreal that you were going so far out of your way to take care of him, that you were willing to spend your own money just to make sure he got something to eat, and Shuichi was unsure of quite what to do now.

With anyone else, he’d have to hurt to thank them, show them his suffering so he wouldn’t just be a worthless leech, but you were different. Shuichi had a feeling seeing him eat would make you happier than that.

Stomach feeling contentedly stretched full, Shuichi leaned back in his seat, watching you with nervous eyes. He still could barely believe anyone could really be this nice, and while a part of him still wanted to be hurt, an even bigger part was praying that this kindness wouldn’t end.

You could do whatever you wanted to him, he thought, so long as you kept looking at him like he was something so precious.

Chapter Text

Tsumugi wasn’t used to being looked at. She had always been plain, simple, the kind of person to blend into a crowd and never be chosen above anyone else. She was boring. She was dull. There was no reason why others should do anything but use her.

The bruises that dotted her arms and legs, dark and purple-blue, were proof that she was weak. If it was so easy to hurt her, if she really deserved everything that happened to her, it was no wonder that she was a target.

Standing in her bedroom, school uniform waiting on the small bed, Tsumugi stared at herself in the full length mirror she’d fought to be allowed, insisted on her parents buying for her years ago.

Dark, straight, lank hair framed her face, the blue color the only remarkable about the limp strands. Her hair was long and sort of pretty for that, Tsumugi thought, but still far too plain. She wound one lock around her finger, twisting it into a knotted curl. As soon as she let go, it flopped back down into place, immediately returning to its straight shape.

Deep hazel eyes behind thick glasses stared back at her as she looked back up. She was blind without the glasses, and at least they did something to hide the muddy color of her eyes, far too boring and empty.

(She wished they were blue, bright, anything other than dark and empty and boring like she was stuck with for the rest of her life.)

Her features were as plain as anything, understated and soft, without even freckles to make her unique. Tsumugi had the kind of face that would always go unnoticed in a crowd, easily mistaken for anyone else who looked remotely similar. There was no life to her features, nothing interesting, just a dull girl who could only try to be more, try to be something else.

Her body was equally plain, all lanky, thin limbs, pale skin, and blue veins showing through. She was skinny, too much so, from her parents “forgetting” to bring home groceries too often, and pale from spending all day inside working on homework. Her figure, if it could even be called that, was narrow and slight, tall, but overall nothing remarkable.

Bruises and scrapes dotted her skin, the only color other than the glimpses of veins under her flesh. Tsumugi idly pressed two fingers into one, gasping at the shock of pain, eyes going wide.

The bruises were dark and angry, places where she’d been kicked or hit or shoved down, marks of how weak she always was. The scrapes were brilliant red, crusty brown, bits of blood in various states of healing. Tsumugi was tempted to scratch at one, send a trickle of scarlet trailing down her pale skin, claw off a scab and take in the color against her dull self.

Instead, she traced soft fingers over a mark on her arm where she’d been shoved against a drinking fountain, the corner of it catching her skin and bursting it open, leaving a dark red-purple combination wound.

It hurt, it still did, but now a dull ache instead of the pure fire through her it had been when the sharp metal tore through her skin.

(A part of Tsumugi liked the pain, liked even the negative reminder that she was still alive. It was so easy to feel dead on her feet for all she was ignored, but this, this at least made her feel like something real.)

Eventually, Tsumugi knew it was time to pull herself together and get ready for school. She didn’t have a choice but to go, whether or not she could take the constant bullying and isolation, but, fortunately, Tsumugi liked being near people. School was much better than being trapped in her own head, much better than being home alone for another day.

Pulling on her uniform piece by piece, tugging the blue skirt up her battered legs, tying the dark scarf around her collar, tugging black socks over the bruises that dotted her skin, Tsumugi got dressed.

Even with her clothes on, she thought, she was no more remarkable; still painfully plain. Her uniform only made her blend in with the crowds more, made her all the easier to forget, and she hated it. The only good thing about school was the bits of attention she got.

When she was finally dressed, Tsumugi gathered her things, neatly sliding her supplies into her bag, careful as always not to damage anything.

Her parents wouldn’t buy her anything new even if she needed it. She’d been using the same school supplies since middle school. They always claimed they were too poor to replace her things, even though her parents never seemed to want for anything in their lives.

(It had to be her fault. If she’d been a more brilliant child, they would have loved her. It was all because she was too plain, too boring, that her parents didn’t want to waste their time on someone so dull.)

But Tsumugi had other things to do than think about that. Without breakfast, knowing the fridge would be empty, she walked out the door, nearly closing it behind her with a soft thud.

She had to walk to school all alone every day. No one wanted to spend time with her, the girl who was practically the school punching bag.

Tsumugi could understand why.

It made sense that no one would want to risk being hurt for being close to her. She deserved it. She could take the pain and the loneliness and everything else, but that didn’t mean anyone else should have to. It was her own fault that she was too dull for anything but being hurt.

On Tsumugi’s way to school, she was all alone, walking through crisp, chilly winter scenery all by herself. She was quiet, calm, feeling the closest thing to peace she ever go with no one there to interrupt.

When she was alone like this, without anyone else in sight, it felt like she could just disappear; keep walking and fade away like fog that had never been real. A part of her wanted to, wanted to just quit existing as easy as if she’d never been there in the first place.

Smiling to herself, Tsumugi wondered if she’d become a snow spirit if she did. It almost felt like she could, with the frost coating the world.

When she got to school, though, that all ended. Instead of being alone, there were kids everywhere, making their way to class, grouped together with their friends, chatting happily as they walked.

Ignoring the pang of jealousy that spiked through her chest, Tsumugi kept walking, trying not to think about how she wished that was her.

(On her way to class, she was tripped once and shoved twice, losing her balance and crashing to the ground every time. Surely, she’d have new bruises on her knees by tomorrow, more marks to prove her weakness.)

In her classroom, Tsumugi found her desk and carefully sat down. Her legs still ached from the bruising, and she had to be careful when changing position too dramatically. Her desk was sparsely covered in scratched in graffiti, nasty words carved into the wood from months past.

Tsumugi’s desk was in the very back corner of the classroom, and only one person had been assigned to a seat next to her. She was well and truly alone, even when surrounded by nearly twenty other kids.

As always, she paid careful attention once class started. Tsumugi’s parents would use bad grades as an excuse to trip up her life even more, and she knew well that she couldn’t risk that. It would be dangerous, if they brought home food for her even less often than they already did.

A good student, Tsumugi was attentive and careful. She wouldn’t dare call herself intelligent, but she always scored well on exams, and was close to the top of her class from effort and time alone.

(Always fourth or fifth best, though; never anything interesting.)

Taking notes with a cracked mechanical pencil, Tsumugi forced her thoughts to be quiet. When she was alone, she could drift all she wanted to, but school was never the place to be inattentive.

Soon, Tsumugi lost herself in the easy scratch and squeak of lead on paper. Paying attention to the teacher’s words easily diverted her attention from the world around her, and it was a simple thing to fall fully into her notes, making sure that every inch of her neat handwriting was perfect.

But all too soon, class ended, and lunch break began. This was the time when someone always found a reason to hurt her, and Tsumugi was torn between being excited for the contact and dreading the pain.

(It was sick. She was sick. The only time she felt special was when someone looked at her for so long at once and she couldn’t stop.)

So Tsumugi forced herself to stand up, walked mechanically through the chilly halls of the school, and down the stairs to the cafeteria. She did it every day, and this one would be no worse than the one before.

She bought her lunch, using up the last of her money for the next week, and sighed quietly at how little food her small allowance got her. Her parents were at least nice enough to give her enough to live on every couple of weeks, but she still went hungry more often than not.

Taking her small boxed lunch to a more secluded area, Tsumugi sat down, curling her legs under herself and tucking her skirt around them.

Cold, like she always was in winter, she shivered, wishing the school could be a little bit warmer. The cold made her bruises ache horribly, and she always found herself wishing that the heat would be kept up even a few more degrees. Of course, her solitary opinion would never go far.

All too soon, mere minutes after the last bite of her lunch was swallowed, a small group of girls found her.

Their skirts were tugged up to reveal smooth, bruise-less legs. Their hair was tied up in fancy girls. Their faces were caked in the kind of makeup Tsumugi could never afford. They were everything she wanted to be, and the only comfort in what was going to happen next was that she’d get to experience more of the kind of person she dreamed of being.

“Hey, you remember us?” one of them smirked, looking ridiculously pleased with herself. They obviously knew what an easy target Tsumugi was.

“Y-Yes,” Tsumugi said simply, voice unsteady as she avoided their eyes, looking away in the hopes she wouldn’t make them any angrier.

The girls laughed, chattering worthless words between each other, all about how weak and ugly and worthless and plain Tsumugi was. It hurt, the reminder that she’d always be below them, but Tsumugi kept quiet.

It wouldn’t do to stand up to people like that. She knew well how far below such pretty girls she always would be, and Tsumugi was alright with that. Yes, she dreamed of being a little bit more special, but that was just a dream. Her place in the world was here, the target of people whose lives were worth more, and it was only right that they took advantage of her.

The first kick landed over a bruise under her stockings, and Tsumugi squeaked, pain racing up her spine like lightening.

Cackling, one of the girls grabbed Tsumugi’s hair, forcing her head up and gently pulling her glasses off of her face. “Wouldn’t want to break these,” she said, sweetly, and Tsumugi shivered.

She was used to this. This was daily life for someone as forgettable as her, and Tsumugi reminded herself that it could easily be worse. If she was left alone, she surely would have faded away by now, too exhausted with living on her own to keep going, so really, this was helping her.

At least they didn’t ignore her like her parents did. At least they looked at her and treated her like she was real. At least they’d give her pretty marks to look at for weeks to come.

As the girls prepared for the next hit, Tsumugi smiled wide and dark.

Chapter Text

You’d been assigned to the robot as a special reward for scoring highest in your group of trainees. It was supposed to be special, a miracle of science that could mimic a human in nearly every possible way. It was supposed to be a reward to be allowed to work on it.

New, but doing excellently so far, you were part of a new group of trainees in the field of robotics. Your parents had been pioneers in the field, so you had influence that the others in your group could only dream of.

That probably explained why you’d been assigned to something so showy, as a visible way of pleasing your parents instead of anything real.

But you had little choice in the matter. Honestly, you were excited to see what the robot could do, what made it special compared to any other so called “miracles of technology” that you’d worked with before.

You’d willingly packed up your things, moved into the small compound where the robot was being held, sat through the seemingly endless briefings on how to handle the advanced piece of technology. It was really too much, you thought. All you were going to be doing was basic maintenance; why did it matter if you knew every detail of the thing’s history and research model.

Honestly, your feelings on the matter were rather neutral. You were happy for a chance to study it, but not fond of how it was being handled.

Thinking that it would be no big deal, that you’d just be tightening parts and changing oil, nothing too complex or worrying, you’d stepped into Kiibo’s holding cell expecting just another piece of technology.

Instead, you’d seen what honestly could have passed for human, all white, fluffy hair, massive blue eyes, and pale, grey skin. Kiibo, the robot, really was nearly indistinguishable from a real, living person.

You’d nearly dropped your things, making contact with those gorgeous blue eyes. The robot was amazing, you could tell just by looking at it, so much more than the slides you’d been shown had ever hinted at. Looking at this thing’s blueprints was nothing like seeing the real thing so close.

“Um. . . hi,” you said hesitantly. You knew that the robot could speak, but you weren’t sure if it would actually happen the way you expected.

“H-Hello,” it stuttered, actually stuttered, and you felt your heart thump almost painfully. It was cute, insanely so, all fluff and soft voice and nervous posture, and even as just a mechanic, you wanted to take care of it.

“I’m your new mechanic,” you continued, voice as soft as a hard-hearted robotics student like you could manage. “Did they tell you I was coming? I’m here to perform basic maintenance on you.”

Kiibo shook its head, looking ridiculously human. “N-No. I’m not. . . th-they don’t tell me those things. I d-don’t ‘need to know’ them.”

Well. That didn’t make a lot of sense. The robot clearly was aware of itself, clearly as intelligent as anyone controlling it. You knew that much just from studying the schematics for it, and it didn’t sit well with you that the scientists wouldn’t keep a machine so intelligent informed of its own life.

“Okay. I won’t do that, promise. I’ll tell you everything I do to you, okay?” You, at least, could be nice enough to tell it what you were doing.

Kiibo’s eyes went wide with genuine surprise, and you immediately started kicking yourself for ever calling him an it. You already had a horrible feeling about how things went for him, how he was treated by the scientists, and it wasn’t something you liked the sound of in the slightest.

You were smart. They all knew it. Smarter than anyone else in your group. You could tell when something was being mistreated.

“Th-Thank you. I’ll a-accept whatever y-you choose to do,” he said quietly, softly, looking down and away like he was afraid to meet your eyes. You felt vicious at the sight, like you could slap whoever caused that.

“Alright, Kiibo,” you said, kneeling down next to the single bench in the pathetic excuse for the robot’s room. It was the only piece of furniture in sight, and your blood was starting to boil. “I’m going to check your joints, first. The little ones can come loose from wear, so I might have to tighten any that have slipped out of place. Is that okay with you?”

“I-I– I don’t get a choice,” he sighed, still looking down. “The mechanic chooses what procedures are necessary.”

You smiled sweetly, imagining choking the person who’d told him that. “I’m not like that. I want to tell you what I’m going to do, and I want you to be okay with it.” You did not feel neutral about him anymore.

Kiibo didn’t say anything after that, still looking away, but the lack of protest was close enough to permission. You didn’t think he could manage much more, not as nervous as he seemed to you to be.

He wasn’t wearing any clothes, which would help your fixes (as sickening as it was that they didn’t bother to dress the creature that they claimed was as good as human), and you didn’t have to roll up any sleeves when you gently grasped his cool, metallic hand in your own.

Carefully, you tested the range of motion of each finger, rolling the tiny joints between your gentle fingers and seeing if any were loose. You didn’t force anything, moved slowly, and when you came to a problem spot, you carefully tightened the wires with a small tool from your kit, cautious not to pinch or tug at anything that would be uncomfortable for Kiibo.

His mechanics really were a work of miracles, all tiny joints and complex pieces, amazingly complicated, and beautiful in their patterns.

By the time you moved on to the second hand, you could feel Kiibo staring at you, those wide, blue eyes trained on you as you tightened a loose wire in his pointer finger, twisting it tight with careful movements.

When you were done tightening every joint that needed it, you stroked your fingers over his, feeling the bumps and dips of metal parts under your skin. The scientists were right; Kiibo was a miracle, and even though you’d been neutral before, you were realizing it was an honor to work on him.

“Alright. We’re all done here. Your hands should work much better now,” you smiled, looking up at him as he quickly glanced away. “I’m going to check your arms now; oil anything that’s gone dry from wear.”

Kiibo didn’t say anything again, just nodded faintly, apparently too afraid to speak up while you were working on him so closely.

You worked your way up his arms, carefully going over every part, every wire and bolt and piece of metal plating. He was put together beautifully, nothing like any machine you’d ever seen, and the sheer detail of his wiring and parts was amazing you more with every second.

Whoever had made him had to had to have been some kind of genius. He was truly a work of amazing science, and you were feeling more and more privileged to be able to work on him. Unfortunately, you knew the scientists rarely felt the same. They went through wondrous projects every couple of months, discarding whatever they’d improved. There was no sympathy for old creations; once they ran out of use, they’d be forgotten about in a warehouse somewhere full of other obsolete experiments.

You supposed that was just what happened when humans were given too much freedom, when they were able to move on from the old so easily.

Continuing to work your way up Kiibo’s arms, checking parts and gears and taut wires as you went, you tried to treat the robot with as gentle of a touch as you could. You had no idea if he could even feel anything, but you didn’t want to risk hurting him, in case he really was feeling everything.

The whole time, Kiibo was watching you with massive, blue eyes, looking somewhere between shocked and nervous. His fingers were curling unconsciously in your grasp, something you found remarkably human.

“Are you alright?” you asked, when his staring finally became too much. You were almost done with his arms, fortunately.

“Y-Yes,” he gulped, looking away quickly as his expression morphed into something more concerned. “You. . . you don’t h-have to stop because I’m distracting you.” Oh, the poor thing sounded so afraid.

“You’re not distracting me,” you said softly, absentmindedly brushing a thumb over the metal of his arm, feeling the cool, smooth surface underneath your skin. “Just wondering what you were looking at me about. Can I ask? If you need something, I can slow down or give you a break.”

“N-No!” he yelped, waving his free arm in a gesture of compliance. “I promise I won’t interrupt you! J-Just, um, I-I-I–” His voice half shorted out for a moment, nerves obviously getting the better of him as he stuttered and stumbled over his words. “I w-was won-d-dering why you were being so gentle. I’m just a m-machine. As l-long as you’re c-careful, it doesn’t m-matter if it hurts. . .” he trailed off, looking down.

Immediately, you felt a flash of anger at how this poor thing had obviously been treated. Of course the scientists wouldn’t care if they were causing their subject pain. They’d probably mark it up as “relevant data”, or something equally pointless and cruel to the person they were hurting.

“Of course it matters!” you snapped before you could stop yourself, not missing how Kiibo flinched and cowered at your voice.

“Sorry, sorry,” you soothed, catching yourself and forcing your voice to a lower tone. “I mean, it matters a lot if you’re hurting. That would mean I’m doing something wrong. I’m supposed to be fixing you, not hurting.”
To punctuate your words, you carefully tightened a bolt gone loose, noting how Kiibo practically squeaked at the gentle touch.

“B-But, I’m j-just a machine. . .” he whined, looking down at you with wide eyes. “You don’t have to be n-nice to m-me. It’s n-not like I have feelings like a human d-does. Memories of pain can easily be deleted, and it’s not like I have nerves to damage in the f-first place.”

This robot clearly had feelings, and it was not sitting well with you that someone had convinced him otherwise. There was something very, very wrong about telling something so close to human that it was okay for it to hurt because it wasn’t made of flesh and blood. Kiibo clearly thought like a person, and what you were doing would be torture if you weren’t careful.

Somehow, you had a feeling no one had been careful before.

“I care, okay? I don’t want you to hurt, so please tell me if I do anything that does. I want you to be okay.” You meant every word, even as Kiibo’s eyes went impossibly wider as you spoke.

He clearly deserved better than he was getting, and at the very least, you were going to be gentle in your work, careful not to harm him.

Kiibo didn’t say anything after that, and you were able to keep working, moving onto the joints of his legs and feet, oiling and tightening and checking every little moving piece. From what you knew, he was put together something like a human, all complex, connected pieces, and you were still amazed by just how detailed every segment of him was.

Eventually, you made it up to his torso, where the more vital functions were stored. This would be the tough part; making sure everything was in order where it counted, all while not hurting anything delicate.

“Alright. . .” you soothed, “you might feel a little tiny pinch here. I’ll do my best to be careful, promise.” You were twisting something small and fragile, painfully close to the places that could disable Kiibo if you tried. You knew very well how to shut him down if you had to–

Abruptly, you remembered the scientists telling you to do so if Kiibo ever got “unruly”, and your stomach twisted with a sick lurch.

You knew how to immobilize Kiibo, like someone probably would have done if he lashed out after something hurt. Oh, that was sick. You’d been trained to keep a thinking, aware thing still while you messed around with his body, and no one thought that was a bad thing at all.

Forcing yourself to keep working, you swallowed the rotten feeling of whose bidding you were doing. It would pay off more to focus on treating Kiibo well, give him at least one person who would be kind to him.

Eventually, you were able to move onto the last part of your maintenance; his neck and head. These areas were where Kiibo’s memory and personality were stored, and damage here would possibly be more devastating than damage to the parts that powered him.

You were careful, though, painstakingly delicate as you moved small parts in his neck and face. You were determined not to hurt him.

It was tough work, though, especially when you had to keep meeting the huge, blue eyes that were fixed on you. Kiibo looked somewhere between shocked and curious, probably confused as to why nothing had hurt yet, and you risked a small smile when he met your eyes.

All too soon, you were done. All too soon, you’d checked everything you could get away with, and you knew that your time with Kiibo for today was soon to be over. You really didn’t want to leave. You wanted to stay and talked to him and help him realize that there were better people in the world than the ones who would treat him so poorly, but you knew you couldn’t.

“Okay! We’re all done,” you smiled, standing up, and on a whim, reached out and ruffled Kiibo’s soft, artificial hair.

It was smooth and fluffy under your hands, remarkably soft, and you brushed your fingers through it with the utmost care. Kiibo practically shuddered underneath you, systems doing something funny as he struggled to react to the gentle touch, and you tried not to grimace.

Kiibo reminded you all too much of an abused child, one who’d never been held enough to grow up and thrive, and it made your heart ache. Evene a robot, one as advanced as this, deserved much better.

He didn’t react in any other way, though, just shutting his eyes and making a face like he did’t know what to do.

Just as you were about to leave, half afraid that you’d overstepped some unspoken boundary, Kiibo murmured something you almost didn’t catch, so quiet you almost didn’t hear it.

“W-Will you b-be back?” It was the single most pathetic, longing thing you’d ever heard, and your heart did a funny little flop in your chest.

“If I can. I think this was just a test run, but I’d love to work on you again.” You told the truth, unwilling to give him false hope by promising something you couldn’t deliver. “If I did everything right, though, I think the scientists will want me back. They seem to like me.”

“Okay,” Kiibo said quietly, with the sound of someone teetering in the very idea of hope, and you fought the urge to kidnap the poor thing.

With any luck, you’d be back.

Chapter Text

Gonta was, well, not the best at gentle. He’d never really had friends before, never had a chance to get close to anyone, and with even his own parents distant and out of the way, Gonta was starved for company.

And that was where, somehow, against all odds, you’d come into the picture, miraculously deciding that Gonta was the person you wanted.

You’d met him at school, you a new transfer student who had immediately latched onto the biggest, scariest boy in the school. You’d chosen the desk next to him, sat down without a care in the world, and started up a conversation with Gonta like you weren’t scared.

It was a beyond strange feeling to have someone willingly interact with him, and Gonta had stuttered and stumbled through the whole situation, unsure of how to handle the full attention of someone who wasn’t afraid.

You’d talked to him like it was normal, like Gonta was someone who deserved your attention, and he’d been painfully overwhelmed.

But even as he’d turned cold, barely responded to you and choked over his voice, you hadn’t seemed to care. You’d talked to him again the next day, still smiling, as if Gonta had done something right, and continued to reward him every day with your attention and time. It was like something out of a dream, and Gonta barely knew how to react to it all.

Every day for nearly a week, you’d talked to him, and every day, Gonta had gotten a little better at responding to you properly, a little less frozen by the feeling of having someone pay so much attention to him.

It hadn’t really gotten easier, though, and by the time your classmates had started to whisper about how stupid you were for talking to Gonta, didn’t you know, he’d break you apart if you made him mad? Didn’t you know, he was a delinquent who’d already been suspended three times.

(Gonta hated those whispers, hated every word of them. The only time he really felt like breaking something was when he heard them all.)

But somehow, you’d hadn’t listened. Two weeks in, and you were still smiling at him every day, sharing casual words about the weather and homework and every other silly thing you could think of before class started. It honestly felt like some kind of privilege that you wanted to keep seeing him, and Gonta tried his best to always act properly respectful.

He didn’t want to scare you. He didn’t want you to decide that he was just as dangerous as everyone else thought he was. After so long of having someone to talk to, he felt like he’d die if you left him now.

Everyone thought he was someone to be afraid of, that he’d hurt them if he did anything wrong. Gonta hadn’t hurt anyone since he was too young to know better, and it hurt that he was avoided even at school, even by the parents who were supposed to love him more than anyone.

And that was why you were special, why you, the first person to talk to him like he was normal instead of something to be feared, were someone that he had to please no matter what, had to make sure you wouldn’t leave.

So when, about three weeks into your little conversations, you invited Gonta to walk home with you after school, Gonta very nearly bent his desk.

There was so much potential for something to go wrong, so many ways that he could scare you so badly you’d never want to talk to him again, and yet, Gonta couldn’t bear to say no. If he refused you, you could decide to find someone better, decide to never talk to him again.

So he agreed, nervously forcing out a short response. Gonta knew that he tended to sound much to stern when he was anxious, but you didn’t seem put off, just smiled at him and thanked him for accepting.

Class started soon after that, and Gonta spent the whole time painfully tense. He was gripping his desk so tightly it was a miracle it hadn’t broken yet, staring down the teacher with what unfortunately came out as a vicious glare. Oh, it was no wonder people thought he was frightening. Every time he got nervous about something, everything about him became harsh.

The other kids in the room were looking unnerved, staring at him until he glanced around the room and sent their heads whipping back into place, and a sick, self conscious feeling was settling in Gonta’s stomach.

This was the part he hated; everyone staring at him like he’d hurt them if they so much as moved wrong, like he was dangerous.

Gonta was ridiculously grateful when school ended for the day, when he didn’t have to sit and deal with the stares for any longer. At least, until he remembered that he somehow had to keep himself together with you.

As he made his way out of the school, heading towards where you said you’d be waiting for him, Gonta’s face was twisted up into something he knew was frightening. He couldn’t help it. This was the first time anyone had wanted to be near him since elementary school, and the sheer magnitude of someone willingly being close to him was getting at Gonta’s nerves.

You were waiting by the school gate, just like you said, and Gonta’s stomach lurched when he realised you had been serious, not just intending to get him to believe you and then back out at the last second.

“Ah, you really came!” you smiled, looking up at Gonta with excitement when he finally worked up the courage to approach you.

“Yes. I said I would, didn’t I?” Gonta said, cringing inside. He sounded so mean, it really was no wonder why people thought he was scary.

“Mhmm. I’m still happy you’re here, though,” you said, still looking up at him with a soft smile, like you weren’t afraid at all. Gonta swallowed heavily, fighting the urge to walk away and spare himself the humiliation.

With little more words, the two of you started to walk, Gonta ignoring the painful stares from the kids around you, while you seemed perfectly oblivious. If you stayed so close to him, no one would ever want to be friends with you, Gonta thought. You didn’t deserve that, not after you’d been so nice to someone like him. He didn’t want you to suffer.

Despite his best efforts to ignore the way everyone near you was staring, Gonta was having a hard time pushing it out of his mind. It was painfully obvious, how hulking and scary he looked next to you.

It was really no wonder that everyone stared. It probably looked like he was going to do something to hurt you as soon as no one was watching.

Choking down that thought, Gonta spared a hesitant glance at you. You were looking up at him smiling, and your eyes made contact for an instant. Gonta looked away quickly, feeling his face heat up. Now you probably thought he was some kind of creep for staring at you.

What if you decided you never wanted to talk to him again? What if this one walk with you was the last time you ever looked at him with anything but fear? What if you became just like everyone else?

The possibilities were endless, and Gonta was starting to feel sick with nerves. That was really the worst part; when he got nervous, and accidentally made horrible faces that made everyone think he was angry. Oh, he hoped he wasn’t scaring you already. You’d been smiling, so that was hopefully a good sign, at least as far as Gonta could hope.

“So,” you said hesitantly, breaking the silence, “are we going to walk to my place or yours? I have no idea where you live, but I’m okay with going back to my house alone if you’d rather spare yourself the walk.

Gonta’s home was a nice place. It was a larger than average apartment, very clean, and in a good neighborhood. It was really nothing to be ashamed of, except for the fact that Gonta was the only person who had really lived there in about six years. That part alone was worrying, and what would you think if you noticed that he’d lived alone for so long.

“Your house,” he said, painfully bluntly, wincing internally at how cold and stern he sounded even to his own ears.

But all you did was smile. “Okay. I’ll lead the way, then!” you chirped, swinging your hands slightly in an expression of what Gonta could only read as happiness, despite how he was so sure you had reason to react.

A few more minutes passed, you making idle chatter that Gonta barely responded to. He could scarcely find his voice, and it wasn’t easy at all to talk when you were so close, looking at him like everything was okay. It was so new to be this close to someone, to actually have a conversation with someone who wasn’t making a face like they wanted to run.

Gonta hardly knew what to do with all the contact. He hadn’t spent this long talking to someone in actual years, and it felt dangerously like he was starting to fall apart, overwhelmed by someone actually bothering to talk to the boy who looked like he could break kids his age in two.

“What do you think of the classes here? I’m new, so I can’t exactly speak for how hard they are yet. Any teachers that we gotta watch out for?” You were still talking, soft voice still easily filling the silence of your walk.

Still choking over replies, Gonta was horribly afraid that he wasn’t living up to the kind of conversation you expected.

His answers were short, one or two words at best, and it felt worryingly like he wasn’t managing to hold up his end of things. Gonta had always been stern and cold, never willing or able to manage more than a few words at a time to people, but with you, it felt wrong.

Even so, actually walking with someone, being talked to and being able to respond, felt worlds better than lonely days at home, walking back from school by himself, and watching everyone else with their friends

This was the first time in longer than Gonta could remember that someone had willingly wanted to be close to him. You didn’t act afraid. You didn’t act like being near him was a burden. You’d actually approached him of your own free will, and that meant more to Gonta than you’d ever know.

It hit Gonta suddenly that he wouldn’t be completely alone today. Even when he was home by himself, he’d have the memory of someone smiling at him, treating him like he was important to them.

Something raw and emotional was prickling at Gonta’s chest. He wasn’t quite sure what to do, and he was feeling increasingly overwhelmed.

You’d already paid more attention to him than his own parents had in years, already showed him more kindness than any other classmate had in the entire time Gonta had been going to school.

All too soon, the two of you reached what you happily announced to be your apartment building, breaking the chatter to point at the place just up the street. Gonta swallowed. As nervous as he was, he didn’t want this wonderful moment of being paid attention to to ever end.

The two of you finally reached the outside of the building, and, just as Gonta was starting accept that this would be over for good, you said, “Next time, let’s walk to your place, okay? I’ll make sure I walk with you all the way.”

Gonta’s heart nearly stopped. You wanted there to be a next time. You were willing to walk with him again, or at least pretend like you wanted to.

Feeling like he was suddenly floating, Gonta said something in response that he couldn’t quite hear. He hoped it wasn’t too pathetic, but at this point, he barely cared. Somehow, he’d managed to spend time with you and not scare you off. Somehow, he’d managed to make you want to talk to him and smile at him again.

Just as Gonta was about to walk away, you took his hand in yours, soft fingers brushing against his skin and sending what felt like an electric shock through him, the first real contact he’d had in far too long.

“I really enjoyed this. Please walk home with me again sometime,” you said with a smile that bordered on tender, and Gonta’s heart felt like it was somewhere near his chin.

Could he really have another day this good?

Chapter Text

Biting her lip, Kirumi reminded herself to stand up straight. She’d been chosen to run errands for the teacher because he knew she was superior, and she couldn’t allow herself to falter in the face of someone’s attention.

It didn’t matter than she’d been up for three days straight, studying for the exams that were right around the corner. It didn’t matter that her hands were shaking like leaves in the wind, and that her eyelids felt so heavy she could barely keep them open a moment longer.

Kirumi straightened her posture, forcing her head back and chin up. She couldn’t look anything less than perfect while she was in public.

The stack of files balanced in her hands was feeling increasingly heavy, though, and even the slight heels of her uniform, shoes were starting to trip her up. It was exhaustion, Kirumi knew. She was used to this feeling of fuzziness around exam season, when she had to be up for days on end in order to make sure that her grades came out at the level they should be.

She had to get the files down three flights of stairs.

It would have been an easier task if her head wasn’t spinning. And if she could see her feet past the files towering in her hands.

The first steps went easily. Kirumi took every one with perfect posture, not allowing herself to twist and look sideways to see where she was going. It would be easier that way, yes, but if anyone saw her forced to contort herself over something so trivial, it would be a terrible stain to her dignity.

There didn’t seem to be anyone around, other than a couple passing students hurrying on their way to class, but Kirumi could just feel eyes on her, waiting for her to fail. Waiting to report back to her parents.

Somehow, they always knew when she did something wrong.

Kirumi made it to the first landing. Silently, she heaved a breath. That wasn’t so bad, and there were just five parts left to go. She could do this. She wasn’t going to mess up in any terrible way.

Her arms were getting a bit tired from holding the files out for so long, but it would be fine. She could make it down to the main office.

The next few sections went equally well, even if Kirumi was starting to tremble a bit. She was halfway down, halfway to being done with this trial of her poise, when one of her heels wobbled under her, leg going weak.

On instinct, one of her arms flew out, struggling to right herself, but it wasn’t enough. Files flying everywhere, Kirumi’s legs gave out under her.

The stairs rushed up to meet her, and for a horrible second, Kirumi thought that she was going to be sent tumbling the rest of the way down. She had just enough time for a horrible image of her broken, bloody body at the bottom of the stairs to flash through her mind, but then–

She hit something solid and not at all painful.

A person, another student, bracing yourself against the stairs as Kirumi was left leaning against your chest, your arms around her.

It took a few moments for that to really register in Kirumi’s head, but just as quickly, she was tensing and jerking away from you, body shuddering despite itself at how warm you’d been next to her.

“I-I apologize,” she choked, bowing deeply and hating herself for the stutter that shook her usually-composed voice. The files were everywhere. She’d fallen where someone had seen. Humiliation burned hot and sickening through her stomach and up to her cheeks. “I sh-should have been paying more careful attention to where I was going. Please forgive me.”

Normally, she wouldn’t have talked so openly to someone so clearly below her. Because of her mistake, though, she owed you repentance, some form of compensation for the trouble she’d caused with her carelessness.

You had every right to be furious with her for it. It was her own fault that she’d troubled you, that she’d been less than her best self, and– and– you’d surely be prepared to reprimand her for it, possibly report back to the teacher that she’d failed a simple errand in such a foolish way.

Stupid! Stupid! She’d been so uselessly stupid! All it was was a delivery errand, and she’d still ruined it in such a pathetic way!

“No, no, it’s okay. You’re not hurt, are you?” you said, and Kirumi almost flinched. You didn’t sound angry. Not even mocking. Your voice was just… concerned. Soft. Like you were actually worried she’d been hurt.

“I… I’m intact,” Kirumi responded pathetically.

“Good. Here, let me help you pick these up.” And the next second, you were on your knees, gathering the scattered files as if this was somehow your problem. As if she hadn’t been the cause of the mess.

Normally, Kirumi would have ordered you to pick up the files for her, but when the fault was so clearly her own, she should have….

Should have been forced to kneel in her shame and recover them.

Almost tripping over her own feet again, Kirumi crouched beside you on the stairs, gathering files with hands that shook so badly she could barely get a grip on each one. With two people collecting them, it didn’t take long.

When Kirumi stood to take the files back from you, though, to continue on with her errand and pray you wouldn’t spread word of this, you snatched the other half from her hands before she could move. “I’ll carry these,” you said, so casually it was almost possible to imagine that she hadn’t just made some horrible mistake in front of you. “Main office, right?”

“Y-yes?” Kirumi replied, voice a good couple steps ahead of her brain. “Wait, why are you carrying them? It is my errand to deliver those files.”

“Because I’m helping you,” you say, as if that makes perfect sense, and start down the stairs before Kirumi can stop you. On shaky legs, she follows, praying that she won’t have another fall.

You only pass the files back to her when you reach the main office, allowing Kirumi the dignity of completing her errand on her own. That little kindness is painful, that you’d have to stoop so low to care for her, and Kirumi bites back some scatheing comment about not needing your help.

“Thank you,” she says instead, polite, but cold. “Your assistance is much appreciated. If you’ll excuse me, I must return to class.”

Time to try to forget that any of this ever happened.

Just as Kirumi is turning to leave, though you catch her wrist, tugging her back around in a gentle motion that isn’t nearly as infuriating as it should be. You look at her like you’re concerned, which is so far from the anger, the annoyance she was expecting that Kirumi is thrown off balance all over again at the sight of it.

“You’re shaking,” you comment, pointing out the obvious in a way that has Kirumi tensing. You’re venturing much too close to what you shouldn’t. “When was the last time you ate? Have you been sleeping?”

“I-I don’t see how that’s any of your business!” Kirumi snaps, yanking her hand away and looking down her nose at you, struggling to stay poised.

“It became my business when I had to catch you and keep you from busting your head open on the stairs.” She winces at the bluntness, humiliated. “Now, would you please answer me?”

“Fine… I was unable to get breakfast this morning, and I haven’t slept in… a while. Is that sufficient?” Kirumi snaps, feeling sickeningly shameful.

Instead of laughing, your face does something funny, like you’re worried. “Yeah, it is. Come on. We’re going to get you some bread and juice, and then you’re going to take a nap somewhere quiet. You’re in class 2, right? You have a break up next anyway, so it’ll be okay. No one will know.”

“W-Wait!” she yelps, but you’re already catching her hand in your warm one, walking away with her trailing behind you like a confused baby animal. “Why are you doing this? I don’t need your help!”

“Um, I just want to help, I guess?” you say, like the thought never occurred to you. “I won’t tell anyone else, if that’s why you’re worried.”

Kirumi’s breath feels short in her chest. You saw her make a mistake, and you’re still trying to help. They would have hit you, her mind supplies, unhelpfully. You still don’t sound angry, not even after she’s snapped at you.

“F-Fine. I’ll allow it.” The words leave her mouth almost out of her control. “But only because I owe you for the moment. This will be the only time this happens, are we clear?” Dismissing her own weakness feels a little easier like this. Especially when you smile like she’s doing something good.

Chapter Text

Kokichi had been acting strange lately, something beyond his usual cowering nervousness, and you didn’t like a second of it.

For the past couple weeks, he’d been even more jumpy than usual, smiling too-wide every time you asked him a question, and rushing to agree with everything you said. The behaviors themselves weren’t too unusual, but the sheer frequency was starting to get more than a little weird.

What you knew of your best friend’s life, simple put, wasn’t good. His parents didn’t care what happened to him, so long as they got what they wanted. He was bullied at every turn before meeting you, and even now got picked on whenever you were away. He’d grown to love the attention he got from being abused, addicted to the only form of contact his miserable life allowed. He was a wreck of nerves and barely held together panic.

That all was normal, at least, and even if the difference between a slightly-stranger-than-normal Kokichi and his usual self would have been minuscule to an outsider, it was enough that you were concerned.

You tried to pay more attention to him. Kokichi was sensitive, painfully lonely, and maybe the problem could be fixed by spending more time with him. Maybe it had been your problem in the first place, for not picking up on some little problem that he was dealing with, but hiding from you.

And anyway, you definitely didn’t mind spending more time with him. That was pretty much the exact opposite of a hindrance.

You’d never admit it to anyone, least of all Kokichi, but somewhere along the line of rescuing him from bullies, sitting with him every day at break, and making sure he got enough to eat, you’d developed a fondness for the boy. He was just plain precious, now that you’d gotten to know him, and okay, yeah, you definitely had a massive crush going on.

Definitely not the kind of thing you could tell Kokichi, though. He didn’t always understand the difference between positive attention and negative, let alone that he wouldn’t think he owed you for taking care of him.

You could definitely see him going along with what you wanted just to make you happy, regardless of what he wanted for himself.

The last thing you wanted was for Kokichi to feel like he had to reciprocate your feelings or risk losing your kindness, so you stayed quiet. If the cost of your friendship was Kokichi never finding out that you felt that way for him, that was a low cost to pay for being there for him.

You were perfectly content to simply be with him whenever you could, to treat him like the wonderful person you knew he was.

Today, you’d bought him lunch again. You’d done it directly in front of the girls that he used to have to beg for food, and yeah, that was kind of a power-move on your part. A justifiable one, though, considering that when you’d met Kokichi, he’d been licking their shoes just to earn scraps of food.

That still made you angry to think about, dangerously so when Kokichi would take the slightest sign of your upset as a cue that he’d done something wrong and upset you. The last thing you wanted was for him to panic and start trying to appease you (as he’d done much more often than you would have liked already), so you kept that particular bit of anger to yourself. It could stay there. You didn’t need to bring it up.

The two of you were sitting in a tucked away little part of the school, a long-unused classroom that no one would bother you in at this time of day. Kokichi could almost relax when it was just you and him, you knew.

And, true to your line of thinking, Kokichi was shivering considerably less than usual, mouth stuffed full of melon bread and trembling hands covered in sticky crumbs. It was gross, in a weirdly cute way, especially when you knew just how badly he needed the food.

You’d sat down as close to him as you could let yourself, and nope, you were absolutely not stopping to think about exactly why.

Kokichi stuffed the last of the bread into his mouth, chewing noisily. He tended to make these little whining sounds when he ate, which you had the sickening feeling was because of just how rare real food was for him.

Then, he turned, looking up at you with those massive, purple eyes. Sitting so close to him, you were more aware than ever of just how small he was, little shoulders so much narrower than your own. He was still shaking, just faintly, and you had to actively resist the urge to hug him.

“So, um, I was thinking about something…” Kokichi starts. He’s not stuttering too bad, something that you take as a positive sign.

“Yeah?” you reply, taking another bite of your own bread just after. The hope of what he might say still hangs in your head, but you force yourself to ignore it. It’s definitely not going to happen.

“Y-You know about Danganronpa, right?” And nope, even with your hopes low, that was the last thing you expected him to say. You nod, slowly.

Everyone knows about that show, the gross, hyper-realistic murder mystery that uses real volunteers to ensure that everything is genuine. No one’s sure if people die or not, but the actors who get killed off in the show are never seen again. Somehow, you doubt that “actors” is the right word.

Despite its gruesome premise, Danganronpa has fans all over the world. You’re well aware of the stereotype of “sick otaku” that the show attracts, and honestly, you sort of agree. A murder mystery is one thing, but enjoying watching what could very well be actual people dying goes straight into the territory of downright disturbing. You’ve seen some clips of recent seasons here and there, and everything seems just a bit too realistic.

“Um, yeah…” you reply, not sure you like where this is going. Whatever Kokichi has to say about that show, you doubt it will be good.

“Well, uh, it’s pretty famous, right?” Kokichi mumbles, sounding beyond nervous. You’re getting an awful feeling deep in your gut, but you fight to ignore it. If you let it show, you’ll just make Kokichi worry.

“It is. For kinda gross reasons though, don’t you think?” Kokichi actually flinches at that, shivering getting a few stages worse.

“I know… but, it’s, um, a lot of people watch it. And the actors are always really famous. They’re loved all over the country.” And suddenly, you have a very good guess as to where this is going. You really, really wish you could smack Kokichi right now, not hard, just to knock whatever awful train of thought he’s on right out of his head before he actually says it.

“I want to volunteer for Danganronpa,” he says, though, and your stomach does a sick little flip, nausea rising. “I-I think I’d be good at it! I’m an easy target, so maybe the audience would feel s-sorry for me… I could be the most popular, th-the character that everyone loves .”

There is so much wrong with what Kokichi just said that you barely know where to start. Your mouth hangs loose, uselessly for a long moment while your brain tries to catch up with your best friend having a death wish.

“Kokichi… you know that the actors die, right?” is the first thing you can actually put together. Your voice sounds distant and strange.  

“Th-That’s not the point! Before they die, everyone loves them. It’s, I-It’s more than I could ever dream of living l-like this. It doesn’t matter if I die after that. I-I’d b-be so happy. ” There are a thousand things wrong with that sentence, and Kokichi is starting to sound mildly crazed. You knew he was a bit unstable from the years of bullying and abuse, but this is a whole new level of worrying behavior. You don’t like a second of it.

“You are not going to sign up to get yourself killed!” you snap, standing up so quickly your head spins. Kokichi’s eyes go wide, and he flinches instantly, curling in on himself like he thinks you’re going to hit him. You feel even angrier for it, that he’d act so afraid of you now.

Forcing yourself to take a deep breath, you sit down next to him again, struggling to stay calm. You’re somewhere between furious and terrified, but getting visibly upset is just going to make things worse at this point.

“Kokichi,” you say, voice as even as you can make it. “I don’t want you to die. You’d make me really, really sad if you threw your life away like that. What Danganronpa does isn’t okay, and I don’t want to lose you.”

A minute passes. Kokichi looks at you wide-eyed, like he thinks you’re crazy for saying that you care about him. Your eyes start to feel wet.

“...why do you care about me so much?” he says eventually. His expression is strange, like he can barely process what he just heard. You feel sick and on the verge of crying, somehow close to laughing.

You think, for a moment, that you’re about to say something wonderful, something that will fix the situation and make Kokichi change his mind about joining that awful show. You think that you’re going to say something collected, calm, and rational in the face of this craziness.

“I love you so much,” is what comes out instead.

Kokichi’s eyes go even wider, and he stares at you like you’ve lost your mind. What you just said registers a minute too late.

You just said that. You’re not going to be able to take it back. The feelings that you’ve been holding in for the past couple months are out in the open, now, and it’s going to ruin what you have with Kokichi for sure.

Well, considering that he’s planning on signing up to die, you doubt that you could have messed anything up any worse than that.

“...why would you say that?” Kokichi whimpers after a long moment. “I know you don’t want me to die or a-anything, but do you have to lie to me?” And okay, that’s the saddest reaction to a love confession you think you’ve ever heard. You’re reminded again that Kokichi is about ten layers of fucked up, and maybe the dying thing runs a lot deeper than what you’re seeing.

“No, Kokichi, I’m not lying.” It’s much too late to go back now. You might as well try to talk your way out of the hole that you’re in. “I seriously love you. I have, um, I’ve had feelings for you for a couple months, and I just didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to make you feel pressured… You’re sweet, and cute, and wonderful, and this is getting really embarrassing but–” You pause long enough to heave a breath.

“I love you. So much. You’re the best thing to ever happen to me.” It’s out. You’ve said it. Everything you’ve been thinking for the past weeks.

Kokichi’s face, throughout your little rant, has been going steadily more pink. He’s shaking all over again, worse than before, and the look in his eyes is somewhere between disbelief and pure joy.

“Y-You m-mean it?” he asks at last, voice painfully small and hesitant.

You can’t help it. You’re hugging him before you can stop yourself, squeezing his skinny little body to your chest. Kokichi bursts into tears about five seconds before you do.

His little hands scrabble at the back of your shirt, like he thinks he can get closer to you somehow. You’re both crying into each other’s shoulders, and it’s messy and gross, but you never want it to end. Kokichi clings to you like a little leech, sobbing thanks and shaking like he’s going to fall apart.

The thought of Danganronpa is long forgotten. Somehow, you doubt that you’re going to need to worry about it after this.

Chapter Text

It was you again. It had to be. There’s a small envelope of cash in Rantaro’s locker, unmarked save for the smiley face scribbled on the back.

Rantaro looks around frantically, praying that no one sees him holding the money. Just as quickly, he shoves the envelope into his pocket, not caring how the paper crumples. If anyone saw him, they’d obviously assume he stole it. He’s poor enough that no one would have any doubts.

There’s only one person who would leave him money like this, and Rantaro honestly isn’t sure if he should be grateful or offended. You’re pitying him, you have to be. You, an upperclassman from a rich family, with money to spare and kind eyes when you look at him. It’s insulting, but Rantaro can’t afford not to take the charity. There’s enough money in the little envelopes you leave to keep his sisters fed for a week.

With money in his pocket and a guilty conscience, Rantaro scurries out of the school building, still feeling vaguely like he’s going to be caught. You probably don’t realize what kind of trouble he’d be in if anyone found him with that much money. Or maybe you do. Maybe that’s the whole point.

You could be trying to get him in trouble for all he knows. You could only be sparing the cash in the hopes that someone will find him with it so you can turn right around and accuse him of stealing from you.

Or, the part of Rantaro that still sort of wants to trust says, you could just be being nice. Maybe you really do feel sorry for him.

You’re a good person, probably. There’s no reason why he should assume you aren’t. All the bullying has to be making him jaded, if he’s really questioning an act of kindness from someone probably just trying to help. If you knew he was doubting you, you’d be offended enough to stop being so nice, and the fact that that thought alone makes Rantaro feel vaguely sick is something he takes as a very bad sign.

At this point, he doesn’t know what he’d do without the money you drop off every week or two. You’re what’s making his sister’s lives even slightly more comfortable. You’re the reason he has enough spare cash to stop by the laundromat more than once every couple weeks.

The dependency makes him feel sort of sick, yeah, but it’s just plain ungrateful not to take it. Even if you have some nasty motive waiting, he’ll just have to figure that part out later.

Just as he’s thinking those things, just as he’s almost out of the school gates, a hand taps on Rantaro’s shoulder.

He jolts, hard, whirling around and half-expecting someone to hit him or start yelling. Instead, there’s you, in your clean, pressed uniform, neatly combed hair, and shoes that look downright shined. Rantaro already gets the feeling that he shouldn’t be standing so close to you. If you were anyone else, you would have turned up your nose in disgust.

“Um, Amami, have you been alright?” you ask, talking to him like he’s an old friend instead of a near-stranger. You’ve spoken to him maybe three times, and even then, only in passing.

“Yeah. Decent. Uh…” The words stick in his throat like glue. Maybe this is when you’re going to try to take the money back.

“Is it helping you?” you blurt out much too suddenly. “–the money, I mean. I don’t want you to think I’m looking down on you, but that’s all I could think to do to help. I hope it’s been enough to do some good.”

Of course. What you’ve been giving him is probably little more than allowance money to you. At least you’re trying to be nice. Rantaro really, really doesn’t know how to respond to all that. It’s definitely a charity effort. You definitely pity him. That kind of thing should sting, but instead, all Rantaro feels is grateful. At the very least, you seem genuine.

“It’s… it’s wonderful.” Yep. He’s swallowing his pride and saying it. Maybe you’ll keep up the help if he’s grateful. “My sisters, well, it’s enough to keep them fed for a while. It’s more than I could ever thank you for, but, um, thank you. We’re in your debt.” With a little nod of his head, Rantaro prays you’re not going to laugh at him. He’s said the truth, and it would be so easy for you to take the chance to hurt him for it.

Instead, your smile lights up your face.

“That’s great! I’m so glad I can help! I’ll be sure to keep it up, then! I get enough allowance that this much is no trouble at all, so don’t worry. I can keep helping out for as long as you need me to.”

There’s no way this is real. No one’s this nice to people like him. There has to be some trick waiting at the end, but all Rantaro can see is the happiness in your eyes. Your looking at him like a friend, like an equal, like someone that you truly want to help.

“I’m sorry I’ve been so distant,” you continue. “I see you as a friend, I really do, but I didn’t want to scare you off. I know we’ve only talked a couple times, and… and I’m kind of bad at this stuff. I hope I didn’t mess anything up.”

“No, you–, you’re fine. Um, thank you again. For being so nice an’ all.” Trying a hesitant smile of his own, Rantaro can feel his face going red. He really doesn’t know how to respond to this kind of thing.

You part with a promise to talk to him again tomorrow, as soon as you can. There’s a fuzzy feeling in Rantaro’s stomach, like he’s nervous or a little too excited for his own good. You called him your friend. You treated him like your friend. He knows that he should be grateful, thankful, but instead, the only thing that seems quite right is joy.

Chapter Text

Korekiyo is cornered, an upperclassman’s hand around his collar, dragging him down to their level. He’s seconds away from getting hit, most likely, but that’s not the part that bothers him.

No, the problem here is that, if this continues, he’s going to be late getting home today. And Sister won’t like that one bit.

Korekiyo’s throat bobs, swallowing behind his mask. The bully shouts something about Korekiyo ignoring him, about making him pay attention. Korekiyo thinks about what Sister will do if he’s late getting home again, and decides that whatever happens here will be far less terrifying.

A second later, Korekiyo is on the ground, vision swimming with light and cheek burning from a punch. For how tall he is, for the intimidating figure that he surely cuts in the eyes of his classmates, his body is weak. It doesn’t take more than one well-placed hit to knock him down and keep him there. It’s better that way. Sister likes his lean figure better than any kind of strength that might lend him an edge in these situations.

And Korekiyo is never one to question her.

Next comes a kick to his ribs, knocking the wind out of him in one sharp hit. He’s going to bruise. He’s going to be aching for days. Korekiyo swallows around empty air and prays that this will be over soon.

When the next hit doesn’t come, though, his scrunched-closed eyes slide open, looking up with hesitation at his tormentor.

...who’s currently backing away, very slowly, from one of the most feared delinquents in the school.

Your mouth is set in a serious line, bored eyes scanning over the upperclassman like you think it might entertain you to eat him alive. Korekiyo sucks in a breath. If–, if you decide to hurt him too, he won’t be home for ages. Korekiyo struggles to breathe past the fear.

“Y’know, I don’t have time for this. I could bust your head open, but I don’t think either of us want to bother with that,” you say to the bully, stepping forward just quickly enough to make him flinch. “I mean, who knows? You could be some kinda sick masochist or something, but I’m guessing you’d really rather not lose some teeth today.”

You crack your knuckles, and the bully’s eyes go painfully wide.

“Start running.”

The bully’s footsteps thud down the hallway, a panicked yell leaving his throat as he tears away from the scene before you can follow through on those threats. Your eyes drop down to Korekiyo, who flinches. He’s alone with you, and now, Korekiyo thinks, the real pain is going to begin.

You crouch down about a foot away from him, staring. Korekiyo’s breathing picks up, waiting for you to hit him. Instead, you slowly reach out a hand and poke his shoulder, grinning at the way he jerks away.

“You okay? Nothing broken?” you ask, voice casual and relaxed, like you’re talking to an old friend instead of a potential victim.

Korekiyo shakes harder.

“Wha-What, if I may ask, do you intend to gain by postponing this? Please, just hit me and get it over with.” He needs to get home. He needs to get home or Sister is going to make him hurt a thousand times worse than anything you could do. It doesn’t matter if you do break something, he can hobble home anyway he has to, if need be.

“I ain’t gonna hit you. Quit acting like I’m about to. Come on, you can stand up.” You stand, grab him by one hand, and roughly haul him to his feet. You’re so strong it feels like you could snap his arm in half. “You’re fine, right? Don’t need to go to the nurse or anything?”

“No. I… I believe I am fine.” Whatever reason you’re doing this for, Korekiyo doesn’t want to think about it. He’d rather not be in anyone’s debt, especially not when there’s already so much to worry about.

He nods, moves to walk away. He has to hurry. He has to get out of here and get back home to face whatever punishment he knows is coming.

“Hold on a second.” You grab him by his wrist, tugging him back towards you. “You really think you’re not going to get your ass beat if you go out there alone? That guy’s waiting for you, I bet, and the second he realizes I’m not there, you’re going to be right back where you started.”

“A matter I will deal with as it comes. I thank you for your advice, but if you will excuse me, I must be returning home quickly.” Again, he tries to walk away, but even when your grip doesn’t come, your footsteps behind him do. Korekiyo shudders. Maybe you will decide to hit him now that he’s been so disrespectful. Maybe he can get away if he runs now.

You follow him all the way down the stairs, all the way out of the school building. At first, Korekiyo tries to pretend that maybe you just happen to be walking in the same direction, but with every turn that you follow him down, the hope of mere coincidence plummets.

You don’t hit him. You don’t try to grab him again. You just walk after him silently, as imposing and constant as a second, violent shadow attached to his own. You say nothing, and Korekiyo finally snaps.

“What, may I ask, are you doing?” His voice is quiet, shaking, but he still fears that you’ll take the question as an offence.

“Walking you home.”

“...why?”

“Because if I don’t, you’re gonna get your ass beat again. Damn, I thought I said that already. Were you not listening or something.” The whole while, you don’t stop walking, don’t so much as try to smack him for his rudeness. Perhaps he got hit in the head a bit too hard earlier.

But nothing else is said. You follow him like you really do intend to walk with him all the way home, easily keeping up with his long strides. Korekiyo is still half sure that you’re going to drag him into an alley at any second, but nothing of the sort happens. You just walk alongside him, stony face a permanent glare against any passerby.

It’s disconcerting. Korekiyo can barely believe that you have any sort of kind intentions, let alone that you really want to be helping him get home safely. Maybe you’re just trying to find out where he lives so you can track him down later. Maybe you’re just enjoying watching him squirm.

The two of you walk in silence for a good ten minutes, Korekiyo growing more nervous all the while. He needs to hurry. He’s already late, and even though a sick little part of him wishes that you could protect him from what’s waiting at home, he quashes down the thought as soon as it pokes up its dangerous head. Those sorts of ideas will only earn him regret. Korekiyo can’t afford to fall out of Sister’s graces any more than he already has by taking so long to return to her. He doesn’t dare to.

“So what’s got you in such a hurry, anyway?” you ask eventually, only a few blocks away from Korekiyo’s home. Korekiyo shudders again. That’s a dangerous question, a dangerous thing for him to answer.

“...my Sister is waiting for me,” he replies, as soon as he can find the words. That shouldn’t be too incriminating. Sister shouldn’t be mad at him for saying the simple truth.

“Eh? You’re so freaked out because of your sister?”

Korekiyo flinches. Is he really that obvious? He’s terrified, of course, but having you point it out so easily is like salt in the wound.

“We have plans for today, and I don’t want to disappoint her.” It’s true, again, but hopefully not too suspicious. Sister doesn’t like it when people start suspecting just how close the two of them are. She’s always told him that people would interfere, should they find out.

Your eyes narrow, looking over at him with some unreadable sort of coldness. “Makes sense,” you say after a bit, just as the two of you reach the gate outside of Korekiyo’s home.

“We’re here,” Korekiyo says, giving a brief nod. “Thank you for… escorting me. I must be going now, however.”

“No problem. I’ll walk you home again tomorrow, ‘kay? Can’t have you getting beat up on again. You’re so skinny you’d probably break!” You laugh, a clear, open sound. It’s disconcerting, and Korekiyo scurries inside.

He shuts the door behind him, and sighs, sagging against it. Hopefully he’s not too late. Hopefully Sister isn’t too unhappy with him. The idea of you walking him home is a worrying one. Sister doesn’t approve of friends. Even if you force it on him, he’ll be in trouble if she assumes.

After all, Sister is the only one he needs.

“You’re late.”

Sister is standing in the hall, eyes cold. Korekiyo shudders, hard. She’s unhappy with him. He’s failed her. Sister’s arms cross in front of her chest, red lips quirking into a frown.

“Come here, Korekiyo,” she says, and Korekiyo obeys without a second thought.

Chapter Text

A couple weeks later, and things are getting better. Going on regular “dates” with Miu, as simple as they are, appears to be doing some good. You haul her to a cafe or park, a walk through town or a lunch together on the rooftop as often as you can, and it’s working. Sort of.

She’s still terrified of you, that much is obvious. You really wouldn’t have expected anything less. But progress is progress, and any less, well, utter terror is for sure better than where you started. Also, her face when you buy her lunch or hold her hand on a walk are always, always worth it. You don’t think there’s anything more precious than her flushed face when you do something particularly affectionate.

At some point, though, you wound up shockingly fond of her. A crush, you thought, right up until she hugged you for the first time (well, more like clinging to your back when terrified) and you realized that your feelings go quite a bit deeper.

You like seeing her smile. You like the way her cold little hands feel latched onto yours. You like her nervous habits, her permanent stutter, and at this point, you’re pretty sure that you just really love Miu.

But dropping hints isn’t getting you anywhere, nervous as Miu is. You’ve kind of been dating her for a few weeks now, when you think about it, even though neither of you were exactly aware of what the situation really was. You’re still not sure if Miu is. For all you know, she thinks you’re just pitying her, just taking care of someone helpless because no one else was willing to. It’d be nice if she figured it out, but… you’re happy with the way things are. You’re happy just being able to be her friend.

So the dates continue, you slowly easing Miu into something resembling a normal friendship all the while. You try to do as much as you can with her, if only to show her what it’s like to feel wanted.

And that’s how you find yourself on the train home, Miu sitting beside you, one small, clammy hand latched onto yours like her life depends on it.

It’s your first time taking her back to your house, and yeah, it’s only to watch a movie, but the idea of potentially being seen so close to you has the poor girl shaking. Miu has never quite gotten over the idea that being associated with her could get you in trouble, and while that was kind of the idea of taking her somewhere less public, even this idea seems to just be making her nervous.

“Hey, Miu?” you ask, trying not to pay attention to how she flinches.

“Y-Yeah? Did, I, um, d-did I do something wrong?”

“You’re fine.” You give her hand a squeeze, smiling in a way that you hope is reassuring. “Just checking in. Anything I can do to help the nerves?”

Miu looks down, hand shaking in yours. She squirms nervously, chewing at her lip like she has something to say, but can’t quite bring herself to get it out. If it was anyone else, you’d press, but Miu’s too fragile to do anything but wait patiently for her to find the right words.

“N-No, I’m good,” she whispers eventually, and then goes right back to biting her lip. Well, at least you got an answer at all.

“Okay. You can tell me if you need anything though, alright?”

Miu squeaks, involuntarily squeezing your hand. For such a delicate girl, her grip is awfully tight. You can’t really bring yourself to complain, though, not when this much contact would have made her flinch away in panic just a few weeks ago. This is definitely better.

You reach your stop before long, with no more words exchanged. Miu is still shaking, shoulders trembling hard enough that people are sort of starting to stare, but you didn’t really expect much else. You get her off the train and out of the station without any more apologies or stuttering, and honestly, that feels like a small victory.

Your neighborhood is a new part of town for Miu, and as you expected, she’s all but clinging to your arm as soon as she notices someone glancing at her. Just because you can, you wrap an arm around her shoulder.

“What are you d-doing?”

“Making you feel safer, I hope. Do you want me to stop?”

Miu blushes. “D-Do what you want. I don’t know wh-why you’d want to be seen with me, but if it ma-makes you happy…”

You reach your home before long, Miu looking around frantically as soon as you get inside the door. She takes off her shoes, places them very carefully in the hall, and then looks at you like she’s waiting for some kind of instruction. You kind of want to hug her, if only to make the kicked puppy look go away. Shame that you know that that would be a very bad idea.

The two of you get situated, Miu on one side of the couch, almost pressing herself against the far arm, you putting in the movie you picked out, then plopping down somewhere close to the middle.

You’re kind of hoping that she’ll move into your space a bit on her own, but it’s not like you’re going to force anything. Miu can move at her own pace. You’re fine with slowing down to be there beside her. If she needs time to get used to you, then you’re just going to give it.

Snacks calm her down a little bit. As cheesy as it is, you give her a massive bowl of popcorn, which she winds up holding in her lap like a comfort object, shoving huge handfulls into her mouth. The movie, a popular comedy from a few years ago, gets a few genuine laughs out of her too, and yep, this has been a total success already. Relaxed Miu. The one thing you’ve been trying to see for weeks now. You’re feeling awfully blessed.

At some point, Miu slides out of her nervous little knot at the far arm of the couch, too, unconsciously slipping a little closer to the center.

You’re damn tempted to try to hold her hand again or something, but that might be a little too obvious. Not to mention stereotypical. Leaning over and grabbing a handful of popcorn for yourself works, though, and if you wind up sitting a little closer to her in the process, than that’s just fine.

But Miu is apparently a little more comfortable with you than she lets on, because about fifteen minutes later, she’s finally scooted all the way over, leaning against your shoulder like she belongs there. You have a good guess that she’s just too engrossed in the movie to realize what she’s doing, but you’ll take it.

She stays like that for a while, all rumpled clothes and messy hair brushing against your arm, seemingly not noticing just how close she’s gotten. The ending credits roll eventually, though, and the point where Miu looks away from the screen is when the realization hits.

Miu’s eyes go very, very wide, and a second later, she’s pressed right back up against the arm of the couch, scrambling away from you so fast she almost kicks you in the struggle.

“Sorry!” she yelps, voice rising to a panicked pitch. “I didn’t me-mean–, mean to!” You can all but see her shaking.

“It’s fine. It’s not like I pushed you away, is it? I’m not gonna get mad at you for being close to me. Why would I be mad about a friend sitting kinda close?” You try to smile. It would be very, very easy to say something a little different than that you just don’t mind. You’re very pointedly not going to go there. The last thing a panicked Miu needs is one more thing to worry about.

“St-Still… I should have paid more attention, I’m stupid. I’m–, I-I’m such a nuisance, I…” Miu rambles, not stopping there. She’s quickly slipping into an entire self-depreciating rant.

You throw a handful of popcorn at her on pure impulse.

Miu looks up at you for a moment, mouth still open. There’s popcorn in her hair, on her shoulders, and she blinks with confusion for a good ten seconds, still processing what just happened.

Eventually, her eyes narrow.

She throws one of the couch pillows at your head.

A minute later, you’re both still laughing, tension absolutely shattered. Miu’s laugh is quiet and almost squeaky, nervous even when she can’t bring herself to be quiet, and you have never wanted to hug this girl more than you do right now. You think, light-headedly, that this might be the happiest you’ve ever seen her.

Things will calm down eventually. You’ll be right back to scared-rabbit Miu, all lip biting and clammy hands. But for now, her laugh is the best thing this date could have possibly brought you.

Chapter Text

You’re shelving books in the darkest corners of the massive library where you work, back where it feels like someone could die and no one would ever know until they needed a book from near the body. You’re pushing a weighed-down cart, laden with books so heavy your wrists are starting to ache. Or maybe that’s just the scabs.

After you stretch up to replace a book from a particularly high shelf, you hear heavy breathing, no more than a few feet away. Understandably, you jolt so hard the book slips out of your hand and hits the ground with a solid thunk. The breathing stops. You must have startled them.

It’s weird enough that there’s a person this far back in the stacks, where only the rarest books need replaced every so often. It’s weirder yet because it’s over an hour after closing, and no one should be here but you.

Bracing yourself to find something unpleasant, you temporarily abandon the cart and step around to the next aisle. It’s probably some pervert jacking off. You’ve had that issue before. Someone always gets off on well, getting off in public where anyone could find them.

But instead of slick sounds and the smell of sex, you’re met with a coppery tang to the air that you recognize instantly.

And then, a person slumped over against the end of one bookshelf.

There’s blood, a lot of it. The boy has his fist clenched around a flash of silver, short sleeves baring twin rows of oozing gashes along his forearms. His eyes, dark-circled and frantic, meet yours, inky black, grease-slick hair falling in his face and mouth open in a breathless pant. His white shirt– uniform, most likely– is spattered with red, and the messy smears of it on the bookshelf behind him make your eye twitch.

Suddenly, your thoughts about finding a body seem almost prophetic.

Could he not have chosen a more considerate place to off himself? Doesn’t he know that someone is going to have to clean this up? You’ve had your own history of these attempts, but you’d never tried anything that would inconvenience someone else so terribly.

“A-Ah–,” the boy chokes, throat spasming around a helpless noise. He looks at you like you’re going to hit him, eyes wide and blown black.

“What are you doing?” you ask, as if it isn’t obvious. Your tone comes out sharp, almost scolding. The boy flinches, and you can’t find it in yourself to care too much. “You’re getting blood all over the books, you know.”

You crouch down, keeping your gaze carefully calm. The boy has started to shake, a sick pallor rising to his cheeks like he’s going to be sick. He’s breathing so hard you can see his chest shudder, so skinny you imagine you could see every rib. It’s probably the blood loss making him look so fragile. You feel rather sorry for him anyway.

“I’m talking to you,” you say, giving his hand a little poke.

“Sorry…” the boy breathes, voice hoarse. “I know–, I-I know I’m inconveniencing you… You c-can, um, you can leave, l-leave me to die if you want. I think it’s gonna work this time…” His words take on a dreamy tone. You might be starting to lose him. Maybe he’s just enjoying this. Either way, you’re not going to have someone die in the stacks. That’d just be a mess.

You sigh, standing up long enough to grab a first aid kit from a cabinet nearby. The boy’s eyes go even wider, whites startlingly visible against the bruise-dark circles under his eyes. He’s shaking.

“You don’t h-have to…!” he yelps, barely able to find volume above a whisper. You give him a little thump on his head just to shut him up.

“Quiet. You’ve already made enough trouble for me. Do you know what I’d have to deal with if you die here? Kill yourself somewhere less troublesome, if you have to.” You take his arm, maybe being a bit more rough than you need to. You wrap the bloody skin in crisp, white bandages, tight enough to ease the blood flow. You’ve done this to yourself more times than you want to think about. He’ll live. You know it.

The boy goes silent, quietly allowing you to wrap his wounds. He shivers, looking at you with massive, glassy eyes. His skin is soft and thin underneath the blood, dotted with purple-black bruises. He probably has as much reason to die as any of you do, some trouble weighing him down in a way that he can’t see any escape from.

“What’s your name?” you ask when you’ve gotten to a point where you’re sure he’s not going to die. He gapes at you, mouth dropping open with a soft pop. Like no one’s ever paid that much attention to him before.

Pathetic.

“S-Saihara… Shuichi.”

“Okay, Saihara. While I’m fixing you up, how about you tell me why you decided to off yourself in a public building? What did you think about who was going to find your body?” Your tone is rough, and Saihara flinches, looking away. Can’t admit to it. Gross.

“I, um… I wasn’t thinking, I guess… I like Danganronpa– s-s-so much, more than anything –, and having someone find me seemed kinda close to the show. Maybe it would, w-would become a murder mystery…” A sick little smile slides across his face, a dizzy look washing over him like he couldn’t be happier. What is wrong with this kid?

“That’s stupid. You know how much trouble you would have gotten us in? Die in your bathtub like a normal person.”

Saihara flinches, looking up at you through his lashes. His shoulders shake, trembling as you tie off the last of the bandages, already soaking through with red. He’s going to hurt for a while, maybe just until he tries this shit again, but at least he won’t be expiring here.

“Um… have you done it before too…?” Saihara’s eyes flicker to your wrists, nasty scabs peeking out from where your long sleeves have fallen back. He’s eyeing your wounds like he’s found a friend. The part of you that isn’t disgusted almost pities him. What a stupid boy.

“Yeah, I have. A couple times. Family found me too quick to make it, got my stomach pumped, arms sewn up, same old same old. Nothing special or glamorous. There’s nothing like fame in death. You go out as unknown as you were when you lived. The only people who give a shit are the nurses who have to patch you up.” It’s the hard truth. You try to ignore the way Saihara winces all over again. He looks so scared of you, you’re not sure whether you should be insulted or flattered.

It’s probably the bloodloss. Losing too much of the stuff makes people weird– you know that from experience. Maybe he’s a little more normal when he’s not close to bleeding out on the library floor.

“If, if I was on Danganronpa, it would be different,” he breathes, eyes brimming with adoration. “I could be the best killer. Maybe even a triple murder, one of the rare ones…! And then–, then… then they’d execute me. All special. A death just for me…”

Wow, that’s a lot of issues. You’re really regretting digging yourself into this. Well, all you can really do now is try to convince him not to do it again. You don’t really want some stupid kid’s suicide on your hands.

Heartless as you may be, that’s a little much. You’re not a murderer or an advocate for it all; just someone who’s sick of the bullshit of living.

“Then get yourself on the show instead of dying like this. Wouldn’t it be stupid if you offed yourself now when you could have the chance to have, uh… an execution or whatever? Hold out until you really want to do it.” On some impulse, you squeeze Saihara’s hand, the one still clasped in yours. Support, maybe, or just human nature. His fingers are so bony, you wonder if he might be starving himself on top of all of this.

“You’re–, you’re right,” Saihara murmurs, looking at you like you’re a god. “I shouldn’t do this here; it n-needs to be where everyone can see it. Where I’ll be a part of them .” His eyelids flutter, eyes hazy.

“Okay, great. No more offing yourself in a library. Now, you’re all weird from bloodloss, and you should probably either go to a hospital or go home and rest this off. I’m not going to tell you which. I’ll walk you home if you need it, but don’t make me waste the effort.”

Saihara gives you the same awestruck look, like he can’t believe that you’re actually going to take the time to help him. It’s weird. You feel sort of sick. Whether he’s legitimately this starved for attention or just confused, you’re not sure, but it’s uncomfortable either way. You’re starting to feel a weird sort of… something for him. You don’t like it.

You haul Saihara to his feet, letting him lean his (worryingly light) weight on your shoulders. He shivers at the contact, visibly starved for it. You try very very hard not to feel sorry for him at the sight of it.

Abandoning your cart of books to pick up later, and with a final glance at the blood smears that you’re going to have to clean up before anyone else gets in, you guide Saihara to the exit. He’s obviously making an effort to keep up with you, stumbling along on unsteady legs.

“Throw that away,” you say sharply, with a pointed glance at the razorblade still clasped in his other hand. “You’re not going to need it now, are you? You’re waiting to be on that show you like.”

Saihara shudders all over again, obediently dropping the blade into the trash on the way out. He’s surprisingly pliant once you get down to it, obeying your every word like he’s oh-so happy just to have you talking to him. He’d probably follow you like a lost puppy if you played your cards right, got under his skin. If you wanted that kind of thing, Saihara would be a painfully easy target. It’s almost enough to make you sick.

You walk the short trip back to his apartment building with him, letting Saihara lean on your shoulders all the while. He’s shaky and thin, dangerously frail now that he’s close to you. Your mind is filled with vague thoughts of choking him, dragging someone else to the death they long for.

And then, you’re standing outside of a normal-looking apartment complex, maybe four floors high.

“Are you good from here?” you ask. “Can you get yourself in bed and sleep this whole mess off?” This is stupid. Why are you even going to far to make sure he’s alright? It’s not like you’ll know him long enough to feel any kind of gratitude. This is charity work, pure and simple.

“Y-Yeah… I’ll clean everything too, d-don’t worry. I won’t die until my execution.” Saihara looks at you with dreamy eyes. You get the impression that he wouldn’t mind if you were the one to give him the death he wants so badly. “Thank you for–, for, um… doing so much to help. I never thought such a kind person would go out of their way for me…”

He’s so pathetic it almost makes you sick, so desperate for any kind of attention that he’s willing to cling to the person who almost had to deal with his body. It’s disgusting. He’s a pitiful wreck of a boy, and you can’t stand it.

“...come back to the library if you feel like doing it again. I’ll stop you. You have to wait, so I’ll make sure you don’t do anything stupid.”

The words slip out before you know what you’re saying. Saihara’s stupid grin lights up his face, crooked and rather sweaty. You think he might be drooling a little. Fuck, what are you doing, trying to keep this mess alive?

Saihara slips away, easing himself carefully up the stairs. He glances back over his shoulder seven times before you walk away.

Chapter Text

You’re so kind to him, unlike anything Korekiyo has ever known. His Sister’s love is one thing, what he depended on for so long to keep him together, huge and all-encompassing, all but smothering him under its weight. Your love is soft and small, sliding into the cracks of him and filling them up, finding every weak little piece to hold together.

They’re different, so different, and for a while, Korekiyo was sure that he loved both in their own ways. But slowly, slowly, with every smile you gave him, Korekiyo started to realize that Sister’s love was choking.

He lays on his bed, ankles hanging over the edge like they have since two years ago. Sister is in the main rooms, cooking dinner for herself while Korekiyo isn’t allowed to come out. She likes him skinny, Sister says, and she’ll love him so much more if he stays pretty for her. Korekiyo’s stomach aches like there’s something stuck in it, and he thinks, for one disobedient moment, that he’d rather eat when he wants.

Those are the kinds of thoughts you put in his head; you, with your small, warm hands, eyes that light up when you smile, and all the soft things Korekiyo never knew he could want. If Sister knew about you, he’d… well, he doesn’t know what would happen, but it surely wouldn’t be good.

You wouldn’t be happy to know that he’s not eating. You never like things like how every bone stands out against the backs of his hands, how you can feel his ribs through his shirt when you hug him.

It strikes Korekiyo, suddenly, that he cares a bit more about what you think than what Sister does.

A few minutes pass, Korekiyo shaking faintly where he lays. He’s never had to think about someone else’s opinion before. It’s strange, almost scary. Sister would be furious if she knew. All she does is love him, take care of him, and he thanks her by choosing someone else over her. The thought alone is enough to make him flinch.

And yet, thinking of how sad you’d be to know what was happening, Korekiyo can’t sit still a moment longer. He’s used to Sister’s anger. Your sadness is the thing that makes him feel achy and scared.

Korekiyo stands, slipping out of his room on something that might be courage. Sister is in the kitchen with her own food, the smell of which makes Korekiyo’s stomach clench miserably. For a second, he’s sure he can’t do it–, he’s sure he could never ask. Then, his mouth moves on its own.

“Sister, I’m not feeling well. Would it… would it be alright if I eat something small?” His voice is so thin, so weak, so scared.

Sister’s brow twitches, her eyes going sharply narrow. Her long nails tap against the counter, the manicure that Korekiyo gave her three days ago drumming out a quick, irritated rhythm. Korekiyo’s breath catches in his chest, tight. That’s not a good sign.

“Why are you asking me? I told you no . You’ve had such an attitude lately.” She shakes her head, long-suffering. “Go back to your room, Korekiyo. I don’t want to deal with this right now.”

Korekiyo shakes, biting a painted lip with no mask to hide it.

“Excuse me, Sister.”

He ducks his head, the picture of submission, and picks up a small orange from the table beside him. His eyes close, a tense breath wheezing through his chest. He has all of a second to think of just how stupid this choice was before Sister slaps him hard enough to leave him staggering.

When Korekiyo flinches, she hits him again, this time in just the right moment that his teeth clamp down on his tongue.

“Korekiyo, dear little brother, what was that? You heard me, didn’t you?” she hisses. His cheek is bleeding, Korekiyo realizes faintly. Her nails tore through the skin. Liquid dribbles down his jaw, spotting the floor.

“I’m sorry, Sister. I’m… I’m not feeling well. I thought, th-thought I needed to eat something. I’m sorry for not listening to you.” The rebellion sits like lead in his stomach, aching and cold. She’s angry. Sister’s pretty hand closes around his wrist, gentle, for a moment.

“Get out. You want to think for yourself so badly, go do it. You can take care of yourself for a while, since you clearly don’t want my help.”

Sister digs her nails into his wrist, drags him over to the door with quick steps. He steps outside on autopilot, and she slams the door behind him, hard enough that the sound shocks some sense back into Korekiyo’s head. He doesn’t dare touch the doorknob. It’s obviously locked, but Sister would be so, so unhappy if he disobeyed her again, even while she couldn’t see it. He earned this, and he’ll live with it like Sister wants.

Feeling weak and jelly-limbed from fear, Korekiyo walks the few short blocks over to your home. The walk itself is a blur of panicked thoughts, but somehow, he winds up on your doorstep, bleeding and trembling.

Korekyo knocks, once, softly, half-hoping you don’t hear. It would be easier if he could walk away and suffer on his own. You open the door anyway, face flashing happy-sad as soon as you take in the blossoming bruise along his cheekbone, the red streak of the cut in the center of it.

He isn’t wearing his mask. You can see him.

“Kiyo–, what? Are you okay?” The first words you say are to his wellbeing, not scolding him for showing you such a disgraceful scene.

Yes, he thinks. You’re here, and he’s so grateful for it.

“... No ,” is what comes out.

Your face scrunches up a bit, looking somewhere between miserable and angry. You pull him into a hug a moment later, head only reaching to somewhere near his shoulders, and Korekiyo only barely resists a flinch.

“Come on, already. Get inside.” You smile, a little too thin, take his hand in yours, and gently pull him inside. Your hand is scorching against the chill of him, soft and solid where he’s all bone and tender skin. You squeeze, just a bit, and Korekiyo could almost believe that he’s going to be alright.

You get him sitting down, a weighted blanket around his shoulders just to make him feel a little more real. The kindness is suffocating, too much for him, too much for someone so undeserving, and Korekiyo can barely take the affection. Sister doesn’t do this. He’s always the one tending to her needs, making her feel good, never the other way around.

When you notice him shaking, you pointedly scoot yourself up to his side. The heat leeches into him instantly. He’s suddenly all too aware of his skinny, lanky body, tucked in like some sick kind of insect next to you. Every part of him is too long, too thin, and whatever Sister sees in him looking like this, Korekiyo will never, never understand. His hands curl in the blanket, blue spiderwebs of veins pushing up against his skin.

You can see his face like this. His mask is abandoned at home, revealing the sharp, narrow lines of his face, the bruise darkening on his cheek, the drying blood and narrowed eyes and lipstick smeared over his mouth and chin.You can see every little flaw. He’s pathetic.

“You’re thinking something bad about yourself, aren’t you?” you ask, all but reading his mind. Korekiyo’s eyes close– unable to look at you.

“Sister… Sister wasn’t happy with me,” Korekiyo starts, feeling foolish and small. If he tells you how bad things are, how bad he is, could you ever still want him? If he keeps his mouth shut, you’ll just drag it out. “I broke one of her rules. I disobeyed. She… sh-she told me to take care of myself if I don’t need her, and she wouldn’t let me back in. So. I’m here.”

It sounds pathetic even to his own ears. His voice is low and small, mumbling over words that should be easy to tell you. Such simple things. Sister would make him say it all over again until he got it right.

“...what rule did you break?” you ask, sounding angry. Korekiyo flinches hard. Reflexes expect you to hit him; he jerks away.

Feeling sick, Korekiyo doesn’t answer. It was such a simple rule. He acted out all on his own, and if he tells you, if you know, you’ll be just as angry as she was. It’s in your tone already, and Korekiyo wants to shut down just hearing the faintest note of your displeasure.

“Kiyo, you need to tell me. I won’t be mad, I promise.” In a dizzyingly affectionate gesture, you ease one of his too-big hands out of how it claws at the blanket, leaning down and pressing a light kiss to the knuckles, feather-soft. “You’ll be alright, don’t worry. I won’t be upset.”

Korekiyo’s heart thuds against his ribs like it’s going to burst out and run away. His lungs shudder, and there’s no way he can hide from you now.

“I-I… I took food when I wasn’t supposed to. Sister was eating t-tonight, and I wasn’t… but you don’t like it when I’m too thin, s-so I tried to get something small for you, but… Sister didn’t like that.” It spills out like waste, like tar, and Korekiyo flinches again. How stupid. He tried to please himself over either of you, and now, he’s merely suffering the consequences.

“Okay. Kiyo, I’m going to take a short walk and cool down. I’m not mad at you, but I am mad, so I’m going to step outside until I’m calm. You go get yourself whatever you want from the kitchen– I mean it–, eat, and make yourself comfortable. I’ll be back shortly.” You stand up, brush a gentle hand through Korekiyo’s bangs, and give him a shaky smile. The door shuts behind you a moment later, leaving Korekiyo alone in your home.

It feels wrong on every level to be sitting in your living room like he belongs there. It’s one thing when he’s beside you, doing something for you while he’s there. Sitting comfortably wrapped up in your best blanket is… very much not that, and Korekiyo isn’t sure what to do with it all.

But you did tell him what to do. He can do that. He may have messed things up with Sister, but at least–, at least maybe you’ll be happy with him.

Ignoring the faint pang of chill when he slips out from under the blanket, Korekiyo first heads back to your bathroom. He carefully washes the blood off of his face, wincing a bit at the stains on his collar and sleeves, and finds a decent bandage to put over the cut. Not even his mask is going to hide the bruises, but he can deal with that. Somehow.

After catching his battered reflection’s eye, Korekiyo neatly wipes off the smeared remains of his lipstick while he’s there.

He gets food, after that, carefully picking out some smaller pieces of fruit that probably won’t be missed. When his stomach tugs sharply at his insides, remembering your words, he grabs a pastry from your little box on the counter as well.

The fruit goes down easily enough, but the pastry tastes like guilt and too much sugar. Korekiyo bundles himself back up in the blanket on your couch– trying not to think of how much it even smells like you–, and pointedly ignores the sick, heavy feeling in his stomach. You want him to eat. You told him to do it. He’s just behaving himself for you.

After that, he might have fallen asleep for a little while. It’s hard to tell how much time has passed, but you come in from the front door a while later, Korekiyo unsure of if he slept or just spaced out.

He’s about to give you the best smile he can, reassure you that he ate properly while you were out, when he catches sight of your expression.

Stormclouds have nothing on the darkness hanging over your face. You look like you want to kill someone, like you could kill someone, and Korekiyo is flinching and tucking himself in small before he realizes it.

“No–,” you start, whisper-soft voice a sharp contrast to the fury in your eyes. “Kiyo–, I’m... I’m sorry, I’m not trying to scare you.”

You sit down beside him, placing your head in your hands. A cold shiver runs up Korekiyo’s spine. A part of him wants to place a hand on your shoulder, to get close and comforting like you do for him. A larger part of him wishes he had any idea how to go about something like that.

“Is… No, what’s wrong?” he finally asks, keeping every syllable the same measured, pacifying tone he uses when Sister is in one of her moods.

You sigh, long and pained.

“Your sister isn’t going to let you come home for a while. I’m so sorry. I went over to your house ready to smack some sense into her myself if I had to, and–, and Kiyo, it’s not fair. You deserve so much better than how she treats you, and I know I fucked up, but I had to do something. I can’t just sit by when someone I love gets treated like shit,” you ramble, regret lacing your tone.

Your last words hit him hard enough to suck the breath from his lungs, love, love, love echoing in his head like a mantra.

No one other than Sister has loved him. She’s always, always said that Korekiyo is far too terrible for anyone other than her to want. She’s only doing the merciful thing by trying to improve him for his own good. Sister has told him how much she loves him more times than Korekiyo knows.

And yet, when you say it, it spreads warmth through the depths of his stomach and up through his lungs. You don’t mean it like she does, surely you don’t, but even having you love him as a friend, as a helper, as a fucking servant if that’s how it has to be–

His Sister probably just kicked him out for good, and Korekiyo can’t remember ever feeling so happy.

“It’s… it’s alright,” he manages at last. “After, a-after some th-thought… I would, u-um… I w-would far prefer your company…” Korekiyo feels beyond stupid, stumbling over his words like a child.

Sister would have ignored him until he could get himself together and speak like a man. Instead, you drop your head onto his shoulder, smiling up at him warm and soft and perfect. Korekiyo’s heart does a funny little twist in his chest. You’re staring , looking right at him.

“Your lipstick is gone,” you say, suddenly. And then, “You look better without it. The mask too. I like seeing your face.”

On stupid, stupid impulse, Korekiyo lets his head sink to the top of yours. He can’t look at you. Those compliments aren’t meant for him. His awful, greasy hair hangs over your shoulders as his spider-thin arms wrap around you, clinging like a pathetic child. You don’t laugh, don’t twist away, just breathe steady and smooth, and squeeze him until he feels a little less like he’s going to break apart.

Chapter Text

It’s been only a few weeks of knowing you, and Kokichi thinks he might be dying. You’re so, so gentle with him, like he’s worth something other than being shoved around and treated like the dirt on your shoe. You act like you actually want him near you, and that feeling alone is enough to leave Kokichi glued to your side, terrified that you’ll decide to kick him away.

Every day after school, he goes to the library with you on your insistence, sitting beside you as you go over the material he’s too scared or pained or hungry to pay attention to in class. You let your fingers brush his, sometimes, and speak to him in a soft, patient voice.

It’s better than his actual teachers have ever given him. It’s better than anyone has ever given him. Kokichi isn’t sure if you know how badly he doesn’t want to go home, but the extra hours he spends sitting next to you instead of huddling in his room are a blessing beyond measure. He can tell his mother that he’s spending the extra time studying… and his improved grades are enough proof that she’ll believe it without much trouble.

Today, like usual, he sits beside you, feeling small and shaky next to you. You’re warm, he can feel it from here, and the permanent chill in his bones is making him want to crawl into your lap and stay there.

He knows better. Kokichi knows better. Instead of doing something stupid and needy, he hands you the test from earlier, the one that he’d been too afraid to look at for fear that it would be a failure. If you’re helping him so much and he still fails, what reason do you have to stick around?

You’re smiling when you unfold the paper, and that smile only bursts wider when your eyes flicker up to the grade. Relief spreads through Kokichi’s chest. It might not be great, but it’s good enough that you won’t be angry. That’s all someone like him can really ask for. His mind wanders to a gentle pat on the head, and he squashes the thought before it can grow.

“Look,” you laugh, happiness rich in your voice, “you did so well!”

You turn the paper towards him; the grade, a ‘93%’ standing out red and bold. The first thought that pops into Kokichi’s head is that it’s not perfect, not good enough, and you’ll surely be angry with him for not doing better. But you keep smiling. Only a second passes, but the relief is almost painful. You’re not upset. He may have wasted your efforts, but you’re not upset with him. You’re not going to hit him… or so it looks like.

“You should be proud of yourself, Ouma,” you smile, scooting closer into his space. Kokichi squirms, not sure what to do with the closeness. “I think this is the best you’ve done yet! You’re really improving.”

The praise goes right to the stupid, eager parts of him that think that he could ever be good enough for you. Kokichi shivers, squeezing his eyes shut. He wants . He wants so many awful, selfish things, and there’s no way he could bring himself to ask them of you when he’s like this.

“Yeah…” he mutters, trying to keep his voice calm. “It’s… I know it’s only because of you. You’re the one who helps me.”

“No, it isn’t. You’re the one who’s learning . You’re doing great, and if you can’t be proud of yourself, I’ll be proud of you instead. I’m really, really happy that I can help you.” Your face is slightly flushed when you look at him, and Kokichi shivers, a small smile creeping onto his face.

It’s hard not to smile when you look at him. He feels soft when you’re close by, like all the sharp, desperate parts of him have been filed down into something you can love. It’s a warm feeling, one that Kokichi wishes he could sink into and never ever leave. You’re proud of him. You’re proud of hi, and that’s so much more than anyone else has ever said.

“Come on~ Smiiile. You should be happy about this!” You lean forward, lightly poking Kokichi’s cheek. He flinches on instinct, watches your grin flicker, then forces himself to smile back.

“I… I-I am. You’re so g-good to me… I don’t, don’t know what I could do to repay you.” His hands are shaking. Just looking at you, he’s shaking.

Your expression goes soft, then. You tilt your head a bit, looking at him with something dangerously close to fondness. Kokichi wants to sink into the warmth of it and never come out.

“Can I hug you?”

Kokichi jolts out of his thoughts like he’s been shocked.

“U-Um, hug me?” he squeaks, sounding small and pathetic. You can’t–, you can’t mean that. Sure, he’s dreamed of being that close to you since the first day you saved him, but can he really have it?

“Yeah. No tricks. I just thought I should ask first so I don’t scare you.” It’s so, so stupid that he needs to be asked about a hug, but you’re right. Sudden movements make him startle, and even from you, he probably would have panicked. That kind of thing really is pathetic.

“Okay. P-Please do…” Squirming, Kokichi braces himself. That close, he’s going to be able to smell you, to feel the heat of you right next to him.

Sitting next to you like this has always been a lot, but a hug seems almost overwhelming. No one’s done that in… a lot longer than Kokichi wants to think about. He’s always been starved for attention, but the idea of finally getting it from you just makes him want to wiggle away and pray you don’t see how pathetic he is, even at the same time he wants to press himself up close to you and beg for you to keep him for good.

Before he can spiral, though, you’re leaning in close. Your arms go around his shoulders– so skinny, so frail–, pulling him close to your chest and squeezing just tightly enough that he can’t float away.

Kokichi might actually be going to die. His heart is thudding triple time in his chest, a sharp, desperate pain stabbing at his lungs. He can smell your laundry soap, feel your fingers stroking over the back-sides of his ribs, your chest pressed up to his shoulder. It’s too much and not enough all at once, and a little sob escapes his throat before he can stop it. Barely knowing what he’s doing, he latches onto you like he belongs there.

The hug lasts seconds, but it might as well be days. Your fingers scratch his back lightly, rubbing through his uniform jacket. You breathe against his hair, and Kokichi is sure that he’s melting. When you finally pull away, the chill of the loss is like a hole carved inside of him.

And then, you lean in and press a little kiss to his cheek.

Kokichi yelps, jumping back. A high, sharp whine leaves him, his hands flying to the place where your lips touched him. You touched him. You did something soft and almost romantic, and Kokochi can’t breathe.

“Sorry, was that too much?” You laugh nervously, looking a bit to the side. Kokichi wants to scream that it wasn’t enough , but his throat locks up tight, smothering every word. He fights to breathe, fights to find some semblance of calm, but with you looking at him, it doesn’t work well.

“N-No, it, it w-was fine,” he wheezes, still trying to catch his breath. “I, um, I d-didn’t mind. I wouldn’t mind anything you did to me.”
The last part is steady, suddenly, and revealing so much more than Kokichi wants it to. The desperation in his voice is audible. Shameful, but so, so true. Even imagining you kicking him around like everyone else does, Kokichi thinks he’d roll over and let you. Nothing would be bad if it was you. Nothing could be bad. But instead of doing anything to hurt him, you sit with him and study and bring him food. You hug him and kiss his cheek.

The place where skin met skin burns like a brand. You smile, a little too weak, and Kokichi is acutely aware of how pathetic he sounds when he all but begs you to bully him. He’s so stupid, so pitiable.

“I just want to see you smile, Ouma.” It’s sudden when you say it too, making Kokichi jerk. That’s… that’s such a close thing to say. It feels too close, too caring for him, and Kokichi squirms. He doesn’t deserve that kind of thing, no matter how badly he wants it. Or maybe, how he wants you.

“Wh-why…?” he whispers, ducking his head. “What good am I?”

“Your smile is beautiful. I love seeing you happy, and I love your laugh. When you’re happy, I’m happy too.” Moving slowly, you bring a hand to his head, petting at his overgrown hair.

The shiver that works its way down Kokichi’s spine is almost painful, it feels so good. He wants you to hug him again more than he can say.

Compliments hitting him in the gut like a punch, Kokichi struggles to look at you. You’re still smiling, face a little bit red. You look happy with him, not angry or frustrated or bored. A desperate little part of Kokichi starts to hope that he can believe you. It would be so nice to be called beautiful.

“Would you hug me again?” he croaks. “Please?” He needs it. It’s greedy and selfish when your hand is already in his hair, but if you don’t squeeze him, Kokichi is afraid that he’s going to shake apart.

Instead of just hugging him this time, you all but lift him into your lap, pulling him close enough that he can bury his face in your chest. Like you can read his mind, you squeeze, holding Kokichi so tightly it almost feels like you could squeeze all of his pieces back together. This time, he lets himself cling a little closer, half-nuzzling into your shoulder and praying you won’t push him away. It feels so good he can barely take it, all closeness and warmth and the smell of you making him dizzy.

You let him sit there for a while, Kokichi desperately glad that the two of you had chosen an secluded part of the library. You don’t pull away until he does, and even then, you stay sitting a little closer than usual. Kokichi doesn’t want to move for anything, but he can’t let himself be selfish.

“Better?” you ask. Kokichi flinches a bit. He’s being so needy. Anyone else would have gotten sick of him ages ago.

“Y-Yeah…”

Neediness has never felt so good. He could melt into you and never come back, and Kokichi cuts those thoughts down before they have time to bloom. He can’t want this. He can’t take too much.

“Good. Do you want to do some studying now, or do you want to go do something? I can buy you food if you want– a reward for doing so well.” You’re still looking at him with that softness in your eyes, a reward that Kokichi will never deserve. He feels so small, so pathetic, nd you’re the one who will take care of him through it all.

He’s whispers that he’d like to get food, and you stand up immediately, laughing happily and promising to get him something extra filling. Kokichi is smiling before he knows it. You look so happy . You look like it’s because of him. There’s nothing he could ever want more.

You take his hand when you leave, carrying his bookbag because ‘he shouldn’t have to’. The attention feels good. Your hand in his feels better. Half-wishing you’d loop an arm around his shoulders, Kokichi walks with you. You take such good care of him. He’s so grateful he could burst. He’d do anything for you, if it would mean he could continue to have this.

Chapter Text

Amami isn’t anyone you’d pay attention to normally. There’s no reason to. He’s just another classmate, just another person to see day to day. 

The most you really know about him is that he’s unkempt more often than not, and downright dirty in the days that fill those spaces. His hair reminds you very distinctly of an avocado. His uniform shirt is always unbuttoned at the collar. 

There’s nothing else particularly remarkable about him.

. . . 

A classmate thumps Amami on the back, hard enough to make him cough. Amami curls in on himself, looking miserable. 

“Come on, you really don’t have a lunch? That’s kinda pathetic.” The other student laughs, sounding a bit like a donkey with a sore throat. Your eye twitches a bit. 

“S-Sorry,” Amami mumbles, clearly trying to avoid trouble. 

The bully glares a bit. Trouble has not been avoided. 

It’s none of your business, anyone could tell. You turn the page in your textbook (studying early) and don’t look over again. You don’t want to get wrapped up in some charity case. People get bullied all the time and they survive. If Amami can’t handle a little teasing, you’d just be disappointed. 

A little squeak comes from Amami a moment later. Someone probably smacked him again. You turn another page, maybe a bit sooner than necessary, and focus on the words. 

. . . 

You hear Amami getting bullied another three times that week, all from just slightly over from where you sit. How annoying. It’s actually starting to make you feel sorry for him. 

Which is a feat in and of itself. 

You consider bringing earbuds to school just to block out the disturbingly frequent sounds of Amami’s miserable compliance. 

Even worse, you start to consider doing something about it in the first place. Like maybe thumping a bully over the head with a book. A big, hard one. Wait, that sounded sort of wrong even in your head, which you shake, trying very hard not to think about what you’re starting to want to do.

Amami sighs loudly from behind you.

. . . 

And then, one day, you’re carrying an unreasonably massive stack of papers for the homeroom teacher, on your way to the office, and feeling rather like you’re going to collapse. 

How paper can be so heavy, you’ll probably never know. 

You’re just approaching the stairs– for sure the worst part– when a very hesitant, very nervous voice sounds from somewhere behind you.

“Um... I can, uh, I c-can help carry those.”

You turn around maybe a little faster than necessary. At least half of the papers go flying, and you almost lose your footing while you’re at it. 

It’s Amami, standing there in his unkempt uniform and playing nervously with the hem of his shirt. He’s looking at you like he just made some kind of horrible mistake. You decide that you really, really don’t like it when someone looks at you like that. 

“Sorry!” Amami bites out, making a horribly nervous face. Some awful impulse tells you to pat his head, but you somehow keep your hands at your sides. And your face mostly expressionless. Probably. 

“Help me pick up?” you say. It’s more of a statement. Or an order. 

Amami gulps and drops to his knees almost too fast. 

It doesn’t take an idiot to guess that he thinks you’re going to hit him. It takes even less of an idiot to guess that that kind of thing is normal. 

You decide faster than you like that that idea displeases you. Amami is still making this awful face, mouth knotted into an anxious little frown. It’s making you feel uncomfortable on a thousand levels, and not just because you’re being suspected of being the kind of person who would hit someone for no reason. No, it’s making you uncomfortable in the feelings department.

“Breathe,” you tell him, when it looks like he’s not.

Amami keeps picking up papers, pretty obviously still not looking at you. You’d be insulted, if you couldn’t see that he’s afraid. 

The papers pick up quick, and then the two of you are sitting there, holding almost-equal stacks of forms. You’re about ready to take the other half back when you remember Amami’s offer. 

“Carry your half,” you tell him, maybe ordering just a little bit. 

Amami once again looks at you like you might hit him. You turn around and start walking, assuming that he’ll follow. 

You turn out to be right. 

. . . 

The walk to the office is mostly uneventful. You don’t really talk after that; just give the occasional glance over at Amami and his messy, avocado-green hair. It’s fluffy. It’s too fluffy.

You’re starting to realize that Amami is cute. 

Once you drop off the papers, Amami all but scurries away, not even giving you time to thank him. With how bad things have been lately, you’re not sure you can blame him. You kind of have heard him getting smacked around over half the days in the past week alone.

Against all of your better instincts, you’re getting worried about this. Like, way more worried than you really think you should be. 

Sticking your nose into trouble seems like the actual worst idea, but... you also truly hate the thought of seeing Amami make the ‘you’re going to hit him’ face at you again anytime soon. 

That settles it. You’re going to do something for him. Some kind of something that will make things even sort of better.

. . . 

You do some digging. It turns out that Amami is even more of a disaster than you were somehow expecting. The information you get is from rumors, but still. There’s truth in the stuff that goes around school. 

What you learn is sad. Like, simply put. Amami has six younger sisters. Six. They’re all poor as dirt, live in the bad part of town, and have parents that can barely take care of all of them. Those parts you’re pretty sure are true. The parts that cross the border right into ridiculous and downright cruel, less so.

But... yeah. 

That explains why Amami is always vaguely dirty. That explains why he never has a lunch. That explains why he’s picked on so bad. As unfair as it is, even you know that poor kids always bear the brunt of a lot. Amami was just born pretty darn unlucky, from the look of it. 

And somehow, that pisses you off. From what you’ve seen of the guy, he’s not a bad person, just sort of sad. His life is probably bad enough already, without the kids at school making him feel like shit. 

Buying him lunch tomorrow is seeming like an increasingly likely possibility. 

. . . 

When you stand in front of Amami’s desk, he flinches. Your heart does an unhappy little twist that you try not to let show on your face. 

You probably come out making some horrible expression, because Amami flinches all over again. Fuck. 

“I’m buying you lunch today.”

You’re nothing but blunt, it seems. That’s probably not a bad thing. Might get through to Amami better than if you beat around the bush and gave hime brain-space to start worrying. 

As it is, Amami looks at you with something close to horror. 

“Wh-Wha...?” he barely gets out, sounding terrified. 

You’re starting to feel bad. 

You’re either very scary indeed or Amami is having a jumpy day, because when you (carefully) grab his wrist, he about jumps out of his skin, green eyes going wide enough that you really feed bad. Does he think you’re going to try to hurt him? ‘Yes’ seems more likely than you really want to be thinking when you’re staring the kid in the face.

“I’m taking you to lunch,” you say, hoping that you might get a different result if you phrase it a little... better?

Amami just stares at you, looking increasingly suspicious. He probably thinks you’re going to hit him. A part of you thinks that if he doesn’t get moving, you really might have to try it. 

But Amami stands up, mostly obediently. He brushes off his dingy-looking uniform pants and looks you in the eye with an expression that almost seems like a challenge. You’re delighted to learn the guy has at least some kind of spine in there. 

“Why are you doing this?” Amami hisses when the two of you get out into the hallway. His eyes are flickering around like he’s afraid to be seen with you. That might be an insult, or it might be sympathy. 

“I’m helping.”

You’ve always had something of a problem with coming off as too cold, too stern, and from the way Amami stares at you, that problem is real. He’s giving off the impression that he thinks you’re going to kill him, or maybe just throw him to his bullies for them to devour. You’re not sure whether to be frustrated that you’re not getting through, or sympathetic that he’s had it bad enough to doubt even someone like you. 

“What are you doing that for?” Amami’s gaze flickers down, but he keeps following you. There’s a note of bitterness in his voice that you really don’t want to examine right now.

“Because you’re hungry, right? That’s all there is to it. You don’t have a lunch, so I’m getting you one.” 

Me ?” he asks incredulously.

“You.” As if it would be anyone else when you’re sort of dragging him to the cafeteria. Which, cafeteria food, but also he’s gotta be hungry, and even cheap lunch is better than nothing, you’d guess. 

By the time you to the cafeteria, Amami has stopped looking around like a startled rabbit. He’s also sort of glaring, which might be an improvement. You ask him what he wants, and buy exactly that. Amami makes a strange, tense face, but hey, you’re serious.

. . . 

The day after the surprise lunch, you wait for Amami by the school gate. The guy eats like he’s starving, and that sort of breaks your heart. And while you don’t exactly have a lot of money, there are things you can do. 

Amami’s face does something funny when he sees you, but he doesn’t try to run even when you walk up to him. He’s actually smiling a bit. 

“Hey. I’m going to help you. If you want to, you can wash your clothes at my house. My parents are gone for the week, and it’s not like anyone would care in the first place. Bring whatever you want. Stay there all night if you need to. I’m fine with it.” You can tell that your tone is probably too cold, but Amami doesn’t complain. 

He just smiles a little wider, and a second later, moves to wipe at his eyes. 

“What are you doing this for? Seriously...” His voice sounds just a little too thin, and you force a smile– a small one– trying to be reassuring. 

“‘Cause I have a heart, stupid. I’ve been hearing you getting picked on for too long, and it’s bothering me. So you’re going to get some help. Whether you like it or not.” The last part you actually say with a little laugh, which... that’s rare for you. Even smiling tends to be tough. 

“Thank you. Really, thank you . I thought... I thought you were going to do something to me too. Or that you were just fucking around so that you could turn around and make everything worse. I’m sorry I was stupid.” You kind of can’t tell if he’s legit apologetic or just swallowing his pride, but does it matter at this point? Probably not. 

“Great. Now when we get back to my place, you’re eating something. And bringing some home for your sisters.”

Amami smiles again, this time watery and genuine. The couple of tears dripping down his face disturb you just a little bit, but you can live with it. You can definitely live like that, if he’s going to smile like that. 

On the walk home, Amami actually dares to hold your hand. 

Chapter Text

Today, you get to meet the robot. A miracle creation of science, everyone says, its mind entirely indistinguishable from a human being. Supposedly, this robot is the future of technology, of creations beyond the understanding of a simple teenager. Your father has spent months gushing about the creation since getting his job with the inventors. And now, you’re going to see exactly what about this robot captivates him. 

You’re supposed to spend time with it, your father says. They’re judging if social interaction with people of its intended age range is possible, if it can behave like a normal human being under such circumstances. You’ve been signed up to be its ‘friend’... that’s what it comes down to. 

A part of you is a little bitter about being used in such a way. You’re not part of this experiment. It’s not your responsibility to interact with some machine. No matter how advanced they say it is, you can’t imagine that a robot is going to be much fun to spend time with. Aren’t they just machines? Isn’t it going to be a lot like having a conversation with a particularly advanced toaster? You can’t picture how this plan is even going to work, much less what a being like it’s been described to be will be like for real. 

You stand outside the room where the robot is housed, feeling absolutely silly. Your father gave you instructions, but refused to come with you. You need to do this on your own, he said. His presence can’t be allowed, lest it corrupt the data from the experiment. You’re just going to have to interact with the robot all on your own. All on your own. 

Thinking that this is ridiculous, you knock a couple times on the metal door. No answer. Weird. Maybe the thing is shut off? 

With the decision that you’ll just have to go in by yourself, you push the door open and step inside. It feels rude, but you supposed you don’t have much of a choice. You do have to actually interact with the thing. 

Inside, the room– no, cell, is even smaller than you were expecting. The walls, floor, and ceiling are all painted concrete; a boring shade of grey-blue. The only furniture is a cot on one side of the room and a low bench on the other. Minimal. Sparse. Nothing more than something with no apparent bodily functions would need. It strikes you as almost weird. But sitting on the bench, half curled in, is the robot that you’re here to meet. 

It’s surprisingly short, even sitting down. Its body is a mess of metal and plating, so, so visibly not human. It’s not wearing any clothes. Its hair is a mess of fluffy, spiky white, and its eyes are so, so blue. The expression it’s wearing can really only be described as abject terror. 

The robot, you realize, is cute. 

“Um...” you start, feeling very stupid. “Hi? I’m here to talk to you. You know that, right? My dad sent me? He’s one of the inventors here... and I’m supposed to be spending time with you for a while on their request.”

Explaining yourself like that feels extra stupid. As if the robot didn’t already know that you were coming. You kind of just said the obvious. 

“...oh.” 

The robot does not look like it was expecting you. 

“Wait, you did know that I was coming, r-right?” Suddenly, this situation is feeling a lot more uncomfortable. You know before it opens its mouth what the answer is going to be. Why wouldn’t they tell it?

“Being told those things would ruin the data!” the robot squeaks, looking very, very scared. “I d-don’t get to know ex-experiments ahead of time...” Your heart drops. That’s sad and weird and you don’t like it. It genuinely looks afraid. Why would they program something like that ?

You cross the room in just a couple steps, plopping yourself down on the bench next to the robot. It flinches. That’s disturbing. Does it think you’re going to hit it or something? Do people hit it here? More questions are being raised with every new response, and you’re already not liking the answers. This situation is getting weirder and weirder by the second. 

“Okay,” you tell it, “I’m going to tell you what’s going on, then. My dad and the others want to see how you interact with someone in your... uh... intended age range? I’m here to spend some time with you. Like, be friends and all. All they want to know is how we interact. I don’t think there’s anything more to it than that, but I could be wrong. That’s what I know.” You smile, maybe a little forced, trying to look reassuring. 

The robot looks at you very strangely. The face its making is worrying on a lot of levels. Its hands are shaking in its lap, for goodness sakes. You don’t like that at all. You grit your teeth and try not to say anything stupid. 

“A-Alright,” the robot stutters. It bites down on the metal of its lip, the motion disturbingly human. “Alright. Thank you for telling me.”

“Now that that’s been explained, what’s your name? ...uh, you have one, right? That’s probably a really insensitive question, but I need something to call you and all so it would be really nice if you could answer and not look like a kicked puppy.” Despite the fact that you just said to do exactly the opposite, the robot proceeds to look very much like a kicked puppy. Your smile goes a little strained. This is going to be difficult to deal with. You already feel guilty and bad for making it look like that. 

“Kiibo,” it says. “My name is Kiibo. ...or at least, that’s how the inventors refer to me. I-I have an identification number too, of course, but I’m assuming th-that’s not what you want to know...” Its big, blue eyes stare at you piercingly. You’re not sure if it needs to blink. 

“Kiibo. Got it. So... I think all I’m supposed to do is talk to you? Maybe take you out and do something? Dad didn’t really give me any specifics... Do you want to try just talking for a bit? Small talk and all.”

“Oh. I d-don’t... I’m not normally used for this function.” The robot closes its eyes, squinching them tightly shut as its hands pick nervously at the edge of one metal plate of its body. The fluff of its white hair falls in its face like it wants to hide. “I don’t think I know how to talk to people...”

“Then... what are we supposed to do?” You feel stupid. You probably are being stupid. All you have to do is give your dad some data, and here you are turning this into something to be nervous about. 

Kiibo goes quiet after that. It keeps its eyes closed. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear that it was shivering. Can a machine really get nervous?

“Fine. What do you usually do? I’ll just do it with you, and we can figure things out from there.” There. That’ll fix this. All you have to do is ask questions and stuff, not anything that’ll be too much trouble. 

“...I just sit here. Unless I’m n-needed.”

Well fuck. 

Somehow, hearing that, hearing the thing you’ve been suspecting for a while already snaps whatever self-control you may have thought you had. You stand up abruptly, making Kiibo flinch like it’s going to be struck, and grab his hand, pulling Kiibo to its feet in one smooth motion. 

Ignoring the quiet, choked-off protests Kiibo makes, you drag it over to the door. For all you’ve been trying to pretend otherwise, Kiibo is way smarter than you were giving it credit for. It needs to get out of here for a while, do something, even if you’re the one who has to do it. You can’t imagine being shut up in a cell all day, and if this thing is really as smart as your dad and everyone else are saying, the way it’s treated is torture. 

But Kiibo yanks its hand away from you before you can get it out of the room. Its eyes flicker down to where you were holding its hand just a second before. Then it looks decidedly more terrified. 

“Wh-What... what are y-you doing ?” Kiibo squeaks. 

“I’m supposed to– No, I want to spend some time with you. And not in a cell. This place is depressing for me, and I haven’t been cooped up in here for who knows how long. Come on. Let’s go outside for a bit.” You hold out your hand again, unable to really smile. Your heart hurts. This hurts. You don’t want to see anything treated like this, not even a machine. 

Kiibo makes a very, very strange face like he can’t quite believe what you’re saying. Even so, he slips his hand into yours again. 

This time, you get the door open. This time, you guide Kiibo out into the hall. It follows you so, so nervously, clinging to your hand with less strength than you’d expect from a machine of its size. You walk bravely to make up for it, striding through the halls like you belong there. 

You take Kiibo outside, because of course you do. You don’t go far, just sit it down beside you on a bench out by the lawn. 

Kiibo blinks in the sunshine, eyes squinting. It’s such a human behavior you barely know how to respond. Its hand hasn’t left yours. Its fingers are still all but clinging to you. You get the feeling that it's too scared to let go. Because you can, you stroke your thumb over the surprisingly warm metal of its fingers and try to pretend like you don’t see its shoulders hunch in. This whole situation is just breaking your heart by now. 

“So,” you start when it feels like the adjustment period has passed. “What do you want me to call you? Not like a name, like... he, she, those kinds of things. You look like a he to me, but is that what you want?”

Kiibo gapes at you, eyes painfully wide. 

“I-I don’t get to choose that!” he squeaks, clinging to your hand a little tighter. For how scared he seems to be of you, he’s not pulling away. 

“You do with me. So which one do you like? You’re a machine, sure, but you have a personality and feelings and everything else! I can’t just call you an ‘it’. ...unless you want that?” You’re floundering. You have no clue how to handle this situation, and you kind of just feel like you’re making everything worse. Can you really change his mind on any of this?

“...he.” Victory.

“Got it. So now, we’re going to sit out here and talk until dad makes us go back inside. No one’s going to get mad at you because it was my idea. Relax, okay? I won’t let anything bad happen.”

Kiibo is actually shaking. Like, you know you’re not imagining it this time. You start talking again because you don’t know what else to do. Kiibo can’t seem to get words out, so you just start talking. You tell him about school, about your breakfast that morning, about hanging out with your friends and going to movies. You talk about every stupid thing that enters your head because you have a feeling that it's the closest to human he’ll ever feel. The closest to any of those things he’s been allowed. 

You hold his hand all the while. Under your touch, the metal warms up more and more, to the point where it feels almost like human skin. He stops shaking eventually. After a while, he closes his eyes and goes still; if he drew breath, you think he’d be letting out a sigh of relief. 

You talk to fill the space. You talk until the sky is going orange until you can’t think of a single other thing to say. By that time, the expression on Kiibo’s face has shifted to something incredibly peaceful. His fingers are still loosely curled in yours, but the tension has bled right out of him. You think he might have tried to lean against your shoulder if he wasn’t so anxious.

Eventually, you get the text from your father telling you to bring Kiibo back inside for the day. There’s a little smiley emoji after his message, which means you’ve probably done something right. 

Looking at Kiibo, you know you have. 

When you walk inside, you lean up against his shoulder like you would with any friend, ruffling his hair and tugging him along. Kiibo looks rather like he’s going to melt at all the contact, which is probably a good thing. 

“Um... will you spend time w-with m-me again... s-soon?” Kiibo asks, not meeting your eyes. It’s quickly occurring to you that he’s precious. 

“Of course! My dad wants me to, remember? And I want to. I liked talking to you. You’re sweet.” You give Kiibo the most genuine smile you can muster, trying to look as happy with him as you feel. The kid deserves it. And yes, you’re thinking of him as a kid now, not just a machine that your dad helped to build. The scientists were pretty damn right about him being human, even if they don’t exactly treat him like it. 

Kiibo’s shoulders sag with relief at your words. He looks up at you with blue, blue eyes, happier than you’ve seen him yet. His expression makes you think that he’d be crying if he could.

Looking you dead in the eye, he smiles at you for the first time. 

Chapter Text

Kaede runs into someone from her school. She’s at the convenience store, buying snacks to hide for when she’s banned from eating dinner as a punishment, and as soon as she catches sight of someone she recognizes, it’s hard not to drop and cower then and there. 

It’s not fair. Everyone else gets to have friends, but Kaede, Kaede who’s bullied and hated and isolated from everyone else doesn’t get even a single one. How dare someone who’s surely never been through a bit of suffering in their life get to stare at her and judge her and decide that she should be laughed at. Because that’s what’s going to happen. 

Of course that’s what’s going to happen.

But it’s not like Kaede can go home empty-handed either, so she steels herself, debates stealing the food itself, and storms up to the checkout counter with what she hopes is bravery in her eyes. 

You were ahead of her. You get your food and stand to the side, pocketing your change and not paying very much attention to Kaede at all. It’s pity, most likely, and that makes Kaede’s teeth grind. Of course sick, stupid people like you look down on her just for existing. 

But Kaede buys her food rather peacefully. You don’t say anything. She doesn’t catch you staring at her. Kaede pays for her snacks with the last of her allowance money for the month and gets ready to leave, shoving the few yen of change into her pocket viciously. She’s not going to be able to do this again for another couple of weeks, and she’s already out of luck on getting any other food anywhere outside of the house for that period. 

She gets outside, the jingle of the shop bell behind her ridiculously irritating, and is only halfway down the sidewalk before she hears footsteps behind her, quick enough that the person is clearly jogging to keep up.

“Hi!” you grin, plopping a hand down on Kaede’s shoulder. Kaede detests the way she flinches. “How are you? Getting snacks, huh?”

Your smile is glaring and annoying. Kaede feels like she’s going to get dirty from the mere touch of your hand on her shirt. She wants to throw her bag in your face and run, even if there’s no way she’d get away with it. 

“Shut up. Leave me alone. Us being classmates doesn’t mean a thing. I’m going home.” Kaede puts her nose in the air and tries to look intimidating. Hopefully, you won’t think that hitting her is a good idea. Hopefully, you’ll decide that storming off and never speaking to her again will be the best idea of all. There are a lot of ‘hopefully’s’ these days. 

“Come on, don’t be like that. I’m not gonna be mean. Just let me walk home with you? We’re in the same class, but we never talk.” 

Great. Kaede got the social one on the very first try. This is somehow worse than if you’d tried to hit her. Kaede once again contemplates the merits of kicking you in the shins and running away while she still can.

But... Something about someone walking home with her, something straight out of a stupid TV show... is appealing. You don’t seem like you’re going to corner Kaede and beat her up, and Kaede knows that she’s being naive, but this exactly the kind of thing she never gets to have. 

Whatever. If you get too annoying, she can always be the one to beat you up. It’s not like she’s too weak to do anything for herself. 

“Fine. Do what you want. But don’t expect me to do anything. I’m not here to make small talk with someone like you. Follow me if you want to, I guess.” Kaede spits out the words, trying not to sound quite as happy about it all as she’s starting to feel. The stupid little part of her that never quits wishing to have friends like everyone else is insistent that this is a good thing. It’s almost enough for her to hope that it really could be. 

If you’re the idiot who wants to spend your time with someone so worthless, it’s your business. It’s not like Kaede’s going to say no to someone stupid enough to be nice. You’ll get the message eventually. 

. . . 

 In the end, walking home with someone isn’t that bad. You don’t talk too much. Like, you actually get the message that Kaede isn’t feeling chatty and follow alongside her doing nothing more than humming a little tune, bag of food crinkling at your side. Kaede stays pointedly, determinedly quiet, refusing to give in to being a social idiot even at a time like this. She wants to be mad at you, but you haven’t done anything that bad. 

When you get to Kaede’s home, where the lights are still on inside, Kaede’s stomach drops. Her parents are up. Shit. If they know that she went to the store after dark, she’s going to be dead. What a fuckup, actually trying to get ahead of the game, like she thought she could win. 

Your expression shifts as you glance over to her. Kaede knows that she probably looks terrified, but if you were the one looking forward to being locked in their room for a couple days, you wouldn’t be happy either. 

The largest part of Kaede wants to drop down to her knees and cry. She wanted so, so badly to have hope that tonight wasn’t going to be so bad. That someone would actually want to walk home with her and act like a friend. But Kaede is so, so stupid, and she should have seen this kind of bad luck coming from a mile away. Damn it, she really was being too optimistic. 

And then, Kaede thinks of something she could do. 

“H-Hey...” she asks nervously, already afraid that this is going to go downhill fast. “Can y-you.. um, c-can you do something...?” 

Stupid. She already sounds way too stupid. 

“Sure, what?” You keep grinning like an idiot, looking at Kaede with something like pity in your eyes. You can probably tell that something bad’s going on. As if there’s anyone out there that wouldn’t notice. 

“Pr-Pretend l-like, like, um, like I m-met up with you t-t-to share the homework from t-today. Please. ” She doesn’t say more than that. She doesn’t think that she has to. It’s already embarrassingly obvious that she’s going to be in major trouble if you don’t comply with what she asks. 

But instead of making fun of her, instead of laughing and walking off, you nod seriously. “Okay. Got it. I’ll go along with whatever you say.”

From there, things are sort of okay. Kaede slips inside, you following behind her, and when her parents demand to know where she went so late at night, you fill in the lie with less nerves that Kaede ever could have managed. It’s almost jaw-dropping. You spin the story like you don’t have a worry in the world, protecting Kaede without a second thought. You’re really doing this for her. You have absolutely no reason to, and you’re doing it for her. Kaede has to be very careful not to stare at you with open awe. 

The most incredible part? Her parents buy the lie. They actually smile a bit when you go home, thanking you for keeping their daughter on track. Kaede gets to go up to her room without being hit, without being punished. Nothing bad happens other than a quick warning not to be out so late anymore. Kaede gets upstairs without a single angry word in her direction. 

It’s so stupid it’s almost perfect. You saved her ass and Kaede knows it. It’s so fucking unfair, but she really does owe you for this. 

. . . 

You actually talk to Kaede at school the next day. And the day after that. And every single day after that one until it’s been three whole weeks of getting at least a ‘good morning’ from you without a single miss. 

You eat lunch with her whenever you can. You drag your other friends over to talk to her. You invite her out on a shopping trip with some others at one point, and even though Kaede never bothers to show up, the thought of spending so much time with friends makes her stomach twist. 

It’s crazy. Kaede doesn’t know what kind of person would legitimately go out of their way to talk to someone like her, but you seem dead set on it. The situation is the closest thing to a real friend Kaede has ever had, and that’s kind of pathetic. Some stranger who she talked to by coincidence doing so much to protect her is beyond imagining. It’s barely even fair that you get to do so much to be kind. To make Kaede smile. 

She hates it even more that your efforts appear to be working. 

Every day, you’re smiling. There never seems to be a care in your head. Kaede would be jealous if she didn’t think you were stupid for it. 

And somehow, no matter how cold and unfriendly and rude Kaede is to you, you don’t leave. You’re understanding that she absolutely can’t bring you home again. You keep reaching out to her no matter how hard she tries to push you away. It doesn’t make a bit of sense, and Kaede loves it. 

. . . 

Things continue like that. Three weeks turn into six. The semester marches on, and by the time you start helping Kaede with her homework, it’s starting to seem not bad at all. Your eternal optimism is comforting in a way Kaede never thought a smile could be. And yet, here she is, spending more and more time with you for no reason other than she likes it. 

In the fourth week, she flees to your house after her father starts hitting her again for some stupid reason or another. Kaede doesn’t really intend to go to you, but she’s at your doorstep before she knows it. 

You’re the only one home, which is a blessing, and you haul Kaede back to your bedroom while she’s still struggling not to cry. She knows there are bruises blossoming along her cheeks, fingerprints materializing in purple bracelets around her too-skinny wrists. You’re seeing it. You’re seeing the things Kaede has tried to keep from everyone for so long. Somehow, you don’t make fun of her. You don’t try to hurt her more. For how rude she’s been to you, Kaede can’t imagine why you’d still want to be so nice. 

In the fifth week, Kaede starts spending nights at your house under the guise of ‘studying’. Her parents are tensely okay with it, leaving Kaede understanding very well that if there’s so much as a single issue, she’ll regret it. You put on a smile and reassure them that Kaede always behaves. 

It should be demeaning. It should be humiliating to need to have your interference. Kaede somehow finds it reassuring. 

This is getting just plain unfair. 

. . . 

Kaede decides to go over to your house uninvited. Things have been a little tense with her mother for a couple of days, and getting away under the guise of preparing for an upcoming test sounds like a very good idea indeed. She slips over early in the afternoon, earlier than she usually visits you, all but jogging to get to your house as quickly as possible. She still can’t place when being with you became the most comforting situation of all. 

When she knocks, you don’t answer. Kaede knows that you were supposed to be home alone this weekend... so maybe you’re just taking a nap? You’ve already given her permission to come in whenever she wants, so Kaede digs the spare key out of its hiding place and steps inside. 

Everything is quiet, weirdly so. The TV is on, but you’re nowhere to be seen. Nervously, expecting something bad to happen at any second, Kaede tiptoes down the hallway back to your room. 

You’re not there. 

There’s no one in your room, there’s no lump in the bed. Any hope Kaede had that you were just sleeping is long gone. She swallows hard, suddenly very afraid that this is going to end badly. She needs to go. She should just go. Get out before she finds something that she doesn’t want to. You maybe just went out to run an errand, but that’s just a hope. 

And then, Kaede hears a noise from the bathroom; a soft, dull thud. Her heart jumps in her chest, anxiety crawling up her throat. 

Against her better judgment, Kaede cracks open the door. 

Promptly, she feels very, very nauseous. You’re in the bathtub, not wearing a thing. There’s a piece of something shiny and silver in your hand and there’s so, so much blood. Your inner arms are cut in rows of endless shallow lines of red, blood dribbling out of the cuts and into the low level of water around you. Your head is tipped back, your eyes closed, and for one terrifying moment Kaede thinks you might be dead. 

But you’re breathing. You’re still breathing. Your fingers twitch around the razor blade in your hand and Kaede watches with utter horror as you add one more line of crimson to your wrist– a slow, steady slide. 

This is why you’ve always worn long sleeves. 

She’s backing away before she knows what she’s doing. Kaede’s cut a few times, sure, but never that bad. She always quit, too. Always quit because the metal sliding through her skin somehow hurt worse than the pain in her chest. She can’t imagine doing what you’ve done to herself. 

Kaede carefully pads through your house and back out the door, locking it silently behind her and returning the key to where it belongs. You don’t need to know that she saw that. You don’t need to know that Kaede understands exactly what you do to yourself. It’s better to get out before you notice and get mad at her for intruding. 

You must be hurting too. Kaede has no idea why, but to do that much to yourself, there has to be something wrong. Probably more wrong than any stupid thing she’s been through on her own. 

Your arm looked like meat. The brilliant red flashes through Kaede’s mind every time she closes her eyes. She feels dizzy, unsteady, like she’ll collapse if she makes one more step. You can’t do this to yourself. You can’t do this to yourself. Kaede needs you so, so badly, and if you die like that everyone is going to blame her. At this point, Kaede thinks she might follow right behind you. She’s forgotten how to live without you by her side. 

Kaede gets three more blocks before she has to throw up in the dirt beside the road. 

Chapter Text

Kaito is tired like nothing else. He slept horrid the night before, he had to skip breakfast, and his cheek is still aching from where his dad decked him two days ago. Of course, no one cares about bruises dotting a delinquent’s face. For all they know, he got in a scrap with someone bigger and got what was coming to him for being trouble in the first place. 

It doesn’t matter a bit that his head feels like it’s stuffed with cotton. It doesn’t matter a bit that all he really wants to do is curl up in bed and die for a few days. Tough guys have reputations to uphold, and if Kaito starts getting his ass beat at school too, he’ll be in real trouble. 

So Kaito stalks through the hallways long after class has started, looking for a fight. The teachers don’t bother with him anymore. Everyone knows that Kaito’s either a lost cause or a real threat, and either way, there aren’t many people left who bother trying to change him. Or help him. Maybe help is what they’re calling it these days. If he doesn’t show up to class, no one gives a shit but the teachers who’ll be brave enough to try to lecture him long after it’s over. Long after they could have done anything. 

He catches sight of someone he knows after a bit; another delinquent, jogging through the halls like he has somewhere very important to be. Almost immediately, Kaito gets the message that this could be bad. 

Trailing after the guy at a far more leisurely pace, Kaito considers his options. Someone’s probably getting bullied, which is nothing new. There’s no real reason why Kaito should care about anything like that. He’s a tough guy, not some bleeding heart. He doesn’t need to protect anyone who’s stupid and weak enough to get themselves into trouble like that. 

But then, Kaito turns a corner and sees just what’s going on. 

There are three of them; skinny, overconfident guys who could probably think they break someone’s face real easy. They all have the rat-faced look of kids trying way too hard to be intimidating. 

And, most attention-grabbing of all, they’re standing in a cornering circle around some underclassman kid– a fresh-faced first-year by the look of it. The kid is shivering like they think they’re gonna get beat up in a few seconds, which Kaito really doesn’t care about. Plenty of people get beat up every day. He just doesn’t want to be one of them, now or ever. 

Kaito’s just about to walk away and leave the kid to their fate when one of the boys goes for their shirt, ripping the buttons down the middle. 

The kid squeaks, dropping to their knees and trying to hide their chest. The look in the boys’ eyes is one Kaito’s seen before. This isn’t regular bullying. The bastards are trying to get their dicks wet in the worst way possible. Kaito grits his teeth. Now he’s damn tempted to step in. 

But. Why should he be? It’s not his business if some first-year gets molested in the hallway. There’s no reason why he should care. It’d be smart just to walk away and leave the kid to their fate. And yet, this is a chance to be the hero. It’d be playing at it, sure, but Kaito knows he could beat those kids to a pulp faster than they could blink twice. 

The kid might look up to him if he did that. They might thank him. They might stutter and bow their head and act like Kaito is their savior. 

And that sends a bolt of something like longing through his chest. 

Before he knows what he’s doing, Kaito’s charging forwards, shoulder-checking the boy who looks the most like the leader in the chest, sending him stumbling backward with a sharp yelp of pain. 

“Wh-What?” one of them stutters. “Momota–?” As if Kaito is some big-shot. He kinda is, but that just means that they know what’s coming.

“Damn right,” Kaito growls, right before decking that boy in the face hard enough that he can feel something in his nose pop. He swings again before the boy can fall, getting him across the cheek even harder. 

From there, it doesn’t take much. A few hits there, a dodge or two there, and the ratty-looking boys barely last five minutes. Kaito’s got height and weight on all of them, and that’s not even taking into account experience. They’re all wannabe tough guys who are in way over their heads, and Kaito intends to show them what a real delinquent fights like. And break them a little bit just so he can look good for once. 

By the time he’s beat the boys to enough of a pulp that they give up and start scattering, you’re looking up at him like you can’t believe what’s happening. There’s fear in your eyes and a shake in your hands, and it’s quickly occurring to Kaito that he might have miscalculated. It suddenly seems a lot more fitting that you’d be more likely to be scared of the delinquent that pounds a bunch of guys in front of you than grateful to him for saving your hide. Kaito just might have dug himself in deeper.

When the last of the boys are gone, Kaito lets his shoulders drop. It’s

over, and over like nothing. He didn’t take a single hit, even if his gut is protesting so much activity on an empty stomach. He looks over and down at you, trying not to gulp. This is the moment of truth.  

You just sit there and stare for a while. And shake, which is kind of pathetic. Your eyes are so, so wide, and Kaito sees a fear in them that he’s only used to seeing when he’s the one doing the beating on someone. 

“Here, get up,” Kaito says eventually, even though he knows he’s going to regret it. Stepping forward, he holds out a calloused hand. 

For a moment, you stare at that hand like it’s going to bite you. But then, hesitantly, you place a small, soft, trembling hand in his. Kaito feels his heart pound. This is the first time someone so delicate has touched him in a long time. He’s realizing very quickly that first-years are a lot smaller than he originally thought. And that you’re a kinda cute one, really. 

You let him pull you to your feet, Kaito taking your full weight with ease. Once you’re standing, you’re looking at the floor, knees still visibly unsteady. Already, he can feel the lack of your hand against his. 

“U-Um...” you start, and Kaito braces himself for rejection. He’s honestly surprised you haven’t run away yet. “Thank you for saving me.”

Wait, what? 

You’re standing there, clutching your ripped-open shirt shut, looking at him with the most innocent eyes Kaito thinks he’s ever had directed at him. The purity kind of hurts, in the way where he also can’t get enough. 

“Y-You’re thanking me?” he asks stupidly, staring at you with disbelief. This is exactly what he was hoping for, but at the same time the last thing he would have expected. Playing hero wasn’t supposed to end like this. For all he’d wanted it, people like him didn’t get thanked for being violent. 

“Of course! You did save me, right? And, and you’re really strong. I was so scared, and you beat all of them up like it was nothing. I’m really impressed.” You give him a small smile at that, and Kaito feels a distinct pain in his chest. He’s the one shaking now, he realizes, then clenches his fist hard enough that you won’t notice. This isn’t normal. 

“Y-Yeah, well don’t get yourself into th-that kind of trouble again, got it? I’m no fucking hero, so don’t expect me– or anyone else– to come save you next time you get cornered. Stand up for yourself or face the consequences.” Kaito winds up raising his voice. He doesn’t know why he’s trying to sound scary now. You were thanking him just like he wanted, but some horrible instinct is making him snap at you just to save his pride. 

You start to look a bit nervous, but take a deep breath and keep smiling. The look in your eyes makes Kaito feel like you can see right through him. He doesn’t like it. All of a sudden, he’s horrifically self-conscious of his torn-edged clothes, his messy hair, the dark bruise still painting his cheek. You’re looking at him like a hero, and there he is, a total wreck who only saved you because beating people up is the best he can do. here’s no way it’s going to last. You have to just be playing nice. 

“I understand.” You bow your head like you’re actually apologizing to him. “I have to get changed and get to class now, but I’ll be sure to be more careful. Thank you again for saving me... Momota, right?”

The way Kaito’s chest clenches is pathetic. How the fuck is he getting so worked up over someone just thanking him? What’s wrong with him?

You leave after that, walking away with one more smile in Kaito’s direction. He’s left standing there dumbly, staring after you with blood on his knuckles and a hitch to his breathing. For all he wants to be tough and act like your thanks didn’t matter a bit to him, he knows already that there’s no way that’s gonna work. Whatever pride he had is dying a slow death. 

Not knowing what else to do, Kaito decides that going up to the roof for a nap is probably the best course of action. He’s tired. At least he can sleep at school without his mom shaking him awake and screaming at him for some stupid reason or another. 

. . . 

It doesn’t end. The pounding in his chest doesn’t go away. Every time Kaito thinks about what happened the day before, his throat feels tight. Sure, no one’s ever thanked him like that for anything, but it’s still a stupid reason to be getting all worked up. Even at home, even when his dad decides that kicking his ass is the best way to punish him for getting into another fight at school, Kaito can’t stop thinking about it. 

He spends the next week or so drowning the weird feeling in pounding as many wannabe idiots as he can. Seeing someone else’s with fist-shaped bruises blooming on their cheeks is enough to make him feel powerful, even for a little bit. It’s always going to be better than being on the other end. 

But then, one day when Kaito has nothing better to do than spend lunch crouched on a bench outside– it’s not like his parents bother to give him money to eat with– the strangest thing of all happens. 

“Excuse me,” a soft voice says just when Kaito is starting to let his guard down. He whips around a bit too fast, coming face to face with you. 

“The fuck do you want?” Since you’re standing, he has to look up at you. It’s a weird feeling, and one that Kaito doesn’t like. 

“I’m here to give you a thank-you gift,” you say, perfectly cheerful, like you’re not talking to one of the most feared delinquents in the school. “Since you saved me an all, I thought I should do something to thank you. So, here.” You hold out a lunchbox. Kaito takes it without thinking, then is left staring down at his hands, trying to figure out why. 

“Why would you give me this?” he asks stupidly, setting the lunchbox down on his lap. “Did... did someone set you up!?” That could be it. Someone could be trying to see the feared delinquent Momota Kaito going soft over some weak little underclassman. That would make sense. 

“No, of course not.” Your brow furrows. You look almost sad. “It’s for you, and no one told me to. I made it for you because I wanted to.”

A lunchbox made for him by someone small and cute and way too innocent. It’s like a scene from some kind of shitty manga, and yet, Kaito can’t help but keep staring at it. Eyeing you warily, he pops the lid.

It doesn’t look like a trick. There’s a decent-sized pile of food inside, visibly homemade. Everything is pretty and looks intact. It smells good, so it’s probably not spoiled or tampered with. Probably. In all honesty, it looks almost too good to be true. Like, way too good. Kaito finds himself staring at you, waiting for it to sink in that you’re making a stupid mistake. 

Instead, you sit down next to him, close enough that Kaito feels his chest tighten. You’re still looking at him with those horrible, innocent eyes that Kaito has no idea how to respond to. No one looks at him like that. It’s just not normal. There has to be something wrong with you. 

He still can’t stop thinking of how your hand felt in his. 

“Fine. But if this has been messed with, it’ll be your face I break next.” With a growl, Kaito grabs the chopsticks attached to the box, digging into the food before he can lose his nerve. Before he can look like a coward. 

It actually tastes good. Really good. As in, it’s probably the best food Kaito’s had since he was still getting lunch money from his parents. Leave it to someone like you to be a good cook and fucking cute. He eats way faster than he probably should, scarfing down the food like some kind of idiot while you watch. He’s pathetic. He’s pathetic, but he can’t stop. 

And then, it’s done. Then it’s all gone, and Kaito is left staring at the empty lunchbox like he could ever hope that there would be more. There never would be. You’re gonna get the message real fast that he’s dangerous, and then there’s going to be nothing left of whatever kind of dream this has been. You gave him your little thank-you gift, and now there’s no reason for you to stick around. It’ll all go back to normal now. 

“You liked it?” you ask, as if it’s not stupidly obvious.

“Wasn’t bad,” Kaito grumbles, purposefully looking away. “You’re... you’re not exactly a shitty cook.”

“Good. I’ll bring you one tomorrow then, if you want. I can’t see you all the time ‘cause we’re in different grades and all, but I can at least visit at lunch. You don’t get school lunch, do you? I was kind of worried when I saw that all week.” You’re talking at what feels like a mile a minute, leaving Kaito’s head spinning. This can’t be real. 

“W-Wait, what? You’re gonna sit with me? Why the fuck would you do that?” Kaito says incredulously. It doesn’t make any sense. He’s being as rude and surly as it gets, and you’re still saying you want to stick around. 

“Well, yeah. At first, I just wanted to thank you, but you seem really nice, so I thought I could try to be friends with you. If you don’t want me to, that’s fine, but I thought it could be worth a try.” Even though you still look more than a little shy, you’re giving him a thousand-watt smile. 

Kaito’s heart is pounding. No one’s ever tried to be friends with him since elementary school. Playing hero actually got him somewhere. It got him some stupid kid two grades younger looking at him as their savior and offering to make him lunch just because they want to. Kaito thinks he might be blushing. He barely trusts himself to open his mouth. 

“Y-Yeah. I’d like that.”