“…Hinata-kun, it’s alright if you want to sit this one out, you know.” Sonia said quietly, her fingers lightly brushing Hinata’s shoulder.
Souda agreed, “Yeah, man. We can totally handle this one by ourselves, you do too much work, anyway.” Chiaki, Fuyuhiko, and Akane nodded their heads in agreement, all looking at Hinata with pity.
Which confused Hinata. Why were they all being like this? It wasn’t the first time one they’d had to go through the horrors of finding out which of their classmates was a murderer. If anything, in a sick way, he was used to this by now. “No way, that wouldn’t be fair to you guys. It’s my life on the line, too, you know.”
Fuyuhiko scowled, “You don’t gotta put a brave face on for us. Akane-san, Sonia-san, and I all know what it feels like. And I know that it doesn’t put you in a good place.”
“What do you mean, just you three know what it feels like? We all know what it feels like to lose a friend, to know that one of us killed them…” Hinata protested. Not only were they all wasting time they could use to investigate, but his friends really weren’t making any sense.
Chiaki smiled sadly, “We won’t force you to sit out, Hinata-kun. But we all understand if it’s too much, okay? Don’t push yourself.” Hinata must have still looked utterly baffled, because she offered, “How about we investigate together?”
Hinata nodded. Finally, even if she still wasn’t making a whole lot of sense, at least Chiaki wanted to actually work towards solving this mystery. “Let’s autopsy the body, then.”
Everyone froze again, that pitying look back in their eyes. But Chiaki smiled that sad smile again and took Hinata’s hand. “Okay. Let’s go.”
The warehouse was just as horrifying as it had been the first time they walked in. Burnt to a crisp in the front, with blood splattered all over the back half, and a spear marking their destination. Hinata walked over to the corpse, mechanically beginning to catalogue the myriad of wounds that had been inflicted.
“Someone must’ve really hated him…” He said absently, noting the unnecessary cuts on his arms and legs.
Chiaki put her arm around his shoulders and held him tightly to her chest. It was a warm, friendly feeling, almost alien in this horrifying setting, and Hinata wondered why now, until she whispered, “I’m so sorry, Hinata-kun. You, of all people, didn’t deserve this.”
“I’m not the one who’s dead, Chiaki-san. Why are you apologizing to me?”
Much to Hinata’s surprise, the normally even-tempered girl snapped at him, “You don’t have to pretend, not now, please not now, Hinata-kun. We all know what kind of relationship you had with him.” Hinata’s eyes widened. No one was supposed to know. They’d been so careful. He opened his mouth to protest, but Chiaki cut him off, “It’s okay. We might not understand, but we could see how utterly in love you were. You both were. It gave us all hope, that maybe you two could make it out of here and be happy. You deserved it, Hinata-kun. You both did.” She hugged him tighter, burying him into her chest, “I know he was upset with you after the funhouse, and I don’t know what happened between you two, but I’m so sorry that it ended this way. I’d give up my own life to see the two of you happy.”
Hinata didn’t know how to respond. He just moved a bit away from Chiaki, turning back to the corpse—to Komaeda. He was still so breathtakingly beautiful, even as pained and tortured as he looked now. With shaky fingers, he brushed the boy’s pale cheek and tangled soft, fluffy curls in his hand. “I was a disappointment.” He said, barely audible. “He died hating me because I wasn’t what he wanted me to be.”
Chiaki answered softly, “I don’t think he could ever hate you, Hinata-kun. Not really.”
Hinata, despite himself, despite the self-loathing he’d seemed to acquire only recently, as if passed onto him like a sick post-mortem gift from Komaeda, believed her. Because he knew that nothing Komaeda did would ever make him really hate the other boy, and he was sure that he felt the same. He leant down and kissed his beloved’s forehead before sliding his eyelids closed. A small gesture, since the rest of his body was locked into agony, but it was all Hinata could do.
“…I wish he had been the killer instead of the victim.” He confessed to Chiaki.
She looked at him, curious, “Why?”
“Because I want to make whoever did this to him suffer as much as they made him suffer. Even though you all are my friends.” Unspoken, but still true, Hinata speculated that he would’ve lied without hesitation to protect Komaeda and allow him to win, even at the cost of everyone else’s life.
She nodded, “I understand, Hinata-kun. We’ll uncover this mystery.”
Chiaki was right. She was always right. They had solved the case. Discovered that, indeed, the only one who could ever hate Komaeda that much was Komaeda himself. But that didn’t absolve Chiaki. And so Hinata sat on the beach, in the place he had first met Komaeda, and tried not to think too much.
Akane found him eventually. Uncharacteristically quiet, she settled down next to him, and they enjoyed the silent view for a while, until she eventually spoke. “Ya know, the first time Nekomaru-kun died, so many stupid thoughts went through my head.” Hinata turned to her, not really sure where this was going. “I thought about offin’ myself, maybe killin’ someone else so I’d die that way. Sorry ta’ say I kinda considered your little psycho as a potential victim.” Hinata scowled, but she continued, “But then he came back. And it was like… I had a second chance. I could do better. Just so long as I was smart and did what I needed to, we could get out together. I didn’t care that he was a robot, ya know? Shit like that doesn’t matter when you love someone, I guess.”
Hinata agreed internally. Even if Komaeda was here, completely robotic, with no more soft hair or skin, it would make him the happiest man on the planet. After a long pause, Akane continued, “And just like that… He was dead for real. I know Tanaka-kun didn’t have a choice, that he did it to protect Sonia-san and the rest of us, but when I found out…” She took a deep breath, “I wished it’d been me, Hinata-kun. I would have died a thousand times if it meant savin’ him once. And I wanted the fuckin’ bastard who did it to suffer the most terrible fate to pay for their crime.”
“But then we found out it was Tanaka-kun. And suddenly, I didn’t want him to suffer. I know he just wanted us to survive, and he was doin’ the best he could, yeah?” She laughed, “This probably ain’t helpin’ you any, since Komaeda-kun wasn’t really trying to help us… but I really just wanted you to know, I guess, that I know what it feels like. How… awful… it feels to lose someone ya love just to solve a piece of the mystery. To go through so much hardship with them, just to lose it all because somethin’ needed doin’.”
Hinata didn’t realize he was crying until a hiccup racked his chest, suddenly feeling wet tears dripping down his face without control. Akane wrapped her arms around him and sobbed, too, both of them just crying and clinging to each other for a long time.
Finally, Hinata whispered, his voice still shaking with emotion, “I think Nekomaru-kun forgave you. For everything. I’m sure he’s proud of you. And really happy you’re still alive, Akane-san.”
Akane teared up again and answered, “Thanks, Hinata-kun. I wish I could tell ya the same, but ya know I don’t understand any of what Komaeda-kun says or does.” Hinata laughed brokenly at that, and Akane continued, “But I do know he loved you, and probably still loves you, no matter if you’re talentless or not. Because you’re Hinata-kun.”
Hinata wasn’t sure if that was true, but some, tiny part of him figured it was, because even if Komaeda might hate himself because of it, what they had was real, and neither of them could run away from it or deny it. And so he vowed to escape this killing game, and find out any way he could bring Komaeda back, no matter what.