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Hold Back the Melancholy

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When Class 77-B was trapped in the Neo World Program, things had seemed so real, no one questioned the veracity of their situation, not even once. Not when the seemingly impossible happened left and right, not when a walking, talking bear plush spoke turmoil and tragedy into their lives. It wasn’t until the fabric of their reality unraveled before them that everything else was thrown into scrutiny. Suddenly, colors seemed too bright and sensations seemed too dull. Those who lived long enough to see through the lies wondered how they’d ever managed to be fooled by the counterfeit.

Now, the Neo World Program is a distant, feverish memory, and days of simulated blood, sweat, and tears evaporate under the heat of Jabberwock Island’s actual summer sun. The real thing is not quite so lenient as the digital approximation, and as Hinata wipes a sweaty brow and squints up into the cloudless afternoon sky, he wonders how any of them ever thought the program was the real deal. Virtual reality isn’t quite advanced enough yet to perfectly imitate the feeling of rays beat down on your back for hours, searing the beginnings of a sunburn through the thin material of a worn-down shirt.

He drops the hammer he was using and takes a desperate gulp of now-lukewarm water from a reused plastic water bottle. Sitting down in the mercifully cool grass, he surveys his morning’s work. He’s no carpenter, to be sure, but the water damage that had rotted the entire porch of his cottage off is finally dealt with. The cottages are all in desperate need of new coats of sealant, but Naegi’s crew back on mainland has yet to send any over.

Nearly a year has passed since the Remnants of Despair returned to Jabberwock Island to atone for their crimes and eke out some kind of new living for themselves. Though some of them occasionally speak of returning to the mainland to help the Naegi crew rebuild, they need to lay low long enough for their visages to fade away from public consciousness. They’d framed themselves as the villains of Future Foundation, after all, and the wellbeing and image of Future Foundation is a key player to the survivors of Class 78’s plans for reconstruction.

Naegi’s last words to Hinata before their ship departed for Jabberwock had been, “Please thrive,” so Hinata and the others have done their best since to honor those wishes.

Unlike the pristine, idyllic version of Jabberwock in the program, the Jabberwock they inhabit now is in a sorry state of overgrowth and disrepair. Though the real Togami tries to send over covert supply drops every other month, the mainland has problems and needs of its own. The Remnants, likewise, have done their best to come together and restore the islands as much as their means would allow. It’s a daily task, and sometimes they almost yearn for the simplicity of the program, though no one verbalizes this desire because any one of them would take tropical storms and crumbling rooftops (and dwindling food supplies, and surprise termite infestations, and a lack of basic amenities, and constant bickering over who’s shouldering more responsibilities than whom, and—) over the horrors of the killing game.

Maybe. They hope.

Hinata dusts his blistered hands off and hoists himself up to his feet again. There’s more to be done, as always.

Living conditions aside, the Remnants have a novel’s worth of personal issues to sort out amongst themselves. As a whole, they’re facing their various traumas and mental health struggles as admirably as anyone possibly could, but some of them are certainly coping better than others. Sometimes Hinata finds himself genuinely missing Usami. As much as she’d worn on his nerves in the program, it was nice to have… (he hesitates to say, an adult, but) someone who was in charge of everyone’s wellbeing. It’d be even nicer, now, to have a figurehead to maintain some omniscient structure and monitor activities. Someone who wasn’t one of them—one of the kids with problems of their own.

Well, he supposes, none of them are really kids anymore. But sometimes they feel like scared kids. Or at least, he does.

“Ah, Hinata-san! By any chance, are you heading over to the third island?”

Sonia catches up to him as he slows his walk towards the docks. She smiles brilliantly, some dirt smudged on her white smock and gardening gloves in the process of being pulled off her hands. Something Hinata’s used to by now, but once had to adjust to: clothing is a limited, precious commodity on real Jabberwock. The gang is often reduced to simple or ill-fitted clothing if their preferred outfits aren’t washed or suitable for the events of the day. Mioda does her best to tailor clothes to people’s liking, but she’s no seamstress; just an ex-scene kid who used to customize thrift store clothes for fun.

Regardless of whether or not Sonia may ever have a country to return to and govern, she’s as ultimate as she ever was and wears her unembellished apparel with enough grace and composure to almost make it seem worthy of a princess.

“Yeah, I am. I’ve gotta meet up with Tsumiki and get my weekly checkup. And check on her, too.” He smiles slightly, though there’s a certain sadness to the smile. “How about you?”

“I, as well, need my checkup. Though I wish Tsumiki-san wouldn’t worry about me and focus on herself!” Sonia flexes one arm as she pockets her gloves with her free hand. Her flashy show of vitality quickly sobers, though, and her features soften. “I am lucky to be… in as good health as I am. I know you feel the same, Hinata-san.”

Hinata grunts his acknowledgement as he steps one foot into the center of a rowboat and gets situated. Once he’s sitting, he holds out a hand like a proper gentleman and helps Sonia into the boat as well, though she hardly needs his help. The princess’s once-immaculate nails are lodged with soil, and there’s something a little endearing about the sight. Sonia’s never been prissy about doing a layman’s job; if anything, she does chores more cheerfully than most of the rest of them.

“I’m considering asking Tsumiki-san to remove me from her roster so that she can spend more time on those who need it more. I know she means well, but I worry that she’s overextending herself. After all, who takes care of her?” Before Hinata even has the chance, Sonia’s got the oars under control and is propelling them towards the third island. He’s loathe to interrupt her, so he lets her direct the boat and think out loud.

He often bemoans the lack of bridges between real life Jabberwock’s islands, as it makes travel, transporting goods, and just… finding anyone a lot more tedious of a task, but bridge-building is a to-do item that’s fallen low on the priority list compared to things like securing a steady food source, setting up a system for purified water, restoring living quarters… It’s been a busy, busy year. So they make do with their supply of a dozen rowboats.

Sonia looks strangely in her element, rowing with the backdrop of the sparkling midday ocean, dirt under her nails, blonde hair in a state of controlled chaos. No wonder half the class is smitten with her.

“Sonia, I know you’re thinking of the good of everyone, but don’t forget your own health as well.” Hinata folds his hands, aiming for a humble posture. After all, he hardly deigns himself fit to advise Novoselic’s would-be queen. “Sure, as survivors of the game, we came out… a little less… battered, than some of the others. But that doesn’t mean regaining our memories of our time as Ultimate Despairs wasn’t traumatic for everyone in varying ways. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too. And it’s okay to give yourself time to grieve. …Heh, you’ve heard me say all this before, though.”

Sonia gives him a look of appraisal before allowing herself another smile, this one more at ease. “Right you are, Hinata-san. Of course, that all applies to you as well, yes?”

Hinata’s hands clench a little as he looks to the side and acquiesces.

Their oft-repeated conversation comes to an end as they park seamlessly at the third island’s docks. Sonia offers to tie up the rowboat and let Hinata go on ahead, as he has more to consult Tsumiki about anyway. He accepts the offer with a nod.

 


 

Jabberwock’s hospital doesn’t bring back pleasant associations for Hinata on the best of days. Even just stepping across the helm of the front door brings back sleepless nights worrying about his disease-afflicted friends—waking up disoriented with an unfamiliar weight on him—a broadcast of a masked figure approaching the ladder—he shakes his head and remembers why he’s here. Despite everything, he’s grateful for his semi-mandatory weekly Tsumiki visit.

Tsumiki’s at the front desk, nervously shuffling handwritten notes and clipboards, doing her best to keep her patients’ information in something resembling a professional state. She sees Hinata approaching and shuffles faster, only to drop a big stack of something on the floor with a dismayed wail. Hinata’s long since learned to expect this kind of greeting, so he just tries to smile as non-threateningly as possible. For all his efforts, Tsumiki only looks mildly horrified.

“H-hi, Hinata-san! Good afternoon! I-I’ll be with you in just a moment! Eek!!”

Tsumiki’s just a nurse, but she’s taken it upon herself to try to serve as Jabberwock’s therapist as well. She’s as much a therapist as Hinata is a carpenter, or Mioda a tailor, or Sonia a gardener. They’re all playing roles that they fill out of sheer necessity, and some of them manage their new responsibilities with more expertise than others, but… they’re all trying. That’s all any of them can really do. On the weekends, Tsumiki pores herself over psychology and self-help books to better her abilities, and on weekdays she sees everyone on a set schedule to talk about their physical and mental recovery from their time in the pods, as well as their time as Despairs. She’s not strong or particularly deft, so she’s happier helping with the rebuilding in this way rather than through physical labor. Like Sonia, Hinata worries about Tsumiki possibly overextending herself, but he knows that at the end of the day, there’s nothing more healing to Tsumiki than being needed by others. So he’s content to let himself need her, at least in this one regard.

“How have your headaches been lately? A-are you drinking enough water everyday?” It’s a pure formality, but she leads Hinata to a patient room anyway. Gestures for him to him sit on the examination bench while she closes the door, as if there’s anyone else here to encroach on his doctor-patient confidentiality.

“Er, well,” he thinks back on the one water bottle he started and never quite finished. “Sorta. And the headaches have been… alright-ish.”

“That’s no good, Hinata-san. Water’s important for all kinds of things, but especially headaches. I’m going to check your blood pressure, okay?” Tsumiki busies herself with looking at notes and vitalities, and Hinata stares at some water damage coming through the ceiling. He’s probably going to need to fix that at some point. After a few minutes of quiet, competent bustling (Tsumiki always becomes strangely adroit once she’s in the element of her work), the nurse speaks again, “So does it seem like our theory was correct? A-about the headaches?”

“…Yeah. I’ve suspected for a while, but it just can’t be helped, y’know? I need to get things done.”

Tsumiki hums like she wants to argue with him, but she picks her battles when it comes to these appointments. “And how have you been feeling in general?”

It’s a question Hinata’s answered a few dozen times for her by now, but he still never knows quite what to say. “I’m alright. My sleep’s been pretty spotty, and I’m so over this heatwave, but I’m otherwise alright.”

“Nothing stressing you out or causing you anxiety? What about nightmares?” She rattles through a minimal but well-organized shelf of medications and starts squinting at labels.

“Well… no more nightmares than usual…” Hinata rubs the back of his head, slowly losing any sense of mettle he’d entered this appointment with. He really hasn’t been working on any of the things Tsumiki’s been begging him to work on of late, and he’s starting to feel somewhat at a loss as to how he should redirect some of his valuable time towards himself. “And it’s hard not to worry about everything. There’s still so much—so many buildings that need repairs, so many things that need to get built, or reorganized, or… And like, we haven’t heard from Togami or Naegi all month, and I’m starting to worry that maybe the signal is getting blocked, but Souda said—”

“Hinata-san, deep breaths.”

He does what he’s told. “Sorry. It’s really not… THAT big of a deal, but it’s a lot to think about. And I just don’t want anyone to do more than they feel able to do, so it’s my responsibility to make sure everything’s like, on track.”

They’ve had enough therapy sessions for Tsumiki to surmise why Hinata has a misplaced sense of responsibility over everyone. Rather than unsuccessfully combat him on it for the umpteenth time, she pushes a bottle into his hand. “Anti-anxiety medication. It m-might make you a little sleepy, but if you’re having trouble sleeping at night, then that may be a blessing in disguise. This is a low dosage, so talk to me next week about whether or not you feel any differently.” She bunches her apron up in nervous hands, but then catches herself and smooths it out. “I-I’m taking this brand right now too. It doesn’t fix everything, but…” She forces herself to meet Hinata’s eyes, and gives him a lopsided smile. “It helps. It’s… a foothold.”

Hinata nods appreciatively and drops the new prescription into his messenger bag. “Thanks, Tsumiki. Anything I can do for you here? Anything you want me to try to bring to the hospital, or?”

She casts a furtive glance at her medicine cabinet again. “I think I’m o-okay for now, thank you, Hinata-san. I’m going to head over to the pharmacy later today and take a more itemized stock of what I need, so that I can s-submit a request list at the meeting tonight.”

“Oh,” Hinata says lowly, grimacing at the reminder that this month’s class meeting was already upon them. On the last day of every month, everyone gathers at the administration building to discuss the reconstruction progress, any pressing needs or desires that they may have, and changes that need to be established. It’s also something of a… team-building event, as they try to play games and hang out as a group afterwards. At the best of times, it’s a brief rundown of what they’ve accomplished in the past weeks, and what they aspire to do in the future. At the worst of times, it’s a screaming fight over whether or not they need a bunch of random, unreasonable shit, whose turn it is to go fishing, who doesn’t want to be on farm duty this time, and how are they supposed to live off of three pairs of underwear each, this is inhumane, no what are you talking about, just wash them every few days you lazy piece of shit and oh boy, Hinata feels another headache coming on.

“Wait, a-actually! There is something I need, if you don’t mind,” and she doesn’t pad the request out with a dozen apologies for inconveniencing him, which Hinata notes as pretty significant progress for her, “Komaeda-san’s trying to ditch his checkup again; I haven’t seen him anywhere all week. Do you think, m-maybe you could find him for me?”

Come to think of it, Hinata hasn’t seen Komaeda all week either, and that’s probably cause for alarm. But he maintains a cool demeanor for Tsumiki’s sake and heads for the door with a grateful wave and a, “Sure, no problem.”

Komaeda… even now, Hinata can’t help but fear that Komaeda is up to something.

 


 

Hinata stops by the motel while he’s still on the third island and makes his rounds through everyone who’s currently staying there. A good chunk of the motel is actually in better condition than a lot of the cottages, so many are staying there while construction is in flux. Mold is a problem, and Koizumi always complains about moths in the cupboards, but the structural integrity is more or less fine, and the bathrooms have been scrubbed down into presentable condition. The main downsides are that the rooms are much smaller, and privacy is a little more difficult due to the thin walls.

No one there has seen Komaeda, though, so he makes his way back to his own cottage to regroup, take a shower so that he doesn’t reek of sweat at the meeting later, and think of a more efficient way to hunt Komaeda down.

He hobbles over to his desk once he’s clean, one towel wrapped loosely around his bare waist and one draped over wet hair. He opens an old laptop that he repaired with Souda’s guidance and does some digital housecleaning. Checks for any unusual activity on the island perimeters they set up, makes sure Naegi hasn’t tried to contact him over their private conversation channel. There’s record of a slight anomaly in their perimeters, but it’s coming from the sky, so it’s most likely just the changing weather. Maybe an incoming storm.

Other than that, everything looks normal, so he gives a once-over to a program he’s been poking at off and on for a few months. He comments out a bit of redundant code, reworks the structure a little… it’s a pet project that might be useful or it might be a big, dumb waste of time, but it’s given him something to stare at on sleepless nights so he could pretend he’s being productive.

With a sigh, he closes the laptop and runs a hand through his hair. It’s getting shaggy again. He weighs his options: should he ask Mioda to cut it, or Koizumi? Mioda will do it cheerfully, but Koizumi will be more trustworthy. He could do it himself, too, but…

Oh, I should drink some water like Tsumiki wanted me to. He drinks a cup of tap water that’s been sitting next to his bed a day too long and is greeted with a weird, sort of dusty taste, but he finishes it with the medicine he got earlier and reminds himself that he needs to go fish Komaeda out of whatever trouble he’s likely getting himself into.

 


 

Though it is a proverb that sometimes the simplest solution is the best one, Hinata really didn’t expect finding Komaeda to be as simple as… poking into the Ultimate Luck’s cottage.

Komaeda’s one of the few of the others who stays in his cottage the same as they all did back in the program. His cottage exterior is run down similarly to the others, but the interior, Hinata finds as he pokes his head in when no one responds at first, has been immaculately cared for. Cleaning is one of the few things I’m good at, he vaguely remembers Komaeda saying at some point long ago. The cottage door being left unlocked isn’t too unusual for Komaeda, who’s never been one to protect himself against potential threats. “Komaeda? Are you here?”

The sound of something dropping to the floor… followed by shuffling, comes from Komaeda’s closed bathroom door. Suspicious. Hinata presses an ear against the door and calls out again. “Komaeda?”

Something else clatters. With a heavy measure of hesitation comes Komaeda’s begrudging reply: “…Can I help you?”

It’s not entirely as clipped as it could be, and if Hinata really had to overanalyze it, he’d say the boy sounded… perturbed about something. He can’t begin to guess what, though. “Tsumiki is looking for you. No one’s seen you in days. Are you… okay?”

Again, the response takes just a beat too long, and Hinata finds himself growing more and more nervous. “I’m—fine. But please tell Tsumiki-san that I won’t be able to make it over today.”

“Why?” Hinata blurts before he can filter himself. “I mean, she went so far as to tell me to bring you to her. She’s not going to be happy if I show up empty-handed.”

“I’m sure she’d forgive you, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda huffs, his voice definitely sharper this time. Hinata can perfectly picture the face Komaeda makes when he sounds like this; chin upturned, almond eyes narrow, lips curled condescendingly. He really wishes Komaeda would just open the door and let him visually confirm that the troublesome boy hasn’t done some ridiculous, inconceivable, unforgivable thing while nobody was watching.

“Can I come in?”

Anxiety immediately strains Komaeda’s words. “I would certainly prefer if you didn’t, though I can’t stop you. I’m indecent at the moment, and—hah, ahh, unsightly. It’d be a shame if I had to disgrace your eyes.”

And the part of Hinata’s mind that’s always looking for a solution—a contradiction, a clue, even just the smallest opening to stick a finger into and pry wide open—supplies him with an idea. A fairly baseless one, but he’s said stupider things while working off of pure intuition before. “Komaeda… is something wrong with your appearance right now? Is that why you haven’t come out of your cottage all week?”

A small stretch of silence seizes their conversation. Hinata thinks maybe he hears the muffled sound of Komaeda snorting, or maybe sighing. “Sharp as always, Hinata-kun. Someone raided the last of our shampoo supply, and I haven’t been able to find a razor or scissors in quite a while. To call myself unsightly right now is honestly too generous.”

It’s… such a benign, yet uniquely Komaeda thing to be fixated on. Despite how self-flagellating he can be, he’s particular about his appearance to an acute degree, though it’s rare for him to explicitly vocalize discomfort about it one way or the other. Hinata’s picked up on the trait more through facial expressions than anything else—a grimace when Saionji splashed mud onto his shoes, a sigh when someone washed his white shirt with blue jeans and slightly discolored the whole load. Everyone’s become less picky about appearances since moving to Jabberwock and being reduced to minimal wardrobes, but having no control over his basic upkeep must have been the final straw for Komaeda.

“Wait right here. I’ll be back in a sec.”

Hinata runs back to his cottage and focuses on the part of him that just—remembers things, knows things, knows exactly where he left the extra razor he snagged from Togami’s last supply drop, knows that he has some scissors in the third drawer of his desk because he had to trim some frayed threads off of a blanket—and he grabs his own shampoo because he can tolerate bar soap and the charity of others for a while, and this bottle will mean a lot more to Komaeda.

He returns to Komaeda’s bathroom door in record time, and his temples throb with a sharp pain for it, but he ignores it. He knocks curtly, though the other boy probably already heard his noisy approaching footsteps. “I’m coming in, okay?”

Hinata walks in to a small pile of Komaeda’s clothes folded neatly on the counter and water puddles and various empty hair care bottles strewn across the floor. The wall of the tub provides some measure of privacy between him and Komaeda, though he’s privy to Komaeda’s bare shoulders and his face perched sullenly on his knees as he sits in still water. He turns just barely enough for lidded eyes to peer up at Hinata as if making eye contact is a great burden.

“Sorry—here.” Hinata’s gaze falls somewhere to the side as he proffers the razor and shampoo.

Komaeda reaches out an uncertain hand to receive the items, the beginnings of a halfhearted protest forming on his lips… but then Hinata notices blood smudged on his fingertips and flinches.

“Are you injured??” Hinata grabs the hand without thinking and turns it over in search of a wound. The appendage appears unmarred, but Komaeda looks moderately violated and pulls away.

“You don’t need to concern yourself with me. You didn’t need to bring me anything—I, I just did something stupid as usual…”

Hinata’s one more non-answer away from ripping the curtain aside and giving Komaeda a checkup on his own. For god’s sake. “Are you injured.”

It’s a demand this time, and Komaeda straightens with acknowledgment rather than fear. And it’s at that moment Hinata sees the far side of Komaeda’s face is streaked with blood, though both hands fly up to shield it.

“...Thought maybe I could shave with a knife. Ahaha…”

And maybe it’s the blood loss, but Komaeda seems to be paler than usual, and a truly miserable look is carved into his features. His hair’s wet and unkempt. There’s a blanket of exhaustion dampening all his movements. The Komaeda sitting in a half-filled tub of cold water is a different Komaeda than Hinata’s ever seen before; and it’s strange, Hinata thinks, that there’s something so grounding about seeing him like this. It’s not like he never thought of Komaeda as a human before, because of course he has. Komaeda is flawed and complex and hurt in his own ways, just like the rest of them. But it’s strange to see Komaeda struggling with the drudgery of something like bathing and shaving. It’s pedestrian and inelegant and so damn normal. It’s like he expected that every move Komaeda makes carries a greater, more calculated weight to it, like every smile and sigh, every routine and word spoken—all of it was a part of some grand scheme that Komaeda was constantly turning the wheels for. This is the first time he’s really thought about a Komaeda who sits in silence because he’s bored but doesn’t have anything better to do. A Komaeda who is late to breakfast because he overslept and accidentally put his shirt on backwards at first. A Komaeda who wastes time staring in the bathroom mirror because he’s worn down and sick of looking like shit.

A Komaeda who just… is.

And maybe—maybe—that’s the point; Komaeda doesn’t let people see this side of him for a reason. Hinata is unbothered, though, and would even go so far as to say that the newfound knowledge piques his curiosity.

He’s got a half dozen thoughts about this whole situation. “I never would have guessed that you grow facial hair,” he blurts instead like a big, thoughtless idiot. He turns away to at least give Komaeda space and hears the gentle movement of water shifting. Komaeda probably dampening his face. Hopefully rinsing blood off.

“I don’t, really. Just a few thin strands after a long enough time, but—I prefer to keep my entire body clean-shaven too.” He’s quiet now, and he sounds a little defeated but not necessarily in a bad way. “I’m unspeakably sorry to have inconvenienced you like this, Hinata-kun. My griping was unbecoming and uncalled for.”

Hinata’s not in the right headspace for debating low self-esteem at the moment, so instead he says, “I’ll wait in your room and cut your hair when you’re done. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be fine if it’s just a trim.” And he leaves, closing the bathroom door behind him to preempt any rejections of his offer.

 


 

He fulfills his promise, and Komaeda actually seems content with his restored hair length. Hinata adds “hair styling” to his growing list of expertise.

 


 

The Imposter Togami, who everyone still just calls Togami because the real Togami doesn’t matter as much to them, sits at the head of a long table in the main island administration building like royalty presiding over his court. On the other end sits Sonia, actual royalty, every bit as authoritative and serene. Once upon a time, this table was probably used by a traveling agency for the then-luxurious Jabberwock Island, to discuss tourism statistics and new attractions to build and the likes. Nowadays, 77-B uses it to fight about who left their clothes in the shared dryer this time.

“Listen, all I’m saying is, when I wash my clothes, I don’t want to have to be responsible someone else’s laundry too!!” Souda grumbles, folding his arms defensively over his chest.

“And all I’m saying is, it’s a tropical island, dipshit, so just hang your fugly jumpsuits in the sun for two seconds and they’ll be dry in no time!” Saionji retorts with a sneer. She is, unsurprisingly, the source of this month’s meeting fight.

Koizumi mercifully defuses the situation with a terse smile. “In Souda’s defense, I tried to do that once and the wind got so strong that it blew a few of my things away. So having the dryer available for everyone is important.”

Saionji looks a little deflated that Koizumi didn’t take her side, but she recovers with breakneck speed. “Well, then I guess it can’t be helped. Don’t wanna pollute the ocean with your gross rags, huh, Souda?”

Souda opens his mouth to defend his fashion sense, but in an unprecedented show of wiseness, he shuts it, knowing that there’s no such thing as really winning a fight with Saionji.

Togami clears his throat, having not-so-patiently waited for the opportunity to steer the meeting back to more important matters. “Are we very much so done with that point of discussion?” Several faces look apologetic, even if they had nothing to do with the derailed conversation. “Moving on. If everyone’s current housing conditions are tolerable for now, I think we really need to redirect our construction efforts towards clearing more land for gardening. There are enough of us that I think we should prioritize increasing our crop quantity, as well as maximizing space for the types of vegetation we have planted so that different things can be in cycle throughout the entire year. My understanding is that we should be getting a new shipment of rations and seeds this week, so please avoid sneaking extra rations for now.”

Owari visibly withers. “I’m sick of rations, but I’m even more sick of small portions…”

“I know,” Togami says with a great deal of empathy. “I’m not in love with it myself. But the other Togami promised me he’d try to send some luxury items our way this time, so hopefully we can count on Hanamura to take stock and plan meals once we have some real ingredients again.”

Hanamura nods, eager to be back in his element.

“I think a greenhouse would really benefit us,” Togami continues. “Souda, Nidai, can we count on you for that?”

Souda’s mechanic skills aren’t necessarily directly applicable to erecting buildings, but he has a general idea of how things should slot together, and Nidai has the directorial skills and brute strength for construction work. Mitarai, who only draws anime but is always willing to try to make himself useful, volunteers timidly, “I can try to sketch a rough plan for it, too.”

“Very good. Appreciated, you three.” He shifts his gaze to Hinata. “How about you, Hinata? What do you have planned next?”

Some buried part of Hinata hates it when Togami defers to his judgment like this, though he straightens up and tries to look like he expected as much. “I was thinking it might be nice to comb through the fifth island again for parts. I’ve got a bunch of old cellphones from a few shipments ago that I’d like to start repairing, and then I’d need to set up some form of cell tower. It’d be nice for communication between everyone to be faster and easier, especially given how inconvenient it is to move from island to island. But, uh, I don’t really know how all of that’s gonna work exactly, so I’ll do some research at the library tomorrow.”

“Do you want help, man?” Souda asks from across the table.

“No, no. You’ll be busy with the greenhouse and such. I can handle it.”

Komaeda folds his hands politely and interjects. “I could help with research, if you like, Hinata-kun. Four eyes are better than two. I imagine you’ll need to comb through a lot of books and information, and I am pretty familiar with the library.”

“Sounds good to me,” Togami answers in Hinata’s stead, though Hinata doesn’t particularly have any objections to the offer. “You two work on that for now. Cellphones would, indeed, speed a lot of things up around here if we could get them working. Now, for the next matter…”

Hinata tunes in and out of the rest of the work Togami assigns everyone, already consumed by thoughts of how he’s going to teach himself to repair sixteen cellphones and build a cell tower. He’s never done anything even kind of like that before. There was a baking soda volcano in grade school, but… He certainly hopes the tower won’t erupt. His bi-colored eyes flick over to Komaeda for a brief moment, and the boy looks fresh and unburdened—a complete 180 to this morning. He’s privately a little relieved that someone more book-smart will accompany him in his library excavation, even if Komaeda can be unpredictable at times. Their friendship has fallen into a sort of amicable monotony in the last several months, as have most of his relationships to others in these busy times. There’s been this unspoken sense that the island renovation is first and foremost. Personal feelings can all come later, when there’s less to be done. There’s still a lot of conversations Hinata hasn’t had that he knows he needs to. A lot of reconciliation, apologizing, and healing to be done, between him and everyone. A lot that’s been left unsaid between him and Komaeda in particular. He doesn’t even know exactly what the status on Komaeda’s remission is, or what Komaeda thinks of his once-revered hope these days, as the word hasn’t come up in a while.

He supposes perhaps they can have those conversations tomorrow. Chances are, it’s going to be hours and hours of just him, Komaeda, and dull, dull articles on cellular antennae.