Naegi blinked, almost awkward when immediately faced with such restrained hatred. It seemed like he knew that Gundham would gladly murder him, were those cuffs not in place.
"Uh... hey." He wasn't exactly professional. He carried the air of a friend, rather than an official.
Gundham's blood boiled at the idea, and he didn't know why. Staying composed was an internal battle against himself.
"Hm. Greetings..." Another 'hello.' Why not?
"I could say - again, technically... uh... we've met before! A few times..." Makoto cleared his throat. "Uh - well. I saw you around school. Not sure you remember..."
Gundham quietly shook his head no. "My apologies." He managed to keep his resentment out of his words.
"And uh... maybe you remember when we met more recently? It was kind of brief, actually... but when we captured you..."
Gundham's expression immediately shifted into unamused displeasure. "Psh. I've not remembered that far yet."
"So - is... that what this is about? You're remembering your despair...?" He seemed to hug his small box with a more firm protection now, not daring to move closer yet.
"...Will you finally hear me...?" Gundham sassed lightly.
"-Huh?" Makoto seemed confused. "Uh... yeah, I'll hear you. Hear what?"
"Tch. Listen well. Those devils... Tsumiki and Komaeda - those that now lay claim to the iron phoenix slain by my terrible hand... are they that have succumb fully to their despair. You wretched curs have yet to diagnose the true despairs..." He exhaled a 'prrumph.' "-Though, in admittance... I, too, have begun to recall my past. However, those with the intention to pose a threat to your feeble means of 'hope' lie not within this room! It was my intention to bring about an end to their plan." His voice slipped into a passive aggression again. "Though others found it within reason to enable their escape, and entrap the only soul who was aware of their devilry?"
He had no true reason to be aggressive, and he knew that.
Gundham felt like he had to lash out at Naegi. He simply hated him.
Quietly, he wondered how it would feel to rest his hands at his throat and constrict like the wild boas he used to lay claim to. The fantasy sprung a light smile into his face.
Then rather quickly he shook it away, forcing a stoic appearance once more.
"Oh... I'm sorry," Naegi apologized quickly. "Uh... I didn't know - the guards didn't tell me anything about that."
"These guards?" Gundham cocked a brow, if a brow had been present, that is. "I've yet to mention it."
Gundham huffed out a jesting laugh. "Hm? Do you believe my situation would hold a different outcome, would I have? Ha. I preserved my breath."
Makoto frowned slightly, realizing it was true. "...R-Right." He cleared his throat a second time. "...So uh... I think you know why I'm here."
"To cure me of my despair... is that correct?" Gundham's head cocked, admittedly curious. "...'Ultimate Hope...?'"
"Uh... yeah... that was the intention..." He scratched at his cheek lightly, shifting his box to one arm momentarily, before supporting it with both hands quickly. "And, uh... I was thinking you probably don't want to talk about your despair, right...? Since that's what got you into this mess in the first place."
"...I'd rather refrain," Gundham confirmed.
"Exactly. Uh... is it okay if I ask you how you feel? You - don't have to, if it won't help, but... I think if I know what despair felt like I could fix it better...?" Makoto tried. "You don't seem to like me much, though. Not - that I'm accusing. I get it, uh - well..."
He seemed distressed, as though he was talking himself in circles.
Gundham would put him out of his evident misery.
"I believe so. You are not wrong - Every fiber of my being wishes to see you rendered to ashes. It is quite miraculous you still thrive! Kehehe! Were it not for my hidden final form, surely, you would have withered away at my very malevolence."
Makoto nodded. "-Right!" He continued to look Gundham in the eye. He wanted to understand, and he was making that clear.
...For a bumbling fool... he is quite brave! Gundham amended that. Though all fools are 'brave.' Such ties into the definition. Be he a fool, or a warrior? He was inclined to believe great things of him, knowing who he was.
"...Hm." Could he open up to Makoto? He despised the thought - but he did wish to be fixed. Being swayed from his path of despair was truly his final chance at redemption. The one act that could free him, and allow him to exist outside the realm. That could allow him to continue on with his mission to end despair.
"..." Tanaka glared once at the one-way glass pane, despising the potential viewers he had. "...Fine. It is rather simple. There is an void that exists within the afflicted. When suffering does not exist, it grows. From that void, nothing comes... it consumes us all like the netherworld chasms. Within it... is no life. So we merely exist. We writhe in our incapability to feel, for that feeling comes as a dual 'pleasure and pestilence.' Be there pain, and pain alone, come jubilance along with it. 'Tis an addiction. Slowly, though surely, over time, genuine 'happiness' does not exist in the world of the Despair. Rather, the void, and the unnatural gratification of the hunger. It grows into a choice. Would you rather nothing? Would you rather starve...? Or gorge." His words ended with a certain, dire emphasis. Finally, Gundham's gaze broke away.
"Such is despair, as I recall. There is bliss in pain, though it never fails to inflict upon the soul."
"...Mm." Naegi exhaled a sigh, though seemed not fully shaken by the facts given. "So either you can't feel anything, or you feel despair? Jeez... you've been holding out for how long?"
"Mere days..." Gundham grumbled, "perhaps longer - time itself is merely an illusion. It escapes me even now." He found it somewhat easier to silence the trembling of his limbs - if only for a little while. Gundham remembered to breathe. Be still, my heart!
"...Well, uh... it isn't your fault this happened. Well, not exactly, anyway. You didn't want this. But - because it happened, maybe we can fix it again." Makoto chirped, expression determined. "...They uh... they won't exactly let me use the program again... but it seemed like it worked. Well - for most of you... is everyone else fine?"
"You fiend," Gundham scowled. "It is my fault. Are you a fool? It was selfish desire that allowed me to succumb to the ills. If I was driven from my mind, then by the Gods - I've not been true to my own. Thus, I be the failure. If the devils whisper, you are to ignore them. I failed." Forcing himself to face that truth suddenly forced a chuckle up through his throat, and he spilled it unhealthily from his lips.
That admittance... admitting his pitiful failure to someone he hated - making a mockery of himself. That was an addicting feeling.
--Stop! Stop! So quickly he puffed his chest up again. He had to ignore the desire to do it again. To deprecate. It shall only worsen.
Ah - the question, right. "Hm? The others are well, indeed... It is merely Komaeda and I that suffer, due to the termination of the fabrication. The apocalypse, the old ones... they stole our fate. Tsumiki was afflicted, and merely continued to be so."
Makoto didn't seem exactly like he understood, but he nodded.
"...The program is no longer accessible? Hm? Is that what troubles you?" Gundham asked, interest piqued.
"...Well, uh... partially. But I think I can get that part remedied. It's actually..." He exhaled quickly. "Well - Future Foundation didn't exactly approve that action. I've been demoted. I could do it again but - well..." He glanced quickly at the one-way glass, before glancing back. "It's a little harder now. And even then, we'd have to figure out a way to purge the Junko AI..."
"So it is your will to sway me with mere words? You fiend..." Gundham sighed, but continued, subtly, to display his desire to hear more.
"Well... I actually brought you someone. Someone that - might help?"
Another guest? Gundham sat forward, eyeing the box. "...Are they contained? Within that chest?"
Makoto nodded. "Yeah, they are. Can I - come a little closer? That's okay... right?"
Gundham squinted, feeling his heart increase in pace at the mention. If he was closer, he'd only yearn to end his life more. He merely nodded, focusing on the box.
Makoto approached slowly. "You'll have to forgive me... a lot of the other animals were getting uh - put to sleep and everything, and I decided to try keeping a few. I couldn't really give them back before but..." Makoto quietly lifted the lid of the box, setting it down quickly as he lifted from the chest a small, white and grey clump.
Two small ears perked from atop its head, the hamster itself just awakening as the Ultimate Hope brought it into view.
It took a few seconds to adjust to the new lighting, but once it caught sight of Gundham, the rodent immediately sat up, squabbling out a light squeak.
Gundham stopped. That was one of his twelve zodiac generals. The Devas made four - this was a fifth!
He'd thought they were lost!
"-Painseeker Midnight Hornet, Zom-B!?" Gundham's voice spurted quickly, the remnant leaning forward with unhidden interest. "You thrive!? Have the mortals of this world sought your harm? And what of the others - do you all thrive, still?"
Makoto opened his mouth to answer, but 'Painseeker Midnight Hornet, Zom-B' tribbled back an answer before he could speak.
"-Truly? The Generals live on...!?" Gundham felt a rush of genuine, beautiful relief wash over him. "Excellent! I'd not doubted for a moment."
Gundham suddenly glared at Makoto. "Draw him closer! Allow us our council!"
Naegi seemed taken aback by the sudden shift of character, but in a relieved, somewhat bemused manner. He took a moment to consider where would be safe, careful of Gundham, before setting Zom-B down on one of Gundham's arms.
"Greetings, greetings!" Chimed Gundham. "Rem-E... Fros-T? Chlo-E? Donov-N!? All are well!?"
Zom-B gave a withdrawn squeak in return.
Gundham exhaled a happy breath, unable to contain the lightest of giggles. "Aha! Fuhahaha! Excellent! Hmm... then our quest to engulf this world lives on... I'm quite relieved to see you."
Makoto futzed briefly with the cuffs of his suit, but wore a smile. He seemed relieved for this outcome. "Well, you two-"
Gundham glared again. "-A moment." Back down. "Are you well? My - grandest apologies for your torments by my hand. You needn't practice such forgiveness of my sins-!"
"Oh... Zom-B... indeed, you make fair judgements of character. I am thankful to have you at my aid! As well as the other Generals? Excellent! Today, Causality bestows me fortune in the way of blessing!" After one last happy sigh, the Breeder looked up.
...He supposed he had to thank Naegi.
"...Hm." He glanced off for a moment, then glanced back. "...Thank you..." The words were more difficult to conjure than he expected, but the tone with which they were uttered were more genuine than any of the sentence fragments he'd given the Ultimate Hope before. He wasn't hiding the feeling behind those words.
A full, meaningful 'thank you.'
"Hey! Of course... don't mention it," Makoto assured. "You'll have to tell me all their names sometime... I can bring the rest in - they're in the other room. I guess I'll have to do better than I was..." He forced a laugh. "-I'd been calling that one 'sleepy'... you know - because he sleeps a lot."
Gundham's disapproval was more than evident enough in his glare.
"-Yeah. Uh - you'll have to help me, then... 'Zom-B?' I can remember that." Makoto promised. "I'm just thankful they seem to help!"
Gundham smiled faintly, reclining in his chair and closing his eyes. Having Zom-B close came as an immediate comfort. "...You may bring me the others momentarily, however... let me tell you this..." He leaned forward, voice lowering. Hopefully for Makoto's ears only.
"...We've not the time for this play."
Still, being this close... if Gundham could summon enough power to break through the restraint...
How gleeful would it feel to feel his blood upon his hands? To smell the metallic ichor of death seeping from Naegi's corpse?
"...I'm certain you're aware that I run slowly out of time. I shall will away my pestilence, but that shan't last forever, as it failed to before. I'm aware you are not allowed - but I beg of you... release me, if it is your wish to end this charade, release me! The location of the crash - perhaps I can sense it. Perhaps - if I am able to contain my desires... we might contain them, too. Before I succumb - hmm...?"
"Oh - hey... don't worry about the crash," Makoto insisted. "I can go get your - Zodiac Generals." He seemed proud to remember the name. "And... I'll think about it. But I promise, we're not just letting that go unsupervised. They're... actually sending a friend of mine over right now."
Gundham blinked, breath stiffening. He didn't know why - it was as if he could sense the disaster slowly climbing towards him upon the horizon.
This was slowly being stolen from his hands, and the sensation frightened him.
Not precisely the loss of control - but the dread of not knowing what destiny's intentions were.
Destiny had ruined him once. What would it do now.