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Despairing

Chapter Text

        Living, breathing, unwinding graces.

        Stilted ideas upon crutches of schizophrenic disreality.

        To be whole. To be whole.

        To be among friends in communion. To attest to his new allies.

        To indulge in the beauties of hope. What a wonderful conclusion to a school year of legendary accomplishment.

        Why, certainly. The ages would carry their names in song. Today they embarked for hope.

        What a beautiful life. With beautiful companions. The absence of one, unnoticed.

        That was strange, was it not? Where was she?

        Had she ever been present?

        Tragic, perhaps. She missed the engagement of bliss.

        What wordless bliss.

        To be among allies.

        His truest, happiest allies.

        All for hope.

        He'd never known how wonderful his allies could allow him to feel. Yearning, almost.

        He could adapt.

        Unwound from his mind, his soul, his body. He was no longer.

        He listened and pledged. What wonderful words found a knot in his spirit.

        He could smile, his eyes in a haze, as the soundless bright light shattered the world around him.

        The world engulfed below his boots.

        Ah - he'd done it!

        What a wonderful, wordless bliss.

        And he was blinded-

Chapter Text

And just like that.

Was there anything more?

He could see, but he was still blind in his haze.

Meaningless steps. What was he looking for?

To return home?

Home...

Meaningless footstep after the other.

Did he even operate his own mind?

Where was he even returning from?

And where was...

For a moment, the pawn halted.

...Home. That's right.

He resumed walking, though his head swam uneasily. Had a drowned man ever walked with such disorganized purpose? No, never before.

Drowned men usually stayed dead.

What was he seeking?

Hope - that's right! And allies... For companionship was bliss.

But an empty vessel, enchanted with lies. How pitiful.

Pitiful still, how blissfully unaware.

Pitifully blissful in the chemicals drowning him.

Blissfully pitiful, for he knew not. Cared not.

Vision composed of abstract spiraling kaleidoscopes.

What a wonderful world I walk upon. A thought never before sung, as he smiled.

He smiled as the left a burning apocalyptic cataclysm in his wake.

Poor, dazed daydreamer.

Off to find his house of cards.

Drowning in hope.

Chapter Text

He strayed.
Where was his paper house, in his paper fantasy, burning to ash?
Bewildered, absent entirely. Awed. What a lovely fantasy.

His meaningless steps swayed quietly, his gait adopting an awkward, sickly meandering.

He couldn’t know, for he was blind, but he’d gradually adopted an unwell appearance. His pale hands squeezed at his cold, shivering arms. Part of his face remained spotted with ashen dust. His once well-kept bangs hung a tattered frame around his absent face.

What a wonderful, empty smile.

Whoever once occupied this body slept.

The sleeping master of his vessel remained blind, but forever still, he knew not.

And suddenly, one approached.

Who goes there? A potential ally? ‘Gundham Tanaka’ looked up.

He who gazed upon the face of the Forbidden One didn’t see the untoppleable, eternal Overlord. They saw not his potential, or his dark radiating aura. Or his hypnosis. Or his absence.

No - he looked upon Tanaka as a sick child. A student - one that had somehow escaped the terrible fate of Hope’s Peak Academy.

”Hey - hey,” the potential ally said, placing a concerned hand upon the Overlord’s shoulder, “are you okay there? You’re from Hope’s Peak Academy, aren’t you? What the hell is happening over there?”

Gundham’s head cocked slightly, his kaleidoscope eyes widening. He’d been touched - he rather resented being touched. But in a strange, sickening jubilance, he welcomed such a discomfort. Today was far too wonderful to be ruined so simply. And what had he learned?

That allies were his bliss. This potential ally had already offered himself!

The Breeder smiled unnaturally, lifting his bandaged hand and removing the individual’s hand from his shoulder. He couldn’t allow his new ally to succumb to his body’s natural poison! He had to allow him his temporary life! Implore his well-being! “Of what do you speak?” Gundham’s word carried as his smile grew further uncanny. “‘Tis a wonderful eve, why devote ourselves to worrisome dwellings! Be happy!”

His spirit choked within him as he slept, stirring disoriented. He was truly in bliss as he was blind.

Would this man before him make a proper ally?

”Listen, kid. It’ll be okay. You might be a little scattered or something - we should get you to a hospital. Come on-“

As the person put an arm around the Breeder’s shoulder and attempted to guide him, the Diseased quietly held back.

”Worry not, companion!” Gundham murmured, his words honeyed and dazed, as if issued from a fragile dream. Never before had he so willingly made a companion, or ever allowed himself to be touched, but his bliss smothered his comforts.

Cupping the stranger’s face with his bandaged hand, Gundham willed himself closer.

His disoriented words, laced with reassuring, drowsy happiness, hushed to a whisper. “Worry not. For all is well upon this feeble plane! Look about! Look how ‘he’ watches us even now! How nature thrives! How hope brims upon the horizon!” Exhaling a cool breath, Gundham’s smile softened.

”And you - Perhaps you are worthy! Perhaps you’d take favor in joining my expedition?”

With his other hand, Gundham quietly gripped the man’s collar in whitening knuckles.

”...You shall make a wonderful ally...” Gundham cooed, adopting a smirk. “-Journey fourth, companion. Let us embrace this new dawn - as friends! As pleases our Dark Sabbath.”

Recruiting a new ally was even more enlightening than he had expected! It was so easy to operate under this new order of bliss. This new order of hope!

”Come now!” Gundham encourages, voice hightening. “Let us find our place in the new era!”

Taking his new companion, staring with devoted bliss into his eyes, Gundham Tanaka didn’t blink - or even flinch - or even notice as he reached up and roughly snapped the man’s neck.

The Breeder’s eyes still hung on the horizon as his first ally fell dead at his feet. Almost as if he hadn’t realized what he’d done.

Hugging himself once more, he realized. Finally... he could be accepted amongst humanity. No longer was he shunned! How wonderful to be accepted, and accept in return!

”Come now my feared ally! Destiny awaits.”

Holding his arms, replicating a scale, Gundham Tanaka walked across the corpse of his first friend. Almost as if he didn’t know they were dead.

Almost as if he didn’t know he’d killed him.

With his new friend in tow, Gundham Tanaka embarked on his new, exciting quest.

How wonderful it felt! He must find more companions! Make new, wonderful allies!

The Euphoria had begun.

Chapter Text

There was nothing. There was only the feeling.

The rhythmic flutter of his heart, murmuring to him.

How wonderful, how hopeful.

How many more allies could he find? How many could he collect, to parade by his side?

Within his scarf, he sensed an uneasy stillness. His devas were silent, unmoving. They were frightened.

Halting briefly, the dreamer allowed his fingers to skim over the rim of his silken scarf, and quietly locate each Dark Deva. Emanating a soft sigh, he withdraws the hand.

"Now, now..." Gundham assured, voice lulling in a low hum, "fret not, my Four, Dark Devas of Destruction! Yes, we delve into the unknown, but we do so together! With every ally we encounter." Seeming vaguely concerned by his Devas' lack of appearance, but knew well he could not issue them fourth. It was their will.

But Gundham had no fear, only anticipation. Their future brimmed with infinite dark potentials. There was a place in this era for all.

His dazed steps still stilted, weight shifting awkwardly as he carried himself, the dead man smiled.

And there was so much left to accomplish! The Breeder could not truly hold back his excitement. Whatever had inspired the whole class had inspired him, and, truly, it was a wonderous euphoria.

To have made an ally.

To make many more! That would mark another wonderful accomplishment, to feed his drowned soul. To resurrect his spirit, buried alive.

Thus he began his quest. Meaningless steps, seeking their purpose. To find, to recruit, to fall in line. A wonderful cycle without definitions.

As his armies of concerned animals slowly found him, inquiring of his illness, concerned for their caretaker, all Tanaka could register was merriment. And so he encouraged them. Come one, come all. Come join me. Let us be happy upon our crusade of the new dawn!

How long did he pursue his ambitions? He knew not. He lost count of the seconds, the minutes, the hours. Perhaps days? They streamed past him, fireworks and confetti riling his tranquilized euphoria.

One thing he never lost count of was the allies he made. Countless people - accepting him, as he accepted them. To give, and be given to. Was this why so many mortals glorified friendship to such unorthodox bounds?

To expose himself - so unlike him, a creature of darkness. To offer himself to those he did not know, and could not be trusted. Enchanted, bewitched by a strange spell, the Forbidden One reached out again and again.

Not all allies were in good health - but he readily aided the weak. Countless were wounded, to of course, Gundham attempted to quell their ailments. To heal.

And assure.

'We are allies, all shall be well upon this wonderful eve!'

Gundham reached out to strangers, again and again. The more allies he collected, the more the fiends around him began to grow wary of him. Why, do I boast such a large allegiance that I strike fear into their heart? He eventually collected twenty four.

Reaching out again and again, so unlike him, and yet, he was so willing. Reach out, reach the soul of another, offer your soul in return. Ally after ally.

To greet, to encourage, to partake in the charade of companionship, again and again. Extend a hand, and rile the armies. All joint under the joyous celebration of newfound hope.

And in his wake, littering the grounds of his countless, 'wonderful' alliances, lay the remains and disseminated dismemberings of those he called his new friends.

What a joyous ensemble! A cause for celebration! The only thoughts that were able to cycle through his head as he exuberantly allied himself with the doomed.

What better profession of trust, than the maws of the wolves?

What better remedy for harm, then to be disjointed?

Gundham rested a hand over his heart, still blind to his pandemonium, still lost in a dreamer's vision of bliss. Oh, how he already changed this plane for the better! He knew well his friends were partaking in similar rituals of selflessness.

Finally, the world would be an omnipotent euphoria. Amen, to hope!

Amen, to the class!

Amen, to the new era!

If only we all could partake in such a wonderous ode to joy!

How truly unfortunate. She, absent, would never see the future they were creating.

Chapter Text

To gaze upon them as the corners of his vision grew dim. And beyond them - everyone.

        Everyone’s gazes rested upon the slain.

        But there was still life within him! Perhaps - perhaps he might stand-

        If only his limbs weren’t mangled carelessly below his waist.

        And his soul was weighed down by his dying vessel.

        His life was ebbing. But he’d known.

        For he was only a temporary visitor upon this plane. He’d accepted his destiny, and resigned.

        Their faces, laced with concern. The faces of his Devas. Beyond them, his classmates.

        Faces of horror and sadness and concern.

        But they were well.

        Every one of them - they were well.

        That was all Tanaka had hoped for. Had died for.

        He had strayed, at last, to unspeakable sin. And so, as judgement deemed his guilty, it was his time to burn. 

        Hell would reclaim him, finally. He knew it was the fate he deserved. To burn. To suffer. To be punished for an eternity. But he knew his integrity well. He would face his destiny with courage! And he would not break.

        He would not break, he promised himself, in honor of those final faces. The last sight the Forbidden One would witness.

        He would not break, knowing they were well.

        He had accepted what he’d done, at that price. It was satisfactory.

        His lips quivered as they issued his final, strained breaths. Trembling fingers inching slightly closer to his companions. His Devas.

        He could not speak, he could only smile his final words.

        All shall be well.

        And he never would have asked to die for a more noble cause. For those he’d slowly but surely allowed himself to love. The only mortals he’d truly felt a connection to. And so he’d die for them. For them to remember.

        Value your life.

        For they, too, were temporary. They need not forget. They only had one, feeble life of their own. Gundham Tanaka would not allow his friends to be rid of them so carelessly.

        Bleeding careless magenta upon the golden sands below, Gundham accepted his final seconds.

        His vision grew further clouded as his breaths drew to a halt. There was no more.

        As he had requested - he would be trampled and walked across. He had chosen to lay down his life for that very cause, and it had been fulfilled. They would carry on. They would survive.

        Deep within his soul - he could sense it. They neared the end.

        They would survive. 

        He was merely one less classmate. The others would carry on, strong, if they remembered his word as they promised.

        Closing his eyes, the Forbidden One expected the heat of hellfire, to be torn from the surface, and battered with brutal lethality as he entered his true plane.

        But descend, he did not. No...

        Eyes closed, he could sense gentle ascension in the arms of the familiar.

        His fate had taken an unexpected turn - and bestowed him with a destiny he - perhaps - hadn’t realized he’d wanted.

        Or deserved.

        Gundham Tanaka, the Forbidden One, had been laid to rest in heaven.

        He felt himself become absent from his vessel, evacuating into an eternal unknown.

        To what fate?

        Perhaps one where he might welcome the fallen he knew well, and begin again.

        His final sight had been their faces. Everyone’s faces. The faces he loved.

        The faces he’d died for.

        And they were alive.

        He died with a satisfied smile.

Chapter Text

Hissing oxygen trailed his every inhale.
        The remnant stirred, slowly adjusting to his surroundings.
        His first registration was pain. Pain, slowly numbing in an arc down his body. Despite its disappearance, the hurt soon proved to be unbearable.
        Almost as if his body had been trampled. Almost as if his bones were broken under his unharmed, pale flesh. Almost as if he had died.
        But he wasn't dead. In fact - Gundham Tanaka was very much alive.

        His breath shuddered for a moment, disrupting the rhythmic hissing intoxicating his surroundings.

        His head lulled quietly to the side, his breath huffing in silent confinement. Then, his eyes squeezing shut for a moment, his lips finally parted.

        Gasping a few, audible breaths, the remnant tried to stifle his pain. Finally, he managed to sputter out a light 'gghh-'
        Finally shifting his weight, the man rolled slightly onto his side, drawing his knees closer to his chest in a semi-defensive posture. After a few more collected breaths, he felt fully conscious. His eyes finally drew open.

        Now lying on his side, it quietly dawned on him that he was encased. He faced a wall of mechanical wiring and other mechanisms. Quietly allowing his tired eyes to trail upwards, his tired mind slowly realized a sudden, claustrophobic truth.

        He was trapped.

        The wall before him was a few mere inches from his face. And testing his room, the Breeder hesitantly willed one of his legs backwards.

        Sure enough, the second wall was unnaturally close around his body.

        He was a prisoner of some sort.

        -What blasphemy? Have I been captured?
        

        He would not settle for this unknown.

        Gundham was aware that he had yet to glance upwards at the sterile light filtering down upon him. Dare he, a manifestation of the darkness, face the unnatural light with such abrupt ease?

        He feared it would blind his wary gaze, so the Breeder made an absent-minded attempt to shield his eyes. A quick discovery: His arms refused to move. Confused, the Breeder attempted the act a second time. A third. Why do I cease movement!? Only upon glancing down did he come to realize why.

        His hands - his arms - were thoroughly belted against his chest. An elaborate maze of straps held his arms tightly in place, preventing any form of arm movement. ...I've been bewitched.
        
Who had dared do this?
        Who could have done this?
        Who could be so powerful?
        And without even his knowing?

        Quietly, hurriedly trying to pin down his final memory, the Breeder's efforts proved futile.

        There was nothing left to do now but gaze into the light, and hope an answer would come to him.

        What beings were powerful enough to take him - without his knowing, no less. To entrap him. To bewitch and confine him. This was no ordinary existence, was it? Then, truly, what has occurred?

        
Finally, unceremoniously, the Breeder shifted upwards, facing the light.

        For a moment, he was rendered blind, and the remnant was forced to squint up. Vague silhouettes made themselves apparent, but they were indistinguishable.
        In an instinctive reflex, the remnant propped his leg upwards, testing his unspoken boundaries. And sure enough - his booted foot connected with a low-hanging pane within no distance at all.
        He was a prisoner within glass.
        Trapped behind a fragile pane.
        And who watches....?

     
   Allowing his vision to adjust finally, what he saw first was his own reflection in the pane of glass.
        A face he couldn't immediately recognize as his own.
        His hair, matted rather carelessly, hung about his face, adding a crazed emphasis to his dramatically different appearance.
        The 'scar' marking his left eye was a familiar memento - but in accompaniment, a new scar marked his right cheek. And upon his forehead, the image of a pawprint made itself boldly present.
        -I've been marked? But by who?
        
        The Breeder's multi-colored eyes widened as they took in his battered visage. No - something was wrong. Something was clearly, evidently wrong. Why had his memories been vacated?

        And that was when his vision adjusted, revealing the true beings behind the silhouettes.
        They all stared down upon him.

        His initial sight had been their faces. Everyone’s faces. The faces he loved.

        The faces he'd died for.

        And they were alive.

        What the Breeder failed to realize was that it had been his doing.

        Gazing upon the thirteen, gathered around his encased form, his make-up smeared eyes twitched with uneasy accusation.

        He remembered not that he had died. He remembered not who he had died for.

        No.

        They who gazed upon him could fall under one label.

        Every single one of them was a stranger.

Chapter Text

Sitting up as far as the invisible pane allowed, Gundham's heavily-lined eyes drew open with accusatory resentment. His expression remained subtle enough as not to clue into his racing thoughts.
        None of those who watched him appeared to intend harm. But still... thirteen strangers, all watching him with concerned intrigue, unspoken words upon their lips.
        Unanswered questions upon his.
        There was a strange parallel between their concern and his - both related to one another, but different in their intention.

        Making an instinctual effort to rest a protective hand over his scarf, Gundham came face-to-face with a familiar predicament. -Right. His restraints.
        Anxious to even take his eyes off the watchers, the Breeder allowed himself a hasty glance down - just to reaffirm that there was no simple method of escape. For if there was, Gundham would not hesitate to take action.
        But upon his second glance, his predicament reigned true. The complex bindings were far too elaborate to enable him easy access to escape. Curses... It was almost as if the design was specific to keep him in.
        "..." Finally aligning his eyes back up, the Forbidden One allowed his appearance to adopt a momentary calm. He refused to appear a flighty coward in the face of any threat. That included situations of unknown origin. He would be bold.

        As Gundham began to attempt picking apart the expression of the strangers, the abrupt sound of hissing air caused him to startle lightly.
        In the span of a few seconds, the glass pane between him and the observers lifted slightly, before retracting.

        A sudden stroke of cool air embraced Tanaka's small patches of exposed skin, pausing him to recline back into the protection of the fur hood that formed a messy halo around his head. Though his face remained stoic, it held a certain poised challenge to its expression. Do your worst.

        
A silence veils them, transfigured into an intense exchange of stares upon unspoken, frigid words.

        Then, finally, one of them spoke: "Gundham?"

        In a brief moment, Gundham's eyes located the speaker. Standing with a vivid expression of concern upon her face is a woman of confined regality. Adorned in a white dress, she stood with her chin tilted slightly upward in a high-class mannerism. Her hands, remaining at her waist, sat idly with interlaced fingers. Though, unspoken nobility aside, her appearance is notably shell-shocked, reflecting the expression painted upon countless other faces.

        All of them, for that matter, appeared somewhat worn, very tired. Many, while concerned, seemed to carry about a vague sonnet of hope - just based on the determination in their stare. Warriors beaten down, but refusing to give up their fight?

        But what such warriors do I address? And why have they been so foolish as to see my imprisonment?

        Folly aside, one thing was apparent. She'd known his name, and addressed him like a familiar. No - beyond that. The concern was too strong. An ally.

        "You speak the cursed name," Tanaka begins, each word stilted on an overdramatic emphasis. He expected to have more to say - but for once, he finds himself at a loss for words. He had been so prepared to approach the situation with tactics of intimidation, but her introduction had thrown him. Very well. His introduction posed a fair enough existence on its lonesome. The cursed name. He was proud of that line.

        "Are... you alright?" The woman emphasized the final word, allowing one of her hands to slip quietly to her face and rest its fingers against her pale lips.

        Upon the question, Gundham's head inclined a small around away from her, as if to study her from a distance. His eyes still remained vaguely accusatory, midnight eyeliner smeared haphazardly across his visage. If one hadn't known better, he had the perfect appearance of a madman. His breaths picked up in tempo. They gaze upon me as if I am familiar... but I remember not any of them... Was this some kind of trick? Perhaps they feign their recognition. I shan't be so easily overtaken by devilry.

        Giving a light scoff, Gundham had to allow himself a brief couple of seconds to approach the situation. "-Who are you, that addresses me by a name I have yet to tell you?" By all means, Gundham wasn't usually opposed to people hearing of him. He so often boasted about the Tanaka Empire, after all. But this question held different connotation. 'Why do you know me, when I don't know you?' "Be you not cowards," Gundham added, words woven with poison accusation, "one should enlighten me upon the nature of my presence here." Once more, he allows each word to run from his mouth as fine, bitter wine.

        He felt he was doing a good job at masking his true feelings of stranded anxiety. He had no memory of his location. No memory of these people. Of this circumstance. Of whether or not his life was in danger. So he assumed the initiative. As some animals often adopted, he, too, found it an effective method.

        One cannot bow their head to an enemy, for all the act does is prove their weakness. No - they must assert themselves. Alert those opposing that they must be wary. Only then does one hold an advantage in the field of combat.

        So Gundham would allow himself to appear more ready than he felt. Such had helped him survive this long.

        The flitting conversation dipped into another absent silence as the woman quietly glanced to another in the circle.

        Standing in the center, a position which Gundham naturally associated with leadership, was a man. Across a sea of restless faces, his remained captivated with a stoic, almost bored feeling. More notable to the Forbidden One, the man's eyes contrasted in their coloration.

        Looking around the circle, Gundham came to realize that all present shared the same scarlet eye color. This specific individual, however, only shared the color in one eye. The other was a dull, dark green-brown.

        The man in the center turned his face from Gundham, addressing the woman instead. "It might be like Nekomaru's was, remember? He didn't remember for the first half hour." Though his words were that of any other [mortal fiend], his voice remained unbroken from its monotone delivery.

        "I see," the woman began, "so-"

        "-Speak, if you value your life," Gundham uttered, voice reaching a chilling low. Even after he said it, he couldn't be certain it was the correct comment to make. But he rested faith in his choice. Besides - giving threats to fiends was no uncommon occurrence.
        Unless, perhaps... they weren't fiends at all? But some other beings possessing different vessels? He knew not.

        The woman and the man in the center exchanged a brief glance.

        "-Hey," deadpanned the male, "listen. You'll remember in a few minutes. Do you want to go outside and jog your memory?" Then the man paused, before making a vague gesture to Gundham's arms. "And, uh... we can try and unfasten those."

        At even the gesture towards him, Gundham flinched. "What do you intend to imply? That my memory fails me?" While outwardly he appeared dismissive of the idea, Tanaka allowed the gears to turn inside his head. However, seeing a sliver of room with which to escape, the Breeder hastily sat up. "-Tch." He knew it would be wise not to appear too brash in a situation such as this. While these individuals appeared to have no harmful intention - anything that speaks is sure to betray you.

        
The unknowns of the situation began to close in on him, compressing him with a subtle, anxious claustrophobia. He had to get out of there. He had to get out of there now.

        He despised being trapped in a situation where he failed to know how to act.

        "-Part," Tanaka barked, "-I require no assistance! Allow me outside." Making haste, Gundham struggled to balance himself, before stumbling out of his encasing.

        Once he had his balance and a sight of the door, that was all he required.

        And without another word, without another glance back, without even a second thought, Gundham Tanaka evacuated.

Chapter Text

'A walk to jog your memory.'
        'Half an hour.'
        Well, those fragments of conversation had proven to be nothing more than empty hopes and bitter, broken promises. For as Gundham Tanaka traversed the desolate island, which the Earth had already begun to gradually reclaim, nothing came to him.
        Overgrown entanglements of ivy splayed out among the ruins of buildings. Collections of sand littered the sidewalks, burying them in the scent of the shore.
        There was nothing more. Nothing but the void.
        Nothing but the suffocating aroma of the ocean.
        And there stood Gundham, gazing upon the black sea that stretched farther than even the All-Seeing Eye might witness. Trapped by the ocean scent, struck with a dead end by his own failure to remember.
        If there truly was anything to remember. And this was not some strange ambush.
        It had been far longer than a half hour now. It had been at least two, if not three full hours. And yet, within his head, there was only an absence.
        There was nothing left. Nothing but the void.

        That only left him with his instincts. The ones that reminded him to be wary.

        Finally, after another analytical glance out to sea, Gundham turned his back on the view with one, dramatic turn. He had expected to find more difficulty being mobile while his arms were to tightly bound in a straightjacket, but there was a strange ease to it.  He'd already attempted to have the bindings removed, but it had been a fruitless effort. So until he could maneuver a technique to remove it, he would have to dwell upon the strange familiarity of the situation. The effortless strides he took, despite the restraint. As if he had been practiced in the art.
        Strange...

        The others' negligence to supply him with details irked the Overlord greatly. He'd have to find his own way - for there truly was no one he could trust aside from himself. And his Dark Devas (safe inside his scarf,) of course.

        His last memory had finally become apparent.
        It had been Gundham's first arrival at his school. Hope's Peak Academy. His first day dubbed 'The Ultimate Breeder.'

        Any memories beyond that point were nonexistent.

        Though Gundham Tanaka was no fool. As he began to embark upon another meaningless walk, he allowed his thoughts to sort themselves. Theories were already consuming his troubled mind. His thoughts were already attempting to form a coherent storyline. For, truly, he had nothing to go on.

        Only trust, which Tanaka refused to give.

        But how does one find himself here, from there? What sorcery is at play...? I might atone for memories I know not of... how cruel of fate. I beg of Causality, restore my true form! Guide me to the nature of this devilry!

        There was no other word. Devilry.

        It was all devilry.

        Little had he known, or any of them known, what had occurred.

        Gundham Tanaka had forgotten the Neo World Program.

        Gundham Tanaka had been reset.

Chapter Text

Once he was free of one of the belts, the others became easier and easier to remove. Finally, after dedicating enough focus and time, Tanaka had finally freed himself from his bindings.
        The stray belts, sewn with precision into the back of his coat, now hung without use at his waist.

        Now that he was free, Gundham truly had the time to take in his own, unfamiliar visage.

        Staring into his own tense gaze in the remains of a broken window, Tanaka really considered himself.

        He rested a palm against the pane, his eyes wide and somewhat lost, as if he stared at someone long-dead. His make-up, smeared in midnight tears down his cheeks, accentuated a strange mourning madness he failed to know. His fur coat still formed a magnificent halo around his head, but was unbefitting of the devil he saw.

        The outfit he wore was strangely familiar in itself. Too comfortable in its discomfort. It was styled to his liking - as if he'd chosen it himself. As if he'd been dragged into hell, forced to live a life of terrible, yearning and brutal atonement, and had been rebirthed in an existence of unnerved insanity.
        But perhaps that was nothing more than an extended metaphor for his tattered appearance.

        He rested his other gloved hand over his forehead, tracing his fingers over the new tattoo upon his forehead. Then the scar upon his cheek.
        His hand lingered for longer than he expected, a faint memory rising in opacity as he stared into his own misguided soul.

        ...Perhaps...? Seizing the sudden memento, Gundham's breath caught.

        But before he could allow the thought to develop, another reflection made itself apparent in the fractured pane.

        Quickly withdrawing his hand from the window, Gundham quickly pivoted, giving an accusatory glare to-

        "-Nidai," Gundham blurted out the word with unusual grace, though his tone made apparent that he was surprised to have conjured the name at all. ...Nidai? Was that even correct? If the cadence of his voice doesn't give away his uncertainty, then his face certainly does.

        Before the Breeder was another man. Taller than him, stronger than him. A strong opponent? I must tread carefully. He stood, dressed in a sleek, somewhat dirtied white jacket, a yang to the yin of Gundham's black attire. Lining his cheeks were dark scars, each of which emanated crimson, sizzling lightning. However, while his appearance held a dangerous potential about it, Gundham could easily sense a quiet, radiating compassion from his soul.
        Upon his expression, even more apparent.
        Upon his tone of voice? Unmistakable.

        'Nidai,' upon hearing his name, rested a hand on his hip and broke out into a grin. "Gahaha! Gundham! It's good to see you again! Well, with your memory back!"

        Taken aback by the other's passionate volume, the Overlord took a small step back, facing Nidai fully. "...Nekomaru Nidai…" That was a full name. Judging by his reaction, he'd uttered his true name. His expression of shock slipping slightly, Gundham lowered his head. The conversation felt strangely nostalgic. Just uttering the name resurfaced a few more faint familiarities within his head. "-You speak as though you know me."

        Nekomaru, knowing no boundaries, stepped closer to the Breeder, who stepped slightly back in return.

        Gundham knew no reason to trust the Team Manager.

        "My memories didn't come right away either. But it's good to see you remember now!" Nekomaru continued, voice still raised in an unusual jubilant chime. It did not fit the atmosphere at all. "How are you feeling?"

        Nekomaru began to reach out a hand toward Gundham, who once more took a proud step backward. Shooting the other an accusatory, assertive glare, Gundham hid his fear with ease. Despite the layer of confidence, his wisdom urged him to practice caution. He would not make easy prey, but he was indeed prey. "-Draw no closer if you value your life!" Gundham barked, instinctually assuming pose of offensive readiness. 'En garde.' While the command is sudden, his voice remained collected and smooth. There's only a slight edge. It's a warning.

        This seemed to clue Nekomaru into the stance of the Breeder, though he misinterpreted the command.

        The two stood frozen in their places for a few beats of suspense, before Nekomaru reached back to scratch the back of his neck, glancing away. "Hey, listen," the Team Manager began, "all that's over now. You know? Don't worry about what happened. We're on good terms, at least in my eyes. What you did was something we both agreed on! And I have to admit, you really gave all your fighting spirit! Gahaha!" Regaining his smile, Nekomaru's face oriented into alignment with Gundham's look of subtle confusion. "So don't beat yourself up about what you did! Let's not be enemies! In fact, maybe this is a chance for us to get to know one another!" After a moment, Nekomaru put fourth a hand. "And if you'd like, I can even train alongside you! You really do have an incredible fighting spirit!"

        Gundham squinted suspiciously at the offering of the hand, before giving it abrupt cold shoulder. The action was hasty, but he held no doubt that no matter what, the hand would remain unshaken. No simple fiends would ever gain the ability to touch him - much less a mere stranger. And furthermore, Gundham knew far too well about the lethal state of his touch.

        So much energy - kind energy - at once. Gundham was not certain how to take it. So he didn't take it. He secluded himself from the confrontation.

        So no. He would not shake his hand. But his words intrigued him. What is it that I have done? What unforgivable sins does this fiend speak of? That I have enacted upon him.

        Closing his eyes, pondering for a moment, Gundham turned to face Nekomaru again. "...You reference my 'memories.' Tch. I have remembered no such thing. I merely recalled your name. Whatever crimes you speak of remain an undetermined factor." Gundham paused quietly. "...Reveal to me my deeds."

        Nekomaru doesn't seem wholly offended by the rejection of his friendship, and upon the elaboration, seems even more forgiving. "You still don't remember anything?"

        "..." He gave it a moments thought. Would he engage with this low-ranking demon? Fine. He had few other options. "...I recall..." Gundham strained quietly. Then one detail clicked into place. "...We were classmates," Tanaka realized. "...We shared education in Hope's Peak Academy." Each thought slowly allowed another. "-What feeble 'talent' were you bestowed. Was it... 'Team Manager?'"

        "Yep! Nekomaru Nidai! The Ultimate Team Manager!" Nekomaru concludes the statement with a hearty chuckle. "So now you're remembering?"

        Gundham, in a defensive instinct, held up a hand to halt the train of thought. To assert his command over the situation. 'Forget not that we are not allies.' The distance was as comforting as it was isolating. Gundham had very little trust to bestow, and doing so so quickly was out of the question. "It would appear so." Suddenly crossing his arms, Gundham raised his voice. "-Answer me. What factor of importance does my memory neglect to show me? That only he with the All-Seeing Eye might consider with familiarity?" Notably, he left the word 'fiend' out of the sentence.

        After a few moments, Nekomaru rested his hands upon his hips. "It might not make sense without the context..." After another few seconds of consideration, Nekomaru straightened his posture.

        The next sentence was one Gundham could never have truly expected, or perhaps have been ready for.

        "But, to put it simply... we killed each other."

Chapter Text

Finally, his opponent arrived.

They saw one another, bracing quietly as their visions aligned. Tension silently graced the air. They'd reached an understanding.

Nekomaru had sensed the reasoning behind Gundham's presence.

Both, silently, seeing the other, understood. No words were needed.

It was to be done.

The silent pact was made between them.

Us, for them. And not a word about it.

The Dark One, leaned against the doorframe, turned his face to his future victim. Half his face caressed by the light, the other shrouded in the darkness. He appeared the very dual nature of his being. Of his mentality.

Two sides of the same coin.

And, seeing the joint understanding, he adopted a look of smug satisfaction.

Ah. He'd made the correct selection. He hadn't any doubt.

But soon his smirk withered.

Gundham had indeed accepted the terms already. He had already bested death once. He would have to do it again.

Either he would perish upon this battleground, or carry on, only to finally succumb to the callings of his fate. He'd chosen. And it would be cowardly to back down now. No... his death was sealed.

He was a gone man already. And it was time to march to his death with his head held high. Whether it would be momentary, or within the span of the next day. Gundham Tanaka would die.

But not before he fought to take another's life.

And he knew, quietly, that Nekomaru was confronting the same fate.

Observing, his suspicions were confirmed. For the metallic vessel of the Team Manager did not run. Nor did he call for help. He merely lifted his head in return, accepting the terms.

Us, for them. They would be the sacrifice.

Quietly stooping into a position of combative power, Gundham Tanaka prepared.

To fight to his death. To try once more to beat death. To beat death, to ensure life.

To win, only to lose again. He would give it all.

For that was why he died. That was why he killed.

Under no other circumstances had he ever considered committing such cruel deeds. But his integrity cried out for redemption, and his soul called out for his blood.

And why?

All because he'd let himself love.

It was easy to adopt an attitude of regret. 'What a foolish mistake, to fall for nothing more than a collection of mortals, so temporary upon this plane, so incapable of preserving their own, temporary lives.'

But he had no regrets.

For as many battles as he'd fought in their name, they'd fought and won countless of their own by his side.

They had all survived this long. He was just to be one less.

They'd fought and won his love and respect. And now he had to reward them with their right to live. As long as he was able to preserve his life for long enough to bid them all farewell.

And if he failed, then Nekomaru would become the heir of his wishes and intentions.

Today, he fought not for the Tanaka Empire, but for those few he was able to care for. And there was no other way he would have preferred to die. Not in a situation like this.

Any dreams of a quiet life, any dreams to preserve and uphold his Empire, to ensure a brighter future for his animals, and practice longevity would have to be cast aside now.

No.

Gundham Tanaka was a dead man as soon as he'd chosen to love them. And he would more than willingly fight and die for his choice.

And so, in the name of his integrity, he stood his ground.

The exchange of words was brief, for they both already understood what had to be done.

But at least they could die in an agreement of respect. A shared conclusion. They would fight and die as comrades, in a strange way.

Perhaps he wished he could better know the man who he was about to kill.

Perhaps, deep within his soul, he knew he didn't want to die.

And didn't want to kill.

But this was Causality's intent. Fate could be cruel, when it wanted to be.

He would be no coward.

Together, they would give it their all!

Chapter Text

        "-Allow me to reiterate your claims," Gundham uttered, drawing emphasis from each word as his head tilted slightly with analytical suspicion. Wetting his chapped lips, the Breeder's gaze interrogated Nekomaru wordlessly. Do you lie?

        "We were classmates, before becoming the Harbingers of the World's Despair. Under 'Junko Enoshima?'" He scoffed lightly, wishing quietly that he could more easily dismiss the words as mistruths. "-And thus, we found ourselves within a fabrication, in which we were forced into a game of fates. Then, upon a motive of sacrifice, we slew one another?"

        Nekomaru nodded briefly, scratching the back of his neck and giving an audible sigh. "Yep. That's all of it."

        "-And, supposedly," Gundham continued, "I was to remember the 'killing game,' and recall nothing of our past sins."

        "Yeah," Nekomaru confirmed, cracking his knuckles. "We're still trying to figure out how to get back to civilization, and supposedly the Future Foundation's gonna help with that. Or something..." Nekomaru seemed a little shaky on the details, but Gundham ceased to care much. "I didn't believe a lot of it either. It's pretty fantastical. But it's true!"

        "..." Gundham's glare drifted from Nekomaru. He remained silent for a few moments. While the explanation held weight in the situation of factual absence, Gundham, frankly, did not wish to believe it. The truth was almost to heavy for him to take in. Furthermore, the 'explanation' itself could just as easily be a fabrication. "Tch. I recall no such occurrence."

        "Jeez, not any of it?"

        Gundham turned his face from the Team Manager, meeting the ocean again. "Nothing but fragmentations of your statements. I know you were a classmate, and no more. I remember no such game. No such despair..." While his words still edged with blaming arsenic, the position he adopted was unusually vulnerable, given the situation.

        Arms crossed, face turned away. Prone to attack, if Nidai truly wished it.

        The contradictions reflected his internal thoughts.

        "...Huh. That might be kinda concerning. It's already been a couple hours, hasn't it?" Nekomaru paused, reaching towards Gundham again, who quickly pulled away.

        The Breeder shot him another distrustful stare. The silent message is clear. 'Don't.' 

        "It is no matter of concern." Gundham's gaze softened slightly, but he did not change his stance. He couldn't trust anyone. He was more scared than he'd ever admit of others.

        In a situation like this? He could truly only rely upon himself.

        "Hey! I get it. You're just a little nervous about all this, aren't you?" Nekomaru replied, his voice carrying.

        Gundham's glare intensified, becoming more desperate. "What? Impossible! Surely you don't believe so foolishly that I give in to fear? Tch. As I have stated previously, I need no assistance."

        Nekomaru paused, watching as the Breeder rejected his offer of help once again. "Well, can't you at least come back with me? Maybe we can at least help you remember that way."

        "..." Gundham gave Nekomaru a brief, distrusting, up-down look. "...Fine," he emphasizes. "Though it is of my own accord. For my memory already returns."

        "Oh, really?" Nekomaru seemed pleased with the result of the conversation, and he turned abruptly, expecting Gundham to follow. As he turned, his white coat followed his movements dramatically. It seemed unintentional.

        Taking the aesthetics as a challenge, Gundham allowed himself a light smirk, turning with escalated dramatics as his coat twirled dramatically behind him. He couldn't help but think quietly about what had been said.

        ...Nidai. Did I truly take his life? Did I truly give up mine for a group of mortals? Mortals I can scarely recall? It was a haunting thought. He could easily pass off the feelings as feigned indifference, but his thoughts were consumed by the idea. "Yes, indeed. Your supposed 'Killing Game' escapes me yet, but I recall with ease the beginnings of our time together." That was no lie.

        Gundham was indeed remembering.

        "Oh, well that's good!" Nekomaru enthused, seeming rather optimistic in the face of it all. "And hey! If you remember what happened, or even if you don't, the offer still stands! You're welcome any time to be my training partner!"

        Gundham said nothing, keeping a small distance from Nekomaru as he walked. "Hmph. Fine." That was enough response for the moment. Not an agreement, but an acknowledgment. 

        "Great!" Nekomaru chimed, before giving a light 'gahaha.'

        He appears in high spirits despite the supposed truths of our being... Gundham could only continue alongside him, unsure of how else to take in what he knew. Still, he had to continue onwards.

        It was strange. I am his executor...? It was rather unsettling. He certainly practices forgiveness, if he speaks the truth. Gundham had never intended to take a life. Not unless he had to. ...Hrm. Troubling.

        While it all remained hard to believe, he had to admit. His ethics were true to those described. But I know not the mortals I perished for. Who were they, that he had found so special?

        He yearned to know the truth behind it all. Perhaps it shall come with time. He had already remembered faint details.

        As they re-entered the building, more hazy memories resurfaced.

        "-I remember now," Gundham murmured, head turning back to Nekomaru, "-an encounter we shared."

        "Huh? Which was that?" Nekomaru glanced back momentarily, resting his hand on his hip again. As he spoke, small crimson volts of electricity sparked from his eyes.

        "With our class... a trial among kin, to determine a champion of strength among us. Remember you not?"

        Nekomaru pauses, seeming to strain as he scratched his cheek absent-mindedly. "Uhhh... like a relay race? I don't really remember that... But hey, if you remember it happened, then I believe you!" He gave another optimistic laugh. "Hopefully it'll all come back."

      Gundham adopted a brief nod. Very well. He certainly could not place his trust yet, but investigating outdoors held no merit so far. Perhaps he would have to thrive among heathens for the time being. At least until he could properly recollect. Then he would be able to act, and decide who was worthy of trust.

        If any at all were.

        If myself in the past had been persuaded to die in their name, then I must learn who they are. Perhaps he could learn those feelings again. Not that he'd ever consider that to be the case.

        Until then, it was he and his devas, alone, as always, upon their journey.

        Unfortunately, it remained unclear to both the Breeder and the Team Manager, that something was critically wrong with Gundham's memory.

        He'd forgotten the right past, and remembered the wrong one.

        The one that had destroyed him.

Chapter Text

        As Gundham continued listening to Nekomaru, he found himself silently drifting towards the circular array of pods.

        Each human-sized capsule connected to a complex system in the center of the circle with a single cord from each that Gundham carefully stepped over.

        His booted feet's clicks against the tile echoed eerily in the vacant room, most others having taken favor in venturing outside. "Why have you brought me here? The others have vanished elsewhere."

        "Someone was supposed to be here," Nekomaru explained.

        Gundham stopped abruptly as he reached the side of the closed pod. Squinting silently at a layer of condensation that obscured his view of the person inside, Gundham rested a hand atop the capsule and drew his hand across the chilled surface of the glass.

        Following his hand motion, a small window of clarity allowed Gundham to squint through at the person still unconscious within.

        Lying there, eyes closed, a harmless expression upon his delicate, smiling face, was none other than-

        "-Komaeda...?" The name came to him rather easily. Gundham recalled him. Komaeda. Something within him lies in unrest. It was a strange foreboding sense of the disturbed, contained within the glass pane.

        Nagito was, of course, deeply unconscious. In fact, he was comatose. Small band was situated around his head, a few small electrodes lining his temples. An airmask rested upon the lower half of his face, and the Lucky Student's vitals were displayed upon a small screen beside the pane.

        Undeniably, Nagito Komaeda was incapable of harm. Far too deeply lost within his own dream realm.

        But as Gundham stared down at the sleeping remnant, he was quick to withdraw his gloved hand from the capsule.

        He could feel it.

        It was subtle, of course, but undeniable.

        Despite years of weakening and suppressing his arcana, despite Gundham's own weakened state, despite the distance between Nagito and reality, Gundham felt the sensation almost immediately.

        Lethal potential.

        Within the capsule lay a disturbance so profound that even through the glass Gundham was warned of a dire call for caution.

        ...Who is Komaeda?

        "Are you looking at Nagito?" Nekomaru addressed, beginning to approach the Breeder again.

        Gundham pivoted, facing Nekomaru, his gaze finally leaving the capsule. "Indeed. Komaeda. 'The Ultimate Lucky Student', if my memories correctly align." But why does he radiate such ominous promise?

        Then, a brief memory snapped into place among various other surfacing.

        The school. He engaged in pyromantic practice against the school. Then was banished, correct? If only for a temporary time.

        "Yeah, that's him. Uh... they decided to wake up everyone else in order. So he's going to wake up next."

        Gundham's expression didn't change, it merely lingered on its unreadable distrust. "...I see."

        "And uh... Chiaki..." began Nekomaru slowly, as if the next sentence was more difficult. "She-"

        "She's dead," Gundham interrupted suddenly. Then, awakened from his momentary trance, realized the gravity of his words. ...Nanami? He didn't remember a Nanami.

        But the memory came far too naturally for it to be untrue. An absence of her.

        Nekomaru seemed just as shocked by Gundham's abrupt statement. "How did you know that?"

        Gundham paused. "Hrm. The memory merely awoke." Was it a memory, or a lack of one?

      Nekomaru scratched his nose, visibly thinking over Gundham's statement. "Well, that can't be possible. Didn't Chiaki die after you? So... how could you remember something like that?"

        My death was prior to Chiaki's? Gundham remembered nothing related to his death or hers, so he failed to confirm or deny the statement. ...What a strange occurrence, indeed...

        The more Gundham considered Nekomaru's question, which the Breeder had chosen, for now, to regard as a truth, the less the predicament made sense.

        Drawing his mouth open to elaborate upon his knowings, Gundham was interrupted by a sound from across the room.

        "H-Hello...?" A quiet voice chimed, feeble in its stuttering introduction.

        The attentions of both the Breeder and the Team Manager were stolen instantaneously by the speaker, who stood frail in the doorway.

        Trembling, adorned in a blood-stained white nurse's uniform, was the terrified form of who Gundham recognized to be Mikan Tsumiki. Her eyes widened as their attention was suddenly her subject, and she gave an abrupt shriek, shielding her face from their view. "Ah! I-I'm so sorry for interrupting! I-I didn't mean to! Please, forgive me!"

        Gundham's expression adopted a critical frown, seemingly unimpressed with the newcomer's outward weakness.

        "Your voice is too soft!" Nekomaru observed of the nurse, his voice resting at its hearty volume, "let your voice rise from the bottom of your chest!"

        Nekomaru's encouragement seemed to only frighten the nurse further, as she began to lightly cry. "Ah! I-I'm - sorry!" Mikan began to shout, her expression in distress, while a strange resentment gathered behind her gaze. "Please! Please, forgive me!"

        "-Enough already," the Breeder scoffed, interrupting the strange dance of words occurring between the two opposites. "Is Tsumiki she who you sought?"

        "Indeed she is!" Nekomaru confirmed, "Mikan - I wanted to ask you about Gundham's memories! He says he's still having trouble remembering everything. And he found out that Chiaki died, somehow, even though that happened after we left. Since you and Hajime were the ones looking into all this, I wondered if you knew what had happened?"

        Gundham found himself watching the nurse's expression carefully as she trembled, taking in Nekomaru's words and wiping at her tearful eyes. For a moment, she remained there, eyes filled with fear, seemingly resisting the urge to flee instinctually. However, for a moment, an ever-so-slight moment, her gaze suddenly darted to Gundham with avid curiosity. Devouring him in an instant using her gaze alone, Mikan quickly resumed her usual, 'pitiful' existence. "U-um..." Mikan hugged herself in defensive posture, shaking as she stood and chewing feverishly at her lip. "I-I'm pretty sure that's n-normal," Mikan insisted quietly, "I... I can keep ch-checking on it... if I may: maybe it's because of the order you w-woke up in? S-Since..." Her voice lulled into silence.

        "Because I had memory problems, too!" Nekomaru deduced, followed by Mikan's confirming nod.

        Gundham listened intently, though his stare became fixated once more upon Komaeda's enclosed capsule. 

        "B-But maybe... if... if you let me... I could check on him..." Mikan paused, her posture turning inwards momentarily as her arms oozed up to her shoulders, to which her hands clung. After a moment of hesitance, the woman fumbled to collect her posture, and began a slow approach towards Gundham.

        While she appeared unassuming, a sudden radiance struck Gundham's psyche with even more abrupt force than Komaeda's hidden potential had.

        This was wrong. She was wrong. She was unnatural.

        "Halt, devil," Gundham raised a gloved hand, his glare stopping her movement. "If you value your life, do not draw any closer." While his voice remained pointed with emphasized staccato, his inward emotions were more grim.

        Nekomaru, despite admitting to his crimes as a so-called 'Remnant of Despair', had never once emitted the grave urgent disturbances that Mikan and Nagito shared. It was as if they shared a common grievous disease, one whose presence alerted even the weakened state of Gundham's arcane practice.

        What secrets do you hide? "I require no assistance. I am the feared Gundham Tanaka! A mere inconsistency amongst my memory comes from no ill happening. It is merely my connection to the All-Seeing Eye that has allowed my gaze to pierce through the darkness." Gundham raised his head slightly, his scarlet eyes boring into Mikan's resentful gaze of a similar crimson.

        Something was wrong among them, yes. Something among the room rose a neurosis from Gundham's spiritual being, so his most logical course of action was to oppose it.

        To close himself off again.

        Exhaling briefly, he turned abruptly, stalking away from the other two remnants.

        There were still too many questions unanswered, and perhaps once more, he'd have to investigate them alone. "The night draws near." The Breeder pivoted, his eyes landing on Nekomaru. "-Tomorrow." That's all he had to say.

        With one effortless motion, Gundham turned abruptly for the door, and departed again.

Chapter Text

        Collapsed upon the floor of his own living room, trembling in the face of his own rapture.

        Was this man even Gundham Tanaka anymore?

        Or, perhaps, just personified disease. Personified withdrawal of his new lifeline. Despair.

        He curled inwards, his hand squeezing and lightly clawing at his arms. Through his teeth issued a subtle, broken wheeze.

        He could scarcely perceive, he could scarcely register. 

        Not through the episodic relapse of bliss.

        Exhaling hoarsely, his contrasting irises dwelled in different corners of the room, wavering as they looked for any sign of his animal companions, for none were among him. Not even those who so often dwelled within his scarf.

        No... he could sense them all, watching. Watching with concerned, frightened uncertainty. Scared for him.

        Scared of him.

        He might have spoken to them, but he was too far away in his world of trembling euphoric ecstasy. 

        Pain suffocated his every breath, an unaware glaze frosting his vision. Everything.

        Everything

        Everything hurt.

        And every aching bruising scar of traumatic hypnotism caused him dull, entranced happiness.

        What way was there to react? Deep within, Tanaka was finally resurfacing.

        All his vessel could do was convert itself to his new source of pleasure. His life would never be the same.

        Once he'd had the first taste, he'd been entrapped. And he hadn't even known.

        What a poor lost soul.

        A poor soul lost to despair.

        To withdrawals of fragile joy.

        To an episode of overexposure, feeding his disturbed misinterpretations.

        To the tremors that would soon find home in his fragile psyche.

        Dried, pink blood coated his worn fingernails, which clung deeper and deeper into his protected flesh.

        Blood of his twenty four.

        The twenty four.

        The twenty four allies who'd so generously dedicated themselves to his cause.

        Amiss within the cloud of plague, a soul still thrived. Trapped in an uncertain dream state, defenseless to its new conditioning.

        Perhaps he'd awaken soon.

        Then, finally, Gundham Tanaka, too, could embrace the wonderful new era, resting upon a throne of his most unforgivable sins.

        Ah, yes, thought the vessel, a coat of discolored froth lining the corners of his unhinged smile.

        What a wonderful time to be alive.

Chapter Text

        And he jolted awake.

        Taking in his view, Gundham registered his location after a few moments. ...I see. It was nothing more than his cottage.

        After his conversation with Nekomaru and Mikan, the Breeder had scouted a length of the island before locating the cottage dubbed his own. 

        She who had assisted Gundham's finding (Gundham believed he'd overheard the name ‘Mahiru,' which seemed appropriate) made a strange off-handed joke about the lack of personalization within the rooms that Gundham failed to understand. Tch. She, too, speaks as though this island remains a familiarity. However, each and every inch of the tropical scenery had failed to spark a new memory. 

        Quickly, Gundham had entered 'his' cottage, meditated, attempted to see himself situated (with his lingering caution), before finally allowing himself rest.

        But his dreams had arrived as a dreary haze, leaving him to discern the confused signals as he sat up in his bed, mumbling uncertain curses under his breath.

        Gundham failed to remember an island of any kind. He failed to remember a 'killing game.' Though, judging by dream's strange conclusion, perhaps he'd finally scratched the surface on the events so apparent on everyone's mind.

        With a mild huff, Gundham allowed himself to lie back down - if only momentarily. Just to silently collect his pensive dwellings and assort them into clairvoyance. Dream-reading at its most dire, I suppose...

        Gundham did not often dabble into the practice of dream symbolism. At least, not exclusively. His practice was always more centered around his practical arcana, and the nature around him. But upon this calling, he would almost certainly be forced to distinguish the concluding visuals from those previous.

        He'd dreamt, of course, of his past life. The one he shared with his classmates. The life in which he knew them. However, he had not recollected as Nekomaru had led him to believe.

        Many of the memories occupied a classroom. The order of those memories were far more easy to discern. While large expanses of memory held rough terrains of abyss, Gundham was able to form a semi-complete storyline within his head.

        The Supreme Overlord of Ice attended Hope's Peak Academy, under the title 'Ultimate Breeder.' The dead end his memory that had once been frozen could now bridge, connecting to other masses of recollection.

        'Tanaka the Forbidden One' became acquainted with others in the school, most notably a certain Sonia Nevermind. While he remained his usual in keeping to himself, he could recall slowly allowing himself to become closer to the collection of fiends. Unheard of! But, apparently, true. He wouldn't have had need for contemplation, if it were not for the strange absence of the 'Killing Game' for most of his dreamworld venture.

        However, the conclusion of the narrative came as a bitter haze.

        Chiaki Nanami.

        He'd heard her name, but who was she?

        The occurrence of a deep-running tragedy was what had caused a disorient.

        It had lacked a conclusion, or perhaps, an introduction. It had run through his mind like an uncertain signal of hallucinatory unwinding. He could scarcely understand it enough to even begin forming complete thoughts. Though one thing was certain.

        Abundant fatality. People were dying. Or had died.

        However, this still ceases to match the description of Nekomaru's 'Game of Fates...' Perhaps this interludes the genesis of 'despair?'

        Thinking too long about the thoughts left him in an isolated discomfort.

        ...The genesis that I was to have forgotten-? Could it be along those lines? He didn't know what it was that he could look for.

        Though one memory stood out to him in particular. It lacked a proper beginning, and the end confused him. But he could recall.

        He and Nekomaru, standing upon the frontline of battle, side-by-side. Together they opposed swarms of common fiends. Why? To stand guard of the school they'd become familiar with over the course of a year. To protect their classmates.

        What strange contrasts. So together, he and Nekomaru had fought for their classmates' lives? Once side-by-side, another on opposing sides. And both times with a shared goal. ...Our fates do appear to mirror one another.

        Though these recollections begged the question. Had he remembered wrong? Nowhere in his mind had he any memory of the 'killing game.'

        There had to be someone he could inquire to. But who among them could be worthy of his trust? What if I see no more than a grand illusion of trickery?

        Gundham was used to placing faith only in himself, but that style of living one grew more and more obsolete in the face of his predicament. And there was still so little he knew of his situation.

        Heaving a small sigh, the Forbidden One rose from his bedding. Having nothing more to wear than the same garments of despair he'd woken up in, Gundham somewhat begrudgingly pulled on the same restraining fur coat from the day before. 

        The low stench of metallic rot seeped from the fur that once more formed a messy halo around him. A devil that wears a halo as a crown. Perhaps both his angelic and hellspawn blood could bear representation by his appearance.

        Looking into the mirror again, the reflection of the unholy stared back at him. So this is what has become of Gundham Tanaka...? He had the time to fully accept it now as he absent-mindedly began to fix his tattered scarf.

        His darkly-lined scarlet eyes bore into themselves, before flicking away. He was a creature of the night. While Gundham could not help but marvel at the aesthetic, he found he couldn't quite meet his own gaze.

        Briefly tracing over the scar upon his cheek with an ungloved hand, Gundham allowed his other hand to locate each of his Four Dark Devas.

        "Hmm... how are you, my feared Four Dark Devas of Destruction...?" The Forbidden One addressed. "...Are you well upon the brink of the unforeseen cataclysm?"

        Hearing his Devas make disorganized sounds of affirmation, Gundham responded with a brief 'kehehe.'

        "Very well!" Being boisterous seemed to ail his plaguing thoughts. "Then, daunted by nothing, we shall rise once more! Some 'other' seems to believe they might engulf the world in our place... that shan't stand, shall it?" Gundham quickly gave each Deva a small round of affection, before slipping his midnight glove back over his worn hand.

        His whole body was littered with scarring, the hand was no exception. However, there was no way to accurately predict where each had come from. So he chose to bide his time.

        With a quick reapplication of eyeliner, the Overlord of Ice was prepared to face the new dawn. Turning briefly, his gothic boots clicked against each other, before he fell into his proud stride.

        It seemed he'd have to seek out someone with which to share his thoughts, which made him undeniably uncertain. There was still the unavoidable possibility that this was all some grand form of devilry, and that he was being deceived.

        Or, otherwise, that he had recalled the wrong past. In which case, it could be true that he didn't know anything about the people he recalled. They were as good as strangers with familiar faces by that point.

        But nourishment came first. Gundham refused to remain in a weakened state if he was to stand a lone warrior against the daunting unknown. Tch. As previously stated, I am daunted by nothing.

        Though, as he made his way in solitude towards the building he'd assumed was the 'meeting place' of sorts, he heard someone approach him from behind.

        "Gundham, wait - a moment?"

        It seemed he hadn't the need to seek anyone, for they had sought him first.

Chapter Text

Upon the words, Gundham halted. Then, after a brief moment, he cast a gaze over his hooded shoulder.
        Standing behind him, seemingly surprising him with how silent she'd been, was none other than the woman who'd occupied his mind ever since the resurgence of his memories.
        "...Ms. Nevermind," Gundham identified, voice ringing with intrigued depth.

        The princess stood at attention, fingers coiled around each other and held in front of her. The tiara she wore was somewhat crooked atop her head, and her white gown ended in dirtied tatters. She, however, seemed wholly composed, as always.

        Gundham had to remind himself, quietly, this was not quite the Sonia he had recalled, just as he was likely not her 'Tanaka.' What Tanaka does she call familiar? He who gave his life for them? But who is that Tanaka?
   
     While his recollection allowed the idea of sacrifice to become a far more conceivable option, he still felt a distance from his classmates. For, truly, he did not know them. Not only did he fail to know them, but there was still the possibility of being bewitched. ...Strange. For as much as he remembered about Sonia, he felt that he knew her not at all. Especially in her appearance of despair.

        Gundham had figured out, supposedly, that he remembered the wrong past. But could he truly bestow someone with the trust that allowed him to share that fact?

        "...Gundham," Sonia visibly eased as he spoke her name, seeming relieved that his memory had returned to him. "It is good to see you again!"

        "...Hrm," Gundham vocalized, his head lifting slightly as he pivoted. Now they stood before one another. "...I suppose it is fortunate that it is you who meets me in such a fateful encounter. To what do I owe the greeting?" Gundham allowed his posture to remain somewhat open, his arms at his sides, instead of the usual position across his chest. A subtle sign of trusting indulgence, if only for a moment.

        "Why, nothing terribly important," the Princess assured, her head adopting a familiar tilt that Gundham recalled of his Sonia. "I simply wished to ensure that you were well after all that has happened. And... now that you've remembered."

        Ah. She'd been informed, then? Or perhaps made the assumption. Gundham knew well that Sonia was a lady of intelligence. His gaze fluttered away for a brief moment. "I assure you, I remain aptly well," Gundham tutted, "as, it seems, you do, too?" He found himself nearly inquiring - 'were you a survivor of the game of fate?' Then he remembered that she was unaware of his mismemory. Deceit strikes once more. Perhaps he should inquire subtly? He remembered his Sonia as a woman worthy of his trust. At least, far beyond the worthiness of the other fiends residing in his class. Very well. Allowing himself a brief huff, the Breeder closed his eyes and crossed his arms, entering pondersome posture. "...Though I must question the nature of memory we have been given. Be not alarmed by my question, for it is nothing but... I merely wonder." His heavily-lined eyes open once more, his crimson gaze of scarlet dampened with eyeliner tears of dusk. He allowed his stare to meet hers.

        Sonia's eyes shared his uncanny carmine hue, but she did not speak. She simply nodded, awaiting his question. After a few seconds, she herself encouraged. "Yes?"

        "...I am aware it was the nature of the 'Neo World Program' to cause an erasure of our past sins, like a swift wind of plague upon lowly commonfolk." He spoke the title of the program with foreign disdain, as if the word itself is a figment of fictional annoyance, and holds no place upon his tongue. "However! I must inquire. If one were to recall such horrendous occurrences, would such a happening trigger disaster most imminent as Pandora's inquiry upon her urn?"

        Sonia took a brief moment to piece Gundham's words together, but it did not take her long to understand. "If someone were to remember their despair...?" The Princess takes a moment to consider, before returning to him with an answer. "Why, it would likely be something similar to what happened to Mikan."

        "...Mikan." Gundham uttered the Nurse's name, though knew not of what Sonia spoke. Mikan, too, recalled her past? Upon what time? "...During the 'killing game?"

        Sonia nodded, though appeared slightly confused about why the confirmation was needed. "She has returned to her previous self, thankfully. "It would pose a problem if she were to... 'bug out' again?" Sonia's arms lifted, crossing, as her gaze skimmed to the ground. "However... we are trying to repair what we can. We were told that... if we are all truly cured of our despair, and the Future Foundation allows it, we may be able to return to the populace! Gundham, would you like to join me? Everyone would like to make amends, and I think that it may be a good thing if you were to attend?" She offered a small, reassuring smile. "...There is only one more of us who had yet to return, and he may return very soon!" The last sentence, while still upbeat, held uncertainty. Almost as if the thought made her nervous. "Perhaps you'd like to be present for that, too?

        However, Gundham was not so eager to move on. "...Chiaki," he brought back up, his face inclining intuitively upwards. Towards the heavens. "...She is no longer among us. Correct?" How am I so certain of such a thing? Even before being informed?

        
Sonia nodded. "That is correct... She was an aspect of the program."

        "An aspect of the program? Then it was not she that was swept into the gates of Gehenna!" Gundham insisted bitterly, his generously made-up widening suddenly as a breath caught within his lungs. "-She... it was not she that perished before out very eyes - but the world itself!"

        And with just that sentence, the memory clicked back into place. The most dangerous memory of all.

        With just that recollection alone, Gundham had unknowingly embarked upon a descending ride back to the pits of his fiery despair. Within seconds, memories and information flooded his psyche. Too much at once, overwhelming his senses almost instantaneously, the Breeder suddenly choked on his own air. Rendered to his knees, Gundham hurriedly places a gloved hand over half of his face. By the Gods - what is this-? They were indiscernible memories due to the sudden overcrowding of knowledge, but one thing was abundantly apparent. Despair.
        True, terrible, brutal and macabre. It was despair.

        "Gundham!?" Sonia exclaimed with concerned alarm. Quickly, she made a move to aid the Breeder. "What is wrong!?"

        Though quickly Gundham raised his other hand, gritting his teeth in anguish and pointing with feverish animosity towards her. "Stay back! Stay back...!" His visible eye remained wide, adopting a somewhat maddened appearance.
        He did not order to keep her back out of distrust of her. No. It was the sudden, confusing numbness. The lack of trust in himself. The overwhelming, screaming of drowned and repressed thoughts that were dismembering his thoughts.
        Without hesitating, the Breeder was suddenly on his feet, abruptly turning his back on the Princess.

        He had to be gone from here. Now.
        Where? He knew not.
        He had to find peace - a place to assemble his rampant sickening overwhelm.

        Still clutching his temple, wheezing out determined breaths of the primal desire to escape, Gundham made it a few steps away.

        Finally he was outdone by whatever was possessing him. I require an exorcism! But his thought occurred too late. He could not handle it anymore.

        With a click, he shut off.

        Taking one last breath, the Breeder's scarlet eyes fluttered once more towards the heavens that Chiaki occupied. He was unable to continue on - not in this state.

        Rather abruptly, Gundham Tanaka found himself committing a cowardly deed he'd never expected of himself.

        He'd fainted.

Chapter Text

He awoke.
        Lying on his side, tired breaths heaved unevenly. His body sprawled carelessly across his floor.

        At first he did not register the thick scent of metallic gore. No, first he had to drearily blink away sleep, and draw a limp hand over his eyes.
        What first irked the Overlord was the fresh wetness his hand has left across his closed eye. Slowly, Tanaka drew his hand in front of his face. Then his eyes widened.
        The hand was generously coated in rose, ill-smelling liquid. It did not take long for Gundham to realize what it was. ...What blood stains my hands?
        
Sitting up in a hurried, fluid urgency, Gundham quietly took in his surroundings.

        The blood was not only on his hands, but across the floorboards, splattered on the walls, littering every corner of his home.

        Immediately forcing himself to his feet, Gundham adopted a withdrawn posture, unbecoming of himself. For as much as he boasted, he had not quite been prepared to be immediately met by the sight and the stench of thoughtless murder.

        And there - upon the ground. That was a person. No. Part of a person. More parts lay around it.

        Gundham desperately grabbed at his scarf, seeking to comfort, and perhaps be comforted, by his Feared Four Dark Devas of Destruction. With a sudden shock, the Breeder realized his companions were absent from his safety.  By the Gods. What ill-natured curse had befallen me!? Who causes this bloody spectacle!?

        
Then it clicked. ...I did. It struck him harshly, elaboratory memories returning to him within moments. ...This is my dark crusade... this is my parade of despair. I have committed these deeds. He'd never intended to kill. ...But why? He'd never wanted this, for as much as he'd boasted. His body felt sick. He was sick.
        He wanted to hide from it all. Coward. But how? But why?
        "-My Devas? Where is it that you seek refuge?" They were hiding from him. He remembered that now.
        His closest companions, afraid of him. Afraid of what he had done. Why?
        
None of it made any sense. A riddle written in carcasses.

        Quickly ducking behind the couch, he found his Dark Devas huddled in a fearful clump, recoiling at his initial entrance into their view. Gundham quietly sat upon his knees. "My feared Four Dark Devas of Destruction..." he began, voice soothing in its low pitch, desperate to ease the troubled minds of his hamsters, "be not afraid. I assure you, I shan't bring you harm." Moving slowly, as not to frighten them off, the Overlord of Ice quietly scooped the four hamsters into his blood-stained palms. Having a quick seat, his back resting against the sofa, he held the trembling rodents against his chest.
        "All shall be well... I shan't harm you. My apologies, my greatest apologies..." He'd have to collect his other animals soon. He had to repair what he'd done.
        Though, a pestilence persistently boggled his thoughts. His animals, scared of him. The disturbance of his sins. His initial cowardice. The knowledge of the terrible things he'd done under the seduction of despair. He'd been enthralled.
        But why did he yearn for the continuation of the feeling?

        Gundham Tanaka was awake again - so why did he long to suffer more? Why did his guilt bring a sudden rush of ecstasy?
        The more he tried to shake the craving, the stronger it became. A monster that fed on fear.

        Running a cold, shaking hand over his Devas to warm them, Gundham stared, mouth gaped slightly, eyes somewhat absent, at his door.

        Once bitten, he was infected. Every urge within him told him to exit his homestead again, and inflict even more despair than he had before.
        His primal whisperings longed for carnage.
        Perhaps if he were to squeeze the life from his Devas, just as they grew to trust him-

        "-Ghh." Using will alone, Gundham disconnected his instincts from his reality. At least for the time being.

        What terrible hellbeast do I become? Why do I yearn to readily for unspeakable deeds? For as much as Gundham boasted his status as an underworld creature, he had never been prepared for the shattering guilt he'd woken up to.
        The knowledge of what he'd become so easily to hypnotic suggestion.
        
        He could cry, but that would only feed his yearning with satisfaction. To put out the raging fire of his enslaved soul using gasoline. Unwise.
        Unwise. And weak. He would not succumb to weakness. I shan't be weak. I shan't be weak!
        

        So he held his Devas closer, and closer still. He still could not meet their gazes as they began to murmur assurances and questions to him.
        "My apologies," was his only answer, voice hushing into a lull of uneasiness. "M-My apologies."

        He'd stuttered. He was already so weak. He'd expected more from himself.

        But with the willpower he had left, he would stop himself. He could not allow himself to continue his devious raid against whoever crossed his path.
        No.
        This shan't stand.
        
If he was to be a danger, then he would have to stop himself.

        Isolation has always been a friend. If he had to hide himself from the world in order to save it, then it was a price he was willing to pay.

        To silence the whispering of despair, he would cage himself and his demons.

        Quietly placing his devas back down, Gundham stumbled to his feet again. Taking care not to allow his blood-caked boots to slip upon the floor's paint of gore, he made haste.

        He had to act quickly, for at any second he could break.

        I shall never give in to despair! I shan't ever become what our tyrannical mistress intends!
        
        How long could he last? He didn't know.

        But if he had any honor left, then he knew it was his duty to stop himself.
        
        And with that, Gundham Tanaka locked he and his despair away into a makeshift prison of his own design.

        I shan't ever succumb. Or my name is not Gundham Tanaka!

Chapter Text

He wasn't ready to awaken, so he clung feebly to his dream world.
        Only for a moment, even though he had died.
        Died to come back.
        Oh, right.
        
Everything had collapsed, all because of him. All around him in perfect shards and suffocating debris.
        His numbing, worn fingers held tight a few moments more, before he finally released.
        And it was done.
        Even the memory was gone.
        Just the silence.
        No - not silence. Not for long.
        Within the void, the light shifted, hissing in staccato along to his breaths.
        And with that, his eyes fluttered open.
        The world remained hazy and spotted for moments too long, as if he'd awakened from an eternal slumber. It was curious, certainly.
        Quietly shutting his eyes once more, he allowed his hands to trace his enclosure. My enclosure? He felt around for a moment. Ah, yep! He was indeed enclosed within.
        A prisoner of glass. But why?
        
Allowing his eyes to open once again, he finally took in the view that finally rang clear through his head. An array of concerned faces stared down at him, each laced with their own internal, conflicted concern.
        Worried for him? For me? For what reason? Was it his sickness?
        Ah, no. It became clearer as his hands pressed against the glass.
        They're scared of me? It was clear with one fluid movement, for they flinched as he drew his hands downward. But what had he done?
        He didn't even know who they were. And besides, who would be scared of talentless garbage like him? Just a feeble Lucky Student...
        Wait - his hands. Ah? Even he seemed surprised to find one far number than the other, almost dead weight in the oven mitt that protected it. As if the limb was still asleep. Wait, that's not right. As if the circulation had been wholly severed.
        Mouth still ajar, his eyes carrying an impression of innocence, the remnant stared up at his classmates, not finding recognition in his first glance.
        Unceremoniously letting his hands drop to the sides of his shoulders, the Servant gave a low, humble chuckle, closing his eyes with childish harmlessness. "Ah, hey... haha!"
        Drawing one eye open, his unimposing demeanor shifted to a more malicious calculation.
        "Ah..." He had to assume. This couldn't be the hospital. That was clear. They weren't dressed properly. Seems like I'm supposed to remember, but I could be wrong. He may as well play the game carefully, he didn't want to play his hand before he even knew what cards he had. Crossing his arms over his chest, a soothed smile playing on his lips, he hugged himself lightly.
        As well as he could with his deadweight hand. Is it... okay in there? The oven mitt certainly wasn't doing a proper job of warming it back to its sensations.
        After a few moments, pinpointing each viewer with a sharp porcelain glare, his stare lessened, and he closed his eyes. He lifted his head slightly, but his form remained vulnerable in its relaxed posture.
        "I hate to bother! Haha... but... could someone let me out?"

        Raising his living hand, he quietly reached up and rapped on the glass, giving another boyish smile.
        His hand lowered, finger coiling with absent curiosity around his collar's chain. Collar? Ah. Then who owns me?
        The boyish appearance slipped once more as he considered one solitary face.
        Ah, I can't forget! First and foremost, I belong to hope! So in a way, it didn't matter whose collar he wore.
        He'd always know where his true loyalties lay.
        Komaeda offered an easy chuckle, head cocking slightly to the side, almost like a dog, in unassuming inquisition.
        "Please?"

Chapter Text

First seeing it was strange.
        For he'd anticipated it, of course.
        He'd planned for it, and his intention had been carried out by causality.

        But perhaps staring upon his mangled form was what initially caused the unsettled heaviness to overtake him.
        Stoic, of course. None would find his crypticism unusual. None would notice the slight widening of his eyes.
        None would notice, under his dark coat, that he'd forgotten to breathe in a momentary stalling of necessity.
        Nekomaru had not even been a human - not any longer. But the soul that once occupied the empty, metal carcass had been his.
        Time slowed, only for that momentary first sighting.
        
        Perhaps just the brutality was what had alarmed him. He had been so certain he wouldn't be alarmed by what he saw.
        The last he'd seen of Nekomaru was he as a whole being.
        Now he was merely disseminated remains upon the floor.
        Causality had played cruelly in his execution. He had no head. His limbs were skewed about.

        This man had died once, and causality had revived him.
        How cruel, to be his second murderer?
        
And he'd died twice, and would never return.
        At least, that's what Gundham had assumed.

        Now it was to play into the masquerade of the blackened.

        Gundham tore his gaze away, focusing momentarily upon the wall, before exhaling a forced scoff.

        What mask would he wear?
        Innocence, of course.
        Innocence, until proven the villain.
        Then he would wear that mask instead.

        Why did he feel so faint?

        He'd done the deed. It was simply nature for things to perish.
        He'd agreed upon his crime with the victim of it.
        
        Merely blood on the hands of the sinner, already bound for hell.

        Every second drew closer to his death, and Gundham knew that.

        But he could not merely give it away without merit. No.
        That's why he wore his masks.

        Tick, tock, tick, tock. The broken hands of the clock within Nekomaru's chest were still, but in Gundham's head they trudged on.

        He couldn't look anymore. Guilt was his binding now, the shackles upon his ankles from which he'd be dragged into hell. The one upon his tongue that halted his honesty.

        Truly, utterly, guilt had riddled his body with countless, tiny punctures. He had passed the point of no return.
        
        He'd spent so long chasing murderers, and now he'd finally become one.

        Collect yourself, Tanaka. He did so.

        Then turned his back to his sins.

        Tremble with fear.
        I will die twice.

Chapter Text

She cried.

Stoic, as always, he concealed himself.

He was always so different from them.

So why did he love them?

A foolish choice.

One he'd happily take to the grave.

Chapter Text

        Another sensation of waking in an unknown.

        Though after an adjustment - was it truly an unknown...? Someplace unfolding with vague familiarity. Vague importance... All vague to him.

        How long had it been, truly...?

        Grumbling, the Breeder drew open his weary eyes, which met the brooding ceiling above.

        ...Hrm. Right... The Isle of Remnants.

        Allowing his stare to drift downward, Gundham blinked as he registered a small, rotund mass of orange that obscured his view of the rest of the room.

        ...Cham-P... Allowing himself a ginger smile, the Forbidden One quietly drew a gloved hand over the hamster's fragile body, caressing them in a comforting way as he cooed out weak sounds of comfort.

        "Tch, tch, tch, tch... Invading Black Dragon Cham-P..." Gundham's lips caressed a weak smile, before it faltered.

        Where was he? How had he gotten here?

        I was with the she-cat, Sonia. But then...

        He stifled a sudden rigid inhale as he recalled. 

        Gradual, only a fragment of his recollection, but there it was. ...Despair. His despair.

        He'd remembered his despair and departed from the realm of reality. 

        Sitting up slightly, the remaining three Devas became clear in his view.

        San-D, Jum-P and Maga-Z all sat at attention after his movement, their whiskers trembling with intrigued relief.

        Their jumbled concerns immediate greeted him, causing the Breeder to quickly scoop them up and continue with his soothing sounds of assurance. "Shhh... tch, tch, tch... there, there, my Devas... be not afraid..."

        As he murmured, a few distant sounds drew Gundham's attention momentarily away.

        Tanaka didn't even have to urge his Devas to silence, for they already noticed his curiosity elsewhere, and silenced their commentary.

        Lying back down briefly, still clutching his Devas protectively against his chest, Gundham quietly listened in best he could.

        "U-Umm..." One voice came, meek in its origin. "I-I'm afraid so... hopefully he'll wake up soon!"

        The other voice was more confident. "...I see," it placed delicately, though from a place of maturity. "Very well. Have you yet discovered the cause of his collapse?"

        Gundham was quick to acknowledge what voice belonged to what person. Sonia and Mikan. Sonia worries for me...? Foolish, seeing as he was an all-powerful being. Did she know that not?

        ...She has seen me die. Perhaps the act was understandable. I have slumbered long. Perhaps she fears I've returned to the darkness.

        Accepting his own death was still a difficulty, seeing as he remembered it not. Not even in the slightest.

        But what he did remember was-

        "I-I'm sorry! I... haven't found anything yet! Please, forgive me!" He heard the feeble nurse begging as the voices drew closer.

        "It is alright," the Princess assured, her tone still somewhat stilted by her unfamiliarity with the language's flow. "I just wonder what it is that's gone wrong! It could correlate to the Neo World Program, could it not? Has he re-entered his comatose state? Will he be prepared for our re-introduction"

        "Ah - I... I don't k-know... I'm sorry!" The nurse spoke up again. "F-Forgive me, please, forgive me..."

        "-I do forgive you," Sonia insisted again, though this time seemingly distant in thought. "...Very well. Please, keep me informed if you make any discovery."

        Silence - though Gundham assumed that Mikan had nodded.

        "Well... T.T.Y.L., Mikan," Sonia sounded out each letter.

        "U-Um... okay... see you, Sonia!" Mikan chirped quickly.

        The sounds of faint, departing steps signaled Sonia's departure.

        ...I've remembered wrong, Gundham realized. That is why I am here. Though I suppose I shan't inform anyone of such. It was strange.

        There was a disconnect from the despair he'd remembered and his current state. If he'd remembered his brainwashing, then - shall I succumb once more!?

        Such was a disturbing thought. Have I already succumb?

        No. He did not yearn. Not yet.

        As Gundham entertained the idea, he continued to feel the disconnect. Do I yearn to suffer, and suffer as I yearn...? Such was despair, correct? As he remembered it.

        He remembered only up to his rapture of pain, hiding within his home for fear of himself. All beyond that was a blur.

        Perhaps it was better that it remained so.

        I mustn't submit, if I am ever tempted, he decided briefly. I shan't become that again...

        Hearing Mikan slowly entering the room, Gundham sat himself up once more, his still made-up eyes locking with feverish hidden worry upon the doorframe.

        And there she was.

        "-Tsumiki," Gundham found himself addressing, voice heavy with commanding emphasis.

        His statement of her name seemed to catch Mikan off guard, causing her trembling body to jolt back in alarm. "-Ah!" She lost her footing, tumbling backwards into one of her signature 'unflattering positions.' "Ahh - forgive me, forgive me!" The Nurse begged.

        Upon this incident, Gundham rather quickly averted his gaze, muttering his complains through a sigh. "...Tsumiki. Greetings," his words held some inward critique, seemingly disapproving of the Nurse's actions of frailty.

        For, truly, he did ridicule such actions. It felt wrong, in a way, to immediately label her as a slow-witted woman, as she so obviously was. Gundham was use to such judgements of mortals, but he recalled her presence within his class.

        He supposed he owed at least one thing to each member of the class. 

        Even Souda...?

        That last point is still up for debate, he decided briefly.

        Though, in truth, he had learned to appreciate each member of his class in some way or another. Some more than others, but he supposed it mattered little.

        For they were the only people that...

        He halted his confused train of thought, finally allowing his gaze to return to Mikan.

        Gundham made movements to climb to his feet, but was stopped by Mikan's quick 'w-wait!'

        So the Breeder remained in place as Mikan swiftly returned to her feet, sputtering more half-witted apologies and wiping forced tears from her eyes.

        Mikan finally reached his bedside, giving one final 'sorry.' "W-Well... let me check on you - please?"

        Gundham squinted, his gaze traveling away. "...If you insist. Though I need no help of any variety! I remain fine. If you intend to touch me, then remain wary of my imminent lethality."

        "R-Right!" Mikan yelped, reacting with fear at Gundham's loud commands. "S-Sorry! I'll be careful!"

        "..." Was he already giving in? Perhaps he was lashing out in fear? In fear of despair? Ha! Folly, such a thing cannot be. But he couldn't ignore the possibility as he quietly settled back down.

        Mikan extended a trembling hand to feel at Gundham's forehead, thought he Breeder was quick to refine his head away from her touch.

        "Heed you not my warnings already?"

        "Right! Sorry..." However, this apology seemed less forced than the others. Almost less genuine. Like a throwaway line.

        A throwaway line? From she who talks so excessively of apologies?

        Offering a thermometer instead, Mikan insisted that the Breeder's temperature be taken.

        He obliged, readjusting quietly in order to take the petty mortal trinket and indulge in its little purpose.

        His jacket and scarf having been removed upon his waking up, Gundham was too exposed for his liking. The pale flesh of his arms, shy to the sun for years, lay exposed until the cuff of his midnight undershirt.

        "C-Can I take your b-blood pressure? I'll be c-careful, I promise!" Mikan chirped, already futzing with the sphygmomanometer.

        "...Very well..." Gundham mumbled, hesitating a brief moment before resting his hand upon the armrest of the hospital bed he lay in.

        Perhaps if it was quick. Being touched was a discomfort of his - but he guessed he'd warned her enough.

        Mikan nodded quickly, acting fast. Without touching Gundham's muted skin, she slipped the cuff rapidly around both Gundham's wrist and the armrest, tightening it with sudden, urgent velocity in a way that allowed him no room.

        Gundham was familiar enough with medial practice, being a healer to his animals more times than he could count. That isn't the practice-! Why would Mikan, the Ultimate Nurse be using her own instrument incorrectly?

        She was quick to inflate it, just as Gundham had grown uncomfortable enough to attempt retracting the hand.

        It was trapped.

        That's when he realized. Something is the matter. He could feel his own heartbeat escalate as he suddenly jerked at his trapped hand, urgency flooding his nerves.

        "What doest you, Tsumiki?" His glare bored into hers, his chest rising and contracting with visible panic. "What are you doing?"

        Gundham made a quick move with his other hand to loosen the cuff, but Mikan acted with her own agility.

        Grabbing his wrist in both her own, the quickly pinned his arm to the other bedrest, already beginning a feverish application of tape to restrain the other hand.

        Though Gundham did not forfeit with ease. Mere tape was not - no - would never be enough to restrain the Supreme Overlord of Ice! "I command you - what devilry do you play at!"

        Still struggling to pin Gundham's arms, both of which were fighting her attempts, Mikan hugged Gundham's feral arm to the bedrest, she freed one hand and launched it towards her container of instruments.

        It returned within the same second, a scalpel gripped tightly in her whitening knuckles. Her face, strangely stoic in the face of such intensity, grew into a weak smile. She'd won.

        Gundham's multi-colored eyes darted to the hand restrained by the sphygmomanometer, sitting up further in an attempt to loosen the cuff using his teeth alone.

        Mikan moved faster, clamoring atop him and forcefully cupping his face with her other hand. Her fingers tightened slightly around his throat, causing the Breeder to flinch with discomfort.

        Gundham watched his Devas begin to spring to action attempting to fight off his attacker, but Mikan accomplished her goal too soon.

        In just one fluid movement, the Nurse drew the scalpel across Gundham's cheek.

        Gundham flinched, giving a stifled, exasperated gasp as he could feel a warm, liquid substance already flooding out of the deep gash.

        Movement halted.

        Gundham growled, wincing at first due to the stinging pain and hatred of contact. But then, slowly, it came to him.

        The pain, although sizzling with burning infliction, sending eels of agony through his severed veins, gave way to something deep within him.

        Gundham's heavily-lined eyes widened slightly, his breaths becoming slower as he registered how he felt.

        Pleasure? That was the word. 

        That was the connection.

        The bridge between his previous state and his current state.

        Still stifling pained breaths, Gundham's lips curled upward slightly. As much as he yearned to be free, he also remained curious for another infliction. Would it bring him that same pleasure?

        ...This is despair. Curses... curses!

        Gundham, feeling no further blows come, finally raised his head again, issuing fourth an angered glare at Tsumiki on top of him.

        Her smile was faint, but hidden behind the sudden flood of fear in her eyes. After a few seconds of their eyes' connection, Mikan's lip began to quiver.

        "...D-Despair..." she diagnosed, sitting back, as if suddenly he was the one to be afraid of. "...Y-You're a despair."

        So that was the nature of her turning on him...? She suspected?

        Or was there more?

        Gundham scowled, but stopped his struggling.

        For a moment, both parties just stared at one another, each wracked with different plaguings of fear.

        ...But the Forbidden One knew. He was fearful of nothing - daunted by nothing! And he was as true to his integrity as he was to his honor.

        Could he stay true, after all of this? After the bridging of this gap? He'd have to.

        Neither knew exactly what would come of the moment, seemingly frozen in time.

        The realization running through both of their heads.

        Where do your loyalties lie?

Chapter Text

        He sat rigid, his messily dressed eyes growing more and more tense by the moment.

        Pastel blood still dribbled tirelessly from the fresh gash in his cheek, already beginning to stain his pillow.

        Mikan still sat on top of him, causing the Breeder to squirm. He hated contact. He despised contact. And yet…?

        He yearned for his torment to continue, as much as he longed to see its end. It drew him in, just as much as it repulsed him.

        His heart pounded, infatuated and afraid. Whatever this was, it was despair. And he hated it.

        But in hating it, it only lured him deeper.

 

        “...You label me such,” he retorted, voice low, but sulumn. “But under what pretense? Do you parade under the same label? Are… you, too a despair? Had you not died with your memories in tact?”

        Mikan paused, her face finding a slight smile of its own as she allowed herself a light sigh. Her grip tightened slightly around Gundham's throat, abruptly cutting him from oxygen.

        Gundham choked quietly, but grimaced. He would not be tormented without a fight, no matter how strangely attractive the thought of suffocation was becoming. He had integrity, and he would practice it as he had failed to in his past. 

        If he closed his eyes - could he find his arcana? Tanaka strained the restraints, trying to distance himself and seek a place of magica. Causality guide me-

        Though, after a few moments of his endeavor, it became clear. He'd been severed too long from his arcana. To perform it would likely drain all his power. Fine. He could easily find other means of escape.

 

        Still clutching his throat, Mikan murmured a subtle giggle, leaning forward and drawing the scalpel up again. "You remember that?" She bit her lip, eyes suddenly drawing wider in excitement. "Ah..." With the grace of a butterfly, Mikan carefully trailed the scalpel around Gundham's face, taking care not to cut him with it. Yet. "...So you really are a despair...? So you remember her...?" Wordlessly, she let go of Gundham's throat, moving her hand instead down to his shoulder. Using the hand to support her, she leaned closer, allowing her face to remain inches from his.

        He could sense it - he could sense it unmistakably now. She is haunted. She is malevolent.

        Gundham paused, subtly making up for lost air, as he inclined his face away from her hot breath. How does she persist? Has she not taken in my body's natural poison? Be she immune!? "'Her...' Enoshima, correct? Is she the one of which you speak?"

        Mikan's face lit up at the mention of her name, a broad smile overtaking her fragile expression as she broke out into subdued, starved laughter. "Ah, her... my beloved... she gave me so much love..." Her smile grew madder still as she forced Gundham's head down with one hand, and began to create a small incision along his collarbone. "I thought I'd get to see her again... after all this time! Ahahaha... ah... we can't all get what we want. But it doesn't matter anymore, love will bring us together, just like it did before! And now that you've remembered, you can help me!"

        Mikan, though, stopped. Lifting her scalpel from the cut in Gundham's skin, she tilted her head to read his expression.

        Staring back at her with bitter resentment, Gundham remained composed. He hid his mixed-emotions well under the guise of indifference. He merely gave a huff of pain to hint at his state. Then, raising his head again, he glared at her. "...All this time, you have hidden well. You play sanity well enough for someone so far gone."

        Mikan, accepting the flattery, allowed herself a loving sigh, nibbling lightly at the bloody end of the scalpel. She seemed to eat up his praise, silently begging for more justification.

 

        "...However," the Breeder countered. "...Tch. Perhaps you know far too little of me. I hold little intention to bow once more to the whim of despair." The words brought to his lips a prideful smirk. One that encouraged, 'try, I shan't break.'

        Mikan's smile faltered all too quickly, her expression reverting to a resentful glare. "...Ahaha... ahahahaha!" Her laughter came far too light, almost uncanny upon her deadpan expression. "You forgot all about her... all about her love... that's why I'm her beloved... I can't ever forget..." Her smile began to grow again, her eyes dancing with passionate need. Desire. "...I wonder how it feels to bring despair... to bring her love to someone else..." She began to chew the tip of her medical instrument, allowing it to cut into her lip without much of a care. Her blood intertwined with Gundham's as both ceremoniously rolled off her tongue and out of her mouth. And out of her mouth followed a small river of drool, encouraged by the idea of converting him. 

        The idea of impressing her.

        Her expression finally reached an unreadable state. "I-I can remind you! Ahahaha... ah - I can remind you... and then you won't be able to say no... unless you really do live to spite her." Her words became a lecture. "But that's not a good idea..."

        Gundham's heart continued to rhythmically pulse, growing only faster at the careful placement of her words. Though his face remained stoic, he schemed. Forcing himself to ignore his despairing urges - give in to your defeat, and be bested - Gundham knew, silently, that he had to escape. His right hand was already drawing into numbness due to the tightness of its restraint.

        But when to act?

 

        His thought process was cut abruptly short as Mikan sat back, squinting briefly at his collection of Devas before snatching Cham-P from his chest.

        The golden hamster have a startled squeak in protest as the Nurse frowned over him.

        

        This had Gundham's immediate attention, and the Nurse knew that.

        "...Ah... even after your despair, you couldn't hurt them..." In her despairing state, it became apparent to Gundham how confidently her words seeped from her. Was it that easy for her to feign her insecurities, in order to fool the others? "Do you think that'd be enough? To return you to your despair? Can you imagine that bliss...?" Mikan smiled with evil intention, her hand drawing tighter around the now struggling hamster, that began to squabble restlessly out of fear.

 

        Gundham paled further, freezing up for a moment as he stomached the cruel event taking place. He had no more time to anticipate. The time to act was now. Sitting up quickly, Gundham shifted his weight to the side and drew his leg out quickly from under Mikan. Then, having no moment to hesitate, he lashed out, shoving her off of him in a swift movement.

        What occurred happened so quickly that Gundham scarcely had time to register it.

        With a startled shout, Mikan fell backwards, releasing the Syrian hamster and clamoring, instead, to grasp the railing of the bed.

        Gundham acted on impulse, sitting up and taking his right hand's restraining cuff between his teeth. Tearing it carelessly, Gundham released the first hand. Then, as the Nurse began to anxiously fumble through a nearby cabinet, Tanaka began to claw ceaselessly at the medical tape holding his second hand.

        It tore easily enough in his desperation. Scooping up all four Dark Devas, Gundham practically leapt from his bed, and began to bolt for the exit. 

        He refused to call for help - or, more accurately, not knowing who it was he could call. His pride and his anxiety choked him, so he refused to make a sound. Both of his fresh cuts burned brutally as he finally released himself fully from Mikan's desperate grasp. He cared very little for the pain - or the enjoyment that rose from it. No.

        He had to escape.

        

        Mikan, however, seemed to yell in Gundham's place. Leaning back from her riflings through her medical supplies, a syringe firmly in her grasp, she let loose a shout.

        "Someone! Someone, help me, please!"

       

        Gundham turned his gaze from her, allowing it to lock on the door in just the other room. Excellent. He had not the time to collect his boots, his other clothes, or any other luxuries that had been taken from him. Not yet.

        He had to escape with his honor intact.

        With urgent protective instincts, Gundham held his Devas closely to his chest. Pushing into the next room, he dared not look around as he heard the sudden clamoring of the Nurse in pursuit.

        Holding his breath, Gundham reached the door just as a shadow crossed the window from the other side. Someone was present on the other side. Sonia!? He could only pray it was her. Or some other worthy of trust.

        Why, he truly felt there were a majority that would prove trustworthy in this situation. All with the exception of-

        He threw open the door, suddenly halting as he realized who the silhouette belonged to. His blood ran cold. What a terrible stroke of misfortune.

        "-Komaeda!"

        Causality had evidently not favored him.

Chapter Text

        Every second was a burden.
        He ate only what kept him alive - for he feared so greatly what would happen if he was allowed out.
        
        How feeble. How pathetic. To lie there, curled into himself, staring at the door with uncertain, hungry desire. Longing to kill again - just to feel it once while awake. While aware.
        Not in the haze of despair.

        No - he'd have to outlast! He'd have to remain strong! He would, under no circumstance, give in to despair.
        
        His body trembled, his lidded eyes never once moving from the door. Perhaps his isolation from his armies. Perhaps his lack of nutrition. Perhaps - perhaps it would be enough to starve out his desire!

        It was the strangest way of maintaining composure and strength he'd ever practiced, but it was more difficult than any trial before.
        To resist.
        To resist the urge to walk outside and destroy everything he loved.

        Shall I ever be spared...?

        His starvation brought him joy. But empty joy. Like a high.

        An empty, cheap, high, matched only by its suffering.

        Gundham was always suffering. So he was always high.

        A stupor of inability. He hated it, and that only took him higher.

        That was all his joy ever was anymore.

        How long had he been down here?

Chapter Text

        Hm...

        The Servant had heard of the fate of Gundham Tanaka. Perhaps 'fate' was too strong a word, but he'd fallen back into his wakeless rest, and caused a stir among the community.

       Too bad. Hm.

        Everyone seemed anxious, though quietly. Ready to depart from the island, if they were deemed truly ready to. They all wanted to rejoin society, as the changed people they were.

        But had all of them changed?

        As Gundham began his days of rest. One, two, three, and a half...

        Komaeda had been remembering. And, apparently, remembering with far more ease than Gundham had.

        It was easy enough, once he remembered all of it, to feign recognition of people. Some was up to interpretation, but... otherwise. Hoping they were similar enough to the people from the program, he got by. You really could do anything with hope.

        ...

        They were all avoiding him. The other students.

        Ahaha... whatever he'd done during this Killing Game of theirs must have been atrocious. How despairing... but, whatever it had been, had allowed the Remnants to convert back to hope! At least, close enough.

        He was able to observe only a few of them. Mahiru Koizumi the only ones who really tolerated his approach. Supposedly because she'd died quite early in the game. Perhaps she had too much tolerance.

        Seeing them all in their more hopeful states brought The Servant a flutter of quiet joy. The omen of hope after the worst disaster - that was the truth he recognized.

        ...But there was still dampening on the atmosphere.

        How had he remembered, and no one else?

        If no one else had remembered, that is...

        That took a little interrogation. A certain couple questions towards a certain Akane Owari. She'd survived this whole affair, and was the easiest to manipulate into answers.

        Not that he didn't admire her, of course. She was talented.

        But The Servant didn't worship talent - not as much as he worshipped the talentless. Hajime Hinata. No...

        Izuru Kamakura.

        To describe it as an admiration would be wrong. It was something more than that. A quiet obsession.

        Izuru Kamakura was the model of perfection. Not only in his modifications... in his hope. Grown from talentlessness.

        The Servant had seen it before in a few others. Most notably a certain Komaru Naegi. And he regretted that he'd forgotten Kamakura's-

        -No. Hajime Hinata's supposed transformation.

        The mystery of it all lured The Servant in with thirsty curiosity. But, like a few others, Hajime seemed at a slight aversion to Komaeda.

        And within reason, too.

        If someone devoid of emotions chose to steer clear of him, then, really, he was no more than garbage. Pathetic, lowly vermin. Just a stepping stone for hope, like he'd always known.

        He lived for that life.

        Hope's humble, pathetic servant. Proud, submissive, ready to lay down his every whim to hope's name.

        But I'm getting carried away.

        Why had he remembered and the others forgotten?

        According to Akane, he'd been the last living victim, since Chiaki Nanami had been dead all along. And that beautiful spiderweb of programming, hanging memories, fabrications, and sanity in the balance, had started to wither during the ending of the game. The program had stuttered. The ceiling had become the floor. The world turned upside down. And somewhere in that hiccup, the fallen that had died too near to the ripple never effectively had their memories replaced.

       One little slip in the intricate facade that had set despair back in motion. How life always found a way. Well, that was just the Servant’s theory, anyway. That the memories came back if you died too late.

        Who else had had memory problems? Nekomaru Nidai - dead right before Gundham - but he was fine.

        But Gundham Tanaka? He’d certainly rememberedHe'd rambled about Chiaki Nanami's death and fallen unconscious. A remnant, clearly. Would he ever awaken? Because if so, there was no better opportunity to rekindle hope than a disaster such as that.

        A remnant among them. Despair among hope. Perfect. A perfect prelude to hope.

        To cause another disaster, so that hope could rise once more from it. That was how the Servant showed his eternal faith.

        ...

        Perhaps it was luck that he happened to enter Tanaka's medical residence at that exact second. Perhaps his garbage talent, that perfect monster fringing the line between talented and talentless had proven once again useful.

        Opening the door for him was none other than Gundham Tanaka, a shell-shocked look upon his pale, bloodied face.

        He wasn't adorned in his usual gothic attire. No... he wore only an undershirt, his pants, some socks... all darkly colored, of course.

        His eyeliner was smeared up and down his face, and his cheek was freely bleeding pastel pink.

        That wasn't the only place he'd been cut - his collarbone, too, was leaking a steady stream of blood.

        And held tightly in his arms were his legendary Four Dark Devas of Destruction.

        Despite the despairing nature The Servant knew was true, he seemed rather unhappy about his fit of distress.

        With a quick glance over his shoulder, The Servant recognized her. Mikan.

        But the look in her eye was unmistakable. She wasn't driven by desperate fear, like she may have been before. No... she was being driven by an urgent lusting need. Ah. She's a despair too? It roused a brief chuckle from the Servant. She’d remembered in the program, it only made sense to assume her memories had never gone away.

        Collecting himself in the face of the other, Gundham grit his teeth, trying to duck past The Servant and towards the door. "Stand aside, devil!"

        And Mikan, from behind him, feigning a terrified stutter. "Q-Quick! He's getting away!"

        With another split-second glance between the two, the Servant smiled wordlessly, and took his rightful place in front of the door knob, blocking the Breeder's way.

        "Aha! Ah... I'm sorry! 'Fraid I can't do that."

        Gundham, his look suddenly in desperate aggravation, growled lightly, trying to force his way to the knob.

        "G-Grab him! H-He's a remnant!" Mikan urged, her voice reaching a higher pitch as she herself began to grasp at the retreating Breeder.

        Quietly noting the syringe locked tight in her grip, the Servant gave an obliging chuckle, the gears turning in his head. ...What's going on here...? He could only guess, but already he knew exactly what hope called for. "Ah - right! Haha." The Servant, pinpointing a weakness in Gundham's inability to use his arms due to the Devas he carried, rather gingerly pressed his shoulders against the wall, and held him there firmly. Well, as firmly as one could when one of their hands was dead weight under its oven mitt.

        Though Gundham was not someone who liked to be held still. Even with the both of them, he was still stronger and more agile than they were.

        Their only advantages were Gundham's weakened state, his prolongedly unused arms in his time of despair, and his devotion to carrying his Devas.

        Perhaps, with the two of them, it would be enough.

        Tanaka growled, shifting his body slightly in order to try kicking the Servant off.

        Though frail, the Servant gave only a small gasp, before continuing to hold him against the wall.

        As Gundham quickly escorted all four Devas to his right hand in order to attempt freeing himself with his left, the Nurse swiftly snatched up the wrist of his freed hand, fighting with him momentarily to extend it, before slipping the needle into the crook of his arm and injecting the contents.

        Gundham snarled, visibly wincing and he jerked his arm from her grip, causing the skin to tear. Yet another open wound. Lashing out suddenly, the Breeder struck the Nurse in the face in a single, fluid motion.

        The Servant, a peaceful smile upon his face, let Gundham up, and quietly opened the door for him, gesturing for him to leave. "Out you go!"

        Gundham, shooting the Lucky Student a rapid, confused look, didn't need to be told twice. Collecting his Devas snugly into his grip, he bolted for the outdoors.

        Mikan, dropping the syringe in favor of rubbing her newly-bloodied nose, glared at the Servant with bridled resentment. "Wh-What did you do that for!?" Despite the stutter, that hatred dripped with despairing nature. And underneath her stern look hid a smile from the fresh pain of a broken nose.

        The Servant's smile only grew, and he laughed lightly. "Ah... don't try to trick me! Haha... I know a Remnant when I see one." He nodded to her. "...So why's a Remnant fighting a Remnant...?" Did he have to play into her needs? Her desires? "...Was he trying to deny what Junko Enoshima gave him?" The name is uttered with nothing but bitter resentment. Junko Enoshima. The woman he despised.

        He quietly took pride in his own phrasing. Gave him. Not us. For, despite the branding he'd been labeled with, would always be a warrior for hope. 

        The Servant was no remnant. Not that Mikan could ever tell.

        Mikan squinted, her gaze carrying heavy suspicion. Though she sighed. She recognized him anywhere. And, rather evidently, she wasn't pleased that it was The Servant after all.

        Would the other Komaeda have been preferred...? Really? It's just so hard for Remnants to understand.

        "He wanted to run from her love" she uttered quietly, reaching for the knob. "I was only helping him." Though the Servant could never know, judging by her gaze alone, Mikan was in great consideration. Perhaps fantasizing? For she considered herself Junko's beloved, didn't she...?

        What was her plan? And how would it effect The Servant's?

        The Servant gave a light chuckle. "Ah... wait a second, before following him." He'd made the right choice after all. His plan was adaptable, and he was excited to see where it went. Either way, the end result would be the same: hope. "...Do you really think people would trust us otherwise? Aha... I'm just a humble servant. One everyone seems rather upset at." His cold gaze raised, staring through her as he flashed an empty smile. "And I can't be your witness and expect to be believed, until they see for themselves."

        He wasn't going to act against hope. He'd merely given a set-up.

        Mikan was despair, and she was welcome to take advantage of the beginning he'd written her.

        And... more importantly. Kamakura. "Besides! Haha... he won't get far. Even if he stays awake too long. I know someone who'll find him."

        The final sentence fluttered from his tongue with the grace of the heavens. Suffocatingly wonderful, talking about him. Kamakura. The talentless hope. The kind of thing that brought The Servant to his knees in submission. The kind of hope he wanted to see in the world. The useless, common, pathetic sheeple rising up, and bringing hope to everyone. 

        Mikan... or 'Hajime Hinata?'

        The Servant smiled.

        Would Mikan convert him? Would Gundham Tanaka persist in his hope? Why, that was a wonderful option too. It was all up to the others now. He'd done his part faithfully.

        "Ah, well. It's up to you now! Haha... have fun, Mikan."

        Smiling, the Servant abruptly exited through the very same door that Gundham had went through.

        Now it was time to stand back and marvel at hope, and how it would dig its roots into the curiosity he'd helped orchestrate.

        So many paths, with one destination.

        True hope.

        It made his heart flutter.

Chapter Text

        Gundham clutched his bleeding arm quietly, stifling the wound with his trembling fingers. He didn't feel anything. Not yet. Curses... what lay within her inoculation? 

        Gundham couldn't be certain of anything but inevitable pursuit. Where would he go?

        Raising his head, taking in the atmosphere, Gundham held tightly to his Four Dark Devas of Destruction as he cleared his throat and began to stumble away from the medical center.

        Taking in his surroundings - tropical haze... nothing but the sand and the ocean. Once more, Tanaka was trapped by the ocean scent.

        As he quietly tried to readjust his grip on the Devas, Gundham noticed something that drew quiet calamity into his mind.

        Already - a few bounds from the realm of Tsumiki's Hospital of Despair - he felt himself weakening. Curses!

        The malevolent enchantress had cursed him with slumber.

        Grumbling, holding his hamsters to his chest, the Breeder collected his willpower and pushed onward. Focusing on each, quick step, he continued to evacuate.

        The sand would only slow him down. Gundham wisely stuck to the sidewalk.

        Soon the others shall turn on me...

        That was Tsumiki's intention, was it not? Turn the others rabid on the outsider. I shan't be converted. I shan't be converted! The idea of bitter defeat appealed to him. To be bested. To try your best, only to fail. 

        Was that what he yearned for-? Blasphemy! Blasphemy - I am already taken! He would not break. Not again.

        Glancing behind, he noticed a delay in the Nurse's pursuit. Is she not yet outside? He had time. Time that he needed. For each step poured another bucket of hot fluid into the Breeder's psyche. His head swam with a dizzying array of tiredness.

        Each step towards escape drew slower, more of a burden.

        Ghhh. He would not be bested! He merely had to play his game more carefully.

        Slowing his stride, Gundham willed his steps to maintain, tucking quietly from the path, beginning to diverge. If only he could take shelter somewhere... until the effects of the slumber curse wore off...

        His breaths drawing heavier, the collection of water within his skull began to scald, willing him to close his eyes. Just - for a moment... to collect himself.

        To regain his strength - to overcome the curse!

        "-Hey, Gundham!?"

        That voice-! Gundham rapidly shook his head to wake himself from his disassembled stupor, only to see the familiar face of the Team Manager, still adorned in his coat of white, beginning a hasty approach.

        Curses, curses! Curses be upon Causality! Nidai was here to stop him - was he not? "-Stand down! Set aside your motivations - fiend!" Gundham's words grew immediately cold, stinging in tone, hiding his distress. "I shan't be taken!"

        Nekomaru seemed confused, scratching the back of his neck as he gave the Breeder a quiet up-down look. "...Hey, you're awake! Are you okay? Your condition is..." He clenched his fist, apparently thinking of the right word. "...Really worrisome! Lie down and rest! Athlete or not, you need to be rested in order to be healthy! And you're bleeding! Come on - I can take you to the hospital!"

        Gundham's make-up smeared eyes drew slightly wider, his form trembling as his eyes melded closed once more. It was difficult to remain upright. His mind swayed along with his body. Just a moment longer...

        Perhaps this was his last chance. Gundham growled tiredly, knowing well how much he despised the idea of having to bestow trust in another. But upon the other hand - the event of Nidai's appearance could prove a blessing, as opposed to a curse.

        "...Nidai..." the Breeder's voice came out unnaturally soft, his eyes still locked behind their lids. Could he entrust Nidai with what might be his life? If I were not an immortal... he had to remind himself. How close was Mikan? Perhaps she would gain.

        Gundham had to pledge his faith to this choice. Causality - Nidai! Do not fail me now...

        "...Nidai..." Gundham's head bobbed, his voice growing quieter still, the accented words less ominous in their tone. Less affected. "...I beg of you. I am cursed. I... beg for your trust. Listen to my words and obey - or else I shall..." Dare he say it? "...Lose my life."

        With the final word, the one that struck his pride roughly and caused him a slight shiver of regret, Gundham's legs finally gave out, initiating his collapse.

        He withheld a quiet gasp of distress as he felt his Devas spill from his arms. No!

        Though it appeared the Team Manager recognized the symptom, and anticipating his fall. In a swift action, Nekomaru caught the Breeder, effortlessly hefting him into his arms. "Woah! What happened Gundham?"

        Gundham truly didn't know how long he could hold out. This was fate. Fine. Then I shall take fate by the reigns and direct it in my favor - if Causality intends for Tanaka alone to take control of his destiny, then he shall! Forcing his eyes ajar slightly, Gundham's tired hands grasped the collar go Nekomaru's jacket, stifling a tired growl.

        "Listen well," his voice struck a broken mumble, his head lulling backward to stare tiredly at Nekomaru's confused face. How Gundham despised this weakness. And - yearned for it.

        How satisfying, to fail? Ghhh - focus, Tanaka! Give not in to despair!

        "Trust not your instinct, trust only my word... I beg. Take me not to the hospital if you value my life..." His hands slipped slightly, losing their energy.

        He had only his word.

        "Later - I shall be able to explain. Later... but Nidai. If our sacrifice together meant anything... if I am at all worthy of your trust and your good intention - then you shall see me hidden. Anywhere but here..."

        His eyes slowly drew shut again. This was it. This was the moment of ultimate trust.

        Nekomaru began to speak to him again, but Gundham could not hear. Nor could he see. The slumber curse was putting him under, and he had no choice but to succumb.

        But not before uttering one final vulnerable statement:

        "...Please, Nekomaru... I need you..."

        Then Tanaka slept.

Chapter Text

        There became a point where he couldn't take it anymore.

        There became a point where he finally rose, besting his own honed integrity, stumbling up his stairwell in his weakened state.

        Just one. Just one - before he could seal himself off again.

        Perhapsi tco uld befast therwouldn'tha veto be pain he couldjust befasterthistime.

        Whoisthe unluckytravellerwh ois ensnaredby theDEVIL.

        JusT ONe more personjust onejsutonemkrser.

        WatcH the preywithbated breaths and lashoutwhen they thinkthey're safe.

        I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

        Forgive me, forgive me above.

        How pathetic can one be?

        Perhaps this is atonement?

        I'm destined for the pit.

        Forgive me, forgive me, I've starved so long...

        I'm so sorry...

        I'm so, so sorry...

        Why didn't I just starve?

        And there they were in pieces.

        His form was shaken. Had he really?

        Why couldn't he control himself?

        How could he have ever-

        Could he even forgive hims-

        What would be-

        How long had it-

        I have to be put away once more - forever - forever!

        And as he promised himself, the Devil imprisoned himself again. To atone in his swallowing guilt.

        Covered in their blood.

        He had never been one to cry, or clue into sadness at all.

        Such a thing was weak.

        But for the first time in far too long his tears came easily.

        Tears of mourning tragedy.

        Tears of unending suffering.

        Tears of a life destroyed with one, cruel misstep.

        Tears of joy?

Chapter Text

        Upon opening his eyes again, Gundham found himself covered by another blanket, propped up by another pillow, delicately resting upon another bed.

        Curses! Do I awaken once more within the infirmary?

        Jolting himself into a sitting position, preparing to engage in combat once more with the feral Nurse, Gundham slowly realized a difference in his surroundings. No, this was certainly not Tsumiki's despair hospital.

        He lay within a cabin, not unlike the one he'd been bestowed, beside an end table that hosted his Four Dark Devas of Destruction. Each of them began to swarm towards the Breeder at his sudden alarmed movement, squabbling their concerns over his earlier encounter.

        His wounded arm lay nicely bandaged at his side. And upon further inspection, his arm was not the only wound that had been treated. It seemed gauze had been hastily taped to both the infliction upon his collarbone and on his cheek. ...Though I lie not within the hospital...

        Finally, Gundham's stare landed on Nekomaru, who sat in the corner of the room, watching the Breeder passively. "Hey, you're up!" The Team Manager noted vocally, his voice naturally vibrant and overpowering, even in this comment alone.

        "..." Allowing his gaze to wander again, the Breeder huffed a tired grumble before reclining back into the pillow once more. He had to collect his strength. Hrm. He'd disgraced himself in front of Nidai, Komaeda and Tsumiki alike. He liked very little the embarrassment that brought. "...Do any know of my whereabouts...?" He spoke up finally, tilting his head to watch Nekomaru.

        "Uh... don't think so," Nekomaru replied, scratching at his cheek, "just you and me!"

        "..." Shifting to the side, Tanaka finally faced Nidai. "...Thank you," he admitted, his prideful tone so bitter at the admittance that he sounded almost angry about it. Within a few moments, Gundham's expression softened. ...Perhaps he realizes not the genuinity. "...Truly," he added, softer this time.

        "Hey, it's not a problem." Nekomaru reclined in his seat, cracking his knuckles and exhaling an energized sigh. "-So uh... you okay now? Seems like someone roughed you up earlier."

        "...Tsumiki," Gundham's condescending tone returned, scowling at her name, "...she is a remnant of despair." Gundham paused, squinting at the other. He had to trust him, did he not? He'd been faithful thus far, and there were none others he could turn to. Fine. We shall entrust one another once more. "...She attempted to see me converted to the clutches of dark despair... alongside Komaeda, seemingly, though I truly know not if he is afflicted. He reeks of madness."

        Nekomaru seemed to need a second to comprehend Gundham's statement. "Uh... so you're saying Mikan is back in despair?" His voice was still boisterous as ever, but Nekomaru at least appeared to be lowering his volume.

        Gundham gave a nod of confirmation.

        Tanaka did not fully anticipate Nekomaru's next response, for he expected some comment or urgency, or action. Instead, it was concern.

        "And she was trying to turn you into a despair!? Are you okay!?"

        Gundham blinked, seeming almost as offended by the question as he was strangely flattered. "But of course! I am in no way threatened by a mere, feeble fiend. The Supreme Overlord of Ice need not fear such puny villains!" Though he glanced away. Was this the correct way to treat concern?

        "Well, even if you think so - it seems like you need time to recharge!" Nekomaru analyzed. "I'm a manager, you know? It's my job to make sure you're in good health! Only then can I lead you to victory!"

        Gundham's expression quickly became appalled. What!? 'Lead me' to victory!? Does he attempt to incite that he'd become my manager!? "I need no guidance, bauble."

        "Gundham," Nekomaru lectured, sitting forward and leading an arm against his knee. "All roads lead to managers! If you learn to master something, you will need a manager's help!"

        Gundham scoffed lightly, dismissing the claim as something abruptly petty and foolish. Fiend. Though, for a moment, he considered it. Do I entertain his fruitless claim in virtue of gratitude...? Allowing himself a sigh, Tanaka sat himself upright again. "Fine. I need not your 'help.' Though if you so desperately yearn to manage The Forbidden One, which I suppose is only natural for a mere mortal... then very well. I shall allow such action." Closing his eyes again, Gundham thought quietly. "...What is your first course of action, then?"

        "Before we try and solve anything with Mikan," Nidai began, "we have to make sure you're in top condition, so you can give it your all! And then together we can work through this problem!"

        ...Right. Gundham merely gave a nod.

        "As I carried you over here, I realized that your muscles were very tense. It seems you haven't been keeping up a healthy lifestyle! Which is understandable, since you just woke up from your despairing past, but we're going to have to work through how unhealthy you've become! It seems like you'd need a managed diet, training, and to start taking care of your needs!"

        "...Grrr..." Gundham voiced his displeasure with being 'managed,' disliking the encroachment on his pride. "...Very well..." the Breeder sighed. "-But such matters are gradual. We need to act within the coming hours, do we not?"

        "Not necessarily," Nekomaru said, "we have to assess the situation first. You're smart! I'm sure you understand that, right?"

        Gundham muttered more complaints, but was secretly flattered by the comment. "...Indeed," he affirmed.

        "Though..." Nekomaru thought aloud, rising from his seat, "there is something we can do right now to rejuvenate your strength, and loosen your muscles! Gundham..." Nekomaru cracked his knuckles. "-I'm going to do it to you!"

        Gundham inhaled an alarmed breath, his eyes widening at the vague mention. "-My grandest apologies!? You intend to enact what-?" It? What upon the name of our Dark Sabbath does that entail?

        "It!" Nekomaru failed to elaborate. "It's easy! Just take your clothes off!"

        Take off my-!? Gundham's eye twitched. "-No. Most definitely not!" He adopted an offensive pose, raising his arms into combative positions, as if expecting to have to fight the manager off. "Remain where you are! Such rituals are to be neglected at such a dire time! Pray tell, what nonsense do you babble about!?"

        Nekomaru squinted, though sat back down. "Do you feel as strong as you were when we were in the Neo World Program?"

        Gundham blinked. I know not...? Though, assuming it was similar to how he'd felt during Hope's Peak Academy...

        The Breeder shook his head. "...Hrm... no. I suppose not." He'd felt physically weaker. Not to mention, there was a distinct disconnect from the arcana that he'd once mastered. Perhaps his condition had grown worse.

        "Well, after we tell the others about Mikan, we can start training together!" Nekomaru looked Gundham over briefly. "-I think you'd make a talented baseball player if you dedicated yourself!"

        "-But a moment," Gundham realized quietly. "-We must tread carefully about Mikan, for her intention is likely malicious, and she has the aid of he who lusts."

        Nekomaru appeared confused. "What are you saying!? We need to inform the others before she tries to hurt anyone else!"

        "..." Gundham quietly glanced away. "...She likely won't do such. If I assume correctly, she is to insist that I am a remnant, and to see me put away for my despairing nature. Thus, ensuring none suspect her. She could easily claim it was I who attacked her."

        "Why would anyone believe that you're a Remnant of Despair?" Nekomaru rested one hand upon his hip, leaning forward on his knee once again. "Can't we just tell them that you're not?"

        Gundham found silence for a longer interval this time.

        Dare he tell him?

        Dare he bestow Nekomaru that much trust?

        What other choice did he have. Fine.

        Trust was so terrifying, and yet...

        Here was faith.

        "...For it is true, Nidai..." Gundham reclined his head, gaze piercing. "...Every breath I draw is one of conflict. I yearn once more to suffer. I am a Remnant of Despair."

Chapter Text

        To evade. To bide your time and watch.

        To so elaborately commit a murder that was never meant to be gotten away with. The infinite puzzle. The final trial. To become one of those stepping stones that he who lusts to feverishly fantasized about becoming.

        To be cornered - as was your intention.

        Parade about and show your blackened hands. And laugh, and smirk, and take your well-deserved pride along to your guilt.

        It was time.

        What did he dare do in this final hour, subject to the eyes and judgements of his inferiors?

        Inferiors... Evidently not.

        But he would still have to address them so - to be true to himself.

        Ah... it was the hour of confession. To utter your truths, and care little for whatever judgements came. In fact...

        He best not die sentimental! No, perhaps none even had to know of his true intentions: sacrifice. No, no, no... he would die in his fullest, most malevolent glory! The half-breed spawn of heaven and hell - the Conqueror of Twilight! The Supreme Overlord of Ice and Forbidden One!

        Explain your morals. Utter your sins. Make sure that at least when you rest within your hellish grave, they know why you rot. They learn to value themselves, as you once did.

        For that is why you died.

        Your life for theirs.

        Lifting his head, spreading his arms and closing his eyes with a light 'kehehe,' the Breeder cocked his head. A smirk riddled his expression. "That man..." Gundham began, citing the name of his victim as he brought his hands down upon his podium, "...had the courage to die, when he needed to die." One final pledge of his morality, his mortality. The final hint of his true reasoning. "That is why he challenged me to our battle. Regardless! As I've said... I don't intend to force my values upon you fools." It was their job now, in his wake, to remember them for themselves.

        After a brief pause, the eyes of Judgement hanging on his every word, he continued.

        "I have betrayed you all. That is the absolute truth. But... even so... don't you think it's a better alternative than slowly starving to death here?"

        With that final point uttered, the Breeder closed his eyes. That was his final statement. His final utterance of truth. His final plea.

        Now it was time for his greatest spectacle of all! Cast your doubtful gazes upon me! Remember me as I die my first time...! Crown me the tyrant who has slain the man you once loved! Spit upon my grave, for I am your villain!

        That was how Gundham Tanaka would reign in history! That was all he needed now. He'd died for his beliefs and the people he cared about.

        And now, to be remembered, for his unmatched soul of darkness! As the preacher of hell. The wizard of legendary evil. That would bring him his satisfaction.

        ...Would it be easier for them that way? For her...?

        To execute the villain?

        It was time, once more, to play the villain. A role he was used to. A role he's already played so many times.

        One final dance!

        Make me your villain!

        "Just who do you think I am!?" He roared, grasping his podium and allowing his voice to dance with unbridled passion. "I am Gundham Tanaka, history's greatest monster! My cursed existence is feared by all mankind! There's no way I'd sacrifice myself for the sake of you fools!" A lie, of course, but anything to be their villain would surpass in this final moment. "Not in a million, not in a billion! Not in ten billion years!" He grinned pridefully at his proclamation, shifting quickly into his cross-armed pose. "In the name of pandemonium, it is impossible!"

        A smile upon his face, Gundham Tanaka let loose another boastful laugh.

        Oh, what a wonderful villain he played.

        One to be remembered!

        Perhaps it would be easier for them, now.

        To fulfill his earlier request. To fulfill his true intention.

        They had one, final duty: Trample me underfoot and advance!

        It was their job now to pull the black curtain on his fate-bound performance.

        Send me to hell.

Chapter Text

        It was hard to keep it within.

        Hiding and hiding again from your own terrible desires.

        The yearning to return outside the gorge the harvest. To stifle the addicting needs of despair. To finally stop feeling the withdrawal.

        And he tried. Truly, Gundham Tanaka tried to starve.

        But he couldn't stop himself.

        It became an impulsive obsession that he could not fight - the urgent need to satisfy his thriving, fiery bloodlust, if just to sate himself for a while.

        To stop the trembling urges of his shaken, frail form. 

        Perhaps every now and again he could.

        Every now and again.

        And perhaps more.

        And perhaps more.

        Until it became a necessary routine to depart from his hiding and slay.

        He could not fight it - as much as he tried.

        Perhaps it was something to wear.

        Perhaps it was something to accept and be proud of.

        Perhaps he could embrace it?

        No. He wouldn't ever give in. He would never succumb to his own selfish will.

        Even if he couldn't stop!

        Even if he felt weaker and weaker the longer he went without the blissofpain.

        Even if the withdrawals only got worse!

        Even if the idea of despair became less and less of an antagonism - and more and more of a welcome.

        A blessing. A cure to his illness of emptiness.

        Even if it was euphoric. Even if it was his only source of false happiness.

        Pain and pleasure all at once - that's what despair was.

        He could no longer feel happiness.

        He could only feel despair.

        And the bliss that came with it.

        But even then - even then...

        He would not march along to the pastel parade of madness.

        He would never become a despair.

        Even if his life was a curse - he'd already known that.

        Of course he was a curse.

        He could seal it away-

        No one would ever have to see him, unless they were ensnared by his hunt. 

        But he never strayed far from his home -- they could learn to stay away.

        And in that way he could remain true.

        Even if he couldn't fight himself, he could fight his pride. He would never become The Ultimate Despair.

        Even though the idea became more and more tempting, he would remain true!

        Not when he still had something to lose.

        Not when he still had a reason to stay true.

        Not when-

        And then, one fateful day, she finally came to his door.

        He'd been nothing more than a shaking mess upon the floor, hugging himself and holding back his yearning.

        He lifted his head drearily, his heart throbbing unhealthily inside his ribs.

        His eyes drew wider, recognizing her silhouette upon his doorstep.

         No... Causality - what have you done?

        The only woman he could not fight.

        Why, why her...? Why is she here!?

        Everything he'd been holding onto for so long crumbled into ash with one, single, fragile realization.

        ...My mother...?

Chapter Text

        "A Remnant of Despair!?" Nekomaru projected, seemingly thinking over the word a second time at Gundham's declaration.

        "...Indeed." Gundham confirmed, his voice reaching a cooler altitude as he inclined his head to stare at Nekomaru. Aggression was entirely absent from his expression. He despised his need to trust, but at least Nidai had proven his reliability once already. 

        Did he dare explain his case?

        "As of now... I don't yearn for ill. However... yes. As of recent - pain... sates me. I've recalled fragments of my despairing past in favor of whatever occurred within that program..." Gundham gave a brief 'hrm,' seemingly still deeply contemplating what he could and should reveal to the Team Manager. "...Though... perhaps it shall only grow worse with time. But I shan't be taken by despair." 

        Gundham aligned his gaze with the ceiling once more. "...I shall overcome. For now, we must seek an end to the schemes of Komaeda and Tsumuki!" 

        His dual-colored glare locked back onto Nekomaru suddenly as the Breeder began to sit up. "I know perhaps you now are wary of my actions, but I won't allow you to stand in my way, if that is your new intention!" Gundham pointed with somewhat accusatory subtext at the Team Manager, voice rigid and unbroken. Hopefully this was driving home the point: 'I won't be stopped by you, or anyone.' Or even himself.

        Nekomaru held up a hand. "Hey! Lie back down." His voice was abrupt, almost dismissive.

        That certainly caught the Breeder by surprise. "-Wh-!? What did you say!?" What was all this?

        "Lie back down," Nekomaru insisted, voice still dominating the room with its impressive volume, but the tone was softer. "You need rest if we're going to train later."

        "...Train... later...?" Gundham blinked, seemingly having a minor difficulty processing the information. He'd just confessed his sins, his desire to harm and be harmed, and yet - Nekomaru couldn't divert his mindset from training!? "What 'training,' fiend? There is nothing to train - we must act, or we shall die!"

        As soon as Gundham spoke the words, he felt a heavy feeling settle in his chest. His edged aura, his shaken form. His scattered mindset, that he was still struggling in vain to repair. 

        Was what he'd said even like him? Wasn't his policy, too, to never give in to the trials of life? I am not succumbing - I am merely being wise. And that wasn't untrue.

        Nekomaru leaned back, cracking his knuckles again as crimson lightning sizzled from his equally scarlet eyes. "Training! You just admitted that you felt your weaker! That your uh - magic wasn't as strong as it was before! That's what you implied, right? And your arms have been stuck in that jacket for years! We can't just throw you back out there without practice! That's asking for a losing game! The job of a Team Manager is to make sure that his athletes are ready before you throw them into a game. So! Now that I'm your manager..." Nekomaru leaned forward on his knee again, propping up his other arm on his thigh. "I'm going to train you to be on the top of your game!"

        Gundham blinked, his eyes drawing wider in the shock at Nekomaru's statement. His help? He wanted to train him? Was this an insult? Was this some kind of display of superiority? Or - genuine?

        No! It could not be genuine! That was impossible! This was some devil's snare, some encroaching omen of death!

        "No. For what reason do you have to trust me? How can I be certain this isn't some devilry under honeyed words!?" Gundham insisted, though found himself lying back down, as was Nekomaru's will.

        "Sheesh, it isn't anything like that! It's just my job as your manager!" Nekomaru sat back again, exhaling an audible sigh. "Listen. It's like I said before. I don't want to be your enemy! I don't think we've ever been enemies, but I'm not sure you've ever considered me a friend either." He stood, looking down at the Breeder confined to the bed. "It doesn't matter whether or not you want to consider me yours, but I will not finish until you're well-trained, healthy and ready to take on the competition! And until that time, I will be your manager! Do you accept that contract?"

        Gundham's head reclined slightly, squinting at Nidai. Then, closing his eyes, he finally considered the words.

        They'd killed one another once. But now...

        Could they help one another?

        While his pride denied it, Gundham knew that he was indeed weakened by his years of despair. His arcana was harder to reach, he lacked strength. Could he trust Nekomaru with that?

        "...Fine," Gundham admitted feebly, going over the words in his head a second time. "Kehehe... So you will count me as a mere pawn on your chessboard. A mere apprentice to your will? That arrogance amuses me!" Gundham's smile grew, slowly coming into acceptance over the alliance.

        This could work. As much as he despised trust, it would have to work! "Very amusing, Nekomaru! I shall leave my fate to you for now!"

        Ignoring earlier instructions, Gundham sat up, a wicked and excited grin spreading across his face. Causality, I take your impervious reigns! "Listen well! I accept your pact. As of now, we can be allies! The Tanaka Empire beckons you fourth... for together - we shall save this pitiful world! Fuhahahahahaha!"

        The alliance was complete. The end of days was already approaching.

        Gundham knew he had no other choice. So what was there left to do, but accept it in full?

        And just like that, Nekomaru became Gundham's manager.

        Sealed in destiny, sealed in the fate of the world, the singularity was finally found.

        And the pact was finally formed.

        Together, perhaps, they could prevent the demise of the world.

        If only.

        The odds opposed them, but perhaps - with Causality's will...

        With 'his' watchful eye...

        With undying hope...

        They could cleanse this feeble realm in the name of their own, unshattered wills to live.

Chapter Text

        This very moment reminded Gundham of another memory - one that persisted in his mind, uncleaned by the program. Through the brambles and thorns and wretched maws of the despairing years, there was a memory.

        Before despair had overcome them all - before they could be turned - there was a moment.

        Gundham could watch the sky darkening, feeling the crevice within his soul that held home to his care for the others grow stronger. They were all in danger now. Imminent despair, coming to swallow them whole. 

        They were gathered outside. Not all were well - some classmates having sustained injuries and blows and emotional distresses.

        Together, it was time.

        The Reserve Course students had already begun to storm - rallied under a banner of despair - perhaps jealousy - perhaps a lot of things, for Tanaka could never know what truly drove humans to kill one another aside from selfish need.

        He'd never had belief in humans. But he had belief in them... his classmates.

        As he watched the scarlet parade storming from his hidden location, he turned briefly. The time had finally come to unseal his powers.

        He'd practiced the ritual and magical arts for so long - and now was finally his chance to use that power to spare the lives of his friends. Even if it took his life.

        But he didn't intend to die today.

        However - he had not been the only one to volunteer to fight off the slowly gaining members of the Reserve Course. There was one more.

        An able ally, he supposed. He wished perhaps they'd talked more, but Gundham's respect did not grow from words, but actions.

        The dark wizard would be accompanied by none other than Nekomaru Nidai, the Team Manager.

        There were goodbyes to their fellow classmates, although they had been brief. 

        They had no time to dawdle on the existence of danger. They had both chosen to fight for the rest of them.

        And, if they had to, they would die.

        But there was reason for the brief goodbyes, for Gundham could tell they both knew.

        They didn't intend to die today.

        Stalking upon the familiar grounds of his school, Gundham breathed in the reality of the dark despair drawing closer. The spores of the fallen, already having infected the Reserve Course.

        Those students intended to see them die. Ha! Gundham would not fall at the hands of mere mortals.

        And...

        He allowed his gaze to travel askance, landing on his partner. Nekomaru... He respected him from a distance. As much respect as a fiend could gain, anyways.

        Gundham had intended to divert his gaze again, but it was silently returned by the Team Manager, so it held.

        They were marching, two proud soldiers, to almost certain demise. But they would not die.

        The very thought rose a smirk to Gundham's lips, as he breathed out a brief 'kehehe.'

        "...Well met, Nekomaru," he pronounced, dipping his head once. There was no need to be impolite or prideful towards someone who shared your side of the battlefield, who shared a common cause.

        To think how far I've come... allowing my own life to be put at stake for theirs... how unlike me. Are my mental defenses growing weaker!? But he'd chosen, and he didn't have time to consider trivial things like that anymore.

        For he already knew why.

        Care. So simple. So complex, so difficult. And yet, it was his motive. Their motive.

        "Good to see you, Gundham!" Nekomaru confirmed, riling another, more genuine smile out of the Breeder.

        "...Fate awaits with bated breath. I suppose now is the hour of dire consequence! Let us never fail! Steadfast, companion!"

        Gundham grinned, giving a delighted 'kehehe' as he posed. Adorning his shoulders, his arms, the pockets of his coat, was his most trusted army -- The Zodiac Generals! Hamsters of all shapes and sizes.

        They were loyal. They'd remain at his side - just as he'd remain at theirs. And, Tanaka supposed, that extended to Nekomaru now, for as long as this battle held out.

        "This scorching, stinging, tense atmosphere..." Nekomaru gave an excited 'gahaha.'

        It seemed both parties were prepared for this fatalistic showdown. Nekomaru's voice was boisterous, as always. "I've been a team manager for so long, I'd nearly forgotten this... This is great! What a comforting atmosphere!"

        Gundham's smile persisted as he gazed out at the approaching death parade. They wanted nothing more then to tear the two interlopers limb from limb, was that right?

        But neither would let that happen.

        If they were the only thing standing between certain death and their class, then they would never stand down.

        "...Hm. That's a good line."

        Gundham didn't realize then, but he realized now, how often their paths seemed to cross in this exact manner.

        Their lives, for the others'.

        It was high time that they'd made their pact.

        "Our saga does not end yet!" Gundham had punctuated, adopting a combative pose accentuated in dramatics. "My name is Gundham Tanaka! And together, we shall rain pandemonium upon those in our path! Come then, Nekomaru, what do you say to my terms!?"

        Nekomaru seemed to be adopting his own offensive stance. "Sounds good!"

        And pandemonium, indeed.

        Again and again there would be pandemonium upon them.

        And it seemed, as destiny had shown time and time again, they would face these times together.

        Standing there, two against an army, Gundham's smile still persisted.

        Fighting to the death for the lives of their classmates.

        But not against one another -- with one another.

        And if it was only their own wills keeping them alive, then they would be immortal.

Chapter Text

        She cried.
        
        He couldn't be stoic after he broke himself.

        She was always so different from them.

        So why did she love him?

        A foolish choice.

        One she'd take to the grave.

Chapter Text

  He trembled, broken by no one but himself.
        Oh Gods...
        She was all over his hands.
        All over the walls.
        All over the floor.
        All over everything — oh Gods.
        He couldn't speak.
        He couldn't breathe, or even choke, just suffocate and die.
        He was so happy. So much euphoric terrible disaster.
        He wanted to die.
        He wanted to be sick and empty himself.
        Perhaps he had already, he couldn't remember.
        He could only lie on the ground, curled up, hands clutching feverishly at his temples. Tearing out his hair. Wheezing terrified, joyful screams without sound. Just heavy, meaningless, starving air.
        Just shaky, frightened breaths.
        Finally, he choked, and the sound spilled from his mouth. A deranged, scared sob.
        This was the best moment of his entire life, and all at once he couldn't keep from crying.
        He made no effort to stifle it.
        Oh Gods, oh Gods, oh Gods what had he done? What had he done? Go back in time, erase yourself, erase yourself and not her. Why, why, why, why, why why why whywhywhywhywhywhywhywhyw-
        
He was in euphoric rapture, his smile wide and confused, chuffing out joyous laughter along to his agonizing sobs.
        Her death was so beautiful, so terrible.
        He'd never despised himself more in that moment.
        His hands moved - clutching his throat, squeezing it. Just stop. Just perish. Just stop just perish what have you done!?
        He could feel her blood against his throat, his eyes wide and distant.
        He didn't know how he'd ever stop crying after what he did. He couldn't even think about it - he dared not think about it.
        His movements only made his sobs more strangled, but it didn't stop his pain.
        Each second, his life fleeted from him, and came back. Hollow, empty happiness. Like a drug.
        The rush of a drug, that accompanied his deepest, most terrible sin.
        He was the happiest man in the entire world, and he wanted nothing more than to die, and suffer in hell.
        He wheezed out another weak, broken sob, collapsing into himself. Finally, he breathed, but his air squeaked in helpless agony.
        Gundham Tanaka had murdered her.
        He could only hug himself and pray that he'd die, because if he didn't, he didn't know what would happen to him.
        He didn't know what he'd become.
        Never again. Never again. Never again. Never again.
        He didn't know what he'd do with himself.
        Perhaps he was dead.
        How could he be alive after committing that sin?
        
I'm so sorry. Apologies, atonement, nothing would suffice.
        He hadn't even meant to. He hadn't meant to harm her. He'd tried to tell her off - at first.
        He'd tried to beg her to stay away.
        He'd tried to send her back out.
        But the moment she hugged him...
        Oh Gods.
        
That was the second that Gundham Tanaka lost himself.
        That was the second that would haunt Gundham Tanaka's every living moment from then on.
        He had broken.
        He was broken.
        The only glimmer of hope in his life.
        The only person who he'd ever cared for.
        An angel, whose blood stained his hands.
        And there, frozen in a fetal position, suffocating on his own terrible joy and wonderful agony, wishing he never existed, was the lonely, pitiful Tanaka. 
        And, perhaps, what he despised most of all...
        …He couldn't stop smiling.

Chapter Text

        The Servant continued to observe, more and more memories collecting in his head.

        Despair... so terrible. Such terrible despair!

        And from their despair, hope arose. Ah... the very thought caused his heart to quicken in his chest, his living hand to shake and grasp at his collar, his face to sweat, his breath to pant.

        Despair, into hope, into despair, into hope.

        He was a humble hopeful servant. Perhaps if he'd failed to remember, he'd celebrate the newfound hope, and work to purge the disgusting despair finding its way into Mikan Tsumiki.

        But the Servant knew that a good slave's work was never done.

        For there was a delicate balance between hope and despair. Hope could only go so long without despair. Look at them now. Directly out of despair, and hope was shining through.

        But if he allowed it to persist, the feeling would wear out, die down, and diminish into nothing.

        No... what kept hope alive was the feeling of dwindling despair, and the overcoming of it.

        The world was in a beautiful place. The world grasped at him and shook him and rallied for hope and overcoming. He'd die for that.

        Here they were, rightfully stuck on an island. Closely monitored by that Future Foundation. Awaiting trial. At best, they'd remain there forever. With no future. With no life. Just existing, marooned, under the eye of hope, to atone for their countless sins.

        At worst, ah, well... they'd all be executed. Put down like the filthy animals they were. The harbingers of despair, euthanized and laid to rest. The thought of a death in the name of hope make the Servant queasy with joy.

        And all they had to do was sit back and wait for Makoto Naegi to save them. Oh, God... Makoto Naegi was his God.

        As much as the idea of eternal sedation drew the Servant in, to dream of hope and despair forever in the grave, all in the name of a better future... he couldn't have faith in it. The very idea of that life rattled his soul with ecstasy. Despair. And hope! Both lovely compounds in one. He would die before he was given his antidote, trembling with joy.

        He knew, in the hands of Makoto Naegi, he would never die. Makoto Naegi would represent them all - Makoto Naegi, with his powerful, dominant voice of truth, would set them free. Would give them the life they didn't deserve. They were all his pitiful servants.

        Just thinking about him made the Servant's heart beat stronger, faster, more scattered, frayed, longing, yearning. If one day he even saw him, he'd be on his knees in immediate submission, as he once had been to-

        The Servant glanced down at his mittened hand, smiling bitterly at it. Underneath that mitten was a hand so ugly, so disgusting, so blasphemous, so ruthlessly revolting that it brought happiness into his heart. Her hand.

        The Servant had so many strings to pull now. He had to disrupt despair, in the name of hope. Disrupt hope, in the name of despair. Balance the scale, so it could tilt back to hope. Continue the cycle, and immortalize hope.

        Gundham Tanaka... the man who'd escaped. A catalyst for something. He was turning - drawing the attention away from Mikan. She'd hide, and bide her time, and lash out in despair. She wanted to live for Junko Enoshima.

        Absolutely disgusting. Nagito would be there to assist in any way he could. He would aid pitiful vermin like her. A disgusting remnant like her. Like him. Like them all.

        And what would Gundham do? Would he enable her to hide? Her to strike?

        A man with so much beautiful potential.

        The Servant was excited to watch. Despair was on the rise. And consequently... hope to rise.

        Behind it all, there he was. He never wanted to be the one in control. That was never his will.

        He only wanted to be controlled... the will of a servant.

        But again and again he found himself behind the wheel. And he'd accept, if he had to.

        He could pull the strings. He could even the odds. He could do it all behind his black curtain.

        Hide the magic show at play, make it seem real.

        It was dangerous to give a slave so much power.

        But he'd have a wonderful time playing with their lives.

        Oh... how he loved hope.

Chapter Text

        "So we are under the Eye of Judgement, then?"

        Gundham did not look up, focused on completing Nekomaru's trivial assignment, without complaints this time.

        "Uh... do you mean the Future Foundation?" Nekomaru asked, "because if so, then yes! They've been watching us. 'Cause we're Remnants. Uh... we're supposed to stay until they decide what to do with us. At best, they'll let us live on this island just like we are."

        Gundham gave a brief 'tch', evidently displeased as he performed the repetitive act of 'push-ups' again. As he had been for the past three and a half hours. "That is our most favorable outcome?" Gundham exhaled a tired sigh, carefully performing the exercise as to keep his stacked hamsters balanced upon his shoulders.

        They shouted their encouragements, and for that, he was appreciative. 

        "Is that not a rather pathetic fate? To be condemned to an island? For crimes that you fail to remember?"

        "Well, it's better than the alternative," Nekomaru insisted, resting his hands on his hips. "Now up! Jog in place!"

        Gundham exhaled in exasperation, taking a moment to come to his knees and take in tired breaths. He'd been 'honing his skill' for so long, and yet, all he felt was weaker. He understood that this was a gradual process, but still. "How in the realms is this folly to help me regain my arcana? Should we not meditate and practice instead?"

        "First, you have to regain your muscle strength! A healthy mind and a healthy body are important in all aspects of the health triangle! No matter what, basic physical fitness always comes first! In any situation, you'll need muscles to survive! So long as your armored with muscles, you won't die so easily!"

        Pathetic 'health triangle'... Gundham had heard enough about the food pyramid and health triangle and other unholy shapes to last for upcoming eons. And although the comment about muscles was somewhat true... "You must allow me to practice! I shan't regain my limitless power if I am forbade from my practice!" With the back of his hand, Gundham wiped a collection of sweat from his absent brow.

        "Here. Finish the work-out, and you can show me how you get stronger after you're rested! Okay?"

        "...Fine..." Tanaka rose to his feet, gently letting his hamsters clamber off his shoulders before obeying the earlier instructions with proud reluctance. Jog in place.

        He tried his very hardest to perform to perfection, but the Breeder, used to years of neglected health, felt nearly on the verge of collapse.

        At least jogging came more easily. Despairs walked everywhere.

        "How much longer must we 'train?'" The Breeder inquired.

        "Uh... well you're only a beginner," Nekomaru admitted, "so - maybe another ten hours, and we can call it quits!"

        Gundham abruptly stopped jogging. He knew strength took practice, but this was obscene! This defied the natural order! "Ten hours?" 

        "Yeah! Well, I think we can manage. You're already pretty tired, huh? That's because I haven't done 'it' yet. Here, Gundham, go ahead and lie down!"

        Gundham glanced wearily at the bed, then back at the Team Manager. Normally he would decline, for it was hard to trust others. But - he supposed he'd already made a pact with Nekomaru, and Nekomaru had yet to betray him, if he'd truly willed it.

        Besides, this offered the Breeder his desired chance to meditate. I shall be rejuvenated!

        Scooping up all four Devas, Gundham wandered back to the bed and had a seat, allowing his eyes to close. He could feel his hamsters wriggling about in his arms, but that only brought him solace. Perhaps he could find peace, and clear his mind-

        "Alright, Gundham! Get naked."

        Gundham tensed up, eyes immediately shooting open. Had - had he heard Nekomaru right? "I - I beg of you your pardon?"

        "I'm going to do 'it' to you!" Nekomaru declared, cracking his knuckles excitedly, "just lie down right there! It's a great way to get fired up, and it'll help you complete your assignment!"

        Gundham's expression became somewhat distressed, and he lifted his hands defensively, to protect from whatever Nekomaru's intentions were. "I shall not be given whatever practice you imply! My garments are to remain upon me at all times! I have no interest in practices of the flesh, fool." Gundham felt his face heat up out of embarrassment, covering his face with the back of his hand. 

        This was uncomfortable. Did Nekomaru truly-!?

        "Huh?" Nekomaru seemed confused by the accusation. "Have you never gotten a massage before?"

        "A ma-" Oh. Gundham's expression neutralized from its state of distress, lowering his hand from his face. He almost seemed upset by how anti-climactic it was. "'It' is nothing more than a massage...?"

        "Yeah!" Nekomaru enthused, "my special weapon is... these fingers. With the tips of these fingers, I can instantly relax tense muscles and promote maximum blood circulation! I can push out intravenous toxins like a waterfall, and restore fatigue in an instant. As long as they're in my hands... each of my athletes can continue with their training and competitions..." There's a dramatic pause, as if he wants Gundham to fill in the blank. "That's right! Even until they die!
This is 'it'! Truly, this original massage technique is my ultimate weapon!"

        Ultimate weapon...? Gundham paused. "Hmph... a multitude of good lines..." He applauded the monologue, though withdrew his posture.

        It was still - uncomfortable. But he was glad he understood that Nekomaru hadn't meant - that. "...Though I'm afraid it is my choice, instead, to decline. I must meditate." He nodded Nekomaru away dismissively, scooting back onto the bed to adopt his meditative posture and close his eyes.

        "Oh, well. Okay. Maybe next time we train, you'll let me! That way, you can achieve your maximum potential!"

        "..." Gundham thought quietly, drawing open an eye to watch the Team Manager for a moment. Hm... that much power...? Would it be possible to hone my practice better with such an attribute? Would I be able to regain my strength? We've not much time... Who knows what limitless power I could possess...

        But he knew far too well that to be unclothed was to be vulnerable. It was likely some kind of trap.

        "...Nekomaru...?" Gundham spoke slowly, voice still hushed from fatigue.

        "Yeah?" The coach turned back around. "What is it?"

        "...Thank you for your offer." He closed his eyes again, proceeding to block out the world.

        "Of course! No problem at all."

        Afterwards, silence reigned for a brief period of time. Gundham focused his spirit, trying to re-establish his connection with the natural world. He was so close... but he'd been severed. He just had to make that connection again...

        "...Hey, Gundham?" Nekomaru asked from across the cabin, causing the Breeder to glance up from his semi-conscious state.

        "Hm?" He offered as indulgence.

        "I was... wondering..." Nekomaru scratched his cheek. "Could I ask what you remember? You remember everything that happened, right?"

        Gundham from up, giving a slow nod. "Not all... but some." He'd been hiding from the truth for as long as he could. He's forced himself to box up any memories he remembered, for they only brought him closer to despair. "Though I've tried to ignore what comes."

        "Alright. That's fair, then I won't press." Nekomaru resumed doing whatever it was that he'd been doing before as Gundham returned to the silence.

        ...How long can I hold on? One memory pressed at the back of his mind, refusing to be ignored. Now that he'd brought it up, it almost wedged its way into his psyche.

        He had to remember. What could be so important?

        Gundham pressed his palms together, rigidly exhaling, attempting to clear the idea from his mind. Resist, resist, secede! 

        A memory that threatened to wound him. A memory that intended to wreck havoc upon him.

        Suppress! Resist! Balance!

        Gundham fought a silent battle not to remember.

        A battle he'd won before.

        But he could not suppress forever.

        With a gasp, Gundham Tanaka remembered.

        Her.

Chapter Text

        All the pieces fell back into place, before locking themselves into position.

        Suddenly Gundham's hands could only tremble, his words spilling from his mouth in hoarse fumbles. Blood, blood, blood, blood oh Gods magenta all over the walls.

        Breath suddenly hitching, Gundham tensed. What could he do? Where was he? How could he have - no, no, no...

        He had to suppress that memory, somehow. How could he forget something like that?

        Clutching his temples, Gundham muttered a stifled, pained sound. He - he couldn't stop shaking. Oh Gods, he was shaking and he couldn't stop.

        If only he hadn't remembered - this was the breaking point, wasn't it? I will not become despairing again! Upon my Empire! The Breeder clenched his teeth, holding back sudden tears.

        It was all happening again. He couldn't stop, oh Gods-

        And there was a hand on his shoulder. He jumped, but he was displaced momentarily from his despairful trance. "--Nidai?" 

        It was, indeed, Nidai, a concerned look upon his face. "Hey, what's wrong?"

        "N-None of your concern - nothing of interest to the likes of you! Nothing at all!" Gundham's voice shook despite powerful delivery. His hands were still shaking. This was shameful. Displaying such weakness was so damn shameful. He could almost see it again - he could almost see...

        "Gundham, you're gonna have to snap out of it! Do you understand me? Whatever you're seeing - that's in the past! That's not you anymore! It never was."

        How did he-? Gundham finally met Nekomaru's steady gaze with his frantic one. "Y-You're unknowing! Blas-Blasphemy! Silence! You - You know nothing! I don't suffer! I don't suffer at all!" Gundham felt tears begin to spill from his eyes. How? He hadn't even noticed, until they began running slowly into his gaped mouth. That just made him appear even more pathetic-! He had to catch his lost breath somehow.

        "C'mere," stated Nekomaru, drawing Gundham closer to him, before pulling him against his chest in a hug.

        "Hh!" Gundham exhaled rigidly, eyes widening at the contact. He was trapped! He had to free himself, somehow. If he fought back-

        "Gundham, come on. Meditate or something - that helps calm you, right? Everything's alright. Despair is over now."

        Gundham exhaled a weak sob, cursing his own pathetic vulnerabilities. He felt a strange flutter of joy in his heart, which he was quick to ignore. ...Meditate? He - that... that was a good idea. He could try, couldn't he? It would be hard to try clearing his mind in a state such as this, but he could begin by balancing his breaths.

        So the Breeder quickly closed his eyes, inhaling and exhaling at a slower pace than before. He had to focus upon that - not her. She was already dead. He had already known, hadn't he? He just had to find serenity again.                                                                              

        He could not develop a cycle, for his heart was hammering too fervently against his ribs. Perhaps - he could mimic Nidai's breaths? His were slow enough.

        Gundham closed his eyes. Listening to Nekomaru's, Gundham quietly balanced his breaths. That was already aiding him to find calm. Sniffling, he wiped briefly at his eyes with the back of his hand, only serving to further smear his eyeliner.

        "Sorry if I made you remember something," Nekomaru mustered, seemingly able to lower the volume of his voice for once. "But listen - whatever it is... you don't have to be that any more! You're not that any more! Even if you think it's coming back, we can focus, and train! And we can prevent it from ever happening again!"

        "I've... done something terrible..." Gundham murmured, eyes fluttering closed. He gave up any attempts to fight the hug.

        "Hey... haven't we all at this point?" Nekomaru attempted to rationalize, voice growing wistful for a moment. "Besides! This is your chance! Don't be defeated already! Together, we can make sure despair stops spreading! You're strong, Gundham. I know you don't remember killing me, but you were a really strong opponent. Strong enough to beat me! Gahaha... if anyone can overcome sickness like that, it's someone powerful, like you!"

        Gundham paused, glancing up, using a hand to shelter his face from view. He did not want to display his tears.

        "...You speak from experience..." Gundham observed, voice reaching a hush, "I can feel it within your soul."

        "..." Nekomaru's smile shifted into something more withdrawn. "Well, that's another story. One for later, probably. You need rest before anything! And starting tomorrow, we can make sure you're feeling better, and then work to fix this!" The Team Manager took a moment to observe. "-And hey. There's no shame in crying. Even the most powerful athletes cry sometimes."

        Gundham, although no longer shaking, still couldn't detach the memory from his mind. It was still... there. Ghostly, haunting him, mocking his stupidity and selfish greed. Mocking his past self's inability to stop his bloodlust.

        "...I shan't sleep. For surely, night terrors shall consume me. I do not wish to be further turned." Gundham admitted. "...Meditation shall suffice. I shall pray for atonement, and then I shall pray for forgiveness."

        "Well, hey. If you don't want to sleep, there's always something to do," Nekomaru brought up. "It's dark - and everyone else is already asleep. You need to get your head out of the past. Come on! Let's go for a walk."

        "A... walk?" Gundham said the word almost angrily. How was he to walk, he'd already exhausted all his strength performing exercises. However... Gundham was not a defeatist. Not even now, running from the bleakest memory he'd ever known.

        Was this a symbolic offer? Sit and suffer at your own insolence, or stand and face the present?

        "..." Gundham nodded gravely. "I accept."

        His limbs still felt out of control.

        His breath was calmer now, but still felt on the bridge of collapsing again.

        Despairing urges still wracked his mind, his nerves, his impulses. He still fought the urge to inflict harm upon someone, or to delve into the memory he'd unearthed.

        But he would not be bested, not if he could help it.

        I, Gundham Tanaka... am becoming a Despair.

        That was a truth.

        ...However. I shan't succumb. A familiar promise, but he had more leverage this time around.

        Another promise occurred to him, and he made it without thinking.

        I'll die before I turn to despair again.

        Nekomaru was right. He was powerful, and he would fight until his very last to atone for his ills. It was his duty now to save this pitiful world from its despair.

        And now, he promised, he would devote his very last breath to preserving that outcome. In her name, I shall rise above!

        He had to aid this world, before he was eaten alive by his own, self-destructive need.

        It was drawing closer.

Chapter Text

        Crawling, feebly, on hands and knees. He didn't deserve to stand and walk tall after what he'd done - even if he felt the will.
        Still chuffing out feeble sobs, Gundham made his way slowly to the closet.
        Never again. He would never do this again. Yet another promise I'll fail to keep.
        No... that had been it. Finally, the great and powerful Overlord of Ice had caved to the will of despair. He had nothing more to lose. Did he intend to die?
        How could he, when his life was so joyous?
        There was a choice - a choice he'd been putting off for far too long. Certainly, the others had all succumb by now. It was his turn to become one of them.
        To become The Ultimate Despair.
        To take despair, make it your identity, wear it like a fashion.
        He wanted to resist - but could he anymore?
        Even after something like that, his uneasy sickness only squelched into addiction. Absolute, bitter joy. He had to gorge. He had to find more.
        Surely the others by now were already lost to their own mind. Surely the others, by now, had chosen to embrace what they could not fight.
        I must - I must stop myself... But that need became stronger than he did.
        What if - he joined the parade? What if he met with his old friends again? What if he could always feel this much joy?
        No...! He had to. Stop this, Tanaka! Just get up, stand up, embrace what you've become.
        The idea became more and more tempting.
        If he couldn't stop himself - he'd been trying for months already. Is this my fate? To resign to his role as the world's more terrible villain?
        He'd always been a cursed being.
        He'd always been a villain.
        Why not carry out the life Causality had handed him on a platter?
        Never again...
        As blissful as the slaughter of loved ones was, even that pain broke something in his soul. I never want to feel that euphoria again.
        Perhaps there was a compromise.
        
        Finally, the Breeder stood, throwing open the closet with shaken power.
        His wild eyes scanned up, down, across, through all of the jackets.
        The urge to give in to his own desires only grew. He'd never felt so happy before - he could do it again and again.
        At the exact same moment, never again he wanted nothing more than to restrain himself, end himself if he had to, anything to stop the devilspawn true form he was embracing. He never wanted to hurt those he cared about again.
        But that bliss... it would bring that bliss.
        I shall make a wonderous despair! I am a being of malevolence... I am a curse! My fate lead me here... I am the villain. Make me the villain...
        So much raw, terrible potential. He would devastate this world greater than any disaster before. Someone to be proud of!
        Never, ever, had he been given love from anyone aside from her. So instill them with fear! The devils deserve to feel fear... they deserve to feed my bottomless despair!
        He reached out, snagging a fur coat from one of the hangers. The most restrictive one he owned. Faux. Of course. But tight, restraining.

        Hands still caked in dried magenta, the Breeder was quick to discard his jacket, his overshirt, in favor of the larger coat.
        Tighter.
        Button by button, zipper by zipper, tighter and tighter still.
        Maybe he would never move again. Maybe he could sever his own ability to battle! Such despair... Maybe he could sever his own ability to cast the arcana he'd been practicing for so many years. Such devastation... Maybe, that way, he could neglect to give his animals the attention they yearned for. Just the thought... made him smile.

        Perhaps... perhaps... the truest reason of all.

        He dug through the closet again, collecting belts.

        If I am restrained... never again will I be able to do that again. Never again will blood coat my hands. Never again will I lose myself to that need.        
        A compromise indeed. He would be a despair.
        Make people hate him - even though, truly, he never wanted to be hated.
        Lose himself, lose his honor, his pride and his beliefs.
        Abuse those he cared about - the animals, the only ones he had left, truly. I shall turn them into my weapons.
        Aside from his companions, who often helped him care for his animals. Unless I've slaughtered them already. If not, perhaps he would. Just to feel the rush.
        Without that rush, there was only pitiful, chasmic emptiness. Everything at once, or nothing at all.

        Belt, after belt, after belt, after belt. Across his arms, over his shoulder, over his legs, cross-crossed and doubled, tripled over each other. He would never move his arms again.

        I shan't ever make that mistake again.

        Even after all that, as Gundham cast a wary glance around his house at the terrified animals that hid themselves from him.
        ...I shall never harm you.
        Neglect was one thing.
        But if he truly was losing himself, the thought of which already driving him with desire, he would keep one promise.
        Never, ever again, shall I harm those I love.

        And perhaps he could keep it this time.

        He had to stand against the wall, the door still open. She still lay in a heap in his doorway. But beyond her... the world.
        "...Who shall accompany the Overlord of Despair...?" Finally, his words were rich with cool, collected dramaticism again. A small, confused sadistic smile riddling his expression.
        None came to him.
        "Come now... don't be cowards. We've a whole world, that awaits us with bated breath..."
        Finally, the first animal to greet him, a large snake. She slithered slowly from underneath the couch, hesitant, but determined.
        Wordlessly, Gundham watched her entwine herself around his body, forming a coil around his shoulders.

        ...And he smiled.

        Slowly, the others began to seep from their hiding places, pledging their allegiance to the Ultimate Despair, Gundham Tanaka.

        Finally, inhaling a sharp breath, he closed his eyes. He didn't need to see the world as he conquered it. Instead, his imagination would take a role.
        Not a permanent blindness, of course. But - perhaps he didn't want to see her as he left his doorway. Perhaps - for a moment, he didn't want to envision a world in her absence.
        He could imagine that one, last time, before he finally gave himself over to the will of despair.

        Gundham inhaled, feeling himself suddenly trembling. One last, defiant urge to change his mind. And yet, the door awaited his exit.

        This was his last chance to hide again. Would he take it...?

        ...It's too late to pray for a change of fate. And that apathy was what killed Gundham Tanaka, and bore The Ultimate Despair.

        Without a moment's hesitation, he walked outside.

Chapter Text

        Gundham was no coward, so upon Nekomaru's promise of a vacant exterior to the cabin, the Breeder peeked tentatively outside.

        Indeed, not a soul was awake. At least, none apparent to him.

        The embrace of cold, tropical night breeze nibbled at his bare skin, causing Tanaka to withdraw his hand with a hasty exhale.

        Nekomaru blinked, giving a glance over. "Hey - are you cold?"

        "I am fine," Gundham insisted quietly, resting his hand upon the frigid doorknob once more to tug the door open.

        Hit abruptly with a wave of chilled air, Gundham did his best to prevent an allusion to the discomfort he felt. This is merely nature... I can embrace nature in all forms, can I not...?

        The Breeder was more used to being thickly layered in coats, admittedly. But he would not complain. He would simply brave the--

        Gundham felt a weight adorn his shoulders. He glanced down, noting that Nekomaru's white coat now decorated his form. Has Nidai given me his...?

        Gundham, absent-mindedly tugging the white coat closer over his shoulders, glanced back up at the Team Manager.

        Sure enough, Nekomaru was giving a big grin, and a somewhat boisterous laugh, with some withdraw of volume due to the time of night. "You were cold! So I'll let you borrow my jacket!"

        Gundham glanced down briefly. Hrm. He rather liked the cut, remembering that earlier he had taken an admiration to how it followed the form through every step, and how the tails trailed like a malevolent cape. And yet - it's white... Gundham was a goth, and this jacket in no way complimented his dark aesthetic standard. "I am fine," he deduced briefly. It complimented his pride to brave the cold alone. And besides, this jacket was the property of Nekomaru, so it was he who should utilize it. Gundham didn’t need help - or want it.

        "Nonsense!" Nekomaru insisted, "just wear it until we can get your other one back! It's a little big, I know, but it'll work just fine! Come on!" Without waiting for a reply, Nekomaru began to walk onward, appearing somewhat aimless.

        'A little big' was some understatement. Gundham was swimming in this coat. But, with a brief sigh, he pulled the garment closer, closed the cabin door behind him, and dutifully followed Nekomaru.

        The Breeder moved at a hurried pace. Due to the color of the coat, he stuck out terribly in the shield of darkness that would normally have shrouded him. Ghh... Gundham usually embraced these midnight colors. And yet, he was unable to now. It did not help that Nekomaru's efforts to lower his voice were moderate at best.

        When they had safely evaded the row of cabins, Gundham exhaled a brief sigh, glancing wearily around. He was still fatigued from his previous work-out, but once more, he dared not complain. "To what location is it your intention to go...?" Gundham asked quietly, eyes moving up, gradually, to Nekomaru's face.

        "The beach, probably!" Nekomaru rested one hand on his hip, scratching his face in brief thought. "Hm. Gundham! Now that I've started training you, lend me your body!"

        "I-!?" This again!? But before the Breeder could argue, Nekomaru was already beginning to pat down his lank frame. 

        Being touched was an oddity Gundham rather disliked. It was miraculous that all this time, Nekomaru had failed to succumb to the natural poison that infiltrated Tanaka's blood. Why is that...? His only defense existed within the newly obtained coat, which Nidai seemed to easily pat around. "Stop that this instant, wretch!" Gundham quickly pulled away from Nidai's probing hands. "Just what is it that you're doing? Have you no caution? Have to no decency?"

        It was strange, though. His discomfort brought a strange smile to his face. More.

        But just then, Nekomaru drew away.

        "Hm... Just as I thought, I wasn't wrong." Nekomaru declared, standing back with a grin. "You... will become an amazing athlete if you train yourself! But we knew that already, right? Gahaha!" And he was laughing again. "I just wanted to see it for myself! Come on - we're almost to the beach!"

        And just as quickly as he'd stopped, Nekomaru continued onward again.

        ...How strange... Gundham had trouble keeping up with the coach's devilry, but he followed, nonetheless, due to his promise of a midnight footslog. Tch. Gundham only wished he'd stopped being so abruptly touched.

        Does he require an exorcism of some kind...? It was almost astounding how impervious to Gundham's poison he was. Admittedly fascinating. However, Tanaka would willingly string along, for he believed in the pact he had formed. Such a thing made him wonder.

        Why has one such as Nidai refined himself to the art of assisting others, when, evidently, it is he who would so easily surpass in the field of athletics?

        Persisting at a brisk walk, the Breeder briefly gained on the Team Manager again, stride holding purpose. "-Nekomaru. Let me ask... why is it that you confide yourself to the role of a mere Team Manager?"

        At the question, the crimson lightning surrounding Nekomaru's eyes sizzled slightly, causing the coach to glance over. 

        At first Gundham was uncertain he hadn't offended him, but to his surprise, he recognized an immediate smile upon Nekomaru's face.

        "A long time ago...I asked myself that very same question." Nekomaru cracked his knuckles, tone growing authoritative, but more in a lecturing way. "To be honest, I was born with a heart defect. The doctor told me I would only live to be 20, at most."

        Truly!? Gundham nodded briefly. Ah - so he, too, is poisoned, then? Perhaps such a thing explains his resistance... Still, the reveal brought a look of evident surprise to the Breeder's face. "...Truly? Such a thing occurred? And yet - you still persist..." Devilry? Or perhaps sheer will? Admirably. He nodded, 'continue.'

        "Because of that, I never got to play sports when I was growing up. I didn't even participate in P.E. either." Nekomaru crossed his arms now, gaze growing silently wistful. "I was teased a lot when I was young, too. My childhood consisted of being unable to make friends, and frequent trips to the hospital."

        Gundham nodded briefly again, failing to comment outwardly. Hm. Tanaka had to say, he, too, had endured similar themes of outcasted isolation in his own childhood. While he could not related to the presence of illness, he could connect to the ridicule outsiders often received. Perhaps we are not so unalike... if only slightly similar...

        "However," Nidai continued, "on one particular day, I was put in the same room as this boy by coincidence, and it completely changed my life. Like me, that boy had a similar illness. He made frequent trips to the hospital, too. But...there was one key difference between that boy and me."

        'That boy,' Gundham noted the vagueness of the statement as he nodded again. 'Continue, please.'

        "Someone always came to visit him. He would have fun conversations...and sometimes very serious ones. From what I could overhear, the boy was a team manager for a baseball team. His athletes were visiting him."

        "...I see," Gundham murmured, voice lulling into a subdued, easy low, "so it was he who bestowed you the gift of Management, then? Or perhaps ignited your innermost desires?"

        "I guess you could say that," Nekomaru agreed. "I asked him why he would do something like that. At the time, I didn't understand it at all. I mean, he couldn't even play baseball with them! But then...he said this to me: 'Even though I can't play baseball with them, I can still share their victory and defeat with them.'"

        ...Share victory and defeat? Gundham had always preferred the concept of being alone, but he shared victory, quite often, actually, with his beast companions. With other people? Why, he supposed his pact with Nekomaru would lead him to such a concept. And upon those rare, regrettable moments within his past that he'd been forced into a 'group project,' he shared victory upon the announcement of their high-ranking grade.

        Gundham Tanaka was one for pride, and individual achievement. But as he pondered the concept, he supposed there was fair merit in the alternative. Team victory... "I see," he remarked. "Does he, too, bend Causality's will and thrive?"

        "..." Nekomaru adopted a brief silence, which alluded Gundham into the cryptic answer to his question. "He died in that hospital without ever seeing his team win." Nekomaru's voice grew heavier. "Perhaps he worked himself too hard gathering stats for the sake of that important game, or maybe... he already knew he didn't have much time to begin with. I honestly don't know."

        Gundham was troubled in sympathy, being ingrained with the ways of nature. Death was merely a natural occurrence, so he could not say he felt any variety of overwhelming sadness for this fallen, mysterious 'boy.' And yet, he recognized importance within Nekomaru's claim, and nodded his respects.

        "So..." Nekomaru's voice held deep purpose now. "I decided to take all the stats he risked his life gathering for the sake of his team. My very first job as a team manager... was leading that boy's team to victory."

        Hm... I see. What an incredible display of honor... Honor was, indeed, hard to hone. To finish the deeds of another, when it failed to be your responsibility... Truly, intriguing, indeed. Not the code that Gundham circumnavigated, but one similar. He gave another respectful nod.

        This was Nekomaru's tale. He dared not disrespect something of such importance, for Gundham had one of his own. And while he was far less liberal with his, he in no way would disrespect another's.

        "After that, I threw myself into various sports. Before I even realized it, my body had become incredibly tough. But even so, I'm proud of being a team manager." Nekomaru's voice raised slightly as he concluded, finishing off with a thoughtful grin.

        It appeared Nekomaru had much to teach, and while Gundham would never readily admit his learning from another, he would silently absorb the lessons offered, and consider them upon his own time. ...I had no intention to learn from him, and I suppose, perhaps he, too, has no intention to learn from he. However, we are at one another's sides now... and by such a pact, is it only natural law that he influence one another? 

        "Does your vessel still fail?" Gundham asked, voice expressing genuine intrigue, "for, evidently, you've defied fate's grasp this long."

        "...Well, uh..." Nekomaru thought briefly, "I can't say. I passed that life expectancy by two years! Hopefully, there'll be even more! But in terms of diagnosis... nothing changed. I still suffer from the same heart condition, sure, but that won't stop me from living out however long I have left to the fullest!"

        "..." That earned a smirk from the Breeder. "Good instincts..." he praised. "Why, such a clever bauble you are... Causality, preserve you." It was easier to trust Nekomaru with the past he'd remembered, but still... this... feels like a true alliance. Never before had Gundham had a true alliance. It was strange. The urge to talk down to Nidai for even considering him less than a cursed being of shapeless insanity became immense. 

        Perhaps upon any other occasion, he would do so. Nekomaru trusted him, did he not? Such a thing was wrong. Tanaka was cursed. A cursed name, a cursed being, a cursed origin. Forbidden by blood, forbidden by the Earth he worshipped. Did Nidai not know!?

        And yet, there was no time to dally about in warnings and cautions about who he was. He was slipping, already, into despair. If he were to behave as he normally would, isolating himself... would he succumb to the same, bitter despair, only again? 

        Gundham despised dependance, but so long as he was able to distract himself from the blood-lusting need closing in on him, having a companion could aid him.

        Tch... "I pray for your limited life. And though you shall never live as an immortal, let me ask... have you ever dabbled in the practice of natural connection? For if you are to become my manager, then, why, I suppose I must show you my 'serious side.'" Gundham quoted, not quite remembering who from, but he quoted nonetheless. A good line.

        "I am no student who merely learns and accepts. If we are allies, I suppose I am to give something in return. Is that not true? We've made a pact, and yet... I've failed to bestow you this." Yanking up one of his coat's sleeves of extraneous length, Gundham offered forth a hand, a smirk resting on his face.

        "You've shown me the art of 'endurance,' and I've yet to show the art of the ruminant. If we are allies, then, I shall lend you my powers. Let us finalize this pact, and learn from one another."

        His smile only grew.

        "...For, perhaps, we both run out of time."

        His despair was gaining on him.

        "So let us cleanse this plane, while we still can."

        The words were defeatist, but his tone was far from it. They would overcome. The impossible was possible in their eyes, was it not!?

        ...But the thought of imminent failure brought him solace. Damnation be upon my soul.

        He really was running out of time.

Chapter Text

        Soon enough they reached the embrace of the ocean.

        Masked only by the reign of the night sky, the tide was unusually subdued. No clouds or hints of turmoil were present upon the tropical air.

        Gundham sat upon the cold sand, the coat still held tight around his shoulders. Already, he felt closer to nature. Good...

        Glancing up slightly, he watched as Nekomaru was seated beside him.

        "So? What is it you wanted to show me?" Nekomaru asked, "just the ocean?"

        "Tch... this is nothing. It's merely the common, typical scenery of the world. You foolish humans overvalue the importance of scenery such as this..." Gundham offered a wary smile. "Fine then. You'd better enjoy this false sense of security to the fullest... Until the day this island becomes a battlefield for the fate of the world!" Normally such a comment would be entirely facetious, but... Tanaka couldn't be certain anymore.

        "'Battlefield for the fate of the world,' huh?" Nekomaru smiled. "Well, sounds exciting! A chance to lash out using all your fighting spirit! So... when is this 'battle?'"

        "..." Gundham fell silent for a moment. "...I'm uncertain. However, you miss the purpose of council. It appears that you are always in some state of motion. Ever before have you attempted to connect with the universe itself? Such a thing... calls for stillness. I'd like to show you."

        "...Like, meditating, right?" Nekomaru paused. "Sure! Let's give it all we've got!"

        He's rather enthusiastic... though such a thing seems almost inappropriate for such a practice. Gundham gave only a brief nod, adopting meditative posture and allowing his eyes to draw closed.

        "Just a heads up - uh... pretty soon the Future Foundation's coming to run some sorta check. They might want to see all of us. So - since you're better, we should probably do something soon. Or else - we all might get in trouble."

        "Check...?" Gundham mumbled, an eye drawing open.

        "Yeah! Since we're all supposed to have woken up by now. They wanted to make sure we were all here, and start checking up on us. You know - to make sure we aren't up to anything strange. And some other stuff, too. SO we should probably get you back with everyone before they arrive. Does that make sense?"

        Gundham nodded briefly. Though I am turning... He supposed he could attempt to expose Mikan and Nagito alike, but that left him up to conviction of his own.

        As if they didn't already know he was despairing. I suppose I haven't much to lose but my ability to hide.

        Before Gundham could close his eyes again, he felt a strange, subdued urge. The first hunger pang.

        Hurt. He wasn't sure where the instinct came from, but there it was. Hurt.

        And without even thinking about it, Gundham found himself fantasizing ways to bring about that 'hurt.' Bury his nails into his palm, bite his tongue until it bled, attack Nekomaru without warning, and hope he lashed out in self defense-

        Stop! Insolent! And yet, the thoughts only faded slightly.

        Tanaka sighed. I shan't focus with such ideals present... He had to do something.

        Something small.

        Quickly slipping Nekomaru's heavy coat from his shoulders, Gundham's pale, exposed skin soaked up the freezing night breeze. Almost immediately his body shuddered slightly, buckling from he cold.

        Good... He smiled, if only slightly, his desires sated, for now. Gundham closed his eyes, adopting meditative posture, and liberating his mind.

        It had been too long since he's connected with nature, and yet, here he was. Reaching out for the omnipotent power of the world. Let me in. Embraced by nature, and embracing back.

        It was to reach out and grasp faith, clinging gently, and assuring that it was indeed there. Feel the air around you move... feel the ocean shift. Feel the air grow still. Feel each aspect as it occurs, until you are that aspect.

        It was harder, unpracticed for so long. However, surrounded by it all, bare skin stung by cold, the connection came almost naturally.

        He was one.

        It was one, with him.

        He couldn't even feel his breaths as he exhaled, for they equated the world.

        Could he project, without even thinking? The weather is mine.

        Project your thoughts for the world to consider and interpret. This is what's upon my mind. Aid me?

        Could such a thing happen? 

        Likely, instead he'd receive some adverse reaction, but he was somewhere else entirely, so he didn't care for thought. Only the absence of thought.

        Nothing, the abyss and him, within it.

        ...

        "-Gundham?" A voice snapped the Breeder from his trance.

        "Hmph...?" He inquired, eyes opening slowly.

        It was as if he'd passed through time. As he awakened, he came to realize a sudden, dramatic shift int he weather of the island.

        The once empty skies had grown suffocated with clouds, stifling the light breeze with trembling power. The sky itself growled back at him, a flurry of frigid raindrops already soaking his build.

        Glancing around, almost everywhere around him already seemed to be wet. Even his clothes, soaked to the bone.

        For how long have I been sitting in the rain? At least, he noted, the connection still existed.

        "Did you do that?" Nekomaru seemed dumbfounded. "-The rain, I mean, it came out of nowhere! Was that your magic?"

        Gundham blinked up at him, suddenly overcome by cold tremors. He nodded again, polarized by the sudden frozen feeling that burdened him.

        He was freezing, his soul itself drowning in the rain. Scalding, in reverse.

        A teardrop of lightning tore a violent scar across nature's face, accompanied too soon after by a thunderous roar. Of course he couldn’t know for certain whether the mess of lightning and thunder was his own doing, or merely Causality’s will. However, his natural inclination was to claim the calamity as his own.

        Gundham had brought a maelstrom, and he was the center.

        Shaking, succumbing to freezing.

        All he could do was smile. 

        He could scarcely move, too cold. His failure to function forced a choked laugh out of his throat.

        Perhaps now, if he were to run into the ocean, he would certainly freeze to death. Could that be true? Scintillating... He would do so, gladly. He rose on unsteady limbs, hypnotized by the allure of delightful, frozen termination.

        "-Hey! Gundham!?" Nekomaru stood, forcing the jacket over the Breeder's shoulders again. "What are you doing? We need to get out of here already!"

        That sudden severing from his outlet of biting cold caused Gundham to snap to his senses again. A smile was still present on his face, but it grew confused. ...I'm so... cold... That didn't make sense.

        "-Fine. Let's be gone from his place." Despair, already having this much power over him? That thought frightened him.

        Pulling the coat as tightly as he could, Gundham began at a half-sprint, following the lead of the Team Manager as they both retreated to their cabin.

        The rough terrain under the Breeder's feet left cuts, scratches, perhaps a bruise or two, but each injury emanated another stifled laugh from between grit teeth. Tanaka was trapped right in the center of hope and despair.

        Before Gundham could even comprehend the incoming sensations, they'd arrived back at the cabin, and were separated from the cold again.

        Outside, the thunderstorm still rattled the windows, but Tanaka was safe within. ...Has anyone seen our fleet? Hopefully not.

        Nidai exhaled a sigh, not seeming the least bit tired. "Here, go lie down, Gundham! You need to warm back up! Keep the jacket."

        Gundham did not keep the jacket. "Tch. You've also been exposed to the powers of ice, have you not?" After discarding the item, though, the Breeder did slip underneath the bed of comforters, exhaling a noiseless breath.

        Underneath the covers, all Four Devas of Destruction peered out at him with concerned eyes, scrambling to his side to warm him up.

        Gundham couldn't help but smile for them. "...My Devas. Kehehe - I am fine! I sure you... I shan't be bested by mere elements! What do you take me for?" 

        Just as rapidly as they had appeared, the thoughts of despairing need Gundham had felt began to gradually wear off.

        He could only breathe out a relieved sigh.

        "Well, I guess we don't have to worry about you not being able to cast anymore..." Nekomaru commented. "Uh - do you need anything to warm up?"

        "-I'm fine," the Breeder insists dismissively. "If it is indeed as late as it appears... we should partake in rest. For we've to consider our actions for tomorrow. If there is to be a confrontation, we must first make certain that we are - prepared for such things."

        It's vague, but he knew Nidai would understand.

        "...Gundham," the Team Manager glanced over. "When you were suffering from the cold... you were smiling. Is that... the despair you were talking about?"

        Gundham, turning into the pillow, glanced up. "...Indeed. It was... despair. Which, I suppose, is why we have much to consider. For if I am to rejoin them, I cannot disprove my condition. I am as cursed as I am diseased. However, I am no coward. I shall face them anyway. It is merely a matter of caution."

        The Devas dotted his body, attempting to keep Tanaka warm. San-D was seated upon Gundham's cheek, already beginning to chew at his hair. The others merely cuddled against him.

        He was not safe, but their company made him feel safe enough.

        "...Night bid thee well, Nekomaru," Gundham mumbled, eyes drawing closed. "-For I am called to otherworlds as of now. Pray, I suppose, that we were not seen."

        Tomorrow was much to consider.

        And it would not wait for them to decide.

        He closed his eyes.

 

***

 

        Such despair...

        He hadn't done anything but watched, but it was enough. So that's where he's been? Ah. Made sense.

        Why, a hopeful reaction from Nekomaru! And - for Gundham to fight this long? Really... how admirable. But his admiration didn't extend far for the Breeder.

        He's already failing hope.

        Was he to act on it now? No.

        But he knew, at least.

        He could only gaze down at his faux hand with bitter resentment. Are you happy...?

        His own smile sickened him. 

        Hope, and despair... they never stop clashing. Oh well. The Servant wasn't entirely certain what to do with what he'd learned. He couldn't play too faithfully to either side, could he?

        ...Such despair...! He laughed.

Chapter Text

        The nurse didn't sleep. She hadn't slept in a long time now.

        Despair never slept. Staying awake was far more delightful.

        Staying awake and missing her.

        There was still so much to plan. There was still so much to worry about!

        But Mikan loved to worry. It made her smile.

        She wrung her short, white skirt, chewing feverishly at her lip, drawing blood without a care.

        When will they appear? The inspection. It was so soon!

        They're going to try and take you away... but I won't let them!

        There to ensure all the Remnants were awake, and well. So unwell. There was already a hole in her plan. Stupid Gundham... worthless despair!

        But he could be a wonderful distraction.

        She was just so pitiful!

        She had never expected to carry on Junko's mission. It was never meant for someone like her! A worthless, useless, whore.

        But everyone was moving on... moving away from her love.

        How can they just forget!? The world was in disarray without her guidance. The world was returning to hope!

        Even someone worthless like her couldn't sit by and watch it happen. I still have her with me! I have to do something!

        So she would do something. She just had to get off this island of failures.

        Her only helper was Komaeda. Weakling. Could she even trust someone like him?

        He covered up her hand. How could he cover up her hand? Is he really ashamed to have part of her with him?

        Mikan did, too. And it, too, was hidden. But she had to hide.

        Soon, that Future Foundation embarkment would be here. To make sure no one had converted back. Haha. To begrudgingly meet their medical needs.

        Mikan, humming a low, discordant hum, began to unbutton her dress, hands lingering on each and every opening. Ceremonious.

        Finally, her hands shaking with excitement, Mikan rested her hands over her stomach, where a diagonal, sloppy cut had grown discolored over time. The stitching was messy, the incision was somewhat disorganized. And yet, within lay the greatest thing Mikan would ever possess. The last piece of her...

        They could take everything from her. Anything from her! But they could never take away her beloved.

        They had to find Gundham. Tsumiki was more than willing to let him take the fall.

        She was an unworthy adversary, but if Mikan was the only one left to follow her beloved's will, then she would, gladly!

        Despair! That's all she wanted. Despair, despair!

        Gripping at her incision scar, Mikan choked out a happy gasp, a thick trail of saliva dribbling from her jaw. Come back!

        And there were tears down her face suddenly, causing her to hiccup. She was alone, she had no shame at all.

        She could cry over her as long as she wanted. Something. I promise, I'll do something!

        She'd never done enough with the piece of Junko Enoshima inside her. Hopefully she could prove herself more than useless some other way.

        Even if I'm lying to myself!

        Mikan was no Supreme Despair. But in her name? She would become anything!

        She could only pant, and whimper, and sob.

        Come back!

        But she wouldn't ever come back.

        Mikan really was the last remnant of Enoshima. Aren't I?

        Hopefully she'd put her beloved's womb to proper use. She'd already tried so many times. She could try again if she had to!

        But as of now, that was the least of her plans.

        There was such a burden on her shoulders. A burden she'd never been worthy of, but one she'd have to carry!

        Anything for her.

        This was what she wanted, wasn't it?

        Despair is far from over.

        The tears didn't stop, and neither did her excited pants of lusting need.

        Like the sky was falling in on her. Like the ground was collapsing underneath her.

        There was no hope.

        All of us used to feel like that.

        Where did it go?

        And somehow, some way, Mikan was supposed to fix that.

        To make it better.

        That's the job of a nurse. Isn't it? To make the world better?

        She was tempted to tear herself open, just to feel her one last time. But she didn't dare do that. Not yet, at least.

        For once in her life, she'd be important.

        For once in her life, she was more than worthless!

        She would never, ever be her.

        But she could certainly try.

Chapter Text

        It was eerily similar to the program they were in, except now when they were gathered inside the dining hall on the beginning of a crisp, tropical morning, they did so as Remnants of Despair.

        They were all in attendance, with the exception of one. Gundham Tanaka. No one spoke his name, but they all knew he was missing. And why.

        There was a tension in the air, and that, too, didn't call for explaining.

        That morning, when the Remnants set foot outside their designated cabins, they could make out the distant approach of Future Foundation vessels on the shoreline horizon.

        It was time for the inspection. It was good to know that they hadn't been slated to die (yet,) but that reality was still up in the air.

        No, this was a terrible occurrence.

        They'd arrive today, and expect to find everyone here. And when one was missing?

        That won't be good... of course Nekomaru already knew where Gundham Tanaka was. But that brought about another issue: if they were to present all the Remnants of Despair, and one had been converted back, supposedly, the exact same problem occurred.

        Either way, it clued the Foundation in to the fact that the reformed were susceptible to re-temptation.

        And, for that reason, they were all more likely to be executed.

        Nekomaru had never been one to keep secrets. Even when he tried, he'd never had a talent for it.

        Tracing back to the days of his Team Management career, that flaw was present. Nekomaru had often surprised his teams with snacks or prizes for their hard work, but whatever gift he bestowed never stayed secret for long.

        It was a need to be entirely honest with everyone in the room.

        Right now, Gundham was hopefully still fast asleep inside his room. And yet, no one in the room knew that aside from himself.

        Or so he thought.

        The Team Manager fiddled with his thumbs, listening in to the discussion.

        "Well, we can't just show up and be fifteen - or... well, fourteen students," argued Souda, the mechanic's elbows both digging in to the table he sat at. "Then they'll know something's up, and how do we explain that?"

        "And even if we did that," Mahiru contemplated aloud, leaning on the stair banister in thought. "They might try and kill him."

        Nekomaru appreciated Mahiru's effort, silently. He knew that she had been one of the first to drop during the Killing Game, however, her unwillingness to remain an outsider to the ins and outs of what had occurred were apparent.

        She contributed to a conversation that, upon her first waking, she would scarcely have understood. That was effort, and Nekomaru could always recognize effort.

        Mahiru's point added another layer of tension to the air. Kill Gundham? If Nekomaru had had doubts about his ability to keep silent before, that certainly convinced him. Jeez.

        "Would they really do something like that?" Nidai voiced, "I mean, aren't they supposed to be the ones taking care of all this?"

        "...We can't know," the soft-toned voice belonged to Peko Pekoyama, standing dutifully at the side of her Young Master, Fuyuhiko Kuzuryuu. "Admittedly, whether or not we agree with it, they could, understandably, deem any active remnant a threat."

        Peko's head tilted slightly at the conclusion of her sentence, her intense gaze traveling across the room, pin-pointing each and every one of them.

        While Pekoyama and Kuzuryuu hadn't often left one another's sides since the program, their dynamic seemed a little different. Slow coming, but not the same as it was.

        Well, that was how Nekomaru read it anyway. And that was a relief to him.

        "So," Fuyuhiko added on, brows furrowing in thought, "speaking of, we don't even know the guy's a remnant. Our only word for it is those two's." The yakuza nodded gravely to Mikan and Nagito, each standing in different sections of the room.

        As the attention was directed to them, the nurse adopted a startled expression. "M-Me?" She blinked, form trembling slightly under sudden gazes affixed on her.

        "I-I swear! He is a despair - he - he tried to attack me..." The nurse's posture drew inward, more self-protective, than anything. Almost submissive in respect to all present. "Are you... saying you d-don't believe me...?" The sound behind her voice shifted in emotion, carrying a sadder, more melodramatic sound. As if she was on the verge of tears.

        It was strange to Nekomaru to realize that she was lying. That she was a Remnant of Despair, too. Do I say something?

        He didn't get the chance.

        "As if we'd believe you!" Hiyoko interjected bitterly, voice laced with deep-set fury. "Go ahead, goody-two-shoes, see if playing dumb'll work after you killed two of us."

        Komaeda blinked, his head cocking slightly as his smile spread into something somewhat forced. Breathing out a little laugh, the Servant raised his arms in subdued protest. "Haha - hey now, Hiyoko-"

        "Oh, what?" Hiyoko snarled, "are you saying that you're a viable witness? Of course it was the psychos that saw this happen. For all we know, you could have killed him already!"

        Mikan gasped with fright, the corners of her mouth quivering between the mix of a frown and a smile. Opening her mouth to object, everyone was silenced by one, valiant word.

        "Enough!"

        All those present in the room glanced up, eyes landing on the speaker.

        None other than the Ultimate Princess, Sonia Nevermind, herself.

        "Fighting among ourselves will not get us anywhere," the Princess insisted, her voice lowering in volume, but still carrying the same, demanding conviction. "To those who suggested we lie about him having woken up, we cannot do that. Surely, they will discover that that is a lie."

        Sonia had been close with Gundham during their time in the program, Nekomaru remembered that, but it seemed she placed her duty as a leader before her loyalties as a friend.

        She was speaking from rationality, not emotional bias.

        "When I last saw Gundham, he was behaving strangely. That, I cannot deny. If he is a Remnant, then he is still present on this island! And we must find him."

        "You're... saying you want us to turn him in?" Souda glanced up, seeming a little surprised by Sonia's declaration. "Like, prove we're all okay by throwing Gundham under the bus?" He seemed faintly excited, though only faintly. Excited that Sonia was willing to take his romantic rival out of the equation.

        But the thought of death and betrayal seemed to be stifling that excitement.

        "Maybe we can reason with him," Nekomaru argued, hoping to take Gundham's termination out of the equation. "Maybe... if we find him... we can convince him to act normal. At least until the Future Foundation leaves. Then we can ask him what happened, and deal with him ourselves."

        His suggestion caused a contemplative dip in volume.

        Nekomaru withheld a sigh of relief. With that outcome, they could all hear what had really happened. They could all solve the problem together!

        "...Ah," Komaeda's voice spoke up again, his cold gaze staring distantly through the Team Manager. As if his words, his body, his very existence, were entirely see-through. 'I see you, Nekomaru.' "That begs the question, though... don't despairs want nothing more than to suffer? They're irrational! They want nothing more than to feel terrible pain..." A gradual, fleeting smirk crossed his expression, before the Servant forced another laugh. "Just imagine what he could do! He could out everyone as a hypothetical despair. Or lie! Or anything, really. As long as he gets taken in for torture, or questioning. Or even killed!"

        The Servant clapped his hands politely, applauding his own contribution with petty, subservient half-heartedness. "There's just no way we can trust a despair... right?"

        "Says the guy that tried to kill all of us!" Souda interjected again.

        The Servant pivoted suddenly, shooting a passive, almost motherly glare in his direction. A warning, 'stop talking, when you know nothing.' "Whoops. My bad." He closed his eyes, seemingly submitting. "And again - I'm sorry about that. I - I just want to help now. No more killing any of you..."

        Nekomaru could sense the rigid shards of glass that lay scattered all over Komaeda's words.

        "He... he does have a point..." mumbled Teruteru, seeming resentful that he even had to admit something like that.

        Clearly, many of them were bitter towards one another.

        Nekomaru realized that it was probably a reason to be grateful that his killer hadn't acted out of bad blood. That he and his killer had become friends.

        Killed, killer... jeez. This is a mess!

        "Still, it might be worth a try, or somethin'," came the boisterous voice of Akane, giving Nekomaru a knowing nod. She was here to support his ideas. "'Cause otherwise, aren't we jus' given' in to the same kind of violence we've been tryin' to overcome this whole time? There's gotta be somethin' he wants!"

        "We don't even have that kind of time!" Hiyoko interrupted, frantically pointing at the window. "They're going to be here any second and we don't have him!"

        Sure enough, as the fourteen gazes aligned with the view framed by the window, it became apparent.

        The vessels and ships belonging to the ever-judging Future Foundation were stalking closer.

        And, just as Hiyoko said, they were almost here. 

        "Aw, crap!" Souda rose from his seat. "They could be here any minute! What're we supposed to do?"

        "Maybe..." Teruteru raised his voice, rocking his weight back and forth as his anxious gaze flitted to and away from the window, "Mr. Imposter... could disguise himself as Gundham? Hm? That's his talent, isn't it?"

        Nekomaru could sense that it was somewhat awkward for Teruteru to address his victim like that, but Byakuya - or... the imposter didn't really seem to mind.

        Instead, the imposter glanced over, seemingly considering that proposal.

        "I-I even have his c-clothes in the hospital!" Mikan squeaked urgently, seemingly fumbling on her words due to excitement toward the solution.

        "Yeah, like they'd fit him..." Hiyoko snorted.

        "Fair point," the imposter pointed out, seemingly ignoring the comment about his weight, "and, even if I did, wouldn't they notice that I was missing?"

        "Quick change!" Ibuki chimed. "Like a concert, or a stage show! In one identity, out the other!"

        "We're running out of time," Fuyuhiko attempted to lure their attention back to the matter at hand, "and that thing with the imposter isn't gonna work. If they get here and we don't have him, what can we tell 'em?"

        "Hold on a second!" Nekomaru insisted, pointing a finger at Fuyuhiko to capture his attention, "we don't know that we can't find him. If we were to find him, and we were to convince him-"

        "-Didn't we just fuckin' say that something like that wouldn't fly?" The yakuza muttered.

        "Let me speak!" Nekomaru raised his voice. "Listen, if we did have him, and we did convince him, are you really sure he'd turn himself in? Doesn't he... not want to let the despair end?"

        "Yeah, he's right, 'ya know!" Akane banded with Nekomaru, pivoting her stance. "Yo, Mikan, Nagito. Where was he? I bet I can get 'em in just a few seconds! Just tell me where he was and I'll catch 'em!"

        However, as all the gazes began searching for the two in question again, they found only Mikan, trembling under the pressure of their oppressing gazes again.

        They searched, the voices hushing, wondering perhaps if they'd missed him.

        But, after a few looks over, it was clear.

        "...Hey," Mahiru finally spoke up, "...where did Nagito go?"

        Light conversation rippled through the group.

        Hiyoko still stood at the window, her back to the others now. "...Great..." she mumbled, voice still bitter, "...they're almost here, and we're missing both of them?"

        "W-Wait! Wait-!" Mikan insisted, her voice trembling. "I... I saw him leave! He's - he's going to find him!" 

        Finally, as her words concluded, she couldn't restrain her smile anymore.

        It was faint, sick, but absolutely genuine. No one would have noticed, if they hadn't known.

        But Nekomaru knew the connotation behind that smile.

        That's... despair. Right?

        Mikan glanced down, rubbing lightly at her arms and exhaling a calm sigh. "...We... we can't panic! We - we just have to wait. Nagito was going to find him..." She forced herself into a somewhat feeble posture again, chewing lightly at the inside of her lip. "Uh... so - we just have to wait! And... it'll solve itself."

        ...Is she telling the truth? A sudden realization came to the Team Manager. Does he know where Gundham is?

        But before he could act, Hiyoko suddenly stood at attention.

        "-They're here."

Chapter Text

        Gundham awoke slowly, sleeping later than he'd expected. Before his years as a despair, he could recall the ability to awaken with the morning itself, naturally, without even a thought.

        However, after years of disconnect, he'd lost that ability. And thus, he'd slept in.

        Something that had taken years to hone had taken so little time to fracture.

        He was still sore from yesterday's rigorous 'training,' and grumbled inwardly as he rolled onto his stomach. His eyes still closed, he could feel his Devas frantically tugging at his hand, a few whispering quick concerns to him in a disorganized chorus.

        "...What is it... my Devas...?" The Breeder murmured, briefly petting at them as his eyes slowly drew open--

        Gundham suddenly startled up, a surprised breath escaping him.

        Across the room, diligently occupying the chair Nekomaru so often sat in, was none other than Nagito Komaeda himself.

        The Servant... Gundham sat up in a hurry, glaring with perturbed shock at the other Remnant. "What is the meaning of this?" Gundham demanded. "Answer me at once!"

        "Ah, hey, hey, now!" The Servant smiled quietly, raising his hands up in submission. 'Harmless! See?' "I don't mean any harm! Haha..." He clasped his hands awkwardly, exhaling a light sigh. "Anyway... you probably want to know why I am here, right...?"

        "Obviously," Gundham hissed, somewhat sassy in delivery, "now tell me your reasonings, sinner."

        "Well," the Servant stood, his unhidden hand waving along to his words in mild emphasis.

        The other hand lay dead in its mitten, reclining limply towards the ground.

        "You know about that exam today... right? The Future Foundation comes to check everyone out! Make sure we're all... happy and hopeful. Make sure no one's showing signs of despair. And, for some of us..." He lifts his dead hand, unceremoniously sweeping the mitten from over the limb.

        There, slightly discolored with age, bent at an awkward, unnatural angle was Junko Enoshima's hand. Mounted with bandage, each crimson nail still intact.

        "...Replace any dead or dysfunctional body parts. Not that you have to worry about that one." The Servant smiled, fawning over the hand as he shifted it to-and-fro, just to watch it move.

        To mimic life in a long dead limb.

        "...I hate her. So, so much." He grinned up at Gundham again, exhaling a light, breathy laugh. Then, snorting, his mouth dropped open and maniacal laughter spilled from his throat. "But! That's just it! You... you don't hate Junko... do you? No! Maybe you feel the same way that everyone else does..."

        He approached the bed slowly, causing Gundham to rapidly scoop up his Devas and back himself towards the wall. His glare intensified.

        "Stay back," Gundham warned, voice still managing to hold an air of suavity.

        "..." Komaeda stifled a few chuckles, resorting to light giggling as he offered out his stolen hand. "Go ahead. That's her. Fuyuhiko doesn't have his eye anymore - it's just this and Mikan." His head tilted in thought. "...Well, the eye's in a jar. Actually - if you want it, we might be able to give it to you! You've already got a scar, maybe it'll match? I came to take you somewhere but we can work quickly, if you want!"

        ...For a moment, for whatever reason, Gundham considered it. Replace my eye? That would be painful, obviously, and terrible.

        ...How terrible? How would it feel to amputate his own eye, and wear the eye of someone he despised? And how symbolic - there was a lot one could do with an eye. A powerful, dangerous eye. One full of spite and malice. Delectable.

        -Delectable!? Had that truly been his thought? He shook his head adamantly, as if to dislodge the clinging thoughts. "No. Merely tell me your intention!"

        "Oh! Right! My bad. How disgusting, wasting your time..." Komaeda's smile grew passive aggressive, bearing resentment. "Oh, sorry. Almost forgot. We're about equal now, aren't we? Everyone here is! So please, wait your turn."

        Gundham was being toyed with. He resented that. "Don't make me angry," he growled, "you wouldn't like me when I'm angry! I'm not to be toyed with. Unleash your knowings, sinner!"

        He glared as the extended hand was retracted from him, wishing almost, for a moment, that he'd taken it. Just to feel her.

        Her highness of despair.

        Terrible. He hated that title for her, so he smiled naturally with distaste.

        "Well. I'm not sure how far along you are, but I guess I could say I'm here to turn you in. Ah - try to understand." Komaeda lifted Junko's hand, staring at it again. "Everyone on this island is at risk if you don't show up. Now hey, how's this: they're going to have to test everyone! Right? And, well... unless you really are all powerful, you're not going to pass. That's just how despair works!" Komaeda chuckled. "...Although... if you care about your friends... and don't want them to die... well." He dipped his head slightly. "...You could always come clean."

        Gundham scowled. "Fool. You think I care at all for the likes of them?"

        "Oh! I do," Nagito enthused, applauding. "I hear that's how you died last time. Uh - not to be intrusive, I don't remember it, myself. Don't lie. We don't have time." He hung his head in shame. Faux shame? Perhaps it was genuine. "Or - if you'd like to be tempted with despair... is there anything worse than being captured? Where's the potential here, trapped on this island? There's so much more to do off the island! Don't you think?"

        "..." Gundham's make-up smeared eyes drew slightly wider. "...Is that your intention?"

        "Huh? What intention?" The Servant smiled politely, exhaling a breathy sigh. "I'm just saying what you're capable of. Either way, you should probably come along. I even brought your jacket for you! If... you like, that is."

        The Servant slipped his oven mitt back over his hand, before gesturing down at a heap of midnight clothing on the floor.

        Sure enough, Gundham recognized his burdensome jacket.

        "..." Gundham glared up at Komaeda, then at the makeshift straightjacket he himself had fashioned. He had to consider what was being relayed to him.

        Although he would never admit it to Komaeda, he did truly intend to protect the others. On top of that, Komaeda had been implying he had plans of his own, hadn't he?

        He plays this game well... Gundham lifted his gaze again, eyes catching on a key that Nagito had suddenly extended from his living hand.

        "And, well. I hate to be this way. Really, I do. But if you don't come along, I guess I'll have to lock you in this room, and show Future Foundation myself. That'd be a shame, wouldn't it? But - ah... I don't want to do that! I'm just a servant, after all..." His voice grew light as he dipped his head respectfully.

        "There shall be no need for any of that," Gundham mumbled, an edge of resentment within his voice as he set his Devas down on the bed. Approaching slowly, he lifted his garments from the floor.

        "...I shall come." His gaze locked with the Servants, sending a message without words: 'Crumble to ash.'

        Komaeda seemed to understand the message, as he frowned. Exhaling another sigh, he waved a dismissive hand. "Ah, sorry... I know you've got every reason to hate me, so go ahead."

        Gundham hadn't worn his despairing garments since his memories of donning them had resurfaced. And yet, here he was. Curses. But if he intended to save this pitiful world from despairing clutches once more, he'd have to further suppress his urges, and ensure that whatever Komaeda seemed to have in mind did not come about.

        He was unsure what destiny called for him to do, but he hadn't a choice.

        What awaited him? Would he truly go along with what Komaeda had schemed? Or would his intentions shift?

        He didn't know. Truly, he hadn't a clue where fate was taking him, and how he would act under its eye of judgement.

        All he knew is that there was no more reason to hide.

        There was no more reason to run and cower.

        He hadn't the adequate time to overcome his despair, but he had to keep his head above the surface for a little while longer.

        That was the burden of truth.

        Stay strong, Tanaka. He had to ensure he didn't drown.

        Bringing his Devas along, choosing to leave the straps unfastened, Gundham finally dressed as his despairing self again.

        I shan't be pulled under... Was that true?

        "Hurry," he barked at the Servant, "you try my patience."

        That was a lie, but he was no coward. No, he'd feign courage when he had none.

        Something occurred to him.

        Shall I die? That was a truth he was uncertain about. He could only pray that the answer was no.

        But this was the divergence of heaven and hell, a territory he'd been born into, and had thrived in his whole life.

        And once again he'd been thrown into the center of the maelstrom.

        Send me to hell...

Chapter Text

        "...And you are certain I shall be taken along?" Gundham inquired, still remaining a fair distance from Nagito as he strode alongside him.

        "Yeah! I'm sure. Come on, we're almost there." The Servant quickened his stride.

        "But how are you so certain?" Gundham asserted sternly, favoring timed steps. Nagito would just have to wait.

        "Well... they can't treat Mikan and I on the island... right? They're all pretty scared of us. No - they want to take us off to some more remote location. So that's why we're going. As for you... well..." He stopped, turning slightly to address the Breeder. "They can't kill you! That's against the rules. They also don't want you here, possibly turning anyone else to despair... isn't that right?"

        Gundham scowled in response, but soon enough he nodded. "I suppose."

        "Right! So... they'll take you in for interrogation, or a trial, or something... reconversion, experimentation? Can't say I know."

        "And what of you? It is your intention to escape is it not?" Gundham inquired, resuming his walk.

        The Servant smiled slightly, joining him in stride. "Ah, well. That's certainly Mikan's intention. And I'm assuming yours is to prevent that?"

        "Hm," Gundham avoided the answer. "...You know such a thing may be true. And yet, you choose to string me along? What makes you so certain I shan't thwart your plan?"

        "...I'm not," the Servant admitted freely, waving a hand in minor dismissal. "Haha! I'm not. That's the point. You're... somewhere on the fence. Aren't you? Between hope and despair? I guess I'm excited to watch that play out." His voice was light and carefree, his eyes closed, his expression trusting.

        "..." Gundham slowed his pace again. "...Komaeda. I've... a sense." He lifted his head staring at the path they trekked. "...I've a sense. When Mikan first approached me I... felt her despair... Perhaps it is my arcana.. but I sensed the darkness within her. The same also extends to you. Upon the first sighting of you I... could sense a disturbance within your being. However, I've come to know that your disturbances do not quite mirror her own. They are different."

        Komaeda perked up, shooting a quick, excited smile his way. "Ah, really? Well - I think I have something like that too." Suddenly he raised his hands to his chest, almost apologetic. "N-Not the exact same thing, of course... but I feel like... I can feel the hope inside of people! The despair inside of people. And... when I see you... I can see your despair..." He raised his living hand, angling it slightly toward Tanaka. "...And... your hope. But which one will win?" His smile grew. "...Ah, well. I'm excited to find out!"

        "...You're excited by my hopeful potential?" Gundham scoffed, disapproving of the idea as he continued walking alongside Nagito.

        "Yeah! Well, your despair, too! Whichever one is stronger, I want to see win. Hope, despair... which one will overcome?" At the end of the final word, the Lucky Student suddenly tripped, tangled up by his own limbs. "-Ah-!"

        Gundham halted, surprised but he Servant's sudden failure to walk. If he wished, he realized, he could escape.

        However, the Breeder stood his ground, merely glaring down at Komaeda instead.

        "...Ah, jeez... haha!" The Servant sat back on his knees, holding up his palm and frowning at it. A small, perfect little incision had formed on his palm, etched out by the edge of a jagged rock.

        Komaeda's breath drew inward, in both pain and pleasure, as he pressed down on the cut.

        A small ooze of pastel dribbled from between his fingers, causing him to sigh. "...Ah... how unlucky...!" He turned, giving another grin to Gundham before standing up. "...Anyway. Let's go."

        Gundham did not follow. "Halt, but a moment," he urged.

        Nagito glanced backward, slowing his pace and cocking his head. "Yeah? What is it?"

        "..." Gundham rested a hand beneath his chin in thought. "...You failed to let me conclude my statement. You are despairing, no doubt. However, I've witnessed the plague in your soul, and it differs greatly from Mikan's. Komaeda..." He crossed his arms, his glare softening, if only for a moment.

        "...You are not a despair. Are you? Not truly. You, too, live at the border of both. You always have. You're still fighting under the banner of Hope. You merely do so in alternate methods. Is... that not correct? You are both despair and hope?"

        "..." Nagito paused, a melancholy smile riddling his face. "...Yep!" He quipped eventually. "That's it. I think. I've always just been a Stepping Stone for hope. Even if despair is equally interesting, I'd never turn my back on hope." He exhaled a brief laugh.

        "...So no. I've never been an Ultimate Despair."

        "-Then why do you continue to battle for the needs of despair?" Gundham growled. This suddenly made it worse. He wasn't brainwashed? No - he was under the influence of the siren's song, but if he was this distant from its teachings then why upon this mortal plane was he fighting against his own cause!? "Why is it that you contradict your own empire!?"

        "...Ah." Komaeda exhaled a small laugh. "...I didn't think you'd understand. Don't mind me, really... I'm just a Servant after all! If you really want to know... it's because it's not my place. I'm just a worthless human with a worthless talent. So... even though I can suppress my despair, I'll never be worth anything. You asked why I battle for the needs of despair? Well..."

        He gazed up at Gundham, a soft, almost childish expression of innocence on his face.

        "...I've never been an Ultimate Despair. But I've also never been a Beacon of Hope. I'm just a catalyst! I'm just a stepping stone. I'm just the force that causes the sides to do their very best!"

        He pressed the cut in his hand more deeply, exhaling another breath of pain and pleasure alike. "...That's all I want. Please, don't try to understand! I'm not worth your thoughts. Come on - we're almost there!"

        "..." Gundham wasn't entirely certain what to make of this, but he supposed it made enough sense to him just to continue onward.

        ...Is that what I am to become? Was this truly what it looked like when a despair properly suppressed their needs?

        Some terrible, foolish amalgamation of both sides. A calamity within a mortal vessel.

        Am I... to one day become The Servant...?

        That thought scared him, but he didn't have many more desirable options.

        He truly did not know.

        ...How did one such as yourself even turn?

        And that was something Gundham Tanaka realized he would never come to know.

        His own conversion had hurt... but Komaeda?

        Komaeda had nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

        What is the tale of the Servant?

        And that would forever be a mystery.

Chapter Text

        They'd gotten to the others. Something he'd never expected.

        His breath was labored as he rested against the wall, exhaling a loose chuckle. Ah! It had taken them this long.

        All his wonderful Ultimates, slipping through the gaps, failing the hope they'd been brought here to represent. Pitiful, broken, weak.

        Nagito Komaeda had never expected to play the role of the protagonist. He'd always expected to play an NPC. A side character, maybe. Someone who dies along the way. Never the hero.

        And yet, here he stood. A gun clutched in his trembling hand.

        This is it! He was going to execute Junko Enoshima.

        She was here within the school. Komaeda had watched it all happen.

        One, by one, by one, she found the students of his class. She'd turned them - with whatever she could. Torture, pain, promises, lies.

        And it was slow. 

        Nagito hadn't watched first-hand, of course. But he'd observed from a distance. Slow death of the hope within them. The very thought made his stomach churn with sickness.

        And here he was. The last one.

        The last student left that fought for hope. How lucky. And because of that, he was going to bring an end to this.

        To avenge the potential his classmates once had - even if they were nothing more than disgusting, despairing scum now. Even if it was far too late for redemption. This was justice.

        This was what the world needed.

        Komaeda wasn't certain where they were, but he alone was the one who would end this despair.

        He'd never been a protagonist. A hero. He'd never been anything like that. But the drums of destiny hammered in his chest, stealing the air from his lungs with each pound. His hands trembled lightly, holding closer than anything the bullet he hoped would find Junko Enoshima's head.

        Worthless despair.

        It was his turn. But he would die before he turned.

        She's here in the school...

        Nagito pressed his back to the wall, holding his weapon close as he inched slowly along. The names of each terrible student flashed in his mind.

        Mahiru, Sonia, Kazuchi, Gundham, Hiyoko, Mikan... too many. That was only six of sixteen. Two were dead already. Thirteen were the Ultimate Despair.

        One was nothing more than a pitiful bug who'd been given the role of avenger.

        Rounding a corner, the Lucky Student suddenly drew back. 

        -That-!

        Someone had passed into the decrepit hallway in the front of the building. Someone was there. Junko!? Brimming with malicious excitement, squeezing the gun tighter and tighter in his whitening knuckles, Nagito spontaneously rounded the corner-!

        ...? Nagito blinked, his weapon still held up with determined fury as the hallway revealed its vacant self.

        No one's here? Nagito didn't dare lower the weapon, his eyes dancing. Left, right...?

        He turned around, and stifled a startled gasp. That's-!?

        Watching passively, appearing in a dull, depressive mood by the uneventful happenings of the situation, was none other than him.

        Nagito's heart quickened, his knees growing suddenly weak. He couldn't breathe, the air stolen from him in one glance. The most beautiful man in the world. The most terrible man he'd ever heard of.

        Izuru Kamakura...?

        The designated 'Ultimate Hope,' a title Nagito so dutifully looked up to and admired. He was the supposed hope for the future, the possessor of all talents! The everything, the everyone. His appearance alone was so catching to the eye.

        His darkness, hiding hope within?

        Nagito's smile grew into a sneer. No.

        The lengthy rush of hair, the defined features of his face, the graceful, effortless movements... that perfect allure. All of it was nothing more than a lie. Just like the title itself.

        Nagito wanted nothing more than his hope. That kind of hope was beyond words, beyond need. But at the same time, Komaeda almost hated him as much as he did Enoshima herself.

        Almost. Never that much.

        The Ultimate Hope was the only Ultimate Despair that had come willingly. By mere temptation! By curiosity! He'd betrayed the most beautiful value in the universe. He'd betrayed his own diligent purpose.

        Out of his own see will, for nothing more than a selfish whim Izuru Kamakura had turned on hope.

        Izuru Kamakura was walking blasphemy.

        Just looking at him now, Nagito could feel his blood boil. His shaking hands grew tighter, tighter still around his weapon. Hatred flooded his mind. I hate you! I hate you!

        Could he hate the Ultimate Hope, when every instinct he had wanted to bow before him and worship? When every thought he had wanted to love and admire such a God?

        Unworthy. That was that.

        And even now, Komaeda could feel the Hope's bored, disapproving gaze boring into his core.

        He opened his mouth to speak, but words failed. Not surprising. Fine. If words failed, maybe his one, useless, worthless talent could finally prove itself useful for something.

        Aligning his stance, gritting his teeth, Komaeda squeezed the trigger with deadly precision.

        ...And nothing came.

        Komaeda's eyes blinked as he glanced back down at the gun, his breath having hitched in unrealized expectation. ...It jammed...?

        Upon glancing back up, Kamakura was already gone. Likely still watching him. Watching me...? The Ultimate Hope had his eyes on him?

        Komaeda had to remember how to breathe. But he - he couldn't breathe. He was too busy choking out giggles.

        The gun fell from his hand as he suddenly erupted into starved laughter.

        His own talent. His own useless, garbage, pathetic, unworthy, insolent, trash, scarcely significant, absolutely disappointing, barely qualifying talent had been used against him.

        If it weren't for his own talent he could have successfully killed one of the Ultimate Despairs. The worst one. The breathing hypocrisy. He couldn't help but laugh.

        And laugh - and laugh, even if It brought tears to his eyes. Even if it turned into a fit of sobs at his own miserable failure. Over the students in the class he'd once loved that had turned over to the values he despised. 

        Every single person that was counting on him - the Ultimate Despair, that was once the greatest symbol of hope... he was watching. And all he'd done was fail.

        It's not too late-!

        But as soon as that hopeful thought arose, he heard the soft clipping of heels against rubble, slowly approaching from behind him.

        That's her!

        Suddenly, wiping away his tears in frantic determination, Nagito took up his firearm again, attempting to rise to his feet.

        But she'd arrived at him sooner.

        As he reached his knees, Komaeda's supporting arms were suddenly swept out from under him, causing him to collide unceremoniously with the shards of pavement beneath him. A rough edge sliced a cut along his cheek, the fall itself busting open his pale, chapped lips.

        Komaeda groaned in pain as he suddenly felt himself being walked upon by jagged heels.

        There was a stillness. Her, her, her her her her her!!!

        Nagito attempted to flip over. He only needed one shot-

        The hand holding his beloved firearm was sudden pressed under the oppressive weight of Junko Enoshima's booted foot, and yet, it failed to release the weapon. Not until she drove her foot deeper and deeper into the limb, meandering back and forth as she crushed the fibers in his knuckles.

        Hold on - hold on! For hope! For hope, think of hope!

        Finally, with a sickening crack, with a disgusting pop that signified a new, ugly brokenness to his hand, Nagito's fingers gave way.

        And just like that, Junko kicked the gun away with a boasting laugh. "Aww. Nice try!"

        Komaeda growled, attempting to lift his head, before that, too, was shoved down to the concrete by the weight of Enoshima's other foot.

        Her pointed heel dug into his cheek as he glared at her though peripheral vision.

        "...Ah..." He sighed out a pained breath, glancing back down to his maliciously wounded hand. He spared his words, she didn't deserve them.

        With a sudden surge of determination, Nagito attempted to crawl forward and reach his weapon again. But no sooner had he moved when Junko distractedly twisted her foot, reflecting poorly on his outstretched wrist.

        Another uneasy crackle rattled his body, earning another cry of pain.

        "Hm. Going somewhere?" Junko mocked lightly.

        She was playing with him. Like a doll.

        Komaeda felt his body shake with rage. With absolute, pure hatred. For her.

        For himself.

        Finally, Komaeda sputtered out a wheeze. "...Ah.. I get it. It's finally my turn. Right...?"

        Junko didn't answer. Or if she did, maybe Komaeda just couldn't hear her over his own, suffocating hysterics. All he could do was laugh.

        "Well, fine! Fine... try. I may just be a worthless human... but I'm a worthless human who worships one thing more than anyone else. And that's hope! Hahaha! Hope! Never, will I ever turn my back on hope for someone like you! So go ahead. Torture me! Make me bleed, if you want to! Do anything you want."

        He grinned up at her.

        "You can try, but I'll die before I'm converted to despair! Before I turn my back on the wonders of hope!" His voice preached with all the passion he'd ever possessed.

        "I don't even have a family. I don't even have friends, Junko. So what do I have to lose. My body? Ha. As if I care at all what happens to me. So, go ahead. There's nothing to lose when all you care about is hope, is there...? Hope... always persists."

        Junko cocked her head to the side, a malevolent grin spreading across her face with childish glee.

        "Are you so sure?"

        So sure...? Komaeda hadn't realized he'd gotten the front row seat to a new spectacle of despair. Nothing to lose but hope itself.

        Maybe he wouldn't break. But either way, he'd be subject to the world at its worst.

        Watch as everyone, the Beacons of Hope you worship, the world you find better than yourself, the hope you cherish more than anything, tears themselves apart.

        Right in front of your eyes.

        Over, and over, and over again.

        And falls to ash at your feet.

        "Despair is a sickness," Junko informed matter of factly, "everyone catches it."

        She waved a hand dismissively, as if mocking his broken one with her own.

        "It's funny... what you were saying about hope. All your friends said the same thing." That made her smile.

        They had all the time in the world. All the despair in the world. And he'd gotten her excited.

        Komaeda would never give in. he'd never give in to the whims of something so terrible! That's what he told himself.

        But evidently, even Causality itself, was certain.

        The world would see Komaeda turn.

        Even if it took the world turning itself inside out and back again just to rob him of his hope.

        Just to get him high off the potential either side had.

        She would succeed, but she'd also fail.

        Would Nagito ever be able to let go?

        As he jeered at the reign of despair, and even aided it, whose side was he really on?

        He knew it in his heart.

        No matter the despair he sickened the world with, no matter the sides he played back and forth for, one thing would always be true.

        Hope would win.

        Hope would win and he was the luckiest man alive to get to see it blossom in this world again.

        Even if he had to play the villain.

Chapter Text

        She trembled, watching the inspection slowly unfolding around her.

        Admittedly, she hadn't known exactly what to expect, but all the nurse could do was rest her trembling hands over her abdomen. They're - going to take you! She couldn't let that happen! But she had to bide her time, or everything she'd been hoping for - haha. Hope? Everything she'd been despairing for would slip from her fingers and only the colorless sand of the island.

        Mikan absolutely despised this pitiful place. This whole, pitiful world, to be fair. 

        But it isn't even despair - it's love! It's just love...! She had to hold on to love for all those people who had none.

        They could try and take her love, but it wouldn't work.

        The only way off the island... is through that boat! Mikan's gaze fixated on the ship, eyes growing wider with need. And the only way on that boat is if something's wrong!

        How pitiful, to describe having a part of her as wrong. They were all scared of her love, that's why they rejected it. Even more undeserving than Mikan herself. Pitiful!

        That feeling, where everything was wrong, where everything was breaking into fragments and scattering around you, entrapping you within... that was the feeling of despair. The best feeling in the world. That's how love feels!

        She had to escape. She had to spread that love again.

        So the nurse observed, breath hitching in her chest as she watched the brief tests being conducted on each remnant of despair.

        It was a brief test, but one she knew she couldn't pass.

        Just a small incision on the palm. I-I can get over something like that, right?

        Any normal person would react in pain, but a despair would display pleasure instead.

        And, admittedly, as determined as she was, Mikan didn't trust herself not to break.

        "Not everyone's here," observed one of the Future Foundation members, likely to another one.

        Mikan didn't see. She didn't even look up. She couldn't focus due to the nervousness she felt. A smile tugged at her lips, but she forced herself to frown. I can't be given up!

        "Yeah," Mikan heard Hiyoko proclaim, "Nagito and Gundham aren't here yet." Sass lined her voice, but for once, it was free of insults. Clearly, she didn't want to get on the bad side of the Future Foundation.

        Mikan almost found it amusing.

        "Yeah," Kazuichi chipped in quickly, "uhh... Nagito's going to find 'em."

        Mikan waited for anyone to mention the clear tension in the air. The elephant in the room: 'He might be a despair.' But no one did. 

        ...Scared, huh? She wasn't scared, at least. Not of that. In fact, it was easy leverage. One despair to be a distraction for the others.

        Or so she'd hoped. But then... he escaped! Worthless despair...

        And suddenly, like the Earth falling out from under her, she heard her name.

        "Mikan Tsumiki?"

        Glancing up with a quiet 'eep', Mikan's eyes darted around, until she located the speaker.

        It was just one of those Future Foundation drones, beckoning her over for her exam.

        "Y-Yes... sir...?" Her voice was quiet, stuttering, as per usual. She stood taller, her posture inclining inwards. Always the submissive one.

        He merely beckoned again, and this time she did slowly approach.

        He was no one special. No one high-ranking. No one here was high-ranking. Haha. They couldn't even send anyone important, could they?

        To do the dirty work no one else wanted to do.

        Our life is a punishment to you...?

        The man leafed through a few papers on a clipboard, eventually stopping his careless flipping as he located the file in question. "Alright. Says here that you were the Ultimate Nurse. Primary despair..." his eyes skimmed the line, exhaling a few tired breaths. Either he was bored or - more likely - he was nervous.

        Coward.

        "Y-Yes...?" Her voice squeaked meekly.

        "Alright. Here we are. It says here that you, uh..." He glanced up, suddenly giving her an odd look. "You've got Enoshima's womb, is that right?"

        Mikan blinked, almost offended that he'd said her name. Someone pitiful, unworthy, undeserving like him, whoever he was. 

        Her head cocked, as she stuttered out another 'y-yes sir!' She felt her lip quiver, so she bit down on it. Hard. Stop shaking!

        "...Right." He scribbled something down in response to her answer, only serving to rile her into further anxiety.

        She wished she could reach out, grab his throat, squeeze the air out of his-

        "So do you consent to having it removed? You didn't remove it yourself did you...?" The man's eyes suddenly trailed off.

        Mikan followed his gaze, which had landed on Fuyuhiko Kuzuryuu, standing a fair distance away with his back to them. Tsumiki knew why he was looking over there.

        Fuyuhiko, once the bearer of Junko's eye, now had an empty socket beneath his eyepatch.

        What a coward. 

        They both glanced back to one another.

        I was the one who removed that... she futzed with her skirt. He asked me and - I did it. Of course I don't deserve any credit... The fruits of her labor bore no reward. Such was the life she deserved.

        "N-No..." she murmured, glaring up at him again with a despising gaze.

        "So you consent?" He asked again.

        Mikan almost choked on her words. The idea scared her so much, but this was her only chance at fulfilling her wishes. "Y-Yes! O-Of course! I-If you have a doner organ I-I guess I can take it... if it isn't any t-trouble..."

        He nodded, scribbling down more notes. "Alrighty, then. Extend your hand?"

        "...M-My hand...?" Her voice grew fainter still. She knew why she just - dreaded this very moment. Where everything could be taken from her.

        "Yes, your hand." The man raised what looked almost like some kind go sophisticated box cutter. "After that, you're free to board."

        Swallowing hard, Mikan glanced down at the palm of her trembling hand. Oh... oh no! She had to hold on - she had to be strong! For my beloved! Just this once she had to pretend to hate the pain love gave her.

        Stalling briefly by chewing at a hangnail, the nurse very slowly offered up her pale hand. Her teeth clenched again the fingertips of her other hand, hoping to stifle any future reactions to the incision. Chewing away nerves. Please just - be normal! How slight a reaction were they looking for?

        Carefully taking up her hand, moving her fingers away to clear the area of her palm, the man extended the device in order to-

        "Ah, hey! Haha - sorry, I'm late!"

        That voice caused all movement to draw to a halt.

        Mikan quickly snatched back her hand, gaze rising to meet Komaeda's.

        Beside him stood the man himself, a wound still decorating his cheek, Gundham Tanaka.

        A murmur rippled through all of them.

        Nagito gave her an unconscious nod as he glanced around at everyone.

        "And here he is! The man on everyone's minds...! The fully restored remnant of despair, Gundham Tanaka!" Nagito clapped politely, one hand poised, the other, covered, flailing limply along.

        Gundham's face shifted, shooting a glare at the Servant. It seemed he had means to protest, but he didn't right away. No, he was merely upset by it all.

        Mikan huffed out a quick breath. 

        The man she'd been talking to looked another way now.

        Seizing her chance, she quickly slipped away past him, moving briskly on board. 

       Yes! She and her beloved were on board.

        Through the deck, dodging eye contact, playing the role of that stupid nurse all over again.

        No matter what happened next, Mikan could be at least a little more certain of one thing.

        As the new mother of despair, she would finally be able to leave this stupid island.

        All she'd have to do was nod, cry, spout a few rambles, make a cut on her hand, if she had to...

        She was already cleared to be inside. She just had to take her place and wait. And pray.

        Her love would overcome the world all over again.

        A satisfied smile found her face. Huh...

        For Komaeda to arrive right then?

        ...Lucky timing.

        She almost resented that most of all.

        But still. It made her laugh.

Chapter Text

        "...Komaeda," Gundham's voice raised.

        "Hm?" Nagito smiled, exhaling a light laugh. "Yeah? What is it?"

        "..." Gundham fell quiet for a moment, lost in thought. "...What do you recall of despair? More than I?"

        "I think so," Nagito admitted. "You don't remember all of it yet, it seems like. But I do."


        He does...? It wasn't alarming as it was strangely inviting. A doorway into the unspeakable mistakes they'd all made.

        "...What do you recall of despair...?" Gundham inquired simply.
        "...Ah," The Servant slowed, pressing his mittened hand against his lips in thought. "...You want to know what happened... right...? How did such beautiful Beacons of Hope... become something so ugly. So terrible... so despairing... that's what you want to know. 'How did something like this happen to me...?'"
        "..." Gundham glanced off, exhaling nothing more than a huff. "...Perhaps."
        "...Ah, well." Nagito raised a hand diplomatically. "She had her claws dug in deep... right from the very beginning! Haha - not as much to you, though... or me. Mikan though..." The Servant's smile grew sick. "And a few other easier targets." His voice wistfully trailed off, beore he suddenly looked back again, eyes wide. "...Do you remember when Fuyuhiko's sister kicked the bucket?"
        Gundham blinked. No care towards the deceased...
        Odd... But he dared not forget that happening.
        Gundham gave a grave nod as confirmation, allowing the Servant to smile.
        "That's what started all this. Mahiru, Fuyuhiko… Peko, too. And there, pulling the strings in the background, making everything slip deeper and deeper into despair... Junko Enoshima." He choked up a laugh. "...Such despair. From there, slowly divide everyone, slowly pick apart the vulnerabilities of an Ultimate. Slowly, but surely... plant the seeds of despair. And finally...? On that terrible day, where everything collapses in on itself...?"
        Nagito clutched his chest, balling his striped shirt into his fist and exhaling a starved laugh. "Make the flip. One... by one... by one... corrupt the Beacons of Hope - just like you've been conditioning them all along." His smile faltered. "...Isn't she amazing...?" The Servant's eyes dilated with pure, genuine resentment. "...Isn't she the most despicable person in history? No... that's putting it too lightly. Don't you think?" He let go of his clothes, reaching out his arms with a carefree laugh.
        "...And what of you, Komaeda?" Gundham interrogated further, "are you not so fervent on the pursuit of hope? How did despair tempt you...?"
        The Servant's smile faded, replaced with a look of genuine admiration. "...Aha! No one's ever asked about me before... I'm actually surprised you didn't ask about yourself! Haha - but I think I know why. You don't want to remember that... do you?"
        The Breeder didn't speak.
        "Thought so..." Nagito continued his swaying stride, for once allowing something other than a smile to occupy his expression. "Well, you want to know why I became a remnant? Haha - if you can even call it 'being a remnant...?'" 
        He stopped walking suddenly, causing Gundham to half alongside him.
        Komaeda's eyes were lost, staring through the world, tearing answers from the ghost of the Nagito that once was. Flitting, absent eyes catching whispers of truth off the wind.
        "...There's a lot... that watching the world fall to pieces can do to a person..." He hugged himself quietly, stifling another laugh. "When you don't have a family to lose, a face to keep up... weaknesses to pull at... when all you have is the hope that lives within this beautiful world! Over, and over, and over... watch all of it break! And do nothing..." Nagito's voice grew to a grave whisper. "...You could almost cry..." A glint in his eye brought his sights back up to Gundham, face puckered with glee. "...At the beauty that comes when hope rises again. Rising from the darkest, deepest despair! Where it seems impossible! That despair... is the only thing that can bring about that kind of hope! Ahaa! Ahahahahaha!!!" He tossed his hands into the air, one hanging dead as the other's fingers stretched for the blackened sky above.
        "I was broken... The world was broken... what more could I live for... but seeing hope rise again? Then being a slave to despair... a servant to the misguided. Gladly help those who made you their prisoner - helping the world grow worse, just so hope could rebound - stronger than before! Stronger than ever! Isn't that... bliss…?"
        "..." Gundham cleared his throat. "The darkness of Gehenna is almost upon us now. The Sabbath cries for sacrifice. Perhaps it be best that we don't idly waste our time."
        Gundham continued to walk, and now it was The Servant who followed him.
        "So... it's your plan to hang on to hope?" The Servant seemed perplexed, inching gradually closer to him. "That's why you don't want to remember - right?"
        "I won't repeat myself to curs." Gundham slowed, holding his breath as they reached the crest of the incline they trekked. "Though I am the shapeless insanity himself... though it is my cursed destiny to encompass the malevolence in this world... no one is my master."
        Nagito breathed heavily behind him, suddenly grabbing a hold of his arm as the others below came into view. His pale eyes darted away, tracking a certain Mikan Tsumiki as she fled into the safety of the ship.
        "Ah... aha!" His breath shuddered, hand squeezing with doting, discomforting tightness around Gundham's arm. "What... what a sentiment! Ahaha - how... hopeful!" His smile gracefully attracted Gundham's glare one, last time. "...Maybe I'm too bold... but... please, Gundham… don't disappoint me..."
        The Servant was a man who'd been disappointed before.
        Disappointed in Gundham before, in the Ultimates before, in everyone before.
        Gundham couldn't read his expression, but in a silent intake of air, the Breeder realized that the potential unknown he held was far more dangerous than he could ever have anticipated.
        Tanaka opened his mouth to speak, but the Servant stepped forward, speaking first.
        "And here he is! The man on everyone's minds...!" Nagito's voice rose, meaning behind each and every word. "The fully restored remnant of despair, Gundham Tanaka!"

        And suddenly, all the eyes were on him.
        Gundham Tanaka, Ultimate Despair.
        Destiny stared him in the face -- what would he do?

Chapter Text

The Servant could tell Gundham wasn't a big fan of what was going on.
        For once, Komaeda was in a situation he had control over. The goal was easy enough - get Gundham and himself onto that ship.
        He could only frown as he watched the Breeder's ongoing struggle, but the sidelines were preferable to the spotlight. Besides, what use was a servant in the spotlight?
        
        Gundham was surrounded gradually by enforcers wielding guns, but didn't flinch once.
        Someone with a checklist stood in front of him, though kept a longer distance than was likely expected.

        The Servant smiled. He recognized fear when he saw it. They were all scared of Gundham. So much that the word 'despair' can do... The same was true - if not truer - of hope. He was proud of that.

        "Gundham Tanaka?" The person asked him.
        The Breeder scoffed lightly in response. "Is that not apparent?" He sassed lightly. "Do you fail to recognize the ruler of the Tanaka Empire as he is presented to you in title?"
        The other clearly did not appreciate the sass, but, once again, their cowardice was all-too-obvious. He turned down to his paper, eyes never quite leaving the remnant, and scrawling down his name.

        The Servant exhaled a light, bemused laugh. There were Future Foundation members he admired. These? They were talentless, of course. And that aroused his curiosity more than the talented. Silently, he rooted for this poor, scared man.
        He'd already been thoroughly disappointed by the talented. He could cling to the hope of Gundham for as long as he could, but it was the boring, talentless people that seemed to make the most of a difference.
        Makoto Naegi… Komaru Naegi… people like that!
        So how would his two fighters square off?

        "Says here you were once the Ultimate Breeder... Remnant of Despair... heavy casualties..." The man skimmed the page. "Most of your animals put down. Do you still have the twelve hamsters with you?"
        Gundham's eye twitched at the casual mentioning of his army's slaughter. Upon his exhale was an angered, despairing chuckle. "Mm?"

        Ah. He's upset. Nagito read despair easily. Did they even have to test him anymore? Really upset.

        Gundham growled, quickly shaking the forming smile from his expression. "...Are you referring to the Zodiac Generals?"
        "Are those the hamsters?" The man asked.
        Gundham hissed out an angered 'tchh.' "Those which you call mere hamsters only adopt that form as their mortal avatar within this pitiful world. The Zodiac Generals far surpass the power of one of your Earthly beasts."
        "Right," the man nodded quickly, seemingly regretting the fact he'd already earned Gundham's wrath. "Are they with you?"
        "...The Four Dark Devas of Destruction are... the other eight Generals I cannot account for." Gundham articulated.
        "Right." The man continued to write, eyes flitting to Gundham with even greater fear now.

        Can Gundham smell fear? Like wild animals do...? Komaeda's eyes drifted back and forth, cheerily musing his thoughts.

        Gundham's turn to ask questions now. "Hmm... have you inscribed the fate of Supermassive Glacial Black Hole Sun?"
        The man blinked, his eyes suddenly raising from the paper. "Is that a hamster?"
        Gundham exhaled, visibly losing what little faith he held for mankind. "She is a fearsome basilisk. That which adorned my shoulders during my despairing years. Do you not know of her?"
        The man paused, flipping through his papers again. "...It says she uh..." He glanced between the information and the despair, unsure whether to tell him or not. "...Was confiscated and said to have been euthanized."
        Gundham blinked, clearing his throat abruptly. "Fine. I merely wondered." His wounds seeped through his voice. "What other trivial questions must I answer?" Absent-mindedly, movements trailed with firearms, he began to unfasten his scarf, lowering the garment towards the ground in a makeshift bridge.
        As it made contact with the platform below, The Servant observed as the four devas in question spilled onto the floor, all taking off in different directions. Clearly he wasn't taking chances of them suffering a similar fate.
        "Alright. Uh - could you please remove your glove and extend your hand?"
        Gundham blinked. "Is my pestilence not apparent?"
        The man gave a brief, uncertain stare. Clearly he hadn't understood what Tanaka had said. "Please? Just for the program."
        Gundham hesitated, appearing uncomfortable with the request. Though, with a tired sigh, he reached for the glove, quickly stripping it off and offering it over to the inspector. "Be brief."

        A hush fell over everyone. Nagito could sense their piqued curiosity. What did it look like to fail the despair test?

        The man reached into his coat to extract the device, drawing everyone's eyes.
        Gundham's expression looked calm. He wasn't afraid.
        The other was far more afraid of him than he'd ever return, and he knew that.
        Pressing the end to Gundham's pale, exposed palm, there was a moment of suspenseful, drawn out hesitation.
        Then a faint sound clicked into place, and Tanaka's face shifted.
        The Breeder jerked his hand back, exhaling a forced laugh. "Gghahaha-!" Quickly he slipped the glove back on, stifling an apparent, pleasured smile. "-Have I passed?"
        "You failed, actually..." the man said slowly. "I'm afraid we're going to have to take you into custody, Tanaka. Can you give me your wrists?"
        Gundham blinked at him, his expression alone ridiculed his idiocy. "Have you failed to examine my garments? Your intention is to bind my wrists when I wear a restraint about me?"

        Ah. All's well, ends well-! Nagito didn't have any other work here. It would sort itself out! Wonderful...
        He turned towards the ship, beginning to walk when he was suddenly stopped by another inspector.
        "Aha! Yeah?" The Servant inclined his head. "I was just going to board! Sorry... if I got in your way..."
        "Not that. Why are you boarding? Has anyone tested you yet?"
        "Why? Ah - this..." The Servant carelessly stripped of his mitten, face lighting up as he waved at the instructor with Junko Enoshima's severed, discolored hand. 'Hey there!' "I think you can see why I want rid of it... right?" He wasn't a liar, so he dodged the question instead.
        "...I can," the man didn't seem amused. "Extend your other hand?" He extracted a device of his own.

        Oh dear.
        Komaeda could try to keep a straight face, but who was he kidding? This inspector... well - he was alluring in the face. Daunting, in a tantalizing way. Even if Komaeda hadn't been a despair, he'd have earned a smile for his 'test.' If not a little more than that. Komaeda didn’t mind hurt, despair or not. There really wasn't much hope for him, was there?
        Clearing his throat, Nagito exhaled a rasp, giving over his hand. "See?"
        The inspector stopped, snatching it up and inspecting the cut from the rock he'd gained earlier. The very same that had caused him to fawn in pain. "You've already passed."
        Nagito blinked, eyeing the wound for himself.

        ...Just my luck. His garbage talent had its uses! Who knew - cutting open your hand on a rock could allow you to pass into a high security ship! Wonderful! He laughed with delight, exhaling with indebted servitude. He would gladly be lead anywhere! He was just a humble slave after all.
        And he had work to do.
        "Ah - alright!" His head tilted, eyes trailing Gundham as he, too, was lead off to the ship. A separate sector, most likely. But he was coming along! All was going according to plan.
        The Servant grinned. "Ah, well. Lead the way!"

Chapter Text

He spent the entirety of his time onboard pressed into the corner of his room, compressing himself against the padded walls and glaring expectantly at the door.
        Gundham had silently taken issue with the plans presented - not that Future Foundation cared much for a remnant's critiques to their goings.
        The entire operation rode on the back of cowardice. Why escort prisoners and patients upon the same vessel? Why not treat them there - or imprison me there!? The answer was simple: Future Foundation feared remnant ambush.
        It was easier to isolate them.
        Which was precisely what they'd done.

        Gundham didn't find it likely that Tsumiki and Komaeda had been imprisoned nearly as elaborately as he had been. Padded walls, multiple bolted locks, guarded hallways, and - most bothersome - soundproof doors.
        Tanaka had grown tired of attempting to warn the outsiders antics once he'd discovered this last aspect. The question of 'why are my warnings being ignored' came at a simple, but concrete answer.
        The cowards cannot hear me!
        Safety was not the only sacrifice for this invention, however. After countless plates returned with the meat untouched, his guards still didn't appear to grasp the concept that he was not interested in eating it. He found that particularly annoying.
        His thoughts were already speckled with mourning. My armies lie dead? He expected so much, but the truth stung more than he'd have liked.
        The room was too small. There wasn't a way out - he scarcely ate.
        It reminded him of despair, perhaps the most dangerous concept to create association toward.
        Gundham wasn't certain how long it had been, since he neglected hours of sleep for fear of the dreams that awaited him inside this oppressive room. Instead, he had taken to pressing in the padding of the walls with one of his booted feet, daydreaming daring adventures he was certain his Devas must be enacting back on the island, and hiding within his halo of faux fur.
        To put it lightly, Gundham Tanaka was bored.
        To be alone with despairing thoughts was dangerous. He'd rather be bored than despairing, he supposed. But when would one cross into the other?
        Perhaps they'd arrive soon.
        But that arose another, deeper feeling of dread. What followed arrival?
        Gundham toyed with the idea of telling them upon his arrival, when silencing him was an impossibility. That seemed, perhaps, the only viable option he had.
        And even that came after waiting. Would the despairs not have planned for something such as that?

        Tanaka tried to recall the hours he'd spent within the cell, deducing that that would serve adequately to distance his thoughts. Meditation came easily, so he partook in that, too. He took care not to slip too deeply into self-entrancement, remembering his maelstrom with Nekomaru.
        How exists Nekomaru? He had to wonder that, too.
        ...Distance... he decided, withdrawing once more into the safety of his fur-lined hood, closing his eyes and trying to detach thoughts of despair.
        Gundham pressed his back into the padding of the wall, drawing his knees to his chest, and pulling his faux fur haven over his face. He was hidden from the world, and prepared to make his own.
        Silence overtook his thoughts.
        Perhaps if he allowed himself, he could continue on... he could meditate such as this for the rest of his journey. Did he need rest? Perhaps he could abstain long enough if he locked his mind in this state. Once he arrived, he could be rested and free of cruel memories - at least enough so to confront his new obstacles with safe, calculated action.
        What would the Future Foundation ask of him? Were they merely looking for means under which to end his life? Could such convictions be avoided?
        How to explain that you walked a thin line between sanity and reversion to a crippling, heart-wrenching past?
        As soon as he'd been labelled a remnant, his rights had been seemingly revoked. What was there to do to fight for his ideals?
        How am I to put an end to Mikan and Nagito's devilry!?
        He wished his Devas were about him. They were easy to converse with. Yet, he was alone.
        The only company he'd desired was elsewhere - safer, he prayed, than he was.
        Moments faded into an expanse, hidden in his own reality.
        Would he ever awaken-?
        And with that conceptualization, a sudden force rattled the oversea vessel to the core.
        The impact of the shift caused the Breeder to topple forward onto the floor, before quickly tossing back his hood and allowing his eyes to take up a sporadic dance.
        That... what was that?
        He couldn't hear the turmoil outside being in a room devoid of sound. However, as he rose to his feet and approached the door, Gundham could see the offtones of a blaring red light shifting the color schemes of the room.
        Someone passed by his doorway, shooting him a sudden glare, but seemingly relieved he was still within. Then, just as they'd appeared, they departed.
        They're running... Where are they running? And from what?
        Gundham's arcana had failed to sense it before - but he could sense it now. The unmistakable feeling of imminent dread.
        Something was wrong.
        But there was no remedy for wrongness to a prisoner of glass.
        He was trapped.
        No one would help a remnant - would they?

Chapter Text

"I-Is that the... man with the key...?"
        Mikan stuttered from her room, across the hall from Nagito's.
        Not soundproof, clearly, but still a cell.
        Just because they were more lenient with the despairs collected for medical purposes didn't mean they wouldn't lock up a remnant any chance they got. Rightfully.

        And now, as the alarms blared noisily outside their rooms, The Servant could only frown down at the man, head bleeding out onto the carpet.
        In his hand, the keycard that would unlock their rooms.

        Just his luck! Stranded in a cell as the ship he was on started to sink! Just his luck that the collision should render unconsciousness - if he really was still alive, anyway - to the one person that would open their cell.
        A pink smear scarred Komaeda's cracked windowpane. Even now as he stared out, he could mark the exact point that the guard's head had collided with his door.
        The center of the spiderweb of cracks.
        Such despair.

        
"Yeah! Haha - it was..." The Servant's head cocked, before frowning down the hall at the apparent absent of any other saviors. "Such a worthless talent..."
        So he thought, but the Servant knew well how his own cycles worked.
        If his talent truly wasn't useless, his luck would rebound, and allow him escape. But if not...? Ah.
        Such despair.

        "Y-Your talent doesn't m-matter right now..." Mikan murmured, her voice laced with subdued animosity, "is there a way to u-unlock these doors...?"

        Komaeda noticed, subtly, as her hand pressed protectively over her stomach - as if she was a mother protecting a child. But Nagito knew what it was (or more accurately who it was) she was protecting.
        It made him sick.
        Ah. Disgusting.
        "Not from in here, I don't think... unless there's a vent somewhere..." The Servant backed up, glancing around quietly.

        "I-I don't think so... not one w-within reach..." The despair nurse stepped back as well, exhaling a shuddering, angry breath. "Well isn't there some way we can pick it open?"

        "With a keycard requirement?" The Servant politely gestured down to what he assumed was the card slot of his own door. "Ah, I don't know about that..."

        "W-Well then what do we-"

        And before her question could even conclude, the lights down the hall began to flicker off. Then, all at once, they were in darkness.

        The hum of power that the room had given off subsided. The entire deck was silent.

        And, with a brief click, nothing more made sound.
        Komaeda gave a soft laugh.

        "Ah. How unlucky! We're in the dark. Blackout, huh...?"
        He mused another chuckle under his breath, gently testing his door. It had been run by power - so with the power out, perhaps it was...?
        Indeed, the door moved along to his push.
        "Aha! Wonderful!" The Servant hurried to Mikan's door, quickly pulling it open for her.
        "Hurry - I'm not sure how long we have before the lights come back on."

        He heard the nurse's shoes quietly echo into the hallway.
        "U-Uh... let's go...!"
        
        The Servant felt her shove past him, earning a light wheeze from the Former Lucky Student.
        "Aha! Wait, we have a pit-stop."
        He pursued the nurse, feeling his way through the darkness as his hand skimmed the wall. His eyes were only beginning to adjust.

        "A p-pit...stop...?" She didn't slow her pace. Not at all.

        "Yeah! Well, I do... haha. Here just - go up onto the main deck! I'll meet you. Just have to say 'hey' to someone! Haha..."

        Mikan stopped finally. Even in the dark, Komaeda could see the resentment in her glare.
        "...He doesn't believe in her love..." she murmured bitterly.

        "Ah - I... I know..." he breathed out apologetically, holding up his hands. "But doesn't the prospect of the unexpected appeal to your despair? Will he be a friend, or our failure? Haha!" He chimed the offer with a smile, his neck-chain swaying slightly.

        The nurse stopped to consider, before shaking her head. "...N-No... I can't risk anything! Not this time. J-Just hurry..." It was implied: she was willing to leave without him if he took too long.

        "Ah, alright! I won't be too long, I promise. Nothing I do is that important! I'm nothing but a servant after all."

        "...Haha..." Mikan chimed, voice distant, seemingly growing tired of the Servant. "Please... j-just... hurry..." And with that, their paths broke off.
       
        Komaeda didn't mind being a bore - he was used to it. No one would ever regard a talentless person like him. One whose potential had become nothing more than a despairing puddle of waste!
        Disgusting scum.
        "Will do..." That line, too, carried a hint of snark.
        It was only natural for them to despise one another behind curtains of courtesy, he guessed, but wasn't that true of all humans at some point or another?

        Stalking down the hallway, caressing his 'limited' time, the Servant hummed faintly. He had a fair idea of where the Breeder was being kept, so he went there directly.

        It became apparent to him as soon as he entered the deck below that only Komaeda's sector had been involved in the power outage. What a lucky outcome! A lucky outcome from a useless talent.

        Door, after door, after door. No one bothered to stop him. They were too concerned with the preservation of their own lives to interject on the acts of a filthy remnant.
        Unwinding hallways, pulling him by his chain of servitude. How he begged to be a slave, even of his own free will. That was why he performed any of his actions, the desire, the need, and the pleasure of servitude.
        Even now he was a slave.
        But that was obvious enough, he supposed.
        He knew Gundham would know that, too, as he finally arrived in front of his cell.

        "Hey! Haha... anyone home? The ship is sinking!"
        As the Lucky Student pressed his hands, one dead, against the glass pane, he could see Gundham's struck expression on the other side.

        The Breeder mouthed something, expression ornery.

        "Ah, sorry. I can't hear you." The Servant gestured vaguely to his ear, smile ever-passive.
        He held up the keycard, stolen from the body outside his room, pressing it against the glass.
        "Ah - do you want out of there?"

        Gundham mouthed something back.

        "Soundproof glass, right? Ah, well. I guess I can't tell if you'd rather stay in there! So - forgive me! Haha..."

        The Servant hummed, staring longer at the Breeder. Sure, time was counting down, but he didn't care to move faster. He could let him out... or he couldn't. He had control.
        "Not sure what caused the crash... kinda unlucky, right? Maybe a rock... or rough collision with the ground?"
        He glanced up, giving a carefree 'hm' as the lights began to flicker.
        "Or maybe another meteor! I've had an interesting encounter before, actually... not that I should burden you with some insignificant story like that."

        Gundham's face grew angry, seemingly upset by Nagito's seeming mockery. Or delay. One sentence came clearly enough: 'Let me go.'
        Angry, with a slight, malicious smile.
        A despair.

        "Ah! Sorry... just have to decide whether I can do that or not."

        Hmm.
        Hope, despair...
        What side was winning? What side would come out the victor?
        Hope always won in the end - but how about now?

        "Oh, silly me! Haha - let's get you out of there... right?"
        Without further hesitation, the Servant quietly slipped the keycard into the slot, waiting until the light signaled green to unbolt the door manually.

        It still had to be slid open - but he'd leave the Breeder to that.

        "Best of luck to you, Gundham! I'll be waiting..."
        He choked up a cheerful cackle, voice unhinged and somewhat starved.
        Then, tucking the keycard neatly into a pocket, the Servant exhaled another distant hum.
        He had somewhere to be.
        Another filthy remnant awaited him.

        This one was on his own.

Chapter Text

        The Breeder wasted no time.

        As soon as his door was opened, he pushed past it and entered the hallway. He didn't know how much time he had, and he didn't intend to waste a single second.

        The sands of remaining time tricked through an hourglass. Did fate intend to have him?

        For as it stood now, he was an escaped prisoner aboard a ship that would likely not prioritize his life. He was unable to swim, a skill he'd never mastered. It seemed even those who were brethren to his despair would see him left behind.

        No - he most certainly had no idle time.

        Steeling down the hall, the Breeder's gaze refused to avert. He had a set goal. No one would stop him - if any were even brave enough to try.

        Gundham could feel it as he walked: the movement of the sea beneath him. He wasn't sure he could tap into that power, but if he could align himself with the ocean again...

        What would occur?

        Huffing a quick breath, Gundham pulled open the door that led to the stairway. His gaze flit, quickly, ensuring that no one upon this floor intended to stop him.

        Good. He wasn't to be stopped.

        He churned like the waves that had broken this feeble vessel. If despair intended to overtake the world again, he, with his last remaining integrity, would see it stopped.

        He began his ascent, a hand stiff against the railing of the stairs as his other gloved fingers ran along the wall. If the ship made another sudden movement, he would be prepared.

        Tanaka merely had to tap into that gradual sway - could he do it? Even through the metal hull? Even with an element he'd never fully mastered? It was one with nature - he simply had to achieve that state, and he could once again bend it to his will.

        What had Nekomaru said?

        Practice - he hadn't enough practice, but he had, as the coach often encouraged, fighting spirit.

        He reached an abrupt halt as one of the doors opened. The remnant found himself face to face with a Future Foundation member. His stomach dropped in a moment of startle, but he quickly overcame.

        There was suddenly a gun to his face, but the Breeder refused to flinch. The Future Foundation member had hesitated - he hadn't. A second after their movement, Gundham methodically yanked the weapon from their grasp, following the action with a cold glare.

        "Don't," he warned, scarlet eyes examining the new toy.

        It was nothing more than a hand gun - Gundham couldn't say he was trained, no, but he'd taken a few shots from weapons similar throughout his life. He'd figure it out.

        Stowing the weapon into his coat, he easily brushed past the operative. They hadn't even stalled him.

        Perhaps Komaeda was correct in his assumption. Gundham almost could sense the fear in people.

        And he would utilize it if he had to.

        He prayed that this new revelation was of his own, personal strength - and not the power that came with despair.

        Further - up, up, up. He reaches the zenith of the stairwell, throwing open the final door with an unceremonious shove.

        The sight that greeted him didn't come to much of a surprise, but gave him a secondary realization instead. Lifeboats aside, there were three helicopters dwindling in different regions of the ship.

        Two were parked across the deck, alerting Gundham to move faster. The third had already left, a far gone speck in the distance by now. They were likely intended for important Future Foundation members, not despairs. However, as Tanaka's pace started off again at an even-tempered quickening, his eyes locked on the second.

        The hijacking was apparent. It seemed he'd be too late by the time he arrived.

        The murder of the pilots seemed brutal even from afar, judging by the fact it was Mikan at hand.

        Gundham could not discern the details even as he sprinted, he merely knew too well that Mikan's tendencies delved into sadomasochism. 

        His stride slowed as he watched the other despairs clamor inside, closing the door behind them. Curses...

        Gundham's steps were meaningful, walking at a stride of importance as he more slowly began closing the distance between himself and the flying vehicle.

        Do they even know the mythic art of mastering the metal Phoenix? He doubted such a thing, but to his reluctant bemusement, the vehicle began a gradual hover.

        The Breeder's carmine eyes quietly trailed them.

        A sudden instinctive urge overcame him. He knew what he had to do, and he questioned, quickly: who acts? 

        Did this deep-rooted solution, ingrained within his immediate assessment, come from himself? Or from his despair? Perhaps both? It didn't matter.

        If he intended to end despair, if he intended to purge the world of the disease that sought its harm, he could now no mercy.

        He stood under them now, gaze affixed up.

        A strange power found him, heart pounding in his chest, the rhythm of the drums of death. The ceremony of the damned. He was the cursed priest.

        The slight tilt of the ship had already begun. The gun remained within his coat but... he didn't use it. He scarcely knew how. What he did know was his art.

        He just had to pierce that obfuscating veil that had parted him from his practice for so long.

        His heart throbbed with the chasmic tides, drawing him nearer and nearer. He could feel their will. Could he share with them his own?

        The wind picked up lightly as Gundham's eyes focused.

        That metal vessel, soaring shakily for the clouds, likely to escort them away to their next plot of despairing intention. He could stop them. He had to stop them. That was what his destiny called for.

        It called for blood.

        Causality demanded a sacrifice in the name of the Tanaka Empire. In the name of the broken past.

        Tanaka himself would act as catalyst.

        Inhaling a quiet breath, the drum within his chest picking up tempo as the helicopter drew slightly farther from his arcane grasp, he pressed his palms together.

        The air fluttered around him. If anyone else stared, or even existed nearby, he could not feel them. 

        The growing storm tossed his tassels of hair, tearing ripples through the crowning pelt around his head.

        I am your master, he told the world. The world would bend to that whim.

        Raising his head, hands adopting a quiet pose of preparation, Gundham inhaled stiffly. His foot stepped backward, kneeling into a slight crouch.

        The words came easily from memory, mumbled so lightly under his breath that he couldn't hear them over the sudden howl of the wind.

        He didn't always need the words to cast, but he needed them now. He wasn't certain he could perform. He'd been told by countless that no power existed within him, but he'd denied that to himself an even greater number of times. Could he prove it to himself, finally?

        One hand poised out, the other crossed over, somewhat withdrawn.

        They were growing farther and farther away, but the rush of his blood flooded his ears louder than any other flummoxing distraction. He was honed. He was the storm.

        Standing taller, his voice raising, but not loud enough to be heard over the thunder in his veins, his right hand finally rested beside his ear, the left clenching into a determined fist.

        Suddenly, his words cut off. The end of the enchantment.

        A smile broke across his face.

        Drawing slowly forward, lavishing in each step he took, Gundham's right hand suddenly flicked across his body, pointing with two fingers. Arcing a silent path.

        It was a command.

        His smirk grow into a somewhat malevolent grin as, in unison with his movement, a rogue bolt of lightning tore across the sky. A searing line of light, spiderwebbing across the ominous dark clouds and dismantling the helicopter mid-flight.

        His eyes took in the sight, face growing suddenly stoic.

        The helicopter they resided in faltered suddenly, swaying dramatically in the air as it exploded into cloud of black smoke. Meandering in the air, the vehicle suddenly toppled for the land, trailing a murderous dark color sit disappeared into the distant landscape.

 

        It hadn't occurred to him that Nagito's luck may have been at hand in the storm's deadly outcome. He ignored the possibility that he had not been the one responsible. He'd felt it within him. He'd believed it with such heavy feelings that it had to have been true.

        Gundham had taken down the helicopter, and that was all he knew. He'd never see it any other way.

        Whichever version of reality had been the truth, whether it had been Komaeda's curse of ill fortune that had summoned the bolt, or a hidden power that hid within the breeder, he could and would always accredit himself.

        He'd done it. Tanaka had found himself between the tendrils and overgrowths of despair. He had risen above. He had channeled the power that he's lost during his years of despair.

        He couldn't sense the fallen despairs from such a distance, his heart rate reaching a sharp decline as he released his hold on the environment.

        ...Do they still live...? He couldn't be certain - especially not with Komaeda. But he knew one thing to be true.

        He'd acted without mercy.

        The feeling of that power was something he'd missed so dearly.

        He exhaled briefly, suddenly overcome with a dizzying tiredness. Ah. Such power, unpracticed, was draining.

        He couldn't be certain of their demise. Gundham had to be certain that their devilry would end.

        Retracting the firearm from his coat, his steps adopting an ever-so-slight tilt upon suddenly unsteady legs, he approached the final helicopter.

        This wasn't over yet.

        He didn't even hesitate as he jerked open the door, clamoring inside and seating himself in the back.

        Gundham involuntarily closed his eyes, collapsing quietly into the backseat.

        He had to breathe. He had to remember what it felt like not to live off adrenaline.

        Finally, the Breeder's eyes drew open, drearily.

        Glaring back at him were the bewildered faces of pilots, likely hired to escort anyone but him. But he couldn't be certain.

        Perhaps they'd been here to see that the remnants came to the island? Wishful thinking. Gundham failed to commit.

        No. No chances.

        The trail left in the sky by the disgraced helicopter dotted his vision, drawing him into sitting up.

        ...The weapon. He grit his teeth, resting his hand against the pilot's seat. The muzzle of the gun nicely graced the back of the man's shoulder.

        "...It is of my belief that you should chariot me as is my will," Gundham murmured, voice thick, "or I shall be forced to enact the Gods' arson wrath upon you with this enchanted weapon. Shall I send you to Gehenna now!?"

        The pilot's arms instinctively raised. Good. Submission. He shifted it over to the second.

        He reclined further into his seat, scarred eye drawing closed. "As of you... I shall inflict a similar fate. Go now. The distant horizon! It is Causality's dire will, that you must enact!"

        He shifted the weapon back and forth, hoping his expression looked more intimidating than it did desperate.

        One opened their mouth.

        "Do not speak. Manifest destiny exists in the name 'Tanaka.' Now fly."

        He inhaled a relieved puff of air as he felt the shuttle slowly begin to ride.

        Allowing his stare to tag the window, his expression softened as the world began to flood downward. They were listening to him.

        Good.

        Now all he had to do was remain awake.

        I have one, final task...

        But almost unwillingly, he was drained of his ability to thrive in the waking world.

        Slumping unceremoniously, the weapon quietly slipped from his grasp as his eyes drew closed.

        He had finally gained back the control he desired, but he was no master yet.

        He truly was in fate's hands now.

Chapter Text

        The Servant propped up the instruction manual on the headboard, eating up any information that presented itself.

        "H-Have you ever... f-flown before...?" Asked Mikan meekly, her blood-stained face finally glancing up from her fresh kill. Her voice remained pristinely soft despite the reeking metallic stench of blood she'd released into the air.

        "Ah, well... not really! Haha - but I'll figure it out. Seems like... this right here should start it going." He couldn't ignore the warnings in the back of his head, a reminder of the fate of his parents: Nagito Komaeda and flying don't mix. Perhaps his garbage talent could prove useful this once and allow him to have a safe flight. Well, that would be backwards, he guessed, seeing as luck had been what had crashed all his previous plane flights. Oh well.

        The Servant glanced back, head tilting. The oily supermass he called hair inclined along to his movements in one wild clump. "Why don't you close the door? We can figure it out from here."

        Mikan scowled subtly, sitting up from the half-vivisected corpse she rested atop, quickly closing the door.

        "O-Okay... we should... hurry!" She urged, quietly shoving her victim off of the back seats and taking her place in the passenger's seat.

        "I am, I am! Sorry, that you have to wait for the likes of me to figure out how to fly!" His voice held a quiet, hateful air under the cheerful tone. "Aaaalright... hold on to your womb! Haha - I'll take us up. Hopefully."

        The comment was sarcastic, but his face adopted a snarl as he watched Mikan's hand obey his suggestion.

        Ah. Filthy despair. Not that he was any less filthy, worthless, disgusting. He shared the filth with her.

        And Gundham.

        And everyone on the pathetic island. Especially pathetic due to his existence there.

        Nagito prayed - no, he didn't have to pray for a dream he knew would come true. Nagito knew that no matter what came next, hope would overcome them. The thought of fighting it filled him with disgusting, despairing dread. And that came with its own tantalizing pleasure.

        All the aspects, hope or despair, would please the Servant. All he could do was walk on hands and knees, carrying out commands and begging for more. 'Feed me.'

        The very thought... powerful despair... and hope, riding on its back... mastering the despair. Master him. The very thought caused a light, transparent residue to leak from the corners of his mouth.

        Silent rapture.

        Mikan grew restless. "N-Nagito, aren't we going!?" Her voice was deliberate now. Her anxiety was apparent from he smile on her face, and her repetitive pattern. She tore quietly at the ends of her hair, smile somewhat pained.

        "Right! Haha - my bad. What a terrible servant I am..."

        Pitiful slave! He sure prayed for that: Hope would master him, and put him in his place.

        Reaching up, quickly brushing aside his pale, dirtied mane of hair, The Servant pulled down the headphones resting dutifully above his head, tapping the microphone lightly.

        Sitting back, the despair flashed a tired, encouraging smile, pointing upward. 'Put yours on, too!'

        Mikan blinked, realizing she had the option to do so. Huffing, she released her hand from over her stomach, doing the same.

        "Ah... might be a little hard to fly with just one hand... such despair!" The Servant hummed, his single hand beginning an absent adjustment of certain knobs and dials in accordance with the instruction manual. He eyed the cyclic control, the levels... 

        "A-Ah! He's coming!" Mikan's voice reached a desperate glee, smile dabbling in disease.

        "Huh? Who is?" The Servant smiled courteously, head cocking out at the approaching remnant. His dark apparel was recognizable anywhere, especially due to the fact Komaeda had just seen him. "Oh! Gundham..."

        Struggling quickly, Komaeda operated with one hand only, using his dead limb to paperweight the manual.

        Ah, well... he could skip a few of these steps, right? "Nothing here is too important! Uhh... just a second!"

        Right! Throttle, engine, levers...

        Lift off! And a shaky one at that.

        "Stay with me, Mikan! Haha... Forgive the turbulence. I'm just a servant, after all." Turbulence was better than an immediate explosion, right? Time to hope that his luck allowed that to last.

        "Mmm..." she trilled absently, a hand pressed to the window as she watched the dark figure move. After a few uneasy seconds, the nurse sat back.

        Seemingly she felt safe. If only the Servant could feel safe.

        But he couldn't - not when he himself was a time bomb labelled with an uncertain interval.

        Nagito watched her a few moments more, before returning his gaze to the front of the helicopter. "Ahaha..." he breathed out, "see? Out of here in no time at all. Well, we may be being tracked... and may become the target of gunfire soon. But otherwise, we'll be just fine! Haha... as long as we're fast."

        "Anything's better than down there for Junko..." the nurse responded dreamily.

        Nagito rasped out a laugh, seemingly displeased by the comment. "Of course."

        The ride did suffer from turbulence, but it wasn't too bad, considering that the remnant had absolutely no idea what he was doing.

        "Haha! Well, guess you can learn-"

        And suddenly, all of it blew up in his face.

        It was abrupt, almost soundless at first, until the sensations came in a sudden rush.

        Crash. With a flash and a burst of blinding color, nature itself struck him down.

        Lightning!?

        Fumbling for the controls, The Servant felt his stomach drop.

        ...Of course! Haha, of course! Just my luck that we should crash!

        He opened his mouth to speak, tell Mikan some safety tips about the decline of air vehicles, but his own manual flew back, knocking him violently against the jaw and robbing him of words.

        Mikan, as despicable as she was, had to survive. In the name of hope, she had to survive!

        As contradictory as it was, despair flowed into hope. In an odd way like that, Mikan was the hope the world needed!

        Grabbing quickly, attempting to steer the doomed vessel, Komaeda glanced back. He could feel the aircraft spinning in dizzy circles, descending with lethal power.

        "Ah - Mikan!" He gestured wildly to the door. "Ah - when we get close to the water... you should trust your luck and jump for it."

        Mikan's expression shuddered, teeth chewing a bleeding hole in her lip. She seemed to be judging if what he said was true.

        She would know. Better than a filthy servant like him. She was an Ultimate.

        Whatever that meant.

        A sudden decline in altitude brought them nearer still to the water.

        "A-Ah... o-okay!" Mikan forced, standing uncertainly, before being tossed backward be the force of gravity itself. She crawled forward, eyeing the clouds, eyeing the propeller, and then eyeing the water below.

        Closer, closer, closer by the second - to the land!

        "Now seems appropriate," Komaeda hustled.

        "O-Okay..." She paused a second longer, before forcing open the door.

        With difficulty. The suspense ate him alive until the action was complete.

        Door open.

        Without even a passing second, she was gone from his sight.

        The Servant threw up his hands readily, exhaling a triumphant laugh. Wonderful! If he really was lucky, then hopefully she'd survive the encounter.

        Imminent failure? The survival or death of despair? All in the name of hope?

        Ah. It pleasured him.

        The very overwhelming sensations of life and death in his hands - a Servant's control - that roused him.

        As he glanced up, the ocean slipped from his view, and the rocky shore greeted him.

        Ah.

        His expression was of wide-eyed delight - but for a second of hesitance, it slipped. Wait-

        The collision rocketed him forward. Body met glass pane, fragmenting the barrier, tossing him carelessly like a limp doll.

        A plume of arson propelled him, searing at his flesh, at his clothes, at his mass of hair.

       He collided with the ground, collar violently choking him as the chain jerked back.

        The remaining propellers, still running, just missed his neck, which bend at a strange, unnatural angle upon his greeting with the ground.

        The Servant's body rolled, caked in glass, caked in smoke, caked in blood. Finally, his broken body stilled against the uneasy surface of the shore.

       He was numb.

       All his dulled eyes could do were stare with bewonderment at the sky, clouded with debris.

       His face slumped right, dead eyes on his wrist. That, too, was unnatural in appearance.

       Not bent, no. Just a stump. A few feet away, licked by the shoreline, was what remained of a long-dead hand, still encased in a striped mitten. The severed wrist peeked from the glove.

       Huh. After all, was this was it felt like to be free?

       He’d smile, but he wasn’t sure he was alive.

       He didn’t breathe. He just slept.

Chapter Text

        He propped his hand up with gauze atop a towel.

        In neat, brief lines he'd scrawled a circle around his wrist. 'Cut here.'

        He'd tied his arm, knowing that it would make the amputation less painful. He was a remnant, sure, but not quite a despair. He didn't want to be pleased for the likes of her. The woman he hated so much.

        The final towel occupied his mouth, already clenched between his teeth.

        Left hand. Nagito had always been right-handed, anyway. It wouldn't be a problem just to lob the other off, right?

        His hand trembled lightly - fear or excitement? - as he brandished the knife. The butcher knife was the closest thing he could find.

        As soon as he'd salvaged the hand - a lucky find amongst the crushed remains of Junko's body - he'd decided it would be a wonderful fit.

        While he wasn't exactly a despair, the feeling still gave him the same, killer high as it did the others. The only difference is that hope still came at a far more euphoric philosophy. He was both. 

        Besides. He'd rather be both than neither.

        Just look at Kamakura.

        He grimaced just at the thought. Disgusting.

        Masochism didn't extend far into self-inflicted wounds. This wasn't for pleasure, no. But for that odd, alluring despair he so despised. Or - maybe not that. Maybe spite.

        He'd carry out the name of hope using her hands.

        Hey. That's almost symbolic.

        Would it make him a slave to despair?

        If he wasn't already.

        His teeth clenched as he raised the knife to eye level, eyes drawing wider as he eyed the mark he'd left .

        If he was precise he wouldn't hit bone. Well, not too much bone. He could sever the hand.

        For a moment, he stopped, hand still suspended in the air, brandishing the blade.

        ...Ah. Why am I doing this...?

        Through the towel, he choked up a laugh, smile growing wider still.

        Despair... hope...! To worship her and her disgusting movement. To spite her with her own, repulsive hand.

        He'd always have her close. Her watching him. He couldn't tell.

        Was this an act of despair?

        Or an act of hope...?

        His laughter subsided, before suddenly resurfacing with greater, farther from sane overtones. All muffled by his towel.

        Ah, of course! He'd been so stupid!

        This was an act of both. And he had absolutely no reason to hesitate.

        Could he live like that? A hand in either world?

        He could. He would!

        A servant to the world itself.

        He sat up straighter, teeth biting closer and closer. Ah. The tie wouldn't stop this from hurting, would it?

        No, it wouldn't.

        But all he could do was smile.

        Sacrifices were made for the things you worshipped.

        The things we do for hope.

        Knife met table.

        At first, all he felt was a smothering numbness. Pain only came after.

        But he screamed all the same.

Chapter Text

        The nurse crept from the water, frame trembling slightly. She'd never been much of a swimmer, but she was skilled enough not to die.

        She departed from the tide, heels unsuited for the sand.

        Small, fragmented grains sunk into her shoes, lined the pale, soaked portions of her trembling body.

        It was uncomfortable, and the sensation brought a small smile to her face.

        She'd escaped... had she? This feeling of despair... it was wonderful.

        Like the sky collapsing. Like the world opening up to swallow her whole. Mikan lived for that feeling. That was love.

        At all costs, she had to ensure that the whole world could feel that love, too.

        The nurse's body remained in closed-off posture, her head inclining upward to gaze at the smoke rising into the air. So the helicopter had crashed?

        Now, in admittance, Mikan came to realize in that very second that she could very well abandon Komaeda, and continue her mission without him.

        He'd gotten her this far. She didn't need him anymore.

        Ah. That would make sense...! Suddenly, there was a shift in her plan. 

        She didn't need a servant. She was already all the servitude Junko would ever want. All he servitude she'd ever need to reignite the perfect love she'd given.

        Walking slowly from the surf, Mikan bit her already opened lip in hesitation. She wanted to see Nagito. Not because she intended to take him - definitely not. But he was a factor she couldn't keep track of. If she wasn't going to take him, she could very well kill him!

        That... that would be so despairful... To murder a classmate. She'd never done that before. Could I really be... that bold?

        She'd had plans for Gundham when she'd captured him in her office, but to kill another despair?

        She hadn't originally intended to carry out the deed, but the more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea.

        Would she need him though? He has that luck. She didn't want to gamble with that.

        That's why it was important to see. She had to see what had happened to poor, poor Nagito.

        Her steps slow, her breath soft, she slowly approached the wreckage of the helicopter she'd abandoned.

        Would she find Nagito? Would he be alive?

        Would she allow him to stay that way, if he was?

        She couldn't be sure. All she knew was that her closest, most important companion was inside of her. Anything else was a second factor.

        Humming nervously, she finally arrived.

        Mikan's breath stiffened, smiling in subdued euphoria at the body that lay sprawled out against the sand. His face inclined at an odd, somewhat disturbing angle upon a broken neck. Coated in burns.

        His eyes were closed, but his expression was stoic. I don't think I've... ever seen him like that before.

        Where his - or... where her hand should have been lay a stump instead, surrounded by a sickly magenta spray, soaking into the sand.

        Matted into his singed hair were the grains of sand he lay upon.

        Like the beach was slowly devouring his corpse. 

        He's being reclaimed... by hell.

        Tsumiki gently pulled at her sleeve, but quietly confirmed to herself. She didn't need to check for a pulse. From this close, she couldn't see the rise and fall of his chest. His neck looked disconnected from his body - unless that was just the illusion of his collar. 

        Mikan knew: the likelihood of Komaeda being dead was astounding. But she couldn't check - for she didn't want it confirmed.

        Despair was living in fear. Living in guilt. In regret. What if he was alive, and she'd left him to die when he needed her nursing?

        Such despair!

        What if he was alive, and wanted revenge for her abandonment? And started to work against her?

        He'd always been such a lousy despair.

        And even if he was dead... that was her fault too. 

        She raised a gloved hand to cover up her laughter, surfacing to her lips from her own, deep despair.

        His hand, though. That was more important than his death.

        Even if Komaeda was dead, her hand wasn't his to keep. Not anymore.

        Standing taller, the nurse chewed absent-mindedly at her nails, eyes searching the coastline for any sign of crimson nails and pale, deathly beauty.

        Finally - there! Still encased in that stupid, ragged mitten. Coated in layers of sand, so undeservingly!

        Mikan turned her back to Komaeda's body without another thought, or even a backwards glance. Quickly, she scooped up what remained of the severed hand, gaping down at it with awe.

        Seemingly, it had been neatly torn from Nagito's wrist. A few loose threads, singed on the ends, loosely dangled down from where her arm used to connect.

        Mikan hummed with blissful, motherly attitude, quickly brushing off particles of sand and debris from the dismembered hand.

        She could hold it... she could smell it, she could take it with her. She could even have it as her own hand! She'd have to consider that option - Mikan found lots of use with her hands.

        But wouldn't losing that ability be so, so despairing?

        Such a beautiful, tragic expression of devotion?

        She would keep the hand. She would keep it so, so close. Even if she didn't end up making it her own, she would ensure its safety.

        Maybe she could re-decorate the decals on those old, scarlet nails? She could bring it to life in a new, vibrant way?

        She would keep it safe, no matter what.

        She continued to grow tempted. Tempted, tempted still. What if she brought around her despair with the use of her hand?

        Whether she attached it or not, she could very well put a ring on that beloved finger. Finally... Just to show how much her love meant. 

        She would give her anything she needed, even after she was dead.

        Mikan clung tightly to the hand, pressing the dead, cold limb against her heart as she turned, finally, away from the wreckage of it all.

        She had other things to do - other places to be. She was on the most important mission in the world, at least right now.

        She had to. She had to continue on now, for her beloved Junko!

        And even if she failed, she could die trying.

        To die in despair.

        A dream come true! A fantasy she could dream of and drool over even as she held her beautiful, frozen hand against her heart.

        If she was to fail, then that's all she wanted.

        As brutal, as terrible, as shameful as possible!

        The Servant had died - had it been tragic? Had it been painful? Glancing back, only once, she judged.

        It looked almost too painless. Sure, he was coated in burns and had been cut in countless places by the broken window he'd been flung through, but his neck snapped too quickly.

        She couldn't have that - not for herself.

        Junko herself had died in despair.

        Coated in pain, in humiliation and grief!

        If Mikan was going to die, she prayed that she would die like that.

        Like the sky, collapsing over her head all along, had finally caved in and devoted her whole.

        She had already died once for her beloved. Gladly, so, so gladly she would do it again.

        Even more spectacular, even more painful!

        All of it in terrible, brutal failure!

        To die, failing the one person you loved more than anyone!

        What a wonderful way to die!

Chapter Text

        The hamsters seemed happy enough with what they'd been given, but Nekomaru had never gotten the chance to ask Gundham what they ate.

        They'd appeared at his feet right as their owner had been dragged onto that ship. Now that he was long gone, Nekomaru felt it was his responsibility to take care of them.

        Even now they seemed somewhat lost. He wasn't sure what it looked like for a hamster to mourn, but the Team Manager figured that it was likely that it looked at least something like this.

        He finished his mouthful of food, before gently prodding a pile of peas in their direction.

        The hamsters merely stared up at him, as if questioning where it was that Gundham had gone. They didn't indulge in the food.

        "D'they eat meat?" Akane, sitting across from Nekomaru, tried, her voice somewhat muffled. Clearly she was still chewing a mouthful of her own. "'Cause they haven't been eaten' any of the peas."

        "Uhhh..." Nekomaru voiced aloud, scratching his head. "I... don't think they do... I'm pretty sure he fed them seeds and stuff."

        "...D'we got that?" Akane raised her head, leaning into her elbow on the table as she glanced around at the mostly-vacant room.

        Akane was one of the people Nekomaru believed in full certainty that he could trust with what he'd known. He was relatively trusting of everyone, but of course he was trusting of Akane.

        She was one of the few people who seemed brave in the face of the mysterious seizure of despair. Many of them had grown restless at the idea of their despair returning, unknowing of what had caused it.

        Akane, however, didn't seem frightened at all by the idea. She was just as determined, and just as resilient in the face of tragedy.

        Nekomaru had always respected that about her.

        Quietly, though, he could sense her relief at having him back. He hadn't chosen to bring it up yet, since there'd already been a brief discussion about his return.

        He couldn't be there forever. He knew that - and maybe she did too.

        But for all the time he could outlive his life expectancy, he'd want to make the most of it.

        "Uhhh... I think so! We'd just have to ask Teruteru..." Nekomaru reached a hand down, gently stroking the large, orange hamster between the ears.

        He blinked up at the Team Manger in response, whiskers quivering.

        "...It just doesn't feel fair..." Nekomaru voiced aloud.

        "What doesn't? 'Ya mean what happened t' Gundham?" Akane chewed more slowly, wanting to respect her coach's sudden sentiments. 

        "Yeah... he was building strength to fight against his despair... and then they took him." He sighed, trying to offer a pea directly to the largest hamster. 

        The hamster took it with vague reluctance.

        "And Nagito, too. And Mikan! All the despairs. I guess it just... doesn't seem fair that he got grouped with the rest of them. Not even that - he was the only one who wasn't trying to give in to it... well, that's what he said anyway."

        Akane swallowed, glancing off thoughtfully. Seemingly she intended to produce a solution to solve the Team Managers problems.

        "Well... can we get 'em back?"

        "Well... unless we... go after him I don't know... Actually, I'm not even sure where they took him..." Nekomaru sighed. "Or what they're doing... but you're right - we can try! We'd just need to figure out a plan..."

        "...Can we just sail there ourself? We don't gotta wait for 'em, right?"

        Nekomaru blinked. "Well, I..." He - he didn't think they could... not without help. But with help...!

        "...Well, uh... we've got lots of spare parts around here! And Souda... Souda can help us out!"

        "Oh! You're right!" Akane seemed to immediately tap into the idea. "Yeah, we got Souda! And uh - Hank, too!"

        "You mean Hajime...?" Nekomaru questioned, making sure they had remained on the same page.

        "Yeah, him," Akane nodded, sitting back. "He's got all the talents now, right? That's what it means to be that 'Kamakura' guy, ain't it?"

        "You're right!" Nekomaru realized, "that would make him the Ultimate Mechanic, too... as well as the Ultimate Boat-Maker! Assuming that's its own talent..."

        "Well, he's the Ultimate Builder, or something' like that..." Akane added. "I mean, he's got everything!"

        Sometimes it was hard to refer to Kamakura as the same entity as Hajime. They'd all known Hajime. Kamakura was technically Hinata, yes, but they'd never really known him. They only knew their Ultimate Hope.

        Not that Ultimate Hope.

        He was still diplomatic enough to talk to, if only somewhat distant.

        It made Nekomaru kind of sad to see. Not that he could do much of anything to fix it.

        He could only continue to treat him as he normally did, which seemed to be appreciated. (It was difficult to tell at times.)

        Nekomaru had never found himself capable of fearing the new Hajime, though. He recognized bold attempts to live as he once did before his delve into human experimentation. It was admirable, really.

        Nekomaru, as always, held great respect for Hajime.

        "You're right..." Nekomaru's voice raised, as if the volume hadn't already equated to a high enough level, "you're right! If we all work together... then of course we can overcome any obstacle! That's just the definition of teamwork!"

        Akane perked up. Never having been one for hard work, she still seemed energized enough about the idea.

        "So? What're we waiting' for!?" She stood, cracking her knuckles briefly. "Let's just get to it, already!"

        Nekomaru stood up too. "Anything is possible with a fighting spirit!"

        The two seemed to build continuously off one another's energy.

        The Devas were used to dramatics and loud volume, but not quite the same that these two shared.

        As if they understood what was going on, though, all four perked their heads up, watching the displays of determination between the gymnast and her coach.

        Was it true?

        Nekomaru believed in it, but he could never know for certain if it was what fate had in store.

        There was no predicting an outcome, but belief would get you farther than any training could.

        Nekomaru had already lasted this long - he could last longer if he needed to!

        That's right! They would get Gundham back. They would get him off the path of despair!

        Gundham was his athlete, and Nekomaru would see through to his recovery. Just like he had for countless athletes before him.

        As long as he was still hopeful.

        As long as he still had his same, determined spirit.

        Of course it was possible!

        There was that old, grim possibility that entered the coach's psyche, but he quickly pushed it away.

        But not before it could form a clear picture in his head.

        All of this could come true.

        That is, unless Tanaka was dead by the time they arrived...

Chapter Text

        Awakening at gunpoint, the Breeder could only scowl lightly upon the opening of his eyes.

        There were one, two, three people... Ah. Such a thing only made sense. Two remnants had already done away with one of their units of transportation, and he was the man in question, after all.

        Again. It only made sense.

        That did not make the sensation of being hostage any less unpleasant, however.

        Gundham merely had to prey on the pride the situation allowed. They fear me. He could sense it even now.

        That gave him the ability to cast an uneasy grin onto his face as one of the cretins began to bark at him.

        "Sit up. Slowly. Raise your hands."

        That was the command Gundham was given, but he cared very little. He merely exhaled a light 'tch.' A lion, bemused by the attempts of scavenging birds. A threatening aura that he himself could sense, even if he knew it wasn't fully true.

        Despite his tactics with the helicopter, Gundham did not believe himself capable of murdering innocents. Not anymore. He feared the outcome.

        "Mm. No." He answered in short, a daring edge to his voice. The vow was a challenge in itself. 'What can you do to stop me?'

        They didn't move either.

        "If you don't listen to us, we'll be forced to exhibit drastic measures. It's in your own interest that you listen," the same man warned.

        Gundham's eyes stole a glance downward, internally murmuring a new arcane curses at the apparent absence of his of his firearm. Not that using it, or even reaching for it would have proven wise at all. He knew that, too.

        "...Are you not aware of my state?" He asked simply. Gundham wasn't precisely certain where he was going with his words, it almost came to his tongue naturally. Frightening instincts. "There are those that still call me Ultimate Despair. Are you so foolish to believe that the threat of pain shall sway me?"

        Without waiting for them to utter another word, he did sit up, rather quickly, at that.

        They didn't dare shoot him, likely for fear of setting him off.

        Gundham paused. Hm. He had some control, but not much. All he had was based upon fear. "Hm. Where is it that I am? Speak, you cur." His pride demanded that he stay guarded, demanded that he grasp as much control and dignity as he could. He was silently frightened of the idea of shame, for he knew, deep down, he would likely enjoy it.

        Sultry, in the same way as pain.

        He had to remain truest to who he knew himself to be, not the man he was remembering.

        So the persona would stay.

        "The Future Foundation outpost. Not the base - the one outside Jabberwock Island."

        "...I see..."  Gundham cleared his throat. That would prove difficult. He was likely to be locked back up again as soon as they found it possible to do so. In fact, that was likely what they intended to do now...

        Though I'm needed elsewhere...!

        "You believe it wise to keep me within doors?" He mocked lightly, attempting to feel out how much ability he had. "-Fine. I shall come along, though not under your orders... Merely because I find entertaining your petty wishes somewhat amusing. Though don't grow too fond of the thought... Tanaka does not stay 'captured' long..." His grin only grew.

        This is what he was familiar with - making a mockery in the name of his own pride. He thrived off that now.

        The notion of making others afraid was both good - entailing his convincing persona (he rather liked that!) - and bad - for it only drove him further from the members of society he'd always secretly yearned to know. Not that he'd ever admitted that to himself, though. He hid from the world, and he was included in that majority.

        Though if that sting was what it took to remain stable under the weight of despair, gladly he would do so.

        One of the aspects of despair he rather despised is how readily pleasure came. 

        He was stable enough within his own life, but being able to feel each and every regret, resentment and unhappy aspect he regarded himself with was a painful spotlight.

        Then it only hurt more. It only got him higher.

        The person he spoke to didn't seem phased by his words. "Your wrists?" He nodded to Gundham's hands. "Show them."

        "It shan't change even an aspect!" Gundham jested. "Mortal steel shan't contain the Forbidden One!"

        “Doesn’t matter. Wrists?” The weapons remained trained on the remnant as the man stepped forward, face somewhat stoic, seemingly rather insistent.

        How intriguing. Gundham had to admit that much. “Hm. Some may take your courage for recklessness,” Gundham observed, “though... I welcome it. I shall indulge, if only to laugh at your petty efforts, no matter how feeble they are.” The Breeder didn’t break eye contact, giving over his wrists. The stare was clear: ‘I have control.’ “Take care, rogue... do not touch me directly if you value your life.” He grew smug. “Lethality would be imminent.”

        The smug feeling was accompanied by a small flush of pride. Certainly... all present would never forget Gundham Tanaka. He prayed for that - that was a thought that brought him solace, since his own ability to be forgotten was something he dreaded in secret.

        The cuffs were slipped onto his wrists, and the Supreme Overlord of Ice was bound.

        He did not wait to be let out, the despair quietly exited the helicopter. He glanced around, finding nothing of immediate interest. “...Hm. Where am I intended to remain?”

        “Follow me,” the man instructed, leading the way.

        Gundham felt the muzzle of a gun lightly press into his back. He didn’t need to be encouraged, for he followed anyway.

        He puffed up his chest naturally, the gaze of his crimson eyes boring into whomever it was who stared as he passed. Even now, feigning bravery came easy, but that did not mean he wasn’t queasy with nerves within.

        “What is to become of my fate, should you devils entertain me in return? What plans shall the hand of causality discard?”

        “Someone’s here to see you,” a woman answered this time, from behind him. That was the only answer he’d received.

        What? That - didn’t make any sense. It couldn’t be Tsumiki or Komaeda, could it? “Who awaits?”

       There was a silence, and he could sense it vaguely. They didn’t feel comfortable disclosing that information to him.

        For once, Tanaka found it wise to remain silent. He would see soon enough. Did he dare express fear?

        It did not appear that he was to die - at least not yet. So what is my fate...? 

        He was stopped before a room. One glance through the glass disclosed a chair, decorated with restraints, and otherwise nothing at all. Nothing else? He would have taken it for an interrogation room if he wasn’t so certain there was nothing to learn.

        Conversion? Likely. But he didn’t believe such a remedy had been disclosed or decided upon yet. But how would he know? Once more, he found silence wise.

        The door was opened, and the Remnant was lead to the chair.

        In a quick breath of freedom, the cuffs were removed from his wrists. However, he knew wiser than to move. He sat down upon his own accord, allowing his arms to be fastened back down just as quickly as they were released. He merely glanced away. His air of confidence would remain unshaken. Come what may.

        Quite quickly, the room was vacated, leaving the Despair in silence.

        And in that silence, he waited. His eyes focused distantly on the wall in front of him. It was blank - one-way glass. Who was watching him on the outside...?

        A hope? A despair...? He could not know, and he could not truly assume. Perhaps Yukizome, does she still thrive? Though he could not be certain she was still living at all.

        The wait grew somewhat dreadful, and Tanaka could not tell whether it was his own anxiety upon the matter, or if his mysterious visitor had truly chose to bide their time so slowly.

        He cleared his throat, growing conscious of the fact there could be countless eyes upon him. Or perhaps none. He hoped it was none, but the discomfort sent pleasant tingles down his spine.

        The Breeder tested the cuffs, huffing briefly. They were tight.

        But no longer than a second had he cast his gaze down, when the sound of a door caught him off guard.

        The Breeder’s posture stiffened, staring daggers towards the figure in the doorway. He took only a second to recognize, but the realization caused Tanaka to suck in an unsteady breath.

        He held a box within his hands, a somewhat unassuming look upon his face. In fact — he smiles...?

        He was far shorter than Gundham would have liked to imagine. In fact, he seemed almost entirely harmless.

        That just made him angrier. An ingrained, indoctrinated reaction: Gundham’s blood boiled. Suddenly his breath was faster, his gaze fiercer. His heart thundered at a roaring, terrified pace.

        Gundham had been unknowingly conditioned to hate him. He’d spent countless forgotten hours loathing him, wishing he could murder him, hunting him, only to meet failure instead. Now he was mere feet away.

        His breath chuffed, boots slowly twisting into the floor uneasily. Were they not tied down, he would likely lash out.

        Gundham couldn’t help his body from trembling, his nervous system from rattling him. He wanted to remain calm, but all he knew for him was obscene, violent hatred.

        He kept silent, jaw clenching, face almost wounded. Has he not been restrained, his first instinct would surely have been to reach out, strangle him, throttle him, beat him absolutely senseless and tear his heart from his chest.

        Take that foul organ, still beating and wet with blood, and set it ablaze.

        Tanaka hated him. He didn’t even know why. He didn’t even wish to hate him! But all he could conceptualize were fantastical demises to befit the man in the doorway.

        His apparent sense of calm only worsened his desires. But, as always, he would be strong. If Tanaka couldn’t keep himself from trembling, he could at least address him with respect.

        He knew he wasn’t an enemy, but he couldn’t see him as anything other than his life’s own bane. He had to push his judgments aside - he had to ignore his most powerful, despairing urge, if only one more time.

        The Breeder cleared his throat, glaring, though dipping his head in mild respect.

        “...Naegi...?”

Chapter Text

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."

        "You didn't?"

        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-!"

        Zom-B squibbled.

        "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?
        Focus, Tanaka.
        "...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.

        "...A friend...?"

Chapter Text

        He'd been staring for what felt like hours - days. He'd only been able to stare, and fade in and out of consciousness.

        He scarcely remembered who he was. All he knew to associate with himself was the freely-bleeding, gaping wound left by the absence of a hand. What happened there...?

        The sun was harsh, quietly stifling his vision. He shifted his face down into the sand, attempting to hide from the relentless sun. It hurt him to look at.

        He breathed the particles of dust, eyes fluttering closed again. He really was becoming one with the shore. But he didn't even know who he was - or where he was - so there was nothing he could do to end it.

        He felt the air shift, but could not open his eyes, for fear of the oppressive sunlight.

        His body shuddered involuntarily.

        He just felt heavy - like perhaps he should be dead. On the verge of suffocation, but not quite there.

        Not only that, but pain all over his body.

        It took a few moments for the violent crashing sounds overhead to stop, but every second was like torture. The gradual descent of the sound, whipping about his clothes, his hair, crating nails on the chalkboard of his mind.

        He wanted to beg for it to stop, but he couldn't. The terrible, loud sounds grated at his sanity, causing him to smile quietly. Ah... that hurt. But it was more unpleasant than it was pleasing.

        He felt like he was going to be sick. The closer the sound grew, the louder it was. Like it was trying to shake him, destroy his ears and violate his hearing until it simply killed him.

        Finally - finally it stopped. The air was still tainted with a stinging whipping noise.

        His breaths were already hard enough to grasp, but the floor of sensations put him into a shock he could not quite recover from. He could only wait. His body felt on the verge of of an uncontrollable fit, but he could not move.

        Someone - someone was coming. He couldn't see them, but he could hear them.

        He lay there, aware of his own helplessness, but not entirely sure what it meant.

        The person - they were close to him now. Even if he couldn't will his eyes open, he could hear them breathing. He could feel them crouching down, and pressing a gloved hand to his neck.

        Beneath his eyelids, his gaze shifted back and forth. He could feel his head throbbing - who is that? What did they want? Were they here to help him away from this terrible light?

        He heard their voice: "He's alive."

        ...Alive... He wasn't sure how to interpret the word, for he didn't know for what reason he could have been at risk of losing his life. Who wondered the same question?

        It was a woman's voice. Somehow - somehow of all things, her voice was somewhat familiar, but he had no hope of placing it.

        He finally drew his eyes open as he watched the bleak outlines of people approaching him. He was surrounded - they blotted out the sun. ...Yay...!

        Someone else began to touch him, but he didn't care. He just wished they would lower their voice - but any escape from the sun was welcome.

        "Cervical fracture." This person was not familiar. None of these other people were. Just her. "Bad one, too. Looks like the collar saved him. He'll need a brace."

        More people began touching at his neck, and all he could do was exhale a light wheeze.

        "-Careful." That was her. Her warning was brief.

        He felt a weight being gently unfastened from his neck, before finally the weight was gone.

        His vision was nothing more than a smear, but he could see out of the corner of his eye what it was. A thick ring of metal, now opened like iron jaws, trailing a long chain behind it.

        Had that been on his neck?

        -But he didn't have time to think about it, because something much stiffer and much more restrictive replaced it. He was facing the sun again - he squeezed his eyes shut as tight as they would go.

        All he'd been able to breathe had been sand and smoke. The attempt to align his neck only served to choke him. Not in a pleasing way, either.

        "Looks like a concussion," another unfamiliar person added.

        "...Mm." That - that was her again!

        Who is she...? He tried to squint past the searing gaze of the sun. Who is she?

        "Careful. Might be spinal." That wasn't her.

        He felt himself being moved gradually. He wanted to pay attention to what was happening to him, but focus was impossible.

        He was being - strapped down? Was that right? All he could feel was movement and restriction.

        For a moment he inclined his face - hoping to catch a glimpse of her - but quickly someone else chose to tilt his face the other direction, holding open his eyes and shining a small, deadly light in them.

        He could only rasp out his discomfort in response, trying his best to look away. It was a futile effort.

        "No pupil dilation. He'll need a transfusion - and some air."

        "Surgeon, too."

        "He's lucky to be alive."

        None of them were her - none of them were her. Focusing on her was so difficult.

        "...I see." Her voice.

        He attempted to tilt his face in the direction he'd heard her last, but his gaze was redirected again. Nnnnnoo...

        "He needs to be treated now - should we set up here, Kirigiri?" One of them asked, glancing off elsewhere.

        That was the name.

        ...'Kirigiri'... He knew that name. No - he didn't. Did he? Krrrgrrgr...?

        "Yes. Don't leave yet," her voice confirmed. "There's still Tsumiki."

        Kirigiri... 'Kirigiri?' Kirigiri... Who was that? Who was that - who was he - where - how-?

        Oh - he was being moved. Wheeled? Rolled...? Going somewhere.

        Where - no no no he wasn't done yet - who was that?

        As he was being transported, he snapped his face to the side before it could be placed back. He squinted. ...There...

        In the near distance, already crouched over the sand, seemingly in search for some kind of clues.

        Her lavender hair was tied back with a single, black ribbon. She looked different now than she had on TV - not that the Servant would be able to properly recall her face on the TV screen. Not for as long as he suffered from his concussion.

        But somehow, despite thick, walled barriers of mismemory, he remembered her.

        ...That's all he needed.

        He closed his eyes, willing his eyelids to shield him once more from the ruthless beatings of the sunlight.

        Then, without a sound, he allowed the world to fade around him again.

Chapter Text

        The nurse was already long gone by the time Kirigiri had arrived to find the Servant on the beach.

        She didn't have much of a quarrel with wandering - if anything, doing so in sand-coated heels was despairful in its discomfort. Shivering from the cold, drenched from head to toe, Mikan took enjoyment in her situation.

        Then it was taking to standing at the side of the road, biting feverishly at her nails as she waited for anyone to pass by in a car.

        Her feeble frame trembled, chilled by the cold. She didn't know how much time she had. She prayed - in the name of despair - in the name of love that someone would arrive to help her.

        She hummed discordantly, unsure how else to cope with the growing anxiety that slithered through her intestines like a slim, feral serpent. Her weight rocked back and forth, finally catching a glimpse of headlights rounding the corner of the road. Her hands folded in front of her, posture suddenly rocketing into a forced stiffness.

        Slowly, the car began to pass, so the nurse shouted a quick, urgent 'w-wait!'

        The waving of her arms and uncertain steps toward the road had caused the driver to slow. Good...!

        The despair quickly moved to the window, tapping briefly on it before making a vain attempt at obscuring her face. It wouldn't help much, for her uniform was already splattered with the unmistakable pink hue of recently spilled blood.

        They seemed hesitant to roll down the window, and Mikan quietly muttered nervous curses to herself. Kindness was hard to find in times like these - she just had to find someone with kindness she could take advantage of.

        The driver only needed one glance, before the fear was apparent on their face.

        Mikan knew that the appearance of the remnants was at least apparent by word of mouth, but she hoped that one wouldn't recognize one right in front of them. That thought itself was full of false hope, and she knew it.

        She had to distract them quickly.

        "S-Sir! P-Pardon me..." she stuttered quickly, rapping her knuckles with growing urgency on the window. "I was just in a crash - o-over there!" She pointed quickly, directing the driver's attention to the fallen helicopter.

        The distance between she and the crash had grown significantly, but it was still in view.

        "Please, please, please-! Can you t-take me somewhere...?" The nurse's hands clasped, her head dipping slightly.

        The driver hesitated only momentarily, before reaching to take his car out of park and continue on his way.

        No! Had he recognized her?

        "W-Wait! I'd do anything!" But by the time she'd spoken, the driver had already sped off. They were too cowardly to swerve in an attempt to strike her down, so she was abandoned on the road instead.

        ...Coward... Everyone - everyone was such a coward. 

        Humming, rubbing her cold, clammy hands over the paled surface of her arms, the nurse continued on at the same, sad pace. Who else could she steal from? Who would listen to a despair?

        She was counting on the hope that the person within the car hadn't called any authorities - if there were any to call in the first place. She didn't know. She'd been out of touch with the world for a long, long time, it felt like.

        She didn't have much - she'd lost almost everything she'd been holding onto in the fall from the helicopter. All she had was Junko's precious hand, and Junko's precious womb.

        She could walk for a long time, but she doubted she'd get far. She had a place in mind but she couldn't possibly know how close or far it was. But if she could reach that city... then there was no way Future Foundation could catch her! Right? That's a good idea! Junko would be proud of an idea like that!

        And just like that, another car came screeching around the corner. This time, though, Mikan held her ground. Sucking in a quick breath, the remnant of despair pivoted into the path of the automobile. She didn't have a single second thought - she could only pray that her beloved would be okay.

        She squeezed tightly to her hand during the impact.

        Like a deer in headlights Mikan merely stared at the incoming automobile, a smile painted daintily on her face.

        The car screeched to a brief halt, but not soon enough. The impact was enough to send Mikan sprawling backwards onto the street, but not enough to prevent her from her goal.

        Rolling onto her side, Mikan warily glanced down at her leg. That was the portion of her body that had taken most of the impact.

        Bleeding scrapes were etched through her skin, bringing a familiar, pink ooze to the surface of her flesh. It was an easy enough fix later, but it didn't stop it from hurting.

        The pain was like ecstasy. As her lip quivered, tears began to gradually stream from her doe-eyes. In turn, trails of transparent drool from the corners of her mouth.

        This... this is what love feels like...!

        Mikan turned her gaze sharply to the car, watching the driver step out and approach her.

        Suddenly her heart throbbed with a rush of adrenaline, causing her to sit up, face startled and somewhat vulnerable, despite the lies behind that initial impression.

        What could she do? She needed that car, and it probably wouldn't be long before the initial shock of the crash shattered, and the driver realized just who they'd hit.

        Pain only made Mikan smile more widely as she forced herself to stand on trembling, unsteady legs. She didn't think anything was broken, but she really couldn't tell. She could find out for herself later - when she was safe.

        She didn't have time to act, she merely stumbled forward and did the best she could. She didn't even have the time to savor the sensation of murder. The nurse let herself go. 

        She tore at whatever she could, throttling when she got a good enough grasp on the woman, once behind the wheel. She knew too well that she herself was somewhat weak compared to most, so she was thankful that the driver herself seemed somewhat frail.

        Tsumiki was somewhat hindered by her unwavering grip on Junko's severed hand, but she would never risk letting go of it.

        She wasn't even sure of the condition of the driver, for the nurse had grown too desperate. The keys were still inside the car, so she could just take it for herself.

        Leaving the stranger on the ground, Mikan fled to the safety of the car, her run somewhat wobbling.

        She knew, quietly, that she probably wouldn't have advised running after being struck down by a car. Good--! How despairing.

        Slamming the door quickly, Tsumiki tried to catch her breath.

        Ignite the engine, change the shift, and suddenly-

        The car jetted forward as Mikan floored the wheel.

        Hindered already as the car hit a rough, brutal interloper in the road, the nurse's smile grew. That - that was them. Right?

        She didn't have time to revel in any of it. She was a woman with a mission, and she couldn't fail it this time, as she'd failed over and over and over again, before!

        As she finally started off, speeding with precautious oversight, Mikan finally caught her breath.

        She allowed the mitten containing Junko's hand to rest on her lap, briefly taking an interest in the GPS system.

        Where to now...? She had the faintest idea, and it was a good place to start.

        It was practically the hometown of despair, despite not quite having that claim to fame.

        Recently it had experienced a hope resurgence, but there was still at least somewhat of a struggle. The disorient would work to her advantage. This was a despairing world, after all.

        Finally sitting back in her seat, the ache existing in her legs began to sting without mercy.

        Tsumiki forced herself to stifle a delighted, dazed giggle. It hurt so badly... she loved it.

        The action was over, but her heart didn't quiet! The anticipation was simply too great to ignore!

        She sat up, gaze affixed out the window as the dark, decrepit world passed her by.

        The world that was once Junko's, and in that way was hers, now. Should she ever be worthy enough to take Junko's place. All for her despairing name.

        She'd gotten his far. Despair promised imminent failure, so she had belief in such a tragic fate. But not before - not before I finish what I've started?

        Hopefully, if only she didn't hate the word 'hopefully,' she would at least begin the second end of the world.

        She'd never been anything more than pathetic. She'd never been anything more than a meek, bumbling, slow-witted woman. At least, according to almost everyone in the world.

        But in the light of her beloved's love... for once, she felt like she could be anything she wanted.

        She wasn't precise about the direction, but Tsumiki knew she'd find it one way or another. All she had to do was find her current location, and she could finally track it down.

        Her wonderful safe haven!

        Squeezing the wheel, she got high off that idea. She got high off the pain she already felt, and the pain she'd feel soon enough.

        They won't find me! They won't find me soon enough! Not in Towa City!

Chapter Text

        "...You, uh... you want us to - what again?" Kazuichi prompted, scratching at the back of his head uncertainly.

        "'Ya know... build a boat so Coach Nekomaru 'n I can go 'n save Gundham!" Akane chimed, voice adamant. "You guys can do that, can'tcha?"

        "Hmm." Hajime mused, sitting up. Or - was he Kamakura?

        He preferred the name Hajime. He still went by Hajime, but something was certainly different about him. His personality was still intact, but he was far less expressive. Far less invested in the world.

        Hajime was the ghost of a person.

        Akane had sometimes felt quietly worried for the fellow survivor and his changed nature, but he seemed happy enough. He just had to get used to all this, she thought. They all had to - maybe someday soon he could figure out how to be the same again. If anyone can - it's Hank! 

        "Well... we do have the talent," Hajime admitted. "I think I could try and scrounge up enough supplies to try and work with." His head tilted slightly, dual-colored eyes traveling to the ceiling in a moment of thought. "-If I was able to find things that worked... I think it's possible that Kazuichi and I could make something with it."

        "Y-Yeah!" Souda backed up after a moment, "that's true! It'd just take a little time, that's all... I'm just kinda surprised you want to help that guy. I mean - he's a despair, ain't he?"

        "He wasn't last time I saw him... he was only kind of an Ultimate Despair," Nekomaru informed.

        "'Kind of...'?" Souda sounded further swayed into uncertainty. He didn't seem to fully like the idea of assisting his romantic rival - especially when that romantic rival had become even more capable of murder than he already had been before.

        "He was my athlete - he was training to try and combat the despair," the coach elaborated further. "And maybe if we can get to 'em... we can get him back here before anything happens to him!"

        Akane had always admired Nekomaru's faith in people. She admired a lot about him, actually. He was the perfect role model in her mind's eye. He was far more hard-working than she, not that she disliked that aspect about herself, but it was an observation.

        She'd missed him. She really had.

        Akane was just relieved to have him back - she just wasn't sure how long that would remain intact. Eh, I'm gettin' carried away.

        "So?" The gymnast pressed, "can 'ya do it?"

        "Well we - we can... it just might take a little while," admitted Kazuichi. "I dunno. Hajime, what do you think about this?"

        Hajime's expression didn't shift. His head tilted very slightly, crossing his arms in thought. His face still didn't move. "It's hard to say exactly what'll happen," he deadpanned, "but I think... if we had a boat that could hold two people we'd have enough time. Anything else is asking for trouble."

        "How d'ya know?" Akane inquired.

        "...I... well. I just kinda do," replied the Ultimate Analytical Prowess, Clairvoyant, Mechanic, Scavenger, Theorist, Predictor, Sailor and Logician.

        "Two people?" Nekomaru had to take a moment to think about it. "-But wait. If the boat'll only fit two people... that would mean I can't bring Akane?"

        "Doesn't seem like it," Hajime's monotone came again. "-Sorry. Just... doesn't seem possible in the long run. We can make it for two, but that's for the best, I think."

        "...Wait... I'm not comin'...?" The gymnast's head inclined to meet Nekomaru's gaze, the emotion of disappointment displayed with relative ease upon her face.

        "...Guess not... if there really is no way..." Nekomaru's arms crossed, seeming silently disappointed in Hajime's prediction, but understanding as it was. He was respectful, even if it went against his wishes. “...Sorry, Akane. And I’m guessing we shouldn’t send Hajime instead, huh...?”
        
        Hajime paused for a moment, glancing at the ceiling. "Ah, well... I don't think so. He probably wouldn't like to be approached by someone he didn't trust. Just - well. Know what you're in for, Nekomaru."

        "...Know what I'm in for?" Nekomaru crossed his arms, cocking a brow. "...D'you know what'll happen?"

        "Not exactly... but I have a pretty clear idea," Hajime admitted. "Don't know if I'm supposed to tell you. I don't know if I should - it's a theory, I think." His lips pursed. "-I guess it could go a few different ways but you should be careful. That's all."

        "Sounds a little dangerous," Kazuichi tacked on, going based on Hajime's word alone. "Are 'ya sure it's worth it? I mean... it'd be safer not to - since Gundham's a despair and everything. He might try to hurt Miss Sonia!"

        "Isn't it our job to take care'uv anyone who gets out?" Akane leaned forward. Despite the warnings Hajime had given, despite her inability to go along, Akane would always take Coach Nekomaru's side. "Especially 'cause Coach Nekomaru believes in 'em! 'S not right to just leave 'em if he'd try'na fight back against it, right?"

        "She's right," Hajime added quickly, voice still devoid of emotion. "I think it's for the best." He stated it like a fact, not like an opinion. He knew. "In the long run, anyway. He's just got to be... careful."

        "...Does that mean you guys'll make the boat for us?" Nekomaru asked, lifting his head slightly.

        "Yeah. I can lend a hand," Hajime nodded, before his eyes flicked over to Souda. "-I predict Souda'll help out." His voice changed slightly from the deadpan, adopting a very light tease. "Isn't that right, Souda?"

        "..." The mechanic gave a slight sigh, before forcing out a quiet chuckle. "Yeah, fine, alright..." He scratched at the back of his neck, exhaling a light sigh. "I'll do my best to get something together. I guess it'll be easier with Hajime's help."

        Akane nodded, excitement riling in her heart. "Let's do it!" She enthused, shooting Nekomaru a grin.
        So he'd be going alone?

        "Sounds like a - well, a plan, I guess..." Kazuichi approved, voice uncertain.

        She wished she could tag along, but she guessed it would be less work to go. That wasn't a balance at all, but it was something. Akane wished she could go alongside him. She couldn't though.
        Just... don't go out there and get killed again! She wouldn't mention it, but her fluttering heart ran on fear, as well as excitement.

        What was Hank talking about?

        There was no way Akane could see the future, so there was no way what precisely he warned about.

        All she had was her faith in her coach.

        Would that be enough?

Chapter Text

        "And that..." Informed Gundham, reclined in the seat that still dutifully restrained him, "is Cumulous Gemstone Cassowary Chlo-E."
        The Breeder smiled faintly at the brown-and-white Zodiac General that had taken to burying itself in his scarf. Chlo-E had always been one for affection - though notably only with Gundham.
        That was merely how they preferred to conduct their business.
        While they spent most of their time within the safety of Gundham's scarf, they were a skilled strategist. There was no doubt in his mind that they were a worthy General.
        
        "Oh - right. 'Chlo-E...'" Makoto nodded his understanding, gently caressing the orange mass within his hand. "And what about this one?"

        "Turncoat Arsenic Hammer Donov-N," Gundham articulated the title. "-He is quite passive, in appearances… though make no mistake... this is merely an act. For behind that front of 'cuteness' lies a feral beast..."
        This was - somewhat feigned. In truth, Gundham knew Donov-N as a docile hamster, deriving from a docile breed.

        "Oh! I see - they're all names, huh? Like, Donovan!" Makoto beamed, seemingly proud of his discovery.

        Gundham's murderous glare cut his excitement short. "...No. Not like 'Donovan.' The title is like Donov-N!"

        "R-Right! Uh... sorry. My mistake..." Naegi cleared his throat. "...'Donov-N'... I'll remember it this time!"

        "..." Gundham lowered his head, smirking again. "...Good instincts..." Playing around with the Ultimate Hope's head was a fun little game. There wasn't much to be done - he was rather a dullard for someone who supposedly murdered Enoshima herself.
        Tanaka had to entertain himself with demeaning jests in order to resist the urges that came with his presence this close.
        That wretch has no right to behold my Generals... he's no right to stand before me in superiority! He'd no right to speak to me as an equal - or be so insolent! 
        
It made Gundham despise him more and more - everything he did. But it came to as easy realization: Makoto Naegi is an idiot. But - he's not an evil being... in fact...
        Tanaka realized he'd been conditioned to hate him due to his overwhelming nature as a good person. That only conflicted him.

        He wanted to appreciate the indulgence of his hamsters and their names, and the listening of his claims at last, but... Gods. How he fantasized already about escaping from his frivolous bonds and tearing the internal workings from Makoto's stomach.

        Ritual execution after ritual execution. Sever his limbs. Burn them.

        And for what? For he hath done me no wrong at all... He knew Makoto was a fair and just human, but every instinct that surged through his veins wanted to inflict terminal harm upon him.

        Makoto smiled politely, somewhat sheepish. "So you've been fighting off your despair this long? That's really admirable, you know."

        Gundham blinked, his eyes lifting from Rem-E perched upon his hand to view Makoto instead. "...Hm? Do you truly believe so?"

        Makoto nodded quickly. "I do! Really... I mean, I don't really know a lot about what happened to everyone but - the fact you've been trying to stay true... that's really admirable, that's all. Are the others like that too?"

        Gundham paused, before shaking his head. "No." The answer was simple.

        "-They're not...?" Makoto seemed confused, but only a little. "Just you, then?"

        "I suppose I cannot say I witnessed their turn... however, neither seemed resistant." Gundham struggled to himself, attempting to turn his hand, fastened securely in place by the cuff, around in order to take hold of Rem-E and run a thumb over his soft fur.

        Naegi paused, before taking notice of his struggling. "Do your - uh... do the Zodiac Generals make you happy?"

        It was an oddly open question, but it felt so personal. Like the admittance was some betrayal to himself, or a blow to his pride. Makoto simply wanted to know how he felt?

        "They are my only companions in this wretched realm..." Gundham murmured, attempting in vain to reach his thumb far enough back to reach Rem-E.
        Rem-E did not often like to be touched, but sometimes he simply required Gundham's attention to aid his nerves. It was the Breeder's will to qualm his anxieties.
        He seemed anxious, staying idle, trembling, refusing to stand from all-fours, and that made Gundham upset. He had no will to feed into his despair - he had to aid his companion.

        "They seem really nice. Like you trained them well..." Makoto tried his best to stand taller, but seems more interested in admiring the cute hamsters. He continues to focus his gaze on Gundham's trapped hand.
        "...Do you want me to loosen that for you?" He offered quietly. "Just so you can pet  - uh - Feral Wind-born Plague Rem-E?"

        He'd remembered the name? That roused a faint smirk to Gundham's lips. He flexed his fingers for a moment. "The dragonsteel used to suppress my power cannot succumb to 'loosening.' It would appear to be either on or off. Are you certain the removal of such a thing is wise? For... it is the only thing holding back my ultimate power!" Gundham warned.
        In truth, Gundham just wasn't sure what he'd do if he were freed. For as much as Gundham yearned to be liberated for his bonds, if only for pride and the need to escape, he did not know what uncontrolled urge could arise from his being let loose.

        "Hmm." Makoto seemed to understand what Gundham was warning him against. "I mean... hey. You said you wanted us to let you out so you could help us find Mikan and Nagito, right? Well... if you can prove that you're not a despair after all, wouldn't you be able to help us find the others?"

        "...I suppose such a thing would be true..." Gundham grumbled. "-Tch. Fine. If you choose to risk the fate of the universe, so be it!" He tensed in his seat, sucking in a quick breath.

        Makoto smiled, expression childish in its glee. "Okay! I think it should be..."

        Gundham trembled involuntarily as Makoto knelt beside his chair, squinting at the buttons on the side. With a few prods and flippings of switches, it all came undone without ceremony.

        Pop!
        
      
  Just like that, Gundham's left wrist was free.
        The first thing his hand did was snake back defensively, blending in amongst his pelted crown.
        After a few more moments, the Breeder reached out, lifting up Rem-E and drawing the hamster closer to his face.
        That made him smile.

        Rem-E, still favoring all-fours, squibbled up his concerns to the breeder.

        "How now... I've missed you..." Gundham cooed, stroking the General between the ears and setting him back on his shoulder.
        He breathed out a quick exhale, allowing his hand to grab tightly to his arm and squeezing.

        How that his hand was free, the urges suddenly shook him with violence, snarling and spitting at his face - why aren't you acting!? Now is your chance!
        
        Makoto remained oblivious, moving slowly back in front of the chair. His expression remained boyish in its naivety. "See! There you are! All your Generals seem happy to see you, too."
        The Ultimate Hope squinted obliviously at Gundham's hair, not noticing the conflicted look of anguish that was creeping onto the Breeder's face. "-Hey, uh... Fros-T is eating your hair. That's bad for it, right?" He quietly reached out a hand to discourage the rodent.

        That was it.
        Each inch nearer he drew, Gundham's heart raced, his breath quickened. He'd been mentally trained for a moment like this, and holding back only grew into more of an impossible feat. He was just so close. He could practically smell the bloodshed he yearned for. He could practically feel his fingers gliding through organs and blood to rattle his spine out of place. He didn't know why - he didn't know how to stop the urges.
        But here they were, ingrained in his skull, murder him, murder him, murder him.

        Finally it was too much.
        His gloved hand shot forward like an agitated cobra, fingers latching around Makoto's throat and tightening with strength he'd never found within him before.
        Almost immediately a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
        The feeling of his veins from under the gloves - Gundham constricted tighter and tighter. Squeeze out his life.
        He jerked him down to his knees.

        Makoto had let out a startled squeak, suddenly in distress as he attempted to pry Gundham's fingers from his throat. He was easily willed to his knees.
        "-Wait - wait-" He choked out.

        Gundham's smile found despairing bemusement. How pathetic the Ultimate Hope was, fragile between his fingers. Useless and cowardly and undeniably stupid.
        It made Gundham exhale a string of delighted giggling, shaking his victim around like a doll.
        Torturing him was pleasing.
        Watching the tormented expressions on his face was delightful! One on Gundham's face presented itself to match.
        This was too much - this was a high he hadn't felt in a long time. The joy of stealing a life.
        He would strangle the Ultimate Hope himself! How wonderful! What a beautiful accomplishment! He'd waited his whole life-

        "You can stop-! You can - fight it!" Makoto encouraged, voice hoarse and weak.

        "Silence," Gundham mocked, like a parent scolding a child.
        --Suddenly he snapped back to his senses. What am I doing!?
        
He let go, but his desires fought back.
        He struck Naegi roughly across the jaw, before grasping a hold on his hair.
        Then ramming him, again, again again into the metal arm of the chair.
        Gundham could only grin, trembling as his actions lose his control.
        He wanted him to bruise. He wanted him to bloody. He wanted to see him cry and break and beg him for mercy.
        Every sign of pain begged him to go on.

        Slam! Slam!

        Then Tanaka's willpower resurfaced again. Stop! Stop, what are you doing!?
        The memory snapped back into place. The last time he'd lost his control like this was with his very own mother.
        "--Ghh!"
        He finally let go, pulling his hand away and forcing it against the arm of the chair again, horrified with himself. "...By the Gods..." he had to speak, so that's what he said.
        Shivers still danced through his hand, like withdrawals from the fresh dose of pain.
        "Put the cuff back - put the cuff back-!" He hissed to Naegi, squeezing the arm of the chair again. "I've made a terrible mistake..." Cursed. The cursed hand of his wicked arm... moving on its own to carry out the deeds of the damned. Miserable curse.

        Makoto stood shakily, quickly (while somewhat disoriented) approaching the arm of the chair again before taking a knee.

         Gundham would never find the will to apologize for lashing out before, but it was needed here.
        "-My apologies," he breathed. "...I couldn't refrain - my apologies..." A genuine, sorrowful ichor spilled from his tone.

        Makoto held Gundham's hand down with both of his own, burying his freshly bloodied face in his sleeve. "...A second... sorry..."

        Gundham bit his lip to swallow another despairing smile. Harming an innocent - it was terrible and sinful. Such an act surged the despair drug through his veins.

        And suddenly the doors opened, and both the fighters looked up.

        Before Gundham could get a proper glimpse at who had come in to stop them, Makoto had stepped in front of the remnant, shielding him with his body.
        "-Hey! Wait-! He's okay now! He's fine - he just had to get that out of his system, that's all. He's getting better... he stopped all on his own."
        
        Naegi took up Gundham's hand in his own, causing the Breeder to flinch slightly in surprise.

        The Ultimate Hope displayed their held hands, exposing the shaking Despair to the guards and officials that had crowded the doorway to stop their meeting.

        "He just needs a little more time - can we have a little more time?" Naegi begged. "Just a little longer."

        There was an uncertainty between them, muttering erupting from the group before the door closed unceremoniously again.

        Makoto breathed out a relieved sigh, falling quietly to his knees again as he snapped the cuff back over Gundham's wrist. "I'm sorry," he said meekly.

        Gundham squinted. "For what do you apologize?"

        "I shouldn't have forced you to feel comfortable around me so quickly. It's - a slow thing, I know. And - I don't know. I'm just sorry this all happened to you."

        Gundham could see his face now. Spotted with red marks, his lip oozing a small pink trail of blood. But even after the attack in recent, he kept up that boyish, apologetic smile.

        "...You practice forgiveness with such ease...?" Gundham asked.

        "Yeah..." Makoto nodded. "You were trying! And I could tell you were trying. You're trying not to be a despair. And that's what matters." He smiled more brightly. "-I think you can overcome it! And - I think somehow I can let you help us with the investigation. But for now we can just try to talk about your Generals some more - and think of ways to get over this more slowly. Do you think that'll work?"

        "..." Gundham looked away. How could someone like this have been the person to first master and overthrow the reign of despair? He was someone so simple, so painfully naïve and so willing to forgive.

        He was easy to dismiss as someone weak, but history would prove him otherwise.

        What was this?

        This feeling of desire? The one rooted deep within his chest, choking his need to lash out again.

        The one that felt so frail, but so persistent?

        It wasn't a new feeling, he'd felt it multiple times throughout his reawakening as a despair. And yet...

        This was the first time Gundham recognized it for what it was.

        No matter how foolish Makoto's proposal was, he wished to believe in it. He would believe in it - and he'd see it through.

        That feeling...

        ...Is hope.

        His despair was slowly devouring his soul, shrouding him in the darkness of impossibility. But that feeling still existed.

        Could he do it?

        Could he cling to hope?

        The Breeder nodded.

        "...Indeed," he applauded. "...I believe it shall."

        A being of light and darkness. Angel and demon. Hope and despair.

        And now where would destiny pull his strings?

        There was still so much more to do. Can I persist?

        Into the next withdrawal Gundham would go. He'd have to be more resilient this time.

        The age of starvation was only beginning.

Chapter Text

        He couldn't feel his hand.

        Well, that part was obvious, but it still came as a surprise when he found himself flexing his 'fingers', only to feel nothing. Phantom limb syndrome, was that the name? But no pain came with it.

        His eyes swished methodically under their lids, spiraling in dizzy circles at the darkness that enveloped him.

        Finally, with a hiss of stifled air, he managed to open them again.

        The world was nothing more than a mess of smeared colors. 

        ...Who was he again?

        ...That's right... The Servant. He was Nagito Komaeda - servant of hope and despair. ...That's right.

        He blinked a few more times, the oppressive smears riddling him with sensations of dizziness.

        He was used to feeling vacancy where he once had a hand, but for his wrist to be met with nothing at all? It was - unreal. It didn't feel like anything was missing at all.

        After a few moments of recollection, the Servant's eyes fluttered lightly awake.

        The shapes were blobby and disoriented, but they painted a clearer picture than pure smudges of color.

        His normal contrasting colors in dark hues were gone, replaced by a hospital gown of light blue instead. 

        And there were cords everywhere... one IV in particular taped carefully to his arm. The one with a hand... and with a glance left...

        There was nothing more than a bandaged stub.

        The Servant was numb. The world took longer to interpret now, but Komaeda could not truly understand the long seconds he was taking to peruse the set-up.

        He could feel a sensation of pressure around his mouth and nose, along with the sensation of elastic around his head. Nagito willed a hand to raise and feel at whatever it was but - he couldn't will it up. His body was still too tired. Tired, like the rocking whispered lullabies in his shaken head.

        Whelp. Guess I can't breathe on my own. Logical assumption.

        Staring at the wall for a few disoriented moments, the Servant realized: ...How did I get here?

        The last he remembered was -- wait. What was it?

        Jabberwock Island... Mikan...? Right. Mikan. ...Gundham. The boat - that was right.

        That was where his memories began to fade into obscurity. The boat. There was a gap between there and here. Ah, jeez. Worthless garbage can't even remember how it is that he got here! Just my luck...

        The real question became apparent suddenly. ...Wait. Where am I? Had he had the surgery? Was that what this was? The surgery to amputate his hand?

        That doesn't make sense. No. It wasn't that...

        Komaeda managed a soft 'mm' before his head gently slumped to the left, eyes closing again.

        His head couldn't exactly slump - it felt stiff, as if something was propping it up. Maybe it was. His whole body moved along with it.

        Medicated sleep tugged at his consciousness. The scintillating numbness that clouded his nerves. He couldn't feel anything. Nothing but light tingles pressing against the wrist that once had a hand.

        He began to disintegrate...

        "Komaeda." The voice was clear, right in front of his face, and he hadn't even noticed the speaker.

        "...Hhn...?" He could scarcely muster a sound, but he wanted to acknowledge whoever had spoken to him. Who was speaking to him? A humble slave? Just a servant? Who would want to have a word with someone disgusting and despicable and without a real cause?

        The Servant took a deep, noisy breath as his eyes cracked open slightly.

        No trick of the tired eye could obscure who sat mere inches from his bed. A file rested on her lap, open and tilted upward. She carried an air of professionalism, face stoic in entirety. Her eyes were unblinking and firm, commanding even the attention of the near-dead.

        Her lavender hair was tied into a ponytail by a single black ribbon.

        Of course Komaeda knew who she was.

        It was a good thing Nagito had that oxygen mask after all, for he'd abruptly stopped breathing.

        Kyouko Kirigiri-! Not only a Beacon of Hope, not only a survivor of Junko's killing game, but perhaps the most important of all: She's close with Makoto! Oh - oh is - is Makoto here!?

        The Servant felt his breath quicken, hurriedly forcing his tired, battered body into a sitting position. He wheezed out a forced breath of air, that may have descended into a somewhat-crazed laugh, had he had the strength.

        "...How are you feeling?"

        The Servant was mesmerized. Such. force of hope - right in front of him? And what was he, just a miserable, worthless, despairing bug? Why, she should have - let him - let him...

        Uh... wait. He still couldn't remember exactly what had happened to him.

        Had Makoto been there!? Maybe - maybe I got injured protecting Makoto! Wow...

        The Servant knew such a stupid dream was far too good to be true, but he'd like to imagine it, at least for a little while. Yet another fantasy to add to his lonely web of isolation.

        The little things he had to make himself feel at least a little bit special - a little bit like a worthy human being. Like he had some purpose.

        Or maybe - maybe some (specifically hopeful) member of future foundation had beaten him into submission! Was it Makoto!? That seemed even unlikelier, but if it had happened, not only was he fully supportive, but he was glad for it. Anything in the name of hope! Not that Nagito much minded being beaten, either.

        Kyouko took evident notice of the Servant's reaction, and chose not to react in response. Instead, she reclined her face slightly away. She'd noticed - it just wasn't worthy of a reaction.

        Ah, jeez. He had a job to do. He couldn't make it too easy for the side of the hopeful - that just went against the nature of hope. No... he had to put them down, and allow them to rebuild in spite of his pathetic, measly efforts to stifle them.

        Reaching out his hand, having to navigate around the cord that fed him morphine, the Servant reached for his mask - no... not there. Wait - he'd brushed his fingers against it.

        His head was flooded with a dizzying rush of tiredness. Everything was suddenly so hard to locate.

        The Servant nodded a quick confirmation - only to realize his nod was nearly invisible in the wake of the brace on his neck. Shucks-

        First time talking to a Beacon of Hope that he admired and already he'd messed it up. Stupid Servant.

        Oh! Right on time, Komaeda found his mask. He didn't want to reject any of the undeserved help he'd been given, so as he lifted it over his head, he pressed it against his fluttering heart. He could use it when he wasn't talking.

        "Sorry... ahaha... I - can't exactly nod..." The Servant's voice was weaker than he thought it would be. The sudden lack of air caused him to cough. "-Ah m-my bad...!" He pressed the air supply back to his lips, as if to signify. 'Go on.'

        Kyouko closed her eyes to confirm she understood. She was straight to the point. "Do you remember what happened?"

        Whelp. Already his ability to puppeteering had hit a dead end. How useless. He couldn't even hold a candle to his one, sad purpose! Servitude.

        "Ah... afraid not..." he managed.

        She seemed to have heard him, though her expression did not change. Her hands holder briefly over the file. "Do you know where Tsumiki went?"

        ...What? Mikan? "...Did something happen?" He mumbled aloud, though more to himself. Besides, it was unlikely that she heard him over his own labored breaths.

        Besides. Even if he did know, he wouldn't tell her. Ahaha... sorry, Kirigiri. No-can-do... 

        He lifted the mask briefly from his face. "Aha-haha... I don't even remember losing her... just my luck, huh...?" Truthfully the Servant had no idea.

        She closed her eyes for a moment, before drawing them open again. Still, she did not move.

        "What do you remember, then?"

        Ah. Here we go. This - this gave the Servant some liberty.

        He didn't like to be a liar. So he'd try not to lie.

        "I remember the, uh... the boat. Mikan, and Gundham and..." What about Gundham? The Servant hoped he was alive - he'd been proving really interesting throughout the course of all this.

        Well, if he was dead, Komaeda guessed it would be no real loss. Still, though, wasted potential. Actually, wait...

        "...Do you know if Gundham's alive? Do you know where he is?"

        "He's currently incarcerated." Kirigiri informed.

        ...I see. So the only despair running free was Mikan? He undoubtedly had to protect her then.

        "Anyway..." He tried to conjure a light smile, and development began on his lips. "Yeah! Hahaha... he - uh..." He took a quick oxygen break, but only as an excuse to decide what it was he wanted to reveal. "Was a despair... right? I-I mean, a re-converted one..."

        Am I 'incarcerated' too? He hoped they were going to try and convert him to hope - the idea of that process fascinated him. He wanted to see it up close, in person, and with his involuntary participation.

        He hoped that Makoto would help.

        "Yes," Kyouko confirmed briefly. "I take it he wasn't on the helicopter with you?"

        "...Helicopter...?" He'd flown a helicopter? Sounded pretty cool, actually. Obviously it hadn't worked out, though. "Ah, well... I don't think he would've been! Unless you found him in the same place, or something."

        "We didn't." Her voice kept up a monotone, "do you remember how you crashed?"

        "...Ah. I don't really remember any of this... pretty miserable for a servant, I know." He paused, giving a little, somewhat-sinister smirk. "I don't think I remember anything I can tell you that'll be helpful."

        That wasn't a lie - but he didn't specify who it was helpful to.

        "I see. That'll be all." Kirigiri did not thank him. She closed the file on her lap briefly and stood, clearly with another, likely more important conversation to have.

        At least, that was how the Servant interpreted it. Perhaps he was not so far off, either.

        "Hey! ...Hey..." The Servant managed quickly, forcing himself to sit up a little taller. "Ah... forgive - me... uh... I just wanted to ask if Makoto was here. That's all..."

        "No. He's questioning Gundham," Kirigiri's tone remained the same, but she busied herself with the likes of her file instead. Her head lifted, allowing her gaze to pierce him without an effort or care in the world, before her eyes cast back down.

        The Servant's rush of adrenaline cooled. No. No Makoto. Ah, that's alright... He lay back down, taking another moment to think. After a few moments, he managed a bemused smile.
        "Do - do you think you could say 'hi' to him for me?"

        Kyouko's eyes raised again, meeting Komaeda's. Her expression - along with her tone - were hard to read. "Okay," she entertained, but the truth was hard to discern from her diction.

        "...And - uh... the remnants. Us! Uh... Gundham, really. You're going to try and convert us all back, right? For everyone that's lost their way, and gone back into despair."

        Kyouko briefly brushed the hair from her face. "...Possibly."

        ...How much information could he get like this? Pressing the mask to his face for a second or two of air, the Servant flashed another tired smile. He had to learn - as much as he could... even if sleep was calling him back.
        He could dream of devious schemes.
        Komaeda was only a servant, after all. He wanted to know what was going on in the mastering world, so he could pull the strings in the favor of his hopeful faith. That was his job. That was Komaeda's purpose. And right now? That meant protecting Mikan.
        "...Where are we?" He asked at last. "Are we staying here?"

        "We're not staying," Kirigiri informed, "rest for now."

        She did not wait for further questions this time around. Instead, the detective closed the file once again and walked methodically out into the hall.

        Now the servant was alone again.

        ...Isn't this a predicament? Just my luck... He couldn't quite work the elastic band without a second hand, so Komaeda held the mask in place instead as his lazily drifting gaze stuck on the ceiling.
        But that in itself begged the question - where... am I going, then?

        Ah. That was the thing. Wherever the servant was, he was in the middle of the maelstrom.
        Hand? No hand? He was still despair's pitiful slave, and hope's miserable servant.
        
        The limbs of his phantom hand twitched. Gone, yes, but still playing the cards behind curtains.

        In fact, this was a wonderful advantage.

        Who would ever expect someone so out of commission to be pulling the strings, manipulating the outcomes, playing with fate?
        Just the humble servant.
        A humble servant who would always succumb to master, even when his breath was stolen and his body was broken.
        Komaeda would always be a slave.
        And he'd do it with glee.

        Beneath the layer of thin plastic broke out a smile.

        Once again, it was fortunate he kept the mask on hand, for certainly he would have suffocated otherwise.
        Suffocating on his own terrible laughter.

Chapter Text

        Mikan's trembling form stood in the stairwell, rising like a dark, ash-covered phoenix from the rubble she'd left behind, into the rubble she'd pursued.

        Towa City had been closed off, and an untrained eye may never have found an easy way within. But Mikan was not only a despair, she was an outsider. From outside, the secret passageway was more easily visible.

        This probably wasn't the Towa City Mikan remembered - she'd been once or twice before, but that was before the ruling power was overthrown.

        Back when the servant was exactly that. A servant.

        A servant to the now-disbanded Warriors of Hope.

        There had always been a sickly jealousy within Tsumiki at the thought of them - as well as the other remnants. But the other remnants were more easily understood.

        Junko Enoshima was Mikan's beloved. Maybe she'd recruit other despairs if she needed them, or just to rile the despair of jealousy within her...

        But the Warriors of Hope?

        She gave a bunch of children the right to her love...? Mikan would never question the actions of her all-knowing lover, but she still wished to know why. Why not someone like them? Why not someone like herself?

        Ah. Even her jealousy couldn't cover that final question. As if-! As if I was ever worth anything! As if I would ever be good enough for something like that... Of course Junko had never given her anything more than love - not that love wasn't enough.

        Love was more than she deserved.

        The pain at acknowledging her own, stupid faults were enough to ripple a light smile across her lips. The fact that stupid children were still far, far more worthy of Junko's attention than she ever was.

        That hurt. And it was all too true.

        It was far too easy for Junko to grow tired of her play things. Mikan was one that had her uses, but was easy to throw away once other, more expensive gifts wrapped themselves for her to gorge.

        That's what she was. That sounds right... Junko's ugly little toy.

        And now that her beloved was gone, Mikan could take her place. That's what love is-! That's why she hurt me... for love. That's why I can't let her despair go to waste at the hands of all this pathetic hope.

        Exhaling a shaky, wondering sigh, Mikan drifted through he city. She was a ghost against the charred concrete, moving with uncanny ease through the demolished streets.

        They were right in the middle of a resistance force, weren't they? That's right... Some school girl and one of the Killing Game survivors...

        Tsumiki had been an audience member of the first killing game - stealing glances at television screens and monitors to watch the beautiful work of her beloved.

        She'd almost died herself when her one, truest devotion was left as nothing more than a colorful stain in an execution of her own design.

        That's when the idea had come to take what was left. And even later - what was left of her beloved's plan.

        The nurse slunk against buildings, still lightly trembling as waves of biting air chewed at her exposed skin. It was cold. It was night, after all. Soon the darkness would shed fabrics of black shrouds all over this lost city.

        She prayed she wouldn't find the resistance - but it occurred to her, too, that it could very well be that the Monokuma robots scattered throughout the city would not recognize her as a despair, and make haste to end her life.

        She couldn't have that - she'd gotten this far. She didn't want to have hope, but she had to protect what remained of her beloved.

        The nurse trudged on, heels quietly clicking against the charred asphalt ground as her breath trembled. Mmm... Why was everything so silent?

        There was probably conflict somewhere else - Mikan was apprehensive about a possible stumbling into such a battle. Neither side would fight for a pathetic, worthless girl like her.

        She just had to find somewhere safe... somewhere that she could stay. Somewhere her beloved could be safe in as she formulated her plans. And decided what to do with her beautiful, porcelain hand...

        That's when a voice finally broke the silence.

        "You're not in the resistance."

        Mikan tensed up, letting out a shrill cry as she jerked her body around to confront he voice.

        The sudden movement caused her weight to shift. She could have caught herself, but after years of attention starvation, she'd trained herself to refrain. So, her precious severed limb slipping from her hands, Tsumiki toppled over onto the pavement.

        "A-Ah! Please! Please don't hurt me!" Mikan resorted to the quickest and easiest defense mechanism she was used to, crawling forward greedily to snatch Junko's hand back up.

        "You're not in Monaca's game, either," the high-pitched voice chided. "But Monaca recognizes you..."

        "H-Huh...?" Mikan sat up quickly, hurriedly scrambling to rid her face of the hair that obscured her vision. Finally, blinking a few times, Mikan breathed out a puzzled exhale.

        Her blood ran cold with deep-rooted jealousy as the corners of her despairing smile jerked up suddenly.

        There she was. Tsumiki hadn't spoken to her before, but she recognized Junko's better project. More interesting project. The project she invested in once her remnants grew boring.

        Boring too quickly.

        Boring so quickly that it left Mikan alone int he dark, despairing over the love that left her of her own, pitiful inability to entertain her.

        Mikan's replacement.

        She was small in size, but larger than Mikan expected. It had been a few years, after all. Her posture was stiff, legs seated in a wheelchair. Even in the presence of a remnant, the girl could only smile. A knowing smile, one that was trained and confident, controlling of the situation.

        Even if she was wheelchair bound, Monaca knew she was in charge. It was an air that reminded Tsumiki of Junko. And that made the nurse furious.

        Here she was - here she was escaping that pathetic island out of love for her Junko, and here was her replacement, already a far better Enoshima than she could ever be.

Chapter Text

        Tsumiki already felt the gravity of her realization, her expression shifting to despairing disgust. Displeasure defined her face. She'd come here to replace her God, and found someone already attempting to climb her into her empty throne. Someone who didn't even have the use of their legs.

        It made her beyond angry.

        And there Monaca Towa sat, a knowing, mischievous smile on her face. Already far too cheerful for someone who knew exactly who they were talking to. "Monaca has been waiting for someone to come! Quick - follow Monaca!" She emphasized the use of her own name as if it made her cute, or more appealing somehow.

        Mikan recognized the tactic, wheezing out another huff of disgruntled discomfort. Her hands wrung over the mitten as she watched the other heir to the despairing throne begin to wheel away.
        Tsumiki realized then and there that murdering her would be easy. Wouldn't it? Couldn't it? The girl was wheelchair bound, after all. Couldn't she run over to her, throw her against the ground and drain her life in any way she saw fit?
        ...But Mikan wouldn't dare. Not even in despair would she ever impose on Junko's wishes, right? That was how she kept finding herself in the same, pitiful cycle as always. The same loose ends, the same submission, the same resignation. The same everything - she was always going to be the pretty little play thing of the despair in charge.
        First Junko.
        Now... Monaca?
        Oh, well. As she reflected briefly, it occurred to the nurse that she wasn't really in a place to make any sort of proper judgement on Monaca's behalf. While jealousy tugged her slowly into depths of hatred, Tsumiki remembered that she had no idea where Towa was leading her. Or why.
        Maybe she sees despairing potential in me? She could hope for that, even if she doubted it was true. However, as Mikan's heels clicked daintily upon the asphalt of the abandoned city, the thoughts clouded her judgement.
        Her attachment to the idea only grew, even if it was farther out of reach than she'd liked to admit.

        Yes-! They were both driven by the work of Junko Enoshima, weren't they? They both loved her? They'd both wait on hands and knees for her? They'd both carry out her wishes, even after her demise?
        Was that true? Ha, ha, ha... She could pray, but she doubted it.
        Her attachment shifted to need as the duo wove in and out of alleyways, and eventually ducked into a hidden location behind one of the many ruined buildings.
        There was something about Monaca that reminded Mikan too much of Junko. What was it?
        It was that she and Tsumiki were so dissimilar in how they carried her message - that's it, isn't it? The nurse was frail. She'd always been so pathetically frail. She'd always suffered at the idea of being tossed around like a simple toy, but pleasured in it all the same. She was no leader. Mikan was a follower, and always had been. When orders were barked, it was always her immediate instinct to fall to her knees and give in. She believed in despair, and she believed in her mission through love alone.
        Monaca possessed a natural confidence that Mikan couldn't even feign.
        That jealousy chewed at Mikan's slimy organs, leaving marks on the skin, but never quite piercing through. She doesn't love her as much as I do. How come she gets to be her successor?
        None of it was fair. None of it was fair at all!
        But as she walked, Mikan came to realize. Would she need Monaca's help?
        That was why she had to pray that this was a team effort - she didn't know what to do. She didn't know how to be Junko Enoshima, but Monaca clearly did. Mikan wished nothing more than to know how to be her, but she would never be her, and she knew it.
        So how did a child become Enoshima? She was far from the end result, but Mikan could sense some of her residing within.
        But it was Mikan with her womb! Monaca had nothing like that!
        It struck her like a roughly placed blow.
        Mikan realized the likelihood of her adopting the same role. The pathetic role. Over, and over, and over again.
        In her sudden tremble of despair, she almost stopped short.
        She didn't want to walk anymore. For a solitary moment, she didn't want to do this anymore. She didn't want to press onward, follow despair's coattails, only to be put down into the same place she'd been left in before. Mikan had made so many diversions what she was used to already - all for her beloved.
        Now she could only wait to watch it all fall flat - all because she couldn't be anything more than subservient.
        Did she dare stop now? Just accept her role?
        She would always be pitiful little Mikan. Maybe if she left now, Monaca wouldn't remind her of that.
        The feeling was short-lived.

        Finally, Monaca turned her wheelchair in a brief circle, folding her hands over her lap and giving a far-too-cheerful smile. "Monaca is glad to find another one of Big Sis Junko's remnants! Big Brother Servant was very useful."
        Mikan blinked. Ah - that was right.
        Komaeda used to be their servant. She'd known that, but somehow the pressure had vacated the reality from her mind. Only now did she remember just who the servant served.
        "Komaeda… y-you used to know him," Mikan addressed, standing slightly taller, as if the fact gave her some authority. She couldn't stand taller for even a moment before she began shaking again. It was only natural for her to fear. It was only natural for her to submit.
        The mitten was clutched in trembling, numbing hands. She could feel her dead, frozen fingers feeling back at her from within the fabric.
        "Mister Servant?" Monaca asked, raising a finger to her lips in a thoughtful and somewhat confused expression.
        Mikan realized it was likely she'd forgotten Nagito's real name. To her, he would always be 'the Servant.'
        Is that how Junko thought of me, too...?
        She shook the thought from her mind with giddy restlessness.
        "Your s-servant, N-Nagito-!" Tsumiki realized how much she'd stuttered. She'd always had an impediment, but suddenly it became apparent to her how weak she seemed. "H-He came with me.... but he'd l-long dead now..." She stood taller. "B-But I came here to carry on my beloved's d-desires! J-Just like you, right?"

        Monaca glanced off again, smiling almost invisibly behind her hand. The expression was so slight, Tsumiki had almost missed it. "Oh, yes. Mister Servant taught Monaca how to be like Big Sis Junko! Monaca was going to make Makoto's sister her predecessor, but..." Her cheeks puffed. "It didn't work. So Monaca learned instead."
        So that was a yes?
        Mikan had expected that much, but suddenly her chest swam with writhing eels. "O-Oh! So... did you think that - we could w-work t-together...?"
        Monaca smiled, as if she had expected the question. "Mmm... doesn't really seem like you have a plan... not that Monaca minds."
        Mikan scoffed, unable to hide the outburst. "I-I-" but she quieted quickly as Monaca opened her mouth again.
        "But Monaca has been looking for a replacement for Mister Servant! You were one of Big Sis Junko's servants, weren't you? Just like he was! I think I still have some of Mister Servant's old things in here!"
        "A-Ah!?"
        Mikan suddenly tensed as Monaca wheeled herself towards a surprisingly tidy corner, beginning to rummage through a collection of things within the wardrobe.
        "W-Wait!" Junko's servant!? Her beloved was cruel, but beautifully cruel. Hadn't Mikan been something above a servant? Not just her servant, a servant! How far from special could that label have made her sound? "I-I don't-"
        "Here! Found it... the Warriors of Hope had a few lying around... just in case we found more servants!" The girl held a small, metal ring in both hands, the jaws open and prepared to be snapped into place around Mikan's neck.
        The collar had an empty loop, presumably for a chain to hang from.
        At the sight, Mikan held up her hands with a startled shout, shielding her face. Stupid, stupid, stupid, pathetic Mikan! And she knew it. She'd come all this way to become Junko, and she'd been likened down to Komaeda instead.
        "I-I don't want to-!" She began.
        Monaca looked disappointed, lowering the band into her lap again. "You don't? Aren't you here to help Big Sis Junko?"
        Finally, Tsumiki felt her blood boil.
        
        She'd come all this way - she'd beaten death once already - she'd taken so many risks and so many deviations of danger and all of a sudden it amounted to absolutely nothing.
        Mikan felt a sudden snap in her psyche as she lowered her arms, crossing them instead over her chest. She held Junko's severed hand in a slowly tightening grip, giving a snarling, despairing smile.
        "N-No!" Her voice raised, and she found herself ignoring any of Monaca's attempts to speak. "I-I'm not going to put that thing on!"

        Monaca blinked, seemingly disgruntled by Mikan's refusal. "...Huh? You aren't going to help Monaca?"

        Mikan sucked in a quick breath. "I-I'm not going to become another puppet! No, no, no!" She felt her voice rising to dangerous heights in a city as noiseless as this. Who was overhearing? But she couldn't stop.
        She hadn't felt this powerful before - even if she felt like she was stumbling around in isolated darkness without a clue, it was something.
        Tsumiki chewed at her lip, not caring as metallic hints teased her tastebuds. She bit down harder and harder.
        This was it. The last time she'd felt this livid, it was at her own trial. Tearing at her hair, begging someone, anyone to forgive her.
        Would she beg for forgiveness again? She was so used to begging for other people's validation, when suddenly the idea clicked into her head.
        What would Junko do...?
        What would Junko do if someone started to boss her around?
        Mikan grabbed at her tangled strands of purple hair with one hand, pulling outward with a crooked smile and a forced laugh. "Ahaha - hahaha..." She trembled quietly, forcing out a shaking breath. "I don't want to take orders anymore! I'm not going to take orders anymore!"
        She glared at the girl in the wheelchair. Somehow - despite the sudden temptation, she couldn't bring herself to harm her. Junko's predecessor.
        No - no... she was going to order Mikan around like some new master? Well, she could sit and watch as Tsumiki took over the job Monaca had neglected for years!
        She couldn't stop shaking, but not from fear this time. Unbridled resilience.
        "No, no, no! I don't need anyone's help! I don't need your help! You haven't done anything - nobody's doing anything for her love!" She held out the mitten, pointing it at Monaca with an accusatory, murderous glare. "S-Since when have you done anything? Since when have you ever loved anyone!? Since when have you ever been b-better than a-anyone else that she loved!? What makes you so much better!? What m-makes you any better-!?"
        She breathed out a low growl, suddenly making a malicious advance towards the other.

        She expected some words out of Monaca, but none came at first.
        So the nurse took one last step forward and snatched the collar from her hands in a swift movement. "I-I'm not just some p-pig you can keep a collar on! That - That needs your forgiveness-!" She'd never found truth in those words before. She'd always been forced to believe them. But when she lashed out, and was met with silence... suddenly it felt true.
        Despair. Twisting up and down and tying knots in her throat. She held the collar in one hand, and Junko's hand in the other. And on her face was a smirk of twisted, disturbed ecstasy.
        Her breath shook as a laugh suddenly rattled through her. Was this - was this what it felt like to be the one in control? The same rush that treating helpless patients gave her - but far greater. Even as a nurse - even the one in control - she was still a servant to aid. Even as a despair, she could never master despair.
        Was this how Junko felt, met with the gaze of someone who didn't know what to expect?
        Is that fear?
        Mikan's lips pursed, quivering lightly.
        "I... I don't need anyone's help..." she realized aloud, taking one stumbling step back from the girl in the wheelchair. "I... I don't need anyone's o-orders-! I-"
        She stared at the metal band in her hands, unclasped.
        To master. To be the one controlling another's outcome. It was something she enjoyed as a remnant, but this felt different.
        Suddenly she felt like Junko Enoshima, staring down at some wannabe predecessor intruding on her rightful place?
        What did some girl in a wheelchair know about despair? What did she know about love?
        Tsumiki didn't have any more words for her.
        She took her revelation and left the girl in silence.
        She wasn't going to be some replacement for a servant with a long-forgotten name.

        She hadn't made it this far by sparing anyone of a malicious outlook. She'd just been too much of a coward to express how she truly felt.
        She'd been too terrified of the world to take the reigns for herself.
        This wasn't Junko's dream anymore. Junko was dead.
        Mikan wasn't going to live out her lost days by being meek and terrified. No.
        If she wanted to be the mother of despair, she would have to become Junko Enoshima.
        No more saying no.
        No more crying, no more apologizing.
        No more forgiveness.

        She found herself in tears as she dragged herself along the city, leaving Monaca behind, accompanied only by a severed hand and a symbol of slavery.
        Sobbing without control. Where was she going?
        She didn't know. But she didn't tremble with fear anymore. Only anticipation.
        Mikan didn't know where this feeling came from, but she never wanted it to stop.

        The feeling that no matter what she did, it was the correct step. Live in despair, die in despair, it didn't matter.
        She wouldn't fail anymore.
        No one would forgive her again - and she was grateful for that.

        She wasn't going to be a slave to pity. That's not what Junko Enoshima was.

Chapter Text

        Gundham gently stroked Gom-E, holding the general gently between gloved fingers.
        He rubbed small circled into her fur, murmuring scarcely audible sounds of reassurance as she settled into his palm.
        Makoto still stood too close.
        Despairing desires still pulsed through his veins, urging him to struggle, urging him to cry out, urging him to do something. To take the hamster that snuggled so vulnerably against his hand and squeeze her until she was nothing more than pink paste.
        That would hurt.

        But Tanaka had calmed now. He took empty comfort in the affections given and returned by the general. And he'd sworn an oath to himself not to murder those he loved - and he didn't intend to break it now.

        They were back to the exercise that Gundham had jeopardized before: seeking out methods of happiness.

        Occasionally Gundham's eyes would drift back to the door, or back to the one-way glass pane. He could sense the souls of witnesses beyond where his eyes could see.
        He was being watched.
        The publicity of it all riled his anxiety - making him smile.

        "So - uh... what else do you like? Besides... 'sacrificing virgin blood to the Dark Sabbath...?'" Naegi tried, squinting at a notepad he'd collected information on.

        "Hrmm… the taming of wild beasts... the synthesis of demon beasts..." His fingers trailed down Gom-E's vertebrae, causing her to tribble out a squabble of happiness.
        "I see... I've missed you, too..." Gundham responded to her sentiment.

        Naegi smiled, his notepad lowering. He opened his mouth to say more, but stopped. A hand suddenly found his pocket as Gundham became aware of the sounding vibration.
        "Oh... uh... just a sec..."
        Makoto drew the phone out from his pocket, staring down for a moment at the name on the display, before his cheeks dusted a light pink.

        "Hm?" Gundham wouldn't prod for information. He merely settled back into his fortitude of faux fur, ready for clarification - if it came. And if not? That was fine. There was not much he could do strapped back to the chair.
        It was humiliating, of course, but that was only a benefit for a despair.

        "It's - uh... my friend." Makoto glanced up, squeezing the phone quietly as it continued to tone. "I can ask her about what you said. You still want to help us find Mikan, right?"

        "...I fail to see a reason why not," Gundham informed. "It is still my goal to bring about the demise of despair, for it is to be I, the overseer of the Tanaka Empire alone that shall rain pandemonium upon this bitter world." The boast made him smile, the last words reaching a glorified hush.

        Makoto nodded encouragingly. "Ah - that's right... let me take this, and I can see if that's allowed!"

        Gundham's smile drew wry undertones, but his nod was respectful. The foolish fiend... I've already once attempted to murder him, and yet - he forgives me, and shall see my request fulfilled? Ha - what pitiful worm is this 'Ultimate Hope...?' The thought had occurred to him to many times before, and here it was again. It was still just a mystery in itself: was this the knight that had vanquished Junko Enoshima herself?
        Over and over the question remained: how?
        There was something so simple about him. So easy to despise - and yet...
        He was merely cycling the same thoughts throughout his head again. There was never a true answer, was there?

        He watched the Ultimate Hope exit the room, staring as the door as it closed.
        And he was in silence again.

        He spent a few minutes admiring the movements of his generals, who had all started forming small clumps at his hands. They were all affection-starved, it seemed.
        And he knew who it was that had deprived them. I am but a miserable fool. He cursed himself.
        He flipped his palms up, attempting to accommodate Chlo-E and Rem-E as they flooded into his grasp to acquire affection of their own.
        Gundham paused, willing himself to smile, but he became riddled with a terrible realization.
        He felt no happiness.
        He was stranded in the emptiness of despair that he remembered. The oasis of sand that gave nothing but ecstasy. Terrible ecstasy.
        There was a time during his despair that he'd forgotten what genuine happiness felt like - would he become that Tanaka again?
        Despair took luxuries he was used to. When there wasn't ecstasy, there was nothing.
        It was a despairing flood of murderous euphoria, or there was absolutely nothing.
        However, Gundham quickly shook the idea, and forced a familiar smile onto his face. That was correct - his generals made him happy. So he smiled.
        That was correct. He merely wished it felt real.

        Finally, Makoto returned.
        Gundham's head inclined up. "-Hrm?"

        Makoto's smile persisted, as always, clutching the phone in his hand and scratching the back of his head. "Hey! Uh... So I got word back. They found Nagito."

        Gundham blinked. Komaeda thrived. "-And Tsumiki?"

        Makoto paused. "Uhh… about that." He adjusted his collar briefly. "Well, first... they're going to bring Nagito here. You know - so we can cure him, too."

        "...Hhrm." Gundham voiced his displeasure, but nodded. Secretly, deep within his psyche, he was relieved to hear he was alive. He was Gundham's classmate, after all. But that relief was smothered by layers and layers of dislike and distrust.
        He could sense Causality warning him: Komaeda would only usher in worse outcomes if he were near.
        "I see." He accepted.

        "And, well... they can't find Mikan. But they think she'd alive. They were going to look for her - so I said that maybe you could go."

        "And?" Gundham pressed.

        "And - uhh… well. I said that maybe you could lead her to where you thought Mikan would go. And - you know - from there you could convince her to come with us? Since you're friends, right?"

        Gundham's expression was suddenly sucked of any understanding. "No."

        "...Uh - you weren't?" Makoto scratched his cheek. "Well, still. She'd trust you more than a Future Foundation member, right?"

        Gundham blinked. "-Certainly, yes."

        "Yeah, that's what I thought." He stood a little taller, though failing to accommodate his short height in doing so. A fruitless effort. "So she said she would see when she got here. I told her about uh..." Naegi touched at the bruises forming on his face. "What happened. She might say no, but she might say yes, too."

        Hm. That was progress. Gundham's eyes drew closed as a satisfied smile rested on his lips. "Fine."

        "Fine?" Makoto seemed relieved.

        "...Fine." Gundham concluded with respect.
        He paused, clearing his throat and choosing to say no more.

        Very well - destiny was coming to bestow him an opportunity. Only the all-seeing eye knew whether or not that chance would see its full potential.
        And now, isolated in the room with countless eyes upon him, Gundham would silently pray.
        Pray that he could last long enough to aid the search, and that somehow he would not be clouded with corruption before he would end the coming apocalypse.

        The future sat on his shoulders, weighing him down into his restraints.
        But he couldn't feel fear. He couldn't feel anticipation or excitement at the change.

        He couldn't feel at all.
        Every passing hour, he became less and less human.

        The soulless beast of his own self-proclamation.
        
        Fate was cruel. And so was despair.
        And yet he was homeward bound into the abyss of both.

        A thought surfaced. "-I suppose I shall see you afterward, Naegi." He spoke the vulnerable words with a straight expression, gaze unmoving. "-Should the chance arise."

        Makoto seemed surprised by the words, not exactly understanding what they meant. "Yeah! Hopefully."

        Gundham cast his wary gaze back down to his zodiac generals, puffing out a light exhale. His wrists churned under his metal cuffs.
        Gods. He merely wanted to be free. But would he ever feel freedom again?

        But that begged the question: who would he become once the cuffs were off?

        He was contained now - when he was contained, it was easier to be diligent. But how strong could he possibly remain once he was left alone to his free will and lethal desires?
        His stomach churned with uneasy anticipation.
        They were holding back a monster. One that could easily consume them all.

        The only person that stood in the way was Gundham Tanaka himself.
        He could make himself or break himself.
        He could meet Naegi again in an effort to heal, or in one final mission to tear his heart from his body.
        But one thing was absolutely certain.

        Destiny had plans for Gundham Tanaka.