Being the ultimate collector was both a blessing and a curse.
You never had a shortage of handy items, tools, and gadgets with you, and often found yourself to be the savior to a friend in need; A ripped seam on someone’s dress? You had a sewing needle and thread in your backpack. A friend with a headache? Painkillers were with you. Someone crying and in need of comfort? You had tissues and, yes, a chocolate bar along with you.
But that was only the tip of the iceberg that was your… habit.
Your home’s storage rooms were both a treasure trove and a complete mess. Multiple binders of complete trading card collections, shelves upon shelves of stuffed animals and collectible figurines, walls covered in posters, limited-edition autographed copies of countless books were stashed, making it hard to navigate around. And your bedroom? An absolute disaster. Empty ramune bottles you couldn’t bear to throw away, brand name t-shirts that you had bought on an impulse shoved carelessly into your closet, countless other objects with no real purpose, all mingling in a room that could have technically qualified you as a hoarder.
But hey, at least you had gotten that invitation to Hope’s Peak Academy, right?
(That was two years ago, and back then, you hadn’t been sure what to expect from the prestigious school. Now, though, you were fairly certain you felt the same way about school as any other “regular” quasi-adult did.)
As you prepared to enter your third and final year of high school, you took one last longing look at your dorm room’s door. Your room was a comfort, giving you security in your collection of knick-knacks that felt like home. And knowing that once again the monotony of your lessons would return was much less of a comfort.
For a school that was meant to cultivate talent, you had discovered that attending it wasn’t very conducive to collecting.
(Was collecting things even a talent?)
(Then again, an “ultimate princess” had attended the school, so maybe it wasn’t too much of a stretch.)
You were busy ruminating on the stray thought as you walked down the corridors— so busy, in fact, that you weren’t aware of the sounds of rushed footsteps from around the corner coming closer, closer…
You let out an embarrassing grunt as you fell to the floor, straight on your butt. Thankfully, the collision didn’t knock over your bookbag (which was nearly bursting full of supplies as it was,) though it did make the student who had run into you stumble.
“Are you fucking sorry?!”
You grimaced and looked up at the student who had knocked into you. He was taller than you, though not compared to some of the other students you’d met during your time at the academy, and you suspected that some of his height was added by his ludicrously gelled purple hair. His uniform was somewhat hastily put together; His shirt wasn’t tucked in, he was wearing some weird slippers, and… was that a galaxy-printed tie? You furrowed your brows and looked up at him, only to see his face turn pale, and then bright red, in a succession so rapid you’d swear it was unnatural.
“Damn, uh, I meant to say ‘are you okay’ and ‘I’m so fucking sorry’ and I kind of mashed them together by accident.”
Oh, that explains it.
“I’m fine,” You said, somewhat amused, somewhat confused. You stood up and picked up your bag, dusting yourself off (though there was likely nothing on your uniform skirt) and asked, “Why were you in such a hurry?”
“I slept in,” The stranger admitted, rubbing the back of his neck, “And since my classroom is across the building and the morning bell rings in two minutes, I kind of needed to rush.”
“Oh, that’s— wait, two minutes?!” You gawked at him.
Shit, you’d been zoning out for longer than you’d thought.
“Can’t talk, gotta go,” The stranger said, and rushed ahead of you.
You watched him leave, and put your usual expression back into place. He ran in the same direction that you were going, so he must have been a third-year as well. But if that was the case, then why hadn’t you seen him before? Surely you’d remember such a weird-looking guy.
And then, you realized that you were standing around like a fool, and the bell would ring soon.
No more time to think about that.
Six… seven… eight… nine… where’s pencil number ten?
You frowned as you checked your backpack for the umpteenth time that morning. You had bought a set of collector’s edition mechanical pencils with characters from your favorite TV show during the short break between school years, and one was missing. While it was a trivial matter to most (at least until they realized how much the set was worth,) it was a matter of pride to you. You had a reputation to uphold, after all— They didn’t call it “collector’s edition” for nothing. You had thought that everything in your backpack was secure, despite the fact that it was stuffed with all sorts of supplies, and yet, somehow, the pencil had gone missing.
You lifted your backpack from the floor at the side of your desk, prepared to rifle through it once again, when you saw it.
A small rip in the side of your bag, roughly the size of a coin… just big enough for a pencil to fall out.
Your frown deepened.
Getting out of class would be next to impossible, considering it was the first day and you couldn’t afford to miss anything. And so, resigned to your fate, you decided you’d have to wait until the lunch period and study hall to look for it.
Class was enough of a distraction that you could allow the missing pencil to float to the back of your mind. You listened to your teacher’s lectures with half-interest; You were less concerned with the syllabus for calculus and classical literature, and more interested in drawing silly doodles in the margins of your notebooks and observing your classmates. No familiar faces, or at least none beyond brief conversations, but that allowed your imagination to run freely. You’d still tune in just enough to take notes of key assignments and such, though it was early enough in the routine that you could ignore most of what was going on.
Finally, the lunch period rolled around, and with it, the reminder of your missing pencil. You were the first out of your seat, and you could only hope that nobody had picked your pencil up from the ground while—
You struggled to keep your footing as you bumped into someone, yet again.
As it turned out, it happened to be that very same someone from earlier. But this time, he was the one on the ground, and so you somewhat guiltily extended a hand to help him up.
“Thanks,” He said, and looked around to make sure nobody had seen the embarrassing collision. They hadn’t, or at least, you hoped not.
“Bumping into each other twice in one day? It must be fate or something,” You joked.
“It could be, if you believe in that sort of thing,” The stranger said, smiling.
You then realized you were still holding his hand.
After awkwardly slipping yours away from his, you glanced around the area, and asked, “Hey, you didn’t happen to see a mechanical pencil laying around the floor anywhere, did you?”
The stranger frowned. “In this huge campus? Not likely. Plus, I just got out of class.”
You pursed your lips.
“I take it you dropped one?” He said.
You sighed in response, and nodded; “Yeah, and it was a really hard-to-get one too.”
The stranger frowned.
“I could help you look for it, since it was probably my fault that you lost it.”
“You’d be willing to do that?” You asked. “It’d take a while to retrace our steps, so we might not be able to get lunch before everyone else.” You paused, and added, “Plus, you probably have friends you want to eat with, right?”
“I’m sure they’ll understand. It’s a man’s duty to fix his mistakes,” He grinned.
It was endearing, in a weird way.
“Well, since you offered, that’d be nice,” You said, and motioned for him to follow you.
As you walked, you scanned the floor carefully. You weren’t sure when the pencil might have dropped from your backpack, so you had to be extra careful to search every corner.
“So,” The stranger began, “I guess I didn’t introduce myself yet. I’m Kaito Momota, luminary of the stars!”
You gave him a blank look.
“...Ultimate astronaut,” He said after a pause.
“Oh,” You nodded in understanding. After introducing yourself and giving him your title, he whistled.
“Collector, huh? So that pencil’s probably important, isn’t it?”
You shrugged. “I hate losing stuff. Not that anyone really likes it, I guess.”
“Well then, I’ll consider it my goal to help you find your pencil!”
You looked at him, and decided that while he was probably a weird guy, he sounded honest. And so the search continued. Seven minutes later, however, you found yourself getting slightly frustrated; The hallways were filling with students from all years, trying to get to the cafeteria and dining hall, which made it significantly harder to continue your search. After having someone bump you out of the way for the second time (and hearing your stomach rumble for the third,) you were just about prepared to give up the search.
“Hey, I think I found it.”
You perked up at Kaito’s words, but deflated when he presented it to you; It was, in fact, the pencil… but the clip was bent, the case had a crack in it, and you assumed it would be difficult to write with again. A look at Kaito’s face revealed a surprising amount of shame.
“Well…” You said, taking the pencil and looking at it with a grimace, “It could be worse. Not by much, but it could be.”
“Is there any way I can repay you for it?” Kaito asked.
“With money? Probably not,” You said, and gingerly put the pencil back into your backpack.
As much as it irked you that your pencil was damaged… in the end, it really was only a pencil, and a broken pencil was better than none. If you wanted to replace it, you probably could; A good inheritance, experience in wagering, and vendor connections made it easier. But you couldn’t so easily replace experiences, and you had to admit, it had been a while since you’d actively sought out new people to meet. Kaito seemed friendly enough, and you didn’t know anyone in your own class, so maybe bumping into him (literally, and twice at that,) was a stroke of good luck.
“But you could buy me lunch and I’ll consider it even,” You said, and the shame in Kaito’s expression melted away.
It took longer than normal to get your food, since you’d lost time from your search, but somehow you didn’t mind. A short conversation with Kaito revealed that he’d taken an aptitude test for the best space agency in the country and managed to get in, despite his young age. You thought his classes must have been much more interesting than yours, as you took mostly general studies. When you told him that, he furrowed his brows.
“So you don’t have any ambitions beyond school?”
“Not particularly, aside from keeping up my collections. I could probably do anything I wanted since I’m a student here, though.”
There was a moment of silence.
“You’ll find an answer, I’m sure of it.”
For someone who you’d just met, Kaito seemed awfully confident in your abilities. Maybe he was just that optimistic, or maybe he had no idea what he was talking about. Either way, it was sort of refreshing.
When he motioned for you to follow him, you did. He eventually led you to a table with several other students at it; A girl with blonde hair and purple eyes who was wearing a cute pink vest underneath her uniform jacket, a boy with dark blue hair (and a strand of hair that seemed to stick up at a weird angle), another girl with red eyes— no, really— and long brown hair set into pigtails, and a boy with a checkered scarf and dark indigo-purple hair that reminded you of an octopus.
Sometimes it was easy to forget that almost every student at Hope’s Peak Academy looked weirdly quirky in one way or another.
“It’s true!” The boy with the octopus hair said to the table, “I saw it with my own eyes! Korekiyo and Rantaro were exchanging makeup tips!”
“You say that as if we’ll believe you,” The girl with the red eyes said.
Kaito looked a bit annoyed, and as he sat down, asked, “Shuichi, why is Kokichi here again?”
The boy with the dark blue hair rubbed the back of his neck, and said, “I couldn’t really get him to go away.”
So the one with blue hair was apparently Shuichi, and the other was Kokichi.
“What, am I really that annoying? You guys must hate me! Some friends you are!” Kokichi started crying, which threw you off guard— until he suddenly stopped, and looked directly at you with an unnerving, unwavering gaze.
“Who’s this one?”
All eyes turned to you. It might not have felt so weird if you had actually been sitting with them, but as it was, you were still standing with your food in your hands.
“Oh, I remember you!” The blonde girl said suddenly, and said your name. “You’re the ultimate collector, right? I had a class with you when we were first years!”
You blinked. “Oh, Kaede, right? I think I remember you now.”
She smiled warmly, and motioned for you to sit between her and Kaito. It was a bit awkward, but at least you had another person who you knew (if only peripherally) to sit with.
“So I’m assuming you already guessed Shuichi and Kokichi, and you must know Kaito, right?” Kaede asked, and you nodded. “Great. This is Maki,” She gestured to the girl with red eyes, who offered a small wave.
“I didn’t see you in our classroom today,” Shuichi said.
“That’s because I’m from 3-C,” You said, and Shuichi nodded in understanding.
“So how’d you meet the oaf then?” Kokichi asked.
You struggled to hide the amused twitch of your mouth as Kaito glared at Kokichi.
“We bumped into each other. Twice. In the hallway,” Kaito said firmly.
Kokichi fake-examined his fingernails, suddenly looking bored, and murmuring “It figures.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
You watched idly as your new acquaintances squabbled, eating your lunch without a word. It was strange to observe these people, but it was better than eating by yourself or looking for others to eat with. Plus, you thought, seeing how everyone's words bounced off of each other was kind of funny.
“I’m telling you, astrology is a hoax! Humans choose their own fates!” Kaito heatedly told Kokichi.
“Funny you should say that, considering you practically worship the stars,” Kokichi countered.
“There’s a difference between believing in the infinite possibilities of the universe and believing that the day you were born magically influences every aspect of your life and personality!”
“That was surprisingly eloquent of you,” Maki cut in.
“Thank you... Wait—”
You quietly huffed with humor, and your shoulders shook slightly. The movement didn’t go unnoticed, and soon you were put on the spot.
“So what do you think about it, mysterious miss klutz?” Kokichi said, perching his chin on his hands in saccharine interest, “Predetermined destiny, or human choice?”
“...Yes,” You answered, not bothering to clarify.
“I think the lunch period is almost over,” Shuichi said in an attempt to defuse the situation, “We should probably head to study hall.” He shot a pointed look at Kokichi; “And actually do homework instead of sneaking off to put live spiders in the teacher’s desk.”
“First of all, the spiders are dead,” Kokichi started, but cleaned off his space at the table and left with Shuichi anyway.
You watched the duo walk away, somewhat grateful that you didn’t hear the rest of that conversation.
“I’m never gonna understand those two,” Kaito said, shaking his head.
“You can at least acknowledge that you don’t hate Kokichi nearly as much as you did when you were a first year,” Kaede said. “Besides, he was one of the first people to visit you when you were in the hospital.”
You looked at Kaito, who grimaced. There was something uncomfortable in his expression, even more so than when he was arguing. You were tempted to ask about it, but before you could work yourself up to it, Kaede and Maki had stood up, leaving the two of you alone, and therefore without backup if something went sour. You had only just met the guy, after all.
“So,” You said, and didn’t say anything else after that.
Kaito looked at you, almost as if he had just remembered your presence, and his smile returned as he shook his head.
“Anyway, those are my friends. Well, three of my friends and a pest.”
“They seem like an interesting bunch to be around,” You said, earning a hum in response.
“You could eat with us again if you want. It’d be cool to hear what kind of crazy stuff is going on in class 3-C.”
You blinked. “I probably won’t have any interesting stories to tell, but I’ll think about it.”
Kaito merely gave you a thumbs-up, and parted with a loud and confident “We’ll be at the same table tomorrow!”
Maybe the semester had given you something to look forward to after all.
Later that evening, when all was said and done for the day, you examined the now-repaired loose rip in your backpack. It had probably gotten that way from the previous two years of use, alongside your pattern of cramming it full of everything you could. And in the process of repairing it, you had emptied some of its contents.
From the sizeable pile of school supplies, you removed two notebooks, a water bottle, an old flash drive, a camera, a small pack of tissues, a granola bar, a coin purse full of spare change, and a few other miscellaneous objects— and then you reached your pencils.
You decided to replace them with a different and less valuable set, just to be safe.
Getting used to your newfound lunch crew was more overwhelming than you’d assumed it would be at first. In the process, you learned a few important things:
- Kaito, while good-natured and emotionally perceptive, could be a bit dense. (Not to say he was an idiot, considering he had passed an aeronautics test at such a young age, but the fact that he’d been roped into a fiery argument about whether a hot dog was considered a sandwich or not was somewhat telling.)
- Maki, though she usually kept to herself, could be incredibly scary, even for an assassin. The first time you heard her calmly ask Shuichi if he wanted to die was permanently etched into your memory, for better or for worse.
- Shuichi wasn’t as mild mannered as you had originally thought him to be; He was incredible at solving mysteries without totally losing his composure, rightfully earning himself the title of ultimate detective. He could, if motivated enough, say something incredibly sly or dismissive, though it was a very rare occurrence.
- Kokichi was a liar, and an incredibly good one at that. Despite knowing this, there were still times you’d find yourself falling for his falsehoods. Once, he had convinced you that the school was covering up the mysterious disappearance of several of its students. If it wasn’t for Shuichi chastising him for lying again, you might have really believed it.
- Kaede was genuine and relatable, and you regretted not talking to her more often when you first knew her. Of the bunch, she was probably the most normal, at least until someone asked her about how her music classes were going, at which point she was more likely to go on tangents.
But, you thought to yourself, nobody’s perfect, right?
As days turned to weeks, you became more accustomed to their typically atypical behavior, and soon enough, you had quickly integrated into the group… and you didn’t mind at all. The realization that it had even happened was during a sunny Friday at lunch, as you were telling a story about some of your friends.
“...So he pulled the chair away, and she was still in her sitting position, completely straight-faced. And then the guy sitting next to her started to laugh, until his seat was pulled out from under him and he actually fell.”
Everyone at the table let out laughter; Kaito’s was the loudest, but even Maki cracked a barely-there smile and let out a sound that could have been mistaken for a sigh if you hadn’t gotten to know her. As you smiled, looking between everyone’s beaming faces (well, mostly beaming,) you felt an odd sense of accomplishment. Even though you didn’t share a class with the group— or maybe because you didn’t— you were able to forge a strong connection quickly, and the positive effects didn’t go unnoticed by those around you.
After the laughter had quieted down, you continued to eat while listening to your newly-made friends chatter. Kaito, however, kept glancing at you in-between bits of conversation. You raised an eyebrow at the look, and asked, “Is there something on my face?”
“Nah, I was just thinking,” Kaito said, and shook his head. “Do you have plans for after school today?”
“Not really, why?” You asked.
“Obviously he wants to take you on a date because he thinks you’re funny and super cute,” Kokichi said.
“What? No! It’s not like that at all.” Kaito said indignantly, and you tilted your head in response. “Not that you’re not appealing or anything, I’m sure anyone would be lucky to date you,” He quickly backtracked.
“Nice save,” Kaede pretended to whisper.
“I was just going to ask if you wanted to do some training with Shuichi, Maki and me. We work out every night, when we’re not bogged down with school studies.”
“You mean, Shuichi and I work out every night,” Maki started with a wry almost-smile, “You do five pushups and then talk about random stuff until we’re done.”
Kaito made an indignant noise, and it took most of your concentration not to snicker at it.
“That’s not true!”
“Ten pushups, then,” Shuichi added, making Kaito look even more affronted.
“Shuichi, I thought you’d have my back on this one!”
Kokichi laughed, and held his hand up for a high-five from Shuichi, pouting when Shuichi pushed his hand down in refusal.
“Come on Shooch, that was a good one!”
“Did you just call me Shooch?!”
“What would you prefer, then? Shumai? Dumpling? My beloved? Light of my life— Ow, don’t pinch me!”
Shuichi and Kokichi bickered, with Kaede occasionally intervening. With the focus shifted away from you for the time being, you looked at Kaito, and said,
“I’ll train with you guys.”
Kaito looked at you for a moment like he hadn’t even been expecting you to take the idea seriously.
“Oh. Well then, that’s good! We’ll meet up at nine in the courtyard, so an hour before curfew. Be ready to work up a sweat!”
You smiled, and nodded.
When Kaito had said you’d be working up a sweat, he wasn’t kidding.
Three and a half laps around the school, and your pace had slowed from a brisk jog to a tired slink. Maybe, if you hadn’t spent most of your recent time holed up in your room, you might have been better equipped for the six laps everyone had agreed on when you’d gathered. You were almost certain the tee you had picked out from your assortment was getting soaked with sweat, and your track pants probably weren’t doing much better, even though the night air was cool. Your legs burned with exertion, and you briefly cursed that the campus was so sprawling.
When you had first grouped up with the others, Shuichi was wearing a light button-down shirt and long black pants, Kaito was wearing a matching vaguely-pink-purple jacket and pants with two undershirts, and Maki was wearing her usual red schoolgirl uniform (which, though it didn’t match the Hope’s Peak uniform, nobody had questioned.) All casual choices, and you supposed your own workout gear might have fit in. After Kaito had boldly declared that everyone would be running ten laps around the school, establishing himself as the leader among the training group, Shuichi had managed to talk him down to six; Maki stated that she could handle ten fine, but expressed concern over Shuichi and Kaito (and, perhaps, yourself) and eventually, everyone had come to a compromise.
Maybe you should have convinced them to do less.
At least with your collecting-slash-hoarding skills, you had the foresight to bring a water bottle with you.
Your thoughts were pulled away when you heard the sound of rough coughing, not too far away from yourself. It was concerning, and you looked around for the source of the noise. After a few moments, you spotted it, and your eyes immediately flew wide in panic.
Kaito was leaning against one of the trees in the courtyard, coughing up what looked like pink blood.
Without a second thought, you rushed over to him, pulling out your water bottle as you attempted not to freak out over the sight.
“Kaito?” You said in an unsteady voice.
Kaito coughed once more, and breathed heavily for several seconds more, before sighing and clutching his chest. He glanced up at you, and grimaced.
The tone was so casual, it only added to your concern. You didn’t know what else to do, though, so you offered him your water bottle. He eyed it for a moment, and accepted it gratefully, taking a large swig before offering it back to you.
“Keep it,” You said, worried. “What… what happened to you?”
Kaito shook his head, and let out another shaky breath. “Don’t worry ‘bout it.”
You opened your mouth, and closed it again as you struggled to find the right words to say.
“You were coughing up blood. Of course I’m going to worry about it!”
“He was what?” Maki’s voice sounded from behind you, nearly making you jump.
Maki approached him carefully, taking in the scene; “I finished my laps and noticed you were gone. Are your lungs acting up again?”
Kaito looked as though he was ready to refute Maki’s claim, but didn’t have the chance as he coughed again, though this time there was thankfully no blood. Shuichi joined the three of you shortly after, almost gasping as he approached, either due to the exertion of exercise or concern at the sight.
“Trust me, I’m fine,” Kaito protested, only making you more concerned.
“Come on,” Shuichi said carefully, approaching Kaito and helping him straighten up, “Let’s call it a night.”
“Um. Does anyone want to tell me what’s going on?” You said, and winced at the almost-aggressive tone you’d produced.
The three others stared at you, until Kaito sighed, and wiped off the side of his mouth.
“Let me just… get back to my dorm. I’ll explain tomorrow. But I swear, I’m fine.”
As much as you wanted an explanation, Maki and Shuichi seemed to reluctantly accept his words as truth, and aided him as they walked back towards the campus entrance. There were still seventeen minutes before curfew, and you supposed that the way your legs were screaming in protest of movement didn’t seem as important as they had before the incident.
It was only as you arrived at your own dorm that you remembered you didn’t get your water bottle back.
Eventually, you decided that it didn’t matter very much.
The next day, lunch was incredibly… stilted. Neither Shuichi nor Kokichi had come to the usual table that day, off doing something or other that you had no real desire to get involved in, leaving only you, Kaede, Kaito, and Maki. Kaito was surprisingly quiet that day; The playful banter that usually surrounded the table had been replaced by an almost eerie silence. Kaede, apparently sensing the change in atmosphere, stood up and excused herself to, quote, “catch up on some work in the library,” leaving you, Kaito, and Maki to deal with each other at the table.
“So… I don’t know if there’ll ever be a good time to ask, but,” You started, and hesitated, “You did say you’d explain what happened last night. Can I hear it?”
Kaito and Maki shared a glance, almost like they were having some sort of telepathic communication that you weren’t privy to. The looks made something twinge in your chest, but you didn’t want to dwell on that for too long. Eventually, Kaito conceded, looking as though there was no way to escape the conversation. With Maki around, you figured he didn’t have one anyway.
“Chronic pulmonary edema,” Kaito said, waiting for you to gesture for him to continue. “I’ve had it for a while now. Ever since I got pneumonia near the end of my first year here. It’s not fatal or anything, but I have to be on medication and certain treatments to reduce the symptoms, and we’re not sure how long it’ll last. Could be months, could be years. I ran out of meds a little while ago, and the new prescription hasn’t arrived yet, so everything’s flaring up again.”
You looked down at your lunchbox, unsure of what else to say.
“Would it kill you to warn us about these things beforehand?” Maki said eventually.
Kaito looked at her, and though it wasn’t a glare, you could tell there was some sort of disappointment in his expression. It wasn’t clear whether it was directed at Maki or himself.
The usual friendliness in the air seemed to be completely gone now, and you desperately wanted it back.
So, you did the one thing you were best at.
You reached over and picked up one of the peach slices from his lunch, placing it in your own box. He looked back at you and furrowed his brows.
“Why’d you do that?” He asked, confusion lacing his voice. It was better than nothing.
“I’m a collector, aren’t I?” You said, as if it was really that simple. “I see something I need, and I take it. And I’ve been lacking vitamin B lately.” You paused, and added, “Besides, it’s kinda funny, isn’t it?”
Kaito raised an eyebrow.
“What’s funny?” Maki asked after a beat, picking up on your attempt to lighten the mood.
“Y’know, it’s one of Kaito’s peach slices. Momo’s momo.”
Kaito blinked, and let out what might have been an exasperated sigh.
“Tell me you’re not gonna start calling me Momo.”
“I make no promises,” You grinned.
“A cutesy nickname for Kaito. Maybe it’s fitting,” Maki added, barely containing a smirk.
“Hey! I’m not cute, I’m manly!” Kaito said.
“Who says you can’t be both?” You countered slyly.
“Well fine, what if I gave you a cutesy nickname?” Kaito said, looking like he had won the minor argument.
You looked at him flatly.
“That would make me ecstatic.”
There was a moment of silence (well, as silent as a bustling cafeteria could be) while Kaito actually processed your answer.
“...Fine then. I’ll think of one,” He said eventually.
“Great! I’m waiting with bated breath,” You answered, smiling.
Kaito put a finger to his chin and tapped it in thought. Internally, you congratulated yourself for managing to ease the atmosphere into something relaxed and fun.
“I got it!” He exclaimed suddenly, almost making you choke on your food, then pointed to you. “From here on out, you’ll be known as Ringo!”
You looked at him for a grand total of four seconds before letting out an undignified snort.
“Apple? What inspired that?”
“Well, as long as we’re going with the fruit theme… Plus, it suits you!” Kaito said, satisfied with his conclusion.
“Why, because I’m seedy?” You teased.
The conversation settled into playfulness, and the fragile tension from before had completely dissipated. The rest of lunch flew by quickly, and before you knew it, it was time to pack up and head back to class.
You popped the peach slice into your mouth.
It was, somehow, even sweeter than you’d imagined.
That night, there was no training. Maki had informed you over text (she’d swapped numbers with you the previous night, after the incident) and you were briefly grateful for the reprieve, though not for long. Kaito was, despite his returning headstrong attitude, still suffering through a sickness, and it made something somber stir within you. So, you decided to be proactive, and assemble a small collection of some of Kaito’s favorite things to present to him later, in a sort of care package fashion. Your talent wasn’t good for much else beside being a pack-rat, but you had acquired a skill in bartering, so surely it’d be easier to acquire whatever items were on his mind at the time.
You sat at your desk, having finally decided to use one of your limited-edition notebooks to write down a list of ideas.
You looked at the list and pursed your lips; It was an… eccentric combination of items to find, but what was the harm in pursuing a goal? It wasn’t like you had anything else lined up to do in your free time.
As you went to bed later that night, anticipating the weekend, you resolved to begin the search the next morning.
Despite waking up early(ish) and getting ready for the day, you still felt groggy. Maybe that’s why you weren’t operating at one-hundred-percent energy, and why you were struggling to think of where to acquire the items.
Is there an ultimate baker around this year? Maybe an ultimate botanist? An ultimate pervert?
You had no idea what the students outside of your own class had for their talents, and you were unsure whether you wanted to ask; There had been an interesting variety of students to approach in years past, but now you were out of the loop. Where to begin?
You ruminated on the issue for a few moments, until eventually coming to an unfortunate conclusion: You’d have to get help from someone else. Someone who knew where to find everything you needed. Someone who was good at keeping a secret. Someone who was close.
And that someone was none other than Kokichi.
Locating the liar was no easy feat; Surely he’d be hanging around Shuichi at some point, but after checking Shuichi’s usual places (the library, the courtyard fountain, the nearby park, and more) you had come up empty-handed. And you had no idea where else they could be, short of one of their dorms, which you weren’t able to locate.
Man, this would be so much easier if the doors had nameplates or something on them.
Downtrodden but not hopeless, you continued your search across campus, eventually stopping near the vending machines for a short break.
“Where could that sneaky brat have run off to?” You murmured as you punched in the numbers for a can of soda.
“You wouldn’t be talking about little old me, would you?”
Whirling around, you stood face to face (well, not quite, considering his height) with the ultimate supreme leader, who was sporting his usual shit-eating grin. Talking to him one-on-one always seemed to make you feel slightly on edge, which is why you didn’t do it too often. Not that you two weren’t friends, or rather, you liked to think you two were friends. But his personality was a whirlwind, and it was easy to get caught in it… especially when he snuck up behind you like that.
“Geez, don’t freak me out like that!” You said, regaining your breath. Then, you remembered your mission, and nodded to yourself; “Hey, Kokichi, I need a favor. Do you think you can help me get my hands on a few things?”
Kokichi hummed and smiled cheekily.
“Mmm, depends on what kind of things you need, and what you’re willing to sacrifice in exchange. An arm and a leg should do! And I mean that literally. You know how much limbs go for on the black market, riiiiight?”
Your eyes went wide, and he laughed obnoxiously.
“Just kidding! Whatcha need?”
Maybe a whirlwind isn’t strong enough to describe this guy.
“Well,” You started, looking away thoughtfully, “I’m trying to get my hands on an astro cake, a succulent— as in the cactus— and… uh, a swimsuit magazine.”
Kokichi looked at you blankly.
“What, are you running errands for Kaito or something?”
You opened your mouth to counter, but apparently there was something in your expression that Kokichi happened to pick up on, because his shit-eating grin returned tenfold.
“Oh my god, he doesn’t even know you’re planning on giving him stuff! That’s adorable!”
His cackle made you more than a little uncomfortable, but you decided to grin and bear it for the sake of collecting the items.
“Anyway,” You continued, “Could you help me get those?”
“What’s in it for me?”
Kokichi tapped his foot impatiently, and you cringed at the look he leveled at you.
“As cute as it is to watch you and Kaito flounder around each other, I don’t wanna instigate even more gross gushy crap between you two. That’s reserved for me and Shuichi.” Kokichi then watched as your expression turned confused (Really, what is he trying to say?) and groaned. “Come on, don’t even pretend you haven’t picked up on it yet. He invites you to lunch, he invites you to train, he gives you a cute nickname, are you blind?”
“Hey, you weren’t around when he gave me that! How did you even—”
“Oh my god,” Kokichi pinched the bridge of his nose, openly frustrated for reasons you couldn’t understand, “You are blind. You both are. I can’t even decide if that’s hilarious or depressing.”
You shifted your weight from foot to foot anxiously, not sure of what exactly was going on on his head (but then again, nobody ever was.) Eventually, he looked back at you, coming to some sort of internal decision.
“Fine. I’ll do you one rare and true favor. I’ll tell you where to get your stuff. But for everything after that, you’re on your own.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” You asked, but he just waved dismissively.
“Talk to some of the others in our year. Kirumi, the ultimate maid, should be able to help you get an astro cake. Gonta, the ultimate entomologist, should be able to give you a succulent. And Ryoma, the ultimate tennis pro, should be able to get you the pervy mag. They’ll all be pretty willing to give you a hand.” Kokichi shrugged, and began to walk away. “Don’t disappoint me now.”
You were tempted to ask him what he was talking about, but decided better of it. Shuichi was the one equipped to decode Kokichi’s behavior, not you.
And besides, you had work to do.
It took a large chunk of your day to locate the other three third-years, and by the time you had found and gathered all your items from the other students, lunchtime had already passed, and dinner wasn’t too far away.
While you didn’t usually eat dinner in the cafeteria (since most students preferred to either go out to eat or make their own dinner in one of the communal kitchens,) you were far too tired and hungry to make the trek to the cafeteria and then to your room while trying to carry your food and a bunch of random stuff with you. So, you set down your items on one of the nearly-empty tables, and went to retrieve a meal.
After returning to your spot, you saw a familiar face sitting a few seats down.
“Hey, Shuichi!” You called out with a smile, earning a small one in return as the detective saw you.
He moved from the seat he was originally sitting in to approach you, and you greeted him with a wave. His eyes moved from your face to the small collection of items you’d gathered.
“What’s with the… ah…” He started, and paused, “...collection?”
You laughed lightly; “It’s some stuff for Kaito. I figured that he might appreciate a gift or two since he’s been feeling like shit and didn’t tell us.”
“Ah, well, he’s always been like that,” Shuichi said, a bit sadly. “Always trying to push away his own issues to appear strong for everyone else, recklessly putting himself in danger for his beliefs… it’s admirable and worrisome at the same time.”
You bit your lower lip, unsure of what else to say. You hadn’t guessed anything about that side of Kaito, and you couldn’t help but worry. You idly poked at your food, eating despite the sudden churning in your stomach.
“He wouldn’t think I’m pitying him if I give him this stuff, will he?” You asked eventually.
Shuichi shook his head, seemingly less concerned now.
“I don’t think so. Actually, I’m pretty sure he’ll be glad to get them from you.”
There was something in Shuichi’s voice that you couldn’t quite discern; His words and tone were positive, but there was something else in it too, something you couldn’t quite put your finger on. But you trusted Shuichi, so you brushed it aside. With that thought, though…
“Uh… do you know where Kaito’s room is?” You asked.
Curse your until-recently hesitation to visit others.
Shuichi nodded, and said, “It’s room one-fifty-three.”
In retrospect, the fact that his room was only a bit further down the dormitory building from yours shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering the conditions of your first encounter with him. And so, after eating, you thanked Shuichi, gathered your supplies, and left the cafeteria.
Carrying the items wasn’t quite as easy as one might think, considering the size of each item (you really should have brought a bag, but you made it work.) Eventually, you arrived at Kaito’s room, and with only a few seconds to prepare yourself for whatever state Kaito might be in, knocked. You heard a clattering sound, followed by a few expletives, and then not much more until the door opened and you were able to see Kaito. He was wearing a loose-fitting black shirt and a pair of pajama pants, and the same space-themed slippers he always wore. There was a moment of silence as he registered that it was you in front of his door, and he blinked several times, as if clearing his eyes would make you disappear like an illusion.
“Ringo? What’s up?”
You bit back an embarrassed noise as he called you by the nickname— So he was serious about calling you that, apparently.
“I brought some stuff for you. Can I come in?”
Kaito tilted his head, slightly confused, but opened the door for you to come in anyway.
His room was an interesting mishmash of academic supplies, space paraphernalia, and typical young adult-ish decor. There were a couple band posters on the walls above his bed, in addition to a star chart and a corkboard with all sorts of papers tacked onto it. There were also a few small potted plants around, a sunlamp, a desk with several textbooks and a gyroscope on it, and the occasional article of clothing scattered around. In other words, a somewhat-typical dorm room. A few moments passed, until Kaito cleared his throat, snapping you out of your thoughts.
“So,” He said a bit awkwardly.
You took one last glance around the room, and unceremoniously presented the items to him. He looked at your outstretched arms for a moment, and took the items from you, one by one, taking the time to examine each object before setting them down on his desk (he raised an eyebrow in surprise at the magazine, but said nothing, which you were grateful for.)
“These are all cool. How’d you get your hands on them?” He asked.
“Ah, I just did a little bit of searching,” You answered.
Like hell you were going to tell him you’d enlisted Kokichi’s help, though.
“Not that I don’t appreciate the stuff,” Kaito continued, “But… Why did you give them to me?”
You scratched the back of your neck, and said, “Well, you weren’t feeling so great, and everyone likes getting gifts, right? Plus, it gave me something to do today instead of just sitting around in my room.” A pause, and then, “I was worried about you, too.”
You looked at Kaito, whose mouth was slightly open in shock. He then shut it and looked away, and you could see the way his Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed thickly. It was weird to see him looking so off-guard, and you couldn’t understand why he seemed so speechless. Maybe he hadn’t expected anyone to check in on him. Or maybe he just didn’t know what to say. Eventually, he spoke, in a voice that may have been at a typical speaking volume, but was comparatively quiet to his usual loudness.
“That means a lot to me. Thank you.”
You offered a small smile, and he mirrored it, before seeming to remember something.
“Oh, I almost forgot, I need to give you the water bottle back.”
You shook your head and held up a hand.
“Keep it. I was surprised you didn’t have one on you anyway, and you probably need it more than I do anyway… Which reminds me, when are we going back to training?”
“Probably Monday night. I need a bit of time to recover,” Kaito answered, and added, “Are you sure you don’t want it back?”
“I have another one already,” You said, lying through your teeth.
Kaito looked at you pointedly, and you looked back, equally as firm. The staredown lasted for several seconds, as you faced off with the strong, confident gaze of his purple eyes. Eventually, he must have decided that it wasn’t worth it to push the issue, and looked away with a sigh. A victory for you. However, that meant that you had no more reason to stay in his room, and the thought was oddly disappointing.
With a surprisingly subdued exchange of “goodnight”s, you left his room, and wandered towards your own.
It was evident that something had shifted between you two that night.
But you weren’t sure what it was.
Not yet, anyway.