Shuuichi’s summer break has been extremely quiet, or so he would like to say. Ever since he solved that gruesome murder three months ago, the press has been hounding his uncle’s detective office, and even his home. He hasn’t even tried going out this summer, preferring to stay in his small room at his uncles’ house. The world at large too desperately wants to plaster his face on the papers.
It was an accident anyway. A mistake. Really, anyone could have noticed that detail about the knife. How the state of the body didn’t match with the apparent murder weapon. It was obvious, wasn’t it? It really could only have been that man!
Dark eyes with the cold fury of a man thwarted flash through his mind. That glare, that hateful, self-righteous glare; he thinks they’re punishment enough for his sin of solving it.
It was an accident. A mistake. Nobody should have solved that case. Justice was already won before Shuuichi had ever arrived, when that man was sent right to hell. He should have just left it be. Let that broken, damaged family recover without his meddling.
Should he have? Is that what justice is? Letting murderers go free? Letting those who have been brutalized get their retribution, their safety, through any necessary means? He never wanted to answer these questions. He just wanted to solve mysteries. I should have stuck to puzzles and books.
There’s a knock on his bedroom door, and Shuuichi looks up from his empty desk. “Shuuichi-kun!,” The older, raspier voice of his uncle calls out from beyond the door. “Can I come in?”
“Yeah, go ahead.”
Uncle Yuujirou walks up to Shuuichi’s desk, and hands him an elegant, but simple, white envelope. Oh no, is it some ridiculous interview request? He thought for sure he told him he’s not interested in any of this kind of stuff. Uncle Yuujirou just laughs, with a knowing look on that gently wrinkled face. “I went through today’s mail. I threw most of it out, but I think this one will interest you.”
Shuuichi takes the envelope in his hands, examining it in the careful and precise way he does evidence. It’s not particularly special, other than the black and white stamp. The one that Hope’s Peak Academy uses when it scouts out the talented. Oh no.
The letter in Rena’s hand is icky. That’s the only way she could ever describe it. Crisp and white, and yet somehow it sticks to her, gluing itself to her thoughts for months. It sticks and clings like dough when you first try to knead it. The letter reads with elegant, precise letters:
You’ve been invited to attend Hope’s Peak Academy as the Super High School Level Stage Actress.
“I’m not going,” Rena says, dropping the letter on the kitchen table with disgust. That’s her final answer. Act? Again? No, she quit that. She hasn’t acted in a year, why would she go back now? To the lights, the crowds, back to Shuukyo city. No thanks. She’ll stay right here in Ibaraki.
“Reina—” her father pleads, stumbling out of his chair. He should have expected this. That name has never felt ickier.
“No! I said I’m never acting again! I refuse!” She can feel herself shaking, hands clenched into trembling fists. She never wanted to be like this again, not in front of her dad, not in front of anyone, not at all. I’m not going. I’m not going I’m not going I’m not going.
Echoing in the back of her mind is an elegant voice, a laugh, a ‘congratulations, you did so well Reina-chan! We’re so proud of you!’ Unbidden tears build up. Rena refuses to cry, grinding her teeth with all the force in the world.
Gentle hands grab her tense shoulders. “Reina,” her father says in a gentle voice. She doesn’t look up at him. She’s not sure if she doesn’t want to see his face, or if she doesn’t want him to see hers. “You don’t have to act.”
Don’t have to act? You told me you wanted me to go! How can she go to Hope’s Peak Academy and not act? That’s why they wanted her, isn’t it? What is Dad talking about? He’s not making any sense.
“If you really don’t want to go, that’s okay,” he continues with a sigh. Rena can imagine the look on his face. “I don’t want to make you do anything if you really don’t want to. But this is the best education you could ever get. Even if you never act again, you could take this diploma and do anything you want.”
“But they want me for acting!” It’s a pitiful rebuttal. One she knows that won’t last.
“They can’t force you to act, Reina.” He doesn’t elaborate further, but he doesn’t have to. Rena knows it’s true. Hope’s Peak Academy is a high school, not an acting program. They might have a drama club, and even facilities for grand performances, but they can’t force her back on stage. Even if they needle and whine and beg.
She sighs, taking a deep breath. “Okay.” This isn’t like her. Rena is supposed to be cheerful now. What would make her cheerful? “Maybe Rena will learn to become a detective instead! Hau!” Yeah, that sounds fun. Hope’s Peak will find her in their forensics lab. She’s always liked a good mystery.
“So, you’re going back to campus tomorrow right Sis?” The familiar voice of her sister asks, slightly muffled in the way all phone calls are.
“Ahaha, yeah,” Mion replies, placing the last of her controllers in the box. That’s all that she has left for packing. Good! I’m done! And with that she flops back on her fluffy twin sized bed, in her now emptier bedroom. “It’ll be fun to start the club back up again.”
“You mean your club with only two members?” Shion teases, and Mion’s cheeks burn.
“Rika-chan and Satoko show up too!” Sometimes. It’s hard, given that they’re elementary schoolers, and live on a different part of campus. So usually, it’s just two of them. Is that kind of a date…? No, don’t think about that!
Except Shion can smell embarrassment, even from the district next door. “Bet that works out in your favor too, hm? You two can get some alone time. When are you going to make a move, sis?”
“AAGHH, Stupid Shion, shut up!!” Mion groans, kicking the bed sheets as she buries her face in a pillow. It was a mistake for the conversation to go this direction. But as Shion continues to rib her, her mind drifts somewhere else.
They met in the cafeteria. She hadn’t ever seen him before, probably because he wasn’t enrolled in the same course as her. He looked absolutely miserable, staring blankly at the bento he was barely eating. It’s far from Mion to ignore someone in pain, so naturally. ‘Hey, do you want to play a game?’
Those eyes looked confused. ‘Sonozaki Mion…’ He said slowly, as if he was surprised she was talking to him. Didn’t stop her from taking a seat next to him. His eyes got a little brighter at that.
“We’re just friends,” Mion finally says, in a huff from all the teasing. It took her weeks to convince him to actually play a game with her, never mind join her club, but they’re definitely friends now. She’s happy like that. He looks a bit happier than he used to. He smiles more during club meetings. Mion thinks he looks nice like that. Stupid Mion, change the subject! “Anyway, we’re going tomorrow morning, do you want to come with?”
One more night and she’s back to school again. She’s looking forward to it.
“Yeah, and then have Demon Granny kick my ass for going near Hope’s Peak, no thanks!” Shion says. If I see Grandma never again it would be too soon! Mion laughs.
“You say that like you haven’t been there before.”
At this Shion snickers. It’s true that sometimes, “Mion” is her. It’s pretty fun to sneak around campus, meet some of Mion’s friends. But that won’t work here, and besides, “Unfortunately for you, I’m actually busy.”
“Is it the mystery guy that doesn’t talk much?” Ah, him. Shion’s new friend. The one she hasn’t told Mion much about. A twinge of guilt pierces her heart.
“Yeah, that’s him. He’s moving with me tomorrow.” Was that too much to tell her?
“He’s WHAT?” Yeah, it might have been too much. She rolls over on her messy bed and internally groans.
“Well, he can barely take care of himself, even with the jobs he has. The other day we went to the supermarket again, and he still hasn’t learned to get things in bulk—”
“Did mom okay this?”
“I didn’t ask. I told Kasai, and we’re moving him into the empty apartment next door.” It’s the kind of thing you can get away with when your family owns the building.
“Mmn…” Mion’s frown is quite audible. She can tell her sister wants to ask questions, but doesn’t know how to. Maybe she’s scared to. There’s an intangible wall between the Sonozaki sisters. That’s not a bad thing, is it? What can she even tell her anyway? It’s not like she knows all that much. This is fine. “That makes sense. Try not to burden Kasai-san too much, okay?”
“You worry too much!” Shion takes a glance at the time. Crap, I’m late! “Anyway I have to go! I said I’d help him clean up his old place!”
“Wait, Shion—” But it’s too late, and Shion hangs up.
Muu-kun: where are you?
Muu-kun : hello?
Muu-kun: muu….i’m getting worried…
Shion: sorry, sorry! I’m on my way~!
All finished! Satoko’s dorm room looks mostly the same, just fuller now. Jackets hang in closets, shoes rest by the door, and there’s a few scattered tools, books, and electronics across the desk and bed. It could probably be neater, but she doesn’t see the point, since she’s just going to make the mess again anyway.
“We’ll be on our way now, Satoko,” says the soft voice of her mother, standing by the sofa and observing the room. Behind her towards the door is Houjou-san—dad. Yeah. He’s dad now, remember? Satoko finds herself frowning, unwanted. “Satoko?” Her mother asks, concern pooled in caramel eyes. There’s the unsaid question: ‘Are you missing your brother again?’
“Of course, I am just fine! Ohohoho!” Satoko laughs, regal and fake. It doesn’t bother her at all that he’s missing. That he was here for this last year, and then ran off the next day. It doesn’t bother her that instead of him, there’s only Houjou-san. No, Dad. “I was simply wondering if Rika will be here soon.”
“I’m sure she’ll be here soon,” Houjou-san says with a smile. He always looks happy. He’s not burdened at all by her. Satoko alone is struggling to define what family means to her. No I’m not! Houjou-san is my father! It’s fine. All parental relationships are awkward.
She hugs her mom a bit too tight, and awkwardly side hugs Houjou-san, and then they’re on their way, leaving Satoko alone in her dorm room. Before she gets stuck in her thoughts, she pulls her phone out of her pocket. Hopefully she’s not busy…
With a smile plastered on her face, Rika swings higher, higher, on the swingset of the park set. One day she’ll find a way to fly, so high, and finally touch one of those cotton clouds. Push higher—it’s liberating.
“CUT!” a loud voice yells from outside the filming area. “Take a break! We’ll be back in 20.” Finally. Rika’s smile drops. Or rather, it doesn’t. It just switches to the well-worn form belonging to child actress darling, Furude Rika.
As she goes over to her bag, The director comes over, praising her for her flawless work like always, blah blah, she’s not really listening. Just smiling and nodding. “Mii. Thank you very much, Akito.” Rika thinks she’s the only one in the world who can get away with this disrespect.
He leaves, and she ruffles through her stuff until she finds her cellphone, the notification light blinking. It’s always blinking on her phone. Unlock, scroll, god she wishes she could block all these people. So many directors, and managers, and costume people, and agents, and her mother (ugh), is there anything here that’s interesting?
Satokoヾ(○･ω･)ﾉ☆: Have you arrived yet?
Oh yeah. Today is moving back in day, isn’t it, even for the elementary schoolers. She forgot amidst her overpacked schedule. A quick glance back to her crowded calendar and yep, she’s set to finally go and settle back at the dorm in about…six hours. “That’s too long,” she mutters.
“Akito?” Rika asks, waddling up to the director, who’s busy pouring over a bit of script. “I have to leave early today,” she says, looking down. It’s not like they really need her here. Rika does perfect takes on the first go most of the time. She expects to get irritated texts from her mother, but who cares. It wouldn’t be the first or the last time.
“Ah, today is move in day isn’t it? Of course. You’re not really needed for the rest of the work today anyway,” he says, going into detail about the schedule, and blah blah, Rika doesn’t care. She’s out the door.
Her mom won’t be happy to see her learn she’s leaving early, but it doesn’t matter. Satoko is waiting.
As the math teacher for class 2-BR lectures on and on about polynomials, Hajime wonders why exactly he’s even here. Head propped up in one hand, he glances out the window with a sigh, gazing at the athletics fields beneath him. Below there’s a class for the SHSLs, playing baseball and goofing off together. They look like they’re having fun. Certainly more fun than Hajime is having at this lecture.
His gym classes are not as fun. Maybe they’re not as fun because he doesn’t have anyone to goof off with. He’s friendly with his classmates, but they’re not friends. He doesn’t get what they’re all so excited about. They’re just reserve course kids. They’ll only ever be second best. Just like he is. Why did I enroll here again…?
It’d be easier if just being here made him happy, like it does everyone else in his class. But he’s not happy. Walking through the halls of the large building, with classrooms split between Ts and Rs depending on the course you’re enrolled in, and he’s left feeling misplaced. Lost. We reserve course kids are just here to foot the bills…
His phone buzzes from his front pocket. A thousand yen says it’s Sonozaki. Carefully, although the teacher never notices anyway, he pulls it out and checks his messages.
Sonozaki: club is in session today! o((*^▽^*))o don’t forget.
Sonozaki: first day back is not a day off
Sonozaki: if you skip out I will hunt you down so don’t try anything (｡+･`ω･´)
Hajime snorts quietly and pockets his phone again. Maybe it’s not that terrible.
It’s impressive how empty the halls of the main building of Hope’s Peak Academy can get as soon as classes let out, Kokichi thinks. It’s only the first day, and yet all the excitement of being here at this school, is already zapped after a single day. Well, I guess it wouldn’t be all that exciting for returning students, and he doesn’t think clubs are operating just yet, but it’s still a little unexpected.
He watches as the remaining stragglers in the hall run off to the library, or even to their dorms with disinterest. It doesn’t matter all that much what they’re doing, anyway. He’s not out patrolling the halls for them, but to get a lay of the land. This is his new stomping grounds. It’s a pretty big campus, so he has to get used to it fast if he wants to make the most of it.
But it’s still kind of boring. In this quiet building, with its mostly empty halls. If the rest of his cohort were here, it’d be one thing, but there’s no one. Not even someone to antagonize. How boring. He hopes his whole HPA experience won’t be like this. It’s a school for the best and brightest. Surely something interesting has to come along.
Well, I guess for today we’ll bother the people in my dorm! He cracks a grin at that. There’s so many new faces to piss off! Surely at least one of them is exciting.
Nobody stands near Nagito as he peruses the many shelves of the library. They scurry away as soon as he’s within 10 feet of them to some other place he can’t see them. He’s used to it. The group of reserve course students who almost lost all their bags in an accidental fire started calling him HPA’s Bad Luck Charm, and it’s spread around the school. He did apologize for that (he swears he was just trying to return that Bunsen burner), but it didn’t make a difference. Oh well. That’s okay. Nagito is used to time alone.
The people in his class tend to stay clear of him, too. Well, Sonozaki-san (as the class president) and a few others are nice, and friendly towards him, but that’s about it. He can’t really burden people as talented as them with his presence. They’re all so bright, shining, hopeful. They’re destined for great things. It’s unfitting for him to be their compatriot.
Another reserve course student skitters away from him as Nagito starts taking out a new book. He thinks he’d be better suited among their ranks. They’re just as audacious as he is to think they belong here.
When the book comes out, the entire bookcase falls over, causing a domino effect. Nagito starts laughing to himself.
The conference room with the steering committee is always really dark. Jin never understood why they do that. Even if everything you need to look at is on a screen, a light is still nice. But whatever.
“We’re no longer postponing the Hope Cultivation plan,” speaks one of the men.
The announcement sends Jin into a panic. “But, the results of the modified project are still unclear. You could be putting one of the students in real danger—”
“Need we remind you that you were the one who insisted we change the operation.” That was because your original plan was inhumane and ill thought-out. But the Steering Committee doesn’t care about the ethics of it. The reserve course is just money and guinea pigs to them. “We’ve lost a lot of time because of your efforts. We cannot wait any longer,” the committee continues.
Damn! Jin needs more time! The investigation into the committee is still underway. It’s going so slow because if they catch on to him, he’s fired, and then who knows what they’ll do to this school. Does he tell Munakata to pick up the pace? Is that a safe play? He doesn’t know. He can’t know.
“Start searching the reserve course for a test subject. And make it quick.”
The clock is ticking.
The alleyways of Shuukyo city, clean but still covered in graffiti, are always empty at this time of night. It’s too early for the delinquents groups, but it’s just too late for anyone else to spend time in an alley. Keiichi is alone, crouched near some trash cans. They smell really bad, and flies gleefully buzz around them, but despite this he stays right here, tucked out of sight from the kids and people wandering the streets. He has to. It ends before it begins otherwise.
There’s a heavy weight sitting in his arms, made much heavier by the weight of soon-to-be sins. He can still back out. He hasn’t done anything yet. If he went home, right now, it would be like nothing ever happened. He doesn’t have to do this. But he wants to. Or, he deserves to. Or, the pain has to go somewhere. Somewhere that isn’t him.
So he thinks, deliberating on the pain that has yet to be inflicted, staring down at the BB gun in his hands, aiming at no one, when suddenly—
“Y’know, that’s a really bad prank,” an unfamiliar voice says. Startled, Keiichi drops the BB gun, and it clatters to the floor. In the darkness of the alleyway, he can see the hints of a new silhouette, but he can’t make the stranger out. When did they get here? “There’s a lot more interesting things you can be doing other than that.”
Keiichi says nothing. He’s frozen in place. He’s caught, but he won’t be caught if he just goes home, leaves it here. The stranger can’t see much more of him than he can of them. He’s at no risk, right? Hell, maybe he can shoot them first.
“Do you think you’re special?”
Hah? What kind of question is that?
“Well don’t look so surprised. Only a narc would feel entitled to pelt people with a BB gun.” The stranger laughs at his expense. “Are you a narc?”
Keiichi still can’t move, can’t speak, but his anger is starting to boil over. What does this person know? They don’t know him! They don’t know his pain, or his struggle! He’s not a narcissist. He’s not! He’s not, right? He’s…not. I’m just—
“Tag, you’re it!” The stranger swipes the gun off the concrete and bolts down the nearby street.
Before he’s able to think, he’s chasing, following a dark blurry silhouette as they run all across the district. He needs it back. He needs it back, right? What else can he use to take out his anger? But his plan is out the window now. Sure, he could go back to blasting cans, but that’s not enough. That’s what this was for, right? He needs it back! He needs it back.
He runs and runs and runs. The streets all blur together in his mind, with the only thing in his sights being that stranger with his BB gun. But why does he need it back? Was this ever worth it? Do I even want to do this? Is this going to make me happy? He needs it back. He needs it back!
He doesn’t even know how long he’s been running for. Minutes? Hours? He just has to keep running. He has to get it back. Even if he doesn’t think he wants it anymore. Even if he doesn’t know what he wants.
The stranger hops over a closed gate with the gun, and vanishes. Where am I….? It takes Keiichi a minute, through his heaving and panting, to register the tall, regal brick entryway, and the looming school behind it. Hope’s Peak Academy…? Did he really run that far? He collapses against the brick wall. Guess so.
As he recuperates, he thinks. How do I get that back? He doesn’t go here. He’s enrolled in specialized schools, and being in the reserve course didn’t seem appealing. But he wants it back. Or. Or maybe he wants something else.
Maybe there are other ways to be happy.