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At precisely 5:43pm on a chilly Monday in March, Fujinuma Satoru plunges into the river.

Yashiro watches. A familiar thrill runs through his veins, fills his heart with joy, silences his thoughts and makes him whole. Satoru is screaming, beating the dash of the cheap rental car in a fury, but the seatbelt won't come undone. Yashiro has come too far, planned too carefully and lost too much to be undone by that kind of rookie mistake.

The air sends a chill down his spine. Satoru’s thread sways in the wind; it's a thin, fragile thing, gleaming white as it draws taught. Yashiro knows it won't snap yet, not as long as Satoru can keep his head above water. As long as he can keep screaming and cursing Yashiro to damnation.

This is new. Most of the children he's killed cried, some of them begged, and a fair few screamed. None of them declared resolutely that Yashiro would be defeated, arrested, burned in hell after his miserable life ends. When he kills adults, usually because they saw something they shouldn't have, he keeps it quick. There's no sense in prolonging a death when they might be able to fight back and hurt him—hiding defensive wounds is a pain in the neck. On the few occasions they had time to speak, they'd said things like this; I'll kill you or damn you or you bastard, son of a bitch, motherfucker.

It’s in character for Satoru. He's matured a lot recently, so it makes sense he'd die a prideful, defiant death.

The car jerks. Yashiro hears glass breaking, sees the car begin to buck under the dark water’s crushing weight. His breath puffs out in front of him like tiny clouds. Satoru screams, instinctual and terrified, and Yashiro chuckles. He turns to leave Satoru to his fate. He has a hockey game to get back to, and an alibi to secure.

"Yashiro!"

Inexplicably, he hears church bells. The sound shudders through the earth and air, reverberating deeply in his bones. It’s loud and powerful and shouldn't be here, far past the city limits in the cold, desolate forest. The light snowfall around him explodes into an angry flurry.

"I know your future!"

His heart thuds. Sweat drips down his chin despite the cold. Yashiro turns back to the car, dread outweighing thrill for the first time he can remember. The euphoria drains from his heart, leaving it emptier than it’s ever been. Above the car, Satoru’s thread snaps.

He reaches out wordlessly. A spider crawls across his vision. The ground shifts violently, the church bells ring louder, and—



"I want to fill the hole in people's hearts—other's and my own."

Yashiro snaps into reality behind the wheel of a car. He slams on the break instinctively, bringing them to a screeching halt. His seatbelt knocks the wind out of him. In the passenger seat, he hears a resounding oof.

"Yashiro-sensei?" Fujinuma Satoru, pink-nosed and bright eyed and very much not dead, yelps. "Are you okay?"

Yashiro stares. The thread is still there, above his target's head, uncut. His eyes drift to his wrist watch. It's 4:56pm.

"Sensei?" Unease creeps into Satoru's voice. His eyes are darkened, regarding Yashiro with… distrust? Fear? Not of him, but rather, of—

“Sensei!” Satoru shouts. His little hands, so small compared to Yashiro’s own, point frantically at the receding food truck. “He’s getting away…!”

Yashiro’s heart thunders. His breath comes in quick gasps. He wishes he’d used his own car for this, or at least stashed a few extra lollipops in his pocket beforehand. He needs sugar, desperately. He needs balance.

He needs to touch Satoru, to make sure this is real and not a delusion sprung from the depths of his dark, confused mind.

“I know your future!”

Satoru’s skin is warm when Yashiro brushes his fingers against his cheek. He startles, but doesn’t jerk away like he’s scared or angry. Instead he stares up at Yashiro with a look of unconditional trust, then frowns.

“Come on, we have to go!” Satoru squirms in his seat. He pushes against the seatbelt, but it holds tight; of course it does. Yashiro fixed it himself. It won't come undone, no matter how fiercely Satoru struggles.

A lump settles in the base of his throat, heavy and unyielding.

Yashiro tentatively steps on the gas. The road is mostly empty, occupied by only a few slowly moving cars. Yashiro doesn’t bother following the road signs as he makes a u-turn, driving back in the direction of the Wakaba Gym.

“Yashiro-sensei!” Satoru tears at his seatbelt, grunting as he pulls and pulls. He’ll end up with bruises over his stomach and chest if he keeps thrashing like that. Yashiro takes a hand off the wheel, dropping it onto Satoru’s head—his hair is cold to the touch, cold but not wet, not iced—and pets him gently.

“Calm down, Satoru,” Yashiro says. “This game has gone far enough, don’t you think?”

“But—!”

“Normally I’d be fine indulging you, but at this rate we’ll miss Hamada’s game.” He taps his pointer finger against Satoru’s head. The boy doesn’t even flinch. “Misato is fine. She probably just went for a walk. You’ll see.”

“No,” Satoru gasps. “No!”

Yashiro ignores him. He takes his time getting out of the car when they roll into the gym's parking lot, triple checking the car is in park and the basketball is still in the back, far from the gas pedal. He opens Satoru’s door to find him flushed, frantic, his hands tugging at the seatbelt.

“It’s not coming undone?” Yashiro says. He frames it as a question, though he already knows the answer. There’s a box cutter in his coat pocket, just in case. Satoru doesn’t jerk away when Yashiro unsheathes the blade and cuts through the seatbelt. He could do it now, could slice through Satoru’s neck, spill his blood, listen to him gurgle and struggle for air. Killing in a public parking lot would be a bad idea, but he could do it.

He doesn’t.

Satoru tries to run. Yashiro grabs him by the shoulders and steers him towards the gym. It’s not hard to hold him back. For all his adult-like qualities, Fujinuma Satoru is a child with a child’s strength. Yashiro keeps himself strong for times like this, when it’s not enough to lull people into a false sense of security. He’s careful not to grip tightly enough to leave bruises as he guides Satoru back into the gym.

The game has already started. The girls Yashiro drove there haven't noticed his absence, their attention chiefly on Hamada and the puck sliding across the ice. Misato is exactly where he expects her to be, sitting alone far from her former friends. The cup he gave her earlier is gone, either finished or thrown away after her trip to the bathroom.

“See?” he says. He can feel Satoru relaxing under his hands, tension draining from his shoulders.

“I thought…” Satoru murmurs.

“Misato is safe.” Yashiro pats Satoru’s head again. The thread twirls between his fingers, elusive and beautiful. “Now, why don’t we relax and watch the game? I’ll give you a ride home afterwards, if you like.”

Satoru turns to him with a happy smile. For a moment, Yashiro can’t breathe.

This child is special.



He keeps his word and drives Satoru home after the game. He drops the girls off first, making the excuse that they should get home before dark, just in case. It doesn’t surprise him when Satoru agrees. He wants to protect these girls—not just Misato, but all of them. He doesn’t want any of them to be alone, not for the slightest moment, because he knows what Yashiro is planning.

No. He knows someone is planning. He doesn’t know it’s Yashiro.

Not yet.

But how? Satoru is only a child. It’s possible he’s heard about the abductions in other towns given his mother’s former career, but would he realize Ishikari is in danger, too? Children are funny things, lacking a sense of mortality for both themselves and others. It seems unlikely Satoru would assume these girls are in danger, just because those girls were. It just doesn’t make sense.

“It’s like you’ve seen the future.”

He still hasn’t ruled out the possibility he’s hallucinating. It wouldn’t be the first time. Sometimes, when the early morning sun peeks over the horizon just right, he sees figures in the shadows: Spice running in his hamster wheel, his brother swinging from the ceiling of his apartment, children with broken necks and blue lips darting around corners at school.

When he touched those phantoms they dissipated into thin air—Satoru remains firm and warm under his fingers.

“Um, sensei?” Satoru asks as Yashiro cups his chin, absentmindedly stroking along his cheek. They’re alone now, Yashiro in the driver’s seat and Satoru in the passenger’s, and Yashiro could kill him. Could drive him into the river. It’d be tough to get out of, since there are multiple witnesses who’ve seen him with Satoru this evening, but not impossible. His acting skills are quite advanced.

...maybe he fell into the river, too, and this is a fever dream playing out in his last moments of life.

Satoru squirms under his touch. “What are you doing?”

“Ah, sorry,” Yashiro says. His hand returns to the steering wheel, finger tapping furiously at the cold, lifeless leather. “You seemed upset earlier, so I thought you could do with some comforting.”

A happy smile stretches across Satoru’s face, uninhibited. “Oh. Thanks.”

The car grows quiet. Outside the windows, snow begins to fall, promising to blanket the town heavily overnight. School might be cancelled tomorrow. Yashiro taps away, struggling to think, struggling not to think, struggling to keep his eyes on the road and not on the thread shimmering elusively over Satoru’s head.

“Want some candy?” Satoru asks suddenly. He reaches for the glove compartment.

Yashiro grabs his wrist. “Sorry, Satoru, but there’s no candy in there—

because this isn’t my car.”

Deja vu is making him nauseous. Satoru blinks once, twice, but doesn’t yank his hand away or look at Yashiro with dread. “What do you mean this isn’t your car?”

Yashiro lets go. He swallows around unspoken words, the memory of past conversations. “My car was having trouble earlier, so I borrowed this one. I don’t know what’s in that glove compartment. It might not be something children should see.”

Satoru flushes. “I-I see.”

In truth, there’s nothing racy in that compartment. Only the car’s falsified title papers and a box of laxatives missing two pills. Yashiro knows because he’s the one that put them there. He also knows Satoru is sharp enough to notice the connection between Misato’s sudden need for a long bathroom break and laxatives in the glove compartment of the car Yashiro is driving.

Yashiro doesn’t want him suspicious just yet. For now, he only wants to watch.

They arrive at Satoru’s house a little after 7:55pm. As of now, Satoru has lived almost two hours longer than he should have. Sachiko opens the curtains wearing a yellow cooking apron. She looks relieved to see her boy home safe and sound, sharing a car with his trustworthy homeroom teacher. Satoru slides out of his seat, maneuvering around the tattered remains of the seatbelt, and just as he grabs the door handle Yashiro covers his hand with his own.

Such tiny hands. So soft and warm.

Satoru looks at him questioningly.

Yashiro picks up the remaining bento from Shiratori foods, bought for himself but left uneaten, and hands it over. “Take care, Satoru.”

Satoru’s smile falters when he reads the label. Fascinating. Utterly fascinating. “You too, sensei.”



The snowfall lessens overnight, and school goes on as planned. 

Yashiro steps into his role as teacher with an unfamiliar enthusiasm, taking the opportunity to survey Satoru’s behavior. For the first time in his career, he makes himself late to class to listen in on Satoru and Kenya’s conversation in the stairwell. What he hears leaves him perplexed. He's certain Kenya knows nothing of his plans—he’s shown no signs of distrust and has, as far as Yashiro can tell, not actively gotten between him and his targets. And yet here he is, discussing a hypothetical child abductor in hushed tones with Satoru. Yashiro knows Kenya's father is defending one of his scapegoats. Maybe he’s fascinated by papa’s work and wants to play detective? Or is he simply following Satoru’s lead? He makes a mental note to consider the possibilities later.

During class, Satoru makes an effort to talk to Misato. Given the part he played in her isolation, it’s understandable his attempts at friendship are rebuked. She can only resist the weight of her loneliness for so long, though. At the end of the day, she leaves the classroom with Satoru at her heels. It’s only a matter of time before she joins him and his friends at their hideout.

With her now under careful watch, there’s no one left at either Mikoto or Izumi Elementary School who’s totally alone. No one who’s vulnerable, left out in the snow with nary a soul around to ensure their safety.

Except for Satoru himself.

Yashiro wonders if he notices it: how his new adult-like personality distances him from the other children, or the danger he’s putting himself in by brazenly chasing down a serial killer. It would be tantalizingly easy to kill him, to cut that thread which glimmers so much brighter than the others. Fujinuma Satoru would be mourned, yes, but with him gone Yashiro doubts he’d have anything to worry about. No one else suspects a killer is on the loose, and Satoru spends an awful lot of time at the Shiratori boy’s house. A few questionable books in his room would be all Yashiro needs to frame him.

Yet.

“I know your future!”

He doesn’t feel the urge.

His heart is still dead, aching for joy and thrill and life, but his desperate desire to obtain those things through death has faded. Instead, Yashiro feels the hole being swallowed up by the simple act of observing Satoru. It reminds him of those two achingly short years he had with Spice, watching how eager the little hamster was to receive treats and affection from the person who tried to kill it.

“Yashiro!”

He wants to hear that voice say his name sans honorific. He wants to know the shape of Satoru’s heart.

“When you said ‘your heroic efforts just couldn’t end in tragedy’... that made me really happy.”

A kind of 'happy' mere words can achieve. Yashiro did that.

He wonders what it feels like to hear such words.



Yashiro starts paying more attention to Satoru’s schoolwork. He has a few old worksheets, graded but forgotten at home, for comparison. Satoru's grades have remained more or less consistent, but now that Yashiro is looking closely he can see the discrepancies. He lays out two math assignments, one from yesterday and another from a month ago, and catalogues every inconsistency. The papers look like they were completed by two different students; the old assignment is covered in blocky numbers and too-firm handwriting, the paper tacky where Satoru furiously erased incorrect calculations. The new paper is neater, with light penmanship and no eraser marks betraying his uncertainty. Satoru still gets some problems right and some of them wrong, but it’s incongruous. No longer is there a clear trend of this being what Satoru is good at and that being what he’s bad at. Instead every other problem is wrong for seemingly no reason, even if Satoru solved it correctly in class the day before. It’s like he knows the answers and is getting them wrong on purpose. Like he’s specifically trying not to overachieve.

Yashiro did not become an elementary school teacher to grade papers, but at this moment it’s all he cares about.

He separates the graded assignments into piles. He decides to keep some of them, the written ones which contain lines upon lines of Satoru's unbroken handwriting. He draws his pointer finger over the pencil marks. In one spot, Yashiro swears he feels the indent where Satoru had written a kanji, erased it and put a line of hiragana in its place.

He tacks these papers onto the corkboard he keeps by his bed. If someone were to catch sight of it accidentally, they'd only see proof of a dedicated teacher keeping thank you notes written by his students and photos of them at academic and sporting events. One photo, placed innocuously at the edge of the board, shows his class in its entirety. Kayo stands far to the side, away from the others, her eyes downcast.

Yashiro fixes Satoru's assignment under it, a hidden message to himself. His target has shifted.



That weekend, Yashiro buys Satoru a belated birthday present. He selects a journal with the superhero Satoru likes on the cover and manga illustrations scattered throughout.  He's used this trick in the past on kids without friends or family; they always stare up at him adoringly when he hands them the small trinket, full of trust and willing to follow him anywhere, no questions asked. It won't work like that on Satoru, at least it shouldn't, given the bounty of presents he received earlier in the month. He still wears the gloves Kayo hand-knitted for him every day; he'd nearly cried when he snagged them on the barbed wire fence encasing the school parking lot. Yashiro doubts his gift will be nearly as precious.

Yashiro wraps a red ribbon around the middle of the journal and ties it with a bow. After class, surrounded by other teachers, he calls Satoru into the faculty office and hands the book over.

His face lights up as he unties the ribbon to reveal the hero's masked face. "Thank you, sensei!"

"You should use this journal to record your heroic escapades, Satoru," Yashiro says. Satoru tilts his head in confusion. "You're the hero that protects the children of this town, aren't you?"

Satoru rubs the back of his neck, embarrassed. Yashiro feels less like he's looking at a sheepish child and more like he's seeing an adult, ashamed of their own excitement. How peculiar. "I'm trying, sir."

Satoru bolts out of the faculty office. Yashiro watches him leave the building from the window. The journal is clutched close to his chest, caressed by his baby blue knit gloves.

Yashiro goes back to grading papers, but his mind remains elsewhere.



A week later, when Satoru and his mother go out shopping, Yashiro breaks into their apartment.

He uses the key they keep stored behind the milk box to get in. It's cold and dark, an unassuming, unremarkable place, and Yashiro flicks open a lighter to find his way around. He takes in the neat placement of dishes on the drying rack, the plate of leftover rice covered in saran wrap on the table, the single corner of the bedroom which contains Satoru's personal belongings. Sachiko isn't wealthy by any means, but she keeps a good house. It's a fine place for a child to grow up. A safe place.

Less safe now that Yashiro has stepped foot in it.

Satoru's desk is low to the ground. A corkboard adorned with photos of his friends and a single red hero's mask sits on top of it. That they share the desire to display their interests prominently in their own space like this makes Yashiro shiver. They're really alike, the two of them. Very, very alike.

Yashiro opens the desk drawer and finds the journal. A stubby pencil rests on top of it. A brief survey of the rest of the drawer reveals nothing of interest; a stray poor assignment he’d stowed away to keep his mother from seeing, and the student composition book for their class. Yashiro sets his lighter down and opens the journal to the first page.

What he finds is nigh incomprehensible.

There's a list of names and dates connected to each other with lines and scribbles, the writings of a person frantically trying to make sense of their own thoughts. Kayo's name is at the top of the page with two dates—3/1 and 3/3—beneath it. Both dates have been crossed out, and the word SAFE written underneath.

March 1st was when he’d waited fruitlessly in the dark, cold park, and March 3rd was when he’d opened the shed to find it empty. Yashiro’s face splits into a grin.

Also written on the page are Sugita Hiromi and Nakanishi Aya; beneath Hiromi's name is "June" and beneath Aya's is "March." Around them are records of each child's daily schedule. A few scattered hours are marked “alone,” with more notes underneath; things like “at hideout with Kazu” and “at student center with Kenya & I.” At the bottom of the page is Yanagihara Misato, circled twice. Yashiro flips the page.

There's another list of names, this time of adults. Yashiro recognizes a few: Shiratori Jun's father. His own. They've been neatly organized into two lists, one labelled "suspects" and the other "safe."

His name is in the "safe" category.

Yashiro trembles. He can't stop the chuckle that escapes his lips, the burning need to rip Satoru apart and learn what he knows, how he knows it. Because Satoru, somehow, has seen the future. He's seen the web cast over this town, and the children caught up in it.

He just doesn't know who the spider is. Yet.

"I won't die until I see you destroyed!"

Is this why he was sent back, given this second chance? He was too blinded by frustration to see it before, but Satoru might be the only person in this world capable of understanding him. He’d never bothered telling anyone the truth about his brother or the girls he violated. None of them would’ve understood—they would’ve told him he was traumatized, or scared, or coerced. In truth his heart had been empty long before his brother started beating him.

Yashiro slips the journal back into place. He leaves the house, relocks the door, and drives home. Over the rumble of the car engine, he thinks about the river, about Satoru struggling to keep his head above water, hell-bent on survival. He thinks of Spice and Kandata doing the same by climbing over the bodies of the damned.

If Satoru had been willing, he could have climbed over Kayo and Aya’s corpses to escape that river. But he didn't.

Because he's a hero. The exact opposite of Yashiro in every way.



Fujinuma Satoru is 29 years old. It’s been a long time since he was in school, and he'd finally quashed those stupid nightmares about showing up to class wearing only his underwear just a year before revival sent him spiralling back to 1988. Not that this situation is anything like that, since he's only talking to his homeroom teacher and his clothes are all accounted for, but it's the principle that counts. He should not, for any reason, feel childish shame when facing down a man who is, in actuality, a year younger than him.

Yet he finds himself lowering his head all the same.

Yashiro-sensei had never been particularly harsh in Satoru's memories. Granted, he didn't remember him very well until revival, but what he's seen in this new time line is close to what he recalls from the old one; Yashiro Gaku is strict but kind, cares deeply for his students, and values hard work and honesty. He's a good teacher.

Which is probably why his "I'm not angry, just disappointed" look is so damn intimidating.

"Satoru," Yashiro says, and Satoru nearly jumps out of his skin. "Do you know why I've called you here?"

He doesn't. The faculty room is empty besides them, as the rest of the teachers have left for the day. Yashiro had explicitly asked for him to wait until the other teachers left before coming in, though he didn't say why. Satoru doesn't think he's done anything to get himself in trouble. He hopes he hasn't. The last thing he wants is to be grounded from watching Wonder Guy by his mom at age 29.

"I'm waiting, Satoru."

Satoru jumps again, and shakes his head.

Yashiro sighs, a resigned sound that cuts through the air like a knife. "I'm not going to scold you. I'm simply concerned."

"...about what, sensei?" Satoru can't imagine what he'd be concerned about. He has a good home life and plenty of close friends. He's been trying to match his old grades when it comes to homework and tests. Maybe he's been sloppy with it and Yashiro thinks he's cheating?

Yashiro folds his arms. His pointer finger taps idly against his forearm. "Would you like to tell me what you and Kenya talk about in the stairwell before class?"

Satoru feels himself going pale. Fuck. Yashiro has been late to class recently. Fuck.

"Uh," is Satoru's intelligent response.

Yashiro's expression takes on a more sympathetic quality. Somehow, it's worse than the disapproval, since that at least resembled the expression of a teacher. This one looks like the kind of face Satoru imagines a father would wear. "You told me you were playing detective, but you and Kenya didn't sound like you were discussing a game."

"That's… we're just taking it really seriously…?"

"Satoru. If you have any reason to believe someone in Ishikari is planning on harming children, please tell me. You’re only a child. This isn't something you have to grapple with alone."

Satoru weighs the pros and cons. On one hand, he has no definitive proof a child murderer exists. Yashiro could dismiss him, or worse, tell his mother about his "concerning" flights of fancy. He doesn’t want her involved in any of this, nor does he want to have to disobey her to protect everyone.

On the other, the things Satoru, Kenya, and Hiromi can do without an adult's help is limited. They don't have a car, their funds are minimal, and they wouldn't be able to fight back if they were attacked. An ally would be much appreciated, especially one with connections to the Child Consultation Center.

The real question is, would Yashiro-sensei believe him?

Satoru glances up to meet Yashiro's eyes. He appears to be waiting patiently, but the finger tapping erratically at his bicep gives away his unease. A faint memory flickers in the back of Satoru's mind, of a car receding into the snow, moving far faster than his little legs could carry him.

"So," he says, making up his mind. "It's like this."

Yashiro-sensei listens patiently as Satoru tries to explain. He doesn't bother bringing up revival, instead playing it off as some kind of gut instinct. His sensei nods along, keeping his face perfectly neutral, encouraging Satoru to continue when he trails off. After he finishes spilling everything, he wipes his sweaty palms on his jeans while Yashiro palms his chin, looking pensive.

"Do you believe me?" Satoru asks.

"It's hard to. There haven't been any strange incidents in Ishikari to back up what you're saying. I certainly haven't seen anything out of the ordinary, aside from what happened with Kayo’s mother. And such incidents aren't common in Japan." Satoru's heart sinks with every word. He’s resigned himself to being dismissed out of hand when Yashiro's face lights up with a smile. "I believe you."

Satoru's jaw drops. Huh? But why?!

Yashiro chuckles. "You said that out loud, Satoru."

Satoru's face burns, but his question still stands.

"I don't know why. I just want to believe you. Is that okay?"

The hole that has been occupying Satoru's heart closes up so suddenly and joyously it almost knocks him off his feet. His eyes mist over. He rubs at them furiously. "Thank you, sensei."

Yashiro smiles kindly. "Not at all, Spice."



Yashiro-sensei invites Satoru over to his house after school.

It only seems right to go. Yashiro has done Satoru a huge favor by choosing to believe him, and his help will be very, very welcome. He’s putting himself in the line of fire, too; the killer clearly has no problems murdering anyone who gets in his way. The memory of his mom lying on the floor of his apartment, still warm and covered in blood, returns to him in nightmares. He can only hope Yashiro will heed his warnings and stay as safe as possible. He’s just gained a father-figure; he doesn’t want to lose him so quickly.

His pleas seem to have been heard, since Yashiro locks the door as soon as they get inside. That’s one barrier between them and the killer, at least.

“Make yourself at home,” Yashiro says cheerily. He’s been in an oddly good mood since this afternoon, given he’s just agreed to help Satoru hunt down a serial killer.

Satoru takes off his shoes and drops his bag against the wall. Yashiro’s house is bigger than the apartment he shares with his mom, but considerably emptier. There’s almost no decoration, and barely any furniture. Satoru sits on the floor in the living room, in front of a low-lying coffee table, and looks around. There’s a tv, a small kitchen, and three other rooms he can see. Two doors are closed, probably the bathroom and bedroom, and the other opens into what looks like a small office. It’s dark, and Satoru can only just make out a desk and chair. Something circular and metal gleams from the shadows.

Yashiro returns from the kitchen with a steaming cup of coffee. The color is rich and dark, clearly unsweetened. Satoru blinks in surprise when Yashiro sets it down in front of him.

“I had the chance to speak with your mother the other day. She told me you’ve acquired a taste for black coffee,” Yashiro explains with an enigmatic smile.

Satoru takes the cup. “Thank you, sensei.”

Something about the coffee tastes off. It could be that Yashiro buys a different kind of beans than his mom, or that the mug wasn’t properly washed. He swallows it down so fast it burns his mouth. Yashiro rests his face in one hand, watching him intently. The air feels heavy for some reason, and it makes Satoru shift uncomfortably. He keeps drinking the coffee so he has an excuse not to say anything.

“You know, Satoru, I lied earlier,” Yashiro says suddenly..

Satoru startles. His stomach feels weird. “Huh?”

“I do have a reason for believing you. You see, I know there’s a killer targeting Ishikari. Want to know how?”

A cold sweat breaks out across Satoru’s skin. Is he getting sick? He sets the mug down and pulls his legs under himself, moving carefully to avoid upsetting his stomach. “I think I should go home now, sensei. I don’t feel too good.”

“Oh, my.” Yashiro stands. His height makes him loom over Satoru. A memory surfaces: Yashiro’s hands on his shoulders, effortlessly pushing him forward. A box-cutter, something he hadn’t questioned before, cutting through a seatbelt that wouldn’t come undone. The glint in Yashiro’s eyes that was always slightly too perceptive, too all-knowing, encaged in stylish glasses and covered ever so slightly by the tip of a hat.

Satoru can’t breathe.

His legs buckle underneath him. He feels sluggish, alien in his own body. He shoves fingers in his mouth, reaching for his uvula, but the world tips over and he slams into the ground with a gasp.

His vision swims. It takes him a moment to recognize the face hanging over him, the hands curling tight around his wrists. The space behind his eyes burn. Satoru’s stuttered breath turns into a whine.

“Yes, that’s it. That’s the expression I was looking for,” Yashiro-sensei croons. He looks every bit like the father Satoru has been longing for. “I knew it. The first time wasn’t right because it was only you. This time will be better, I promise.”

“What—” Satoru coughs. The air smells bad. It tastes like ash on his tongue. Behind Yashiro something flickers, bright orange-yellow licking up the walls of the house. Satoru’s horror spikes when he realizes it’s fire exploding from the kitchen, and he sees the imprint of Airi’s soot-covered face in the darkness behind his eyes. Yashiro’s gentle smile splits into a grin. He leans in so close it makes Satoru’s skin crawl.

“Don’t be afraid. Sensei will take care of everything.”



Yashiro snaps into reality right before he mixes the drug into Satoru’s coffee, and laughs.