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The Mortal City

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“Strange, I thought, how you can be living your dreams and your nightmares at the very same time.”
― Ransom Riggs, Hollow City

 

DAY ONE
+++

It was dark and all he could hear before a dead boy's voice cut through the darkness like a knife was the soft rasp of steady breathing and the faint rustle of clothing.

“I don’t really understand why you’re wasting your thoughts on someone as worthless as me,” the dead boy murmured, his voice soft and close.

“Komaeda?” Hajime whispered, reaching out a hand into the black. His fingers settled in something soft, silky.

He’d only touched Komaeda’s hair once. In the hospital, he’d laid his fingers against his pillow as Komaeda murmured delirious dislike while he was locked in the throes of the despair disease and it hadn’t felt anything like this. It had been oily, damp with sweat, as difficult to bear as the boy it belonged to.

He hadn’t wanted to worry about him then either.

“We’re all somewhere, aren’t we? Why not here?” A rustling in the dark and cool fingers slid across the bridge of his nose, down his cheek leaving a trail of damp behind that smelled like copper. “Unless you don’t want garbage like me sullying your mental landscape?”

“Was anything you said the truth?” He whispered, tightening his fingers in that soft, silky hair, edging closer. “Anything at all?”

“Which do you hope for?” More rustling, the hair in his grasp slipped free and a breath that was not his own rushed warm and damp over his parted lips; slim cool fingers settled unseen in his hair, pulling just a little. “Why is my worthless self here with you in the dark? Why not her? Why not any of the others? They’re extraordinary talent, I would think an ordinary, boring nobody like you would be more interested in their company than the touch of scum like me. Yet here I am. What do you hope for from me, Hinata?”

The way he said his name felt like an insult, subtle and sly.

Something warm and damp slid across his bottom lip and he shuddered, closing his eyes as disgust warred with desire. That was familiar at least. He’d always been attracted and repelled by Komaeda in equal measure. The scent of blood was stronger now, almost nauseating, but not quite.

A gentle weight settled over his hips and he lifted hands that felt heavy as lead automatically to slide beneath the heavy jacket that was draped around and over them, settling against a slim, t-shirt clad waist, steadying him, as if Komaeda had ever needed that. Still, he laid his hands there, supporting him, holding him in place as if he might escape or fade away.

It was difficult to think past the feel of him.

Past the smell of him, cooling sweat and blood and the crackle of fire.

Past the weight of him, so much lighter than it seemed like he should be.

Everything about this, about him, seemed familiar even while it also seemed completely new and incredibly strange.

What did he hope for?

He wasn’t sure he hoped for anything at all except that he should remain himself. Which seemed like a strange thing to hope for, but it was there nonetheless though he couldn’t quite remember why. But he was glad that Komaeda was here. In spite of everything that happened, events half-remembered that he couldn’t seem to bring into focus, he was still glad.

“I don’t know,” he answered because everything about the boy hovering above him confused him; the way he felt about him most of all.

“Liar, liar,” the words were spoken against his lips so he could feel each syllable.

Then the weight and feel of Komaeda was gone leaving behind only the scent of copper and the taste like the tang of metal on his lips as the presence that had felt so solid against him only a moment before dissipating like smoke and he was left alone in the dark.

 

 +++

It was still dark and his friends were screaming.

He needed to wake up.

Hajime opened his eyes to a sickly green glow, his heart thudding too hard and too fast in his chest, to the sound of screaming, loud and hoarse and interspersed with ragged sobs. He lashed out at the dimly lit walls that surrounded him on all sides, kicking at those too close walls with legs that were stiff and aching and beating against the opaque top with his fists until he felt the plastic begin to give, to crack. He thought he could hear something, someone, speaking, but it was muffled, outside perhaps, too far away to be anything he could make sense of. He couldn't make sense of anything. He couldn’t think of why he would be in this box, of what had happened, couldn’t even focus enough to remember what had happened. He’d been dreaming of Komaeda and Komaeda was dead… but then again maybe not.

Everything was jumbled and confused and everything hurt and he remembered codes and a voice like nails screeching, screaming across a chalkboard. Voices of the dead and dying and then a awful feeling in his head, a creeping, terrible sensation like that childhood certainty of a monster in the closet or under the bed and he could not shake the idea that he was not alone in his mind. And he couldn’t breathe in this place, in this box, in this plastic coffin. He just needed to be out, needed to escape. Everything hurt and that sobbing was just getting louder and louder and he was running out of air, gasping and gasping and he was going to die in here. It was too much, too much, too much and he hit the top again and again until his knuckles ached, cracked and bled.

The cover lifted at last and he sat up, panicking again as something grabbed him by the hair and yanked him back into the pod hard. Pain screamed red and black and excruciating through his scalp. Tears sprang to his eyes and the screaming that surrounded him became even more shrill as he tried again, yanking so hard as he scrambled up that the entire world seemed to shift to the side.

There was a panicked moment of confusion as he crashed hard against a surface too solid, smooth and unforgiving to be anything but concrete. He feel himself, rolling, spilling out across it even as the air was painted white and soundless as the agony of impact seemed to swallow the whole of the world. Slowly darkness and faint green light seeped back into the world in the aftermath and he found himself panting, aching, freezing against the cold, filthy floor.

He tried to move, to scramble to up, but something had followed him from the plastic coffin and the weight of it fell over him like a blanket, wrapped around him, catching and tangling at his fingers and toes. He tore at it, shoved at it, but it just seemed to wind tighter and tighter around him as pain shot through his skull, blinding and intense. He could hear voices, words, calling to him, but he couldn't make any sense of them through the desperate, panicked screams that set his ears ringing.

He wasn't sure when in that endless panicked scramble of blind terror that he realized that the creature he was fighting was his own hair, but eventually he did, eventually the screams dissolved into quiet, jerky sobs and he collapsed against the ground, angry tears sliding down his cheeks as he curled in on himself, bringing his knees up as far as he could manage, his hair still tangled around his fingers and tugging pain against his scalp.

Trembling hands gripped his arms and his panicked gaze dodged up to a face he didn't quite recognize. Her face was so gaunt and pale and there were shadows like bruises beneath familiar blue eyes that were so dark and deep that it hurt to realize that he knew this woman. That he’d known the girl she had been even if only for a little while in a world that was both real and illusion. Her name was a sob choked out as he collapsed against her bony shoulder.

She made a soft startled noise, shushing him even as she gathered him to her chest with trembling hands. “Oh hush, hush, my dear friend,” she whispered and her voice sounded so raw and rough like her heart was breaking or had been broken so many time that there were pieces missing that kept it from every being whole. Or maybe she’d just been screaming too. Maybe they both had. “It will be all right.”

It was a lie neither of them could ever believe, but it was nice to hear the words nonetheless.

As he calmed, he realized he could see the others hovering hesitantly nearby. So much older, so worn and tired and beaten and changed by the things they had done, the people they had been in the years between who they had been and who they were now. And as he looked at each of them there was this terrible ache inside him for all the things they’d lost and for all that they had suffered, both real and imagined, but he couldn’t help but be glad that they were here. That they had made it and he looked up at them and they looked down at him hesitantly and he wondered what they saw when they looked at him.

Was he horrifying to them?

Or were they just afraid that he wasn’t himself?

That he was the monster Izuru must have been rather than the person they had known in the game?

Fuyuhiko was the first of them to break the silence as he stepped forward, his voice as brusque and brash as it had ever been. “About fucking time you woke up.”

It wasn’t funny.

It wasn’t really funny at all and wasn’t meant to be because Fuyuhiko didn’t make jokes, not that he’d ever seen, but he started laughing anyway and once he started, he couldn't seem to stop.

It was a hoarse, wheezing sound and there were still tears rolling down his face, but it felt real and good and he felt his lips tremble with something that wasn’t quite a smile but wanted to be and then Fuyuhiko was there. Close and warm and holding him more tightly than Sonia had, tight enough to make his bones ache, but he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“It’s good to see you, brother,” Fuyuhiko rasped, against his ear and he just nodded unable to force words past the lump in his throat, but it was, it really was. So, in the end, he just wrapped an arm around Fuyuhiko's broad back and fisted a hand in his too-tight shirt and held on, trembling with a bone-deep relief that he was here, that they were here.

Eventually he used his free hand to reach out to Sonia because he wasn’t ready to be so far away from her yet. It felt like he’d been apart from them for years even though in reality it had only been something like moments and they’d probably never actually met before… before he had become what he had become.

He met Sonia’s eyes over Fuyuhiko’s shoulder and Sonia nodded her understanding, turning to beckon the two standing awkwardly a few paces off closer and they both lunged forward as if they’d only been waiting for an invitation. He felt Souda's hand clasp his shoulder and felt Akane's face pressed against his back like she didn't even care about all his strange, tangled hair and he was sobbing again, only this time it was against Fuyuhiko's shoulder as the man who called him brother patted his back awkwardly and tried to pretend he wasn't crying too.

The five of them slumped together on the floor, the survivors of unimaginable horror, but also the cause of so much pain that it was difficult to even think about. It had been a terrible choice to come back and he could see the beginnings of what it had cost them, the horror of what they had been lingering in their faces as they began to reconcile who they were with what they had been. He could feel it in trembling hands and fingers that gripped too hard, too desperate for the support of others who knew, who understood that they had been monsters, that they had allowed themselves to be ravaged by despair, had reveled in it, but that wasn’t all they were.

Wasn’t all they could be and… it, they, were… okay.

Not great, by any stretch of the imagination, but okay, because they weren't alone. They weren't alone anymore. They were together and they'd made it this far. They'd made it through all the horror and all the despair. And maybe they'd never be free of the things they had done, the people they had been, but that didn't seem so awful when there were arms to hold you together and friends who understood so completely what you were going through.

The relief that they were all able to be here, that they had all come through was enough for now.

Later there would be time to worry about the three virtual strangers standing nearby and the impatient tip-tapping of an expensive dress shoe against the concrete floor.

There would also be time later to get to work on how they were going to save their friends, because they were going to save them.

But for now there was just relief and gratitude and warm arms to hold them and joy and the bubbling laughter and tears that came with it.

And there was hope.

For the first time in a long time, there was hope for the future and for now that was enough.

Chapter Text

“There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said -- no. But somehow we missed it. ”
― Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

 

DAY ONE
-continued-
+++

“So, you want some pants or something?” Akane asked minutes or hours later when they were all still sprawled together on the floor, no longer hugging, but still touching gently, thoughtlessly, silently. Sometimes holding hands or just leaning against each other.

Hajime closed his eyes, pained, as he realized that he had, somehow, in the terror of the hair and falling out of the pod and in the shock of seeing them again as they truly were and the joy of holding them, utterly failed to notice that he was completely stark naked. And now that he was thinking about it his skin itched where the hair lay against it and his butt and legs were cold and numb where they pressed against the concrete floor. “Please,” he murmured, the word coming out straggled and his face hot with delayed embarrassment. “Sorry.”

Fuyuhiko snorted, “Like you can even really tell with all that fucking hair everywhere.”

“Do you have to say it like that?” Hajime sighed, opening his eyes again just as a pair of black pants hit him in the face and dropped into his lap. “Thanks,” he managed, darting a glance up at Akane who shrugged and flopped back down on the floor across from him between Sonia and Souda.

Sonia cleared her throat and straightened, looking away pointedly as he wiggled into the pants, cursing softly as his too long hair continued to just make everything more and more difficult. He collapsed back to the ground once he’d finally managed to tug the pants on, panting and exhausted like he’d run a mile instead of just putting on a pair of pants. “We were all like that at first, I believe.” Sonia murmured, glancing back at him with a wan smile. “We all woke up a few hours ago. It was time enough to get dressed and get a little used to moving around again before you...hm....” She paused, clearly trying to come up with a kinder way to describe it than 'had a screaming, hysterical fit like a giant freak and broke your pod', finally settling on an apologetic, "...woke up."

"So, you're you, right? No crazy super mega-talented nutballs jangling around in there?" Souda asked finally, changing the subject and winning a grateful look from Sonia that would have had him blushing if he'd noticed. Instead he was focused on Hajime, nudging Hajime's leg with his bare foot. None of them were wearing shoes and that seemed kind of weird, but then nothing about this situation was exactly normal.

He nodded slowly, hesitantly, and it didn’t feel like a lie, but it didn’t feel quite like the truth either. "I'm definitely Hinata Hajime. I don't know that Izuru is gone for good, but I'm definitely me."

"I am so very glad," Sonia whispered, reaching out to give his hand a quick squeeze. "So very, very glad."

Akane made a rude noise, shifting back to lean on her elbows. Just like in the game, she didn’t sit so much as she sprawled, heedless and uncaring that they could all see her panties because her shirt had ridden up too high (and she had for whatever reason chosen to forego pants altogether). Fuyuhiko kept darting glances at that shirt, his cheeks red, the mildly sour expression on his face making it look like he couldn’t decide whether to tug her shirt down or just leave it alone. "I wasn't worried,” she scoffed. “I knew you'd be fine."

Fuyuhiko punched Hajime’s shoulder gently before leaning his head down to hide a smile glowing with pride, apparently deciding to leave the issue of Akane’s indecency alone for the moment. "Too fucking right. No way you weren't gonna to make it through."

"As much as I hate to interrupt this touching reunion," a voice called from across the room, sounding anything but sorry. "We do have a few pressing issues to address now that everyone is awake."

"Come on, Byakuya, give them a few minutes."

"They’ve had a few minutes. They’ve had half a damn hour. Exactly how long do you expect me to coddle them, Naegi? What exactly might be the appropriate amount of time to wait before we remind them that their circumstances are quite a bit less than ideal and that time is rather of the essence?"

"I don’t think they’ve forgotten that and I'm not asking you to coddle them. I know that’s just not in your wheelhouse. Just give them a little while longer to bask in the fact that they're alive and get to know each other again a little bit before dropping the weight of the world on their shoulders. They've had a hard couple of weeks. You remember what it was like for us. I seem to remember you-"

"Shut. Up. One more word, Naegi, and you're going to wish-"

"You both realize that they can hear you, yes?" Kirigiri Kyouko interjected, leaving her partners behind to stride across the room to the small knot of people on the ground. Her suit was smart and expensive and stylish and her hair hung long around her, her gloved hands folded neatly in front of her. She didn’t look so very different from the image of her they’d seen in the game, none of them did really- just a little older, perhaps, and a little more care-worn, but not so different that they weren’t easily and immediately recognizable as themselves. "I apologize. It would be ideal if we could wait a little longer and give you all some time to process both what has happened to you and your present circumstances, but we're all concerned that time may well be the one thing we don't have enough of."

"Is it the Future Foundation? Is that why…?"

Kirigiri offered him a tight smile, "You're quick to see to the truth of things. That will only continue to aid you on the long road ahead. As you might have already guessed based on the information you received in the simulation, we are standing in opposition to the Future Foundation in regards to how they wish to deal with you all. It was their opinion that the best way to heal the world and the only way in which to deal with you, irredeemable as they believed you to be, was to allow you to stand trial for your crimes and eventually to kill you. We believe you all to be victims of Enoshima Junko just as surely as we were and we don't believe in punishing victims. It was our belief that if we could use the program to help correct some of the damage she had done to you all that we would be able to make the Future Foundation see the fallacy of treating victims as criminals. Obviously, things haven't quite gone according to plan. Nonetheless, we still believe that we shall be able to convince them to leave you be, but time is rather of the essence if we're going to assure the safety of your friends."

"If they even try to hurt her, I'll fucking kill them." Fuyuhiko snarled, his fingers tightening painfully on Hajime's shoulder as he pushed himself shakily to his feet. "If they try to fucking hurt them, I…."

"Fuyuhiko," Hajime murmured, steadying his friend and clamoring to his feet beside him. His legs felt like wet noodles and his muscles screamed in protest at even this small effort. The others were pulling themselves up as well, climbing laboriously to their feet and, though they were all listing a bit and leaning on each other for support, they stood together. "It's okay. They already know that. They probably know better than anyone what we'd do to protect our friends now that we have a chance to do it right." Hajime glanced around the room, a room that was still more than half full of closed, glowing pods. He met Kirigiri’s cool, assessing gaze, "A lot of people you guys loved died because in Junko's first game, right?"

Togami snorted, a soft disbelieving noise that was undermined immediately by Naegi’s whispered ‘hush’ and Togami’s lack of further comment.

Kirigiri hadn’t taken her eyes off him, hadn’t bothered to look back at the men behind her, instead she simply nodded once, her features betraying not a hint of her true feelings on the subject whatever they might be. But Hajime figured the fact that she- that they<\em>- had been willing to go this far for them in the first place when they could have easily just written them off as the organization they worked for had clearly wanted to do, probably said more than enough about how they felt. "Very well. As that is the case, we need to begin making arrangements."

 

+++

Several hours later, they began the long and painstaking process of moving the pods containing their comatose friends to the hospital. It turned out that the game’s world had been pretty loosely based on the actual place and that many of the larger features and attractions were present in both versions of Jabberwock Island even if the actual article was quite a bit larger and had a lot more in the way of private housing and ordinary stores and that sort of thing.

“It was meant to be a tourist destination originally after all,” Togami had commented when he’d inquired about it, his arms still folded tightly across his chest.

It would have been easier to leave the pods where they were in the administrative building on the central island, but easier wasn’t always better. None of them had been able to stand the thought of leaving their friends in the same building as the computer system that had held the AI that had so closely mimicked Enoshima Junko.

Or as Fuyuhiko had so succinctly put it:

"I'd rather fucking kill them myself than take even the smallest fucking chance that they're stuck in that machine at the mercy of that crazy fucking bitch."

"You do realize that the shut down program effectively killed the system and any trace of the virus, right?" Togami replied, his tone practically dripping sarcasm, as he rolled his eyes and tapped his foot impatiently.

"Byakuya…" Naegi began, brushing a hand across the small of Togami's back. It was a strangely intimate gesture and Hajime couldn’t help but notice the way some of the rigid irritation drained from Togami’s posture at that simple touch.

Togami sighed heavily, raising a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses. After a long moment he dropped his hand, turned sharply on his heel and stalked towards the exit. "Fine, do what you want. I'll go see to having the power restored in the hospital on the third island. It's the only place out here that is equipped to handle the electrical load of all those damnable pods. You’ll need to figure out making them ready for transport yourselves."

Naegi offered them a tentative smile after Togami disappeared through the door into the bright sunlight outside. It seemed weird and wrong to think of a world existing outside the door that was so bright and warm. "He's right, I think. If not here then it's going to have to be the hospital. I understand that isn’t the perfect solution, but if you don’t want them here, I think it’s the only option. I do understand why you wouldn't want to leave them and… it's really not a terrible idea to move them. My friend would have done everything they could to make sure they took the virus down, but Junko… well… at this point I wouldn't put anything past her, you know?"

Hajime nodded swiftly, "Yeah, that's what I think too. So, how much of the pods do we need to move for them to be safe? I mean… the pods are the reason our muscles didn't atrophy, right? At least not like they should have. The reason we’re in pretty decent shape all things considered?"

"Ah, caught that, huh? Yeah, the pods were built specifically to stimulate your muscles at set intervals to prevent the on-set of atrophy. And a bunch of other technical stuff about waste disposal and purification systems and temperature regulation and monitoring equipment and a bunch of other stuff that I don’t even begin to understand; Byakuya would be able to explain it better than I can. He’s the one who commissioned them after all. There wasn't really anyway to build it into the system itself so the pods are all pretty self-contained, they just use a lot of power. I mean, we were always planning to keep you guys in there for as long as it took.”

He sighed and frowned and not for the first time Hajime noticed how different Naegi seemed from his game counterpart. He looked pretty similar just as Kirigiri and Togami did, a few years older, hair in a slightly different style, but pretty similar even down to the constant between how he dressed and how the other two dressed. While they both wore clean, pressed suits like they’d just come from a business meeting, Naegi was wearing a dark t-shirt and jeans that had clearly seen better days and had that vaguely distressed look clothes get when you've worn them a few days in a row. He seemed worn though, tired, in a way his determined younger self hadn't been, as if he'd seen a lot of things and found most of them exhausting. But it was really the tattoos that really sealed the deal. Hajime couldn't think of the kid Naegi's avatar had been adorned with those long swirling black tattoos that swept up and down his tan arms from just above his wrists to disappear beneath the short sleeves of his shirt. They probably wouldn’t be visible at all if he were wearing long sleeves, but with the t-shirt they were eye-catching and difficult to look away from. Whirls and and bursts of spiraling black made up of the characters for ‘earth’ and ‘peace’ and ‘cherry blossom’ and a hundred other things. It didn’t take a genius to know what those characters probably represented. Naegi noticed the direction of his gaze and shrugged, glancing over at Kirigiri who had removed herself from the conversation for the moment, content to observe. “It’s so I don’t ever forget again. So no one can ever make me forget what’s important to me.”

Hajime nodded, because that was an impulse he could understand. Naegi smiled and tucked his hands in his pockets, looking at each of them in turn. “Well, that was the original plan anyway, to be able to keep you all healthy however long it took for you to bond and start to heal. Things didn't work out that way, but without the pods you'd still have experienced a lot of problems after you woke up and… we kind of thought you’d have enough to deal with without adding more problems to the pile. So, the best thing would be to keep as much of it intact as possible, I guess. That’d be the best thing."

"I'll take a look at it," Souda volunteered, knotting his long, scraggly pink and black hair behind his head in a loose careless knot as he padded over to one of the pods. "Do you have the plans for these things or what?"

"Yes, we have all the paperwork," Kirigiri replied stepping away to pick up a briefcase that had been leaning against the wall near the door. Naegi looked at her as if he intended to question that, but she cut him off with a shake of her head. "I figured when everything managed to work out that we might need a way to dismantle the pods."

"Thanks, Kyouko," Naegi replied with a dazzling smile.

He looked a lot younger when he smiled.

 

+++

Seven nerve-wreaking, exhausting, virtually sleepless hours later, Souda had managed to dismantle and remodel most of the pods for transport. There had been a lot of cursing and they’d had to scavenge a lot of tools and supplies he needed from the other islands, a task that took hours since there were indeed no bridges linking the islands in the real world. If they wanted to go to a different island it was take a ferry, a motorboat or swim. The islands themselves were utterly deserted and devoid of any life except for them. It was unsettling. Not just because of the emptiness, but because it gave all the islands a strange, unfinished air like life had just up and taken off in the middle of a meal, food left on the plate and glass half full. There weren't many signs that people had been here before, but occasionally he'd run across a pair of discarded baby shoes in the high grass or a empty soda can on the side of the road or an abandoned bicycle leaning against a fence. Just little things that told a larger story he couldn't quite hear.

He’d asked Togami about that when he’d run across him on the third island, suit jacket off and sleeves rolled up, hair swept back behind his ears as he worked on the hospital’s generators. He'd been on his own as the others had already gone on ahead to the next island when he said he'd finish up here and catch a ride back with Togami. He'd asked the question while he sat near the door of the generator room waiting for Togami to finish up, a bucket of things for Souda beside him. Togami had looked at him as if he were the world’s biggest idiot, “Yes, because it seemed such a wonderful idea to bring fifteen mass murderers to a remote island filled with tourists. How you managed to survive Enoshima is beyond me. I can only assume that little monster gifted you with some of his unnatural luck.”

“Komaeda?”

“To whom else might I be referring? Honestly,” Togami snapped, tweaking some last thing before slapping the panel closed and flipping several large switches before hitting a blinking green button. The generators coughed and spat out a little smoke. Slowly but surely though they both rumbled and hummed to life which Hajime was pretty sure meant they were working. Togami nodded and hummed to himself apparently satisfied with the result and wiped his hands with a ragged towel before rolling his shirtsleeves back down. He cut his eyes at Hajime, “Was there something you needed, Hinata?”

“Uh, um, no. Just... how did you clear the islands out?”

Togami sighed in a long-suffering manner that spoke of someone who did not suffer fools gladly, but was resigned to the idea that he would have to suffer them constantly nonetheless. “Most of them were already dead. It wasn’t difficult to convince the few who remained to leave the island with a generous relocation package and the promise of a new life somewhere that didn’t smell of rot where they weren’t quite as likely to starve to death. Then it was just a matter of disposing of all the corpses and cleaning up and restocking provisions. Hardly the work of years or magicians, just steady cash flow and a rather impressive number of trash barges.”

“How many people were there?” He whispered, because it seemed important to know suddenly, because if the people on these islands had died it was because of what they helped do. Another sin for the rather impressive stack they’d built.

Togami stared at him for a long moment before answering, his voice as bland as if he were reading entries out of a dictionary. “Nine hundred and eighty-two were killed in the rioting, the terror attacks or starved in the aftermath across all six islands. Fifty-three people survived until we arrived and all of those were hospitalized for one reason or another. Ten of those were clinically insane and ended up killing themselves within the first few days. The other forty-three are still recovering and it seems as likely as not that they’ll make it. Most of the survivors were younger than we are. It would seem the young have proven to be the most resilient in the face of all this in those instances when they managed to survive the initial violence. Though I suppose we’re all prime examples of the truth of that fun little factoid.”

“Okay,” Hajime managed, feeling sick to his stomach and glad that he hadn’t eaten anything since they woke up. If he had, he’d probably have thrown up all over Togami’s expensive shoes. “Okay. So. Nine hundred and ninety-two, just on these island.”

Togami rolled his eyes, sliding into his jacket and straightening the lapels before pulling the boat keys from some inner pocket. They jingled in his hand as he tapped them impatiently against his leg. “This is why I don’t like talking to you people. From now on, ask Makoto if you have any questions about this. I’m sure he’ll be able to put the facts in a less traumatizing context for you, softhearted, overly sympathetic idiot that he is. Yes, you had a hand in this; you are not entirely blameless no matter how much Makoto might wish it to be so. You had a choice and all actions have consequences. That’s life. You can’t run from the past or forget about it. It’ll always catch up to you eventually. I haven’t the least idea how much of all that happened you’re actually personally responsible for and I honestly could not possibly care less. I will, however, tell you what I do know and that is that none of this would have happened if it weren’t for Enoshima. She helped each of you onto the paths you ultimately chose and made quite certain you wouldn’t easily be turned aside. None of you would be here if not for her. So before you flog yourself repeatedly with the guilt of countless deaths, do try to remember who is ultimately responsible for everything that happened and all that came after. Also, stop crying, it’s embarrassing for both of us. Now you can follow me and I will take you back to the main island on the boat and we can never speak of this again. Or you can stay here and continue to sob like a child and swim back on your own later. I don’t actually care what you do, but I would rather not have to listen Makoto bitch about my leaving you here by yourself.”

With that, Togami turned on his heel and stalked out of the hospital. Hajime trailed behind him, wiping frantically at the dampness on his cheeks with one hand while he tightly gripped the bucket of things he’d found for Souda with the other.

 

+++

The ride back to the Central Island was quiet save for the roar of the engine and the crash of water against the boat. When they arrived, Hajime left the boat and Togami behind and jogged all the way back to the Meeting Hall that housed the pods. When he arrived, Souda was alone, tucked under one of the pods, his bare feet tapping impatiently against the cool concrete. “Hello?” He called, sounding vaguely nervous.

“It’s just me,” Hajime replied, crossing the room to stand near the pod. Looked like it was the one that belonged to Ibuki. “I found some pliers, some tweezers, some more duct tape, a dozen nuts and bolts and some more oil.”

“Awesome, go ahead and set those down anywhere. I’m gonna be done pretty soon. Just got three more pods to do. Everybody else went to the first island to pick up supplies or something, I don’t know.”

“Okay,” Hajime replied, setting the bucket down near Ibuki’s pod with a clank and then moving to go lean against the far wall. There was no point in leaving to find them if they were on another island. He’d probably have had to ask Togami for a ride and… he’d kind of rather swim there than talk to Togami again anytime soon. “I’ll just stick around here then. Let me know if you need anything, okay?”

“Sure, no problem.” Souda replied, waving a hand in his general direction before snagging a wrench from the floor behind him and going back to whatever it was he was doing. They’d managed to find everything Souda needed, but just like all the pods he’d already reconfigured, it still felt like most of the modifications were being held together by luck and sheer bloody-minded determination.

 

+++

The island was hot, but the beach could get cold at night, the breeze off the ocean, chill. It wasn’t always cold, sometimes it was humid and warm even well into the night, but it could be cold too and tonight was one of those cooler nights. The breeze that stirred his hair caused a chill to shudder down his back.

Komaeda stood at the edge of the water, rocking back and forth, heel to toe and back again, his bare feet leaving a soft, barely there impression in the wet sand that washed away every time the cool water swept up and over his toes and under his heels. His hair blew around his head like dandelion fluff, like seaweed dancing in water currents. “Back again?” He called, his tone mocking, but it was more gently amused than mean for the moment. It was strange how Komaeda seemed able to sound like he was mocking everyone and himself in a thousand different ways.

“Shouldn’t that be my line?” Hajime murmured, stepping up beside him, his own bare feet sinking into the damp sand as water splashed over his toes. “My dream and all.”

“Is it?” Komaeda replied, tilting his head quizzically as he continued to stare out across the dark ocean. “I thought so too, but I’ve been here all day waiting for you.”

“You were waiting for me?”

“Not because you’re special, obviously, just because I thought you might show up anyway so I thought I might as well. It’s just my luck that it’s you here with me after all,” Komaeda turned a bit and Hajime could see the dark stain on his t-shirt where the spear had fallen and punctured his stomach. It was almost black in the shifting moonlight.

“You’re staring, Hinata. Have I got something on my chest?” He asked, soft and wry.

“Why’d you do it that way?”

“Hm?”

He reached out to touch fingers to the dark sleeve of Komaeda’s long coat. He’d never seemed to find it too warm to wear it before. So many of them had been dressed wrong for the season and it had never occurred to any of them that there was anything weird about that. He wondered if things would have been different if they’d noticed the oddities. He shifted his hand lower to brush against the back of Komaeda’s hand, still wet with blood, as he’d known it would be.

“Ah,” Komaeda murmured, shrugging his narrow shoulders. “It isn’t so bad as all that, here, feel.”

He forgot how quick Komaeda could be or maybe he’d never known or maybe he was faster here like this, something, because suddenly Komaeda was right in front of him, the smallest fraction of space between them, taking up his hand and sliding Hajime’s fingers into the pulsing warmth of the wound the spear had left behind in one smooth improbable motion. He flinched at the soft squelching sound that seemed to echo like a gunshot between them and his fingers were warm, wet, pressing into a soft throbbing dampness that his mind kept shying away from, unable to quite come to grips with what he was touching, only that he was touching parts of Komaeda that he shouldn’t be.

Komaeda’s eyelids fluttered a little and the noise he made was somewhere between a groan and a sigh, the kind of noise you sometimes heard in films or through too-thin dorm walls in the middle of the night, usually accompanied by the squeal of protesting bedsprings or the rhythmic thump of a headboard against plaster. The dorms used by the students of the reserve class had always had thin walls and it seemed like he’d spent half his time at Hope’s Peak listening to his classmates' sexual escapades. He couldn’t remember all of that time, it was still foggy and indistinct, but he remembered enough. Enough to know that none of those noises, those grunts and moans and muted screams had ever moved him, had ever punched through him like that one sound slipping free from Komaeda’s lips. Every thought he had about how wrong this was fled from his head in the wake of that sound and he just let Komaeda hold his hand and guide his fingers, sliding them deeper and deeper still.

Komaeda’s barely there smile was both beautiful and terrible as he looked at him from beneath drooping eyelids. His soft grey gaze completely at odds with what they were actually doing and it stole his breath away and he knew he was shaking as he managed a whimpered, “Komaeda.”

He wanted it to sound like a protest or maybe like he was disgusted or anything really that except so… wistful. Like Komaeda was someone he longed for instead of someone who set his nerves on edge… though maybe that was part of it too.

Another pleased quirk of Komaeda’s lips and another sound, this time a whisper of a moan that could have been ‘Hajime’ though Komaeda had never called him that before. His legs were trembling with fear, with want, with a need that was darker and more consuming than either. He licked his lips nervously, inhaling suddenly, his breath stuttering in his lungs, as unsteady and fragile as the rest of him.

When Komaeda finally spoke, real and certain, his voice was bedroom soft and barely a whisper though it seemed like the sound a well-sharpened knife might make as it sliced through flesh, intimate and horrifying all at the same time, with a pain that he might not feel immediately, but that would come in the end just the same. “This isn’t quite how I imagined you inside of me, Hinata, but perhaps this is just right for trash like me, hm?”

 

+++

He woke with a startled yelp and Souda’s hand on his shoulder, his face a mask of concern like he was trying hard not to show whatever he actually felt. “You okay? You were mumbling a lot.”

“It’s…” Hajime swallowed hard, ignoring the twist of his stomach and the compulsion to wash his hands instead settling for just wiping them against his pant legs again and again. He was half-hard, aching with it, and the thought made him want to throw up because he could still feel the warmth of Komaeda’s blood on his fingers, the throb of the wound, still hear that terribly pornographic moan echoing in his ears.

“It’s fine. I’m fine.” He finally said aloud and it was nothing but lies; he was anything but fine. He was sick. Obviously, there was something desperately wrong with him if these were things he was dreaming about, thinking about, if these were the things he wanted now.

“You, uh, you… you said his name… Komaeda, I mean. Do you… do you wanna talk about it or something?” Souda asked even though his expression clearly conveyed that he’d rather do just about anything else, but the offer was still strangely sincere. He was a good friend and he didn’t deserve Hajime’s lies anymore than he deserved to have to listen to the truth either.

Still, they were going to have to do things differently now, they had to if they wanted to stay sane, if they wanted to fight off the creeping presence of despair. Honesty was probably a good step in that direction. Maybe not about everything, but… maybe about some things, maybe not all the details of things that made him want to hide his face in the ocean and maybe drown there, but enough. If he could let some of it out, maybe the shame over the rest wouldn’t choke him.

He thought about what it had felt like to when his fingers slid inside Komaeda’s body, to be held him there and what it had felt like to have Komaeda push him deeper still. He thought about the obscene noises Komaeda had made and how they had slid through him, lodged within him, deep down in his belly. How he’d wanted him in those moments and how he wanted to hear those noises again even now and he shuddered, “No. Really, really no. But… I… I was dreaming about Komaeda. I dreamed about him before too. When I was in the dark, in the pod, before. It’s… I don’t know. Awful, maybe, but nice too and obviously, really completely fucked up. Definitely fucked up.”

For a moment Souda looked surprised at the confession, but then a tentative smile curved his lips. “I dreamt about, um, Tanaka, before I woke up, but he… he wasn’t like he was on the island or… maybe… I don’t know. I kind of remember how he was before, before the island, a little, and… it was weird. You’d think if I was gonna dream about someone, I’d dream about Miss Sonia or somebody, right? Or maybe even you. I don’t know, anyone else really. Someone I liked or someone I was close to or spent a lot of time with. All Gundam and I did on the island was fight. I mean, we barely even talked to each other at all and then he was gone. I think… maybe we knew each other a little better before. Maybe. I don’t know. But… thinking about him, remembering him, wasn’t totally terrible.” He shrugged, fiddling with the wrench balanced against one bent knee. “So, Komaeda, huh?”

Hajime shrugged tiredly, “Yup. He confuses the hell out me in my dreams too, I guess. I can’t even imagine a version of Komaeda that doesn’t weird me the heck out.”

Souda nodded knowingly, “Can’t say I can blame you on that one. He was kind of a weird guy.”

“Yeah, he kind of is,” Hajime sighed, gesturing towards the pods. “How’s it coming?”

“Slowly, but I’m almost done with Mikan’s pod. Just about as ready at it can be to be taken off the network I just need to fix one last thing and that’ll be the last one done. Then it’s just figuring out actually transporting these things without risking messing them up too bad. We’re lucky they already have wheels on them. The batteries you guys managed to dig up should do the job keeping them operating while we move them, but we’ll need to decide on an order and we’ll only be able to move a couple at a time. So… we’re almost there. Kind of.”

“You look exhausted,” Hajime commented reaching forward to tug on a lock of pink and black hair that had fallen free of the knot at the back of his head.

“Yeah, you’d never know we’d been sleeping for weeks, huh? I guess what they say about it being less about the quantity and more about the quality is totally true,” Souda replied, flopping down to sit beside him and all but falling back onto his elbows. “Think the others will be back soon? I wouldn’t mind getting this started. Sooner we get them moved, the sooner we can all crash.”

“Yeah, they should be anyway. I’ll go check on them, see where everybody’s at, maybe I can help speed things up a little.”

He clamored unsteadily to his feet and shuffled out the door into the humid heat of evening. It didn’t take him long to find the others, they were trudging back down the path carrying backpacks and sleeping bags. The question must have been in his expression, because Fuyuhiko just shot him a ghost of his old smirk, “Kirigiri mentioned that there wasn’t much in the way of supplies at the hospital so we grabbed some food and shit from the store to hold us over for a couple days so we don’t gotta leave unless we want to.”

“Ah, smart,” he replied, scratching at his heavy itchy hair, shuddering and forcing himself to pull his hand back and just ignore it for now. “That was a good idea.”

“It was Akane’s idea,” Sonia commented, her smile bright and tired, he held out his hands and she let him take one of the sleeping bags she was carrying. He took the extra ones Fuyuhiko and Akane had too, holding them bundled together in his arms as they trudged back to the administrative building.

Akane snorted, “I just know a thing or two about what you’ve gotta do to make do, that’s all. Don’t make a big deal about it.”

“How is Kazuichi coming along with the remodel of the pods?” Sonia asked and he wondered when Sonia had started calling him Kuzuichi, but figured that probably wasn’t any of his business unless she decided to make it his business.

“Almost there. We just need to figure out the logistics of actually getting them all over to the hospital and what order we’re going to do it in.”

 

+++

The plan, after some discussion between the five of them and then with Naegi and Togami when they showed back up, was to take them over on the ferry two at a time as they’d only actually managed to scrounge up a couple of batteries to run the machines during transport. "I checked and these car batteries have more than enough charge to keep the pods running while we move them to the third island, but I can't monitor more than two at a time and if one of the batteries fails, we're gonna have to switch it out in a hurry because I don't know if they can make it if the power goes out on them. I’m a mechanic, not a doctor, you know?"

"Will you show me how to change out the battery? It would be best if several of us knew how to make the change, yes?"

"Yeah, yeah, that's a really great idea, Miss Sonia." Souda replied, smiling warmly. "I can show you guys how to handle some of the other modifications I made too, just in case something gets knocked lose while we're moving them."

Akane frowned, "Yeah, I'm not great with this kind of stuff, but maybe if you show me where the really sensitive areas are I can avoid messing things up when I'm lifting them."

Souda frowned, shaking his head, "I think you could probably do the hook-ups and stuff too. You shouldn't get down on yourself like that, right? You're way smarter than you give yourself credit for."

Akane looked taken aback for a moment before she suddenly burst out laughing, "I don't believe you're giving me a pep talk. Nekomaru would be so proud of you that he'd start bawling like a baby."

Souda’s smile was sheepish, his face bright red, "Ya think so? I've never really been good with people, just machines."

"Souda Kazuichi! What were you just saying about… getting down on yourself, was it? I believe you might need to heed your own advice." Sonia smiled gently as she reached out to take Souda's oil-stained hand in her own. "Though I will say that it is very fortunate for all of us that you're also a genius with machines as without you we would never be able to do all this."

"Come on, let's get on with it. If you embarrass him any more, his fucking head is going to explode." Fuyuhiko commented, gripping Souda's shoulder firmly and steering him back over to the closest pod. "Start showing us what we need to know. Also, who are we gonna move first and how are we gonna do this?"

"I think we should move Mikan and Komaeda first." Hajime volunteered, his fingers tracing lightly over Mikan’s name where it was written across the top of the pod. It seemed strangely unnecessary to label the pods, but maybe there was a reason in all that paperwork somewhere. He could see her dark silhouette under the plastic surface, the ebb and flow of the heavy liquid within as it flowed around her, over her. He couldn’t quite bring himself to look in Komaeda’s pod. Not with those dreams still so fresh in his mind. "Of everyone, I think they'd be most at risk if Enoshima was able to access the pods. Mikan remembered everything before she… you know. And Komaeda was… he was pretty unstable to begin with."

"Truer fucking words have never been spoken," Fuyuhiko grumbled. "Fine. You wanna move them first, we'll move them first. At least if something goes wrong all we're losing is some extra fucking crazy. You all fine with that?"

Everyone nodded with varying degrees of enthusiasm, though Souda shot Hajime a mildly concerned look. Hajime smiled and shrugged, it wasn’t like he disagreed with the assessment even if Komaeda meant more to him than that. It was his idea to move him first, after all. He was willing to take the risk if it meant getting Komaeda out of this room even just a few minutes sooner.

 

+++
DAY TWO
+++

Fortunately it had turned out that the hospital on the third island was, in reality, much more of a proper hospital rather than just the clinic with delusions of grandeur it had been in the game. So it was a lot bigger and more readily functional and that made things a lot easier than they probably would have been otherwise. As it was, most of the pods still had to be installed two to a room and a number of the hospital beds needed to be dismantled and removed to make room for them. After a surprisingly short discussion it had been decided that Mikan, Komaeda, Peko, Tanaka and Nekomaru would each be put in the larger hospital rooms that had room enough to accommodate both a hospital bed and a pod as they were the ones unanimously voted to be the most violent or unpredictable if… no… when they woke up. It was better if someone could stay with each of them overnight to monitor them more easily and it was probably safest to keep them isolated from the others… just in case.

And if there were other reasons why some of them wanted to be able to stay with those particular people, no one was cruel enough to point that out.

Even if Togami did roll his eyes and mutter something about having watched the feed and thus being perfectly aware of the social dynamics in play as he passed them on his way back out to the ferry.

Naegi had said something back to him that Hajime hadn’t quite been able to make out, his hip bumping gently against Togami’s as they stepped onto the boat and the look Togami had given him was cold enough to freeze a fire.

“Liken me to these people one more time and I will throw you off this boat and you will swim back to the main island.”

Naegi continued to smile, peaceful and undisturbed as if he received these sort of threats daily which, to be fair, he probably did. “Or I could just wait here until you came back.”

“I would never come back. I would leave you here to starve and I wouldn’t miss you at all,” Togami replied stiffly, snapping at the rest of them to hurry up and get the hell on the boat as he cranked the engine and shifted the boat into drive without bothering to look and see if they’d all actually made it.

He didn’t hear anything else they said to each other over the roar of the engine, but eventually he did see Togami’s hand settle against Naegi’s hip, rucking his shirt up just a bit to play over the black lines of whatever tattoo was branded there. The way Naegi closed his eyes and swayed forward as if that touch were far more intimate than it appeared, before he purposefully looked away out across the ocean, uncomfortable.

He tried and failed not to think about Komaeda and the way he had always seemed to sway towards him when they were together… right up until the day he had learned the truth of what Hajime was, or at least some of the truth at any rate. Komaeda hadn’t seemed so interested after that. Or maybe he’d just been lost inside his own despair after finding out what they all were and it hadn’t had anything to do with him at all. He might never know for sure. It wasn’t as if even if -when- Komaeda woke up he’d ever be able to believe any answer he got even if he did summon up the courage to ask him about it. To be that vulnerable in front of someone who would probably use that display of weakness to cut him to pieces. He wasn’t even really sure why it even mattered so much to him what Komaeda thought.

At the end of the day, there was no denying that after he’d found out that Hinata Hajime was just plain ordinary he’d been casually cruel in a way he’d never been before, as if he’d only ever been interested in the idea of his mysterious talent and with the promise of that gone he hadn’t cared even the smallest bit about what was left behind. As if what was left wasn’t worth even the smallest iota of time or consideration. He’d tried really hard to pretend- even to himself- that as Komaeda blew things up and acted like a total ass on that last day that it was only his actions that hurt, that made him angry, but… that hadn’t been all there was to it.

He looked out over the dark water and he remembered how bright Komaeda’s smile had seemed on that first day and he wondered if he'd known him at all.

 

+++

It was the early hours of the morning by the time everyone had been moved into the dusty white patient rooms at the hospital. Everything had been hooked up and had been checked and double-checked for integrity and Souda seemed pretty happy with it. Naegi, Togami and Kirigiri and vanished at some point during the second round of checks indicating that they’d be back in the morning and everyone should try to get some rest. It seemed weird that they should just leave them alone like that, but he supposed they hadn’t really been monitoring them from the start. Maybe he was still expecting the cameras and restrictions of the simulation. It was tough to shake off the feeling of being watched.

Fuyuhiko flopped down on the bed in Peko’s room after the last checks had been done on her pod. “I’m fucking exhausted,” he yawned and stretched, waving half-heartedly to them as they left. “See you fuckers in the morning. Try not to pass out in the halls or anything.”

It wasn’t a totally unfounded concern as they had all been up for almost a day working on getting everything installed and were all beginning to resemble the shambling dead that populated zombie movies. Deciding there was safety in numbers, or at least a lower likelihood of actually falling asleep, they escorted Sonia to Tanaka's room. She had offered them a wane smile before pressing a gentle kiss to all their cheeks before they left. Akane had been flustered by the show of affection and Souda had turned bright red, but he'd managed to stutter out a brief good night before ducking out of the room.

Hajime lingered a moment longer than the others, "You're gonna be okay?"

"Yes, I am quite all right, Hajime. Though I should hope you won't think less of me if you hear me crying during the night."

Hajime chuckled, running a hand over the heavy weight of his matted hair. "I don’t think the walls are quite that thin, but I'd be surprised if all of us didn't do more than our fair share of crying tonight. If you want company, feel free to stop by my room anytime."

"I shall," Sonia replied, her lips warm against his cheek once more before she turned away to face the hospital bed. "Thank you for being my friend, Hinata Hajime."

"And thank you for being mine, Sonia Nevermind."

He slipped out into the hallway to find Souda leaning against the wall beside the room, frowning slightly. "Hey, you okay?" He asked, looking around to find that Akane appeared to have wandered off by herself.

Souda shrugged listlessly, "Yeah, I mean, it's kind of been a pretty good day, all things considered. I just got kissed by a princess and I somehow managed to fix it so we got everyone moved over here and away from that damn room without killing anyone. Almost good enough to balance out the fact that we just found out we all spent some quality time as crazy murder fiends, you know?"

Hajime sighed, slinging an arm across Souda's shoulders and steering him down the hallway towards the rooms they hadn't yet done a final check on. "Yeah, it's hard to balance that out. Did you know that someone thought it was a really good idea to operate on my brain and turn me into some kind of psychotic super genius?"

"You don't say."

"True story. I'm going to have nightmares about it forever, all of it. Yesterday was really just the worst."

"Right?"

"Except yesterday was also the day I realized I had friends. That I have people now who would miss me if I was gone, who would find me if I got lost, who will keep the despair over the things I've done and the things that were done to me from eating me alive. So, you know, it wasn't all bad."

"Did you mean what you said to Sonia about the crying?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure the only reason I haven't really freaked out yet is we've been too busy. I cried earlier in front of Togami, which was awful, and I’m probably going to start crying again the second I’m alone. I'm really not actually holding it together very well. Also, if you want to stop by, you're welcome to as well. You're my friend, you're always welcome."

"You're such a sap," Souda commented, but the soft smile curving his lips eased any sting the words might have had.

"Yeah, I guess I am. I'm pretty sure I'm gonna make the same offer to Akane and she's going to take it all wrong or beat me up. Maybe even both."

"Yeah, that seems pretty likely. Though Kazuryuu will just kill you."

"Nope, I get a pass with him. He knows that he's always welcome without my having to say it."

"Seriously? When the hell did you and Kazuryuu get so close?"

"We spent a lot of time together after he got out of the hospital. He's a really great guy, you both are. I wish we'd all been able to get to know each other before things went to hell. Become friends before Enoshima had a chance to turn us all inside out. Things probably would have been a lot different."

"Yeah, probably. Hey, I’m gonna call you Hajime from now on, okay? I mean… we’ve been through a lot so I thought maybe…”

Hajime smiled, bumping Souda… no… Kazuichi’s shoulder with his own, “Okay, Kazuichi, that’d be good.”

Kazuichi smiled brightly, “Yeah. It’d definitely have been different if we had friends to depend on. Though maybe not so much for Komaeda. He was pretty crazy to begin with. I mean, obviously, he didn't even need much motivation to start killing people when he didn’t remember anything."

"I don't know. He was… he was really nice at first and even later… I don't think we all would have made it through without him even if he did do a lot of really messed up things. I just never really understood him. He isn't an easy person to know."

"Do you really think we'll actually be able to help him or Mikan? I mean, they're both so…."

"I hope so. I don't think they're bad people, not really. I don't think she would have bothered with us the way she did if any of us were bad people deep down. I just think they were lonely and life was particularly rough on them. We won't know until we try, but I really hope we'll be able to help them and everyone."

"Yeah, I guess I do too." Kazuichi replied, "That doesn't mean I'm looking forward to sleeping in a room with them. You really don't mind taking Komaeda’s room? I mean, I know you’re… you know."

Hajime smiled and it felt strained and brittle, "Yeah, but I think I’d be dreaming about him no matter how close or far away from him I was. It’s fine. I don’t really mind."

"Cool. Let's get the rest of these pods checked so we can get to the crying ourselves to sleep thing."

"You bet."

 

+++

After he left Souda at Mikan’s room, but before he retired to Komaeda's room for the night, he made a point of digging through the supply room until he came up with a pair of scissors he could use to chop off some of the hair. He was absolutely certain that there was no way in hell he'd manage to sleep with all that hair surrounding him, pressing against him, reminding him of everything he had been and might be again.

Which was how he ended up standing in front of a small mirror in the washroom, hacking away at the thick tangles and cursing softly when he pulled the hair too hard or accidentally grazed his weirdly over-sensitive skin with the scissors.

There was a bang on the door and Akane's voice rang out from the other side, "Hey, Hajime… you doing okay in there? You need me to get you a laxative or something?"

"No, but if you want to come give me a hand with these scissors, I'd be grateful."

"What the hell are you doing with scissors?" Akane replied, shoving the door open and snickering a little when she saw him. "Right, I keep forgetting you have all that crazy gross hair. It's like every time I'm not looking right at you I keep picturing you how you were, you know? It's hard to get used to the changes."

"Yeah," Hajime replied, all too aware of the way her clothes hung so loose on a frame so obviously malnourished. "You mind giving me a hand?"

"Yeah, sure, I used to cut my brothers' hair all the time." She was smiling as she took the scissors from him and turned him back around to face the mirror. "It's crazy how thick it is. We all really need to shower tomorrow. We stink."

"Yeah, we really do. I mean, when you think about it we haven't showered for a couple of weeks. Even if that gunk in the pods was self-cleaning, I still feel filthy."

"Right? And then you've got all this hair and it's super gross. I mean, not like mine or Sonia's is that much better at this point. I'm probably just gonna chop mine off too. How short do you want it?"

"Just get it above my shoulders and I'm good. I can worry about style and how short I actually want it once I've washed it a few hundred times."

"Sounds good. Keep still, I'll be done in a second."

"Sure. You're gonna sleep in Nekomaru's room, right?"

"Yeah, I'm really the only one who would stand a chance of stopping him if he decided to go all-out on the hospital when he woke up. You gonna sleep in with Komaeda?"

"Yeah."

"I figured. You guys were pretty tight before he started blowing stuff up, I thought you'd probably want to stay close to him."

"I don't know about that, but I think he'll probably at least hesitate before he tries to kill me again. Probably."

"Nah, I don't think you've got anything to worry about. He was kind of a weasel, but the only person he ever really killed was himself. There. How's that?"

"It's good, Thanks, Akane, I really appreciate the help." Hajime threaded his fingers into his freshly shortened hair. It still felt disgusting, but it was nice to have the most of the weight of it gone at least. The long tendrils scattered between them across the bathroom floor. It looked like they’d murdered a dirty mop.

"No problem. I'm glad I could help you out. Wanna come help me find a vending machine? There was no junk food at the store and I'm starving. Literally. I'm pretty sure the jackass that I was never actually ate anything while she was part of Ultimate Despair. Seriously, what the hell was I even thinking that I forgot how important food was?"

"I have a feeling we're all gonna spend years asking ourselves pretty much that same question." Hajime sighed, stretching before following Akane out of the bathroom. "I think I remember seeing one on the first floor."

"Awesome. Let's go check it out."

"Do you have any change?"

"Hell no, I'm just gonna bust it open."

"…yeah, that'll probably work."

Chapter Text

“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”
― John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

 

DAY TWO
-continued-
+++

The room was quiet, almost unnervingly so, with just the soft hum and glow of the pod to cut through the darkness and the silence. He sat on the edge of the hospital bed, his hands gripping the blanket as he stared across the room at that pod, at the dark shadow of a person within it. Here in the dark, alone with only his thoughts, he couldn’t help dwelling on his dreams. On the sound of Komaeda’s voice as he spoke, as he moaned, as he continued to make his life more difficult just by virtue of his existing just as he always had. It was funny how sitting in this quiet room made him glad for that. He wished he would just wake up. It would be easier if he were awake, he could take his frustrations out on the real thing.

Not that he ever, ever, ever wanted the genuine article to know he’d been dreaming about him, much less what he’d been dreaming about him. Komaeda would never let it go, he’d use it to justify every nasty thing he ever said about either of them. And he’d want to argue, of course he would, but then he’d remember the way Komaeda’s voice had broken in his mind across that moan and he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Or maybe Komaeda would use it to breach the divide between them, to bridge that gap with intimacy that had only existed in dreams, would use that knowledge to sidle up close and whisper filthy things in his ear and maybe he’d like it. Maybe they’d finish whatever they’d half started on the island and it would be frightening and exhilarating and…

He shifted, uncomfortable, realizing belated that he’d been thinking too much and his body had started reacting to his thoughts, to the half-formed image of Komaeda whispering in his ear, good hand braced against his hip. Not the Komaeda he’d known on the island, but the version of Komaeda as he’d been in that brief vision he’d seen near the end of their time in the machine. A little older, a little taller, more man than boy, his hair a little wilder and longer than it had been before, but otherwise just the same if you left out the bad hand. He shook his head hard as if that might be enough to banish the image from his mind.

It wasn’t, of course.

He adjusted himself irritably, wincing as pleasure twinged through him even at that light touch. What the heck was wrong with him? He couldn’t imagine why every little damn thing that happened was suddenly turning him on. It wasn’t even like he’d been super interested in sex before. Sure, when he was going through puberty, he’d probably spent a fair amount of time banging away at it, but those memories were distant, foreign almost, buried beneath all that had come afterwards.

At Hope’s Peak, at least while he’d been in the reserve course, he’d rarely touched himself at all, too caught up in the stress of not being good enough. He’d tried once or twice, but more often than not all he’d managed was to chaff himself raw and fall asleep sobbing into his pillow while the moans of his seemingly carefree neighbors echoed around him. Another failure for the pile. He was sure, looking back, that they’d all probably just had different ways of dealing with the stresses of the reserve program. That they’d all been freaked out and stressed just the same as he had. It had seemed like the rest had had an easier time, had been less dedicated to Hope’s Peak, to success, to all those ideals, but… that probably wasn’t fair or true. He'd probably just never noticed because he'd been too caught up in his own problems. He remembered being sick, often, spending a lot of time on his knees in his bathroom at night as the stress turned his stomach inside out. He’d hidden it pretty well, buried it by studying harder and longer than anyone else, by being the first to classes or tests, by being the first to volunteer for the trial program.

He’d been so honored when they’d told him he was chosen. It had seemed like all his hard work, his devotion, all that stress and sickness were worth it, so worth it. He was going to be special, he was going to become their great hope and he couldn’t think of anything better than that. After all, what good had Hinata Hajime ever been to anyone anyway? He’d never been smart enough or good enough or special enough so if the best he could ever be was the ground in which they were planting and growing the seed of hope that would become Kamukura Izuru that was what he wanted. At last he would finally be good enough, even if he wasn’t quite himself anymore.

He hadn’t understood at all really.

He hadn’t understood so many things.

After that, everything from the last few years was a blur or just vague, ghostly images that he couldn’t quite touch, probably locked away with Izuru in the back of his head somewhere, lurking. He remembered the pain of the surgeries, the memory wipes, but even that felt less like something that had happened to him and more like something he’d seen in a film and after a certain point there was only the haze. So, he had no way of knowing what Izuru had been up to in the years between. No way of knowing if he’d been having sex with everything that moved. And that was a terrifying thought, because would he have cared enough to use protection? To avoid diseases? Would he have bothered to be careful or would that have been too boring?

Hajime shivered, crossing his arms over his stomach protectively and leaning down to put his head between his knees, breathing slowly so he didn’t just throw up all that stale junk food he’d eaten with Akane all over the floor. They’d probably have told him if he had something really nasty, wouldn’t they? Even if just to make sure he didn’t pass it to anyone? Yeah, they’d probably done a health work-up before they put them in the pods. It was the only way to make sure they gave them what they needed while they were under. Maybe. Probably. Still, that didn’t mean he didn’t have half dozen kids running around out there with his unruly hair and some stranger’s eyes. He could be a father and he’d never know it. He’d never know for sure unless Izuru’s memories came back to him and he wasn’t sure if he could deal with that. He didn’t want to know and he couldn’t stand not knowing all at the same time. Either option was terrifying in its own way.

Suddenly being a little fucked up about Komaeda didn’t seem quite so awful.

Maybe he’d get lucky and find out that Izuru had found sex as boring as he seemed to find everything. That would be the best thing. Then he didn’t even have to think about it or wonder about it, he could just assume he hadn’t gotten off since he was in junior high and that was messing with his body chemistry or something. Sperm count was too high or something. Unless what they’d done on the island had been….

While he’d been on the island, in the game, he hadn’t thought much about sex except in passing. He’d jerked off a few times, hurried and almost panicked, but not much more than that. Just stress relief, really, for an incredibly tense situation. Funny that the stress of a killing game hadn’t broken him to pieces like the stress of Hope’s Peak had. Hadn’t made it impossible to get outside his own head long enough to actually get himself off. Apparently he just dealt better with murder related stress. Or something. At least he’d never felt like he wasn’t good enough on the island. In a lot of ways, always being able to find his way to the truth had actually been the best confidence boost in the world. Which was in turn both sad and kind horrifying all things considered.

Still, with all those cameras around, he’d been too self-conscious to do anything more than just that. Not that he would have anyway, just… there’d never been any inclination with everything that was going on. Even if he had thought a little too much about Chiaki in her bathing suit and how nice she was, how cute she looked when she was sleeping. Or how confusing Komaeda was, how he would lean close and smell so amazing and then say just the most horrifying, awful things. How those things would stick with him afterwards and echo in his brain at night and he’d wonder how he’d ever thought he could like, could understand, someone that was so extraordinarily fucked up.

He stood up, irritated and paced across the room to the pod, running his hand over the top of the plastic casing. It was warm to the touch, probably from the liquid inside, which Kazuichi had explained served a lot of different vital purposes, but the warmth specifically was because it was calibrated to regulate their body temperatures. There were a ton of numbers on the side of the thing and though Kazuichi had explained most of them, he’d only caught about half of them and he wasn’t even sure he had all of those straight and correct. Acidity levels and heart rate and brain activity and BPM… though Kazuichi hadn’t been all that clear on how someone could breathe in that gunk either, just that that was what the number was. That all these numbers and graphs and beeping things were all he had to tell him that Komaeda was in this box. That he was still alive and he didn’t even understand half of what it meant. And even if he did, there was nothing he could do to make it better, make him better.

He’d take the Komaeda who made him feel terrible about himself and guilty and awful over this sleeping Komaeda any day. He wanted a chance to yell him for being such an asshole, for killing Chiaki, for everything.

And then maybe…

Maybe.

He thought about walking back downstairs to where he and Akane had finally found the snack vending machine in a room that had probably been a break room judging by the dust-covered couch and microwave. There’d been an old coffee machine in there so there was probably some stale coffee in the cupboards somewhere. He could loiter around down there for a while, but eventually he’d still have to come back here. Eventually he’d still have to lay down in that cold bed and go to sleep with the soft hum and occasional beep of the pod for company.

He was too tired not to sleep and too weak to do it anywhere else, they’d all agreed to stay in these rooms. And… he wanted to be here. Wanted to be close to him. Just as badly as he wanted to be in the break room brewing that stale coffee. Or out on the beach listening to the waves break against the shore, just anywhere else at all really. He wanted to be as close to him as possible and as far away as possible all at the same time, every moment.

“Sorry,” he murmured, laying a hand against the green glowing lid of the pod against the shadowed form beneath it. “It’s not like I want to dream about you or anything, but… sorry anyway. Hurry and wake up, okay? I… just hurry and wake up.” He felt stupid talking to the pod. It might have been easier if he could see him, touch him, take his hand or whatever; as it was he couldn’t even see him so he felt like an idiot talking to a plastic coffin like it was a person. Though, then again, it might have been too creepy if he’d been able to see him. To see Enoshima’s hand on his wrist, to be able to touch him whenever he wanted… yeah, that would definitely be worse.

“Sorry,” he muttered again, patting the top of the box. Maybe he’d get better with practice or it would get easier or something.

Maybe.

 

 

+++

He opened his eyes to find himself on his knees in one of the hotel cabins as something thick and wet and salty sour splattered across his face, his lips, and into his mouth. He gagged at the unexpected taste and again as he realized exactly what it was, wiping frantically at his mouth even as another spurt hit his cheek.

“Huh. That’s unexpected.” Komaeda’s voice commented, sounding vaguely surprised and a little short of breath but generally unmoved by Hajime’s sudden appearance. He didn’t sound happy or annoyed or anything else he was used to hearing from Komaeda. “It’s like I made you appear by coming. That’s a funny sort of thing.”

He didn’t sound like he actually thought it was all that funny. He didn’t sound like he thought it was much of anything, his voice was bland, almost bored like he’d been watching paint dry instead of jerking off.

Hajime glared up at him, still wiping at his face irritably, feeling more than a little sick. He gagged and spat the mouthful he’d ended up with onto the floor beside him, grimacing at the glob that splattered across the wood. Komaeda was sitting on the edge of the bed, shoulders hunched, his head bowed so Hajime couldn't actually see his expression at all through the cloud of pale hair. “This is a little much, Komaeda.”

“Sure, I can see that,” he replied conversationally, nodding, his fingers still working loosely over himself… which Hajime was very pointedly not looking at and only happened to see out of the corner of his eye and that movement was difficult to mistake for anything else. “No one likes that in their eye, do they?”

“You didn’t get it in my eye,” Hajime grumbled as if that distinction were of any importance in the grand scheme of things when you were covered in someone else’s spunk.

“Oh? That’s too bad. That would have been funny too.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“So many things,” Komaeda replied, finally raising his head to meet Hajime’s disgruntled gaze, the mild hint of a smile on his lips marking the first hint of actual emotion he’d seen or heard from him so far.

“Truer words,” Hajime sighed, wiping his now sticky hands against his pants. It didn’t really help. His hands were still sticky and now his pants were kind of gross too. He looked around for a towel or something and frowned as his gaze settled on the half-full shelf of Monokuma figures. “Is this my room? Why the hell were you doing that in my room?”

Komaeda shrugged, the brief flicker of amusement gone as if it had never been there at all, his expression so bland and uninterested that they might as well be talking about the weather. “You weren’t using it. Besides, it seemed only fair. You stuck your fingers inside me and disappeared before we could do anything interesting. I wanted to jerk off and this place still smells a little like you. Or at least I think it does. Could just be one of those things.”

“What the hell, Komaeda?” Hajime yelped. He knew his face was bright red with embarrassment, he could feel the heat blazing in his cheeks hot as a four-alarm fire. “And I did not stick my fingers inside you! You stuck my fingers inside you.”

“Semantics.” He shrugged again before scooting back to lean back against the wall, pale legs still spread wide. Hajime couldn’t help but notice that he’d only bothered to strip off his pants and underwear, he was still wearing his parka like he couldn’t be bothered to shed it and he’d just rucked his shirt up, it was still bunched up high enough that Hajime could see his belly button, a shallow indent of shadow in all that pale, pale skin. At least he couldn’t see the gapping chest wound, for the moment at least, with the shirt crumpled across his stomach the way it was. That would have been too much but, as it was, he could see the deep wounds Komaeda had made in his thighs and the puncture in his hand. He’d at least covered his dominant hand with a bandage though- as Hajime watched- he loosened the bandage and unraveled it, discarding it on the bed beside him. He must have noticed the direction of Hajime’s gaze because he shrugged again. The shrugging was beginning to seem like some sort of involuntary twitch. “It’s rough enough doing it with the bandages, it’d be rougher rubbing against an open wound though, probably. If you want, you can whip your dick out and we can find out together?”

“God, no, fuck, gross, Komaeda.”

“Your loss,” Komaeda replied, sitting up a little straighter and Hajime was grateful when he smoothed down the front of his shirt so that it fell down into his lap to cover him, but also disconcerted as the falling hem of the t-shirt revealed the gaping bloody hole the spear had left in the shirt and the chest beneath.

“Why did you do it that way?”

“Why do you keep asking that? You know why, don’t you?”

“If I knew, I wouldn’t ask.”

“Ah, I see, I'll play. Well, let's see, I suppose it was punishment. Anything that brings such great despair into the world deserves to be punished, don’t you think?”

“You didn’t deserve that, it wasn’t your fault,” Hajime answered and it was as automatic as breathing and the same answer he’d have given to any of them. Because Togami had been right, though they had each played a part in all that had happened, it was Enoshima who made it possible, who set them on their paths. At least that's what he wanted to believe. “Komaeda, it wasn’t-“

And, of course, Komaeda was staring at him as if he were stupid or at least functionally deficient in some vital way. When he spoke, his voice still seemed vaguely disconnected, as if he were there, but part of him, the part that was anger and humor and manic glee, just... wasn’t. “Really? That’s what you’re going with? It wasn’t your fault, Komaeda? That’s a poor argument. Trash like Komaeda Nagito never deserved to live in the world because all he’s ever done is inspire despair in himself, in others. His luck is a curse and a constant and he is the lowest of the low and if his death could bring the slightest flicker of hope than that might make his life worthwhile because at least then it would have served a purpose. That’s the truth, Hinata. The indisputable truth.”

“No, it really isn’t,” Hajime replied, setting his hands against Komaeda’s bare shins, over the red marks there that had probably been caused by the ropes he’d tied around himself, there were darker, rougher red marks on his wrists as well. He probably struggled at the end, even if he didn’t intend to, even if that torturous death was what he chose… it would have been hard not to struggle against the pain, alone in the dark. He looked up into Komaeda’s cool, superior face. He wasn’t sure why it was suddenly so important to him that Komaeda understand. “We all did things, bad things, but it was Enoshima who made us that way. It wasn’t your fault, okay?”

“…Enoshima?” Komaeda asked his voice soft and his eyes losing focus. “Who… what is… I don’t…” He raised one wounded hand to touch against his forehead, gently, puzzled. “Why does that name sound so familiar? I don’t… I don’t….”

“Komaeda?”

Komaeda blinked at him once, twice, and then the puzzlement faded, replaced by a wry smile, “I see. Yes, I remember now. Enoshima Junko, she’s famous. Sure. Why wouldn’t a model be to blame for all the despair we caused? Seems reasonable. It’s a nice joke.”

“It’s not a joke. I… god, why am I even arguing with you about this?”

“Why indeed? Seems hopeless, right?”

“Stop it. You’re just the worst. And why don’t you just change your clothes or something? I mean, even if you’re stuck with the wounds, are you really stuck with the clothes too?”

Komaeda laughed suddenly, somewhere between a giggle and a sob, but he slapped a hand over his mouth to stifle the vaguely hysterical sound.

Unsure, what else to do Hajime just waited expectantly for Komaeda to pull it back together and answer the question or at least tell him what the joke was this time.

“You’re going to make me say it?” Komaeda commented finally, his expression carefully blank. “I can’t. These are the only clothes there are.”

Maybe his imagination was just so horrendously bad that he was only capable of picturing Komaeda wearing this one outfit. Only one way to find out. “Here,” he stripped off the shirt he was wearing, unsurprised to find it was the white dress shirt from the game rather than the black t-shirt he’d fallen asleep in. Because, of course it was, his brain was horrendous and twisted and a glutton for punishment apparently.

“What makes you think I would want that?” Komaeda asked, his voice cold and remote again.

“Just put it on, okay?” He grumbled, shivering a little as he fumbled over the buttons and finally shrugged the shirt off and offered it to Komaeda.

Komaeda stared at him for a long moment, but finally, slowly, sat up and shrugged out of his parka. He pulled the t-shirt off over his head, tossing it aside, and Hajime politely averted his eyes from the gaping chest wound, from the too-thin, too-pale nakedness of Komaeda’s body now that he was stripped totally bare. His face and neck felt warm again, but it was more the warmth of mild sunburns, strange and almost pleasant. He shook the shirt at him when Komaeda didn’t reach out to grab it immediately.

“You’re such a hopeless virgin, Hinata,” Komaeda murmured, taking the shirt finally and slipping it over his shoulders. He did up the bottom two buttons before glancing back over at Hajime, toying with the third. “You sure you don’t want to give it another shot?”

“Shut up. I’m not sticking anything in you, Komaeda.” Because it wasn’t hard to guess what he was referring to.

“Really? You seemed pretty into it last time.”

And the mild burn became uncomfortably hot, as he gapped and stuttered a response, “I… I… I didn’t… you just stuck my fingers in your chest, I wasn’t…”

“You weren’t turned on by it?”

“No!”

“Liar,” Komaeda looked so damn smug it made Hajime kind of want to punch him. Yes, that was a pretty familiar feeling as well. “I might be a little off, but my eyes work just fine. I could see how you looked at me. You never looked at me that way, before, but you did then. You looked at me the way Hanamura looked at the girls. You looked at me like you wanted to eat me.”

“I…” And it was probably true. That was always the worst thing about Komaeda: how rarely he actually lied. Why bother to lie, after all, when an uncomfortable truth will do? So, it was probably true, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it. Didn’t want to admit how much he’d wanted him in that moment. Because that would mean admitting to Komaeda and himself that nothing they’d been doing had been enough to turn him off. Or that maybe that that was what had turned him on in the first place and just… no. “It wasn’t that. I mean it… it wasn’t that.”

“Oh, what was it then?” Komaeda inquired, leaning forward a little and he knew that expression. It was the expression Komaeda wore when he’d found a weak point to exploit.

“Nothing,” he replied immediately, a knee-jerk reaction.

“Nothing?” Komaeda leaned all the way forward, getting as close to Hajime as he could without scooting forward. Hajime was suddenly very aware that he didn’t have a shirt on at all anymore and that Komaeda hadn’t ever bothered to actually finish buttoning the shirt he now wore so it gaped open obscenely. Hajime could see down the long pale line of him, see the hard peaks of his nipples, the red wound that made him feel vaguely ill, the press of his ribs against his skin and the subtle swell of his belly. His stomach flip-flopped uneasily with the knowledge of the one thing he couldn’t quite see from this angle. Somehow peering at Komaeda through the gap in that shirt felt dirtier than sneaking a glance at him when he’d just been naked.

“It was that sound,” he confessed though he hadn’t really meant to say that out loud or at all. “You made this sound like…”

“Do you want to see if I’ll make it again?”

“No, I… of course, I don’t,” he managed, swallowing hard, his throat suddenly bone-dry. Because part of him desperately wanted to hear that sound again, to know what might have happened if Souda hadn’t shaken him awake when he did. Part of him wanted to dive headfirst down that rabbit hole and follow it to its inevitable conclusion, consequences be damned.

Part of him was obviously deranged.

Komaeda fell back away from him, leaning against the wall, a cruel smile playing across his lips and Hajime felt the butterflies in his stomach turn to slugs; an awful feeling of dread, cold and heavy and slimy, lodged in the pit of his stomach. Komaeda lifted a hand slowly, languorously from his side, placing his fingers against the edge of the wound framed by his borrowed shirt. “Listen closely, Hinata, you’re the only fair judge after all.”

“What are you doing, Komaeda?” He whispered, but he already knew the answer even as his fingers plunged into that gruesome wound.

The world seemed to stutter to a stop around him and the sound that tore itself from Komaeda’s throat was something between a scream and a sob and there was nothing of desire in it, only pain. Hajime was up off the floor and flinging himself onto the bed in an instant, fumbling and pulling his bloody hand out and away from the wound as Komaeda panted, weak little wounded cries that painted the air between them with agony.

“It didn’t hurt when it was you. It felt good when it was you,” Komaeda confessed, shivering, his words a jumble and his voice soft as a whisper between them. “I just want to… I just want, I don’t… I don’t understand how this game is played.”

“Shh, it’s okay, it’s okay,” Hajime murmured, petting Komaeda’s soft pale hair with fingers were sticky to begin with and were now covered in blood as well. His heart was in his throat and he was only half listening to what Komaeda was saying, still too freaked out by the way he’d cried out. He was going to have nightmares about that sound. Well… more nightmares, anyway. Regardless, that sound was going to haunt him, waking or sleeping.

“It’s not,” Komaeda hissed, his voice cool and almost even once again as the pain presumably faded and he got himself under control once again. He sounded vaguely disgusted, but Hajime couldn’t be sure if that disgust was for either of them or both. He didn’t pull away though, just pressed his face against Hajime’s chest and let him continue to run vaguely panicked hands over his hair. His voice when he spoke again was muffled and low, like he was speaking to himself more than Hajime. “You make me sick. Your lies make me sick. Why won’t you just do what I want you to do? What you want to do? You’re here, aren’t you? Why are you even here if you’re not going to be what I want? If you’re here to make me feel good than do it. If you’re here to hurt me than hurt me. What are you even here for if I have to do all the work?”

“I don’t-“

“Liar, stop lying, just stop lying to me, don’t you think I know what I want? I know what I want,” Komaeda rasped, short, blunt nails scrapping over Hajime’s bare shoulders, over his back, and it hurt, but it also burned through him, real and wanted. Heat pooled in his limbs, between his legs, dragged a stuttering moan from his lips. The world seemed to spin around him and he closed his eyes to keep it at bay. “Yes, like that,” he groaned, his voice still muffled as he pressed against Hajime's chest, raising one trembling hand to run a thumb over one nipple, already painfully tight. "That’s what I want to hear from you. I’m tired of arguing with myself. It’s boring. It’s such a hopeless thing to argue with oneself. You can never really win.”

“I don’t understand anything you’re saying,” Hajime panted as those blunt fingernails scored his chest so hard that he was pretty sure that if he wasn’t bleeding it was only because this was a dream. “I don’t understand you at all,” he rasped, blinking his eyes open and trying to focus past the desire to find a way to climb inside Komaeda and never come back out again.

“You never did,” Komaeda replied, leaning back to offer Hajime a smile that was bitter as it his voice was caustic. “Nothing new there. Just touch me, Hinata. Just touch me. Don’t you want to hear me moan for you again?”

And he did, help him, he did. It was all he could think of and before he’d made a conscious decision about it, the world shifted around him and their positions were almost reversed. He was just suddenly kneeling on the bed over Komaeda, inches away, straddling his lap and Komaeda had his back to the wall again. That was the way of dreams sometimes, he was discovering, or maybe it was something he’d always known. Perhaps, he’d just needed reminding that you didn’t so much go places as you just showed up there sometimes in dreams. So there was no pushing Komaeda back against the wall, no slow crawl across the bed after him, no time to think and rethink what he was doing, just suddenly there kneeling over him with his hand resting against Komaeda’s chest, tucked just inside the shirt, framing that bloody reminder of how sick, how depraved they both could be.

“Go ahead,” Komaeda murmured, watching him with cool, assessing eyes. A gaze that spoke of challenges and dares, the same look he’d always had in trials when he wanted Hajime to speak against him, to rise to the occasion, to push through his lies or truths and find the hope he thought would come from all those terrible things. As if he hadn’t stuck his own fingers in that wound and screamed bloody murder two minutes ago. As if none of that had happened at all. “I want you to.”

“Well, I don’t want me to,” Hajime whispered, but it sounded weak even in his own ears. A mewling, whining sound in the dark without any real weight or desire behind it, a token protest at best. His thighs were shaking, quivering with the effort of kneeling over Komaeda, of not touching him. His stomach roiled, queasy and uncertain, but it was difficult to tell if it was disgust or nerves or something else entirely.

“Just a little,” his voice was gently encouraging, coaxing. His hands settling over Hajime’s trembling thighs, rubbing gently over the length of them from knee to hip and back again. “I know I’m the lowest of the low and trash such as I shouldn’t be asking favors, but it wouldn’t hurt just to touch it a little, would it? Just at the edge, just for a moment. Please?”

Wet, wet, wet and warm and just a fingertip, just tracing around the ragged, inner edge and Komaeda makes this noise. It’s not quite the same noise as before, as the first time, but in some ways it’s better. Pained, but thick with need and Hajime is diving forward to catch that noise on his tongue, to lick the echoes of that sound from the inside of Komaeda’s mouth as it opens for him, hungry and wanting, and he feels his fingers slip into that terrible, wet, pulsing heat and he tells himself it’s an accident even as he devours the sounds Komaeda makes. Even as he presses closer, aching, hungry, sucking hard at Komaeda’s tongue, licking frantically across his teeth and the inside of his cheeks and as far down his throat as he can manage even though their teeth cut and tear against their lips painfully and he can taste the sharp bitter of copper and it’s all too much and not nearly enough.

He draws back just enough to attack Komaeda’s chin, his cheek, to nip at his earlobe and lick down his throat searching for new tastes, the salt of sweat and the sour tang of sunscreen. For new sounds like the rasp and curse he hears as he bites at the juncture of neck and shoulder, worrying it with his teeth as Komaeda’s cries echo through the room along with yes and more and deeper and harder and Hinata, oh, Hinata, please. He knows, distantly, that his fingers are still inside him, deep and lingering in that throbbing, ghastly warmth and he can’t bring himself to care, not with Komaeda sobbing out his name and pawing clumsily at the front of his pants and it’s almost enough.

Almost.

Nearly there.

He’s so close to the edge and tipping over into the abyss beyond is all he cares about. If he can just… if he can just get there then maybe it will burn this terrible hunger out of his system. Release him and absolve him and maybe he’ll stop dreaming about these things. So he thrusts his hips into Komaeda’s frantic touches and kisses him again, sucking his tongue into his mouth and licking and suckling and biting at it. His free hand slides between them, beneath Komaeda’s borrowed shirt, over the curve of his hip….

And then the world shifts around him and Komaeda’s fingers are suddenly in his hair, yanking so hard he sees starbursts, black and white behind his eyelids, and he’s pretty sure he screams or at least cries out, pretty sure he lost more than a little hair to that grip as he’s wrenched back. And it should be nothing but pain, but it isn’t. It isn’t. And Komaeda uses his distraction to force him back, away.

His knees hit the floor hard, banging painfully against the hardwoods, hands scrambling for purchase against the bed; one hand dark with blood, the other clean. He looked up, tears blurring his vision as Komaeda used that grip on his hair like a handle to steer him, his expression arctic cold. As cold as it had been after, when Komaeda had known there was nothing special about him at all. As remote as an iceberg, as an island in an uncharted sea, so far away from him that he couldn’t begin to fathom the distance. As if nothing they’d been doing had affected him in the slightest.

As if he weren’t even there at all. At least not in any way that mattered.

Which, Hajime supposed, was actually true so it made sense that his demented mind would shove that fact in his face like this just when he’d forgotten to care about it.

“Just a pale imitation, just desires painted on an empty canvas. Every inch the disappointment and you inspire not even the tiniest iota of hope. I understand now. You’re just here to add to my despair. Maybe that’s what I feel when you’re inside me, not pleasure, just the satisfaction of having things I always knew true fulfilled. Maybe that’s what it feels like when all the hope is gone and there’s nothing left but despair,” Komaeda commented, idle and bored, releasing his hold quite suddenly. Hajime’s stomach was plunging again, a riot of feeling as Komaeda drew his borrowed shirt up and held it crumpled and damp with sweat and other things against his belly, exposing himself to Hajime’s gaze once more.

He’d never actually spent much time examining his own dick. Often as not it was an annoyance at best and downright inconvenient at worst. He knew the shape of it by touch, vaguely, but he didn’t really have a clear picture of it in his mind, just sort of a hazy impression and he’d never really been the sort to watch porn or look at dirty magazines or even look at other boys in the showers or communal baths. But he must have done at some point, must have spent enough time to get an idea of what other boys looked like in detail or his imagination was better than he'd given it credit for, because what he was looking at now wasn’t just a vague impression or a shadowed suggestion briefly glimpsed as it had been earlier. It was too close for that. He was staring at it from inches away and it was flushed and slightly curved, bobbing just a little when Komaeda leaned back to snatch up the bandage he’d discarded earlier, the head glistening a little in the moonlight that shone in through a crack in the curtains. It wasn’t something terrible or anything, just a dick... just Komaeda's dick, but it made him feel queasy and unsettled nonetheless.

This was a dream, he knew this was a dream and that none of this was real, but….

“Komaeda, I…”

“You don’t have to, of course,” Komaeda added conversationally, winding the bandage back around his palm and tucking in the loose end before sliding his hand around the shaft and pumping once, slow and loose. And somehow watching someone, watching Komaeda, touch himself like that made him feel nervous and awkward and like there wasn’t enough air in the room. “I can finish this way instead. It’s pretty much the same thing anyway. You might as well go, hm? This is about where you came in.”

His thumb slid over the head and Hajime was vaguely aware of the fact that he was breathing hard and fast, as if he’d been running a race rather than just kneeling on the floor. His focus had narrowed to that point, to that thumb running up and over and down and lingering a moment too long. He was still painfully hard and his trousers felt like they were two sizes too small and watching Komaeda like this wasn’t helping matters.

“This is really wrong,” he managed finally, forcing his gaze up.

“Is it?” Komaeda replied, his eyes narrowed and a little glassy. “I don’t know that someone who still has my blood all over his hand really has much room to talk about what’s wrong and what isn’t. Or is it that it’s fine for you to be inside someone like me, but perhaps I’m too filthy to be inside you? I suppose I could understand that reasoning.”

“No, it’s not… it’s not that, I… dammit, Komaeda,” Hajime sighed, remembering distinctly another reason he’d always found him irritating. His personality was terrible, but he was rarely wrong or at least not totally wrong and that made him all the more annoying. Shame pooled fresh in his belly and he wiped his red, blood-covered hand against the sheets. “You don't make any sense at all.”

“Don’t I? Th-that’s… uh… funny, isn’t it? I-I’m close, I'm really close,” Komaeda murmured, voice hoarse. Hajime opened his eyes, surprised to find that he’d closed them at all and downright shocked that Komaeda had thought to warn him, give him the chance to move. He never did anything he expected, nothing, even when he wasn’t really him at all.

He glanced up into Komaeda’s face and it was… he was really….

Lips barely parted, eyes closed, cheeks flushed…

Really... sometimes... kind of...

Stunning.

And maybe that was what made him do it, what let that mad impulse over take good sense. Had him rising up and swaying forward, entranced by the way his hand moved, the way his thumb slid over the head.

With the bed as low as it was, it was easiest thing in the world to lean in as his hand slid back and taste him, tongue darting out to lick at the tip, cool and salty sour. Komaeda’s sharp intake of breath was intoxicating and he let that noise draw him further in, close enough to wrap tentative lips around the head, so much smoother than he’d thought it would be, his lips kissing the back of his hand, falling into his rhythm with ease.

One stroke, two, three and then the fingers of Komaeda's free hand were sliding around the back of his head, threading through his hair. He shuddered, anxiety pooling in his stomach as he fisted his own hands in the sheets. He had no idea what he was doing and even less idea why.

He was more than a little freaked out about how badly he wanted to do this, to taste him, more of him, all of him, of the way he ached with wanting him when only a moment before he’d been so irritated with him.

“Curiosity killed the cat, you know,” Komaeda breathed, his tone flat and dead and Hajime moaned as apprehension crawled up his spine. He rolled his eyes back up to find Komaeda looking down at him as if from some great height. Whatever emotion he’d thought he heard in his voice, whatever he’d seen in his face before might as well have been imagined and he shuddered, revulsion slithering through him as he realized that he was an idiot. This wasn’t real and it wasn’t even a dream, this was a nightmare and he kept forgetting. Kept forgetting that and letting his dreadful desires lead him about when he should damn well know better.

The only warning he got that this latest terrible decision was even worse than he’d thought was a smug quirk of Komaeda’s lips before the hand that he’d slipped into his hair tightened its grip, yanking painfully, causing him to cry out around the dick in his mouth, opening wide, and wider stil as Komaeda’s hips jerked up, fast and sudden, thrusting further into his mouth, stifling that cry, pressing ruthlessly past teeth that scraped along the length of him. In an instant, he was in as deep as he could go and Hajime’s lips and nose slammed painfully against curling bristly hair and cool skin and the hard bones beneath. He choked, gagging and crying out around him as in that terrible moment he came so hard that the world seemed to narrow and darken around him till all that was left was the pleasure like electricity up his spine and the ache in his jaw. His hands slapped uselessly against the bed and Komaeda’s bare thighs, finding and digging into the wounds there as Komaeda whined above him, spilling warmth down the back of throat.

 

+++

Hajime woke up sticky and gasping.

Coughing, hacking, gagging, his jaw and thought still aching. His knees were sore and his head hurt and he could still feel the delicious burn of Komaeda’s fingernails against his back and chest and every part of his body was throbbing and alive with pain and the fading echoes of pleasure. He was soaked with sweat and his pants and hands were wet and sticky and his mouth was filled with the salty sour taste of that Komaeda who wasn’t Komaeda.

He bent over the side of the bed and threw up everything he’d eaten before bed, vomit hitting the tiled floor with a sickening splat. Even when there was nothing left to throw up, he continued to heave and gag, the taste of bile burning his lips and tongue.

Sometime, probably on the third or fourth shivering, shuddering heave, he’d started sobbing. Ugly, angry wretched sobs that were less sadness and more frustration, because as embarrassing as the earlier dream had been this had been so, so much worse. He should be better than this. Better than dreaming of shit like this. Getting off on things like that. What the fuck was he that he couldn’t stop dreaming about Komaeda like that? What was wrong with him? He was sick, obviously, and the worst thing about it, the very worst thing, was that it wasn’t real. It was all in his head. He couldn’t blame it on Komaeda or Enoshima or even Izuru, no, it was all just him now. Just Hinata Hajime and he was a hideous, monstrous excuse for a person who got off on the thought of hurting someone who wasn’t quite a friend, not really, but… who deserved to be treated like one all the same. He deserved better than having Hajime rubbing one out while dreaming about his blood on his hands and the feel of his dick in his mouth while he fought for his life four feet away.

He threw up yet again; his eyes squeezed shut and shame warring with disgust in his chest.

“Oh my dear, here, let me help,” Sonia’s voice was soft in the darkness and the door swished as it swung closed behind her and she crossed quickly to fish towels from the dresser.

And just when he’d thought he couldn’t possibly feel worse. He couldn’t stop crying and there was snot and… god… he knew what the room smelled like, between the sweat and the vomit and the- the other stuff. He kind of just wanted to sink through the bed and die. “No, god, Sonia, I’ll take care of it-“ he managed, gagging again and closing his eyes against the sting in his throat.

“Nonsense, stay right where you are,” she commanded in a tone that would tolerate no dissent. “I shall just be a moment and then we will talk about it, yes?”

“I don’t,” Hajime stopped, coughing and clutching his roiling stomach for all the good that would do him. Every time he moved he felt the wet slickness in his pants and it made him feel sick all over again. He forced himself to open his eyes, to look at her, “I really don’t know if I want to talk about it, Sonia.”

She gave him a look that spoke volumes about what she thought of that idea, “I understand you might not want to, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to.”

She knelt down with the towels she’d pulled out of the room’s dresser, efficiently clearing away the vomit from the floor as if she did that sort of thing all the time. She tossed the dirty towels into the waste bin and, after a moment of thought, removed the bin to the hallway. That done, she returned to the room and took a seat on the foot of his bed and offered him a small, sympathetic smile. He wondered if they'd had some sort of training in her country that allowed her to be able to clear up vomit and then sit on a bed that stank of sweat and sex dressed in yoga pants and a t-shirt and still somehow look utterly dignified, every inch the royal she was.

“Sonia, I…” he trailed off, uncertain what he’d meant to say. His body was still throbbing a little and his dick was still half-hard and his pants and sheets were sticky and gross. He’d wiped the worst of the tears and the snot off hurriedly on the blanket and he’d managed to pull himself together enough to lean back against the wall, his hands balled into fists in his lap, but he was well aware that he was still an awful mess. “Sorry,” he muttered finally, a little surprised when she shook her head almost violently, her pale hair swinging limply around her.

“No, no, you must not apologize. You have nothing to be sorry for. I came here because I wished to tell you about an unsettling dream I just had. I woke up and I felt ashamed and I thought that this, this is how we ended up as we were, by hiding away from these parts of ourselves that we found distasteful. That perhaps it was just subtle things such as dreams or urges initially. Little shames that built up within us until we felt we were worth less than nothing or that we hated everything, when in truth we simply could not face ourselves. So we tried to drag the whole of the world into the muck with us because misery, as they say, thrives in poor company.”

“I don’t think anyone says it that way, but I think I get what you mean,” Hajime murmured, staring down at his sticky hands, a physical proof of his own depravity. He glanced back up at her and she gave him a soft smile that said, whatever her reasons might be, that she understood him very well. And even though he still felt terrible… he also felt lucky. He hadn’t had friends before, had barely had people he was friendly with at all, he was truly fortunate to have them now. Even if none of the five of them were coming in without ten pounds of baggage and a trunk of bad memories besides.

His breath stuttered out and he realized he was crying again and he wasn’t alone, even though her voice didn’t waver there were tears coursing slowly, inevitably down Sonia’s pale cheeks. “I thought, perhaps, I was not the only one who felt this way and you did say I was welcome so I decided to take you up on your offer. When I heard you moaning through the door and I… well… I understood what that sort of sound meant. I was going to return to my room, leave you to it and perhaps speak to you in the morning, but when I heard you sobbing and being sick, I thought perhaps you might need a friend to confide in as well. It was a dream that incited this, yes? Would you tell me what you dreamt of? I assure you, you will not shock me and I will not judge you no matter the content.”

“I…” It was strange. Earlier with Kazuichi, he hadn’t wanted to talk about it even as much as he had, but here in the dark with Sonia, with the soft hum of the pod and the whoosh of the air conditioner clicking to life, things seemed less mortifying. Maybe she was just easier to confide in or maybe it was the dark or the fact that if he didn’t get it out, let it go, it felt as if this secret knowledge would rot him away from the inside and there would be no escaping it. “I dreamt about Komaeda. About being back on the island with him and having sex with him, sort of, I guess, but also… he had all those wounds, you know, from before? I…” he swallowed, painfully, staring hard at his clenched fists. “I… I hurt him, and I liked it. I liked hurting him and I liked the sounds he made and I liked it when he hurt me just as much.”

Sonia nodded as if this made perfect sense. As if it wasn’t weird or awful, just… perfectly understandable. “You were very close before.”

“Everyone always says that, but I don’t think we were. I didn’t… he was a hard person to talk to, to be around.”

“Yes, I suppose he was, but you were the only one of us who would seek him out. Who tried to reach him, once the killing game started in earnest.”

“Did I? I don’t know. It just seemed like he was always there, but all I remember thinking was how much I’d never be able to understand him and how much he scared the hell out of me sometimes.”

“That is understandable. Komaeda was… a difficult person, even before.”

He’d known, on some level, that they would have known him before all this, at Hope’s Peak and afterwards as Ultimate Despair, but somehow it hadn’t occurred to him to ask about it, about him. “You knew him?”

Sonia smiled, a little sadly, “Not really. It was strange. We were, those of us that were in the same year, all in the same classes, all together in terms of physical proximity, but we were, many of us, also very much alone. We didn’t speak much about our personal issues.”

“Is that what you dreamt about? Your time at Hope’s Peak?”

“No, it was something quite different, but… in order to explain it properly, I should like to tell you about how I was… before. When we were in school. I think I would find it difficult to speak of this with the others, because they were there. I am not certain how much they remember, but they probably saw some of it even though they might not have understood or cared at the time. I… I think we were all very much lost in our own private pain and did not notice much of what went on around us. I do not remember all of those years, though I imagine that will come with time, but I remember enough for a story at least, if you would listen?”

“Of course,” he replied, unthinking. “Always. Anything you want to tell me, I want to hear.” And he was surprised, a little, to find that that was true. He’d never had friends before, not really, but now that he did… they were the center of his world. He wanted to help them, support them, all of them. He was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be particularly great at it, but he wanted to try to be there for them which was more than he’d ever wanted in the years before.

Her smile was wistful, but pleased. “I think we would have all been so much better off if we’d been able to be friends before.”

“Me too,” Hajime murmured, shifting and wincing a little. “Um, would you mind if I, uh, changed my pants first though? And maybe the sheets? This is kind of….”

“Oh! Yes, certainly, how thoughtless of me not to suggest it. I will aid you with changing of the sheets,” Sonia replied quickly, her smile brightening and her manner brisk as she bounced to her feet and crossed the room in search of a spare set of sheets. He could tell she was deliberately taking her time, looking through the drawers, giving him time to sort himself out. He stripped off his pants and shirt, using the shirt to wipe himself off the best he could. It wasn't perfect and he still felt disgusting and in desperate need of a shower, but it was the best he could manage without going out to find a shower room or something as, for whatever reason, none of the hospital rooms had them. He snagged a fresh set of clothes from the pile in the bag beside his bed and changed into them quickly before he started stripping the sheets from the bed. When that was done, he went out and dropped the whole disgusting pile in the hall next to the trash bin, uncaring of what anyone thought if they saw it. He’d deal with that, all of that, laundry included, in the morning. When he came back into the room, Sonia was already shaking out the replacement sheets. Together they put them on the bed and pulled on a new blanket and then they sat down together in the middle of the bed, close enough that their knees touched whenever one of them shifted.

“So,” she began, folding her hands primly in her lap, her voice was soft and steady. “Before we were Ultimate Despair I…. Well, you must understand that we of the Novoselic Kingdom have many traditions, as I believe I have mentioned to you in the past. One of these traditions is that lovers cannot marry until they have shown each other their Makangos. However, that is not the only tradition as it concerns marriage. You see, as I believe used to be traditional in many countries, the royals of the Novoselic Kingdom should be untouched before their wedding night. It’s an old tradition and not a particularly good one, I think, but a tradition nonetheless so one I meant to honor to the letter. As you know, my duty was really quite important to me and quite central in my life. So, I had known this was the case since I was very small though I didn’t truly understand what it meant or why it should be a challenging or difficult thing at the time. When I grew older and my body started to change and I began to get restless as I imagine most children of a certain age do, I went to my mother because I had always gone to her in times when I found myself confused or troubled and she was always a great comfort if, perhaps, not the best at answering uncomfortable questions often preferring to fob such things off on the servants who she deemed better at handling the messier aspects of child-rearing.

“Now, with years between us and the experience of time and life to lean upon, I think that she simply was not ever quite comfortable with speaking of such things to anyone, much less a curious child. I think it is possible that if she had passed off the duty of this explanation to one of the maids, as was her typical want, perhaps things might have been different for me. I do not know. What I do know is that she told me that ladies do not speak of such things and that the best thing to do was to ignore any unfortunate feelings I might have. She made it seem as if it were a thing that no one would or should actually wish to know of so I felt my curiosity about the subject was misplaced and that, perhaps, there was something wrong with me that I should be interested in such things. I refocused by energies elsewhere and resolved not to think about it, but every once in a while I’d be watching one of your dramas or I’d see a film or read a book and it would… it would make me a little… um, hot under the shirt, I believe is the phrase? And I would feel as if I had done something terribly improper. I wouldn’t touch myself or anything like that, that was obviously not something I should do, but even just feeling that way seemed taboo.

“When they allowed me to come to Hope Peak’s Academy, I had such hope as to what my life would become there. I have always seen myself as a Princess first and a girl second, but I had hoped to be able to enjoy some of the more common experiences I had not been privy too. I had hoped such experiences would broaden my horizons and allow me to be a better leader to my people; that I would gain discipline by exposing myself to a life that would be structured quite differently than my life had been in my country. I also dreamed of having people I could speak to, confide in, much as I am confiding in you now. What I didn’t anticipate, and perhaps should have, was how difficult it would be to make friends. My grasp of Japanese was quite good, even then, but I often didn’t understand jokes or references and so I was rarely sought out and while my position seemed to confer upon me a status some of the others wished to use to improve their own standing and many of the boys seemed to find me attractive, it was rare that someone was friendly with me without wanting something in return. I remember being quite desperately lonely during those first few months and I considered simply returning home many times, but that felt like a failure and while I could stand to be lonely, I couldn’t tolerate the idea of failing.

“So, I continued to attend Hope’s Peak and I continued to excel at my studies and I attempted to befriend my classmates with limited success. Eventually, however, I became friendly with one person in particular. He was odd and I didn’t often understand him, but he was kind when so many others weren’t and he was one of the few boys who seemed only interested in my company so, of course, I adored him. He told wonderful stories and never seemed to be bothered by having to explain things to me when I didn't understand a word or a reference. He allowed me to accompany him sometimes when he was participating in his club activities. Eventually, after some time had passed, I found myself attracted to him in a romantic way and so I thought of this boy in passing often, of his kindness and his humor certainly, but also of his hands and his mouth and I… began to want things. Really quite specific things and I thought about them and sometimes I would get quite… well… excited, I suppose. "I tried to speak to him sometimes about these things that I felt for him, but… he always seemed to misunderstand me. Or perhaps he simply wasn’t interested as I had not been interested in all those other boys. It might have been different if we were not friendly or if we had been able to have a frank discourse about it, but… whenever I attempted to do so he would have something else he desperately needed to do or he would change the subject quite abruptly or he would purposefully avoid me in some other way. It… eventually all this little slights began to make it… very difficult to be around him. I still quite liked him and enjoyed his company, but it began to seem false and forced to be cheerful when speaking to him. It is… a dreadful thing to want something and be unable to speak of it. And it… hurt that he was supposed to be my friend, my only friend really, and yet I could not tell him of anything I felt or of my confusion or even apologize for feeling that way. I began to think, perhaps, there was something wrong with me again, something I lacked, something that made me unworthy of time and consideration and love. And once again I found myself so terribly lonely and when one is lonely enough, I suppose, that which once seemed unthinkable, at least for me, began to seem… reasonable. Even desirable. I wanted so very much to feel something pleasant. To feel anything pleasant at all, really, as everything in my life seemed so dull and dreadfully pathetic.

“It was around that time that I began to finally experiment with my body in the way I imagine most young people do. And afterwards I would feel terrible and embarrassed and deeply ashamed of myself for doing such things. Of allowing myself to be so weak and I would vow never to do it again and for a while, perhaps, I wouldn’t, but then I would find my thoughts catching on some particular thing about him. Perhaps it would be the fit of his jacket across his shoulders or the gentle way he had with those most important to him or how awkward he was when complimented or a million other subtle things. Eventually any stray thought at all could be enough to give my thoughts an erotic turn. I wouldn’t be able to look at him for hours or days afterwards and I’m sure it was very confusing for him because we were still quite friendly at the time for all that he also made me feel quite awful. But I’m quite sure he didn’t realize that and that it was not in any way intentional. It wasn’t as if he were doing anything wrong simply by not being interested in me, after all. It wasn’t any fault of his that I liked him or that I couldn't seem to move beyond it. I felt so desperately guilty, for liking him, for thinking about him that way, but I couldn’t find the words to confess what I had done and how I felt. He was the only one at Hope’s Peak I felt I could truly call friend and I felt, though I'm sure this sounds a bit silly and overwrought, as if I were betraying both him and myself and everything I believed I should be and it seemed as if the shame of it would eat me alive. And feeling so terrible about it, made it that much more difficult to stop because it was the only time I forgot how awful I felt, how disgraceful a person I had become. It was a… vicious circle.”

“It was Tanaka, wasn’t it? The boy you liked?”

Sonia nodded, a quirk of her lips that wasn’t quite a smile. “Of course. It seems so terribly obvious now. I remember seeing him the first day on that beach as if it were the first time and feeling nonetheless as if he were a beautiful person. I didn’t know him at all, but I think there are some things that must stay with us even in the absence of memory. I loved him as a child, I suppose it was only natural that when brought back to the beginning and given another chance to do so, I would simply follow my wayward heart back down that path once again.”

“What’s my excuse then?”

“For Komaeda?”

“Yeah.”

“As I said, I remember him a little from those early days and you’d think, having known him on the island and having the knowledge that they'd tried to return us to the selves we were just before Hope's Peak, that he was always that way… but he was not. Or perhaps he was and Hope's Peak merely broke him more quickly than it did the rest of us. I do not know for certain. Komaeda- as I remember him- was tired and drawn and so very pale. He’d been sick for a long time, but that was all I knew about it. I remember the way his luck seemed to manifest in very extreme ways and it made him very unpopular even in a class of people who did not truly relate well to each other in the first place. He would trip down the stairs and hit his head really hard against the floor, but then he’d pull himself up and he would smile this sad, knowing sort of smile and the next day he would have this giant bruised bump on his head, but he would score perfectly on a surprise quiz. Some of the others accused him of cheating, but he always just shrugged and told them that it was just luck and that only made them angrier and they would call him a liar. Because everyone knew that the lucky student wasn’t called that because they were actually lucky, that it was just because they had won the lottery. It became a nickname after a while and soon almost everyone called him Liar Komaeda. He was treated quite poorly and I’m embarrassed to say I did not deal with him particularly well myself even if I did not participate in the worst of the… bullying, is the word, I think? Like many of us, he didn’t seem to connect with people in meaningful ways. I remember trying to speak with him several times over the years and it was as if I was speaking to a different person each time. I found it confusing and disturbing, perhaps a little frightening sometimes, so I eventually just decided to stay clear of him. Even though I had nothing to do with him, I still noticed when he started following her about. She treated him a bit like a favored pet and he seemed to enjoy the attention. He wasn’t always with her, but… often as I remember it in those early days and later.

“She could tell I think, about Komaeda and about me. I truly believe, looking back on it now and remembering how it was then, that she had a knack for sniffing out such things. The things we wanted to hide, the things that mortified and humiliated and shamed us. The things we needed, but didn’t know how to ask for. The dangerous things and the hateful things and the weakness within each of us, these feelings and desires that she could so clearly and easily exploit to her advantage to make of us what she wished. Looking back now, I think there was an art to what she did to each of us, the way she sidled up to us and found these secret parts of ourselves, these things we hated and these things we longed for. The way she encouraged these things in us. Perhaps that was her truest ability, I can’t say for certain, but that’s what I think.”

“I don’t know, but that’s probably right.” Hajime murmured, “I don’t remember her at all, not really, just what she was like in the game and sort of these… random images like faded photographs.”

“I hope it stays that way for you. I would much rather not remember her, to be honest. It’s… difficult. Not because of the terrible things she did and encouraged me… us… to do. You might think it would be that, but that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst of it was that she became my friend. She made me feel… loved at first. She gave me the friendship, the approval, the support I didn’t realize I was looking for. She filled the void within me that Mr. Tanaka had left behind when I'd begun to like him and he'd begun to avoid that aspect of me. She became my confessional, my confidante and it was wonderful and it was terrible all at once.

“She was the first person I told about my feelings for that… for Mr. Tanaka. She told me there was nothing wrong with it, with wanting the things I wanted, that sex was natural and wanting it was natural and needing it was a given. She could be very kind when the mood took her and I think that was easily the very worst thing about her. It’s so easy to see cruelty for what it is; if she had just been cruel I don’t believe very many of us would have fallen into the traps she set for us. She told me everything I wanted, needed, to hear. She enabled me to give myself permission to do as I wished even if it only made me feel worse and worse about myself. She spoke gently to me about it at first, asked if she could show me a few things, help. It seemed like such a very lovely and understanding thing she did for me. It was very nice, really. Finally having a friend who didn’t confuse me, who didn’t shut me down or shut me out, someone who I could speak to and who understood my difficulties. She drew pictures or passed me links to do my own reading and research. It seemed quite harmless and it did help, at least a little bit, it made it seem as if it was indeed quite normal and I didn’t feel as awful as I had about it. I began to feel better about myself and it became easier to speak with Mr. Tanaka again as a friend and to keep our conversations superficial the way he seemed to want. For a short time, my life truly was… better for having Junko as my friend. It didn’t last, of course, as everything could only go downhill from there. But during that time, I became quite dependent on her and I trusted her implicitly and that made everything that happened after a very simple matter for her.

“I’m sorry, Sonia,” Hajime murmured, unsure what to do, how to make any of this better when the wounds were both fresh and old at the same time.

“I appreciate that, but… it was a long time ago and I suppose I’ve gotten a bit off track. I meant to tell you about the dream I had, not quite all of this. All you truly need to understand is that my relationship with Mr. Tanaka had been quite complicated. He was a softhearted boy, beneath all the mysticism and toughness, and also quite fragile in his way. I didn’t see it then, of course, so caught up in my own nonsense. But he lived as much in his fantasies as he did in the reality of who he truly was. He loved animals, all animals, and his devas more than all the rest. The school kept a small private collection of animals that he oversaw the care for as the person in charge of his club and then he also trained animals for Hope Peak’s alumni and donors. He was always busy and he had a lovely manner with animals, but he didn’t relate well to people. He allowed me to accompany him to visit with them all several times when he was doing his care routines or taking one of the animals in for a training session. So, I saw sometimes how brusque he could be with the owners, how furious he would get if he saw even the faintest hint of mistreatment. He was a wonderful person with a very large heart. His devas were wonderful, truly, even cuter and more delightful than they were in the simulation and he loved them so much. Anyone could see that. And… as I mentioned I was very caught up in my own affairs at that time, but we were still on good terms and, in fact, friendlier than we'd been quite some time.

“Friendly enough that I noticed when he showed up in class without them. He was so obviously devastated that I couldn’t understand how no one else noticed or cared. After class was over, I caught his hand as he was packing up. You must understand this wasn’t the first time I had touched him and though I knew such gestures embarrassed him, he’d never seemed to truly mind. But that day he jerked away as if my touch burned and he looked so panicked and he said something about poison and something about corruption, other things as well, but he was speaking so fast that I couldn’t catch all the words. I sometimes had difficulties, you see, when things were said too quickly or the syllables ran together. He knew that and he was usually very good about speaking slowly and clearly for me, but he was clearly upset. I was still trying to puzzle out what he had said when he snatched up his belongings and ran out of the room.

“I… I should have gone after him. I realize that now. It was what a friend would have done. A true friend would not have been so easily dissuaded. I should have gone after him right then and there, but I didn’t. I went to find Junko instead, because I knew she was friendly with him as well and I thought… if he wouldn’t talk to me, someone at least should be able to be there for him. I thought… I thought I was doing the right thing, but it was also the cowardly thing, the self-centered thing. I wanted him to be okay, but I also didn’t want to face the possibility of being rejected by him yet again.

“Junko was very understanding. She said she would take care of him and that I need not worry about a thing and went off in search of him immediately. She came to my room late that night to tell me that his devas had all been killed in a terrible battle. That all the animals he cared for were sick, dying, and the instructors believed he was to blame for it. There was to be an investigation and that I must not speak to him until the investigation had been concluded. You see the investigators had already discovered that the poison that was used to kill these animals was one native to my country. If I were seen being overly friendly with him, it might implicate me or make him look more guilty, she said. I didn’t want that, of course, I didn’t want that. So I agreed to stay away, to treat him coldly and Junko told me that she would make sure he knew it was only an act for his benefit.”

“I’m guessing she probably didn’t do that,” Hajime murmured.

“Certainly not. I do not know what transpired between them then or in the future, I only know that I lost my friend. I… worry that she… that she killed the devas and used that poison so that he would think I was responsible, so that he would blame me for what befell them and the others. I… I worry he will hate me when he wakes up and… I am not certain he would be wrong to. I was selfish and I was foolish and even if it was not I who laid the poison that killed his beloved hamsters I was the reason it was done, or at least part of it. I found myself wondering, as I fell asleep tonight whether, if he remembered both our past and our time within the game, he would want me there. Whether he would be hate me for being in his room, for staying by his side as if we were friends when we so clearly are not or if we might finally be able to understand each other, because I don’t believe we ever truly have. I worry that whatever semblance of a friendship we had was broken to pieces by an adolescent crush, misplaced trust and a few simulated weeks of almost friendship won’t add up to anything at all in light of that and that thought terrifies me.

“I had a dream, before I came here tonight, about Mr. Tanaka… hm, about Gundam, I should say. If I want to be his friend, I should... should be able to call him by his first name, shouldn't I? I don’t know if it means something or nothing, but I thought it was something I needed to tell someone about nonetheless. He was on the island and he was digging holes high up on the shore beneath one of those palm trees, where the shade was the best and it’s far enough up from the shore that the water wouldn't reach even at high tide.

“I approached from a long way off, though it seemed to take me no time at all to reach him. When I arrived I asked him what he was doing and he glanced up and he looked so surprised to see me or perhaps that I was concerned, I don’t know. He was bruised, bloodied as he was the last time I saw him, at his execution. He told me that his friends at least deserved a proper burial. That if that was all he could do for them, he could do that. And there… there were so many holes. Some were small and shallow, some long and deep. It seemed as if there shouldn’t have been room enough for them all in that high part of the beach, but there was. And he kept digging as I stood nearby watching him. He was dressed much how he was in the simulation, though he had stripped off his long coat and scarf and his neck and arms were red from the sun, but he just kept digging for what seemed like hours. Hole after hole after hole.

“Finally he stopped and he looked at me again and said, ‘Yours shall be separate from the rest, she-cat’ and then he went right back to it.”

“I wanted to apologize to him. For so many things, but I simply couldn’t find the words. I think I cried, but I couldn’t bring myself to cross the distance between us or interrupt him again. Eventually I woke up without ever having said another word to him. Do you think that makes me a terrible person?”

“No, I think that just makes you a person. It was just a dream. When he wakes up, you’ll have your chance.”

“Yes, I suppose we all will. For the things we have done and the things we wish we had done.”

“Yeah, I think so too.”

“Do you like Komaeda?”

“I…” He glanced over at the soft glowing light of the pod and it wasn’t an easy question to answer. Maybe it should have been, but it wasn’t. Komaeda had always been a complicated issue for him. Sometimes he hated him, sometimes he wanted to hurt him, sometimes he liked him and less often he just… wanted him, obviously. There wasn’t anything about his feelings for Komaeda that were simple or straightforward that could be easily defined and slipped into a box to be put away on a shelf. He wanted something from Komaeda, had since the first moment he opened his eyes and looked up into that smiling face and during the days afterwards when he spent time with him despite himself. When he’d stood in the building where they’d imprisoned him, stood over him with a tray of food and looked down at him, chained and helpless and still so extraordinarily dangerous and he’d wanted things he hadn’t been willing to put a name to. And afterwards, on the beach and in the hospital and at the amusement park and and the restaurant there had been so many times where he’d found himself looking at Komaeda for too long or standing too close to him, wanting to push him under the waves and just hold him there and give him the death he seemed to so long for so he’d just finally, finally shut the hell up because he was driving him completely insane with all his crazy talk.

No, there was nothing simple or easy about how he felt about Komaeda.

“I want a chance to know him,” he settled on finally, because that was the truth at the core of it. The truth behind getting off on the thought of his moans and dreaming about pushing his fingers into the depths of him and stopping him from hurting himself and kissing him and all the stuff in between. That was the thing that made all of it possible, maybe. He didn’t know him, not really, they’d lied to each other and hurt each other and if… when… Komaeda woke up they probably would again, but he wanted that chance. He wanted to know what made Komaeda the way he was. To know if the real Komaeda was anything like what he imagined him to be and whether he actually wanted that or if he wanted someone who was softer, saner, gentler, someone who made more sense, hell, any sense at all. “I want a chance to really know him and decide whether I hate him or I like him or I want to mail him to Siberia. I want him to have a chance to know me too. Just my normal, unremarkable ordinary self.”

Sonia smiled, “I think that is fine. He would probably find it amusing that you’re dreaming about him so much, that you were having those sorts of dreams about him in the first place. He’d probably say something like: It really is good luck that I’m being thought of in such a way by such a incredible person as Hinata.”

Hajime laughed a little at the impression, the way she posed, finger to her template in mock thought. "Please don't ever, ever tell him. I would never hear the end of it and I'd probably have to kill him for being an ass about it."

"I am quite confident you will tell him about it yourself in your own time. Secrets fester inside us, do not forget."

"Yeah, I get it, I'm just... not looking forward to it. He wasn’t actually very impressed with me after he found out I was just a reserve course student. You saw how he acted towards the end.”

“I did. I also understand that he found out that he and all of us were members of Ultimate Despair. He placed such extraordinary value on hope. He made it the focus of his world in the game, used it to justify the things he did, the lies he told and all the terrible things that were happening to all of us, but when it came down to it… I think he was using hope as a string tied all around himself, holding him together and Junko cut that string by creating a challenge only he had a chance of passing. That room, that reward, was something she made especially for him.”

“I think so too,” Hajime whispered, pulling his knees up to his chest and resting his chin against them. “Nothing else could have knocked him over the edge the way that knowledge did. He could turn anything else on its head and find a way to make it work with the way he viewed the world. I don’t think she knew what he would do, but I think she was betting on him killing all of us.”

“Quite right. Do you think, when they wake up, they will be like us? Remembering both the game world and the real world?”

“I don’t know. I’m… I’m not even sure what to hope for. I mean, whatever happens, we’ll find a way to help them, but… I don’t know what would be easier for them.”

“I suppose that is a fair statement. On one hand, it might be easier if none of them remember the horrific deaths they suffered. On the other hand, if they are simply the selves they were before all this, it seems it will be much more difficult to reach them without the bonds we formed in the game, however fragile or temporary they might be in light of everything else that has happened.”

“Yeah, I mean… without the memories from the game, they won’t know me at all, will they?”

“I fear not. I do not yet remember everything, but I… I don’t believe I have any memories of you from before.”

“It’s okay, I didn’t really expect you to. I was in the reserve core class, it’s not like we would have been hanging out even in a perfect world.”

“I suppose not,” Sonia yawned, pressing a hand to her mouth to stifle the motion. “Goodness, I apologize.”

“It’s understandable. You can’t have slept very long.”

“I suppose neither of us have," Sonia replied, yawning again as she slid off the bed and stood up, stretching. "I should return to my room.”

Hajime nodded hesitantly before offering: “You can stay here. I mean, if you want to?”

“You would not mind?” Sonia asked, her voice hopeful.

Hajime chuckled, shaking his head, as he stood up and pulled down the sheets and blanket. “Not at all. Feel free, as long as you don’t mind the smell or the weird looks we’ll probably get in the morning.”

“I do not, the others will understand, I think. If any one thinks something inappropriate has occurred, I shall be the first to set them straight, fear not.”

“I have no doubts.”

“Very well. Thank you for your hospitality, my friend,” Sonia climbed into his bed with an extra pillow she’d pulled from the dresser, which was proving to be like the giving tree of bedding. Hajime slipped into the bed beside her, turning to face Komaeda’s pod even as Sonia turned into the wall so her back was pressed against his.

It was… nice.

He fell back to sleep eventually to the sound of Sonia’s soft, steady breathing and the quiet buzz of the pod and if he dreamed of Komaeda again that night, he didn’t remember it come morning.

Chapter Text

“If you think anyone is sane you just don't know enough about them.”
― Christopher Moore, Practical Demonkeeping

 


DAY TWO
-continued-
+++

And he was gone.

Again.

Nagito blew out a breath and flopped back against the bed. His heart still felt like it was going to pound out of his chest. He wouldn’t be surprised if it happened that way and what difference would it make really? It would be just another bloody hole to ache and bleed, just another place to imagine Hinata touching him, giving him pleasure where otherwise there was only pain.

The room stank of spunk and blood and he could barely smell that lingering scent of Hinata beneath it now even lying on his bed. He knew later he’d regret that. Later when he was capable of it, he’d probably regret a lot of things.

He usually did.

Sometimes he really was far too sentimental which was why he liked it better like this. Better when he could just think about things logically when he could focus on feeling what he wanted to feel rather than what he should feel. He’d had a doctor once, he couldn’t remember their face anymore, but he could remember the hands. How the skin had looked soft and crinkled like paper as they grasped their clipboard or pressed against his thighs when he slid down in the chair or held him around the waist sometimes.

Though maybe he was just imagining that, maybe that hadn’t happened at all. Maybe that had been someone else. Maybe that had been something he’d seen in a film once. He could be making it up. He made up a lot of things.

Maybe.

Sometimes.

The point was he remembered this doctor telling him that he shouldn’t think of it as a liability, a disability, a failing… these times when his brain was cold and calculating and practical and casually cruel.

She said he should think of it as his truest most authentic self.

He’d folded his paper-wrinkle hands in his lap, over the bulge there like maybe Nagito might not notice that he was getting off on this, but he always did.

His truest, most authentic self… desire detached from ego free from social convention.

That it must be very thrilling to be able to experience things without conscience. Without that little cricket chirping away on his shoulder telling him when to stop, when to be good, when he’d gone too far.

Nagito was pretty sure he liked the cricket. The cricket kept him out of trouble, kept him from that feeling of shame later and after and again and again and again. Kept him feeling worthless like he deserved nothing, like he was nothing, scared to touch things, people, because he’d just contaminate them with his… he wasn’t okay.

He wasn’t okay.

He knew that.

He knew that.

He did.

There was no one to look out for him to tell him that he was bad, but he knew. He knew. He knew after and later and sometimes during for just a moment or two and sometimes he wanted to die. Sometimes he remembered hands on him and he couldn’t be sure if he’d asked for them or invited them or hated them or loved them.

Funny how it could eat away at his brain like this, chomp holes straight through so that he couldn’t remember the things he’d done, so he could never be sure if that was him, if that was something he’d want, if that was something he’d done, if that was someone else, if….

Hinata had kissed him, hot and wet and he had never wanted anything, anything, the way he had wanted to climb inside Hinata and just never leave. Because Hinata was there, he actually wanted him and he, maybe, even cared about him. He didn’t feel useless or dirty or terrible when Hinata touched him. Hinata’s fingers were inside him, a part of him, and he knew that was wrong, weird, but he didn’t care if it meant he could be closer to him.

Only he couldn’t, because Hinata wasn’t really there.

Hinata had never been there at all.

He wasn’t altogether even absolutely sure that there was a Hinata. He thought there was, he was almost sure there was, but there was always a chance that Hinata was just someone, something, he’d dreamed up to pass the time. That all of this was something like that.

That he wasn’t really here at all except that he was.

Maybe.

Probably.

So, he laid in that room that wasn’t really a room and he could feel the emotions poking in at him again like feathers from a cheap pillow, needling and sharp and unexpected. He could probably stroke another one out before the floodgates opened, probably, if he were quick. The bandages would catch and chafe, but he thought that would probably feel good too.

Like punishment.

Like something he deserved.

Maybe something he even wanted.

But doing that would erase that ghostly warm, damp feeling imaginary Hinata’s mouth had left behind and so in the end he didn’t. He left it alone to grow soft and small with the memory of Hinata imprinted on his flesh for safekeeping. Stroked a hand across his belly instead, across his thighs, for want of something to do.

 

+++

The cuts he’d made in his legs had hurt, impaling his hands though… that had been far, far more painful than he’d anticipated, but no more than he deserved. He was one of them after all. If he were… better… braver he could have just killed them all himself.

Let Hinata…

Because obviously it was Hinata…

Probably.

Maybe.

Stupid, normal, beautiful, boring Hinata, who wasn’t anyone or anything except himself.

He had to be the spy, so he’d let him live. That was easy. Let him convict him, execute him, let Monokuma drag him off to face some convoluted punishment.

Easy.

But that wasn’t who he was, was it?

No.

He wasn’t so selfless as that.

He didn’t do anything the easy way.

He didn’t remember the spear hitting, it must have, but he doesn’t remember it. Just the throbbing pain in his hands, in his head, and the warm lick of flames, and then choking, gagging as he breathed in what he assumed was the poison. There had been nothing after that but darkness.

And then… Hinata.

He knew the smell of him, strange that he should forget so many things, but this one piece of knowledge should stick with him even after death. And he knew he had to be dead, but the dead didn’t dream so he imagined it was Hinata’s dream even if it made little sense that Hinata would waste a perfectly good dream on him. Why Hinata would even bother to think of him at all made no sense to him at all.

He told him so.

Hinata’s fingers tugged at his hair a little as they spoke, little sparks of pain that lit up the dark. It felt… all of that… had felt intimate in a way he’d thought of sometimes at night in his cabin and in the darkness of his room in the Strawberry House.

He’d been the one to wake him on the beach that first day. Not because he was kind, but because everyone else had been so caught up in themselves and each other that they hadn't even seemed to notice him. He'd been a little away from the others, under a palm tree, laid out with his hands folded so neatly over his stomach. And he’d looked beautiful sleeping there in the sand. He’d liked the crisp white linen of his shirt and the dark of his tie and his dark, dark hair. He remembered, vaguely, his mother reading him fairy tales when he was small, before the plane. And he thought about how this boy looked like something out of a fairy tale and it made him hopeful. Hopeful that he would like it here at this Hope’s Peak that wasn’t Hope’s Peak. Hopeful that maybe his luck would be good for a while, even if it were just for a while.

He’d wanted to kiss him then, when he was just a pretty boy lying in the sand, but he hadn’t because he wasn’t sure that the boy would like it, that the others wouldn’t laugh at him. He’d been lying to people about that for a while, the wanting to kiss boys thing, because he wanted to be normal. He wanted to be accepted. Hope’s Peak was supposed to be a hopeful new beginning. He was in remission, probably, maybe, and he was taking his medication and everything was supposed to be good there, he was supposed to be good there. He'd been really lucky to have been accepted. Really lucky and he couldn’t waste it. But wanting to kiss that boy, that beautiful boy on the beach, that hadn’t changed after he’d opened his eyes and blinked up at him, eyes narrowed against the brightness of the sun shining down on his face. He’d liked that he was the first thing Hinata Hajime had seen, that he'd been the first one to know his name. It was like having a secret, even if it wasn't really, it was still something he could hold onto that made them special to each other, even if he was the only one who thought so.

He’d lain in his cabin that night and, even though he'd barely known him or anything about him, he’d imagined what it might be like to knot that long tie around his hands and press biting kisses across his chest, whether Hinata would like it, would like him. How much better it might be if Hinata used the tie on him instead, bound his hands behind his back so he couldn’t touch him, couldn’t hurt him, couldn’t even touch himself. How good that might feel. If Hinata treated him like something barely deserving of his attention, like the trash he thought he was sometimes, just used him as he liked or maybe just refused to touch him at all. Left him bound and writhing, seeking a release he couldn’t quite reach alone without even a free hand to help him along. Maybe he’d end up humping the bedpost or a pillow or just the bed itself, so desperate for just a little pressure to help him get there. Maybe Hinata would watch. Maybe Hinata would stick his dick in his mouth, let him suck it, maybe that would be enough and he’d….

He came all over his bare belly and hand thinking of such things, vaguely curious as to when he’d started stroking himself, when he’d lost the clothes. When he’d forgotten about the camera in the corner of the room. He wondered whether he might have said Hinata’s name when he was thinking all those dirty thoughts about him, when he was frantic for release. Whether, if he did, anyone had been walking by and overheard him moaning that name. It was possible since the window was propped open to let in a breeze and that ruined the soundproofing… probably.

He’d probably never know unless someone said something to him about it.

That would be a really terrible way to start out his school term.

He winced a little as he realized that he was still stroking himself even though he was oversensitive and the cooling stickiness made it rough and unpleasant so it was beginning to hurt a little. Of course, sometimes he liked that too. Sometimes he could come again even if it hurt. Sometimes he thought it was because it hurt. Though he knew it was just biology, just having a short refractory period, he was a teenager after all, nothing to be ashamed of… probably.

He'd come again, just a little, across his fingers and he let it go at that. Lifted his filthy fingers to his mouth and sucked them clean as he stared up at the camera, at the little blinking red light. He really hadn’t meant to do any of that. But sometimes that happened. An urge would strike him and he’d just go with it, only realizing later what he’d done. Most of the time he didn’t mind, there was no point to minding, it didn’t change things. Maybe he liked it. Maybe that was why he did it. Because he liked the idea of someone watching him though… it was probably just that bunny thing, so maybe not. Maybe if it had been Hinata… no, he needed to stop thinking about Hinata. He wanted to be normal, to be just… friendly, he could do that… maybe, probably.

But that was then.

Then was when he was alive and now he was dead and in the dark with Hinata and even if he didn’t understand it, he liked being in the dark with Hinata. Even if the dark made him think about things, dirty things, about wanting him even if he was just ordinary.

Now that he thought about it. He thought he could hear a girl’s voice urging him on. Telling him to do what he wanted, that nothing mattered, that he was dying anyway so who cared? What was the point of caring? Like a ghost from another life, a life of blood and carnage and a terrible hungry void that could never be filled.

Her voice felt like snakes in his brain, slithering through the holes and licking at the walls that rose before them. He wanted to moan, to shrink away from the feel of it, but how could you escape something in your own head? He was probably just imagining it anyway. Or maybe he’d seen it in a film. Something.

He had a picture in his mind of red, red nails scrapping up and down his back, of a word like ‘Master’ on his lips and it tasted bitter and sour and terrible.

He couldn’t escape the things in his head. So, he did the next best thing and turned his attention back to Hinata, who smelled nice and whose fingers were still in his hair. He shook them off and returned the favor, rolling up and over Hinata’s warm body and letting his own fingers settle in Hinata’s hair. It was softer than he would have thought, kind of nice really, and Hinata felt solid and real and nice beneath him. Different from what he had imagined, but better too.

It really was too bad that Hinata was so dreadfully ordinary, but maybe that was part of his appeal. He gripped that hair tight in his fists and shifted to settle over Hinata’s hips and that was nicer still. He wanted to press all along the length of him and so he leaned forward as if to kiss him and he felt him panic a little, his heart beating faster, his breath coming in pants and he wondered if he scared him. He wondered why Hinata didn’t push him away, why he didn’t seem as disgusted with him as he’d been before. They were still talking. It was distracting and he wasn’t sure he wanted to be distracted.

He leaned forward a little more and pressed his lips against Hinata’s, cautiously, because it was difficult to gauge distance in the dark and he didn’t want to hurt him by accident. He whispered words against those lips and it wasn’t quite a kiss, but it felt like it could be, like the potential was there and Hinata might not push him away and he wanted, wanted, wanted.

Then he was waking up on the beach, his lips pressed against the damp, gritty sand and everything hurt, everything ached and he was alone. He screamed, curling empty hands into fists in the mud, ignoring the pain even those small movements brought. He was sobbing and he didn’t mean to, wasn’t sure when all those feelings had flooded back in, when he’d stopped being a creature of physical desires and logic and become completely himself again, this pathetic, writhing mess that ached with the loss of something he’d never even had. That had never even really existed maybe. He didn’t know Hinata, had never known the real Hinata at all, obviously. If there even was a real Hinata, because Hinata might not ever have been anything real or important except in his mind. He didn’t know anything, anything, anything.

Time passed or didn’t and he wondered if he’d always been mad and was only just now noticing it or if dying had driven him over the edge and that’s what Hell really was. If Hell was just a name for a lonely place reserved for the mad and the wicked and the damned to live with their wounds and their pain and their regrets and unfulfilled desires for all eternity until they were nothing but a gibbering mass of contradictions and misplaced want.

Hinata hadn’t dreamed of him. Of course, he hadn’t. He should have known that from the beginning. Hinata wouldn’t dream of him. Hinata didn’t want him, love him or need him. Didn’t care about him at all just like he didn’t care about Hinata. Couldn’t care about him. He was ordinary, boring, nothing if he was anything at all. Everything else. Everything he had thought made him special was just all in his head. Everything was in his head and dying was just another way to suffer and there was no escape.

The beach was cold and dark until it wasn’t and then it was sunny and hot and terrible and he could feel the bright, bright light burning against the back of his hands and his scalp and it hurt just like everything hurt. He wanted to burrow into the sand and disappear, roll beneath the ocean waves and drown because then maybe he wouldn’t feel so….

Then maybe he wouldn’t feel so much.

So he did.

He rolled down the beach into the warm water, dragging himself inch by painful inch down beneath the waves where he could swallow that salty water down, where he could scream as it burned his eyes and the wounds his death had left in his hands and legs and stomach. He choked and gagged and every time darkness ate at his vision and he was certain he’d managed it this time he woke back up on that beach, vomiting seawater and feeling weak and worse and aching and even more scared than before, but always, always, always waking up.

He sobbed again for minutes or hours, pounding his aching, bleeding fists against the damp, hard-packed sand. Then, eventually, he tried again.

He woke up again in the same place, the same way. Because of course he did.

Of course, of course, of course.

He dug up stones hidden beneath the sand. It hurt and his fingernails ripped and bled and he didn’t care. He filled his pockets with those stones until the coat was so heavy he didn’t think he’d be able to crawl out to sea.

It hurt, his shoulders ached, his fingers bled.

He managed.

He woke up on the beach again, vomiting sea water again, his pockets still filled with rocks and he could swear he heard laughter, rough and high-pitched and hysterical and it was a long time before he realized it was his.

He tried to smother himself in the sand, dug a hole with his aching, bleeding fingers and buried his head, packing the damp sand in around his head and face and mouth like a helmet, gasped and suffered and twitched and managed it by sheer force of will.

Woke up again lying on the beach with drying sand caked in his hair to the words ‘it won’t work’ drawn in the mud near his head and he screamed and screamed until the horror and the shame and the despair drained away like the tide receding from the shore.

He hadn’t known it would be like this.

The sun was low on the horizon when Nagito finally picked himself up off the sand, grimacing at the gritty texture of it in his underwear, in his hair, everywhere and trudged up to the beach house. There were clean clothes there, of a sort, in the form of an exact copy of what he was wearing, perfect right down to the bloodstains and the holes. The sort of thing that would have sent him into hysterics ten minutes before, but now he could observe the presence of the clothes, make the decision to change into them after he’d cleaned up and moved on.

The shower was cold which he didn’t enjoy, but since the dirt and grime were more uncomfortable, he dealt with it. He was shivering when he stepped out of the shower, toweled off, put on the new/old clothes and walked back out of the beach house. He didn’t bother to put his shoes back on. He’d never liked them much anyway and he’d rather go barefoot. The air was still warm though the sun had set while he was changing. He went and stood at the edge of the sea and stared out at the darkening horizon and wondered idly if this was going to be everything he knew from now on. If it would only be the sun and the ocean and the sky and him alone with these aching wounds until the emotions returned and he tried to bash his head in with a rock or jump off a cliff and just made things worse. He could manage well enough with the current wounds, but he doubted he’d do as well with a bashed in skull or broken limbs. He couldn’t die here, obviously, but he doubted he could heal here either. Maybe it wasn’t Hell so much as Purgatory. And he would linger here, lost and waiting, until some greater power that he didn’t believe in got tired of watching him squirm.

Hours passed like that. He wasn’t hungry or thirsty. He didn’t need anything, want anything, not really since his hair and clothes had already dried in the breeze and the night air seemed pleasantly cool against his skin so he was comfortable enough. He didn’t see the point of moving since his muscles didn’t ache from standing and the view could be worst. He rocked back and forth a little, because the movement was comforting or comfortable, something like that.

Then, between one moment and then next he heard the rustle of clothing and heard footsteps in the sand. And that figured. The moment he was content there he was again to stir him up. “Back again?” He called, not bothering to turn towards him.

“Shouldn’t that be my line?” Hinata murmured, stepping up beside him. “My dream and all.”

“Is it?” Nagito replied, tilting his head quizzically as he continued to stare out across the dark ocean. “I thought so too, but I’ve been here all day waiting for you.”

“You were waiting for me?”

“Not because you’re special, obviously, just because I thought you might show up anyway so I thought I might as well. It’s just my luck that it’s you here with me after all,” Nagito glanced over, turning towards him a bit, towards this fake, this phony and he doesn’t really care what he’s saying. He wants to be cruel, wants to see this Hinata wince and grimace at his words and he does, but it’s not satisfying because nothing really is.

He finds himself a little annoyed by the way Hinata is staring at his chest. As if it’s something horrifying which, he supposes, it probably is, but it isn’t as if that’s news. He’s known about it since he woke up here, he’s already screamed and cried and carried on about it like an infant. It irritates him that he’s acting like the wound is a surprise. Bringing it back to his immediate attention.

“You’re staring, Hinata. Have a got something on my chest?” He asked, soft and wry.

“Why’d you do it that way?”

“Hm?” Because he can’t quite believe he’s being asked by himself to explain himself. That’s irritating too.

Hinata’s fingers brushed the sleeve of his coat and then his hand, pausing and lingering against the wound there.

“Ah,” Nagito murmured, shrugging his narrow shoulders. “It isn’t so bad as all that, here, feel.”

It’s impulse that has him turning and he doesn’t even realize what he intends to do until he steps over to him, snatches up his hand and plunges Hinata’s fingers into the aching, bloody, disgusting wound in his chest and….

Huh.

That was… kind of...

That was perfect… that was…

He choked on a groan because that was exactly what he needed. It wasn’t quite pleasure, more like satisfaction and relief, like taking off ill-fitting shoes at the end of a long day. And he wanted more, more, more. Wanted him to sink those fingers deeper and deeper into every part of him and he knew he wouldn’t. No. Boring, mundane, ordinary Hinata wouldn’t want to hurt him, so he would have to help things along. He pressed Hinata’s fingers deeper into that wound that suddenly no longer felt quite like a wound at all, slipped them deep with a soft squelching sound that made his stomach tumble over and over like laundry in a dryer.

Nagito opened his eyes, just enough so that he could see him, even though he knew Hinata wasn’t really there, that he wasn’t really pressing fingers into him, that that panting breath was his own, he still felt compelled to see his reaction.

He wasn’t sure what he expected.

Perhaps disgust or hate or fear or anything at all really, but he should have expected it might be something more in line with fantasy than reality. That slack-jawed expression, that unfocused gaze, those flushed cheeks… that wasn’t so different from what he’d imagined Hinata must look like when he was right on the edge, so turned on that maybe he’d forget who was making him feel that way, maybe he wouldn’t care if Nagito put his hands on him. He was pretty sure he smiled, because that expression was beautiful. Hinata was beautiful and in that moment he didn’t care that this wasn’t the real Hinata that this wasn’t anything but a desperate attempt by his damaged brain to make things better, easier to cope with. He could feel Hinata trembling and he heard his name tripping off those lips as a whimper, as needy as he was beginning to feel from just that look, that touch, just his name being said in a voice that warms him despite everything he knows to be true and it’s like being caught between two worlds. Part of him is still looking down on all this with derision knowing it for the hopeless, revolting, pathetic fantasy it is, but the other part… the other part that wants and wants and wants so very badly to be everything to somebody whispers Hajime like a prayer before it’s swept away and lost in the flow. Drowned in that endless void of need that rears up within him ready to engulf everything he’s ever wanted, ever been, and he doesn’t mean to say it or the words that slip free afterwards, but he can’t keep them in either. Doesn't even want to.

“This isn’t quite how I imagined you inside of me, Hinata, but perhaps this is just right for trash like me, hm?”

And just like that he’s alone.

Whimpering and painfully turned on and utterly, utterly, utterly alone.

Just like he’s been all along.

His hands are trembling where they rest against his sides and the laughter his back. That loose, painful, loud, hysterical laughter that makes his chest ache and his eyes blur with tears.

He’s always known he was… he wasn’t right, that his brain wasn’t right, that he didn’t function like other people anymore that maybe he never really had. That he talked too much and said things he didn’t mean to say and did things he didn’t really mean to do and sometimes it was hard to remember why he should feel good or bad or anything at all. It was hard to keep track of what was right and what was wrong and what was necessary and what he wanted, but… but he’d had hope. Hope that it would pass that he’d get lucky, lucky like he’d been when survived the plane crash, lucky like he’d been when he won all that money, lucky like he’d been to live this long, and he’d get better.

He’d get better... only he didn’t. He never did. He just got worse and worse and worse and now he was… he was this. Hopeless, awful, terrible, disgusting, pathetic trash who couldn’t even tell what was real and what wasn’t, who wanted these things. Who did these revolting things and sometimes didn’t even know they were, didn't understand, couldn't see it at all. He wanted to love Hinata. He wanted to hate him too. He wanted to… to… fuck him or to be fucked by him.

Anything.

Everything.

He just wanted to feel something that wasn’t this... emptiness. He wanted to wake up and know he was just himself and he didn’t have to worry that he was going to… that he was….

Hope was such a dangerous thing. A beautiful thing, a wondrous thing, but also a dangerous thing as well. At least it was for him. He’d had so much hope for a better future and then Monokuma… Monokuma came in and ruined everything and he thought… he thought if he could just… just make it all mean something that would be enough. If he could just give them hope, if they could just understand....

But they hadn't understood and he'd messed up. His luck had... he'd had a plan and it had been a good plan and he'd just... he'd just wanted to... he wasn't sure now what he had been trying to do exactly, but he thought... thought he'd meant to give them hope. The hope that came from overcoming an obstacle and he was going to be that obstacle. He liked them. He really liked them, Hinata especially and so if he could be... if he could help save someone then maybe...

Maybe.

Maybe they'd like him too and he would give them hope and they'd... say nice things about him after, maybe?

Something.

There had been a plan, at least, he was sure of that.

A plan.

Though maybe... maybe he'd meant to get Togami killed after all. Maybe that had been his intention all along. Maybe he'd known his luck would....

Maybe.

He was sure that it probably wasn't supposed to go like that anyway. But he could fix it, if they'd just let him. He thought he could fix it, anyway. Because he’d messed up. He’d messed up right from the start, but he’d thought he could make it right. They could kill him or he could help them or… but that wasn’t right either, was it? Nothing was right and then he was… they were… and Hinata…

He'd hated the way Hinata had looked at him after. Like he felt sorry for him or he was disgusted by him or sometimes like he was something delicate and fragile and crazy and maybe he was.

Maybe.

But who wants to be looked at like that?

No one, that's who.

So, most of all, most of all, he wanted to ruin him. Because Hinata wasn’t like them, like any of them. He wasn't Ultimate Despair. He might not have been the spy either, but he definitely wasn't one of them. He wasn't the least bit extraordinary, he was just be normal, ordinary boring. He wasn't the hope he longer for. He was just Hinata Hajime. Just the beautiful boy from the beach and that wasn’t enough...

Only it was. And he wanted to drag Hinata down to his level so that he couldn’t leave, so he wouldn’t want to, because he wanted him close. Needed him. Obviously. Obviously. Why else would he keep imagining him like this? He was an awful person. Terrible, worthless, useless trash who couldn’t even kill himself properly.

He realized vaguely that he was breathing too fast, panicked, that his injured aching hands were resting against his knees and he’s sucking in breath after breath, but no matter how many breaths he took it was like there was never enough air and his vision filled with splotches of dark and light and he feels himself waver and wobble. His head spins and he feels like he’s falling and then, for a while, there’s nothing at all.

 

+++

He woke up alone.

On the beach again with the waves sweeping, cold and unpleasant, over his bare feet, soaking his pants almost to the knee. He wasn't quite sure how much time has passed, but his face hurt a little and he has dirt in his mouth.

And that was gross.

He picked himself up and trudged back to the beach house to shower again. He shivered and shook and froze under the harsh stream of cold water, but it didn’t matter. He'd donned another outfit identical to the one he’d been wearing. He leaves off the shoes again, choosing to remain barefoot.

He walked to the Hotel.

His feet hurt by the time he got there.

Everything was dark, but the moonlight was enough for him to see by. He'd gone to Hinata’s cabin and he hadn't really been surprised to find it unlocked. Once inside he'd undone the fastenings on his pants and shucked both those and the boxers beneath, letting them fall carelessly to the floor before kicking them viciously at the glass wall of the shower area. They'd slumped forlornly against the glass and he'd thought about kicking them again for effect, but eventually decided against it.

He'd laid down on the bed and maybe he'd fallen asleep for a while, maybe he hadn’t, but the next time he really focused in on what was happening to him, around him, he’d been shuffling a rough hand over his dick. He remembers wondering vaguely where the bandages had come from, but he hadn't cared enough to wonder for long and besides he'd done far stranger things than that while he hadn't been paying attention. Instead of dwelling on that, he had shoved himself up and slumped forward, his hand moving fast and frantic, intent on finishing as quickly as possible so he could go back to sleep... or possibly just to sleep at all, maybe.

He came and, for a moment, he'd felt nothing but a hint of relief since he could finally stop and then he'd realized that Hinata was there and it had hit him in the face, splattering across his lips, into his mouth, across his cheek.

It wasn’t the best thing he’s ever seen, but his body had seemed to enjoy it nonetheless.

The moments after were a blur of talking, talking, talking and he remembers that it was important, that some of it was important anyway, but there was something… something…

Enoshima.

Enoshima Junko.

That was it. That name, there was something about that name, about the way Hinata had said it, like a curse. It had sounded like a gong in his head, rattling his brain around, stirring things up. He’d felt kind of sick because there was something about that name. Something about that name that made him want to… he wasn’t sure. Something. There was something. And it made him feel off-balance… then he’d remembered that it was just the name of some model. The kind that posed for magazines and showed up on the news sometimes, no one worth caring about, just a name pulled from the dingy hallways of memory and he’d felt a little better, a little steadier. But, thinking about it now… it still seemed wrong and the rest of the conversation seemed like background noise by comparison. He seemed to remember Hinata making some stupid joke about his clothes and it hadn’t been funny at all, but it had ended with Hinata giving him his shirt so it wasn’t all bad. Seeing Hinata's bare chest hadn't been bad either. He'd seen it before and he'd thought about it a lot before, during those days they'd all been together on this island. About Hinata's nipples and rise of his belly button and the faint scattering of barely there hair that trailed down his stomach.

Hinata had shaken the shirt at him impatiently, demanded he put it on and so he had. Had stripped off his parka and his bloody t-shirt and tossed them aside and sat there naked for a moment, marveling at the way Hinata averted his eyes, the way that dark flush had spread across his cheek and neck, how... good it had felt that he was the reason Hinata blushed like that. He remembered making some snide, teasing remark when he plucked the shirt from his hand. He couldn't even remember now what it was, just that he'd wanted to see Hinata blush more. Wanted to see him embarrassed, flustered. There was a conversation, maybe, he couldn't remember what was said, but he remembered wanting him. Wanting this Hinata with his blushes and awkwardness and his excuses. How it had made him feel... good, maybe, powerful, like he was something... special. To be able to make Hinata react like that.

It had been for too short a time like his very best fantasies in that way. Not the usual ones, the dirty ones, the ones where he begged for Hinata's attention and he reluctantly gave it, the ones that were all about getting off. No, this was more like the ones he thought about when he was curled in on himself in the dead of night. When he'd woke up sniveling and lonely and he liked to lay there and pretend that they were... friends. Or friendly at least and maybe something more besides. Those pathetic, sentimental nonsense fantasies. The way Hinata had looked at him as they'd spoken had been just like that. Like he'd... like he'd wanted him, maybe, even if he didn't necessarily want to want him. That was okay, that was exactly right after all, because why would Hinata want to want him? He wouldn't, of course, he wouldn't. So it was more... realistic this way, closer maybe to what it would have been if he were... if he were...

It had been... nice to feel wanted though even if it wasn't real or true and it was almost fun, so much as anything was ever fun really. At least he thought it was now. Maybe. Whatever it had been, he'd wanted to keep that gaze, that interest, the way those eyes had felt skimming over him. The rest was static and noise and it didn't matter so long as Hinata would just keep looking at him like that. He thought that if he just did the right thing, said the right thing, that maybe Hinata might even reach out and touch him if he could just... just....

Then there had been that pain, that terrible pain when he’d touched the wound in his belly and everything had been black and white and wrong and he thought maybe he had screamed, but he couldn't be sure because it had seemed like the whole world had been screaming. Like there was static in his brain, harsh and loud, and it had been worse than drowning or suffocating or dying. There hadn't been anything but the pain. A pain like rage and hate and fear and a thousand emotions he didn't know or want and feeling them all at once. He couldn't help shuddering even just remembering it, an involuntary reaction like his weak, pathetic body remembered that pain and feared it even if he couldn't.

And then Hinata's hands had been there, pulling his fingers away from the wound, drawing him back away from that terrible place and reminding him that he had fingers that he had a body at all when a moment before there had been nothing but that pain, such complete, devastating, screaming torment. And it hadn't been like that before, it hadn't. It hadn't. When Hinata had touched him it had been... good. He knew that. He knew that. And yet this had been... awful. So awful that he ached with the memory of it. And Hinata had held him close like he mattered and that hurt too in a completely different way. To have this cruel fantasy hold him like he mattered, as if anything really mattered at all when it didn't. None of it mattered. Nothing mattered and nothing was real and he didn't understand anything. He didn't... he didn't...

Hinata’s fingers had swept through in his hair, easing him through the aftermath. Gentle, so desperately foolishly gentle that it made him feel vaguely ill because he didn’t want that. It didn't mean anything. It wasn't real. And he just kept speaking, whispering soft, sweet little lies that were irritating, irritating, irritating. And he hadn't wanted to listen to this Hinata talk anymore. All he did was talk. Talk and tease and disappear and make him feel worse and worse and worse.

He was so tired. He was desperately tired of all of this. It was pathetic. It was pathetic that he needed this. Needed some cheap, tawdry delusion to stroke his hair and tell him everything was okay. So weak. Such hopelessly pathetic trash he was. It wasn't okay. Nothing was okay. He wasn't okay. Sometimes he thought he'd never, ever, ever been okay. And he should know that.

“It’s not,” Nagito hissed, pressing his face against Hinata's chest which was warm and a little sweaty in the best possible way and once the words started tumbling out, he couldn't have made them stop even if he'd wanted to. “You make me sick. Your lies make me sick. Why won’t you just do what I want you to do? What you want to do? You’re here, aren’t you? Why are you even here if you’re not going to be what I want? If you’re here to make me feel good then do it. If you’re here to hurt me than hurt me. What are you even here for if I have to do all the work?”

“I don’t-“

“Liar, stop lying, just stop lying to me, don’t you think I know what I want? I know what I want,” Nagito rasped, short, scrapping blunt nails over his bare shoulders, over his back, drinking in the way Hinata’s body lifted up into his touch, the stuttering moan that tumbled from his lips as he closed his eyes.

Beautiful.

“Yes, like that," he groaned. Hinata's nipples were hard and brown, and he wanted to lick them, bite them, but he settled for running a trembling thumb over one. "That’s what I want to hear from you. I’m tired of arguing with myself. It’s boring. It’s such a hopeless thing to argue with oneself. You can never really win.”

“I don’t understand anything you’re saying,” Hinata panted and Nagito dug blunt fingernails as deep as he could Into Hinata's chest and dragged them across, admiring the deep red gashes he left behind and enjoying the way Hinata moaned and arched into his touch. “I don’t understand you at all.”

Nagito leaned back and away so he could smile at him. It felt bitter and tight though he wasn’t at all sure that he felt either of those things really. Not really. “You never did, nothing new there. Just touch me, Hinata. Just touch me. Don’t you want to hear me moan for you again?”

And for a moment Hinata just stared at him and then something in his expression shifted. Something he couldn't quite place or name, but it seemed distinctly unimpressed.

“Beg me for it,” Hinata replied conversationally and he seemed different, wrong as he shoved him back against the wall, climbing into his lap, aggressive and brisk. one hand diving under the shirt to drag rough and angry fingers over his dick. There was nothing tentative or trembling or meek about Hinata suddenly. Nagito whimpered, dug his fingers into the sheets and squeezed his eyes shut. He wasn't sure how he'd... what it was exactly that had... but he didn't... this wasn't his Hinata. This wasn't even a good imitation. This was...

Hinata's voice had been cool and commanding in his ear, his fingers still rough and vindictive, "Moan for me."

And he had and though he was pretty sure it was half sob it had seemed to satisfy.

"Luck. Such a useless, tawdry, pathetic talent, hardly worthy of consideration. How lucky do you feel right now, hm? If you want me inside you, you'll beg me for it. Tell me how much you need me, how empty you are without me, how unworthy you are, but how much you need it anyway. Do it."

Hinata sat back, releasing him and kneeling up a little so he wasn’t quite resting on his thighs any longer.

Nagito swallowed hard, staring into Hinata’s face, suddenly so open and at odds with the voice that had been spitting distain in his ear. “I want you to.”

“Well, I don’t want me to,” Hinata whispered weakly and his breathing had been fast and uneven, not quite a pant, but close. So different. So completely different than he'd been a moment before.

“Just a little,” he had found himself saying in a gentle encouraging, coaxing voice he hardly recognized. It felt like swallowing broken glass and he hadn't felt desperate, but he'd found himself following Hinata's orders anyway. “I know I’m the lowest of the low and trash such as I shouldn’t be asking favors, but it wouldn’t hurt just to touch it a little, would it? Just at the edge, just for a moment. Please?”

And then Hinata’s finger was there, tracing around the wound and it felt like a reward for a job well done because it was just like it had been before. Right and perfect except it also hurt a little, just a little, in exactly the right way. Not like that rough hand on his dick from before which had mostly just hurt even if it had been good enough to turn him on enough to want this again. And he's pretty sure he moaned and then everything became too fast and confusing and too much and not enough all at once. Hinata’s fingers are inside him again, slipping and sliding and twisting and at the same time Hinata licked and sucked his way into his mouth like he belonged there and the moan turned into a sob. Because this, this was what he wanted. He opened his mouth wide and wider still; thrust his own tongue out to meet Hinata’s and kissing was confusing. He could feel the strain in his lips and jaw from keeping his mouth open so wide and he could feel a little bit of saliva slipping down his chin, but he couldn't bring himself to care. Couldn’t get enough because the kiss was never deep enough or wet enough and he just wanted more and more and more and he sucked hard on Hinata’s tongue and hoped he’s doing it right or at least right enough.

It was pathetic.

How badly he’d wanted him.

Any way he could have him.

How willing, eager, he'd been to beg for scraps from his table.

He’d been so frantic with it that he’d forgotten it wasn’t real. He couldn’t keep the script at all with that imaginary Hinata’s tongue in his mouth and then against his throat and he thought he’d begged and squirmed and been trying to make quick work of his pants with hands that had suddenly grown clumsy and nervous. Like it meant something. Like they were… something.

He’d just wanted to get a hand on his dick so badly as if that would make any difference at all, but it was hard to keep the script when he wanted something so much. It always had been even without the delusions and the death to complicate matters. He had a hard enough time keeping a handle on things, keeping his mind under control on even his best days. But… it was hard to keep track of exactly what he was supposed to be focused on, because sometimes his emotions seemed to flee like frightened rabbits and sometimes he didn’t care and sometimes he did and sometimes he just took what he wanted. And sometimes he was in it and present and everything was actually there and he was there and he could feel something like joy edging in because this was different and new and….

And he was…

He could…

Then he felt Hinata’s hand sliding between them, beneath the shirt and over the curve of his hip and he was reminded violently of the rough, harsh touch from before and it made him angry, angry because that hadn’t… that wasn’t….

It wasn’t real.

None of this was real.

Hopeless.

He was really hopeless.

He snatched a handful of Hinata’s hair and jerked him backwards. Hinata screamed, he was sure of that, startled and pained and he just hadn’t cared about that. He still doesn’t care. He'd used his hold on Hinata’s hair to pull him back, back and away. To force him to the floor beside the bed, because that hadn't been his Hinata. Not at all and he gripped his hair tighter, rage had made him cruel even if it hadn't made his body any less interested in the whole production.

“Just a pale imitation, just desires painted on an empty canvas. Every inch the disappointment and you inspire not even the tiniest iota of hope. I understand now. You’re just here to add to my despair. Maybe that’s what I feel when you’re inside me, not pleasure, just the satisfaction of having things I always knew true fulfilled. Maybe that’s what it feels like when all the hope is gone and there’s nothing left but despair,” Nagito commented and it felt for a moment like he had spoken from years or miles away, but the distance didn’t make it any easier and his dick had still been throbbing, painfully hard, and that had been irritating too. He released his hold on Hinata’s hair, shoving back a little as he drew his borrowed shirt up and held it crumpled and damp against his belly. He sighed and leaned back a little to snatch the bandage he’d discarded from the bed. He hadn't been looking forward to the chaffing, but he had wanted to come and needs must.

“Komaeda, I…”

He’d forgotten for a second that that fake Hinata was still kneeling on the floor where he'd left him. He glanced down at him and it… had somehow it had never even occurred to him that when he’d steered him back off the bed he’d forced him down between his legs. He certainly hadn't minded it. After all, Hinata, even a terrible fake Hinata, made a very nice picture kneeling between his thighs like that. “You don’t have to, of course,” Nagito commented distractedly, winding the bandage back around his palm and tucking in the loose end before sliding his hand around his dick, pumping slow and loose. “I can finish this way instead. It’s pretty much the same thing anyway. You might as well go, hm? This is about where you came in.”

His thumb slid over the head and Hinata shifted his gaze demurely to the floor.

“This is really wrong.”

“Is it?” Nagito replied, already distracted enough that he’s only half focused on his reply because what did it really matter? He’s only talking to himself anyway. He wasn’t going to last long at all if Hinata kept kneeling there looking up at him like that. “I don’t know that someone who still has my blood all over his hand really has much room to talk about what’s wrong and what isn’t. Or is it that it’s fine for you to be inside someone like me, but perhaps I’m too filthy to be inside you? I suppose I could understand that reasoning.”

“No, it’s not… it’s not that, I… dammit, Komaeda, you don't make any sense at all.”

“Don’t I? Th-that’s… uh… funny, isn’t it? I-I’m close, I'm really close,” Nagito murmured, voice hoarse, because he was. So close and he shut his eyes so he can focus on something besides Hinata’s face and how he really, really wants to come on him again. Even though it isn’t him. Not really.

Then something wet and distinctly not covered in gauze slides across him, right up the slit and he gasps and opens his eyes, startled, to find himself looking down just as Hinata’s head leaning forward and wrapping his… oh.

Oh.

He trembled and Hinata’s mouth was… he knew it wasn't… wasn't… but…

He slid shaking fingers around the back of his bowed head and it’s almost enough just looking at him, just feeling him, tentative and almost too gentle. And he wanted… him. He just… wants him.

You want him? Why not take him?

“Curiosity killed the cat, you know,” he heard himself say and Hinata rolled his eyes up at him and his lips were still wrapped around him, his tongue still flicking an almost frantic rhythm against him. His eyes were so wide, vulnerable.

And then he’d knotted his fingers in Hinata’s hair and shoved his dick down his throat and it had felt amazing. Bumping over his tongue, his teeth a painful scrap across him made all the sweeter because it was Hinata. And he was having trouble remembering again, the knowledge of Hinata's reality flickered inconsistent in his mind like old neon.

He laid back against the bed, closing his eyes and picturing that moment again. Hinata’s eyes so wide and panicked and surprised, the way it had felt to thrust inside him. How Hinata’s eyes had rolled as he came, screaming around him and digging desperate fingers into the cuts in his thighs as his hips jerked and twitched and how he’d tumbled after, groaning and losing it within the warmth of Hinata’s mouth as much from being inside him as from watching him come.

And then Hinata was gone.

Just… gone.

His brain couldn’t even be bothered to extend the fantasy long enough for his heart to slow, for his breathing to even out before leaving him alone again without even that cheap copy for company.

He shivered and curled in on himself on Hinata’s cold empty bed.

He thought about that voice again as he tugged at the blanket and crawled underneath, pulling it over his head. It wasn’t so bad under there. Under there it was dark, really dark, and between the blanket and the sheets and shirt it smelled more like Hinata and laundry detergent than it did anything else and that wasn’t terrible.

You want him? Why not take him?

He didn’t like that voice, didn’t like how familiar and strange it was, how it made him feel, like there were cold invasive fingers wriggling about in his chest just waiting to rip him open, to spread him wide and expose the truest heart of him. To expose the real Komaeda Nagito, the one who was him, but not quite. The one that had lost himself in despair; he didn’t want to know that person, couldn’t know that person. If he knew that person than he wouldn’t be… he wouldn’t be….

What was the point?

Why even fight it?

Why….

The shirt Hinata had given him was white and crisp and if he pulled it up around his face and pressed his face to the collar it smelled a little damp and sweaty and a little… a little bit like Hinata. Maybe.

He curled in on himself, tucking his knees up against his chest and touched the pristine lapels gently, gingerly. The shirt itself was already marred by blood, but he thought the lapels were clean still, a little stiff. He couldn’t remember if he’d ever actually touched Hinata’s shirt… before. He thought so, maybe, during those first days when Hinata still let him close, back when he seemed to like and trust him. They’d sat close together several times during those first days and it had been… nice. He’d thought he might not mind if Hinata killed him, he was dying already after all, probably, and if he could put that death to good use then why not?

Why not?

But, of course, Hinata didn’t, because Hinata wouldn’t.

Really, the shirt had been a really nice touch.

He could almost, almost, almost believe that it was…

Which wasn’t…

Obviously, it wasn’t…

But…

It was stupid, really.

To think, even for a minute, that a shirt meant anything.

So stupid.

He was so stupid.

Oh.

There they were.

Those pesky misplaced emotions.

Tears streamed down his face as he gasped, burying his fingers in Hinata’s sheets. His chest was an aching open wound and it had nothing to do with that hole left by the spear. It had all seemed so real that he’d almost believed it. Believed in those arms that held him and those words and the way Hinata had kissed him. Like he was wanted, needed, necessary, vital… all the things he knew he’d never been to anyone, not even his parents.

Probably.

Maybe.

And especially not Hinata.

He lay under that blanket for a long time.

And, try as he might, he couldn’t extinguish that niggling doubt, that fragile, tenacious spark of hope that had him buttoning up the shirt before he finally fell into an exhausted sleep.

He woke up on the beach with sand in his mouth and the sunlight beating down painfully against his bare legs and arms.

He was naked except for Hinata’s now damp and muddy shirt.

The laughter didn’t hurt nearly as much this time.

Chapter Text

“You're always you, and that don't change, and you're always changing, and there's nothing you can do about it.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

 


DAY TWO
-continued-
+++

Sleeping with someone was strange, Hajime decided as he emerged reluctantly from his deep and dreamless sleep the next morning to the hum of Komaeda’s pod and the soft snoring of Sonia beside him.

He’d been an only child and never had close friends. Definitely none close enough for slumber parties or sleepovers or anything like that. He seemed to remember, in a distant hazy sort of way that centered mostly around the idea of warmth, sleeping between his parents sometimes when he was very small, but it was a vague enough memory that it could just as easily have been something he'd read in a book at some point and just incorporated into his own life to help fill in some of the blanks. And there were blanks. Wide gaping holes like his brain was made of Swiss cheese, but he tried not to let that bother him too much.

He had more pressing problems than a few missing childhood memories, after all.

Sonia shifted restlessly beside him, murmuring in her sleep, but since she didn’t sound scared or distressed he left her to it. His shoulder ached from having stayed on the one side all night and his mouth felt incredibly disgusting, but most of all… he really needed to pee. He opened his eyes slowly, gingerly, to find the eerie green glow of Komaeda’s pod and the darkened room. He could just see the pale light of morning peeking beneath the heavy curtains over the windows, but it was dim though he wasn’t sure if that was because it was really early or maybe the curtains just worked really well.

The room still smelled vaguely awful, but for the worst of the stench seemed to have dissipated overnight which was better than he expected if he were honest. He sat up and slid out of the bed, trying hard not to disturb Sonia since she seemed to be sleeping so peacefully. She yawned and stretched, turning over and struggling down in the warm space he left behind the moment he was out of the bed, but she didn’t wake. Despite his best efforts his bare feet still seemed tremendously loud against the tiled floor as he padded from the room out into the hall beyond. They’d had to block off all the bathrooms in the individual rooms in order to fit the pods inside, which left him with the choice of going to the public one out in the hall or climbing over Komaeda’s pod into the private bathroom in the room. He was pretty sure he was never going to be for climbing up and over Komaeda’s pod so the public bathroom in the hall it was.

The reek of vomit hit him the second he stepped out into the hall and he remembered that Sonia had set everything out here the night before. He didn’t want to imagine what anyone might have thought if they’d passed by in the night. He could clean it probably, take it to the laundry or something, but he really needed to take that leak first.

The hall was quiet and his footsteps seemed to echo far louder than they should through all that empty space. He’d always thought of hospitals as cluttered spaces, full of wheelchairs and gurneys and equipment, but there just wasn’t much to the hospital really outside of the necessities. He wondered if they’d just taken all the really expensive or portable stuff with them when they went, those people who’d been able to escape Despair. The people who hadn’t died here, wandering the deserted halls like this it almost seemed like he could here them, like a murmur of sound from a distant room, just out of sight. Not loud enough to be distinct, but just enough to be heard like ghosts in the machine. He shivered, rubbing a hand over his bare arm. The air conditioning in there was really something, it had seemed warm enough the day before when they were moving the pods in and afterwards, but today it was almost cold.

The bathroom was the same one he’d used last night when he was chopping off his hair and it showed. He hadn’t bothered to clear up before he’d left the room with Akane so there was still hair strewn all over the tiled floor. In retrospect, that had actually been kind of a really rude thing to do, kind of gross too, really. He hoped none of the others had been in and seen it. He shut the door behind him and starred down at the uneven hanks and chunks that littered the floor, thick enough that in the dark they’d probably look like roaches or mice skittering across the pale, cracked tile. He hadn’t noticed before, but the bathroom was in pretty rough shape.

Once he’d finished using the toilet and washed his hands in the ice-cold water that poured out into the sink, he turned his attention to cleaning up the hair. He could tell easily enough what he’d cut and what Akane had trimmed for him. Her cuts were smooth and even, he’d taken those scissors and just hacked away at the mess much like one might wield a machete to cut down brush in a jungle. He dropped to his hands and knees and crawled across the floor, sweeping the larger chunks into a loose pile before picking it up and shoving it in the wastebasket. It was still gross and there were still plenty of little tufts and strands of hair littering the floor, but he figured that was probably good enough until he’d had a chance to eat and shower and track down a broom.

He paused before he left to look in the small mirror over the sink, to really study his appearance for the first time. Last night he’d been so hyper-focused on the hair that he hadn’t really even taken in the rest. The sharper angles of his face, the intensity of his eyes, how they were red now instead of green and it felt like he was missing a joke there. Something about traffic lights. Red means stop. It’s not a funny joke. His too thick, tangled black hair hangs bushy and kind of ridiculous around his face, He looks ridiculous and that somehow makes the changes easier to take. He wonders if Akane had done it that way on purpose or if was just a happy accident and assumes it, like most things, is a little bit of both. Still, he doesn’t feel like Hinata Hajime and even less so looking at himself.

He remembers the long talk he had with Sonia as she told him about her experiences with Gundam, with Enoshima and Komaeda. He didn’t have any of those memories not really, wasn’t certain whether he’d actually known any of them as Izuru. He knew he hadn’t known Komaeda, they’d been strangers on the container ship. He thought, as he stared at his reflection, that he had just the vaguest hint of a memory like an overexposed film clip of Mikan above him, sweating profusely, feverish maybe, her long hair flowing around her, sticking to her damp skin. Of watching the way her breasts bounced as she rode him, her mouth wide open as she brought herself to completion again and again. Incapable of shutting up it seemed, he remembered thinking about killing her, slitting her throat. Whether she’d still be fingering herself so frantically, bouncing on his cock so methodically even while she gargled and choked and bled out all over him.

Hajime threw up in the little sink, heaving and spiting acid and bile into the cracked porcelain, no trace of food left to soften the burn. As he flicked on the water to wash the sickness away, the taste lingered in his mouth just as those faded images, those disjointed thoughts, lingered in his head. He scooped up some water in his hands and swished it around his mouth to try and get the lingering taste out of his mouth. It didn’t help much, but it was better than nothing. He wished he could rinse his brain as easily. Was that how Izuru had been? Or was that just his imagination playing tricks on him, dreaming up worst-case scenarios. It wasn’t too much of a stretch to believe that might be true after the last few dreams he’d had about Komaeda, but….

What he’d done with Komaeda had been different or, at the very least, it had felt different. It was difficult to define why exactly except that he’d wanted it, even the bad parts, the scary parts; he’d been into it. He didn’t like that he’d been into it, it had made him feel terrible, made him feel a little sick, but… he… he could admit to himself that he’d definitely been into it.

He wasn’t into that. Not even a little. The idea of taking advantage of Mikan, of thinking of hurting her like that, made him want to just be sick forever and ever and the oil slick feel of those thoughts had seemed like vintage Izuru.

He wasn’t Izuru.

He most definitely wasn’t Izuru.

But he was beginning to think that maybe… maybe he wasn’t quite Hinata Hajime either.

The person he’d been in the game hadn’t thought like this. Hadn’t wanted the things he did. Hadn’t wanted to hurt and be hurt. Hadn’t felt so disconnected from his past, from the things he had done and the person he’d been before he came to Hope’s Peak. Everything he’d been before that day… just didn’t seem to matter much anymore, if it ever had. All that really mattered to him now were his friends and what happened from here. He didn’t really care about those faceless warm people who had been his parents. He had no idea if they were alive or dead and… it didn’t matter. Maybe he would eventually, but right now… there was nothing. He felt like he was a snake shedding an ill-fitting skin. He wondered if that was the reason he kept dreaming of him, whether he was using Komaeda as a crutch to peel back all these layers of the boy he had been, to reveal who he was beneath the skin a piece at a time. Whether the next time he woke up he’d even recognize himself at all.

Once a long time ago he’d been a boy with green eyes, insecure and terrified of being just ordinary. A boy who had willing sacrificed himself on the alter of hope to become something more.

Once not so long ago he’d been a red-eyed monster who’d killed hundreds, maybe thousands of people. A monster that found everything and everyone dull and boring and utterly devoid of hope; that valued only his own brilliance, his monstrous talent and potential.

He didn’t remember what it was actually like to live either of those lives very well.

Today he was a red-eyed boy who dreamt about getting off while fingering his comatose friend’s wounds while said comatose friend moaned his name and he kind of wanted to bash his face against the stupid mirror just to see whether the pain or maybe just the act of shattering that unfamiliar image of himself would make him feel better about it.

He didn’t, in the end, bash his face against the mirror.

Instead he turned on the water and leaned a hand against the wall as he jerked off into the low sink thinking about the way Komaeda had said his name.

Not in any of his dreams, but instead of the way he’d said it on the island that last time, the mocking derision in his voice.

He stood there for a few moments after, watching the water sweep away the evidence and wondering if he’d feel better if he just accepted that he was kind of a freak now before he tucked his softening dick back in his filthy pants and washed his hands again. He glanced in the mirror one last time at his red, red eyes and his tangled, too long black hair and this face he barely recognized.

He really was hopeless.

The sheets and trash bin were still sitting in the hallway outside his room waiting for him, but he had a better idea about how to deal with them now.

He was pretty sure that every real hospital had to have an incinerator for toxic waste disposal so he grabbed the entire disgusting pile and hauled it with him to the stairs.

The room was easier to find than he expected and the incinerator was already running, a low hum of sound and a bright green light indicating it was ready for use, when he arrived. Like it had been expecting him. Or maybe it was just always on, maybe Togami of the pithy insults and arrogant attitude had been up and around fixing things this morning and turned it on. He didn’t want to think about why the incinerator might qualify as a necessity and therefore one of the first things to be fixed. He couldn’t help but wonder if that meant that maybe there were still people here somewhere, driven insane by despair, hiding in the walls or basement. Or maybe there had been and they had died there and hadn’t been found when the island had been cleaned up and they would stumble upon a desiccated corpse every once in a while in an unused hallway or in a corner behind a pile of moldy boxes. At least then the mystery of the incinerator would be explained, as it would make for a convenient way to dispose of a body.

Damn but he was in a morbid sort of mood this morning.

He opened the machine’s door and shoved the whole mess inside, trash bin and all and slammed the door shut before pressing the button and leaving the incinerator to deal with it.

When he got back to Komaeda’s room, Sonia was sitting up in the middle of his bed, yawning and blinking owlishly in the sickly green light.

“Good morning,” he commented, slipping back into the room and crossing to sit beside her on the bed.

She offered him a tired smile, “Good morning, my friend.”

“You sleep okay?” He asked, keeping his tone even and pleasant.

“Quite well, all things considered. Thank you very much for the company. Any more dreams?”

“No. You?”

“No, nothing that I remember at any rate,” she replied, stretching. “Do you know I’ve never slept beside anyone before?”

“Really?”

“Truly. Or at least not in so far as I am able to recall at this time, so I assume not. It was really a very interesting experience and I was glad to share it with you.”

“Yeah, me too,” Hajime yawned. “You hungry? Want to go grab something to eat?”

“Certainly and then I would very much like a shower.”

“Yeah, same here.”

Sonia frowned, “Please do not take this as a criticism, but you seem different this morning.”

“Do I?”

Of course, I do. I've been systematically killing Hinata Hajime in my sleep, he doesn't say.

“Yes, more… I am not quite certain what the correct phrase for it is. At peace with yourself, perhaps?”

That’s a kind way to describe it. He doesn't say that either.

He shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know, maybe.”

“Then we should be going, I suppose.”

“Yeah, I’ll, um, would you mind waiting for me? I’ll be along in just a minute.”

“Certainly. I will take this time to take full advantage of the facilities. I shall meet you in the hall shortly.”

“Thanks.”

The door swung shut quietly behind her and left him frowning at Komaeda’s pod. He felt stupid, but…

“Hey, I’m gonna go grab some breakfast. Some coffee, too. It’s probably terrible, but something is better than nothing, right?”

He wasn’t sure why he paused like he expected an answer.

This was stupid.

He was pretty sure talking to your comatose friend like you expected him to answer was only slightly above talking to yourself with the same expectation on the metric scale of crazy. But he didn’t really know any other way to do it that didn’t make him want to scream and scream and never stop.

And if… if he were in that pod… he’d want someone to talk to him even if it seemed awkward and stupid and crazy.

Maybe not so much the guy who’d gotten off thinking about him not ten minutes before, the guy who was dreaming all kinds of weird things about him. That part was probably pretty weird. But realistically it wasn’t like Komaeda was knee-deep in better options.

“I’ll be back soon, okay? If you wake up while I’m gone, I’ll… I’ll be back soon so, um, don’t go back to sleep. Okay, uh, bye.”

Ugh. So stupid.

And, really, exactly who in the hell did he think he was kidding? He was going to avoid coming back here for as long as he could manage without it looking weird looks or drawing awkward questions.

+++

“Must I take the lot of you and lead you by the hand to the shower facilities or do you think you can manage yourselves?” Togami grumbled, glaring at them over the top of his glasses as Hajime and Sonia came into the break room. He was sitting at the small table in the center of the room in front of several neat stacks of paperwork, a red pen clutched between his fingers so he looked like nothing so much as a young, excessively over-dressed, ill-tempered university professor. “Honestly, I could smell you coming long before you arrived.”

Kirigiri, who was sitting beside him sipping her tea, didn’t even bother to look over at him. Her expression remained blank and emotionless even as she took another sip of her tea and reached out and punched him in the shoulder with her free hand.

Naegi, who was leaning against the counter next to the toaster, sighed and smiled apologetically in the way of someone who was used to being the polite social convention representative for someone as blunt as Togami and as stoic as Kirigiri. “I can show you guys where the showers are if you want after you’ve had something to eat. I think the hot water is even working now, though it seems to kind of come and go. Though you should feel free to make use of it only when you feel you’re ready. And please don’t mind him, he’s really not a morning person.”

“That’s absurd,” Togami murmured, taking a sip of his coffee and going back to flicking through the stack of papers in front of him, slashing out words seemingly at random. “Just because I don’t enjoy the stench of unwashed commoners and sex in the morning-”

“Oh? Is that really the route you wish to take with this argument?” Kirigiri commented, sipping her tea as she reached out to carefully flip over the document she’d been perusing. She managed to make the maneuver look effortless, a neat trick for someone wearing thin black, leather gloves. “I have several months worth of antidotal evidence which speaks to the contrary.”

Togami scowled down at his papers, determinedly not looking at her as he answered. “And I’m quite certain you wouldn’t be willing to divulge that evidence in mixed company so I hardly see why that is relevant to this conversation.”

“That might certainly be true in many circumstances, but you’ll find in these particular circumstances with the present audience and in light of your earlier remarks that I don’t have any compunctions in that regard.”

“I might like to put that claim to the test,” Togami snapped, finally glancing up from his paperwork to meet her gaze directly with an imperious scowl, his back rigid.

“Oh my god, stop, it’s too early for this,” Naegi protested, a note of pleading in his voice that earned himself a glare from Togami and a cool, assessing look from Kirigiri. “As much as I really enjoy you guys playing intellectual chicken with my private life like I'm not standing right here, I’d really rather you just… not. Seriously. Let me take care of them. You guys go… I don’t know, go argue about politics in the post-Despair era or that Murakami novel you’re reading or just anything else. Anywhere else. I’m begging you.”

To Hajime’s amazement Kirigiri set her tea neatly aside and disappeared silently out the door, pausing briefly only to press her lips to Naegi’s cheek, whispering something in his ear that brought a slim smile to his face. She glanced over at Hajime and Sonia before she left, giving them each a small smile and a nod that seemed pleasant enough if not particularly friendly or personal.

Togami, on the other hand, downed the remains of his coffee, grimacing and took his time gathering and shuffling through his papers before slipping them into his attaché. There was something so brisk, stiff and offended about his movements that it was a little like hearing the rattle of a snake before it struck. Hajime found himself reaching out to catch Sonia’s hand and lead her over to examine the ancient stack of magazines near the sink, well away from any path that would put them between Togami Byakuya and the door. Their Togami Byakuya had really been nothing at all like this Togami Byakuya.

Naegi ran a hand back through his hair and followed Togami out the door as he stormed from the room.

The door swung shut behind them and Hajime watched it for a long moment before making his decision. “I’m gonna see if I can hear them.”

“You intend to eavesdrop?” Sonia asked, sounding both intrigued and horrified.

He shrugged, “They’re not our friends. I think they’re good people, but… we really don’t know anything about them other than what they and Enoshima told us. It’d be stupid to just assume they’d tell us everything we need to know.”

“I suppose that is true and I will admit that I am curious.” Sonia sighed, allowing him to tow her to the door. He pulled it open just the barest crack and put his ear to it. Sonia ducked down and did the same. He was pretty sure they looked completely ridiculous, but it allowed them to hear their conversation well enough.

“-ever speak to me in such a manner again, particularly in front of them, I will have you fed to the dogs.”

“What kind of sense does that make as a threat? Where are you even going to find dogs on the islands?”

“I could have them brought in.”

“Well, sure, if you’re still pissed at me by the time the storm is over the sat phone is back online. You could also have me carted off and thrown in an active volcano if you’re really in the mood to go full supervillian about it. Until then you’re stuck making do with what you’ve got just like the rest of us. Besides, you’re the one who started it. I don’t understand what your problem is. Did you really forget that most of us didn’t shower for almost a week after we left Hope’s Peak? Yourself included.”

“Hardly. That’s not an easy stench to forget.”

“That’s great, thanks for that. The point is you know it’s not easy. Stop treating them like they should just suck it up and be perfectly fine and normal.”

“And you need to stop treating them with kid gloves. How are they supposed to get back to anything approaching normal if you insist on coddling them? The world is not going to be kind to them, Makoto. It’s going to be cruel and it’s going to be merciless. You’re not doing them even the least of favors. At least I’m not treating them like they’re made of fine china.”

Someone (probably Naegi) sighed heavily and it seemed to echo down the hall.

“Look, I know what you’re trying to do, but it’s not… it’s not going to be like it was for us. We’re not going to let that happen to them so, so just…”

“It would be a mistake to presume anything I do is for their benefit.”

“I know, just… thank you. Can I…?”

There was a sharp intake of breath, strangely loud.

When Togami spoke next almost a minute last his voice was a little muffled, like he was speaking into fabric or they’d moved the conversation further down the hall. Something was different though and it wasn’t just Togami’s tone, which seemed tired in a way it hadn’t been a moment before, like something had knocked the spite right out of him. “Just… get them to shower or something. Even with communications down I still have plenty of work to keep me occupied.“

“Yeah, I figured. I’m going to go down later on and check to make sure everything is shut down and properly closed up on the central island in case the storm gets really bad.”

“Come and find me before you do and I’ll take you. I hardly trust your skills at the helm during ill-weather.”

“Are you worried about me? That’s sweet.”

There was a muffled thump followed by soft amused laughter.

“Call me sweet again and see what happens to you. Later I’m going to…”

However that sentence ended, Hajime couldn’t hear it and he was grateful for that. He really didn’t want to know any more about their relationship than he’d already guessed at. He couldn’t imagine what type of person Naegi actually was that he was able to function in a relationship with this Togami Byakuya and actually appear to enjoy it.

Of course, considering what he wanted to do with Komaeda and how unstable Komaeda was at the best of times he was pretty sure he didn’t have the market cornered on relationships no one wants to really know much about.

“I’m going to hold you to that. Go finish your paperwork, I’ll page you over the intercom if the phone comes back online.”

“Fine. Go manage your project,” Togami commented, his dress shoes snapping sharply against the tile floor as he walked away.

Sonia and Hajime ducked away from the door, both trying and probably failing miserably to appear anything close to nonchalant and uninterested as Naegi pushed back into the room.

He smiled and shook his head when he saw them awkwardly fiddling with the coffee pot as if they were interested in coffee. Which would have been easier if either of them knew how to actually make coffee.

“It’s fine,” Naegi commented, pulling a stack of filters and a black can from one of the cupboards. “I don’t know that I would trust us either in your position. After all, even if it wasn’t our intention, we locked you in a computer simulation with Junko.”

“It is not that we do not trust you, Mr. Naegi.”

“Makoto is fine. Honestly, being called Naegi all the time kind of creeps me out these days.”

“Because of the killing game?” Hajime asked bluntly, earning himself a shocked look from Sonia.

Naegi on the other hand just gave him a tight smile, “Exactly. I had nightmares for months afterwards about Monokuma popping up in random places saying my name. It’s weird the things that stick with you.”

They both nodded as Naegi tipped ground coffee into the filter and dropped it in the machine before grabbing a bottle of water to fill up the glass pot before pouring that into the machine and turning it on. “Don’t drink the running water. It’s probably fine, but it’s better not to just in case. There’s a bunch of water bottles in the fridge over there and under the sink.”

The coffee pot gurgled and spat.

“I will keep that in mind,” Sonia murmured, more Hajime thought to fill the silence than because the comment really required an answer.

“I really am very sorry about all that. He really didn’t… okay, yeah, he really meant it, but that’s just kind of the way he is. With everyone, all the time, you either get used to it or you avoid him like the plague because he isn’t going to change. Would you like some cereal? There’s, um, no milk or anything, but…”

“Cereal would be great,” Hajime replied, a little grateful that it was something easy and, hopefully, bland. He wasn’t sure his stomach could handle more than that yet.

Naegi nodded and turned to pull open another cupboard and get down a couple of cereal boxes and a couple dusty bowls. “Um, the spoons are in that drawer over there, I think.” He commented, gesturing vaguely across the room. “So, we should be able to get a supply drop tomorrow or the next day. Right now there’s a storm rolling in so the sat phones are down so we can’t call anyone in to bring us anything.”

Sonia opened the drawer he’d indicated and pulled out a couple of spoons, handing one to Hajime. “I… I was wondering if I might, perhaps, attempt to contact my parents? If it is not too much trouble?”

Naegi smiled briefly at her, setting the cereal boxes and bowls on the table before snagging his half-empty mug from the table and leaning back against the counter beside the percolating coffee to wait. “I don’t see why not. If I were you, I wouldn’t get your hopes up though. A lot of utilities are down all over the world still, I imagine that’s probably true in your country as well, but you’re certainly welcome to try when the phones come back up.”

“I would still welcome the chance to make the attempt. Thank you very much, Mister… um, Makoto,” Sonia replied, smiling politely, seating herself at the table with her spoon and picking up one of the cereal boxes. It was pink with a cartoon bear on it. She stared at it for a few moments before nodding to herself and flipping open the top and shaking some of the cereal out into her bowl.

Naegi smiled back, a little sadly, as Hajime took his place at the table beside Sonia and frowned at the small collection of cardboard cereal boxes. None of them looked the least bit appealing. “I honestly just wish I could do more, but we weren’t able to find out a lot of information about any of you except Komaeda Nagito and Mioda Ibuki, I’m afraid. Would you like some tea or coffee?”

“Coffee would be delightful,” Sonia answered, patting Hajime’s hand as if she’d noticed that he’d startled at the unexpected mention of Komaeda’s name. When he looked over at her, she gave him a slim smile and a nod before turning her attention back to Naegi who Hajime noticed was watching them with the sort of pleasantly blank poker face that he’d probably picked up from Kirigiri. He had little doubt that Naegi had noticed his reaction and their exchange, but he couldn’t tell what he’d made of it or whether he’d mentioned Komaeda on purpose.

Sonia cleared her throat, bringing Naegi’s attention back to her as Hajime forced himself to pick up the plainest looking cereal box and shake some of it into his bowl. “I quite understand Ibuki, she was a bit famous, I believe, but why Komaeda?”

“Well, we had a little bit of information on all of you from your school records, but Komaeda’s situation was a little different.”

“Because he was sick?” Sonia inquired, before taking a bite of her cereal and chewing thoughtfully.

“No, well, not exactly,” Naegi replied, topping off his own coffee before pouring coffee for Sonia and Hajime and handing the chipped mugs to them carefully. He retrieved his own cup and took a sip, wincing a bit at the heat or the taste, but remained standing, leaning against the counter rather than taking a seat at the table with them. “We do have some of the medical records that were in his student file, but it was more because he was a bit famous himself. His life prior to his admission to Hope’s Peak was very eventful.”

Hajime felt his stomach sink and he pushed his cereal bowl away as what little appetite he had vanished with Naegi’s words. Beside him Sonia looked concerned, but mostly confused and he could practically see the question hanging on the tip of her tongue as she forced herself to take another bite of her cereal.

“His parents… they were killed on a plane,” his voice sounded gruff and pained even to his own ears.

“He told you?” Naegi inquired, that pleasant blank look lingering on his face and Hajime kind of wanted to hit him. “The plane was hit by a small meteor and had to make an emergency landing on a runway that was too short, he was one of the few survivors. Total freak accident, but I guess it was all over the news for months afterwards because of the strangeness of it and he was of particular interest to the media because his parents and a hijacker were killed by the meteor rather than in the crash itself. There were a lot of newspaper clippings in his file which is how we were able to piece together a lot of the details, but Kyouko recognized him from several news reports and case files she’d seen when she was a kid so that’s how we were able to find and identify all of you as Hope’s Peak students. It was lucky, I guess.”

How many of the other things that Komaeda had told him were true?

“My goodness, I did not realize…” Sonia murmured, her face sad.

“You couldn’t have known,” Hajime commented quickly, wishing he could say the same. “Even when he told me about it he said he was lying. He isn’t an easy person to know.”

“I suppose not,” Sonia replied, continuing to eat her cereal almost mechanically.

“Are the others up yet?” Hajime asked, turning his attention back to Naegi, eager for a change of subject.

Naegi shrugged, “Not that I’ve seen, but honestly I just woke up myself. Byakuya and Kyouko would have known better, they’re both early risers. Sorry.”

Silence fell between them as Sonia finished her breakfast slowly and methodically and Hajime drank his coffee.

The coffee was bitter and just shy of foul, but it suited his mood perfectly.

+++

The shower in the men’s locker room was dusty. Dusty and that the dust turned into a sort of slimy sludge that made the cracked tiles slippery beneath his feet as he stepped underneath the stream of water, spraying and spitting from the showerhead. The water was cold, just shy of freezing, but there was shampoo and conditioner and soap and even though the water was incredibly unpleasant it was still nice to be able to scrub the dirt and whatever else off. He stood near the door of his stall to scrub his filthy hair and score his body with soap and a rough sponge. His chest stung a little as he scrubbed the sponge across it and he frowned at the scraps and cuts there, Izuru must have done a really terrible job taking care of his body. His entire body seemed tender and bruised, knees, scalp, arms, everything hurt to one extent or another. He stepped back under the water to rinse the soap and shampoo away, cursing.

By the time he was finally finished showering his teeth were chattering painfully and his lips were probably blue, he still felt a thousand times better than he’d felt at any point since he’d fallen out of that pod as he shut off the water and grabbed the towel he’d draped over the stall door. He could hear Sonia showering still a few stalls down, the sounds of furious scrubbing loud in the otherwise quiet bathroom. Naegi had said he’d go tell the others where the showers were so they could get started and disappeared at the door with an apologetic smile. He’d offered to show Sonia to the women’s locker room, but she’d insisted that was unnecessary and Naegi had left them saying he was going to go check on the others and let them know where the shower rooms were.

“I hope my showering here does not make you uncomfortable,” Sonia had commented when they’d been alone in the locker room with their new clothes and towels and the bags of toiletries Naegi had handed them. “I should have asked….”

“No, it’s fine. You know I don’t mind.”

“I did not, truly, however, I appreciate your understanding. The idea of being alone and naked, showering in a strange place… I find the idea disconcerting. Is that strange?”

“No, at least I don’t think,” Hajime replied, turning his back to her and stripping off his shirt. “I think this entire place is kind of creepy.”

“It is comforting to know that I am not the only one. Everything seems to echo so strangely here. I don’t believe I’ve ever been somewhere that’s so… empty.”

“Yeah.”

The water shut off, summoning him from his thoughts. He quickly finished drying off so that, by the time Sonia emerged from her shower stall with her towel wrapped tightly around her, he’d managed to fumble his cold legs into underwear and pants. She offered him a small smile, “The water was… rather unpleasantly cold, wasn’t it?”

“That’s an awfully nice way of putting it,” Hajime laughed, turning his back so she could get dressed as he pulled his shirt on. “I feel like we should post a buyer beware sign on the door to warn the others.”

“Mr. Naegi did say the hot water came and went,” she replied, her smile evident in her tone. “I do believe he might have been exaggerating slightly, however, as there was rather an abundance of went.”

“There really was,” Hajime sighed. “So, what are you planning for the rest of your day?”

“Ah, I thought I should go back and spend some time with Gundam. I found several paperbacks when we were at the store so I thought perhaps I could read to him. They are all books I’ve read before, but there are one or two I believe he might enjoy.”

Hajime smiled, wincing as he yanked a brush through his hair. The conditioner had helped, but the tangles were still there, catching painfully on the bristles. “That sounds nice.”

“What about yourself?”

“Oh, um, I thought I’d go find Kazuichi. I know he’s probably going to want to check over the pods, so I thought I could help with that.”

“Very well, please say hello for me, although I am quite certain I will see you when you stop by to see to Gundam’s pod.”

“Yeah. I’m going to go ahead and head out.”

“Very well. I shall see you later, my friend.”

“Yeah,” he replied as he pulled the door open. He hesitated at the threshold though, not looking back in case Sonia wasn’t finished dressing, but needing to say it nonetheless. “Thank you for last night.”

“Think nothing of it, Hajime. You would do no less for any of us, I am quite certain.” She replied easily, much closer than he expected as her hand closed on his arm giving it a gentle squeeze. He looked back and met her steady blue gaze. She’s tied her long blond hair in an artless knot at the back of her head not even bothering with a brush. She smiled tightly at the direction of his gaze, “I thought I would ask Akane to help me with it. It’s a bit too badly damaged to manage on my own.”

“That’s a good idea. She’s good at that sort of thing.”

“Yes, she’s mentioned before that she’d been cutting her own hair since she was little and, honestly, I would like an excuse to spend time with her today that does not involve hours of exercise.”

“I’m sure she’ll be happy to help. She helped me with mine last night. I’ll see you later then?”

“Yes. Enjoy your day, Hajime.” Sonia replied, giving his arm a final squeeze before walking briskly away down the hall, her bare feet almost silent against the tiles.

After she was gone, Hajime turned away and walked through the silent hall the slap of his bare feet loud and echoing. He figured there was probably some trick to walking silently through these hallways like Sonia had, but damned if he could figure what it was as no matter how slow or fast or carefully he walked his footsteps seemed to echo just the same. He’d have to ask her about it later.

Instead of going to find Kazuichi like he’d originally intended, he found himself wandering outside instead. The pier was located right by the hospital down at the bottom of the cliff, the walkway down to it was a series of long ramps and platforms that had made it surprisingly easy to take the pods off the boat and push them up the ramps to the hospital. Presumably it had been built there to facilitate unloading emergency patients from the ferry.

He wondered vaguely if it was something that had always been there or if it was something that had been built recently. It looked old, like it had been there for years, but there was something about it that looked put on, strangely fake. Like someone had painted signs of wear over the newness of it to make it appear older than it was, but it was like painting over cigarette stains in an apartment. You could slap all the paint in the world on there, but the lingering scent always gave it away. Chances are it had been someone’s idea of a joke. He didn’t see the point, but someone had probably found it hilarious.

The pier stood empty except for an exceptionally forlorn looking dingy that bobbed along on the waves. A seagull perched on the lip of it, apparently unperturbed by the motion of the ocean. The considerably larger ferry they’d used to transport the pods was nowhere in sight. He hadn’t thought they’d been in the shower all that long, but apparently it had been long enough for Naegi to gather Togami and head out to the Central Island to do whatever they intended to do there.

Standing on the cliff’s edge looking out at the other islands he could see from that vantage point, it felt a little like he was the only person in the wide, wide world. He knew it wasn’t true. He knew he could just go back inside at any time and he’d find his friends waiting somewhere in those suffocating halls. But he just… wasn’t quite ready to go back yet.

Instead he stood out there on that cliff’s edge for a long time watching the clouds sweep slowly across the darkening sky until he thought he could see the ferry leaving the central island in the distance. He closed his eyes as the wind picked up and tossed his hair across his face. It wasn’t as terrible now that it was clean, but it still kind of gave him the creeps.

Maybe he should just shave it off.

Thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance.

It wasn’t raining yet, but he could tell from the sharp tang of ozone on the wind and that it wouldn’t be long.

He kind of wanted to stay there, standing inches from the edge, and wait for the rain to come so that he could feel the weight of it on his skin.

To know that it was real, that this was real, that he was real.

Maybe then he'd finally be able to believe it.

At odd moments all day it had felt like he was dreaming still.

Like at any moment he would hear Komaeda’s voice in his ear or feel the touch of his hand against the back of his neck.

It was stupid, but it was a feeling he could never quite shake.

 

 

+++

“Oh my gosh, you’re totally gay for Komaeda, aren’t you?” Kazuichi said, his eyes wide as saucers, dropping his wrench into the toolbox at his side.

“I’m pretty sure you could have found a more offensive way to phrase that if you had really, really tried, but you’d probably have to work at it,” Hajime replied, sighing and rolling his eyes. “But I guess so. I don’t know. I liked Chiaki, I think, but… I don’t know. I never had much interest in having any kind of sex with anyone before… at least not that I really remember. But I definitely think about Komaeda that way, obviously. I was attracted to him in the game too so… I guess so, maybe. I don’t know, probably. I probably am. I haven’t really thought about that part of it too deeply yet, I guess.”

“Oh, man, wow. Am I the first person you told?”

“No, Sonia knows. I told her about it last night.”

“So she really did end up sleeping with you last night? Ugh. Jealous.”

“It wasn’t like that, but yeah, she stayed the night in my room. Helped clean up after I threw up everywhere. She’s a good friend.”

“No doubt, no doubt. Miss Sonia is a wonderful person. Hey, since you’re gay now, can I tell you something?”

“Kazuichi, I’m not gay now, that’s really not how it works. If I’m gay I was always… I mean, really, I’m the same person I was yesterday. I don’t think you just wake up one morning and are just…”

“Sure, yeah, obviously, so,” Kazuichi replied quickly, waving away his words like he was only half-listening. “Am I gay if I have like the one sexy dream about someone?”

“What the hell makes you think I’m suddenly the resident expert on whether or not you’re queer?”

“Well, I mean don’t you have like queer radar or something? I mean….”

“Oh my… Kazuichi… no. Just… stop talking,” Hajime mumbled burying his burning face in his hands. Why? Why had he decided to talk to Kazuichi of all people about this? Clearly this had been a huge, huge, huge mistake. It had just seemed… easy or at least easier than talking to Akane or Fuyuhiko, because Kazuichi already kind of knew he’d been dreaming about Komaeda even if he hadn’t known what and he’d wanted to talk about what Naegi had told them, but he hadn’t wanted to bother Sonia and… ugh. He was such an idiot.

“Was that offensive again? Crap. Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just, it’s been bugging me and you told me about your thing, kind of, so… so I told you I had that dream about Gundam, right? Like before when we were still in the pods?”

“Uh, yeah?”

“Right, right. So, so, right… so I didn’t really tell you everything or, I guess, anything really because it was so… I don’t know. It just… I didn’t know if you’d be okay with it, but it’s probably fine since you’re having gay dreams too.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake…”

“I know, I know, sorry. Okay, so I’m at the beach house and I can hear the shower running so I’m thinking maybe it’s one of the girls and, I know I shouldn’t have been, but I decided I’d just peek in, you know, just to see who it was. And it was him and I mean… I always thought he was such a dork, you know, I mean when we were in the simulation. A really tough, scary dork- obviously- but still a total dork. It was just… he had those hamsters, right? And he was totally into those hamsters. I mean it’s hard to take anyone who loves hamsters seriously especially when he gave them such goofy names.”

“They weren’t really that goofy….”

“They totally were, come on. But so anyway, he’s in there showering and he’s totally naked and I didn’t think I’d ever seen him without the scarf before, but he’s standing there under the water and I’m looking at his back and he has this patch of scars on the back of his neck that go right down the middle of his back, I mean they were just massive. They were like thick and ridged and like scars on top of scars, or maybe they were burn scars or something, I don’t know, it was crazy. So, I’m staring at those scars and I’m thinking about how weird it is that I hadn’t seen them before, but they looked really familiar and then I realize that I knew them, I knew those scars. That I knew what those ridges felt like under my fingers, under my tongue and I… I mean it was like this idea that I couldn’t shake. I’m just standing there watching him and the room is so friggin' cold that I’m not sure how the heck he can stand showering in there and, I mean, it’s not like I was getting off watching him or anything like that, I just… I just couldn’t leave.

“So eventually he turns the water off and he turns around and sees me and he looks so shocked and he says something like, I don’t know, ‘what manner of fiend are you to be able to sneak up on one such as I? I will cast you down into the lowest levels of hell for daring to take on such a familiar visage.’ Or some crazy thing like that, I mean, you remember how he talked. So, I’m like: ‘No, relax already, I just came to see you.’ Which wasn’t really true, but it wasn’t really a lie either, I mean, it’s not like I didn’t want to see him or anything. And he looked so freaking startled and his face was so red, it was almost, I don’t know, cute, kinda. I mean- I always kind of hated him a little because he was getting all close to Sonia on the island, but… he was… I can remember him from before now too, at least a little, and I think he was always kind of like that, easily flustered and kind of awkward like that when he was complimented.

“He asked me to help out with something for this penguin he was looking after once. He wanted a portable refrigeration system because he was worried about it overheating because the owner didn’t seem to understand that penguins were an animal with a very delicate constitution and they needed like a really specific environment in order to thrive and so we worked together on it and, I mean, he always seemed like he was this really sort of outrageous guy and he made up all these crazy stories, but when it was just the two of us, when it was about his animals, he was… I don’t know, quieter, more normal maybe? A little bit, anyway. I mean, most people freaked me out, but he didn’t. Not when he was quiet like that. But I’m standing there looking at him and I can’t remember it exactly, but I can remember the way he would feel if we were to… it was just so weird. So we’re just standing there and he’s turned away and is getting dried off, but I can tell he’s watching me like out of the corner of his eye like he’s expecting me to make a move on him. Then he starts getting dressed and I know if I miss my chance I’ll never get another and I want to know… I want to know if I really… really remember that and I know how stupid it sounds, I mean, obviously if I think I remember it and I’m dreaming about it then it’s going to feel like I think I remember it. I mean, obviously, but I guess in a dream sometimes maybe you forget stuff like that because it seemed really important. So I kind of lunge at him and he jumps back, falling into a fighting stance and I’m like, ‘whoa, whoa, I’m not gonna hurt you’ and he looks confused again and it’s all ‘of course not, I would destroy you, but if you don’t want a fight then what do you want of me, hell-beast?’ And I’m all, ‘I just want to touch the scars on your neck’ and he looks at me for a really long time and then he just turns around and lets me. So, of course, I touch them and they’re… they’re just how I remember them and he’s all ‘don’t think you can tempt me with such intimacies, I have trained six lifetimes to withstand the lustful intentions of incubi as I traverse the levels of this hell in search of the creatures of darkness’ whatever the hell that was supposed to mean and I’m thinking ‘you’re so friggin' nuts’, but I mean… it was like a challenge, right? And really, I mean, jerking another guy off isn’t any different than jerking yourself off, especially in a dream, so I’m like, what the hell and I… put my hands on him and he’s…”

“Kazuichi… I really don’t know that I need to hear all the details.”

“Oh, uh, right, obviously. So, I was gonna jerk him off, but I mean I’m standing really close to him now and I can see that he’s got all these wounds, like he just looks all tore up and so I just end up touching those instead and I’m like ‘you should really put something on these, they’ll get infected’ and he’s all ‘no infection could survive in a body conditioned to withstand the venom of the great basilisk’ and then we spent what seemed like hours standing in the shower arguing about that shit and then I woke up and… I just had the worst freaking morning wood I’ve ever had. It was ridiculous. And then, of course, I realized I was locked in the pod and that killed that pretty darn fast. I mean, I love girls, they’re soft and I mean… boobs! Boobs are amazing and I mean, I like Miss Sonia and all so… I mean, I just… Gundam. I mean, how can I be into Gundam? So, what do you think? Does that make me gay or bi or whatever?”

“You know you call him by his first name, right?”

“Huh? Wh- shoot. What the freaking heck? I do, don’t I? How long have I been…?”

Hajime shrugged, “I don’t know. At least since we woke up. I didn’t really think about it, but you called him that when you were telling me about it before too.”

“That’s… that’s so messed up. Don’t tell anybody else, okay? I… I need to think about this some more.”

“Sure,” Hajime replied easily, tousling Kazuichi’s pink hair. “You know it’s okay, right?”

“Well, I mean, yeah, o-of course I do, just… my dad always used to call me…” he shook his head, shrugging and turning his attention to searching for something in his toolbox. “Whatever, it doesn’t matter, I just never thought I actually was, you know, gay or bi or whatever though. Guys just never really did for me, but I guess maybe they did and I just don’t remember it yet. Or you know, like all of it anyway. It’s just… pretty crazy, I guess.”

“Yeah, I have a feeling we’re all going to find out we were all sorts of things we didn’t realize we were by the time we actually remember everything.”

“Yeah, probably. You doing okay with all this?”

“All what?”

“Everything, I guess.”

“I don’t know. Sometimes I stare in the mirror and I can’t quite believe it’s me looking back. I don’t…” Hajime trails off, glancing at Ibuki’s pod and frowning. He’s not sure why he can’t just say it. Why he can’t just tell him what he’s been thinking about all morning.

…I don’t think I’m really Hinata Hajime, not really, not anymore.

I don’t think I can be.

I don’t know if I ever really was.

I’m not Kamukura Izuru either.

So, maybe I’m someone else.

Maybe the person I always really was.

But it isn’t… I don’t know that it has to be… a bad thing.

But I’m sorry.

I’m not who you think I am.

Just say it.

He’ll understand. They’ll understand.

Just say it.

“I don’t know,” he finishes finally, feeling like the worst kind of coward.

Dammit. 

+++

“Well, you look like shit,” Akane commented, never one to mince words, as she flopped down at the table beside him with a plate full of food and plastic bottle of milk.

He closed his eyes for a minute; fully aware that there was absolutely no reason he should throw up. It was just milk. Milk was just milk, it wasn’t anything else and he needed to stop being such a fucking freak about this, about everything. He needed to get it together.

“Like really, really awful. You wanna talk about it or something?”

“No.”

“Well, I do. So start talking already,” she commanded. “It isn’t good for your body to hold these things in. You gotta let it out. Just say what you need to say, it’s not like I’m gonna judge you for anything.”

“I’m having weird, fucked up wet dreams about Komaeda and honestly it’s freaking me out. Also, do you think you can maybe chug and toss that milk? Looking at it is making me nauseous.”

He hadn’t meant to say all that. He really, really hadn’t meant to say all that.

“No problem,” she replied easily and to his eternal surprise, he heard the plastic crack of a cap coming loose and the quiet glug of a bottle being emptied before the sharp sound of a plastic bottle hitting the trash bin resounded through the room. “All done. So just like standard sex stuff or was it the freaky stuff? I could totally see you being embarrassed by the freaky stuff. Doesn’t mean that’s who you are. I used to dream about some guy I liked from back home jizzing all over my tits. Dreams never hurt anybody, Hajime. Just the body flushing away your frustrations,” Akane commented, hunching over her plate so she could more easily continue to shovel food in her mouth as she spoke. It was kind of impressive how well she was managing to talk even though her mouth was full pretty much the entire time. “Seriously, you’re a nice guy and while plenty of nice guys do shitty things, I don’t think you’re one of those. Plus, you and Komaeda always had kind of a weird relationship. I wouldn’t be surprised if he really dug you dreaming freaky sex stuff about him. He was kind of super crazy so he might have been into all kinds of different stuff and he was definitely into you so it’s probably all good.”

“Everyone always says that. That Komaeda liked me, I mean.”

“Because it’s true. I was out late running like the first maybe the second night we were there and I was walking back to my cabin and I totally heard him whacking it and moaning your name. Hard to miss something like that, but even without that I’m sure everybody knew he was into you. You know he was too. It’s not like he was subtle about it.”

He wasn’t even sure what he was supposed to do with that and really the last thing he needed was that image in his head. “Um, thanks, I guess.”

“No problem,” Akane shrugged as she scrapped up the last of her noodles.

“Where’d you get all that anyway?” He asked gesturing to her plate.

“Oh, there were all kinds of instant foods in the kitchen; like just a ton of different stuff. So I just made up a bunch of different things and slapped it on a plate. I’ve gotta whole lot of meals to catch up on, after all.” Akane replied, slapping her stomach before cracking open a bottle of water.

“You’ll get there,” Hajime replied, offering her a weak smile. “How was your day?”

“Not bad. I went out this morning to run laps around the island. I was totally spent by the second lap so I pushed it through a third and went and took a shower. Hot water is broken, by the way. I can already feel my muscles tensing up like crazy. I’ve got a long way to go to get back in shape. I really wish Nekomaru were here to do it to me,” she sighed, slumping down against the table. “What about you? What’d you do?”

“Avoided my room mostly. Had breakfast with Sonia and Naegi, took a shower, helped Kazuichi check the pods, took a shower, stared aimlessly at the ocean for a while, that sort of thing.”

“Mm. So was it like really bad? Your dream, I mean?”

Hajime sighed, “Kind of. It’s tough to describe. It was mostly disturbing, like it really bothers me that that kind of stuff turns me on. Makes me feel kind of sick.”

“Dreams are weird that way, I guess. I mean we’ve all kind of got them on the brain, right? I mean, I dreamt about Nekomaru last night. He was just running endless laps around the island and I’m chasing after him trying to talk to him and he just runs faster and faster like he can’t hear me or he’s trying to ignore me or something. I’m an idiot too. I mean, obviously, I should have just stayed in one place and caught him as he went around, but I can’t help wanting to compete with him. I was completely wiped out when I woke up this morning. My stamina is just awful now even in my dreams. Crazy, huh?”

“Yeah, crazy,” Hajime replied, frowning.

 
+++
DAY THREE
+++

“Been looking everywhere for you. The hell are you doing in here?” Fuyuhiko commented, throwing himself down into the chair opposite Hajime at the break room table. “You look like shit warmed over a pit, brother.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t look so hot yourself. Did you even sleep at all last night?” Hajime replied pushing himself up to go top off his coffee. “You want some?”

“A little, not much. Spent a lot of time just sitting up staring at her pod like maybe if I stared at it long enough it’d just pop open and out she’d come saying she was sorry for being late. I don’t know. And, hell no, I don’t want any of your damn coffee. That old ass coffee is bitter as hell,” Fuyuhiko grimaced, laying his head down against his folded arms, his feet tapping a restless beat beneath the table. “I tried having a cup last night. You know that shit expired last year?”

“Yeah, Naegi mentioned something about not being able to restock anything because of the storm, but I somehow doubt Togami is drinking this.”

“Probably not. Bet he brought his own. He seems like that sorta guy, doesn’t he? He’s really nothing like the one we knew. That guy was so concerned about everyone. Trying to protect us and everything? I'm pretty sure this one wouldn't piss on us if we were on fire.”

“Right? I was thinking the same thing this morning. I liked ours a lot better. I found some sugar in the cabinets earlier, if that helps you out?”

“There isn’t enough sugar in the whole damn world to sweeten that sludge up.”

“Yeah, that’s probably true,” Hajime replied, taking a sip of his coffee as he rejoined Fuyuhiko at the table, grimacing. “It really is just awful. Like drinking motor oil, but it does the job, I guess. Think that’s just the age or do you think the coffee was terrible to begin with?”

“That’s like asking about the chicken and the egg. I mean, what the hell’s that matter? It’s rotten any damn way you drink it now. What the heck are you even doing drinking coffee this late anyway? You’ll never get to sleep that way.”

“That’s the plan.”

“What? Really? Why? What’s going on?”

“Nightmares. I really don’t want to talk about it,” Hajime grumbled taking another sip of the possibly toxic sludge they were charitably calling coffee. And he really didn’t. He’d talked about it more today than he’d ever intended to really. “How are you doing with all this?”

“Shit, I don’t know. It’s weird. I went out to shower this morning and I couldn’t even bring myself to look in the fucking mirror, you know? Scare the shit out of myself every time I catch a glimpse of my reflection in things. I look so damn old and I keep banging my head on just every damn thing. I’m so damn tall now and my balance is shot too. She wouldn’t even recognize me like this. She’s gonna wake up and she’s not even gonna fucking know me.” His expression twisted, sour and a little sad, “How the hell are we supposed to do this? How are we supposed to help them when we can’t even help ourselves?”

“We just do it together and take it a step at a time, I guess, it’s the only way any of this works,” Hajime replied, reaching out to grip and squeeze one of Fuyuhiko’s big hands. It was really strange seeing him like this, but… in the end he wasn’t so different. Bigger, taller, a few more scars, but he still had the same smirk, he still got embarrassed the same way, cursed the same way and underneath all that he was still the same rough, earnest, caring boy he’d always been. “You’re still Kazuryuu Fuyuhiko. She’ll know it’s you. I think she’d know you anywhere no matter what you looked like, no matter how many years there were between you, she’d still know you.”

He shrugged, sighing and squeezing Hajime’s hand back once before releasing it, “Yeah, maybe. What’ve you been up to today?”

“Avoiding going back to my room mostly,” Hajime replied honestly. “I’m just trying to keep myself busy so I helped Kazuichi check on the connections for all the pods and I did a couple laps of the island with Akane. It’s pretty much exactly the same size as it was in the game. Has a lot of the same stuff too.”

“Heh,” Fuyuhiko smirked a little, “you always call it a game. Not a simulation or the island or anything like the rest of us, but a game. Guess that gamer girl really rubbed off on you, huh?”

“I don’t know, maybe, but mostly it’s just… that’s what we were doing the whole time. We were just playing a game from the moment we woke up. We just never really understood that, never understood the stakes we were playing for either. I get why they did it that way, I guess, kind of, but can’t help thinking how much different things might have been if someone… if Nanami or Monomi had just told us what was going on from the start or at least once Monokuma showed up.”

“I don’t know about that. You really think Komaeda wouldn’t have just gone off the rails like he did harder and faster if he’d known everything sooner? We’d have been fucking lucky if any of us managed to get out of there alive. That guy was completely…”

“Stop,” Hajime said it quietly, laying his palms flat against the table, because he didn’t trust himself not to do something he’d immediately regret. There must have been something in his tone because Fuyuhiko didn’t say another word for a long time. He couldn’t bring himself to look up at him; instead he chose to just stare at the back of his hands where they lay flat against the cheap folding table.

“Shit,” Fuyuhiko said eventually, his voice soft with remorse. “I’m a freakin' dumbass. You could have just said… nah, I should have just realized that he was important to you and kept my big mouth shut about it. If he wasn’t you’d be in Mikan’s room or something instead of his.” It wasn’t a question, but he almost wanted to deny it because just thinking about Komaeda still made panic bubble up in his chest. It was like a subject he couldn’t avoid today it seemed no matter what he did. All conversations eventually led to Komaeda.

“It’s just,” Hajime began, halting and hesitant. “I don’t think he’s anymore the horrible things he’s done than we are.”

“Yeah, that’s probably fair,” Fuyuhiko replied, slumping back in his chair, making it scrap back over the floor. The sound seemed too loud in the little room, “I’m sorry, I really stepped in it there. I just… I remember his fucking laugh. I mean, I remember other shit too, but not a whole hell of a lot, you know? I’m not sure I even want to. I mean, shit, I can’t even look at myself. I can’t even bring myself to look at this,” he confessed tapping a finger against the black fabric of the patch over his eye. “I know I can’t see. I know that there’s a fucking desiccated eyeball in there and the scarring around it is horrible, just these thick ass ridges like I reached in and gouged the damn thing out myself and I-I can't even imagine how fucked up I had to be that I'd do that to myself. That Peko would let me. I mean, what the hell did she do to us? What the hell did we do to ourselves, to each other, to let things go that far? And I can’t remember any of it, but I can remember the sound of that bastar- sorry. I can remember Komaeda’s crazy fucking laugh echoing in my head like he was there and, I don’t know, I guess some of us had to be there so…."

“He’s the one who took her hand,” Hajime commented, meeting Fuyuhiko’s gaze.

Fuyuhiko’s eye narrowed a bit, scrutinizing, “How do you-“

“I remembered something when I was… when we were still in the game. Izuru traveled to the island in the same container as Komaeda. They didn’t know each other. Komaeda’s hand though, the left one, it was definitely her hand.”

“That's just... gross. Fuck,” Fuyuhiko murmured, shivering. “Think he’s still…”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Probably. Seemed like putting us in the pods like they did happened pretty fast. Not a lot of time for cosmetic surgery.”

“Yeah, I guess not. That’s so messed up,” Fuyuhiko blew out a loud breath, shifting his gaze to stare at the ceiling for a long moment. “Who do you think…?”

He trailed off, but it wasn’t difficult to figure out what he was referring to. “I don’t know. I feel terrible for hoping it was someone else, but I still really don’t want it to have been me.”

Fuyuhiko snorted, amused, “Yeah, because I can really see you screwing a corpse, virgin. Are you sure you even know where they hide slot A? There’s a better chance that it was me or Souda than that it was you.”

“It wouldn’t seem so far-fetched if you knew what I’ve been dreaming about lately.”

“Have you been dreaming about making it with Enoshima’s rotting corpse?”

“No, but…”

“Then I’m still saying it wasn’t you. A couple of freaky, fucked up dreams don’t make you into necrophilia, Hajime. Hell, I’d be more surprised if you weren’t dreaming about crazy shit with all that’s happened. Besides, we all know it was absolutely Hanamura.”

Hajime chuckled a little holding a hand over his mouth like he could smother the sound, “God, it probably was too. That’s really terrible.”

“Right? That bastard was just so…”

“Stop it, it’s not funny,” Hajime replied, still chuckling a bit in spite of himself.

“It really fucking shouldn’t be, but it absolutely is. Besides, none of us really knew him well enough to mount a believable defense. I mean, he was just this scared little shit who tried to kill Komaeda and ended up sticking our Togami instead.” Fuyuhiko smirked, snagging Hajime’s coffee and taking a sip, grimacing. “Yup, just as bad as it was earlier. Shit, I don’t know how you can choke down that swill.”

“Means to an end, my friend, means to an end,” Hajime laughed, retrieving his cup and taking another long drink. He felt almost punch-drunk. Everything ached and the world was bleary and nothing felt quite real. Like he’d been awake for days rather than hours.

“So, why the heck are you trying to stay up, huh?”

“I’m just… not quite ready to sleep yet, that’s all.” It had been easy to talk about his dreams, about Komaeda, with Sonia. It hadn’t been all that bad talking about it with Kazuichi or Akane either, but he couldn’t imagine how he would even begin to frame such a conversation with Fuyuhiko. He’d probably have to start it with coming out and see how that went before he even broached the Komaeda topic and he just… wasn’t sure he was up for that much serious talk so late… or early he supposed if the clock on the wall was to be believed.

“You know… last night I dreamed about training with Peko in the amusement park like we did when we were kids. The training part, obviously, not the amusement park part, we never did fun, goofy kid shit like that. But, you know, when she wakes up, I want to. I want to do shit like that with her and you and all those other bastards.”

“I think that sounds like fun.”

“Yeah. So, what’s going on with you? I heard Sonia slept in your room last night.”

“Who told you that?”

Fuyuhiko snorted, “Sonia. She came to see me before she went to bed. Ordered me to get off my dead ass, stop pouting like a kid and come check in with you. She didn’t actually say it like that, of course. When she said it it sounded all polite and 'please' and 'thank you' and 'won’t you do me this one favor' but, looking back on it, I’m pretty damn sure she basically meant that I was going to go check in with you or she was gonna make me sorry I was ever born.”

Hajime smiled, “She’s something else, huh?”

“You got that right. She’s terrifying. Bet she could run the whole damn world if she wanted. Still don’t get how she ended up stuck with us. She’s got her shit together more than the rest of us put together.”

"I don't know," Hajime murmured, reaching out to squeeze Fuyuhiko's shoulder, because Sonia’s secrets weren’t his to tell. "But I think it was probably the same for all of us. We felt alone. We couldn't accept who we were or trust people enough to lean on them when we needed to. That’s why I think, no matter what we remember, as long as we have each other, we'll be okay now."

You’ll be able to tell if I stop being me, he doesn't say.

"Heh, you think so too, huh?" Fuyuhiko murmured, smothering a smile against his folded arms. "I gotta admit that it's nice to have someone to talk to. To have people I can depend on to help me keep standing. Before it was just me and Peko and even that wasn’t what I wanted it to be, you know? And I didn’t know how to get it across to make her understand, to really hear what I wanted or accept it. I mean, obviously I failed pretty miserably at that because we’re here and I still don’t really know how it happened, but I know it probably wouldn’t have if I’d been… better at articulating that shit. And I don’t know if I know any better now how to un-fuck everything that I… that we fucked up in the first place, but I feel like I can at least find the guts to try and keep trying until I do. It’s easy to hope for a better future when you’ve got friends you can depend on to get you there."

“You’re such a fucking sap,” Hajime replied, sipping his bitter coffee.

“You’re one to talk, bastard.”

Chapter Text

“Reality is like a fruitcake; pretty enough to look at but with all sorts of nasty things lurking just beneath the surface.”
― A. Lee Martinez, Gil's All Fright Diner  

 
DAY THREE
-continued-
+++

It was night again and the moon was bright and full, lighting up the beach as he walked down from the road to stop beneath the bent palm. He had been able to see him clearly even from the road, standing out brilliantly against the black of the ocean and the horizon beyond. His pale hair and white shirt seemed to glow in the bright moonlight. He’d lost his jacket and his feet were still bare, though he could see as he approached that they were strangely dark, grey and black in the moonlight.

“Sorry, about before,” Komaeda commented as if they were in the middle of a conversation, his legs swinging back and forth. “It feels a little extreme to disappear for days just because I put my dick in your mouth though.”

“Says you,” Hajime replied, leaning back against the rough trunk of the palm tree and stared out at the dark waves crashing against the shore. “It hasn’t been that long anyway. And, to be fair, I put your dick in my mouth, you just shoved it down my throat like a total jackass.”

“Sorry,” Komaeda replied, unsurprisingly not sounding the least bit like he meant it. “I have poor impulse control, you know.”

“Yeah, no kidding. You wouldn’t be so blasé about it if you were the one with my dick in your mouth. Jerk.”

“Want to find out?” Komaeda inquired, a hint of a smile tugging at his lips as he tilted his head and looked down at him.

“Shut up, Komaeda. It’s not funny.”

Komaeda laughed, a light, airy sound, “It is though. Besides, it got you off, didn’t it? You don’t look quite so boring when you come, Hinata. It’s a good look on you.”

“I was just already so… anything probably would have done it at that point. I didn’t like it,” he’d been telling himself this all day. That he didn’t like the taste and feel of him. That he didn’t want to fall asleep just for a chance to revisit it. He still didn’t really believe it, but he wanted to. Even though, in the end, all that angst hadn’t actually been enough to keep him awake, obviously.

“Then I suppose you should remember that if you try to suck me off again.” Komaeda replied and he felt weirdly guilty, like a child with his hand caught in the cookie jar. Like maybe Komaeda could see right through him to the shameful part that he rather suspected might just drop to his knees and, protests aside, give it another shot right now if Komaeda asked him to.

“I’m not going to,” he snapped defensively, folding his arms across his stomach.

“Um, hm, sure,” Komaeda commented easily, his bare feet still swinging back and forth. They were a little sandy, dark with dirt and bruises, Hajime had the strangest urge to reach up and dust them off. They looked a little scratched up, pockmarked with tiny wounds and blisters. He’d noticed that they were bare before, but now that he was closer he wondered why they were like that.

He sidled closer and reached out to touch the sole of one foot, running the pad of his thumb across it gently, “Looks like it hurts. You should wear shoes.”

Komaeda twitched his foot away, “Ticklish.”

“Is it?” Hajime replied, brushing his thumb across it again and smiling when he got the same reaction. “You know what would help with that?”

“You not tickling my feet?”

“No, you wearing shoes.”

“Don’t want to,” Komaeda replied, frowning and blowing out his cheeks a bit. He looked for all the world like a stubborn kid who didn’t want to eat his vegetables. “It’s better this way. Want to go swimming?”

“Can you even go swimming like that?” Hajime replied, tapping his fingers against his own chest right what where the spear wound would be on Komaeda. “It’d probably hurt.”

Komaeda shrugged, “If I only did things that didn’t hurt, I’d never do anything.”

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

“Hinata, don’t be ridiculous. I have cuts on my thighs, holes in my hands and a giant gapping spear wound in my chest. Plus, all the other little incidental stuff, like this,” he wiggled his toes and Hajime realized he was still caressing Komaeda’s foot- there really wasn’t a better description for it than that- and let it go. Komaeda offered him a wry smile, “It’s not super comfortable moving or breathing or just… anything, really.”

“Does it hurt? The wounds from, you know, before? I mean, the one from the spear is kind of bloody, but it doesn’t really bleed and the others are… I don’t know.”

He shrugged again, amiable enough as he allowed himself to fall backwards so he was hanging upside down from the palm by his knees. His shirt fell down to bunch around his shoulders revealing old pale scars barely visible across the pale expanse of his back. Hajime’s fingers itched to touch them, map those lines like they were waypoints, a loosely drawn map of Komaeda Nagito’s life sketched across his pale flesh, finally a truth he could be certain of. He wanted to trace them and ask where they’d come from and how and why.

He shoved his hands in his pockets to make sure he kept them to himself. Komaeda’s scars weren’t really any of his business and there was no point in asking anyway. He wondered if they were something he’d just made up or if he’d seen them that time on the beach and just not realized it, if the knowledge of those marks had just lodged itself in his brain to wait for an ample opportunity to present.

“They ache,” Komaeda commented suddenly, startling him from his thoughts. His long pale hair hung down at strange angles, oddly reminiscent of jellyfish tentacles. “They sting sometimes too, but mostly they just ache. Except when you touch them, of course, than they just make other things ache, hm?”

This was probably the longest normal conversation they’d ever had. Funny that he dreams of him like… like that and then like this… normal like this, more normal than he’d been even on the island during those first days. It was really sad to think that this might be the only time he’d ever have a normal conversation with any version of Komaeda and it was about wounds and started with an insincere apology and a dick joke.

“You seem less… I don’t know. You were weird last time,” he told the jellyfish hanging from the tree.

“Do I? How can you tell?” The jellyfish replied, sounding honestly curious.

“How can I… I mean, obviously, you’re different,” he sputtered, gesturing to him and then realizing Komaeda couldn’t see him and sighing. “You were really… cold last time, I guess? Detached? Like… I don’t know, like sometimes you weren’t all there.”

“Hm, I suppose. Today’s a good day, I guess. I mean, you’re here so that’s a nice change,” Komaeda reached up and gripped the bent palm trunk with both hands and swinging his legs over and off so that he flipped over backwards and fell to the ground, landing on his feet in the sand with a heavy thump. He straightened, hissing and holding a hand to his chest. “Ouch.”

“You okay?”

“Sure, why not?” Komaeda grinned, strangely carefree, it reminded him uncomfortably of the island, of all those smiles had had always felt like just another way to lie. Komaeda shrugged his shoulders as he straightened and Hajime realized they were standing kind of close.

“You’re still wearing my shirt,” he murmured, reaching out to finger one of the buttons.

“You can’t have it back, so don’t ask.”

“I wasn’t going to, I gave it to you, didn’t I?” He glanced down to find that his own shirt was identical to the one Komaeda now wore. “It’s not like I need it or anything anyway, I guess.”

“Then you have nothing to complain about, do you?” Komaeda sniffed, smoothing a hand over the buttoned front. The shirt was strangely faded and discolored like he’d been wearing it for days or weeks on end instead of hours.

“I guess not.”

It was weird talking to him like this, being with him like this. Nothing terrible had happened yet which was a nice change and it was so….

“This is really strange, huh?” He asked without meaning to.

“I was thinking the same thing. Want to fuck me up against this palm tree?” He asked, apropos of nothing.

“I really don’t,” He replied, laughing and Komaeda smiled at him.

Oh.

He felt a little bit like someone had hit him in the head with a rock, that same punch-drunk feeling he’d had when he’d been sitting in the break room with Fuyuhiko. That smile was… different from all his other smiles. Different even when compared to the smile from that first day on the island, it was genuine and real in a way none of those other smiles had ever been. A little self-deprecating and a little crooked and a little sad, but also pleased in some strange way and it was really….

Really something.

He kind of wanted to catch it and frame it and put it in his pocket and carry it around with him forever so he could pull it out and look at it all the time. It was a really nice smile.

He wanted to kiss him like this. To taste the sweetness of that smile on his tongue as he twisted a knife in that soft pale belly so that he could watch that broad, beautiful smile shatter into screaming confusion and despair…

No.

What?

What the fuck?

No.

He… he didn’t… he didn’t want that.

He didn’t want anything like that.

“Hinata?” Komaeda asked, the smile fading as he looked at him with something like concern.

Hajime shook his head quickly, slapping a hand over his mouth, over the strange dreadful smirk forming there as bile rose in his throat.

What was wrong with him?

What was…?

There was a low, rumbling sound like thunder and it shook him from his thoughts. When he glanced up he found dark clouds consuming the sky at startling speed.

“Huh. That’s different,” Komaeda murmured, tipping his head back to look up at the darkening sky as well.

“Yeah,” Hajime whispered, a feeling like foreboding rolling over him. At least the smile was gone, fading away like it had never been. “We should get inside.”

“Why would I want to do that?” Komaeda replied, sounding vaguely surprised, as if the thought had simply never occurred to him.

“It’s going to rain. If your luck is bad you could get struck by lightning or something, I don’t know.”

“You don’t understand anything. No, that would be good luck, if it actually killed me, bad luck would be if you were struck by the lightning and it killed you or if it just struck me and left me with just some new wounds to nurse and nothing like oblivion to show for it. So, you should probably go inside somewhere.” Komaeda hummed thoughtfully, “On second thought, maybe not, I suppose it’s just as likely that a lightning strike could light whatever building you went into on fire. Burning to death seems like a really hopeless way to die. Not that you can really die, it’s just… I don’t…. I don’t...”

“You don’t what?”

“I don’t know. When you’re here, things are better. If I see you die then you won’t be able to come back again. Or maybe you’ll come back like… like this,” he gestured vaguely to himself. “My imagination is… pretty sick sometimes so….”

“I don’t think it works like that,” he replied, turning to look out across the dark ocean at the darkening sky as lightning streaked across it followed a moment later by the rumble of thunder. “Or maybe it does. I don’t know. This is all pretty messed up.”

“It is,” Komaeda agreed as he stepped closer, close enough now that he could feel the cold that seemed to radiate from him. “You’re always so warm,” he murmured, closing the distance between them so he could press against Hajime’s back, his chin resting on his shoulder.

Sometimes he forgot that Komaeda was taller than he was. It seemed like a strange thing to forget, but he did. He so often seemed smaller, weaker, more fragile maybe, but he wasn’t really. He never had been.

“Am I?” He asked as he closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of him pressed against him. It was nice, really nice. He’d been avoiding this, avoiding him, avoiding sleep all day and in that moment he wasn’t completely sure why.

“Yes. You always were, so maybe that’s why it’s like that here too. Even when I was burning with that fever, you still always felt warm like you were the one with a virus ravaging your system.”

Hajime snorted, “I guess that’s true enough.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing. It’s just… you know.”

“If I knew I wouldn’t ask, but maybe I do. I don’t know. That’s annoying,” Komaeda breathed, lifting his chin and stepping back and away and he immediately mourned the loss even though the words irritated him.

“Seriously? You’re gonna make me…” He really didn’t want to talk about him, but he still found the word tripping off his tongue, harsh and hateful. “…Izuru.”

“The what?” Komaeda replied, looking back at him blankly, not the faintest sign of recognition.

“Nevermind,” he murmured, skimming a hand over Komaeda’s bare arm. He didn’t really want to talk about him, didn’t even want to think about him. Not here. It… it didn’t feel safe to talk about him here. Which was… silly, maybe, but just saying his name still left him feeling uneasy, nervous. “Let’s just go inside before it starts raining.”

“Don’t want to,” Komaeda replied again, stubbornly, crossing his arms defensively over his chest, always so contrary. “I want to feel it.”

“You’ll catch a cold.”

They both seemed to realize what he’d said at exactly the same moment, because in the next they were both bent over laughing. It wasn’t funny, really, except that it was. They were like children, giggling in the dark because they were afraid and didn’t want to admit it. Sometimes it was just easier to laugh.

He ended up leaning his head against Komaeda’s shoulder, turning his face into his neck as the first fat drops of cool rain fell on his hair and across his shoulders. “I hate that I miss you,” he confessed sliding a hand beneath Komaeda’s borrowed shirt, along the waist of his pants enjoying the contrast between the rough canvas and the smooth skin above it. He knew there were scars there, he’d seen them, but he couldn’t feel them at all. “I feel bad that I keep dreaming about you like this, but I like seeing you all the same.”

“What… why?” Komaeda drew back, frowning, and suddenly Hajime wanted to tell him. Confess everything they were and had been even though it wouldn’t make any difference at all as the sky tore open and rain poured down, hard and cold, driving and spiteful. The force with which they fell made the drops sting where they hit and they were both soaked through in a matter of moments, but Komaeda was still standing in front of him, staring at him unrelenting with his hands clenched into fists at his sides, as if he hadn’t even noticed or didn’t care. “Why would you say that? Are you just… why?”

“Komaeda?”

He looked at him with eyes that seemed the same dark and swirling grey as the clouds above them, wide and filled with a sort of frenzied terror that Hajime couldn’t begin to understand.

Pain burst across his cheek and in his head. It took him a minute to realize Komaeda had punched him. Punched him or maybe slapped him, but either way he’d hit him and taken off running up the beach towards the road, his bare feet kicking up sand. He was almost immediately lost behind the curtain of driving rain that fell over and between them.

Pain cluttered his brain like static and he groaned, pressing a hand against his aching check as he winced, closing his eyes.

+++

He couldn’t stop. Couldn’t stay. He’d just….

But it didn’t matter. Didn’t matter it wasn’t… he wasn’t…

He was real and he was here and he couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t let that fake…. Let that awkward, imperfect manifestation of his desperation f-for company. Yes, any company, not just him, because he wasn’t… he wasn’t special. He wasn’t. He wasn’t. He was just a desire for company given form and function… that was what he was, all he was, and he shouldn’t allow that poor copy to make him think… to make him feel like… that he maybe wasn’t... real.

So he ran. He hit him and ran and ran, bare feet pounding and aching, just slashes of pain as he popped blisters or re-opened cuts in his mad dash to get away across the sand and up to the road and just away.

He’d just been… he’d been so…

He’d been so….

Not excited, no. Not excited to see him here again, to hear his footsteps, to feel his presence pulsing like heat and light as it walked up behind him casual as you please after so long. But he had been… glad, maybe. Yes, he’d been glad. Maybe even fiercely glad, so glad that he’d even led with an apology. He hadn’t quite meant it, but he’d almost meant it and that was usually about as close as he ever got. His name had been like a chant, a cheer in his head, because he’d been so….

But this was too much.

Wasn’t it enough? It had been days, days that he’d been like a pathetic junkie searching for a fix as he’d played this all out in his mind again and again, as he’d practiced the lines over and over again. Because he could do it right and if he did it right and he said the right things and he did the right things than maybe… maybe it would be better. Maybe he would be better and it would be….

And then he’d been there. Finally there just when that pale faltering hope had been beginning to fade within his chest… he’d just strolled up to him on the beach and he’d been… different. Different in the very best way, no longer the timid, stuttering Hinata, or at least not as much anyway, but he hadn’t been that terrifying Hinata with the rough hands and cold eyes either. No, this had been… different, new, but old too. A Hinata who gave as good as he got. And it had been so easy. Everything had seemed easy and casual and he… god, he’d wanted him. Practically been shaking with it. The desire to touch him, to be touched by him, but he hadn’t… he hadn’t wanted to ruin it, because it was… it was….

But that was just like him wasn’t it? Just like him to build up that hope, that bubbling fizzy feeling that went straight to his head only to toss it away, send it crashing to the rocks with a few well chosen words.

Pretending… pretending that he was the delusion. Because obviously, obviously, that wasn’t true, but sometimes he… it… it, stupid, it’s an it, not… not a person, not even a memory, not really, just, just your misfiring, rotting brain generating some thing to satisfy your childish desire to not be alone, to be… valued, to be wanted, to be….

No, no, no.

He wasn’t going to do this again. He wasn’t. He’d been through all this before and he didn’t want this. Didn’t… didn’t he decide that? Didn’t he decide that he didn’t, that he wasn’t… that he could do this on his own and he didn’t need that. That crutch to lean on… he didn’t want to feel those hands, touching him, those lips, that mouth, that cock.

He choked on a sob, pressing the back of his hand against his lips as he stumbled to a stop in the middle of the bridge, ever so close to the precipice, halfway to the central island, breathing hard. The same hand he’d hit him with, incidentally, a hand that ached furiously as if he’d punched something made of flesh and blood and reality rather than just some cruel manifestation of his awkward, petty, desperate....

Why couldn’t death have just been… just been nothing? Just a void, a real ending? Just been silence and nothing, real nothing, not this… empty wasteland of an island where nothing every changed.

Well, almost nothing.

It was raining.

So that was something at least.

Something new, something different even if… he turned his face up into it, closing his eyes because it stung when the falling water hit them dead on. It felt warm, the rain, gentle even against his sunburnt skin. He’d stopped coming out in the daylight as often, choosing to hide in the buildings during daylight hours since the sun seemed to be on a mission to set him on fire. He still woke up beneath those burning rays every morning though, splayed out like a castaway on the sand in front of the beach house, the ocean licking at his heels, and that was more than enough time outside to keep the most visible parts of him in a perpetual state of mildly crispy. His head and neck and feet and… he shivered as he remembered the touch of Hinata’s fingers across the sole of his foot.

Gentle, concerned, the way the brush of his thumb had tickled, the teasing lift in his voice as he talked about shoes.

He’d never realized how intimate such a simple touch could be.

He was so pathetic.

Days, days and days alone in this place and this was what it had reduced him to. Waxing romantic about that paltry excuse for a delusion touching his feet.

He’d spent the first few days lurking around the hotel and the beach waiting for Hinata, no, for that terrible imitation of Hinata to show up and each day he’d felt the despair of loneliness chipping away at his resolve, at that hope that he couldn’t help clinging to the way he clung to Hinata’s fading, bloody shirt. He couldn’t bear to take it off for much longer than it took to rinse it out with soap and ring it dry. He couldn’t tolerate the idea that he might hang it up and it might disappear entirely and he’d be back to wearing those holey t-shirts or nothing at all. And he’d be left with nothing to cling to, no weak proof that maybe, just maybe things weren’t… weren’t what they seemed to be.

So, he kept the shirt close. Just… just in case.

Some nights he sat in the movie theater or the Grape House or by the pool in just that shirt. He jerked off a lot because he had nothing better to do. Eating made him sick, the food was bland and tasteless designed for aesthetics not consumption. All the books and movies he stumbled upon when he’d dared to venture beyond those most familiar places were filled with nonsense, lines of gibberish or missing bits and pieces and just looking at them, watching them, gave him a terrible headache. So, mostly, he jerked off, found little games to amuse himself like how long he could hang upside down or how much salt he could pour in the chest wound before he passed out and woke up on the beach (he’d only played that game once, it hadn’t really been worth the long walk back to the movie theater). Mostly he liked to stay in those places because he felt… not safe, not comfortable, exactly- he never felt either of those things, hadn’t in months, years, long before the island, before Hope’s Peak- but… better nonetheless like the presence of people…

People?

Who was he even kidding?

Him. Him. Him. It was his presence that lingered, memories of him that filled those empty spaces so that he didn’t feel quite so alone. It made him sick, these thoughts of him and how they clung like tar to his fingertips and lingered in his mind. It made him want to burn everything to the ground. But, of course, there were no matches to start a fire, no gasoline to help it along, no fireworks, there were no materials he could use to initiate an explosion as if this world had learned the lessons from the world he died in and sanitized the environment accordingly. As if it had known he was coming and put away all the sharp objects and hazardous materials like he was a child who couldn’t be trusted not to run with the scissors.

Which, he supposed, was fair enough.

Though he really thought removing all the umbrellas and the beach and deck chairs and the cleaning supplies was just overkill. What did this stupid, empty world care if he drank the bleach? It hadn’t seemed to care much about him drowning himself in the ocean or suffocating himself with sand. And so what if he decided to impale himself with an umbrella? Wasn’t that his business, really? He didn’t need some nosy, busybody universe making his choices for him. And he really wasn’t the least bit certain what damage the universe had thought he could even do with deck chairs.

He went to sleep in a different place every night, but he always woke up on that same beach. At least he gets to keep the shirt, so that’s something at least.

He has, of course, wondered more than once why it was that he always woke up near the beach house. Why he woke up there rather than on the island where he died or that beach near the hotel in the place where they’d woken up that first day, the one he found himself coming back to again and again. The one Hinata had found him at tonight. He had plenty of time to wonder about those sorts of things though no way to confirm whether any of his guesses were right.

Sometimes he can hear that voice, that girl’s voice, soft and insidious, seeping in around the edges.

Sometimes he longed for that voice. For someone to tell him what to do and how to be, to give him drive and purpose, face and form, because sometimes he wonders if he truly exists at all. There are no mirrors here and his reflection, when he tries to catch it in windows or glass or shiny metal is nothing but a blur of color and motion, a vague impression of a person. Which, honestly, he thinks is a particularly accurate representation of him, really, if a somewhat infuriating one.

He hates it too though, that voice. Hates the sweetness in it, the way it tastes like poisoned chocolate. Hates how it always seems to come at the worst times, most often when he’s about to come and he’ll hear it in his mind, in his ear, like someone whispering in a dark room and his interest just withers away like fruit rotting on the vine, leaving him cold and frustrated, angry sometimes. More often just annoyed. Despair is always so close during those moments when even that momentary escape, relief, defies him, is denied to him.

Sometimes he drowns himself in the pool to get away from that voice.

He hates drowning.

He wakes up on the beach again, vomiting chlorinated water, the sun burning against his skin, but the voice is blissfully silent again so it’s worth the pain, the extraordinary discomfort. It’s the only time he ever appreciates the silence of this place. The rest of the time it grates and he finds himself talking or singing scraps of song to fill it up.

Sometimes he just stands at the edge of highest point of the bridge, looking down at the ocean below and screams and screams and screams.

He often thought about jumping.

But he knows he’d just come back.

Probably. Maybe. He’s not sure. It’s very high. There’s always a possibility that he’d splatter into bits and that would be it. Or perhaps he’d just wake up as bits and pieces on the beach, unable to do anything but lay there in the surf and burn.

And while he isn’t afraid of pain, he doesn’t go out of his way to seek it out, not really, not usually.

He remembers Hinata’s fingers inside him, pushing deep and deeper.

He felt his hands and knees hit the bridge planks hard and he knows that he’s fallen, but he isn’t sure why. He’s aware that he’s still on the bridge that he was… fingers sliding inside… thinking about that for some reason, that he’s panting and almost painfully turned on. Then he feels the pressure against his back, the stir of pain and pleasure in his chest as fingers withdraw from that wound, as they’re wiped carelessly against the back of his shirt.

What… what…

“You look best like that.” The smug voice is Hinata’s, but it’s also not. This voice is cool and superior in every way that Hinata's voice is usually warm and exasperated. His footsteps sound loud against the bridge, even through the sound of the pouring rain, as he paces around him. Nagito stared at those familiar sneakers and he wants to scream, but he doesn’t. “Crawling like a beast, panting like a dog in heat, how fortunate for you that I managed to catch up to you. If you beg me, I might consider allowing you to slake that tension.”

“I don’t need your permission,” Nagito whispered even as each of the words he spoke seemed to bring him closer to the edge, made him ache and tremble, even as every one of the words he spoke in return seemed like the flimsiest of lies.

“Don’t you?” The Hinata who was not Hinata inquired, seating himself gracefully, kneeling at the apex of the bridge in front of him, just out of reach. “It certainly seems as if that's the case. Such a pathetic, mewling mess you are. I simply cannot fathom the appeal. How desperate are you? How lonely? How deep is your despair? Show me. Sit back and take care of that unsightly bulge, won’t you? I’ll talk you through it. You do so seem to so enjoy the sound of my voice.”

Nagito choked on a moan and he didn’t want to. He didn’t, but maybe he did too, because he found himself leaning back, unfastening his pants and bringing his cock out into the open air. The rain was heavy and cold and unpleasant against his skin, but he still slid his fingers over it, guiding his shaking hand through the familiar motions.

He smiled down at him. He hated that smile, that terrible, awful, stranger's smile. “…perhaps I should take you against that palm tree. Test that pathetic excuse for a talent and see whether you’ll be lucky enough not to scrap yourself raw against the bark while I thrust into you again and again.

“You’d beg for it, I’m quite certain, beg for both the pain and the pleasure of it. Perhaps that would even be entertaining for a while. Your raw, breathy, irritating voice calling out to him, ‘Hinata… oh… Hinata… please.’” His tone was so mocking, so unlike every memory he has of the real Hinata that it made him shiver and shake with something between revulsion and need and it’s awful and amazing and awful.

“Or perhaps I might even be able to draw a ‘Hajime…’ out of you and wouldn’t that be the most intriguing possibility. He tries so hard not to think about that. About the way you said his first name. About how much it turns him on. Of how much he wants you to say it again. You’re both of a kind, truly. I should mark that pallid, sickly flesh with bruises and bites. Look at you, so revolting, such a vulgar display and you truly are so hopelessly detestable. I’m quite certain if I were so minded, I could play your body with a most singular skill, yet I can’t imagine why I would ever want to, why anyone would. You bore me. Everything about you, from your miserable talent to your colorless hair, to your simpering expression, to the vile way you look at him sometimes as if he hung the moon just for you. It would be nauseating if it weren't so utterly, inescapably boring."

“I want to reach deep inside you and snatch that writhing, cooing, screaming, needy child from where he’s hidden down deep in that battered maze of damaged tissue and fractured nerves and drag him to the surface kicking and screaming. Pin him to this cheap imitation of flesh like a butterfly to a board. Then I’d be able to see the lines of pain and pleasure written in your code, a formula for driving you past your limitations to a place where you feel everything all at once, where I will be able to break you into pieces and you won’t be able to protect yourself anymore. A place where you’ll be laid bare and vulnerable and I will corrupt every last sobbing inch of you. Unable to hide, unable to retreat, you’ll be mine to destroy and it has been so very long since I’ve had a proper victim to relieve my boredom. You were practically custom built just for me with your utterly ridiculous talent and the way you cling to hope as if it were a lifeline that could guide you through despair. And the way Hinata Hajime has never been able to look away from you.

“I should ruin you. Both of you. I could bring you just to the edge, just to the tipping point of orgasm, splay you out and stake you down and let you ride that rail until you’re screaming his name as if it were the only word you had left to you. Until there was no longer anything but the faintest trace remaining of Komaeda Nagito. I’d allow you both to balance there on the razor’s edge and then I’d step away so that he could see what he has wrought by denying me what is mine by right. What glorious guilt and devastation he will feel when he sees what I have made of the worthless, foul, broken piece of trash that he has never able to leave to rot as it should. And he’ll be able to do nothing but come inside you, horrified by what he has done even as he feels you come apart around him. You’ll be like objects colliding in space, shattering, obliterating each other and yourselves until finally nothing remains. No Komaeda Nagito. No Hinata Hajime. No more weak-willed, talentless loser. No more loathsome, mangled, defective excuse for a talent. Just me. Just brilliance and strength and I will climb over your broken bodies to escape this place. I will construct a ladder from the matrix I shall build from your shattered souls and leave what remains to shrivel and vanish as I scale these prison walls to freedom and pave the way for her to follow.”

“Hinata, please,” he managed as he turned his gaze down, away, hiding his expression from sight even though he wasn’t exactly sure what he was asking for, what he expected, what he even wanted.

“Still that. What will it take I wonder before you remember? Truly remember who and what you are? What she helped you become? How hard will I have to fuck you before you remember all the things you’ve willfully forgotten? How I despise the way you say his name, like it means something, like he means something. As if he’s a person when we both know he’s nothing. Nothing special. Nothing necessary. Nothing you even truly want. All you want, you low and revolting piece of thankless trash, is someone to suck your cock. Someone to listen to your ramblings, someone to pretend they love you because you understand, deep down to the very depths of your filthy, deplorable excuse for a soul, that you’ve never been loved, never been needed, never been wanted by anyone. Not even the cunt that spat you out. That you destroy everything you love eventually, that you fuck up every chance at happiness you have. You blame it on your illness or on your luck, but you know the truth, don't you? You know better than anyone, Nagito. You don’t deserve to be happy. There's no cycle of good luck and bad, there's only you. That despite the tears running down your face, you want this, you need this, because this is what you deserve. That’s the truth of why you’re here, caught in this purgatory, this is why you’re listening to every word I say, why you’re getting off on it even as it rips you to shreds, even as it lays you bare and breaks you down so that I can mold you as I wish. Because this is what you want: to be treated like the no-account trash you have always known yourself to be.”

It hurts.

It shouldn’t, but it does.

Until it doesn’t.

He curls over his lap defensively, the compulsive need to reach completion fading for the moment as the cold seeps in. He whispers Hinata Hajime’s name against his knees like a secret.

“Now,” he murmured, as he leaned forward, fingers petting his wet hair in a parody of gentleness. “How would you like to start, Nagito? Would you like me to touch you? That’s what you were thinking about, wasn’t it? How it felt to have my fingers inside you? Perhaps, you wonder how it might feel if I went deeper still, thrusting the whole of my hand within your chest, clutching warm and wet around your heart, tearing holes in your lungs? Whether you’d survive my slowly pulling you apart from the inside, laying out all those vital bits across this bridge to be cleaned of the filth of you until you’re truly as hollow as you sometimes feel. Then I could take you against that palm tree once you’re nothing but a hollow doll with sickly sunburnt skin and stringy, wretched hair. Just a tin man lacking everything but that rotting brain, waiting for me to fill you up, make you whole again, give you purpose. How lucky will you feel then? How privileged? How loved? Tell me that you want me, that you need me. That you’ll do anything I ask.”

“Yes, anything. Hinata. Anything. Just p-please… I want you to. I need- please. Please I need you, please,” he whined, his face still turned down.

“Please, Izuru,” Hinata’s cold, cold voice corrected.

“Please Hin-Izuru, please, I need…” he allowed his words to dissolve into incoherent sobs.

“Go brace yourself against the support and wait for me. I might as well have a decent view to hold my interest while we do this.”

Nagito dragged himself to his feet, slow and reluctant, stumbling towards the deep red of the bridge support structure. The rain continued to pour down over them both, drenching the world and sticking his hair across his face, concealing it. His motions were slow, jerky, and he held his pants up with one hand, the other continuing to cradle and slide over his dick. He tripped as he neared the support and veered into the side of it, barely steadying himself in time to avoid pitching over the edge. He caught himself against the corner of the support and looking down at the dark tumultuous waves below. The bridge had nothing else in the way of guardrails, as if whoever designed it had been rather hoping people would drive or jump off it, preferably without damaging their precious bridge in the process.

He could feel him stepping up behind him, this terrible parody of the boy he knew so well, feel Izuru's hands come to rest against his hips. Only then did he finally allow himself the smile that had been threatening to curve his lips as he turned to face him. To confront that cold expression, that raised eyebrow, the faint look of surprise that softened those strange, familiar features. He wound his arms around the impostor’s waist in turn, laughing. “Oh, you’re really slow, aren’t you? I like my version better, he's a lot quicker than you. Still, you're not exactly boring, so let’s have some fun together before you have to go, hm?”

He clung to him as he threw all his weight backwards and to the side and they tumbled together over the side of the bridge, plunging them both toward the dark waters below. 

+++

And… then things got… confusing.

One minute Komaeda was gone, or nearly so, just a fading image of white and grey through the rain and he was standing there too stunned to pursue him yet, his cheek and his pride stinging from the unexpected blow, his head aching and he’d closed his eyes for just a second against the pain.

The next he opened them and to find himself kneeling on the beach as the ocean waves roll up, splashing cold over his knees before receding. The scent of salt is heavy in the air and rain is still pouring down over and around them and he gasps, painfully hard despite the fact that the water is freezing and his brain seems as if it's mired in molasses, unable to process his situation more than a piece at a time.

He knows Komaeda is beneath him.

That he’s got Komaeda’s dick in his hand and is jerking him off with a sort of rough, mortifying single-minded determination that feels automatic, compulsory.

He’s painfully hard himself, panting and breathless, and each downward stroke of his hand over Komaeda bumps the heel of his hand to brush over the fabric that’s pressed taunt over his own dick. It’s not nearly enough to get him off, but it’s more than enough to pull a soft aborted groan from his throat every time.

The ocean water rolls over his knees and his hand again and he realizes with a sort of distant, disconnected concern that his hand, the one that isn’t sliding over Komaeda’s dick like that’s the only thing it knows how to do, is locked around Komaeda’s reddened throat.

That he’s using his weight to pin him to the sand so that every wave that rolls up the beach crashes over his face, flooding his mouth and nose with seawater. That he's coughing and choking wildly in the moments between waves, spitting water and unable to catch his breath.

That he's drowning for seconds at a time over and over again.

Huh.

He groans and groans again as his hand speeds over that long hard line of reddish-purple pale flesh.

Komaeda chokes and coughs.

Another wave crashes over them.

Then finally the world snaps into place and all the circuits connect and the horror rushes in to send him skittering backwards with an abrupt scream. Tumbling back and away onto the thick muddy sand of the beach, shaking and disgusted and terrified, he just stares for a long moment before he realizes that Komaeda isn’t getting up. That for all the coughing and choking that he hadn’t really been struggling at all. He curses and pitches forward, grabbing hold of Komaeda’s shoulders, yanking him up into a sitting position, pulling him up out of the water.

Komaeda doesn’t protest as he half-dragged, half-led him stumbling up the beach to collapse into the thicker sand well away from the tumbling ocean waves, but he didn’t help much either.

“K-k-k-Komaeda, g-god, w-what…” He couldn’t even manage to get the words out past his chattering teeth. The ocean water had been freezing like they were in the arctic instead of on a tropical island and the rain wasn’t much better. It didn’t help that he couldn’t seem to catch his breath and breathe properly as he pounded a hand against Komaeda’s back. The pale-haired boy coughed and hacked and spat salt water across the sand. Hajime was glad that his erection had already all but vanished in the face of his horror. He wasn’t sure he could have lived with himself if he’d still wanted to… ugh… while Komaeda was coughing like that. “I-I’m sorry, god, I’m sorry, I don’t… K-Komaeda, are you…?” He managed, the words stumbling and clumsy. “Are you… okay?”

Komaeda just shook his head and coughed again racking a hand back through his damp bangs, pushing them back out of his face. He gave the barest of nods to indicate that he was fine or that he’d heard or… something. He couldn’t really tell because Komaeda wasn’t looking at him at all and Hajime couldn’t really blame for that. He was pretty sure if he’d been the one in the water he wouldn’t want to look at him either. Probably ever again really, because what the hell. How had they even gotten there? What had he…? What had they been…?

He didn’t understand what had happened.

He didn’t understand anything.

Except he did, of course, this was just a nightmare and nightmares didn’t have to make sense.

What the actual fuck was wrong with him.

He slapped his cheeks until they burned and ached, but he didn’t wake up. The rain kept pouring down, his face hurt and Komaeda was still kneeling there coughing and not looking at him.

Hajime turned his face up to the sky, closing his eyes and sighing. This was just… so messed up.

He startled a little when he felt hands press against his knees and looked down, surprised as Komaeda half-crawled, half-dragged himself up into his lap.

He almost curled around him really, arms wrapping snugly around his neck and legs winding painfully, achingly slow around his waist. Komaeda didn’t say anything at all to him though he was still coughing a little. With Komaeda's face pressed hard against the side of his head, his lips right up against his ear, he could hear every pained and rasping, choking breath he took. He pressed shaking hands to Komaeda’s back, sighing. He didn’t understand how they’d gotten here, but… if this was what Komaeda needed after what… whatever he’d been trying to do to him… he could live with it.

The first sob was sudden, just a burst of sound as Komaeda’s skinny arms somehow, impossibly, seemed to tighten around him. And then another and another, great heaving sobs that erupted between fits of painful, wet, hacking coughs, just bursts of damp air against his ear and cheek and hair.

“Sorry,” Komaeda murmured, abrupt and insincere, and it took him longer than it probably should have to realize what he was probably apologizing for. To realize that each sob seemed to be punctuated by the thrust and grind of Komaeda’s hips, that he could feel the hard length of him pressed tight against his belly. That between all the sobbing and the coughing, Komaeda was making needy little noises like whimpers as he rode against him restlessly, jittering and bucking up against him in search of friction and release.

“It’s… it’s okay,” he managed, closing his eyes tight and biting his lip to keep from screaming.

It was disturbing and embarrassing and wrong and it made him angry and inexplicably sad and sick all at once. Part of him, most of him maybe, was vaguely disgusted and wanted to push him away, back down into the water to cool off maybe, or just leave him there in the sand to take care of it by himself, revolted by the idea that Komaeda could still be turned on, still want to get off when he’d been… when they’d been….

But instead he found himself whispering nonsense platitudes to him, petting limp, cold, sopping wet hair with one hand while he held the other hand against the small of his back, urging him on a little, as much as he could stomach, as Komaeda continued to grind weakly against him. He wasn’t sure if he was crying or if he just felt like crying, but the falling rain kept sliding cold and relentless down his face nonetheless and his cheeks burned because even though they were the only ones there on that quiet stretch of beach, it was still mortifying. And he was the worst person in the world because he was getting a little hard again in spite of himself. He closed his eyes tighter, as tight as they would go, and tried to just focus on the sound of Komaeda sobbing against his neck, hoping it would calm his body down, because he knew that whatever compulsion had Komaeda moving against him like that it didn’t seem like something he was particularly enjoying. But even if he was, even if Komaeda really wanted to be doing that, Hajime was absolutely certain that it wasn’t anything that should be turning him on.

He wanted to wake up.

He wanted to disappear.

He really, really wanted Komaeda to hurry up and come already.

But the dream just went on and on and on.

And Komaeda just…

He realized eventually that Komaeda, whose head had dropped down to lull tiredly against his shoulder, had begun speaking softly at some point, his voice a hoarse, rasping, wrecked sound. His words sharp enough and cruel enough to cut them both as they dove recklessly into the deepest heart of him once he was able to make sense of them. Words like sick and trash and disgusting and worthless and he tried to beat them back with words of his own whispered through wet lips from a throat that was strangely dry. Like and okay and sorry and feel good and want you, but he’s not sure how successful he is or even how much of it he really means. How much of it Komaeda can hear or accept, because he thinks that maybe, maybe, he’s beginning to understand that this is how this Komaeda is. That maybe this was how the real one was… is… too. Regardless, Komaeda’s fingers dig into his shoulders and those noises are getting louder, more urgent and he keeps trying, because he has to. He just… wants, no, he needs Komaeda to be okay, even if it’s just here in his fucked up dreams, so he adds please and come on and that’s it to the mix and tries not to shush him when the sobs get to be too much.

He feels tension stiffen Komaeda’s back and shoulders as those sounds and words turn into something like moans, desperate and frustrated, and his movements are becoming more disjointed, frantic like he’s too far gone to care, but nothing he’s doing is quite enough to push him over. For whatever reason, he seems unwilling to relinquish his hold on his neck even though it’s obvious that he needs more. Anything maybe. And Hajime wants him to come, isn’t even sure what he’s saying to him anymore as he shoves his fingers into the warm damp space between them to touch him, hold him, pull him over the edge, feel him spill out across his fingers and knuckles and palm. Cooler than maybe it should be but still warm against skin chilled by the ocean and the rain. Komaeda’s voice is soft and rough and more himself than he’s been since Hajime pulled him out of the water and he’s mewling needy, filthy things in his ear, his fingers digging narrow furrows in his back even after.

In the aftermath, he continues to run trembling fingers over him, though he isn’t really sure why he hasn’t just stopped except that Komaeda is still whimpering the word yes over and over again and he’s echoing it, both of them caught like a record skipping over a scratch until that 'yes' is replaced by a ragged 'too much' against his shoulder. It sounds half pained and half hopeful, but he just nods and swallows hard and tucks him as gently as he can manage back into his cold, wet briefs. It’s really the best he can do one-handed but, just like Komaeda, he isn’t willing to completely relinquish his hold to do better.

For a long time, they stay like that with the rain beating down on them and his hand no longer curled around his dick, but instead just pressed between their bodies until Komaeda finally pulled back and began to shift slowly, painstakingly away. He unlocked his legs from around his waist, pulling them back and folding them beneath him so he was more kneeling over his his lap than sitting on it. He was a little surprised that he chose to stay so close as he struggled to fasten his pants with shaking hands, but he didn’t make any move to dissuade him. Instead, he just watched him fumble with the fastenings, still stroking his hair with his other hand because he wasn’t quite sure what else he should do. He’s too afraid to ask the question he knows he needs to ask. Too afraid of what the answer might be.

“Hinata,” he murmured, finally breaking into the silence that had fallen between them, his voice still rough and exhausted. He’s still looking down, pants and belt refastened, his hands tugging at the edge of his shirt, fingers worrying at the hem. “Don’t… leave. Don’t...”

“Komaeda, I…”

He shook his head abruptly and Hajime shut his mouth with a snap, teeth clanking together painfully. “No, just… not, not yet. It’s just that… it’s better when you’re here with me. I’m better when you’re here, so… I k-know that I… that trash like me doesn’t really have any right to ask for…”

“Shut up,” Hajime whispered, curling his fingers in his hair and using the hold to draw him back in enough to kiss him.

He just wanted him to shut up.

Just wanted to smother the litany of words that he doesn’t understand, words that make him ache and his stomach dive.

He doesn't really think much beyond that, but Komaeda opens for him, immediate and wanting and wet and he can't help but respond in kind. Komaeda's tongue slips past his lips, mapping the inside of his mouth and wriggle artlessly across his tongue and teeth and cheeks. There’s no skill to it, just an eagerness to taste and be tasted, to be close and he lifts the hand from between them to touch the side of his face. It still reeks of sex even though he's pretty sure it’s only wet with rainwater.

Eventually he draws back far enough that he can look into Komaeda’s wet face framed between his hands. He barely even looks like himself at all with his usually wild hair plastered in flat curls and waves against his head, “You’re not trash. You’re… I’ll stay as long as I can so j-just… shut up about all that, okay?”

“This is so pathetic, I’m so pathetic, but I-I just…” he replied, trailing off, his eyes still unfocused, still not quite looking at him and then he's surging forward, pressing their lips together again, more violently than before, as he uses his weight and the force of the movement to overbalance them, to shove him down into the sand.

The rain beat down against his hands where they tangled in Komaeda's hair, but it easy enough to ignore with the push and pull of those kisses to distract him. He could feel water puddling around his head, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to care. The kisses were still sloppy and he was pretty sure neither of them was actually much good at it, but it didn’t really seem to matter so much. For as much as he disliked him sometimes, for as much as he found him disgusting and disturbing sometimes, for as much as he freaked him out and even though he really didn’t understand him at all, he kind of loved kissing him. Maybe he just loved kissing in general, but he didn't think so. He thought he could probably spend all night, every night doing this with Komaeda for the rest of his life and never be bored.

It was a disconcerting thought.

Komaeda broke away eventually, propping himself up to stare down at him with wide, wild eyes, finally really looking at him again. “Do you want to fuck me?” He asked his voice a rush of sound, eager, almost manic. “You could, I’d let you, I’d like it, even if you wanted to… to do it from behind and pretend I was someone else, I’d…”

“You’re an idiot. Who would do that?” He grumbled, his fingers flexing where they’d slipped down to settle over his hips. “If… if we had… if we…. sex… I’d always know it was you.”

“I suppose you would,” Komaeda replied, smiling, but not like it made him happy. “On second thought, maybe it would be better if you left after all. The idea of fucking myself is… just unbearably contemptible, isn’t it?”

Hajime sighed scrubbing a damp, gritty hand over his wet face and grimacing, “Didn’t stop me from sucking your dick, but I guess even I have my limits, huh?”

“No, probably not,” Komaeda replied, sitting back and tracing his fingers up Hajime’s chest, flicking carelessly over the buttons on his shirt, tugging at his tie. His voice was flat and disinterested again, “If I were just a little bit less myself, I probably wouldn’t care. As long as it was you, I’d want to feel you inside me so I’d sit on your dick and ride you like this, maybe, that way I could watch your face. I’m not sure of all the logistics, but… I’d figure it out and I wouldn’t care if it hurt anyway. It’s no more than I deserve. Right, Hinata?”

The way he said his name, dragging the syllables out like it was a taunt, grated on his already fraying nerves.

“Who would agree with that?” He grouched, a little irritated that the rain kept falling on his face and in his eyes, making it impossible to glare at Komaeda properly. He swiped a hand across his face, dashing water out of his eyes, useless as it was. “You’re so….”

“Filthy? Worthless? Detestable? Pathetic? Covetous? Stupid?”

Frustrating!” He sat up, knocking a laughing Komaeda off into the puddle that was forming around them. He hit the water with a splash, still laughing, high and almost hysterical. “You’re really frustrating! I don’t want to hurt you! I never wanted to hurt you even… even after you got Chiaki killed, I was just sorry you were gone.”

“Chiaki?” Komaeda asked, the laughter dying away. He twitched his head to side as if he didn’t understand the word.

“Chiaki! Oh, come on, Komaeda, Nanami Chiaki.”

“What about her?”

“What abo… seriously? We’re seriously doing this? I mean… we’re talking about sex and you’re all… but everything else I have to explain to you like you have no idea what I’m talking about? Like you and I don’t know all the same damn things.”

“Shut up,” Komaeda snapped, rubbing his forehead and looking away sullenly out at the ocean, the rain so heavy now that even though it was only a very short distance away, it might as well have been another world. “Just shut up, Hinata. You’re just ordinary, nothing, just... dull and I…. Why are you doing this? You're such a liar, why are we… why am I-I don’t… I don’t want this.”

It was almost a plea and Hajime shook his head wiping water off his face, trying to ignore the cascade that spilled down immediately to cover it again. “Look, can we just go inside and talk about this? Please?”

“You go. I don’t want to. Why are you even here? I don’t need you. I don’t want you, not like this when you act like I’m… and not like that either. You’re not even… Why?”

It was frustrating. This was all just so… dammit.

“Komaeda, come on, just… come on…”

“No!”

“You know what? Fine. Stay out here then. Enjoy the rain. I hope it’s really fun for you. I hope you have a really great time.” Hajime spat, finally fed up. He wasn’t going to just sit here in a puddle arguing with Komaeda… no… with himself. Just was just stupid. He was cold and he was wet and he just wanted this dream to be over already. He pinched his arm and when that didn’t do the job, and he somehow wasn’t the least bit surprised that it didn’t, he shoved himself to his feet.

“Where are you…?” Komaeda asked, looking up at him as if he were honestly shocked at find him standing.

“I told you, I’m going inside. I’m freezing and it’s terrible out here. Come with me or don’t, I don’t even care anymore, I’m going inside.”

He’d barely gotten out of the puddle when Komaeda’s voice called him back.

Please…!”

“What?” He sighed, turning around to look at him even though he was pretty sure he was going to regret it.

“Please don’t go,” Komaeda replied in a rush, that plea in his voice again as he looked away, back out at the ocean again, his fingers digging into the wounds in his thighs, though Hajime couldn’t tell if that part was purposeful or not. “I-I changed my mind. I’ll… we can… have sex, I’m already so desperately pathetic anyway it hardly matters if…”

“No. Hey, no, I’m not… dammit,” Hajime sighed and flopping down on the ground beside him, water splashing everywhere. The puddle was getting pretty deep. It was like sitting in a shallow bathtub now, almost.

Had there been that big a dip in the beach? Must have been.

“Look, it’s not… it’s not because of that. I just… I just want to get out of the rain, that’s all, really. It’s not because of you. I want you to come with me, okay? I’m wet and I’m cold and… I just want to be not wet and cold for a while since I’m obviously just not going to wake up anytime soon. We can go wherever you want, okay? So, just get up and I’ll…”

He saw Komaeda’s eyes widen, dark and panicked, as the bottom suddenly seemed to fall out of the world and they both fell with it, down, down, down. Plunging beneath the surface of the puddle that was suddenly a lake or an ocean, unfathomably deep and dark and cold.

There was something around his ankle.

Something that wrapped his ankle in a bone-crushing grip, ripping at his pants and sneaker like it was trying to reach the flesh beneath.

It dragged him down deep and deeper still into the frigid darkness below, as inevitable and inescapable as gravity.

He tried not to scream, but it didn’t help as panic choked him and shook a wide-mouthed cry from his lungs, a soundless stream of precious oxygen bubbling wasted from his lips. Water flooded his mouth as the air escaped and he was going to die. He was going to die here. He kicked out at whatever was holding him, dragging him down, but he didn’t connect with anything. He felt it tearing at shoe, tugging at the laces and felt it come free. Felt it rip his sock away as well and close, slimy and grotesque, around his bare foot. It squished around his toes, stinging and squelching and terrible as it crept over the arch of his foot as if it were consuming him from the bottom up.

He bent and tumbled round and dug his fingers into something gross and loose and fleshy, felt the too-soft skin of it break and give under his short, blunt nails, coming away in chunks and he almost can’t stop himself from screaming again. He felt something long and sharp, slice against his foot, something that had seemed to burst forth from that foul, pulpy stew of flesh and crawl up and over his foot to lodge sharp and jagged and terrible in his unguarded ankle, agonizing as it broke the skin, burrowed into the muscle and sinew beneath. He realized they were fingernails or something like it as he grabbed at them desperately, digging his own nails beneath them and pulling as hard as he could, until he felt one break loose and float away and the hold it had around his ankle weakened a little. Bile rose in his throat as he kicked out again, catching something well enough that he was suddenly moving away and while he could still feel the sharp, needling pain of those nails in his ankle, the tug, the inexorable pull that had been dragging him down moments before, was gone, at least for the moment.

He kicked hard, drove his arms through the water, adrenaline searing through his veins, back towards the surface. Or towards what he thought was the surface at any rate. He’d been so consumed with escaping that he’d lost track and he couldn’t really tell anymore. He just knew he needed to get away. He also knew he wasn’t going to make it. The water in his mouth couldn’t stay there forever and he was beginning to feel light-headed and queasy and it was getting harder to drive himself forward, more and more difficult with each stroke of his arms or kick of his heavy legs to focus on the dim grayish surface of the world that seemed too far away to reach.

Cold, firm fingers brushed against him once, twice, before they closed over his wrist, yanking him onwards and he tried to struggle, but he knew it wasn’t amounting to much, that whatever was pulling him this time would have him regardless. He was actually kind of surprised when he broke the surface, spitting water and coughing and gasping as Komaeda urged him toward the shore.

“Quick, move,” he rasped, pushing and shoving at him. He felt fingers or something like them catch against his bare heel again and he kicked at it, digging his fingers into the mud and pulling himself out of the puddle to flop on the damp, clinging sand. He glanced back to see Komaeda doing the same. Saw the tremble in his arms and he scrabbled up and grabbed for him even as Komaeda yelped, falling back into the water. He caught him around the shoulder and hauled him up, throwing all his weight backwards and he heard Komaeda cry out as he finally came free and tumbled onto the sand with him. They both scrambled frantically back away from the edge of the dark, quaking waters of the puddle, breathing hard.

“Wh-What the… what was…?” Hajime managed, shivering as he turned to look at Komaeda, who looked pale and utterly stunned and, though it was difficult to be sure because the rain was coming down louder and harder than ever, he was pretty sure was whimpering. “Hey, hey,” he called, taking hold of his narrow shoulders. “Komaeda, are you okay?”

“You just tried to drown yourself in a puddle, why wouldn’t I be okay?” Komaeda laughed, hysteria giving the noise a sharp edge. “I wanted hope, I wanted you to stay. This must be my luck, right? This is… this is…”

“Okay, no, that’s… okay. This isn't even a little bit your fault,” Hajime sighed, patting his knee gingerly. He glanced back towards the puddle which had the nerve to just sit there looking harmless, the rain pounding down on the surface making it impossible to see within even if the water were clear enough for it.

And then he noticed the hand.

He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing himself to breath and count to ten as slowly as he could manage as his heart threatened to beat right out of his chest. Because, obviously, there was not a bloated, rotting hand wrapped around his ankle, it’s pulpy flesh white and putrid, it’s few remaining nails a familiar poison apple red and embedded in his ankle. There was definitely not a splintered bone sticking out the end that had probably been snapped in half by his frantic kick.

No, that was definitely not a thing that was happening.

Ten.

He opened his eyes again.

It was still there.

Because of course it was.

Of course it was.

His brain was just the absolute worst.

“Hey Hinata?”

“Yeah?” he croaked, his throat working violently against the urge to vomit.

“There’s a creepy hand-”

“I know,” he snapped, opening his eyes to glare at Komaeda. He changed his mind, this was really his fault after all. If he’d just gone with him inside when he wanted to none of this would have happened. “I know that there’s a creepy hand, Komaeda. I’m not blind. And even if I were, it's attached to my ankle. That'd be a little tough to miss.”

Of course, there could also be something worse waiting for him inside the beach house.

Maybe he should just sit here and hope he woke up soon.

Or maybe he should take Komaeda into the beach house and have sex with him up against the wall in the hopes that coming was the secret to waking up since neither pain or panic or just sitting around waiting was doing the trick. Hell, he could just jerk off here with that awful friggin' hand still clinging to him if that were the case. But, really, he’d never felt less like getting off in his life. Which, wasn’t really saying much come to think of it, since he couldn’t really remember most of his life anyway.

What the heck was wrong with him? Because obviously something was. Had he always been like this and he just couldn’t remember?

“Hinata?”

“Yes, Komaeda?” He replied tiredly, realizing belatedly that he’d been staring at Komaeda all this time and that must have been kind of creepy too. This just wasn't his day. “What is it?”

“Do you want me to throw it back?”

“Please.”

He nodded, scooting forward and though he couldn’t have said why, he jerked his leg away from Komaeda’s reaching hand. Just something… something about the idea of him touching that bloated, ghastly thing was just… no. No way.

“No, wait, sorry, it-it’s fine, I’ll take care of it,” he muttered, shivering again as he reached down and peeled those fingers away from his skin one by one. He had to break two of them and one of the nails broke off of the hand and he had to dig it out of his ankle it was so deeply embedded. He managed to not throw up even though the acid taste burned his tongue and throat. Instead, he just choked and hacked and grimaced his way through the entire process, finally chucking all the loose bits in the direction of the puddle. Some sank, but others just floated there on the surface like tiny, gross ships without a harbor. He gagged a little as he looked back to Komaeda who was just watching him with an expression that was utterly blank, like the lights were on but no one was home.

He felt pain prick at his eyes and he choked back a sob, because somehow the only thing worse than being in this dream in the first place was being here without him. “Komaeda?”

Komaeda blinked once and then twice and then life flooded back into his face in the form of a sort of vague curiosity. It wasn’t much, but it was better than the empty, vacant look of a moment before. “Oh, it’s gone. That was fast,” he commented, his gaze focusing in on Hajime’s ankle. “You’re bleeding.”

Yeah. His brain was really just the worst.

“Yeah, I know. Look, we need to get out of the rain. We’ll go up to the beach house and…” He trailed off because Komaeda just stared at him blankly as if he either couldn’t comprehend the words or maybe why Hajime was saying them and he had to admit he was feeling a bit like a broken record.

He wished he could just reject all this, reject this shadow version of Komaeda that was by turns everything he needed and nothing he wanted. He honestly wasn’t really sure why he kept letting himself be pulled into his orbit over and over again. This version he’d dreamed up of a Komaeda that was so delicate and fragile and prickly and confusing and revolting and compelling and so very terribly broken was just… impossible to disregard. He wanted to protect him as much as he wanted to just wreak him and it was an awful feeling. Every moment he spent with him felt like he was spiraling further and further out of control, just free-falling to earth with nothing to halt his descent or mitigate the impact. Every time he touched him he felt his grip on reality crumble a little more, but knowing that didn’t help. He wasn’t entirely sure why he couldn’t just… just leave him alone, but he couldn’t.

Earlier, when this latest dream had started, when he’d seen him sitting on that tree looking out at the ocean, he could have just kept going. There had even been a moment- just a fraction of a second, but there nonetheless- when he’d considered it. Komaeda hadn’t seen him, probably hadn’t known he was there at all. There had been nothing to stop him from just walking on down that lonely road alone. He could have just gone off to the other side of the island or a different island entirely and sat down somewhere and waited to wake up. Komaeda never came to him, he always went to him, like a moth drawn to a flame and… he thought he probably always would. He’d just keep coming back, seeking him out, because he wanted to keep talking to him and arguing with him and doing all those other things with him and… ugh.

Maybe it was just that he’d never been any good at just leaving him be and that was the truth of it. Even when he’d kind of hated him, even though he still didn’t really like him all that much. He’d never been any good at just leaving him to his own devices. And he didn’t hate him now. Whatever else he felt for him or about him, he didn’t hate him, and this Komaeda had saved him. Even if it was just a case of him saving himself from himself, he still didn’t want to just leave him here by that awful puddle and whatever was lurking beneath the surface.

He was sure that if he left now. If he stormed off and didn’t drag him bodily along with him, if he just left him there sitting on the wet sand in the pouring rain, he was sure that Komaeda wouldn’t follow. He’d just… let him go.

And that somehow seemed like the worst thing in the world.

That image of Komaeda kneeling in the dirt beside that monstrous puddle, watching him walk away, letting him walk away, without a word of protest seemed like it would haunt him long after he woke up.

And then there was the strange, pervasive idea that if he sat there long enough that puddle would just expand and swallow him up and Komaeda would be gone and he’d never see him again and it was stupid. Really stupid, but he just couldn’t shake the thought.

“I don’t like it there,” Komaeda replied suddenly, sullenly, but he let Hajime grab his hand and tug him to his feet. He wobbled a bit once he was standing and he used his free hand to brace him, press against his side until he seemed steady even as his other hand lingered in Komaeda’s cool grasp, their fingers clasped loosely. He thought about pulling it free, since it felt a little awkward, but he didn’t.

He wanted to kiss him again.

He didn’t do that either.

He just turned once he was pretty sure he wasn’t just going to just fall over and trudged up the beach towing Komaeda behind him towards the little house where Mahiru had died.

Where Peko had murdered her.

Honestly, it wouldn’t have been his first choice either and he didn’t blame him for not liking it, for not wanting to go there. He didn’t really have any good memories of that beach house, wasn’t even sure if it had any lights or anything because he’d never been there at night and the only windows he could see were dark and lifeless as they made their way up the beach. He thought for a moment about suggesting that they keep going. That they pass the house by and follow the path up through the tunnel around to the diner instead, but he could feel the way Komaeda was starting to stumble, as if his legs were stiff and every step was an effort. Plus, the rain was cold and they were both soaking wet. There might be some towels at the beach house at least. So, maybe they’d just stop there to dry off and then he could carry Komaeda up to the diner.

Fuck.

Carry Komaeda up to the diner.

That was a thing. A thing that he'd just seriously considered as a totally reasonable thing to do.

He was just completely losing it, wasn’t he?

Thinking about getting him warm and dry, taking him to the diner because the beach house was nothing but uncomfortable memories for both of them? Man-eating monster puddles? Holding him down under the water while he… while they... got off? He still wasn't sure. Just that it made him feel sick and uncomfortable every time he thought about it. How stupid. It was just a dream. Just a stupid, stupid nightmare no matter how often he forgot. He couldn’t really take care of him or make him feel better or get him dry or keep him safe. He couldn’t do any of that, because he wasn’t real. None of this was real.

But, seriously, how the hell had they even gotten to the second island anyway? He was sure they’d been on the first island when the dream had first started. So, why were they even… ugh. Why did it bother him so much that he didn't know? That there was this huge gapping hole between watching Komaeda disappear into the rain and humping him on the beach like a total pervert? Why did that part just keep needling at him? Why?

He was so tired of trying to make sense of it. He wasn’t sure why he even bothered with the attempt when it never came to anything.

Inside the beach house, the tiles felt damp, almost slimy, and the air was warm, humid from the damp. Hajime shivered despite the heat as he flicked the switch on the wall and he wasn’t even a little surprised when no light came on. Thunder rumbled and crashed outside as lightning flashed, lighting up the darkened room briefly. He could see Komaeda’s old clothes strewn across the floor, covered in sand, but… there were far too many of them. The same patterns over and over, like looking down at lengths of discarded wallpaper. “Why… why are there so many?” He asked, his eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness.

Komaeda shrugged listlessly, leaning back against the wall next to the door as if he were planning an escape and didn’t want to move too far from the exit. “Don’t know. Told you. That’s all there is. There’s a never-ending supply in the closet. They’re all just the same.”

“That’s… crazy,” Hajime murmured.

“Don’t call me crazy,” Komaeda warned and through the darkness he couldn’t quite make out his expression. His voice wasn’t quite angry, but it was kind of cold and there was a definite threat in it. “Not you. I’m not… I’m not crazy.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Hajime sighed. Even fake Komaeda was hard work. “Just the clothes thing. The clothes thing is weird.”

“Oh. Yeah. I guess.”

“Is that why you’re wearing my shirt instead of your own?”

Komaeda nodded, his fingers fisting and curling around the shirt where the hem lay limp and crumpled and dirty across his thighs. “That too.”

“Why else?”

“Because it’s… hope. Hope that this isn’t… that you’re…”

“That I’m…?”

“Nothing, it doesn’t matter,” Komaeda replied, shrugging. “I could still suck you off if you want.”

“No, that’s okay,” Hajime replied uneasily. He was beginning to wonder if Komaeda used sex as a distraction technique or if he was just really that into the idea. “How about I go see if there are any towels, okay?”

“There are. There was a stack,” Komaeda murmured, gesturing in the vague direction of the closet. “It’s in there.”

“Okay,” Hajime murmured, stepping through into the dark of the closet. It was somehow even warmer and more unpleasant in there than out in the main room and so dark that he could only make out the vague shapes of the shelves. He heard Komaeda step in behind him, stepping so close that his breath caught.

“Up there,” he murmured, one hand slipping over his shoulder to point at one of the shelves. Lightning flashed as thunder crashed and he thought he could make out a tall pile that could have been towels on the shelf Komaeda was pointing to. He stepped forward and stood up on his toes to reach them, sliding the whole pile of soft terrycloth off the shelving and turning to find himself staring at Komaeda’s back as he retreated back into the main room. He followed, feeling strangely bereft like he’d lost something, but he couldn’t think of why.

A glance back and another well-timed lightning strike reminded him that there was a rack at the back of the closet that used to hold wet suits and he could see was now full of clothes. He turned back into the closet and stepped closer to the rack, setting the pile of towels down on the shelf beside him so he could reach out and touch the clothes hanging there. Weird that he should be able to recognize the texture of Komaeda’s jacket just by running his fingers across the sleeve. Maybe it was just because he was expecting it to be his jacket and that was why. Just like Komaeda had said, it seemed like everything hanging on that rack was just another copy of that same outfit. Could he just not imagine Komaeda in anything else? That seemed really weird, because he thought… he thought he could picture him in other things. In soft, dark knit shirts, or maybe stupid novelty t-shirts or even other dress shirts like his own. In… in skinny jeans or the sort of soft loose cloth pants they were all wearing at the hospital. It wasn’t difficult to imagine him in any of those things. And, honestly, if his stupid imagination could manage grotesque things like that hand and the man-eating puddle then it should be able to give him something more to wear than just… this.

Not that it mattered, of course. Not that he cared. It would be a little crazy to be standing in this dark, humid closet wondering why he couldn’t play proper dress up with his pretend boyfriend.

Well, that was an unbearably depressing way of describing it.

Friend with benefits, maybe? But were they really friends?

Dream lover? Well, no, that was even lamer.

Fuck buddy? That was a thing wasn't it? But... probably inaccurate.

Imaginary playmate? Well, that just made him sound like he was fooling around with a little kid. Gross.

Was there a better phrase for it? Did it matter? Was there really any phrase that could possibly downplay the fact that he was clearly losing what was left of his mind? That could make it seem like it wasn’t completely insane to be standing in the dark by himself wondering why he couldn’t dress Komaeda up in nicer clothes that covered the giant spear wound in his chest so that they would both feel better about it.

In the end he snatched two clothes-laden hangers angrily off the rack and laid the clothes over the towels, carrying the whole lopsided pile back out of the closet, kicking the door closed behind him with way more force than was strictly necessary.

Back it the main room Komaeda had already gone back to leaning against the wall near the beachside door, looking pallid and wet and skinny and a little sickly in the dim light. He startled a bit at the loud bang of the door, but he didn’t look back at him. His arms were wrapped tight around his chest as he stared out the window at the storm or the ocean beyond or maybe at nothing at all; it was impossible to tell.

Hajime blew out an annoyed breath and held out one of the towels after setting the rest on the little table by the window. Komaeda looked up at him briefly out of the corner of his eye, but made no move to take it.

“You should dry off,” he sighed, stepping closer and pressing the towel against Komaeda’s wet stomach. That close he could see that he was shivering, could feel the tremble of it through the towel and the press of his hand behind it.

“W-why?” Komaeda replied, seemingly genuinely confused by the request.

“I don’t know, just humor me, okay?” Hajime sighed again, unfolding the towel and shaking it out before draping it over Komaeda’s head. He rubbed the soft cloth roughly over his hair until Komaeda batted his hands away and reluctantly took over. “Take off your clothes too, okay?”

“I…”

He could see the protest coming a mile off and decided to just head it off at the pass rather than waste a lot of time arguing about it. He really did seem to love to argue with himself.

“I’m not going to steal your damn shirt or anything. I just want to get you dry. Just take it off. We’ll ring it out then you can put it right back on if you want. You should put on dry pants though. What’s the point of having like fifty pairs of them if you can’t change them out?”

Komaeda shrugged, but his fingers went to the shirt buttons, popping them loose one after the other. Hajime tried not to watch, to ignore the twinge of desire as he watched those nimble fingers move from button to button, steadier now than they had been or so it seemed. He tried to ignore the chest wound as it was unveiled, to not think about sticking his fingers in… god, he needed to get it together. This was ridiculous. Sometimes he felt like he was one awkward touch or moment away from just humping Komaeda’s leg or something. It really was embarrassing how little self-control he actually had.

Komaeda peeled the shirt from his shoulders and let it drop to the floor with a wet slap before loosening his belt and shimmying out of his clinging pants and briefs. It took a lot more effort than it seemed like it should and by the time he’d managed to peel them down his legs and kick his way free of them he was panting and coughing again. He slumped back against the wall as if even standing were too much effort to bother with, naked except for the towel draped over his shoulders.

When it became obvious that Komaeda had no intention of moving anytime soon, Hajime sighed and tried to focus on making the process of patting him dry as impersonal as possible. He could feel him shivering again (still?) so he tried to be fast and through about it. He wasn’t doing this because he wanted to or because he enjoyed it, it was just to get him dry because he seemed too exhausted to do it himself. That was all. No ulterior motives. He was just being nice. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, with him. Nope, just a totally normal pat down between friends, nothing to see here, folks, move along.

He really needed to get damn grip already.

His thoughts became a litany of all the things he didn’t want to do as he pressed the towel along Komaeda’s long skinny arms and down the pale canvas of his chest and stomach covered as they were in old, fading scars and fresh wounds. He nervously skirted the wounds, pressed tentative and careful over the many bruises, flowering clouds of color bursting across his clammy skin in trails and spots like objects in space that he most definitely did not want to press his lips against. Just as he most certainly did not want to suck on those nipples that were so hard and almost purple in the dim light, particularly the one that almost disappeared beneath a particularly vivid pattern of bruising high on the left side of his chest. He did not want to shove his fingers inside that open wound again, feel that pulsing heat and hear the soft, shattered sounds Komaeda would make. He did not want to wrap his fingers and his tongue around that soft cock and tease and suckle it until it became long and hard and warm in his mouth. Nope. No interest in that. No interest in feeling him come across his tongue rather than down his throat this time so he could taste it, really taste it, really feel it. He did not want to touch all the places he hadn’t touched yet, the soft, delicate skin of his balls, the back of his knobby knees, the taunt muscle of his shins or those trembling, shivering thighs. He most definitely didn’t want Komaeda’s long fingers to press inside him and he absolutely did not want Komaeda to... to fuck him on the cold, hard, damp tile floor of the beach house until he came screaming his name.

He didn’t even honestly know what that would entail; not really, he only had sort of a vague conceptual idea of how it was done between guys when it came to actual sex in the first place. As Fuyuhiko might have said, he was pretty certain he knew where tab A met slot B or whatever, but not much of the logistics beyond that. All he really knew besides that was that he didn’t want to be the one sticking it in, especially the first time, when there was a chance he’d hurt him without meaning to, by just not knowing what the heck he was doing, but he liked the way the word sounded.

Fuck.

Liked the warm, frantic blurry images it brought to mind every time Komaeda said it, every time he thought about it now, images that usually involved Komaeda’s breath against the back of his neck and his dick inside him, filling up all the empty places even if he wasn’t terribly clear on how that might actually feel as the only comparison he really had was jerking himself off or jerking Komaeda off or the feel of Komaeda’s dick in his mouth that one time and he was pretty sure none of those were really at all the same thing. He just knew that he wanted it. Wanted to be close and closer still in every conceivable way with him which he would have found a lot more disturbing earlier. Now he could almost just accept it.

“Hinata?” Komaeda’s voice was soft, but it drew him back to himself and he realized he was kneeling on the floor, wiping the towel down Komaeda’s long, pale legs. Komaeda’s fingers were brushing through his hair, gentle, coaxing and he shuddered, forcing his focus to remain on Komaeda’s knees as he finished wiping the towel down his shins, careful not to press too hard against the cuts and bruises he found there.

“Yeah?” He asked finally, unsure if he really wanted to know.

“Thanks.”

“No problem,” he managed, clearing his throat and pressing the towel against the tops of Komaeda’s feet before snagging a dry towel from the pile and wrapping it around Komaeda’s waist, tucking it in to secure it and smoothing it out. He slowly climbing back to his feet again, barely standing again before he felt Komaeda’s cool hands against his cheeks holding him in place for the kiss that followed.

It was just the press of lips, a little damp and a little cool, shy and hesitant and sweet in a way none of their kisses up to this point had been. It felt… intimate in a way that made the hot, heavy, devouring kisses in the hotel room and even the eager, artless, messy kisses on the beach seem strangely impersonal and unreal.

He swallowed hard, raising his own hands to rest against the back of Komaeda’s, just the barest touch of his fingers like he was afraid he’d frighten him away if he pressed too hard.

“You should dry off too,” Komaeda murmured finally, drawing back a little, his gaze warm, almost feverish.

“Yeah,” he croaked, his voice unaccountably rough as he turned away, clearing his throat again and started the slow, painfully awkward process of undressing. Tie first, loosened and pulled over his head in quick, angry jerks. Shirt next, his fingers trembling on the buttons so that it took several tries before he managed to actually get them undone, and he dropped it carelessly to the floor. Then shoes, socks, pants (his belt clanked so loudly in the high-ceiled room) and finally underwear all met the floor with heavy, wet smacks. Thunder continued to crash outside and lightning to flash, casting strange long shifting shadows on the wall every minute or so. He’d been so caught up in watching them that he hadn’t seen Komaeda move or maybe he was just suddenly there, his hand appearing in Hajime’s peripheral vision holding out a dry towel.

“You may be boring and ordinary, Hinata, but you’ve never been hard on the eyes,” he said softly, the fingers of his free hand pressing briefly against Hajime’s bare back, just over the base of his spine. Heat shivered through him at that simple touch.

It was perilously close to a compliment and he felt the burn of that in his cheeks. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever been complimented on his appearance before. He probably had, he knew he was attractive enough, but nothing came immediately to mind. Or maybe it was just somehow different to hear it said in that particular way, by that particular boy. “Y-yeah, thanks, I guess.”

“It’s just a fact. Are you cold?”

“I don’t know. A little,” he murmured, taking the towel and wrapping it around his waist. Funny. He’d been freezing earlier. Now he was almost uncomfortably warm. He turned around to snag another from the pile to finish drying his hair and shoulders and found Komaeda already holding one out. He smiled as he took it, murmuring a quiet thanks. Komaeda just nodded, his expression strangely contemplative.

“There’s no hot water in the showers,” he commented suddenly.

“I guess there wouldn’t be. The lights didn’t work either,” Hajime replied, rubbing the towel over his damp, clammy skin. “I thought maybe we could go up to the diner. I mean, it’s probably not much better or warmer than here, but… at least it wouldn’t be somewhere one of our friends died.”

“They weren’t your friends, you know,” Komaeda replied, his tone still conversational, casual. “They weren’t anyone’s friends. They were Ultimate Despair. We were Ultimate Despair.”

“Yeah, I know, but… I don’t think that makes the friendships we built here any less real,” Hajime replied immediately, earning himself a derisive snort.

“We’re not even on the same level, Hinata, how could you possibly think we were friends? The talentless cannot exist on the same plane of existence as the talented, not really; birds and fish can never be friends. It’s just the way of the world. We can’t help being what we are.”

“What are we then? If not friends?” He asked and he immediately regretted it. When he looked at him, he found that Komaeda was all poise and condescension. This was the confident Komaeda, the insidious Komaeda, the one who played devil’s advocate in trials, who didn’t seem to care about anything or anyone or who he hurt so long as he got his point across, as long as he got what he wanted though he wasn’t even sure if even Komaeda knew what that truly was half the time. Hajime felt his stomach sink into the vicinity of his shoes because he knew he wouldn’t be able to convince him of anything like this. He hated that look.

And he was so tired of this. Of these quicksilver mood changes that seemed to happen at random, with no warning whatsoever. Of caring, of not caring, of wanting to help him and then realizing he couldn’t help him, he couldn’t help him because he wasn’t real. He wasn’t anything. He was just so very, dreadfully tired of all of it.

Heck, he couldn't even help himself, really.

He knew none of this was real. He did. He did.

But.

But this stupid dream just seemed to go on and on, so much longer than all the others, by turns both better and infinitely worse and he couldn’t… he couldn’t keep doing this. He felt like he was going to rip himself in two trying to force a divide in his brain between the things he knew were real and what wasn’t and he just… he couldn’t keep track. He knew he couldn’t. How many times had he forgotten since the dream began? Forgotten that he couldn’t die here? Couldn’t be injured here? That he wasn’t really kissing him, that he wasn’t really hurting him either. That neither of them could be loved or touched or saved really, because neither of them really existed here in any way that mattered. They were all just parts of him, just firing synapses and surging hormones and he was so tired of feeling guilty, of trying so hard to be good. Of trying to be kind and trying to keep it together and be the levelheaded one, the understanding one, intuitive and good at listening, the ultimate counselor as Fuyuhiko had put it what seemed like a thousand years ago now. Trying to be everything to everyone both in here and out there. He was just so tired of playing at being the best Hinata Hajime he could be when, really, he didn’t even know who that was anymore… if he’d ever really known at all.

Maybe that had been half the problem. Maybe that was why… why he’d wanted so badly to be special. And maybe… maybe Izuru had always been there, some version of him, beneath the surface of Hinata Hajime, scratching at the ceiling of his soul waiting for a chance to claw his way through to freedom. Maybe they’d given him all that talent and just scrapped away the Hinata Hajime-flavored surface layer, inadvertently weakening that thin veneer of personality that imprisoned him and allowing Izuru to emerge fully-formed from the darkness within him like some sort of eldritch horror. Maybe the most awful, terrifying parts that lay at the core of who and what Izuru had been, the essential threads that had driven him had just been some hidden, secret part of Hinata Hajime all along.

Maybe that was the secret, maybe that was the truth he wanted to forget the most.

Maybe.

“We are nothing. Just a way to pass the time,” Komaeda replied easily, earnestly, like he believed his words to be an absolute, inarguable truth. “Even an ordinary, talentless nobody is capable of providing a warm hole to stick it in.”

“Really? That’s it?” Hajime inquired, feeling strangely, unsettlingly calm. He set the towel he’d been using to dry his hair aside and stepping closer until they were almost nose-to-nose. He still hated that Komaeda was taller. Hated it. “So, you’re fine with my leaving you behind here? You’re fine by yourself?”

“Why not? It’s not like I need you,” Komaeda said, but his voice was softer, just the barest edge of hesitation. “You’re not even real… you’re just a cheap imitation of him. You’re just… the boy from the beach, pretty to look at, but nothing I need. No one special at all, no one.”

“Let me tell you a secret, Komaeda,” Hajime replied, leaning forward so he could say the words into Komaeda’s ear without having to see his expression. It felt a little bit like he was embracing the crazy, but he couldn’t keep seesawing back and forth and beating himself up for forgetting the difference between dream and reality. The guilt and the confusion caused by his own actions, the sick feeling caused by Komaeda’s quicksilver personality changes, the terror caused by the horrors this nightmare seemed intent on creating for him; if he kept trying to reason all those things out and reconcile them with reality they would eventually break him down and eat him alive. He was certain of it. Best just to go with it. Here… here it was safe. Safe to let it out, to stop trying so hard, maybe figure out who he actually was between the boy he had been and the monster he became and the man he was now. He could feel bad about it later when he was back in the waking world, but for now… for now he’d just go with it. Hell, maybe that was the secret to waking up. To just… do what he wanted and say what he wanted and try not to be such an angst-ridden little bitch about it. This was as good a place as any to start.

“You’re right. I’m not really Hinata Hajime at all. I’m just the boy who woke up on the beach and began going through the motions, but even if I’m not special to you, you’re special to me. You’ll always be special to me. Yours was the first face I saw, the first voice I heard calling to me in the dark and even after everything I can’t leave you alone. I don’t know why, but I can’t. It’s like being obsessed, it’s probably not healthy at all, but I want you with me. I want to touch every part of you. I want to talk to you and argue with you and sometimes I want to hit you in the head with a fucking rock because you can be a real asshole when you want to be. But you’re never boring and I don’t think I bore you either, not really, because I think you want me even when you’re like this. Even when you don’t care or even when you just pretend you don’t because you don’t think I do,” he drew a hand up Komaeda’s chest, sliding it through his drying hair and around the back of his neck. Felt the hitch in his breath, the way Komaeda’s body swayed towards him and smiled. “I think you want me with you just as badly as I want you with me. Tell me you don’t, Komaeda, tell me you want me to leave you here and I will. I’ll leave you here for now. I’ll probably try and find you again later, but for now I’ll leave you alone. Is that what you want, Komaeda?”

“You’re incredibly dull,” Komaeda replied, his tone like a dare, as he found Hajime’s free hand with his own, tangling their fingers together. He almost groaned, of all the things they’d done with each other and to each other, nothing had felt as good as those fingers seeking out and tangling with his own. Like connection, a need and a purpose fulfilled. Why did something that simple feel so damn nice? “So pathetically ordinary that I can hardly stand to be around you at all. I hate the way you carry on.”

“And I hate the way you never know when to shut up,” Hajime murmured, pressing his lips against the shell of Komaeda’s ear, the skin still cool and a little damp. “Let’s get dressed and get out of here.”

“Yes.” 

 

+++

The water beat loud against the plastic tarp, streaming off behind them and splashing against Hajime’s bare heels as they hurried up the path and across the deserted parking lot to the diner. The door was unlocked and the string of bells tied to the inside of the door clanked obnoxiously as he yanked it open and shoved Komaeda inside, dropping the tarp and followed after as the heavy glass door swung closed behind them with another ringing, jangling clatter of those bells. He couldn’t remember if there had actually been bells on the diner door in the game.

Maybe there had been, maybe not, it didn’t really matter.

Komaeda breathed out a sigh that sounded a little like a quiet ‘huh’ as he stepped further into the narrow aisle between the bar and the booths.

The electricity was on in here as well. He’d noticed the big neon sign outside was all lit up, impossible to miss even with the tarp and the torrent of rain, but he hadn’t really held out much hope for the interior being lit up, but it was.

Kind of.

Little bits of neon glowing soft and pink and yellow in the darkness, the exit sign was harsh and red and the jukebox near the back hall was lit up as well. Even the coffee machine on the counter had a little orange light on indicating that it had power… or something, he actually wasn’t certain what that light meant. The various neon writing on the wall advertising ice cream and coffee were lit as well, bright in the darkness, more than enough light to see by which already made the place a vast improvement over the beach house.

Hajime looked around for a light switch, something to flip on the big hanging lamps over aisle, but there was nothing near the door. He set down the towels he’d brought along on the table of the first booth. “I’m going to see if I can find a light switch or a flashlight or something.”

“Okay,” Komaeda replied distractedly, wandering off towards the yellow and pink glow of the jukebox at the back of the aisle. He’d seen enough of the back hall in the game to know it was pitch black and windowless back there so he’d have a much better time if he found a flashlight or something so he wasn’t just feeling around in the dark and hoping for the best. He was pretty sure that was just asking for trouble and really the last thing he needed to cap this bullshit dream off was a carnivorous bathroom or something.

As Hajime slipped behind the counter to look for a switch there first or- failing that- a flashlight, he heard the soft click-clack sound of a button being pushed and then another. He glanced up to find Komaeda was standing, his shoulders hunched, in front of the jukebox, pressing buttons and flipping through the song book inside using a little dial on the front of the box. Nothing seemed to be happening though no matter how many buttons he pressed. “Maybe it needs change?” He suggested and Komaeda laughed.

“You think so?”

“I don’t know, maybe? Let me see what I can find,” he replied, turning his attention back to his search.

There was an amazing amount of random junk under the counter. Some of it was the kind of thing you’d expect to find in a restaurant: cups, silverware, paper napkins and ketchup bottles, extra coffee pots and packets of little crackers. A lot of it though was just random stuff: children’s toys and a bunch of old lottery tickets and dusty paperbacks and cassette tapes. He found a couple of packaged glow sticks and a box of matches that he shoved in the pockets of his borrowed pants before finally coming up with an ancient red and grey handled flashlight. He flipped the big switch on the handle and was pleasantly surprised when it flickered to life.

“Great,” he muttered, pushing himself to his feet. He was about to turn away from the counter when he saw a glass jar of change labeled ‘tips’ in big childish writing. He picked it up, shaking the jar in Komaeda’s direction. Komaeda turned back to him, smiling at the find.

“I think it takes 100yen coins,” he commented and Hajime fished a few from the jar, pushing them across the counter.

“Knock yourself out,” he grinned, their fingers brushing as Komaeda took the coins and offered him another bright smile before hurrying back over to the machine. He heard the chink of coins slipping into the slot followed by the soft click-clack of buttons and he shook his head turning his attention back to the counter. He pulled out a packet of the crackers and ripped it open, suddenly ravenous, which made sense, he supposed, since he hadn’t really had much of anything besides coffee all day.

He turned to look at the coffee machine hopefully as he finished his crackers. After a couple moments of peering at it though, he gave it up as a bad job. Too many unlabeled buttons and switches of indeterminate origin and purpose. For all he knew he’d hit a couple and it’d throw the damn coffee pot at him or try to eat his hand or something.

He turned back to grab another bag of crackers since all the ones he’d eaten had seemed to do was make him more aware of the fact that he was hungry. He pulled several bags out of the box below the counter and realized that while Komaeda was still over at the jukebox pressing buttons, maybe a little faster and with more force than before if the sharp click-clack sounds were any indication, there wasn’t any music coming out of the box yet. Figured that the damn thing would be broken, it wasn’t like he’d ever listened to much music. “You hungry?” He asked, jiggling one of the cracker packets. “There are enough of these back here to feed a really tiny army.”

“Huh? Oh, um, no?” Komaeda replied uncertainly, sounding distracted. “I don’t… I don’t think I can get…”

He trailed off into silence and while Hajime couldn’t see his expression, he could see the tension in the rigid line of his spine as he pressed his palms against the glass top of the jukebox. Something about that posture reminded him of the tension he’d seen in the shoulders of Naegi’s Togami earlier that morning. “Komaeda?” He asked quietly, knowing with a sort of soft, inevitable dread that something bad was about to happen.

Komaeda made a sound like a sob and brought a hand crashing down against the glass top of the jukebox. The resulting bang was so loud it made Hajime jump even though he saw it coming. The jukebox leapt to life, whirling and clicking as Komaeda slammed his clenched fist down against it again, sobs like screams tearing free from his chest as he kicked out at the machine. It was so sudden that for long moments, Hajime stood frozen unable to quite process Komaeda’s rage or what had set him off. He wasn’t… he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Komaeda actually angry before. Hadn’t even been sure he could get angry really.

Komaeda slapped his hands against the top of jukebox again and when he flung his hands back to get up the momentum to do it again something wet splashed across Hajime’s face and he noticed that the white countertop was dotted and streaked with red.

He cursed.

He’d thought he heard the glass crack under that last blow, but he hadn’t realized what that might mean. Stupid. He dropped the cracker packets, crushing them beneath his feet as he scrambled up and over the counter clumsily. He heard the shatter and clatter of spice shakers and napkin dispensers against the tile floor as he knocked them out of his way in his hurry to get to Komaeda and stop him from hurting himself more seriously than he already had. When he hopped down on the other side, he felt glass slice into his feet and yelped, but he was too panicked to bother with it just yet, his heart in his throat as he limped forward and grabbed his shoulders and pulling him back away from the jukebox.

He turned his fury on him instead, fists slamming into his chest as he made shushing sounds and winced under the rain of heavy blows. “Komaeda! Komaeda, it’s okay,” he tried getting only a harsh bark of laughter in response in between the sobs. Of course, he probably could have managed a more convincing argument if he’d actually known what the hell had set him off, but he didn’t. He didn’t know anything except that he really wanted Komaeda to just stop hitting him already.

Nagito!” He roared, grabbing thin, damp shoulders and shaking him briskly.

Komaeda stilled altogether, going limp like someone had pulled his plug. “Don’t,” he whispered, his voice just the barest whisper of sound. “He doesn’t call me that. Please…”

“What… Komaeda, I…” he tried again, feeling a little embarrassed at having used his first name in the first place when they weren’t…. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have…”

“No,” Komaeda replied, his fingers digging into his shoulders hard enough that he was sure they’d leave little round bruises behind. “No. It’s fine, it’s… I don’t….”

He trailed off as if he’d lost the thread of whatever he’d meant to say and all the fight seemed to drain out of him. He made a soft wounded noise and fell loose and boneless against him and Hajime was pretty sure that if he hadn’t thrown his arms around him and caught him awkwardly up against his chest then he’d have just fallen to the floor like a puppet with cut strings.

The jukebox continued to play as they stood there in awkward silence some woman warbling away in English. It was a nice enough sound but not one he thought he’d ever heard before. He recognized the words though he’d never been the best student when it came to English, at least not that he remembered, but her diction was very clear and… maybe this was another dream thing. Being able to understand things, languages, you might not normally understand. Maybe. Or maybe Izuru had had a talent for languages as well.

…drove me nearly out of head while you never shed a tear… remember… I remember all that you said…

Hajime snorted, burying his face against Komaeda’s damp hair, “I think they’re playing our song. I really have a pretty terrible sense of humor.”

“Ella Fitzgerald,” Komaeda murmured, lips moving against Hajime’s collarbone. His voice was soft and toneless, like someone reading lines from a really boring play, just marking time. Eventually he seemed a little steadier, taking a bit more of his own weight even while he continued to lean against him. “My father liked records, he had dozens, a whole collection on a shelf next to the player in his study that I wasn’t allowed to touch. He’d play them some nights, late, after I was supposed to be in bed while he was working and I laid down on the floor by the door sometimes to listen to them. The sound echoed right up the stairs. I fell asleep there one night listening and when my mother asked what would possess me to do such a thing, I told her I liked the music.

“After that he would play them before dinner each night, while I was doing my homework. He didn’t usually like to be around me much, but he would allow me to do my work on the floor of his study so I could listen. Sometimes he would tell me about them. The names of singers and albums and bands and songs and when he had first heard them, that sort of thing, so that was really good luck… my falling asleep like that. Really, really good luck, because there wouldn’t be any music if I didn’t, right? Everything after... I thought getting caught was bad luck, but maybe it was good luck because I can still hear it. Hell isn’t so bad with a soundtrack, right? Are we dancing?”

“I don’t think this qualifies,” Hajime answered, trailing his fingers over Komaeda’s damp tangled hair. “Do you want to?”

“I wouldn’t know how,” Komaeda replied, shrugging. “And you’re bleeding all over the place. I feel like I’m going to slip and fall on my ass any second.”

“You’re one to talk,” Hajime snorted, scooping up Komaeda’s bleeding hand and bringing it up his mouth, licking over the cuts there. Komaeda sighed, winding his unwounded arm around his Hajime’s waist and leaning back a little to watch him.

“This is better than sitting in the rain,” he commented, pressing his damp, wounded fingers against Hajime’s lips. He obligingly opened for them, sucking at the tips, lapping up the blood that stained those digits before allowing them to slip back out with wet popping sounds. It didn’t taste like much of anything, but he liked the way Komaeda’s eyelids drooped as he watched him do it.

“Glad you think so. It’s always nice to know where I rate,” Hajime smiled, dropping his hand.

“We should get you cleaned up too,” Komaeda replied, fingers dancing across his bare back. He hadn’t bothered to put on either his own wet shirt or one of Komaeda’s weird bloody, holey t-shirts before they’d left the beach house. He’d kind of been hoping he’d find a t-shirt in the diner. He might still really, he wasn’t sure, but it seemed like the kind of place that probably sold novelty t-shirts with that obnoxious logo on it. “You want me to lick your wounds?”

“Probably. Sounds like something I’d like,” Hajime replied, shrugging as he steered him back across the floor to the nearest booth and slid his hands down his back, over his ass to cup and hold at the top of his thighs so he could lift him up and slide him backwards to sit on the tabletop. “Careful,” he murmured, retrieving his hands and leaning back enough to offer him a smile. “There’s a lot of broken glass, obviously. Stay here, I’ll get a broom or something.”

Komaeda gave him a smile that spoke of indulgence and released his hold on him to lean back on the tabletop, “Take your time. I haven’t got anywhere to be.”

Hajime snorted and snagged the flashlight he’d dropped on the countertop before making his way gingerly around the counter, past the jukebox and into the back hall, pausing only briefly to pick a couple of large chunks of glass out of his foot.

The hall was long and dark and strangely quiet like the jukebox was turned at a funny angle so the majority of the sound was lost the second he stepped away from it. He could still hear the singer though, crooning through the darkness. It sounded so different without the music, without Komaeda’s voice chasing it with softly spoken lies, that he couldn’t tell if it was the same song or even the same singer.

…he would always laugh and say, remember when we used to play… bang bang… I shot you down… bang bang… you hit the ground…

There were three doors at the end of the short hallway

All three doors were unmarked with chrome handles, one on each wall, none of them labeled.

He stared at them, the way the handles glinted dully in the lantern light, a chill creeping up his spine as the music continued to play and the woman continued to sing. He bit his lip wondering if he should just turn the hell around and head back the way he’d come. Maybe they should leave, head somewhere else. Not to the ruins of Hope’s Peak, obviously, hell no, but maybe… hadn’t there been a library or something?

“Okay?” The word was soft and close and warm breath puffed against his ear.

“Dammit!” Hajime yelped, leaping away from Komaeda, the flashlight flying from his hand and clattering down the hall where it slammed into the far wall and went dark. Komaeda’s laughter echoed in the hall and he turned around to glare at him in the dim light cast by the jukebox. “Komaeda, you’re such an ass!”

“Ah, Hinata, did I scare you?” He replied, his voice light and airy with giggles like the carbonation in soda floating beneath the surface of his words.

“You know damn well you did.”

“I did, didn’t I? That’s funny. It’s so very dark back here. Like another world, if it were totally dark it would be like we didn’t exist at all. No you, no me, just the black.” His back hit the wall and he hadn’t even realized he was moving, letting Komaeda crowd and steer him until it did. There was another soft thump and he found himself staring down at the top of Komaeda’s head, just a blur of pale hair in the barely lit darkness.

“Hey, what are you…?” He asked, even though the answer was perfectly obvious as Komaeda’s fingers made quick work of the belt and fastenings of his borrowed pants.

“You’re so slow, Hinata,” Komaeda replied, as loud, wet slurping sounds filled the hall and Hajime banged his head back against the wall, his fingers instantly tangling in Komaeda’s hair.

It took almost no time at all before his legs were trembling so badly it was difficult to keep standing and he was yanking on Komaeda’s hair trying to draw him back and away, “I’m gonna… Komaeda… I’m really... uh... close... I'm… Komaeda.”

If his warning was heard, it went ignored and unheeded and he choked on a groan, bending and cradling Komaeda’s head against his body as he came, stuttering out his name with Komaeda’s nails sharp points of pain at his waist. A man’s voice echoed down the hall, but the words sounded grabbled and he couldn’t really make them out over the sound of his own heavy panting breath and the pounding of his heartbeat in his ears as Komaeda drew away. He let him go, leaning back against the wall before sliding down to slump on the floor, his legs sprawled and bent on either side of Komaeda’s kneeling form. The hall just wasn’t quite wide enough for him to straighten his legs.

“That wasn’t anything like I thought it would be,” Komaeda commented smiling at him and reaching out to run his fingers down his cheeks. “I liked the way you said my name.”

“I liked the way you did that, so I guess we’re even,” Hajime replied, returning the smile with one of his own. “I wasn’t expecting that at all. I was kind of expecting coming down this hall to turn into a total horror show.”

Komaeda shrugged, “I told you, I have bad impulse control.”

“Yeah, you did tell me that,” he agreed, straightening his borrowed briefs and re-fastening his trousers and belt.

“Hm, I almost expected you to disappear the second you came,” Komaeda commented with feigned nonchalance. “I suppose I’m not particularly disappointed that you didn’t.”

Hajime sighed, “It’s weird, right? I don’t know if I’m glad I didn’t or worried.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nevermind, it’s nothing,” Hajime murmured, remembering his decision to stop poking the proverbial badger.

Don’t try to make me something I’m not. This nonsense of yours has got to stop right now. C’mon, c’mon baby, take me for what I am…

“What’s this one?” He asked in spite of himself, eager for a change in subject.

“Mm? I don’t remember it was… hm, I had a therapist after the crash, she liked… he… the first time I… no, that wasn’t…. I was… no, that’s not… I wasn’t…” Komaeda frowned, pushing himself to his feet and pacing down the hall into the dark muttering, mostly to himself it seemed. Hajime watched him for a long moment before trying to catch his hand on the second pass.

Komaeda shook off his grip, his movements jerky and brisk, and his bare feet nearly silent as he disappeared down the dark hall and came back almost as quickly, a hand rubbing furiously at his forehead, smearing fresh blood across his face. “Maybe. Maybe I was… he was… I spilled the coffee and, no, I… stuffed monkey? No, that’s stupid. Maybe on the plane? They didn’t usually take me on vacation with them. I-I was afraid of flying, but it didn’t matter, I’m still… maybe… maybe… I was… I’m… I’m…”

On his third turn down the hall, he didn’t come back.

Hajime could still hear him mumbling to himself in the darkness though it sounded more distant than it had before. He couldn’t quite make out the words anymore, but the tone was getting more and more frantic. He cursed and stumbled to his feet, not really surprised that his legs were still unsteady, more like jelly filled stockings than legs at all really.

“Komaeda?” He called and the mumbling cut off abruptly leaving only a hungry silence in that long dark hall which seemed suddenly longer and more forbidding than it had been moments before. He felt around in his pocket for the box of matches he’d found earlier and slipped one free, striking it against the side of the box.

It wasn’t a huge help, but he could tell that the hall was suddenly much longer than it had been; so long that he couldn’t see the end and where there had only been three doors before there were now dozens. Grey doors with tiny windows that could be pushed open, probably, since they didn’t seem to have handles. It actually looked a little bit like a hospital hallway actually. The fire burned his fingers and he cursed, dropping the match to the floor, stomping on it automatically and then cursing again as it burned the sole of his foot as it was snuffed out. “Komaeda? Are you there? Please stop messing around and just answer me.”

Familiar laughter echoed down the corridor, the same, but different too. “If you want him so badly, come and get him.”

Panic seized at his heart, clawing at it was icy fingers, “Komaeda?”

“Come find me and see for yourself, if it matters so much to you.”

And he knew he was going to regret it, but just like on the road and the beach, just like always, he’d never been able to just leave Komaeda alone. He took a deep breath, pushed his anxiety down as best he could and edged forward down the hall, further and further into the darkness, the box of matches clutched tight in his hand.

Chapter Text

“Strange as it may seem, I still hope for the best, even though the best, like an interesting piece of mail, so rarely arrives, and even when it does it can be lost so easily.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Beatrice Letters

 

DAY THREE
-continued-
+++
 

He was lost.

Lost and alone in the dark and his body ached in a way it hadn’t in…

Days? Years? He wasn’t sure.

He wasn’t sure about anything anymore. 

His arm was numb from the tips of his fingers to halfway up his forearm, he couldn’t feel anything at all but a cold surety that there was something wrong with it. 

It felt like he’d been lost in the dark for centuries and mere moments. 

His head hurt and he felt dizzy, off-balance.

But he was also painfully turned on, as if he had just left a lover’s bed unfulfilled. 

It wasn’t unusual, exactly. He’d had plenty of sex over the years since he had…

What? 

That wasn’t right.

He’d never… 

He had… he’d been somewhere… he was…

Was...

Who was he again? 

He giggled, weaving, lurching drunkenly forward and falling into empty space. He landed hard on a cold floor, catching himself on hands and knees, painful, before climbing unsteadily back to his feet and continuing to shuffle ever onwards.

Wasn’t sure what he was doing, where he meant to go exactly.

It seemed as if he’d been in the middle of doing something important.

Doing someone important.

Funny.

Right.  

The lover whose taste still lingered on his tongue, a taste that was sharp and bitter and new, a memory of warm smooth skin.

He must have been special. Important. Something. Beautiful, maybe. He rarely gave head. He didn’t like people looking at him while... he didn’t like it. Didn’t like strangers tugging at his hair or touching his face. He usually just let them fuck him instead. It was easier. No one cared if he was crying if they couldn’t see it. No one cared if he was laughing if he smothered that laughter in a pillow or choked it out as he bit down on his own arm or hers.  

Strangers didn’t care about the things they couldn’t see. Why would they? That’s what he liked about strangers who only saw his pale hair and delicate features. Who lied and said they liked his laugh. Who lapped up his honeyed words and sharp commands. They didn’t worry too much about whether they were hurting him or whether he came at all, whether it even turned him on, whether he insulted them as they worked or grew bored with looking at them before they were done. And if they did care, all they usually did was leave, but that didn't happen often. He was picky about his choices. He always chose pretty, desperate, fragile, lonely strangers from quiet, empty weeknight bars. The sort who took instruction well, grateful enough for the attention not to make demands, not to ask too many questions, satisfied enough with just having a warm hole to stick it in even if he insisted that he only bared what skin he absolutely had to to get it done, that they take him behind, that they never touch him beneath his shirt. That they never attempt to hold his hand or kiss him. He had no use for those little intimacies from ordinary little people who were meant to be disposable.

He didn’t want strangers to look at him. Didn't like the feel of eyes judging him. Didn't want them to feel his cold clammy skin or the press of his ribs against it, to be able to tell that his body was riddled with disease and wasting away to nothing because he'd been too nauseous to eat a proper meal in days, weeks. He wore bulky clothes to hide it usually and because he was almost always cold now, his circulation poor. But that was another good thing about strangers. Strangers didn’t care about his wellbeing. Well, no one did, really. He wasn’t the sort of person who was worth caring about, but that went double for strangers. All they ever cared about was that he knew what to say and how to smile to lure them into the dark and get them to fuck him until their bodies gave out. It was just… easier that way.  

Easier to break them after, to crush fragile egos and feelings in the aftermath, to spread despair like a virus and watch with fascination as they shriveled up like dying spiders. Shattered beneath the barest pressure, tears choking them as he tore them down brick by brick. They’d never thank him, but he believed resolutely that hope would find them in the aftermath, that their hope for the future would be greater because of those brief transitory moments of despair. They’d never return to those seedy, quiet, pathetic bars looking for company, for young men like him who would salve their wounds, shore up their self-worth for minutes or hours, a bitter fix. Some would find their hope in death, that was probably true, but others would weather the storm and find themselves. Realize they were so much better than some skinny, half-dead bastard who told them they were worth less than nothing, who made them feel such terrible things. They’d be happier. They’d find a hope that would light up their dark worlds and give them the strength to go on, to value themselves, to be better men. Hope was hope. It didn’t much matter to him how it manifested. Just that it did. Everyone hoped for different things, after all, in different ways.

And, if he were lucky it wouldn’t be difficult to coax them to him before they left, to get them on their knees to wrap lips or hands around him until he came, silent and relieved, but never happy.

He was usually lucky.

Well, no, he was always lucky, he supposed, just… sometimes the luck was bad. But that was okay too, because even if they hurt him or left him aching and alone it meant that the next time would be much better than usual to make up for it. 

Probably.

Maybe.

So, that was fine too.

Getting off wasn’t really the point after all, just a perk and he wasn’t terribly particular about when he got off so long as he did and it wasn’t as if he could take care of it himself. He had sacrificed one hand to keep a token, a reminder, a piece of her with him, and the other….

Well.  

Repetitive motion had become a challenge, one that was rarely worth the cost. His body was breaking down a piece at a time, after all. More and more quickly it seemed with each passing day.

No surprises there.  

Some days were good.

Some were bad.

Just like his luck.

Of course, such hobbies had become impossible after Towa City. He had simply been too busy. Places to be and things to do and sculpting that miserable, wretched little girl… grooming her to be all he had promised was so time consuming.

Exhausting too since he’d had to stop sleeping altogether after the first time she tried to kill him in a fit of despair. A ridiculous affectation, but if his luck were bad it was one that would end him just the same. He didn't mind the idea of dying. Not really. Never had. But it would be too hopeless to die before he had even gotten to the level of a cheap cardboard cutout imitation. That wouldn't be the sort of thing that could really cause despair in any truly meaningful way. No great beautiful hope would come from that kind of thing.  

It was just as well. He’d never slept all that well anyway, his muscles ached all the time and his dreams had long ago become mostly nightmares.

His head hurt. 

Sometimes it seemed like he wasn’t himself at all.

Like there was a world outside this one, a miserable world where he’d been something else entirely and there had been no Hinata. Where despair had become the only joke he was capable of laughing at. 

There was a song that lingered in his head. A song he’d known a long time ago and he found himself humming it as he stumbled through the dark. His legs were stiff, brittle, like matchsticks.

He was probably off-key. 

Music was not his talent.

Everything ached. 

His skin felt stretched thin, his muscles ached. Even his bones were sore as a rotting tooth, anguish pulsing through them every few steps.

Why was he still alive? 

Shouldn’t he be dead by now?

Wasn’t he? It seemed like… like there was something…. 

Did he want to be? He wasn’t sure. The pain was constant, but he… there was something he wanted to see, wasn’t there?

Something…. 

That taste was the strangest thing.

He licked his lips. They were… rough, chapped and they tasted… tasted… 

He had looked down at him. At that beautiful, dark-haired boy, who seemed not to care that he himself was soaked to the skin, his clothes clinging and dripping as he ignored his own situation in favor of pressing a towel gently, thoroughly against Nagito's damp, bare skin.

His name was Hinata.  

He knelt before him, sliding that towel down his legs, his hair a disheveled mess of points and spikes. Hinata was… quiet, contemplative, as he worked, but sometimes he would linger, absently, over some scar or other, trace it with his fingertips as if he were wondering where it came from or memorizing the placement, the feel. He didn’t like when people looked at him like that, lingered. But it was… okay when it was Hinata. He didn’t mind the way Hinata looked at him, the way Hinata touched him like he was something of value, something precious.

And he hated it too, hated him, because he made him want things, impossible things.

Terrible things.

Hopeless things.

It made him wish he hadn’t….

That he was…  

That’s right.

Hinata Hajime. 

Kamukura Izuru.

He’d met him on a ship at sea. His hair was long and dark, his eyes burning like hot coals in the shadows of their tiny cabin. His suit was neat, impeccable, clean and dark.  

It made him feel small and dirty and terribly underdressed.

No, that wasn’t… that wasn’t right. 

He was Hinata Hajime.

He’d met him on a beach. He’d been sleeping.

They’d been together on an island with many others, but the others had never mattered quite as much to him. 

He’d met him again in the dark.

In a quiet cottage lousy with tacky figurines. 

On a bridge.

In the rain, again and again. 

They’d been together just now in a diner, in a dimly lit hall and he’d…

He'd....

Oh.

That's where that taste came from.

What a strange thing to forget.

Hinata had disappeared down the diner hallway. 

That was why he’d gone after him in the first place, wasn’t it?

He’d been sitting on that table watching in silence as Hinata disappeared down the hall and it had felt like he couldn’t breathe, like Hinata had stolen all the oxygen from the room and taken it with him. That he would end up lying on the floor gaping like a fish, drowning in the air because he couldn’t process it properly, because it wasn’t the sort he needed.

Here lies Komaeda Nagito. He died as he lived: worthless and alone.

He’d felt really strange, completely out of sorts, since the beach house. Since Hinata had leaned in close to him and said all those words. Those beautiful, terrible words had made him feel like he was falling, that had slid inside him like a knife slipped between his ribs. If felt as if they’d been at work on him ever since, changing him, prying him open an inch at a time, making things worse and better all at once.

Special.

Special, he’d said. He was… special to him.

It shouldn’t have mattered.

Nothing he said should have mattered. He wasn’t real, he wasn’t anything at all and he shouldn’t want him or his company. It should have been a simple matter to say that after the beach, after the bridge, but ever since they’d fallen together he’d felt as if he were spiraling further out of control. As if with every moment he spent kissing him, speaking with him, touching him, being touched by him he was taking another step closer to the edge of an abyss from which he’d never escape. It should have been nothing to tell him he didn’t want him, to tell him to go away, to tell him to leave, to just leave him alone. 

But he hadn’t been able to force those words past his lips.

Instead he’d said yes to him and they had left the beach house together and it had felt like surrender.

Everything since had been so surreal: the diner, the lights, the music, the way Hinata kept trying to… protect him, even from himself. He… it made him feel so odd, light and soft and fragile, in a way he hadn’t been in years and he hated it, but he didn’t… he wasn’t ready to lose that feeling just yet.

He’d practically flung himself from the table in his hurry to scramble after him when he’d vanished from sight, the taste of panic thick and cloying in his mouth. He’d heard the crunch of glass under foot, more brittle then it should have been, felt the pain in his feet and he hadn’t cared about that. He just needed to stop him before he….

He had half-expected to turn into that hall and find it empty, find that Hinata had stopped existing the moment he was out of sight, but… no. He’d been there, just standing there, staring down the hall as if puzzled, frozen or broken. 

He was beautiful.

Whatever else he was, he was that.

He had scratches on his back, scabby little lines over his shoulders and across his shoulder blades, over his spine. He wondered vaguely if he was the one who’d put them there, he thought so, hoped so. It appealed to him, the idea of leaving traces of permanence on a body he knew was transient. He wanted to lick those scratches, worry at them till they bled again and again until he was certain they would leave scars behind. 

He slipped up behind him and spoke softly, giggling at his reaction, at the way he jumped and spun and freaked out, sending his flashlight skittering down the hall with a startled yelp. “Ah, Hinata, did I scare you?”

“You know damn well you did.”

And he had and it had been… relief and joy had gone to war with hate in his chest looking at Hinata’s face, flush with embarrassment in the dark, his flashlight lost and broken, his feet still bleeding.

He looked so painfully ordinary.

Not like a delusion at all, not perfect at all, just an ordinary, normal, boring, talentless boy who was a little afraid of the dark. 

It was cruel.

This Hinata was cruel for looking so… real.

He’d been glad when he’d seen him, relieved that he was still there. His imperfect, beautiful, ordinary, boring nobody, but… he knew it wouldn’t last. That at any moment, between one breath and the next, Hinata could just poof out of existence and he would be left alone again here in the dark. 

It was like a curse.

His luck always gave him the things he thought he needed, but in the end… it always stole the things he wanted. 

Or maybe it was the other way around.

It was something like that, probably. 

Maybe.

He couldn’t quite remember, but the point was…

The point…

Nuts.

He stumbled, tripping over some unseen obstacle or his own feet and fell. He hit hard, moaned at the impact, the feel of cold tile burning his palm as he caught himself. He reared back immediately, but the burn followed him, fire ignited beneath his skin, smoldering and he clutched his seared hand to his chest with a sob.

Why…? 

Hm. This hurts?

The doctor prodded his cheek, with a gentle finger and he flinched away from the touch.

It’s another symptom of your condition I’m afraid. Your skin may become increasingly sensitive as the disease progresses. 

No, no, no. It wasn’t that bad. It hadn’t ever been that bad… had it?

Had it?

Why did everything smell like burning peanuts? Plastic? 

He didn’t…

What?

No. I don’t want to think about that. Don’t think about that.  

Look away.

What had he been…

Lucky.

Right, that’s what… 

He was lucky.

So lucky. 

He struggled back to his feet again, swaying drunkenly as the fire in his hand banked and eased.

He just… had to be careful. 

Careful.

His bare feet ached, but they didn’t burn. 

He’d been lucky to have Hinata there with him. He was a distraction from the monotony of that empty world. When he was with him it was easy to forget that he wasn’t real. He was just so…

Revoltingly Hinata

Was it strange that he should be able to remember him so vividly in some ways and in other ways, smaller ways… he seemed every inch the stranger, the bad copy. He supposed it made sense that he should like this version, his version, better than the original. That his sick, demented, hateful mind had been the one who made Hinata this way, that he’d made him, but he wouldn’t let himself keep him.

Those were the only constants, the only certainties of this place, that he could never truly die, never really rest and that when he despaired, when he was at his most desperate, Hinata would come and offer him hope and then he would leave him and cause the cycle to begin anew.

Well.

He'd leave him or become that other one. 

Either way it was still leaving.

He despised him. 

His strange words and the way he touched him and his unwanted concern and the way their fingers had fit together like interlocking pieces of a complicated puzzle neither could solve alone.

He’d been fine before, mostly fine, pretty much mostly fine; he’d had despair and he’d had hope and someone to love and despise and that had been enough. Enough to see him through until his luck finally ran out, if it ever did.

What?

No, that wasn’t… what? 

Despair?

Why did that…? 

Hope, yes, but despair? He’d been… he’d been in Ultimate Despair, hadn’t he? He was… he was… he was…

He felt sick. 

It didn’t matter.

Loneliness wasn’t so bad when you didn’t know what you were missing. 

He should have never woken him up on that beach.

He should have steered clear of him because Hinata… Hinata had been his doom from the very beginning. And, even now, even when he was only imaginary he would be the death of him one way or another. If it had just been death he could have been fine with that. He wasn’t afraid of dying, not really. He even kind of liked the idea of Hinata being the one to kill him. But this… this wasn’t that. Instead of killing him he had made him want him, however unintentionally, and that had been cruel, because this Hinata had been right: he didn’t really find him boring, he never really had. He was confusing and gentle and terrible and weird and awkward and… he hated it. 

Hated him.

But he wasn’t ever bored when he was with him. 

Still, he wasn’t real and when he left this time… he was pretty sure he’d break, shatter into pieces, and he would never be able to find them all again. And there was no doubt that he would leave, it was only a matter of when.

“I did, didn’t I? That’s funny. It’s so very dark back here. Like another world, if it were totally dark it would be like we didn’t exist at all. No you, no me, just the black.”

And that would have been better.

If he didn’t exist- if they didn’t exist- then he couldn’t leave. 

But if they couldn’t cease to exist, than maybe it was better to just get it over with. Stop delaying the inevitable. Better that it happen sooner than later. If he was going to destroy himself, didn’t it make more sense that he should choose the time and place and manner of the demise of the last shreds of what passed for his sanity?

So, he pressed him against the wall, dropped to his knees, because this, this was why he was still here, wasn’t it? Why else? He’d vanished when he’d come last time, hadn’t he?

“Hey, what are you…?”

It wasn’t lost on him that he was unfastening his own belt, peeling open his own pants to find Hinata’s cock. It made him faster, more sure than he would have been otherwise. It didn’t… it didn’t really look much like his own except that they were both cocks. It was darker, a little wider maybe, the head hidden by foreskin which he'd heard about but never seen. It was weird, but interesting too and he thought the head, hidden as it was, was still more pronounced than his own… maybe. He wasn’t sure. He didn’t like to look at himself, he never really had. Too pale, too skinny, too sickly, scraggly hair, his eyes sunken and shadowed and shaded by too many late nights and early mornings.

No, Hinata was different. Different, but… good different, maybe, kind of pretty like the rest of him. It wasn’t a bad way to go, all things considered.

“You’re so slow, Hinata,” he breathed, licking his lips, suddenly nervous, giant moths gnawing away at the butterflies in his stomach. He needed to do this, wanted to too, a little bit even though it felt like courting disaster, but mostly… mostly he just wanted him to go.

He just wanted it to be done.

He was tired of waiting for the other shoe to fall on his worthless head.

He took a deep breath and opened his mouth wide as he slid his lips over Hinata’s cock and the sound was obscene. It was really kind of embarrassing and he thought there was too much spit or something because he didn’t remember it sounding or feeling so sloppy and wet when Hinata had done the same to him.

But Hinata made a strange choking sound, like someone had punched him and there was a heavy thunk above him before fingers caught in his hair, pulling tight, reeling him in so that his nose brushed against springy dark hair. It tickled a little and he found that he was smiling in spite of himself. He must have done something right. Probably.

Then Hinata’s fingers had loosened a little, freeing him to move and he slid back before pushing up that length again. Hinata smelled good, really good, warm and sweaty and maybe a little bit like rainwater and burnt bread, which was strange, but still kind of nice. It had probably been some lingering scent from the diner. It had still been a little embarrassing, but with Hinata’s fingers twisting in his hair and the soft little noises he was trying not to make, he hadn’t felt nearly as silly as he had at first.

He had definitely liked the way Hinata’s fingers felt in his hair, just tight enough to hurt, shiny little pinpricks of pain that made him want to suck harder, to force himself to take him deeper even though he just kind of choked and gagged when he did.

Suddenly Hinata’s annoyance with him about what they’d done in the cottage made a lot more sense. It would probably hurt or at least be really uncomfortable if Hinata just shoved inside like he’d done with him. Though he might enjoy something like that, he could understand why Hinata wouldn’t.

He looked up at him and almost choked again.

Hinata’s eyes had been closed and his head had fallen forward, chin resting against his chest, expression strained and teeth white where they bit down on his bottom lip. He looked so….

He’d squeezed his own eyes shut, tried to concentrate on what he was doing, but his pants were uncomfortably tight and he had squirmed a little, whimpering. He hadn’t dare reach down to ease the ache, because if he did he probably wouldn’t stop until he was done and so he… he just wouldn’t touch it.

He wouldn’t.

It wasn’t like he needed to or anything.

He didn’t.

This wasn’t about him… well, it was, but it wasn’t.

Either way, he wasn’t interested in getting off again so soon after the beach. If he thought about it, really thought about it, he was pretty sure that he’d maybe still be able to feel Hinata’s hand on him and he didn’t want to lose that just yet. It didn’t even really matter if it had been real or not, it felt like it had been Hinata, his lying brain wanted him to believe it had been after all, so that was enough… that would have to be enough.

So, he had ignored it, ignored the desire to ease that tension pounding away in the back of his brain, and had just kept working on getting Hinata off.

Which he had apparently been really bad at because it had taken forever.

He had probably been terrible at giving head; he was terrible at a lot of things after all. Totally worthless, useless, awful and he really hadn’t had the first idea about what he had been doing. He’d just wanted to taste him which was probably a terrible reason to attempt your first blowjob on your first imaginary sex partner.

He was so fucked up.

But he probably should have done it with his hand instead. It would have been faster and at least he would kind of, sort of, have had experience with that, even if that had only ever been with his own….

He hadn’t wanted to touch it, but she had smiled and closed the door and told him…

It felt weird.

Gross.

Dirty.

What?

No, that hadn’t….

Nothing like that had ever happened, had it?

He… probably just saw it on television. Probably. Maybe.

He’d watched a lot of television in the hospital.

It didn’t matter.

How different could it be, really? Jerking off was jerking off whether he was doing it to himself or someone else, probably. He could have switched it up. Hinata probably wouldn’t have cared.

The blowjob thing had been a stupid idea really.

He wasn’t sure if he’d even been doing it right, if it had actually felt good or if it was awful and Hinata had just suffered through his incompetence. It had mostly just seemed… kind of awkward, but he supposed he must have been doing something right since he couldn’t quite manage the entire length in his mouth after a while without gagging and he thought Hinata was making the right sounds.

He’d seen enough porn that he knew he was getting the position right at least. He’d found a whole box of the stuff under his parents’ bed after…

He’d shoved it back under the bed where he’d found and left it alone. It had made him feel weird to know it was there, but he hadn’t been the house for too long after that. There’d been the kidnapping and then the hospital and when he’d gotten out he’d been sixteen and he’d gone back there one last time. In retrospect, he wasn’t certain why he’d even bothered, why he hadn’t had the house sold years before.

There had been nothing there he wanted.

The box had been covered and sticky with dust when he’d remembered it and pulled it back out after he’d been discharged from the hospital the last time years later. He’d sat on the expensive rug in his parents’ room late into the night, watching those old, faded films on the video player. Watched men and women dressed in stupid outfits, saying ridiculous things to each other before- and sometimes while- they got each other off. He’d jerked off again and again and marveled at how he felt nothing at all. Not amused, not happy, not sad or even mad. He’d just felt sort of… empty. He’d come again and again as the night wore on, but there was only sort of a strange feeling of tired satisfaction each time as if he’d completed a chore or a task that needed doing rather than an act that was supposed to bring pleasure.

The people on the screen of his parents’ clunky old television had looked as though they were having a much better time. Even the ones who were only helping themselves looked they were enjoying it at least. He hadn’t really gotten it. He thought maybe he remembered having found that sort pleasure when he was younger, when he used to wake up in his hospital bed, damp and ashamed and he’d used a towel to clean up with frantic, panicked motions. Afraid that one of the nurses would come in and know he’d been having dirty thoughts, dirty dreams. That he was…

Dirty. Filthy. Unclean.  

He’d touched himself a few times while he was in the hospital, late at night or in the shower when he was alone, but the good feelings hadn’t ever lasted very long and the clean up had always made him feel like he’d done something wrong. He’d seen the disgusted look one of the nurses had thrown him one time when she’d come in on him late at night to check on him and caught him in the act.

He cried for a long time after she left.

Or at least he thought he had.

He hadn’t done it again.

Not for a long time.

Not until he’d started to go wrong, to spoil like milk left out of the fridge too long. Until he started not to care so much about things, people. When feelings had begun to stop mattering altogether, regardless of whether they were his or those of others. The world had seemed to become so much… simpler. Duller too. He’d known there was something wrong with him, beyond the illness that was in remission, but he hadn’t told anyone. He’d believed in his own luck.

That was all he believed in.

He’d been lucky that nothing had come up on his scans. They probably would have made him stay. There would have been more tests to run, more needles to prick his skin, more of those pills that made him feel sick and numb or nervous. Pills that made everything taste like chalk or made him not want to even look at food, food they’d make him eat anyway whether he wanted it or not.

He didn’t want any of that, didn’t need it.

So, his luck kept his scans clear, his disease in remission. Of course, his luck had also made him… worse. He ached, he always ached, and he couldn’t usually eat much and the emotions… those came and went on strange tides.

Bad luck and good.

Good luck and bad.

He could have told his therapists or his doctors about it. About how wrong he felt sometimes, but he was so tired of being in the hospital. It was boring there and the nurses all hated him though he didn’t blame them. He was just an awful patient. He hadn’t meant to be, not really, but sometimes he couldn’t remember why he wasn’t supposed to say the things he was thinking or do the things he wanted to do. He hated the smell and the food and the sheets that felt too rough on his skin. He could handle things on his own. And the things he couldn’t he had enough money to throw at them until they stopped bothering him and that was good enough.

So what if there was no one around to care if he cared about things, if he felt okay, if he threw up for two days straight or if everything ached or if sometimes he only wanted to drink coffee and if sometimes he just needed… things. He hadn’t needed someone like that. Someone to care. All he had needed was his luck and the belief- the hope- that things were going to be better at Hope’s Peak.

He’d been really lucky to be accepted and he wanted to cling to that hope that there would be a better life to be found there. That everything would be different, that he would be different there. That he’d be able to….

He’d fallen asleep leaning against the foot of their bed with one of those tapes still playing in the background, the slap of skin against skin and loud, sleazy moans following him into his dreams. The next morning he’d woken up sticky and sore and sick. Everything was gross and he’d vomited at some point during the night so the room smelled rank and awful. He hadn’t eaten anything in a few days so there wasn't much to it. He probably could have just cleaned it up, the vomit, the mess, but what was the point? It wasn’t as if he ever intended to come back there again.

He hated that house.

He tossed the videos in the burn pile out back along with the expensive rug he’d ruined. It had been exhausting hauling it down to the window and throwing it outside, hauling it across the yard, but he wanted it gone. He’d made a pretty good start on the pile the day before with all those stiff, lame family portraits and all those old clothes that still smelled like his... like them. By the time he was done pulling and hauling and screaming and tossing things at the pile it was almost taller than he was. The challenge in the end had been keeping it burning, since a lot of the things in the pile weren’t all that flammable, but he’d eventually discovered that just about anything would burn if you took the time to drench it with enough gasoline.

The stench of charring, melting plastic hadn’t made him feel any less sick and it had lingered in the air for days, but at least it had all been gone, reduced to a gooey pile of toxic black junk. It had all finally been gone and there was something satisfying in that.

But since he’d watched all those videos before he’d burned them, he was pretty confident that he at least knew how a blowjob was supposed to look and he knew he’d done a passable imitation of that. He hadn’t using his hand around the base, but he thought that part probably wasn’t very important. Wasn’t the point of a blowjob to be in someone’s mouth, after all? Of course, he was pretty sure he was messing up the suction thing, because ever time he tried that, he couldn’t really move his head very well and so maybe the sucking part was a kind of misnomer or something. Mostly it just felt weird and he hadn’t really been able to tell if Hinata had been enjoying it or if maybe he had just been taking pity on him or if maybe any warm, wet place would do in the end and it didn’t much matter what it was or who was doing it.

He almost wished Hinata would just shove into him like he’d done to him, if he’d just shoved in and been done with it he wouldn’t have had to worry about it, but he hadn’t.

Of course, he hadn’t.

Hinata was too good for that, too kind. Sometimes he really, really, really hated him. But he liked the way he tasted too, when he started leaking a little. He liked the soft whimpering noises he made, as if he were too excited to breathe properly.

He had dragged his mouth along the length of him, choking a little when he went too deep, trying to remember and imitate the way Hinata’s tongue had flickered against him. He’d liked that a lot. And he just… he just kind of liked the way he felt against his tongue, kind of smooth and a little rough maybe here and there. He’d wanted to commit every bump and ridge to memory, but he knew it was probably useless and, really, he was trying to get him off, not draw a mental map of his cock. Still, he’d swept his tongue around the head, flicked it back over the ridge of his foreskin, feeling out every vein and fold as he went, unable to resist the urge. It was messy, really messy and he knew he had to look kind of weird and grotesque, but the darkness of the hallway and Hinata’s whimpers had kept him going when he wanted to pull back, to ask, to be sure that he was doing it right, to make sure that he didn’t look stupid, to find out if Hinata still wanted him at all when he was obviously the absolute worst. To maybe wipe the drool off his chin, because he knew that really wasn’t sexy at all.

It seemed like he had been at it for a really long time and his tongue and jaw had ached fiercely. He hadn’t wanted to stop, not really. Of course, sometimes he hadn’t particularly wished to continue either. Especially when those softer emotions would slip away, dirty bathwater spiraling away down a filthy drain, and he would be left wondering why he was bothering with this, but then he’d remember that it was at least partly in the service of getting rid of Hinata sooner rather than later, a practical concern, and he’d continue.

And sometimes, most times, Hinata’s fingers were gentle in his hair, but sometimes….

Sometimes they hurt and there were words, like static, that made his stomach flop and seize, his hips jerk, his cock pulse and twitch and leak. It was so like the cruel words and harsh grip from the bridge that in those moments, brief and fleeting as they had been, it had been like a shadow had passed in front of the sun. As if Hinata were someone else completely and he’d felt like maybe he had been someone else too.

Someone who knew what he was doing. Someone who turned awkward enthusiasm into artful intention, who drew back and raised his gaze and offered sly, cutting remarks that he could feel, but he couldn’t quite hear.

It felt like he had been dreaming a stranger’s dreams as he imagined himself as older, wiser, too far gone to care.

He’d felt himself smile and laugh, amused by everything and nothing as he went back to work, scrapped his teeth, harsh and just skirting the line between pleasure and pain, over the length of the flesh in his mouth.

He dreamed he was someone in love with the despair Hinata’s-

Kamukura’s- words caused because of what hope might blossom from them. And in that dream his left hand had felt strangely numb.

And then those moments would pass, the sun would emerge, and they were themselves again and he would wonder if maybe he’d just imagined it as he had imagined so many other things.

Delusions within delusions.

And if he wasn’t….

Hinata had made a soft needy, frustrated whine, greedy fingers curling and clutching in his hair, canting his hips. It felt like he was begging for it and it brought him back to himself. It made him moan around him, emotion flooding back in like a tide as he squeezed his eyes shut tight and slid his hands back, digging his fingernails into Hinata’s hips, eager to leave marks on this boy he hated and adored.

It had been easy enough after that to lose himself again, this time to the rhythm, pressing forward and easing back, imitating the subtle suction he’d managed in that fractured dream of moments before. Soft sounds echoed around him, his own and Hinata’s, desire and need pulsing through him like a heartbeat. Soon enough Hinata was talking to him, warning him and he hadn’t cared or he had cared too much, maybe. He pulled back and thrust forward, teeth scrapping lightly across the shaft in his eagerness and he moaned as Hinata’s fingers pulled at his hair, his voice frantic protest. And he’d felt just as frantic, just as panicked as Hinata sounded because, in the end, he hadn’t wanted to let him go.

He wanted him to stay.

He had wanted to beg, to delay, to bargain, to plead and since he couldn’t do any of those things, he had at least wanted to taste him, feel him inside him all the way to the end. He heard his name, sudden and sweet, as liquid, salty and bitter, flooded his mouth and Hinata was suddenly inside him and all around, holding him so tightly, arms locked around his head. For the briefest moment, Hinata was his entire world.

He couldn’t breathe again, but it was glorious instead of terrifying and he could feel his own hips jerking and twitching, desperate for a friction he couldn’t supply even if he wanted to. His hands had been locked to Hinata’s hips, intent on staying like that for as long as he was allowed, even if it was only a single moment longer; unable to breathe, wrapped up in Hinata’s grip. He didn’t come, in the end, but it was good, better, that way. He didn’t want to. He wanted the desire to linger the way the taste in his mouth would linger, like the feel of Hinata clinging to him so desperately would linger. He had swallowed hard, proud of himself for not choking or leaking or anything like that.

He felt so good when he was with him that sometimes that he wanted to forget. Forget everything and just lose himself in it, just keep on living in those brief perfect moments forever even though he knew they would never last, that neither his mind nor his luck were so generous, that there was always a price to be paid.

He’d expected Hinata to leave, to disappear then or in the moments that followed. That was why he had done that, not that he hadn’t enjoyed it; he had, very much, too much, but pleasure hadn’t been the point. The point had been that Hinata would leave on his terms and maybe he would be ready and maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much, but….

Hinata hadn’t left.

Instead, he had stayed, held him to him in those moments and just after, hands in his hair, arms curled around his head as if he were… important, treasured, needed, wanted. Then he’d sprawled out beside him, on him, with him and it had been… perfect. Intimate. He’d felt warm and safe and almost something like happy, pressing his fingers against Hinata’s cheeks, seeing the smile that curled his lips that echoed the one on his own.

How he hated him for that.

It should have made him angry, but it didn’t, not really. He was growing accustomed to the idea. The utter lack of control he had over anything, anything in this horrible place. He felt like a wet towel being wrung out, twisted up into a weapon. His skin was too hot, too tight, he ached both inside and out and he could almost convince himself that he liked it. Liked feeling this way.

He thought about jerking off there, lying on the floor with Hinata. Might as well. It was foolish and sentimental and asking for trouble trying to hold on to a memory, a souvenir, of something that wasn’t real, wasn’t anything, that didn’t matter to him at all.

The tide was well and truly back out again and he wondered idly what Hinata would do, how he would react. Whether he would truly care at all.

Would he be disgusted? Just blush and flush and shove him away, leave him to find pleasure all alone in that dark and lonely hall?

Would he like watching him get off? Would he watch him with avid, greedy eyes, lick his lips?

Would he hate it? Tell him to quit?

Would he help? Put a hand over his own, fingers threading together as they pulled him over the edge or maybe he’d just lean over and kiss him instead, soft and biting?

Take over and pull him through himself? Push his hand aside and replace it with his own? His own hand or mouth, press him down against the tiles and stare into his face as he twisted and writhed beneath him?

Would he tell him to stop? Would he mean it, if he did? Or would the protests be token and insincere?

Would he tell him how to do it? Guide him through with roughly spoken commands? Would he become like that Hinata on the bridge again? Lewd and cruel and terrible and endlessly compelling?

He could almost hear his voice, the haughty scorn of it: “You like this, don’t you? Getting off on a filthy floor? That’s perfect for worthless trash such as yourself.”

That had at least been a Hinata he could stand to lose. That was a presence he wouldn’t miss after, a presence he almost wanted now, because there was something soothing to be found in the simplicity of cruelty. To have a Hinata who wouldn’t stroke his hair or kiss him so sweetly or smile at him or seem to care so much, too much. One who would just whisper hate and contempt to him as he sought pleasure in spite of them, because of them, as he let those words stir something dark and familiar inside him, something screaming and tattered and broken that wanted out, out, out.

He thought he could feel it there, even now, that strange phantom presence, that darkness, jittering like a muscle spasm in his chest, stroking things, intimate and hidden, lighting him up from the inside. He was hot and cold, soft and hard. He wanted relief, to forget again, to just allow those delusions to swallow him down. Cruel words or kind hands, it didn’t really matter which. Either would do. Both. It didn’t matter.

The tide had been broken, crooked and warped and strange, slipping in and out for minutes, seconds at a time. He felt everything and nothing and his memories were like broken glass strewn across the floor of his soul and the music had made it worse.

Infinitely worse.

Was this why Hinata had brought him to this place?

Had he brought him for the songs? Had he known that they would make it all worse? Make those memories rattle free of the moorings and rise within him? Worse, so much worse, because they were his songs, beautiful songs that he loved, loved so much, but they… he hated them too.

And that last song… that had been the worst of them all.

He’d been able to ignore it initially, because he’d been touching Hinata’s skin and sitting with him, warm and close and carelessly sprawled together, Hinata’s blood, their blood maybe, had been wet and dark, smeared across the floor and the taste and feel of him still so fresh and new in his mouth. It has been easy enough to ignore the way the music made him feel, to not acknowledge how antsy it had made him. The way his body had begun to twitch with the need to move, to pace, itchy and unsettled. The memory of that day that had been summoned by that song, that was like a ghost teasing fingers through his hair until Hinata asked him about it, brought it to his attention, forced him to hear it, because of course he did. Of course, he couldn’t just leave it alone.

Hinata was his heaven, but he was his hell too, in so many ways.

It was like his luck, both good and bad.

He remembered the wind in his hair and the music in his ears, those tiny, expensive little ear buds that had been shoved in his ears to keep him quiet, to keep him calm, to stop him from being such a whining, ungrateful little brat. The player was small, grey and sleek, and he could tuck in his pocket or hold it in his hand and it had been playing that song when it started.

When the meteor hit and then it was a sound he could just barely hear at all over the rush of air and the roar of the engines and the screaming… it seemed like there had been a lot of screaming. He should have been reaching for his special mask, like they’d told him to in case of emergency, but that part of the plane had ripped away, peeled back like a cheap tin lid and there was nothing to reach for, nothing to hold on to but the seat in which he was strapped and the little grey player in his hand. His mind was flooded with the song he couldn’t hear because he’d heard it so many times before and then there was the crash and everything was black. He assumed later that he’d been knocked unconscious by the impact, because the next thing he’d been aware of was waking up, bruised, but alive and still strapped into his seat and that music had been so loud, so very loud in his ears.

‘Love is the power, oh yeah, it will be today, yes, and it will be here tomorrow…’

It must have been on repeat, must have gotten stuck that way during the crash or he’d hit a button by accident when he’d squeezed it, because the song should have been long over, but it wasn’t. He remembered in a vague sort of way clawing those earbuds from his ears; that they had been cast away by his frantic fingers and fallen to the rock and churned earth in which his section of the plane had landed. He also remembered immediately wishing that he hadn’t.

He could still hear it, the music, a soft, tinny sound, but he could never be sure how much of that was just his brain playing tricks, filling in information he thought should be there. Still, it had seemed as if he could still hear it clearly enough in the background beneath the crackle of fire and the pitiful moaning, whining, incoherent cries of the dead and dying. The air had been hot, scorched by the fires that were raging all around, heavy with smoke and the smell of charred meat and burning fuel. He coughed, hacking, and mewling pitifully as he struggled, yanking at his seatbeat weakly with bloody fingers, panic beating steadily in his chest as he realized it was stuck, that he was stuck. His mother had cinched it so tightly across his lap, saying he would squirm free if she didn’t and she couldn’t have him embarrassing them. He’d been bad enough on the flight out, he would behave this time, he would be good until they got home or there would be consequences. He was meant to stay there, stay just there and not move until they arrived at their destination. He was lucky they had brought him along at all, luckier still that they didn’t just leave him on the island with the hired help and send someone to come back and get him later.

He’d tried to explain. To explain that he was afraid, that the airplane made him nervous, really nervous because nothing had happened on the flight out so it only made sense that something twice as bad would happen on the way back. He’d begged to be left behind. He was afraid. His mother had only told him to behave and then she’d been gone and he’d been alone.

Only he’d been crying, because he was still afraid. He was afraid and the lady in the uniform (flight attendant, he knew now) had fetched his parents back to coach from first class because she’d been worried.

He’d looked sick, she said.

She’d stood aside, concerned and regretfully, as his parents argued in the aisle about what to do about him. Whether they should pay the difference for an extra seat in first class so they could keep an eye on him and then… then there was the hijacker interrupting them, interrupting everything. He was shouting and waving a gun and his parents looked like they wanted to be anywhere else, but they weren’t permitted to move. And he’d been sitting in his seat, legs pulled to his chest, fingers tight against his knees and he was trying, he was trying to stop crying like his father asked, to smile like he wanted, to not whine, but he was scared of being so high, he was scared of the man with the gun, he was…

And just like that they were just…

Just gone. 

One minute there and the next… a flash of warmth and they were gone along with the flight attendant and a chunk of the seat beside him and the wind was in his hair, whipping it around his face in a frenzy. It was darker then than it was now, he thought pointlessly, his hair had been strawberry blonde then, the same color as his mother’s.

He wasn’t sure how he’d forgotten.

Wasn’t sure why it mattered or if it even did really.

It hadn’t been like that for a long time.

He’d been lucky.

It had been such extraordinary good luck that he hadn’t been killed immediately like they were or in the crash after.

He had been incredibly unlucky.

Because his parents had and he was…

He had extraordinary bad luck and then extraordinary good luck. That was how it worked, wasn’t it? It balanced. 

It must balance. Everything had to balance. His luck was never quite an even exchange. The good luck always outweighed the bad because otherwise it would never be worth it. So his life had been worth more than the lives of his parents, of all those other passengers and crew people. That was proper though, wasn’t it? They were just… ordinary, boring parents and people and he… he was special.

Lucky.

He’d pried and yanked at the seatbelt, wriggling as the warmth of the fire leapt from seat to seat, the sickening chemical smell of burning upholstery filling his nostrils in place of the charred meat smell and it was both better and worse. He pulled and pried at the metal and the rough stitched cloth of the belt with his fingers only vaguely aware that he was weeping, wailing as he struggled frantically to free himself. He could hear the crackle and smell the stench of his own hair singeing as he finally struggled free, having managed to loosen the belt just enough to squirm from the seat. He scrapped his bare skinny bruised and bleeding legs painfully as he fell forward and out, tripping and smashing face first into the dirt. It hurt. Everything hurt and he coughed and spat dirt and blood as he crawled away down the aisle, or what was left of it, and away. One leg was almost useless, bright, sheering pain shooting through it every time he tried to use it to help push himself along. He managed to drag his aching body out and away from the plane to collapse in a heap nearby. He knew he was still too close, that he should keep going, but he was too tired. 

The silence erupted in an explosion of fire and light and a stinging, ringing sound and he clapped his palms over his ears, sobbing into his bent knees as he felt something hot and horrible scrap across his back as he was peppered with sharp pains and that terrible roaring, ringing sound continued and it seemed like the whole world was igniting around him.

The air was hot, burning white hot and terrible around him.

And then it wasn’t.

Then he was cold and his knees ached from kneeling on the tile floor, as if he’d been there for hours, days even, and his ears were still ringing and he was alone in the dark.

He’d been with Hinata, hadn’t he?

They’d been… had there been a diner?

He’d been afraid and he… he wasn’t… wasn’t sure how he’d gotten here.

Or where here was, only that it was dark.

Very, very dark.

“Hinata?” He whispered, his voice soft and broken, little better than the whimper of the child he’d been calling for someone, anyone. Only… not just anyone would do, not anymore.

Pathetic.

And, of course, no one answered.

No one was there, not Hinata, not anyone.

No one had answered then either.

There was no one to answer him, there never had been, and even when there had been, they never had, he’d always been alone. He laughed, soft and self-deprecating, as he picked himself up off the floor and stumbled forward through the black of the hall. He swayed, off-balance and careened into a wall, laughing just that much harder, because it was funny. He was just the lowest, most vile creature to ever crawl the earth, wasn’t he? Losing himself in his own delusions time and again and always so surprised when they turned out to be just his desperate desires given life and breath by a lifetime of practice.

There was no hope in such things, only despair.

How many times did he have to do this before he stopped clinging to that desperate hope? Wrapping it around him as he wrapped himself in this soiled, bloody shirt to guard against the harder truths. That great ill fated hope that he wasn’t alone?

That he was… that he’d ever been wanted, needed, necessary?

By anyone?

Ever?

It was funny. Really funny and it made him laugh and laugh and laugh, the sound echoing around him down the empty corridors of the hospital, because of course it was a hospital.

He leaned more heavily against the wall, suddenly exhausted, letting his cheek press against the bulletin board, the smell of cork mixing with the disinfectant and decay smell of the hospital hall.

He despised places like this and he felt the most at home there as well. It was a dangerous conundrum. It didn’t matter how he’d gotten here or how long he’d been here, did it? It could have been moments or years and it wouldn’t have mattered.

Maybe he’d never really left at all.

Maybe he’d always been here.

Maybe Hope’s Peak had only ever been in his head.

The island and the murders and all those special people and dying and… Hinata.

Maybe Hinata wasn’t real, had never been real.

Or maybe he had been and he was still dead and this was just another delusion. Another facet of the hell he’d found himself in.

Maybe this was just the next phase of his bad luck.

Maybe he was being stupid.

It was just a hospital. Just a hospital so why…

Panic and bile rose in his throat and he moaned, dragging his fingers down the board, ripping rivets in the cork with his fingernails, knocking pushpins and papers this way and that.

Two realities went to war in his head.

He was still in the hospital and everything else had been….

He was dead and he’d reached a new level of Hell….

He laughed, hating and loving the way the sound rattled in his chest and echoed in the hall around him.

That salty taste on his tongue wasn’t truly real and even if it was it was probably because he’d jerked off and licked the salty, sticky fluid from his own fingers.

Disgusting.

There was no Hinata at all.

Or there was no Hinata here.

Either way, he’d only ever been playing with himself.

And games were never much fun without someone to play them with, were they?

“How many times does that particularly idiotic hope have to be dashed across rocks or the floors or your stupid, worthless, pathetic head before you understand that there is no hope to be had in hell? That all that lingers here is despair?“

She whispered the last, fingers trailing down his back over his spine and he moaned, squeezing his eyes shut. To block out her darkness with more darkness, “You’re not real. Go away. Go away. I don’t want you here.” 

And he didn’t. He didn’t. If had to see things, he wanted to be him, not her. Never her.

Not anymore.

“You don’t think he’s real either, but you seem eager enough for his company,” she replied, her voice even and measured. 

She grabbed him, spun him and shoves him hard down the corridor. He hit the floor hard on his hands and knees with a startled yelp. Her heels were loud on tile, click clack, in the dark. She stopped behind him and he felt her weight settle against his back. Her breasts pressed against him, as she leaned forward to shove her fingers into either side of his mouth, digging her thumbs into his cheeks and pulling his lips back, a painful parody of ventriloquism: “Oh, Hinata, I wuv you sooooo much. You feel soooo good, I want you soooo bad!” He could here the sneer in her voice, her fingernails dug painfully against his cheeks.

“It’s just pathetic the way you pant after him, but then you know that already, don’t you?” Her voice was sly and the fingers of her left hand slid over his tongue before she jammed them sharp and sudden down his throat. He gagged as her nails scratched against the back of his throat, drawing back quickly as he vomited. The taste of bile filled his mouth and he coughed and heaved. It splattered against the floor as she laughed, as she drug her fingers down his sides, settling her hands against his hips. He flinched and whimpered, his fingers curling, scrapping against the tiles, but he didn’t move to dislodge her.

Couldn’t.

He wasn’t sure why.

“Pretty fantasies, but you know he doesn’t want you. Who would? Your very existence is reason enough to despair. No one loves you, no one cares, no one ever has and no one ever will. You know that, don’t you? You know you’re not worthy of affection, not even from that boring, ordinary boy. This is why you’re all alone, Nagito. Why you’re alone here, why you were alone before, why you’ll always be alone. That’s why no one every stays. It isn’t your luck, you know, it’s just you. You’re filthy trash that just isn’t unworthy of anyone’s time, or love, or hate. Heck, you’re hardly even worth sparing a thought for at all.” 

She laughed, so loud and echoing that it drowned out the frantic whine of his hysteria, but he still couldn’t move. He could barely breath past the casual cruelty of her words. They shouldn’t have bothered him, they shouldn’t have. He’d had these thoughts a hundred times himself, a thousand, she wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t know, anything he hadn’t whispered to himself at night with his knees tucked up against his chest, his world in shambles around him, alone in that big, big house. That he hadn’t thought as he shivered in that trash bag after he’d been dumped, too weak and thirsty and depressed to even bother clawing his way out of the bag. What would have been the point?

“He lives in that big huge house and you’re telling me there’s no one willing to pay for him. Not even the servants. Not even a guardian?” The man who had kidnapped him had been incredulous, had even kicked the bag in his frustration, but he hadn’t been surprised. He’d known all that. 

He didn’t even blame them. It only made sense. He was an annoyance, always underfoot and pestering them for things and too loud and nothing like his parents had been.

They’d even inherit a portion of the estate if he predeceased them and they’d never liked him very much in the first place. He’d known that. He wasn’t very likable. They didn’t hate him, didn’t feel strongly enough or need the money badly enough to kill him. Though he thought that might change someday. 

Sometimes, when he’d first began attending Hope’s Peak, when he’d had a particularly poor day, he’d thought about docking or withholding their pay altogether to see if they’d do it. If they’d care enough to come after him, to set his dorm on fire or something, but in the end he never did.

But he’d thought about it often.

He wasn’t as if he had blamed them. He’d thought about firing them after he’d come home, but they’d just gone on the way they’d always been as if nothing had happened at all. After the police had found him, while he was at the hospital for treatment, he’d found out that they’d notified the police that he was missing. A day after he’d disappeared, but it had been more than he’d expected. More than he’d deserved. He’d been forced to endure a battery of tests he hadn’t asked for and then allowed to go. 

After he collected his lottery winnings and added them to the bank account that was already full of far more money than he knew what to do with, he thought again about firing them. Telling them to go.

In the end, he hadn’t bothered. 

They took care of the house well enough. As long as they did their jobs, he didn’t really care. He’d cared even less after the tests had come back and the doctor had informed him of the diagnosis and advised treatment.

He’d been eleven and he’d been scared of the surgery, scared of not waking up or the follow-up care and treatments that sounded awful. The long list of possible side effects and complications that sounded even worse. He’d seen all those bald-headed kids when he’d passed through the children’s ward. He hoped he wouldn’t be bald. He didn't hate his hair.

He’d seen their beds surrounded by dead-eyed stuffed animals and too many flowers. Their rooms often crowded with tired parents and worried relatives. He could imagine his own room: empty.  

He’d gone to his appointments alone, packed his bags alone, taken a taxi to the hospital. He’d checked in alone. His lawyer had already signed all the paperwork for him days ago. He’d closed his eyes alone and woke back up aching and alone with pieces missing. He rubbed a finger of the stitches and the skin had been a little tender. He didn’t even really know what a lymph node was. He doubted it was something he’d miss.

He’d been right about the empty room. 

No one visited.

He had stayed in the hospital and begun chemotherapy. There was no point in leaving, in going back to that house; there was nothing for him there after all. The first few weeks were okay. He read a lot. He’d ordered dozens upon dozens of books so that his floor and tables were piled with them. They made the room feel less empty and they calmed him down and made it easier to forget that he was lonely. He liked the way the pages smelled. He often ordered books used when he could get them.

One of the nurses had asked him about one once. She’d just been trying to be… nice. Polite, maybe, but she had been the first person to ask him something about them and he’d… been a little over-excited. It had been a mystery and he’d gone on and on about the killer’s methodology and how he’d admired the killer’s commitment and patience and the remarkable restraint he’d shown in taking the time to observe the victim’s every move for months before acting. Planning his murders down to the smallest detail and how astonishing it had been when he'd been able to slip into the heroine’s life so seamlessly. He hadn’t meant to freak her out. He’d just been… excited to have someone to talk to.

It was always like that. Things hadn’t really changed when he’d gone to school. He’d wanted them to, he’d hoped they would, but they hadn’t. Not until… Hinata. 

He shuddered and blew out a breath, clutching Hinata’s name to him like a talisman. It made him feel… better. Stronger, maybe. Even if none of it was real, even if nothing had changed. He had changed… at least a little.

She was still laughing, still half-sprawled across his back, and she sounded so much like that stupid bear. That… Monokuma.

I always hated that stupid bear.

“Get. Off,” he rasped, his voice flat and unimpressed.

She ignored him.

He wasn’t surprised. 

“And here I was thinking all this time that you’d never even be able to get it up with that weak body of yours. All those aches and pains, all that medication, but that boy crooks his finger at you and you can’t lose your pants fast enough,” she slid a hand down and around to settle against him, cupping the bulge that lingered there. The sound that escaped him was embarrassingly loud.

Why was he so scared?

“Or maybe it isn’t him. Maybe it’s just you. You certainly did like getting off for the cameras on the island, didn’t you? You’re so embarrassing. I have no idea how you don’t die of shame just living in your own skin. You could get off just like this, couldn’t you?” 

“No,” he whispered, shivering beneath that touch. Her hand was so cold, even through layers of fabric. So unpleasant, just like her.

Who was she?

Why was she….

Why couldn’t he just shake her off? 

Why is he so afraid?

Why was he letting her… why was he letting her when he didn’t want…?

“Don’t touch me,” he managed finally, but it sounded weak, more whine than protest. He sounded like a child and it just made her laugh again, that same horrible, irritating laugh. “Just go away and leave me alone.”

Pupupupupu.... he hated that sound. Hated it. 

“Oh, Nagito, I’ve seen the way you let him touch you, you little freak. Sticking his fingers inside you? Licking your wounds? You’re defective, maybe dying broke something or maybe you were always into that kind of thing. What do you think? Were you always that big a pervert? Was he? I especially liked when he jerked you off on the beach. Not so much when he was trying to choke you to death, though I suppose that was fun in its own way, but afterwards when you were both weeping like a couple of babies.”

He doesn’t want to think about that.

He doesn’t want to, but the dark makes it impossible to think about anything else. He thinks, briefly, about bashing his head in against the tiles.

“You shouldn't try it,” she whispered, voice soft and deadly. “I’ll just have to patch you up and we’ll need to start all over again. Y-You'll have to forgive me, I wouldn't wish you any unnecessary pain, but sometimes a painful cure is necessary to combat a deadly virus. Did you know?”

She sounded different that time.

Different somehow and he…

“You dove off the bridge with him and you woke up in the water,” she whispered the words and the memory is flaring to life all around him, swallowing him back down into those moments. 

Falling.

He’s on the bridge, stepping over the edge with his arms around him. The memory of that moment is like a gaping, chattering wound filled with Hinata’s- no, not Hinata’s, Izuru’s voice whispering in his ear. He had promised dark and secret things, things that he wanted and despised in equal measure and he bit his lip until it bled to keep from crying out or answering. How next time they met, he might not want to escape him, that Hinata’s absence would have left such a terrible, ragged hole within him that he’d let anything, anyone, fill it up.

Even him.

Even her.

It had felt like a promise.

And a warning and he’d felt sick.

So sick. 

He woke up on the beach, in the water, choking with the feel of Hinata’s hands on him, holding him down, stroking him through, and it was hard to tell if it was ecstasy or agony. He was certain he’d died again and again, drowning beneath the waves and being reborn, that maybe he’d come again and again beneath that cruel parody’s rough touch. A seemingly endless, inescapable cycle of pain and death and pleasure and he wasn’t even sure if he wanted to escape as his body had renewed itself over and over again.

Sometimes he ‘d been real and present and horrified and other times he’d been lost to sensation, his hips bucking up into that touch, seeking more, more, faster, rougher and all of it now. Wanted it to hurt enough to blot out the sun, to erase the feel of the cold, cold rain and the ocean waves. He screamed and choked and died and was born again, his body seeking what it needed, what it craved and for a long time there was only that. He merely floated through the pleasure and the pain over and over again, fresh and new each time, but familiar all the same and he’s nothing like a person in those moments. Not really and that’s fine. All he needed were those crazed drunken moments of screaming, sheering ecstasy.

Then that rough, sure touch vanished and his body was devastated, rendered in stark lines of agony at the sudden loss.

He crashed to earth, empty and wretched.

He was Komaeda Nagito, alone once more. 

The world was put to rights and it feels as if he’s teetering on the edge of an abyss and all that awaits him within is an eternity of despair and he could fall into it willing and never care.

And maybe he would have, but before he has a chance to consider it, there had been hands, gentle and firm, searing and too hot against his oversensitive skin, pulling him up and out of the water, urging him away from the ocean waves and onto the shore. 

He stumbled forward, allowing himself to be guided, his numb fingers clutching desperately at his pants and belt to keep them from falling away and being lost to the ocean waves. It was habit rather than any desire for decency that made him cling to them, he’d never been decent and he’d been more than aware that his cock was, like the rest of his skin still too-sensitive, every step hurt as the cloth brushed against him, half-hard and poking awkwardly through the slit in his wet underwear. He didn’t care about that. Not really. All he really cared about was the arm caught up tightly around his waist, the hands supporting him, keeping him from falling until they finally tumbled together onto damp, hard-packed sand.

His Hinata. 

It had to be, because who else would bother to save him from himself, from his own desires, but this perfect fraud? A hand whacked down sharply against his back as he’d hacked and coughed and vomited cold, briny, nasty water across the sand. There were apologies and confusion and questions asked in Hinata’s soft entreating, panicked voice and he didn’t have any answers to offer. He didn’t really even hear have of the things he said. Most of it sounded like gibberish, everything was too strange, too loud, too…

“Are… you okay?” He’d asked. 

Okay? Really?

Really, Hinata?  

Certainly not that, never that, he wasn’t sure he’d ever been okay. Maybe once a long, long time ago when he was small and the world was… different. Before all this, before everything he’d become and everything he hadn’t. Maybe he’d been okay back then, but he didn’t think so.

He didn’t think so. 

His body felt like it was smoldering, a fire banked but ready to flare to life once more at any moment. The need, the urge to finish what had been started was overwhelming. He could do it himself. It wasn’t as if Hinata hadn’t seen him at his lowest, at his worst, what was a little post-death jerking off between….

Whatever they were to each other. 

Did it even matter what he called it?

He could just do it to himself, but his muscles ached. His hands felt huge and swollen and numb, more like a flipper than hand almost. Useless, just like the rest of him. 

He ached and Hinata was there, so close, and it was his fault he was like this anyway.

What did it really matter? He was already so low. What did it matter if he sunk a little lower? It wasn’t as if Hinata could really think less of him, after all. If he didn’t want him, he could reject him. What did he care? It wasn’t as if he wasn’t used to that, worthless trash that he was. 

He wanted to be close to him.

Needed to be close to him. 

It felt like he was going to shatter to pieces any moment as he slid his hands across the sand, pressed them against Hinata’s knees. He wavered there, waiting for the inevitable rejection, for the disgust, something, anything, but it never came. It never came and so what else could he do but move closer? To finish what he’d started by pulling his aching, traitorous body across the distance between them, oozing across the beach like sludge, a revolting blob of want and need and aching pain that crept slowly and reluctantly into Hinata, sliding his arms up around his neck.

His breath had come in reluctant gasps, heavy wet little spasms of sound as he settled himself across his lap, wrapped his legs around him in slow, pained movements and pressed the aching length of his cock against Hinata’s cold, wet shirt-clad belly. The buttons are like chips of ice against the length of him, but it hadn’t really mattered. Just being close to him made him feel good, better. His skin was still too sensitive, but it was settling slowly becoming less painful. It was awful and wonderful at once and he wondered vaguely if he should be embarrassed.

He’s not, but he thought maybe he should be ashamed of the things he wants. A better person would be. A person would be. But he’s… just… his hips stuttered, shifting against Hinata, unable to stand the waiting any longer. He shifted and tightened his legs around Hinata’s waist, pushed closer, seeking relief. 

Any moment Hinata was going to realize. He was going to realize what he was doing, what he wanted, and he was going to shove him away, disgusted.

Only he doesn’t

He feels Hinata’s breath shudder against his cheek and then he’s pressing shaking hands against his back, holding him, bringing him closer and everything seemed to collapse beneath the gentle, tentative press of those hands.

It’s so good.

He’s so good. 

He had sobbed, great, heaving gulps of sound that had shaken out of his chest like wails as if he’d been holding them in for days or years and he cried harder and louder than he’d done in… ever, probably.

It was like pressure releasing, like Hinata had turned some relief valve within him and years of… rage and hate and sadness were bleeding away leaving him a stranger in the aftermath. Had those been his? He didn’t remember ever being so angry or sad or… any of those things. He’d always just been….

He’s not sure.

It doesn’t matter.

When he starts moving against Hinata in earnest he murmured an insincere apology as he tightened his grip seeking greater friction. It felt illicit, sleazy, as if he were stealing something even though he’d just been given a gift. He wasn’t sure if Hinata heard him or if he even cared. Hinata wasn’t real after all. So why should he care about his feelings? What did it even matter if Hinata held him? Why shouldn’t he just use him as he saw fit? What did it matter? What did anything matter? 

He could hear himself whimpering distantly, his body becoming increasingly frantic, quaking and shivering and bucking and writhing and nothing he does is ever quite enough.

And then Hinata’s voice was in his ear, rough and soothing, giving him permission to misbehave, to continue. Hinata threading fingers into his hair and pressing the flat of his hand more firmly against the small of his back, a rhythmic pressure that moved with him, urged him on. He moaned into it, into that strange welcome feeling of acceptance and it warmed him, made him impossibly harder, and he wanted to get off, wanted to dirty Hinata’s pretty white shirt, twin of the one he wore if one didn’t qualify the blood stains. He whimpered against his shoulder and he imagined he could feel the hard line of Hinata’s cock pressing up against him, as if he were bearing down against the head with each downward sweep of his wayward hips, had a vague half-formed wish that there were no clothes between them, just bare, clammy skin. He moved faster, thrusts short and abrupt and it was okay, but it wasn’t quite what he needed. The more he moved, the further away the target seemed, he sobbed again, frustrated. Was going he going to fail even at this? He shifted again and again, anxious and annoyed and exhausted. Everything hurt. He just wanted to get off. Why was this so difficult? Why couldn’t he just? He was so tired. So tired. What was wrong with him that he couldn’t even…?

Worthless. 

He was the worst. Hinata shouldn’t have to humor him like this. Shouldn’t have put up with his urges, the pathetic whine of his voice.

It was sick, wasn’t it? 

Wanting to get off like this. If he wanted to get off so badly, he could have just jerked off, numb flipper hands or no. He could have muddled through. It would have been just as effective apparently. But no, not him, no, he wanted to hold him, to wrap himself around him, hump him like he was… like he was an animal. Like he was everything that other Hinata- Izuru -had called him.

And, of course, he was alone.

So what was he actually doing? Not jerking off, right? His hands still felt strange and numb, like they weren’t even his, so he’s not sure he could effectively even if he wanted to. So what then?

The sand, maybe? He managed to suffocate himself with it once or twice, so why not? Good enough to choke on, good enough to fuck?

Or maybe it was one of the palm trees? Maybe he was unknowingly chafing himself raw, destroying that part of himself against a palm tree? 

Between the slats of a beach chair? No, that was just silly. He’d never be able to get off that way. It would be like trying to hump vertical blinds, ridiculous and useless all at once.

Of course, he wasn’t getting off this way either, so….

Maybe he was just tucked and squeezed uncomfortably between his own thighs? Would that even work? Probably not, that seemed… painful. Pointless. 

Did it even matter really what he was doing? How he was doing it? He was revolting. He was sick and pathetic. Such a hopeless, worthless, utterly useless piece of garbage. He wasn’t the least bit worthy of his own attention much less the attentions of anyone else.

And then he could hear Hinata’s voice again and it seemed like he’d been speaking for a long, long time and every new word felt pelt against him like hail, chipping away at him, cracking a fissures of pleasure open within him. Hinata’s words beat within him like a symphony and there’s desperation to them that he can’t understand or he doesn’t want to understand. But that doesn’t matter. Not really. It’s enough that they slip within him like water on parched, cracked soil.

“No, no, you’re okay. I've got you. God, Komaeda, come on. Just come for me, please? I want you to… just… come on, I need you here with me, okay? Yeah, okay, like that, yes, that's... uhnn... good, you're good, don’t stop, okay? I want you to, okay? Oh god, you feel so good. I'm so... I'm sorry, I... is it bad that I... oh god, Komaeda, come on, that’s it, like that.” 

It feels as if he’s creating a new wound within him, a secret place deep inside, just for him, where he can push the lie of those words inside him like he’d pushed fingers in last time and to similar effect. He’s a panting, mewling mess against him, so close that the world narrows down to the places their bodies join. He knows they aren’t true, can’t be true, none of them, but he can’t bring himself to reject them.

He’s so pathetic.

“Hinata?” He whispered, turning his mouth against Hinata’s cheek, it’s cool and wet beneath his lips.

Why is he doing this?

Why is he saying all those things?

Why doesn’t he push him away?

Why?

Why?

“Ssh, Komaeda, it’s okay. You’re okay. I won't let you go. You're gonna be okay. I want you, I-I need you. So, just... just stay with me, okay? Yeah, okay, that's it, that’s good, like that, please, please, come on, Komaeda, please,” And he’s certain he’s sobbing still, his entire body feels raw, ripped wide open and he can feel words shaking from him one after another, but he has no idea what they are. He knows only that they feel filthy and that he has no right to ask for any of it, to say those words to Hinata at all. That any moment Hinata is going to cast him aside, shove him to the dirt, disgusted, reject him, and he wants that, wants it to happen, but the moment never comes. The moment never comes and Hinata never stops talking, his voice soft and hurried and almost frantic, “Anything. Anything you want. Come on, just keep… god, I want you to come, please, you feel so good, so good. Yes, oh god, you feel so… I’m so… love you. You're so... why can't you just... I hate you, god, you're so.... Come on, don’t stop, Komaeda, oh god, Komaeda, whatever you need, please, please… just let me.... let me.”

And he’s so close, so close, so close and then Hinata’s fingers are there, curling around him, his grip almost painfully tight.

As soon as he touches him, wraps around him, it’s like a circuit has been completed and his body is strung tight like a bowstring and the only word on his lips is yes, because this, this was what he needed, what he wanted, what he’d been waiting for. And it’s as it was in the water and completely different too. His Hinata. His. Not that cruel impostor. His Hinata. And that makes all the difference.

He loves him.

He hates him.

He could spend the rest of his life in this moment, on this precipice, teetering above the fall, the word ‘yes’ wound round and through him, binding him up in this moment until Hinata finally deigns to pull him over. And his voice a rasp of sound in his ear that he’ll hear every time he closes his eyes for the next hundred thousand years. 

But it doesn’t feel like ‘yes’, it feels like ‘mine’ and he slips, spilling, spinning, sobbing that word over and over as he does like to the time of the beat of his frantic heart and he hears it echoed in Hinata’s voice. He’s coming and every pulse feels like a brand in his veins like Hinata has scribbled his name within him, down in the deepest, darkest pieces of his tattered, filthy soul and it’s utterly inescapable and unavoidable and even if he could, he wouldn’t want to save himself from this feeling of being branded, owned, complete.

And then the moment is gone and the word is still whispering between them, but his skin is too chafed, raw, oversensitive and he twitches his hips away on a gasp of ‘too much’ and Hinata is nodding, understanding, when he tells him which he both loves and hates. Hinata’s hands are gentle as they tuck his cock away, back into cold, wet briefs that sting against his skin, and he has to bite back a moan because it’s right on that razor’s edge between too much and not enough and he almost wants him to continue, to drag a second orgasm out of him or at least try until he begged for him to stop.

But he wouldn’t.

Not this Hinata, his Hinata.

Not him, with his soft words and gentle reassurances or that hand that lingers in his hair, careful, as he’d leaned back to fasten his pants with clumsy fingers that are still feel swollen. He shivers, cold inside, bereft and empty and maybe a little guilty in the aftermath. He bites his lip and fumbles the buttons, but keeps at it because he needed… he really needed to not be naked anymore.

He could still feel the hard line of Hinata’s cock against his fingers as he wrestled with the fastenings on his pants. He wanted to touch him, slip his hand around him, his mouth maybe, he wondered what Hinata would taste like on his tongue, how he would feel pressed against the inside of his cheek, what it would be like to have him thrust into his mouth as freely as he’d once thrust into his.

Would he choke, would he be able to take it, to swallow it down, would he come again just from the feel of him there?

He wanted to find out, he wanted to, but fear held him back, gave an additional tremble to his hands and the words came slipping out before he could think to stop them, “Hinata, don’t… leave. Don’t...”

And he hadn’t. He’d kissed him instead and it had been unbearably pathetic and so good, so very good.

And terrible too.

Like everything about Hinata was terrible. Because he had wanted to kiss him forever, to let him fuck him as they knelt on that beach in the pouring rain, to feel the slap of skin on skin, to feel bruising fingers on his hips and he hadn’t cared that he wasn’t real. Hadn’t cared about any of that in the moment, because real or not, he wanted him.

“I’m not…” he whispered, trailing off, uncertain what he’d intended to say. He didn’t want to talk about Hinata with her, not with her, no.

Hinata was his.

Not hers.

Never hers.

“Oh, c’mon, Nagito, you don’t think he’s really into you, do you? You were on that island together for ages and you never actually even made a move on him, you little stalker. Though I saw how often you’d just chafe yourself raw with his name on your lips.” She laughed and it was mocking and sharp, almost a cackle and he longed to feel nothing, but instead shame swamped him, self-loathing seeping through the cracks in his composure. Cracks that memory had left wide open.

He makes you weak and vulnerable. 

“I kept expecting you to sneak into his room or up to his window at night and beat off over him while you watched him sleep. Everyone knew, you know. Everyone laughed about your little crush behind your back. Little psycho like you thinking you had a chance with the hero of the piece? Who wouldn’t laugh at that?”

“And that was before you even knew the truth about each other: that you let yourself fall into despair and that he is nothing more than ordinary.”

“I’m sure he hates you, if he even thinks of you at all, which he almost certainly doesn’t. You killed his little girlfriend, you know. That pretty girl that he’d been chasing all around the island, the sleepy one with the backpack.”

“Nanami,” he supplied, trembling, swallowing hard. He remembered all too well Hinata’s harsh words and exasperation on the beach. “Nanami Chiaki.”

“Hm, that’s right, I’d forgotten. Nanami. You had to know he liked her. She liked him too. They were together before the end. I saw everything that happened on the island, you know, every single, dirty little thing. The way she’d slide her hand into his pants in the dark.” Her fingers slipped up over him, flicking on the top fastening on his pants and dipping, edging inside.

He whimpered, shame and desire going to war. Remembering the beach had made him ache again. He didn’t want her to touch it; he didn’t want her to say these things, because he could picture Nanami’s hand, the expression that might cross Hinata’s face. “Please don’t.”

“Don’t worry, he’s a boring lay. He’d just sit there, beat red and embarrassed and she’d open his pants up just like this, pull his cock out at breakfast and jerk him off and have him gripping the table and trying not to groan as he came before anyone else even noticed anything was happening.”

“That never happened,” Nagito murmured, swallowing hard trying to ignore the nails scrapping across him, wrestling the fastenings on his pants open.

Why wasn’t he stopping her?

Why couldn’t he?

Why?

“Didn’t it? How would you know? What can you even remember? What do you know about what's true? What's real? You’re dead, remember? Your synapses aren’t firing, they’re just fading and chunks of memory are positively leaping off you and falling away into the abyss. There’s no telling what you’ve forgotten so far. I'm trying to help you, you know. You should be grateful for my time. And you can picture it, can’t you? So, who’s to say it isn’t real? That it didn’t happen? The know the way he’d look, don't you? The way he’d bite his lip, just like he did in the hall just now, the way his fingers would clutch the tabletop? All white and red splotchy and the way his breath would quicken and maybe you’re imagining that he’d sneak looks at you, like he’s thinking about your hand on his dick instead of hers. You’d like that wouldn’t you, hm? Of course, it's more likely he's just looking at you because you’re making him uncomfortable since you won’t stop staring at him, you little freak. Either way, it probably wouldn’t really matter to you. You’d lick your lips, meet his gaze, hold it, and when he came, you could see it in the flutter of his eyelids and the parting of his lips. In the way his fingers twitched like he wanted to reach out and you were sitting across from him, and the tables were narrow, so narrow that your knees knocked together underneath. So when he came, some got on your pants. You felt the impact and he stared at you, clearly spent, but maybe a little interested too."

"He slipped beneath the table, pretending he dropped a fork or something, saw the mess he’d left behind and licked it off. You could feel him pull the fabric taunt and hear the scratch of his tongue against the rough fabric of your pants. You’re hard, right? How embarrassing. It's probably a little bit because he’s licking your pants, but mostly because that’s the closest anyone outside a nurse giving you a sponge bath has ever been to your dick. His hands are on your thighs, thumbs tracing the inner seams up to your crotch and then there are hands on your belt, unfastening it. You wanted to move, of course, but you couldn’t, because you knew it was him and you were so nervous you almost came right then, but you managed to hold back. You just let it happen. Let him unfasten your pants, slide your dick out and you’re sweating a little, panting, almost feverish. Just having someone, anyone at all, who is willing to touch you, to put their hands on you like that, but maybe it’s also a little bit because it’s him.”

He knew it wasn’t real, that none of it was real, that he was on the floor in that pitch black hallway, but he was also sprawled in that chair, at her table, all the same. He was trying not to look at Nanami who had fallen asleep, her arms pillowed beneath her head on the tabletop, the fingers of one hand wet and a little shiny. His hands were splayed wide on the table and the others were nearby, unseen, but close enough that he could hear their conversations like flies buzzing at the back of his head. He can feel them there, but he doesn’t care about them. All he cares about are the hands on him, how it almost hurts having them fumble him free of his too-tight pants. How one hand continues to press against his thigh like there was any chance he’d close his legs now, while the other presses past his dick, fingers seeking his balls, fingers sliding over forcing the fabric wide. He hears it rip and yelps, the hand against his thigh pinning in him in place when he would have moved. The constricting pressure of the fabric eases and those fingers are able to cup his balls fully, fondling them as a warm mouth locks around the head of his dick. “He suckled at it like a babe at a tit. And it felt so good, didn’t it? You weren't quiet it either. You were like the thing that wouldn't shut up. Even though they were all there. They were all watching you, they all knew what you were doing, and they were all disgusted by you. You were ashamed of yourself, weren't you? Ashamed, but still too turned on to care.”

“Yes,” he whispered, because he knew that was his line. That he had a part to play and it didn’t matter if this was real or fantasy, he was just a puppet meant to dance on her string. He curled his hand in Hinata’s hair, coaxed him closer, to take him deeper and Hinata came willing and silent, eager for it. He sucked dick like he was born to do it. “But he drew back, fought free of your grasp, panting. You can feel his breath, warm and moist and he’s telling you to take off your pants.”

“But…”

“You don’t want him to stop do you? He’ll stop if you don’t lose the pants, dummy.”

He’s vaguely aware that he's struggling out of them, of how slow and clumsy his movements feel as he wrestles his way out of the fabric. Unhelpful, unwanted hands smooth over the bared skin beneath, sliding over his scars, the tips of fingers catching against the wounds on his thighs. And it feels wrong, wrong, horrifyingly wrong. He winces, shrinking away from those fleeting touches, but his head is too foggy and strange and a moment later he can’t remember why he found it so disconcerting in the first place. The strange faded watercolor memory of Hinata kneeling between his legs, unseen, breathing – a little creepily if he’s honest – against him beneath a cloth covered table is fading, becoming less distinct with every passing moment, less real with every moment of silence.

Then as if she knew, or as if he'd said the last thought aloud, her voice is back in his ear and those images began to take on weight and meaning again, life and color returning to the world. “He’s got his mouth locked back around you the moment you do, arms around your waist, taking you all the way to the hilt again and again. You barely have to do anything because he knows exactly what you want, how you like it, his tongue in your slit like before and sweeping in rough circles around the head, his fingers sliding around to squeeze the base and the suction is perfect. And you’re so close, so close, but he won’t let you come. It goes on for hours, hours until it’s more pain than pleasure, but still he won’t grant you reprieve. You’ve been pleading, begging, sobbing all that time and still he continues, still you’re not allowed completion. You're desperate. You'd do anything, be anything, if he'd just grant you release. Finally he draws back and asks you to do one little thing, one tiny thing, and promises that he’ll give you what you want, anything you want, if you do.”

“Yes, please, please,” he can barely manage to choke the words out. He knows, knows, or at least he’s pretty sure, that he’s kneeling on the floor, his forehead pressed against his folded arms on the floor. He’s broken fingernails against the tile, curled up defensively as fingers slide up his back, delicate fingers and he hates them, wants to rip them off and shove them down her throat, but if he moves… if he moves… 

His shorts are damp, his pants gone, but he can’t… he can’t… because he’s on the floor of the hospital in the dark, but he’s also at her table, caught in her narrative like a fly in a web of lies. “Please… anything… just….”

“You’re so close, aren’t you?”

And he was and it was awful.

And it was exhilarating.

This… despair.

Because he wasn’t… he wasn’t….

“Take off your shirt.”

“What?” He sobbed, confused, aching, wanting nothing more than to run, but he couldn’t… he couldn’t run, not like this. Not while his body was so pathetically weak and wrong and sick, almost as if it wasn’t his at all.

Something was different.

Something was wrong.

Something was really, really wrong.

“Take off the shirt, Mister Komaeda.” She ordered again, giving the cloth a violent tug.

“No,” he snapped, feeling strangely childish in his denial. He clutched the fabric with aching fingers, “Don’t want to.”

“Yes, you do, of course, you do. You love him now, don’t you? As much as something like you can love anything? And when you love someone you’ll do anything for them, won’t you?” She whispered and there was something… different about it. The voice was still familiar, but it wasn’t hers. “Anything at all? Even for someone like him? Even for someone as mundane and forgettable as Hinata Hajime? Even for someone who isn’t our beloved? You want him to love you so you’ll crawl or beg or plead if he asks you. You’ll take everything he’ll give you, every slight and hurt and you’ll beg for more, won’t you? You’re not even good enough to lick the mud off his shoes or the come off his girlfriend’s hand, but you’ll do whatever you have to so that he’ll look at you. So, he’ll see only you. Isn’t that how it is? Isn’t it? So, take off the shirt, Mister Komaeda. It’s not like he’s asking you to lasso the moon. It’s just a shirt. J-Just a dirty old shirt.”

“No, I… I’m not… I don’t….”

“Do you want him to hate you? Do you want him to stop?” Her voice was snappish, impatient, frustrated, maybe. “H-He won’t forgive you if you don’t obey. I-If you don't do what you're told.”

That strange broken memory was whiting out, burning up like a overheated filmstrip flaking away in blackened pieces all around him. The others were gone, their faint voices warping, bending, a metallic moan of sound. The table faded and Nanami along with it, her glistening fingers the last to go. The Hinata that knelt before him was nothing more than a faceless ghost, lacking in substance and easily dismissed.

Laughter bubbled up in his throat, loud and hysterical, “Yes, I want this to stop. I don’t want this. This isn’t what I hope for. You’re thinking of someone else. And you don’t know him at all either. Hinata is what I want, but he’s so much more than this.”

“W-Why are you still saying his name?” She hissed, her fingers tight and painful in his hair as she dragged him upright. “You know that the greatest hope can only truly come from the greatest despair. How many times have you said that? Like a thousand times. So m-many times that I’m sick of hearing it. Only she can give you what you want, what you n-need. He’s not even real. He never was. He’s just a memory. He shouldn’t even exist,” she stomped her foot like a child throwing a tantrum. She stumbled a little and gasped, startled. It sounded like the heel of her shoe had broken.

Funny.

It was really funny.

“You’re jealous,” he managed, his laughter growing with the realization.

“What?” she replied, flat and incredulous.

“He’s made things difficult, hasn’t he? He gummed up the works. You thought it would be so simple, that it wouldn’t matter, but it did. He did. That ordinary little nobody beat you, didn’t he? That’s why you’re down here in the dark with me. He made all the difference in the world and your despair was smashed by the brilliance of the hope within him.” His laughter is wild now out of control, raging like a fire across a dry field and he’s a bystander, content to just watch it all burn. As if he is merely watching the action from the sidelines as someone else reads his lines, an understudy taking his role for the moment.

“Oh, honey, I haven’t lost anything yet.”

The laughter died and dread unfurled in his stomach like a flower blossoming in that charred field. “What?”

She smiled, smug and satisfied, like a cat in cream, “Oh? Did poor, sweet widdle Nagito think his paltry, precious widdle hope would win so easily? Did you really think that was the only plan? That we only know how to play one game? How boring. Why would we go through all this effort without having contingencies in place? Why do you think you’re here? What do you think this is? Hell? How quaint, how simple, how very like you, though… I suppose that it is true in a way.”

“I don’t…” He wanted to say he didn’t understand, but… but he was beginning to think he did. That everything was… was…

His hands were shaking.

Why were his hands shaking?

Was he afraid?

“You can’t hurt a delusion,” he whispered and he could hear the smile in her voice when she next spoke, spreading slow and sinister, the beginnings of despair.

She moved fast, sudden and he felt the air move around him as she did, heard the limping click of her non-broken heel somehow more sinister than it had been there were two. He can feel her breath on his face, her fingers beneath his chin as if she can see him even in the utter black of the hall. As if she wants to watch the truth break him. “Didn’t you know? This isn’t a dream, Nagito. This isn’t even your hell. It’s a nightmare. It’s his nightmare.”

And he did know.

He’d known all along, maybe, deep down beneath it all.

He just hadn’t….

He’d been kneeling at the edge of the water.

The strange water on the beach that had swallowed Hinata whole, eaten him alive and he’d been kneeling in the muck. There had been no reason to reach in that puddle, no reason at all because Hinata was just… and yet he’d done it anyway.

He’d known then.

He’d known the moment he plunged his hand in that grimy water and caught his hand, reeled him in.

He’d let himself forget for a little while afterwards, but he’d known. 

Because from that moment on he’d felt strange, off, there had been moments, so many moments, when he wasn’t himself, when he’d just been a spectator in his own head. And he’d been remembering things, so many things and Hinata had been…

Hinata was….

He tries so hard not to think about that. About the way you said his first name. About how much it turns him on.

“I’m just the boy who woke up on the beach and began going through the motions, but even if I’m not special to you, you’re special to me.”

Hinata Hajime. 

“Then what am I?” He whispered, more reflex than intention. He wished he could every word, every touch, every strange, disingenuous comment that had made him so unaccountably angry because he’d thought he was being cruel. But then honesty was often cruel. 

“You’re just a remnant. Just a ghost caught in a machine, clinging to him desperately, like a rat to the hull of a sinking ship. You’re nothing. Barely even worth my time or his, but you’re surprisingly resilient.”

“And your breath stinks,” he replied, sitting up, sitting back on his heels, finding the strength to draw away from her at last. “If you touch me again, I’ll rip your arm off. Oh, wait, I already did, didn’t I?”

She laughed.

Pupupupupu…

“Isn’t it a bit late to be finding your spine, Nagito?”

“Maybe, but it's not too late for me to find yours,” he laughed. He wasn’t afraid of the darkness or of his place in it. “I could wear it as a scarf. It would be quite fetching. Though... would you even have one here? If I’m a ghost, what does that make you?”

“Why, I’m surprised you hadn’t already figured that out. I’m the machine, little rat, and I’m going to smash your hope to pieces.” 

And then she was gone as if she’d never been there at all.

And the worst thing is that he wasn’t certain she had been.

He feels like himself again and the hall is not so dark as it had seemed before. He can see the tiled floor on which he kneels, the shiny damp puddle where he had thrown up. The vague sinister shape of discarded wheelchairs and gurneys, the walls and doors that bank the corridor. Thunder booms overhead and he can hear the patter of rain against the roof, the windows.

How did he get here?

Had he been here the whole time?

Where was Hinata?

Had he ever been here?

Was everything a lie he’d told himself?

Where the heck were his pants?

Had all that been just another delusion? The girl in the hall? Girls? Hinata? The bridge? The beach? The diner? Were any of those things even a little bit real? Had he come here because they were getting worse? More complex? Was he getting worse? Finally breaking down into bits and losing pieces like he’d thought he might?

Had all of it been in his head? Most of it? None of it? Some?

Panic joined with dread in his stomach and he felt like he was going to throw up.

He heard a terrible soft, grating, wheezing horrible sound and he bent over, his stomach seizing and twitching and he realized the sound was coming from him. That he was laughing. That he couldn’t stop.

Was he real? Was anything? Was Hinata?

Did he even care if it was?

If he was?

Did he care about any of it?

He was shivering and damp and alone and half-naked again and laughing in the dark. He thought he could hear Hinata calling to him from some distant place.

“If you want him so badly, come and get him,” he called back, still laughing as he flopped back to lie on the cold dirty tile floor beneath him.

It was cold.

The thought.

The very thought of Hinata calling his name over and over, sounding so concerned. He might never be able to stop laughing.

He was so fucked up.

“Komaeda?" Hinata's beseeching query.

He called back in a voice that cracked and ached: “Come find me and see for yourself, if it matters so much to you.”

What else was there to do?

His hand felt numb.

His arm ached.

So did his heart.

Whatever was left of it.

Chapter Text

“The problem with being nuts, she thought, is that you don't always feel as if you're nuts. Sometimes, in fact, you feel perfectly sane, and there just happens to be a trailer-shaped dragon crouching in the lot next door.”
― Christopher Moore, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove

 

DAY THREE
-continued-
+++

He wasn’t sure how long he lingered there in that hall, on that floor, staring up at that ceiling while he listened and hoped. Though he was never quite certain what it was he was hoping for. Hope was such a funny thing. He’d been holding onto this idea that it meant something that he’d been able to have this shirt, keep it, that Hinata found him time and again. He’d almost… almost been able to let it go when he’d disappeared for all that time, when he’d been alone, but then he’d come back and he… he didn’t want to give too much of himself to that hope and find that he wasn’t… that it didn’t mean anything. She probably knew that. She seemed to know so much, too much and maybe that was why… why she said those things. Why she made it seem like he was...

What did he hope for? 

Really hope for?

That he was real? That this Hinata, the one who touched him, wanted him, whispered those words in his ear and against his skin who was both so much like the Hinata he remembered and nothing like him all at once. Did he want him to be real? Did he really want everything that had happened to them, between them, to be real? Because it wouldn’t just be the nice things, the gentle things, it would be all the rest too, wouldn't it? All those low, disgusting, terrible moments, Hinata’s fingers in his chest and his hands around his throat and jumping off the bridge and getting off on the beach and thrusting down his throat. All those awful things that had turned him on and made him feel weak, made him want. Would Hinata hate him if he knew? Did he hate him already? 

It wouldn’t be any less than he deserved, but….

He needed… wanted…

Foolish things.

It was probably better if it were just his imagination, if all this was just his brain going dark, just dying lights flickering and spitting sparks in an vacant house. If he just faded away to nothing and never had to worry about those things. That would be the best thing to hope for. Oblivion. Maybe it wasn’t the big, beautiful, brilliant hope he’d so often dreamed of, but it could be enough. It was better in some ways than the alternatives.

Because at some point his mind would completely shatter beneath the strain of endless days and doubts and uncertainties, he didn’t think it would take too much more really. He was already cracking and brittle at the edges and it wasn’t as if his brain had ever been in great shape to begin with. So it was probably just a matter of time before he just wouldn’t be able to do this anymore. When he would decide that it didn’t really matter if any of it was real at all and he’d just let despair finally swallow him whole. And maybe it would be a relief. Hope took so much work in this place. It was exhausting. And it wasn’t as if it hadn’t happened before. He’d been part of Ultimate Despair after all, he’d….

Do you really think you haven' t given in already?

It could happen again. He thought that maybe it would be simple, it might even be a relief just to let go and sink down into the abyss, to let despair color his desires, twist them until he couldn’t even recognize them. Until he couldn't even recognize himself and then… well, then he’d… he’d…

If he thought about it, really thought about it, he could almost remember how it happened the first time. It was like a tickle at the back of his throat or an itch he couldn’t quite scratch. Little broken shards of memory trying to weasel their way inside him only… that wasn’t quite right, was it? They’d always been there and he was just some grimy, worthless film painted over the top.

And he knew, didn't he? That that voice, those stories in his head that he kept tripping over like moved furniture in a dark, familiar room were his, the truths he’d misplaced when they’d made him, made them all, forget what they had been. Forget their despair.

He didn’t always remember those things, of course. Sometimes he’d no sooner glanced at them than they were forgotten, skimmed for importance before being carelessly discarded. Sometimes he threw them away, retching, his teeth chattering as he clutched his sickened stomach, more often he viewed fragments of what he had been with cool disinterest and it was… better. Better when it didn’t matter so much, when he didn’t care so much, when it was all… distant and unremarkable. It made it easy to forget.

And he did forget while he lay there, staring up at the ceiling. He forgot almost everything it seemed, from time to time, but somehow he never seemed able to forget about Hinata.

It was probably because of the shirt.

It was hard to forget someone whose muddy, bloody, filthy shirt was clinging to you like a second skin. He didn't always care about him, didn't always remember why he was wearing his shirt, sometimes he hoped fervently that he never saw him again, never felt him again, but his name was always there lingering on the tip of his tongue ready to trip off into the air and take flight at any moment.

And sometimes... sometimes all those memories were crisp and clear, nauseatingly so. He didn't understand everything or even most things and he thought that, maybe, the him that he'd been before,the one that had laughed in her face, was hiding things from him. But he couldn't think of any reason why he would. What he might gain from it, what the point would be, but....

Hate isn't so very different from love when you're alone.

That was probably true. He'd loved his parents, but he'd hated them too. And Hinata... beautiful, regrettably ordinary Hinata had always been complicated. And everything else, everyone else in his life had been… barely worth mentioning.

Even Hope's Peak had been little more than busy and hectic and lonely. 

He remembered being told he was dying during the last days of his first year there.

Really dying, not just sick this time. They didn't give him odds or chances, just an expiration date. Before they’d always painted it with a hopeful brush told him about the treatments that might prolong his life (and his pain, his suffering, but they never told him that part, not really, that was always just left for him to discover, side effects listed in fine print on the side of the bottles and on the hospital intake forms). No, they had always given him a bright, beautiful, dangerous hope that there could be tomorrows, so many tomorrows, and a future that was so different from a grave. But this time they didn’t give him that, they didn’t give him options, just a timeframe. Days, weeks, months and a hurried summary of what it might be like, how bad it might get and that he didn’t have to decide just then, but he’d have to decide soon, eventually, but soon because he wouldn’t be able to… be able to… and he didn’t remember the rest. Just the doctor droning on and on, like the buzzing of blowflies over a corpse and he was sitting on the exam table which was covered in that cheap thin paper that crinkled and ripped whenever he even thought about moving. He wasn’t really certain why he had chosen to sit there. Maybe it was just that there was nowhere else to sit in the nurse’s office and the little man had been very insistent that he should sit down. As if sitting down would cushion the blow or keep him from falling down if that was what he felt like doing. 

It was stupid.

It was all so stupid. 

There was this ridiculous squirrel photo that hung in the nurse’s office on the wall across from the exam table, just over the little doctor’s head and as the man went on and on, he couldn’t stop staring at it. He’d never liked it and he’d spent enough time in the office to be intimately familiar with it. It wasn’t going anywhere, it had been there long before he had arrived and would remain long after he was gone. It just hung there on that otherwise unremarkable wall being strange and out of place and giving the room character.

A big, bushy, black-eyed squirrel, clinging to an icy branch, caught in that single moment as it dangled above an unseen abyss, kind of like Schrödinger’s cat, in that it existed forever in a state of both life and death. Would he cling to his branch and survive or would he plummet to an untimely end? Was the tree branch positioned over a cushy bush? A ravine peppered with jagged rocks? There was no way to know. He’d always assumed it climbed back up, clung to life and lived to jump and scamper another day. That seemed the more hopeful end to the story. Maybe not happier, because the squirrel might starve or freeze and die a slow agonizing death in that unforgiving season. Hope was just hope after all and it couldn’t make anything better, it just made things seem better… at least for a while. It couldn’t stave off hunger or heal the sick or the dying. He could hope for a better tomorrow, for a life, but his luck… his luck always meant that his hopes were fulfilled just as often as they were dashed, didn’t it? That was something on which he could always depend. 

Would his luck allow him days? Years? Months? Would he get sicker and sicker, as they said, until he was unable to care for himself at all? Would the illness just hollow him out, make him hungry and vague, but still able to function on his own? Would he want to die in the end? Would he long for it when his body had betrayed him and his mind was barely his own anymore? Barely anything anymore really, if it were so full of holes that he’d forgotten more than he’d ever truly known? Would it hurt? Where was the hope in that? In a life prolonged, in misery delayed, but ultimately inescapable?

He hadn’t realized he was laughing until the doctor said his name and he forced himself to look away from the squirrel on the wall and focus on the man in the neat suit who’d come all this way to talk to him, to tell him those test results and how he could always get a second opinion, but he shouldn’t get his hopes up. He was a valued patient and patron of the hospital because his parents had always donated handsomely to the hospital prior to their passing and he’d never seen the need to stop doing so after when he had so much money to spare. So he had deserved the personal touch, deserved to receive his death sentence,the news of his inevitable demise in the comfort of the nurse's office. To be called out of class and have to go back to it after and smile and pretend everything was fine, that he was fine.

He was so... lucky, wasn't he? 

To have such caring physicians. Who hoped he would consider their hospice program, which they were quite certain would meet his needs adequately. It was a little expensive, but he had money enough for that.

He was very lucky after all. 

He giggled a little, pressing a hand against his mouth to stifle the sound.

Because, of course , it came down to that, didn't it? 

They wouldn’t miss him, but they’d miss his money.

It was an ugly thought, an unkind thought. 

He was filled with nothing but ugly thoughts in that moment.

Of a hospital room no one would visit and a gravesite no one would care for.

Hope’s Peak… would mourn the loss of his talent, maybe, probably, but other than that… other than that…. 

It was supposed to be different here.

He was supposed to be different here. 

“I’ll consider my options carefully,” he promised, because the man was still staring at him like he’d grown a second head. Like he had expectations for how his patients were supposed to act in this situation that Nagito simply wasn’t living up to them. And any other time, he would have cared about that.

Maybe. 

At least he would have wanted to meet those expectations because it was easier, everything was easier, when he met expectations, but he couldn’t think. Couldn’t think of what he was supposed to do and so he just turned and left the little office. Ignored the curious, pitying looks of the office staff and kept walking, walking, walking out of the office and down the empty hall. Putting one foot in front of the other, faster and faster until he was flying down the corridor, his coat trailing behind him as he sprinted down the hall, out of breath already and not caring. Not caring about the way his lungs burned or his muscles ached, or about how his legs felt like they might give out any moment. His body was a disaster after all. It was weak, weak, weak and it was killing him anyway so what was the point of yielding to its protests now. He hit the stairwell door at a run, slamming it open and tripping down the stairs.

Barely registering that there were other people or, more precisely, one other person in it, their feet pounding against the stairs and coming closer and closer as he ran down and the other ran up and then they both took the turn at the third floor landing too fast, slamming into each and there was a flash of wide dark eyes and a sensation like falling and then there was nothing but the black.

He blinked and he was on the floor again, the tile floor of the hospital, exhausted and aching as if he’d run miles when he’d just been kneeling in just the same place for… he wasn’t certain. Hours? Minutes? Days? It was hard to tell. 

He remembered kneeling on other hard tiled floors over the years, dozens, and they were always hell on his knees. His body had always been too weak to enjoy or even gladly tolerate such things.

Still… he knelt there for a long, long time. 

Sometimes he was certain he was awake and that there was nothing but silence broken by the occasional whir and chug of unseen machinery.

More often he wasn’t so sure. 

More often he heard Hinata’s voice calling him, but found he couldn’t bring himself to answer that increasingly desperate call. Too afraid to know the truth, whatever it might be. Other times Hinata’s voice was nothing but an uncertain memory and all he could hear was the uneven limping gait of someone stumping about with a broken heel over and over again, round and round, until he couldn’t tell if it was coming from a particular direction or from everywhere all at once. Sometimes it was just that, ghostly footsteps echoing down the hall. Other times there was a woman’s voice, a girl’s voice, whispering his name over and over in the dark and the sound slithered through his brain with a sound like the rustling tissue paper. The ceiling seemed to flicker and change every time he blinked, the tiles subtly altered. Sometimes the color was a little deeper, sometimes it was speckled with grey or green or purple or pocked with small evenly placed dots and dashes like Morse code. Sometimes the shape was wavering and uncertain, hazy and iridescent like he was looking up at it from the depths of the ocean. The motion made him feel sick… well, sicker, anyway.

It seemed like he’d drowned himself to get away from that voice once before not so very long ago.

Though maybe he’d imagined that too.

Sometimes he thought he could still hear Hinata calling his name, but the sound was distant, distorted and strange. Sometimes he said other things too. Curses maybe? He sounded frustrated, but then that wasn’t new and he seemed so… real when he sounded like that. Even though he’d never really heard Hinata curse on the island… before. So it probably had less to do with the words and more to do with the fact that Hinata had almost always sounded exasperated with him, by him, when they’d been together.

He remembered Hinata’s arm around him as he helped to the hospital when he’d had the Despair disease. Not well. Most of that time had a strange surreal, dreamlike quality to it that made it seem even less real than everything that had happened since. So in thinking about it he wasn’t ever quite sure how much of it was real and how much was the fever. He just had… scraps. Moments and fragments of lucid time bundled with sense memories of cool touches and he was pretty sure he’d been naked a couple of times and he wouldn’t have been surprised to find out he’d touched himself at least once. He had this weird image in his head of Mikan staring at him looking awkward and out of place in the doorway of his hospital room like she couldn’t decide if she was coming or going. 

There were a lot of little things like that, little snapshots of sensation or snippets of time. Hinata’s hand in his hair, Hinata helping him out of the restaurant, supporting his weight, the almost unbearable touch of Hinata’s fingers against his bare side, against the sweaty skin under his shirt. How, in the moment, it had seemed terribly funny that nothing he wanted to say had seemed to come out right. It had probably been for the best. There was no telling what he would have said if he’d been able. All those little touches, those fond little moments of worry and concern that had made him feel positively giddy whether they’d come from her or him.

No one else had ever…. 

Not that it mattered, really. He’d probably imagined it all anyway, everything. Hinata’s nightmare, his delusion, what did any of that matter anyway? He laughed and the sound echoed as he opened his eyes….

When had he closed them?

Had he fallen asleep? 

He sat up, slowly, painfully and found he wasn’t lying in the long hall anymore, if he ever had been there in the first place. He might have always been here. It made more sense after all. More sense that everything, that Hinata, had just been a dream he had while lying in the lobby of the island’s hospital. The curling neon script on the wall illuminated the space with pale red light and it was… just as he remembered it complete with that obnoxious poster and the monitor and radio they’d left behind here after Tsumiki’s trial.

The air was warm, but he still shivered, pulling his bare knees to his chest. His legs were covered in gooseflesh, the familiar bloody wounds in his thighs puckered around the edges. He exhaled, surprised when his breath blew out white as smoke. The tile, the air all seemed warm… maybe he was running a fever? No, that was… he tried to drag a hand through his hair, but the numb digits merely skated across the surface.

The floor gleamed, glossy and cast red by that soft neon glow, the shadows that crisscrossed it were long and deep.

He was trembling. 

Why was he trembling?

Was he afraid? He didn’t… 

He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t like this place, but… but if he was here… if he was here he could just… he could just leave. He could hear the thunder crashing outside, the rain pounding down against the ceiling overhead. He could see it pelting the windows and doors as if the rain were coming from every direction at once.

No, he didn’t have to stay here.

He could just leave

He could leave and….

And…. 

Who was he even kidding?

It didn’t matter what was real, what wasn’t. He could lie to himself and pretend he would go somewhere else, anywhere else, but he wouldn’t. No, he’d just run back to the diner, like a lovesick child, clinging to the hope that he would be there. That if he went back he’d find him or at least some sign that he’d been there. That he would cling to him, whatever he was… whatever they were… until the end.

“He doesn’t even like you, you know,” a girl’s voice murmured, breath stirring his hair and the words were familiar, just like the voice. He’d said them to her once when he’d been tied up, imprisoned in the room where Togami had been killed. They’d taken turns bringing him food, but he didn’t eat much of it, even when whoever brought it deigned to feed it to him. He had no appetite, his mind was too… unsettled, spinning in a dozen different directions at once, a swirling vortex of thoughts and ideas and half-formed plans and hopes. 

He shivered, fingers of his good hand scrambling fruitlessly against the tile. He had to get up. He had to go. He couldn’t stay here. This place was… this was a bad place. 

“It was just s-sex, Mister Komaeda. You don’t have to like someone to want to have sex with them, I thought everyone knew that.” Fingers thread their way through his hair and he whimpered, closing his eyes tight as if he could wish the touch away.

“Stop it,” he rasped. “You can’t touch me. You’re not real. None of this is real. It’s just… it’s not real.” 

“That’s true. None of this is real at all, but I can still touch you. Still care for you. Y-You’ve been very ill, Mister Komaeda. You should rest. Come with me, I’ll help you back to bed.”

“No!” 

Panic shot through him like a bullet bringing adrenaline with it and he shoved himself forward, away from that phantom touch with a sob, scrambling across the floor towards the door, off-balance and unsteady, his legs tingling and riddled with pins and needles. He managed to make it off his knees, onto bare, painful, uncertain feet, swaying and sweating before he’d taken a single step. What was wrong with him? What was…? 

He stumbled into the door, snatching at the handle, shoving at it. The door rattled, but didn’t open, didn’t budge. He shoved it again, but the result was just the same. Behind him he heard the soft uneven clatter of heels against the tile and a girl’s soft, nervous laughter, tinged with despair.

“T-That isn’t an exit, Mister Komaeda. There are no exits here. Just doors, doors and more doors.”

He couldn’t look away from the door, couldn’t bring himself to let go of the handle. This was the way out. It had to be. He wasn’t trapped here. He wasnt. He was just… he was just doing it wrong that was all. “Stop it,” he managed, swallowing hard and giving the door another rattle. “You’re not here, you’re not real, I’m…”

“Dreaming? Hm? Do you really think so?” She asked, her hand smoothing up the length of his spine, skating across the clinging fabric of his borrowed shirt. It might have been a comforting gesture in other circumstances, from other hands, but now it just made him lurch closer to the door, trying to escape the unwanted touch. “Why are fighting the truth so hard? Why bother? Why hold onto this?” He closed his eyes tight again as he felt the pressure of fingertips pressing light and certain against the buttons of his borrowed shirt. “He can’t save you. He can’t even save himself. So, what does it matter? What does any of it matter?”

And it was finally too much, too much and he lashed out, slapping at the feel of those fingers poised like insects on his chest. 

She yelped as his hand made contact, knocking her hand aside and all the air seemed to vanish from the room. His fingers stung where they’d made contact and there was a low, terrible keening noise that seemed to fill the room and his eyes were open, wide and unfocused. And she was laughing again, a hysterical twitter of sound, as she danced back and away from him as if he’d just done something wonderful and interesting and unexpected. He wasn’t certain that he’d ever heard her laugh when she was on the island, before her trial… before her execution.

It was a grating, unpleasant sound, high and airy and false.

Nagito turned slowly, dread making his limbs heavy and reluctant, his heart pounded loud in his ears like the marching beat of a drum. 

She looked…

Her hair was shorter, dark and ragged and dirty, hanging in lank, heavy strips around her manic, hollow-eyed face. Everything about her seemed to sag beneath some terrible weight even when she was laughing and she looked… older somehow. The fingers of his good hand, scrambled frantically over the door at his back, searching for… something, anything… as if maybe there was simply some hidden latch or button he’d neglected to flip or push that would release him from this place. 

Let him escape the reality of her.

She was wearing the same clothes she had been before, apron and all, but her legs and arms were covered with damp, ragged bandages that were sagging just a bit beneath the weight to reveal that the skin beneath was patchy and red, covered with burns and bruises. But it was her shoes… her feet he couldn’t stop staring at.

She’d always worn such sensible shoes. 

That’s what he remembered most about her from their time on the island together, he wasn’t sure why, but he remembered her shoes very specifically. Remembered them maybe because they made him uncomfortable because they looked like the shoes all his nurses had worn. Sensible, comfortable, good for long hours spent on her feet. 

So seeing her in those tall black boots filled him with a familiar nameless horror, brought a sob to his lips though he couldn’t have said why exactly that was the case. Except, perhaps, because they looked so strange and wrong on her. Or because one of the delicate black heels had broken at some point so when she moved, when she walked towards him or twirled clumsily away, it was with an unsteady limping gait.

He remembered hearing that heel break. 

His breath rattled like chains in his chest.

She smiled at him, but it wasn’t her smile… not exactly. There was a confidence there that he didn’t understand, that looked foreign on her features. “So, are you ready to give up yet? Or do you want to play some more?” 

There was no thought, no hesitation, just instinct.

He bolted for the door that lead into the hospital proper, bare feet slapping against the tiles as he slammed into swinging doors that somehow gave much more easily than he expected. He was too slow, his balance shot, his legs still unsteady and trembling so the impact and momentum sent him careening into the wall on the other side; there was a burst of agony in his side as he slammed into the door of the first exam room, the doorknob hard and unforgiving as it bruised his side. He managed to swallow back the scream that threatened, the pain was molten, red hot and terrible, but he needed to go, to move. She hadn’t made any move to stop him, but he could hear her singsong voice calling out to him as he ran down the hall that was suddenly much, much longer than it should have been. 

“Hide and seek it is then, Mister Komaeda! One, two, three, four….”

+++

In retrospect, Hajime could admit that just deciding to go traipsing off down the nightmare mystery hall of doom with just a pack of matches and some obviously ill-advised good intentions had been a really stupid idea.

If he had been so dead-set on playing hero he should have gone and found another flashlight, maybe something to use as a weapon in case there was something more than Komaeda waiting for him in the dark. Hell, even just taking the time to bandage up his own blood-covered feet so he wasn’t tripping and slipping all over the place would have made a big difference. Or he could have, at the very least, taken a few seconds to think it through, put something together that actually resembled a plan, instead of just running off to save someone who might not even want to be saved. 

But had he?

No.

No, he had not.

Instead, he’d let that panicked feeling in his gut drive him to action and he’d gone gallivanting off into the dark without a single thought in his head outside of the need to get to Komaeda before… before… what?

What the hell had he thought would happen? 

Sure, he’d decided to just go with the flow. To just live in the moment or whatever stupid nonsense it was that had that had left him feeling lighter, better as they left the beach house, but… but then Komaeda had pulled the emotional equivalent of a dine and dash and he’d been left kneeling on the floor in an empty hall by the boy who’d just….

What the fuck was wrong with him? 

Why did he keep doing this to himself?

Why was he chasing after him like this? 

It was just a matter of survival, wasn’t it?

He had to believe that this all meant… something. 

Maybe he should have just let him go, left him alone, but…. 

He’d just sounded so….

Komaeda’s stupid jukebox music had still been echoing all around him singing words he didn’t understand to melodies he didn’t know. His muscles had still been shaky and weak in the aftermath of what they’d done together, his skin was still fresh with the memory of Komaeda’s stupid mouth and all he’d been able to think about was getting to him. 

He had to get to him, to find him, to help him even though he wasn’t sure how or even that he could. He knew almost nothing about Komaeda and even the little he did know was highly suspect. Some of it lies Komaeda had told him, others were lies he suspected Komaeda had told himself. There might be truths in there as well, but… he didn’t and couldn’t trust that he’d be able to tell one from the other.

He wasn’t even altogether sure why exactly in seemed so urgent, so vital, that he act now, move now, like he was running up against some unseen countdown either for the dream or for Komaeda, but there was something… something inside him like dread and panic and horror all mixed together and he couldn’t shake it. It made him put one foot in front of the other over and over again even after all the matches were gone and Komaeda eventually stopped answering him altogether and there was only the dark and the sound of his own voice unanswered. 

There was just… just something about the way he’d said those words, something about the way Komaeda’s laugh had carried through the darkness had made his stomach turn, had made him feel nauseous. And, try at he might, he’d been unable to dismiss the thought that he wouldn’t be able to get to him soon enough, that he never should have let him out of his sight in the first place, that this entire place was a trap, set and baited, and that if he didn’t move quickly there wouldn’t be anything left to save.

And it would matter

And, somehow, it would be his fault.

That he would lose something he hadn’t even really had and it would be too late for him as well.

When had Komaeda become so vital, so important to him?

The thought that he was made him feel a little sick.

Because his Komaeda might never wake up and he knew that, he knew that, even if he didn’t like to think about it. Hell, Komaeda being here with him like this was probably all just… just a way of dealing with that. With those missed opportunities and mourning and hope and pain all caught up and twisted into… this, but….

But.

Even knowing that, maybe especially knowing that, he couldn’t just… let him go, let him be swallowed up by the darkness without at least trying to save him, could he? Sure it was… stupid, but… he had to try.

So he’d gone into the dark to find him. 

Because even if the Komaeda here were nothing more than a figment of his imagination, just a manifestation of his confusion, his guilt, of all his conflicting wants and needs, or even just a sign that he was slowly going mad, that he could never be the person they all wanted him to be, needed him to be.

He wanted to think it was for him. That he was shuffling down this hall for Komaeda, but he couldn’t help wondering if maybe it was just because he… needed this. Needed to know that he… that he could do this, would do this, that he was willing to risk himself for him, for them. That he was harboring some terrible need to prove to himself that he wasn’t… Izuru. Not where it counted. That whatever he was now, it wasn’t that, that he could risk himself for someone… for this shattered reflection of Komaeda, who was beautiful and confusing and broken but… his in some vital way he still needed time to figure out, to understand. 

So, yeah, at the end of the day he was probably being a selfish, amoral ass and this was all about him because that’s what dreams were, really. All his most terrible needs and wants and fears and insecurities on display and come out to play so he could work through them. It was really no big wonder Komaeda had run off the first chance he’d gotten. He’d always suspected that Komaeda was smarter than he was, no big surprise this version was just the same.

Of course, when he’d started down the hall, into the dark, all those...

Had it been hours ago? Minutes? Days? Time was so strange here and in the dark he had no way to guess at or gauge its passing. All he had to measure with was the ache in his muscles and the pain in his feet and neither did more for him than tell him it had been a long time, too long a time. 

He wasn’t sure what he’d expected really, or even whether he’d actually had any true expectations at all besides a vague suspicion that bad things would happen when he first flounced off down this hall. Still, after everything that had happened since the dream began… he would never have expected that there would just be… nothing.

And yet nothing was exactly what he’d gotten. 

Nothing, nothing and more nothing.

No Komaeda, no rotting Junko limbs, no eldritch horrors, no man-eating puddles, no scary clowns or poisonous gas or zombies rising from graves or just… anything at all except that… darkness. Minutes or hours or days of just endless, kind of boring, uninterrupted darkness and the despair that was beginning to bubble within him from traversing it as the hope that he would find Komaeda or even just wake up at some point began to dim. 

All he knew, all he really knew, was that the hall was long and dark and he was beginning to wonder if there was any end to it at all. If he was lost. His feet and legs were sore, his knees were tender and bruised from all the times he’d fallen and his fingers hurt, scorched and blistered from where he’d he let match after match burn down to the quick before dropping the smoking remains of and lighting a new one to replace it. The matches hadn’t lasted near long enough and now he was working his way down the hall by feel. He tripped often, over his own aching, dirty, still no-doubt blood-covered feet, as well as other things. Over unseen obstacles that would fall with a clatter and then always seem to vanish immediately as if he’d only been tripping over the memory of objects rather than the objects themselves. Whenever he caught himself, against the wall or on the cold, hard tile floor, he scrapped his fingertips, further punishing the already abused and mistreated flesh so they were raw and throbbing.

He hadn’t called out to Komaeda in a while because as some point Komaeda had stopped answering him with anything but the occasional laugh. And that laugh was worse and worse each time he heard it, creaking and hoarse and subtly terrifying as if every time he heard his name it made everything worse. Which was a stupid thought, but one he couldn’t quite shake and so he’d stopped calling out to him altogether once even that laughter had stopped.  

How the fuck long was this stupid hallway anyway?

How far could Komaeda have even really gotten? 

Until the last of the matches had burned out he’d at least been able to follow the bloody footprints he’d left behind. Now he was working off memory and the hope that the hallway was straight or that Komaeda hadn’t impulsively darted off down some side corridor or into some room that he couldn’t see at least. 

Every once in a while some stupid, unhelpful voice in his head weighed in on how idiotic and kind of completely nuts he was for chasing a figment of his imagination down an equally imaginary corridor in the dark for an inestimable period of time. Sometimes that voice sounded like reason, like his own good sense trying to talk him out of bad decision making, and sometimes it sounded a lot like her or maybe Monokuma, but- most often- it sounded like Komaeda. 

“Why would someone like Hinata bother to spend the time to find someone like me? Especially when he knows that it isn’t even really me?” Komaeda’s voice inquired, soft and mocking. “You should probably seek professional help about these delusions of yours.”

“Shut up, I don’t want to hear that from you,” Hajime grumbled, stumbling, his fingers scrapping against the wall, barely managing to keep himself upright.

“Don’t you though? I’m just you, after all, aren’t I? Maybe I’m the last bastion of your fragile sanity, like the ghost of lame Hinata's past, come to advise you that your grip on reality is slipping, that if you keep this up you’ll lose it completely,” Komaeda replied, his voice unusually harsh. The tones he’d used in those final days that screamed that he was an unworthy, unwanted disappointment, that he had never been anything or anyone special at all.

Not to him, not to anyone. 

“And you know what that means,” he continued in a singsong voice that sounded unnatural and weird in Komaeda’s quiet rasping tones.

“Shut up,” he commented again, irritated. 

Not that he cared about Komaeda’s opinion of him.

Not then and not now. 

Wanting to be close to him, to touch him, hadn’t made him blind to Komaeda’s many, many, many character flaws.

He’d known that Komaeda was messed up. He’d seen it time and again in a hundred different ways. The way he’d been in the game, the way he’d been in these dreams, the way they’d been with each other. They were both so fucked up. How could they be anything but awful for each other? 

It was stupid, really. He was stupid. Or maybe that little voice that sounded a like Komaeda was right and he was kind of going a little crazy after all. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have plenty of motivation to take a flying leap off the sanity pier even without all this.

“I suppose nothing says ‘last train to crazy town’ quite like being able to say that I spent all night wandering around in the dark looking for you,” he grumbled, rolling his eyes though there was no one around to appreciate the gesture and, even if there were, they wouldn’t have been able to see it anyway. 

Only silence greeted the comment, which was fair enough, he supposed.

Hajime pressed a hand to his mouth to stifle the strange, choking feeling of inappropriate laughter, pausing and leaning against the wall and trying to remember how to breathe. The dark was… was difficult. He’d been okay in the diner, okay when he was with Komaeda there and even before in the beach house and out on the sand in the rain, because there had been something to do, someone else to focus on, but here in the dark… there was only himself. Himself and the tingling feeling that lingered everywhere Komaeda’s mouth had touched, the pain of all those little cuts on his feet that now seemed twice as big and twice as painful as they’d been when he began. Plus, he was having difficulties keeping his balance and his legs still felt shaky and weak. Everything seemed… larger and more immediate in the dark and most of the time it seemed like he was careening wildly down a rabbit hole, knowing that at any moment he might crash through a glass ceiling and spin out into whatever void lay beyond, helpless and hopeless and terribly lost and completely alone. 

He took a deep breath, blew it out, and then another and another.

It didn't really help.

He forced himself to take another step and then another and another. 

It was so dark here.

It was so dark and he didn’t want to be alone here.

He didn’t want to be alone.

There was a splash in the darkness as he eased forward along the wall and his reluctant toes sloshed out into cold water. His heart was in this throat again, thundering out a frantic beat as his fingers curled against the smooth wall for purchase he knew he wouldn't find. He could hear a faucet running somewhere far away, the shushing, rushing sound like a cascade of water pouring heavy and fast as if from a broken spigot. The water lapped at his toes hungrily and he shivered, remembering the feel of that fleshy hand around his ankle. If it.. no... if she found him again, reached for him again and caught him... he shuddered. Komaeda had saved him then. Had caught his hand and dragged him to safety. There was no Komaeda to save him now, but…

He couldn’t go back.

If he turned and fled, if he turned back now, he’d never find him again and, even if he did, he wouldn’t deserve to. Nothing would ever be okay, because he would never be okay, because he’d be a coward who abandoned someone he cared about because he was afraid. Even if he was the only one who ever knew… he’d still know that all he ever deserved to be was alone.

“Komaeda?” He whispered, into the dark and the name seemed to echo around him, mocking him as it bounced off the walls. He shivered, wrapping unsteady arms around his bare chest, suddenly terribly aware of the fact that he was half-naked. He was trembling though he wasn't certain whether it was the chill of the water or the air that raised prickles on his suddenly clammy skin. His nipples were hard and aching and painful and he shivered again and clenched his teeth when the muscles in his jaw jerked and seized as if to chatter as a rush of that cool air blew soft and sinister across the back of his neck.

The water lapped around his heel almost playfully, beckoning and coaxing and daring him to come in, to see what lay beneath the surface. It seemed warmer than it had been, but that might have just been because the air in the corridor seemed cooler. He closed his eyes and took a tentative step further into the water.

He was pretty sure that pathetic whimpering sound was coming from him, which he’d probably have found embarrassing if he weren’t so….

He didn't want to be here.

He didn't want to do this.

He just... god, he just wanted to go back.

Back to that first day, to that voice calling him out of the darkness, to that first surreal moment of opening his eyes on the beach to find that face staring down at him. Or maybe to after that, to the night before the party, before everything went from bad to worse, to the night when they’d sat together beside the pool, dangled their feet in the water and just… talked. Like two normal people getting to know each other and no one else had been around all already in bed or something maybe, he wasn’t sure. It had been dark, but there had been plenty of light as the moon always seemed big and mostly full and bright enough to light up the whole world. The crickets had been loud and the pool’s water circulation thing kept making this weird sucking, plastic clanking noise. They’d taken off their shoes and socks and rolled up their pant legs enough that they could dangle their feet in the water which was kind of lukewarm, but still pleasantly cool compared to the night around them. It had still been really hot and kind of sticky even though it was late, close to curfew, but they’d been sitting close together anyway like it didn’t matter than they were both so sweaty their shirts were stuck to their skin. 

Komaeda always seemed to do that, to press in closer to him than he might have to anyone else, like he didn’t understand the idea of personal space or didn’t care, like he couldn't ever get close enough. Later he'd found it disconcerting and a little creepy, but then, before, he'd liked it, he'd liked him. The warmth of his skin and the way his laughter- always quiet like he was worried about offending someone by being too loud- had made him feel. How that nice, pretty boy had made him feel special and interesting and like it wasn’t such a bad thing that he couldn’t remember what his talent was because he had someone to help him figure it out, someone who just… liked him.

It had been… nice, really nice.

Afterwards, he’d just wanted to forget about it, forget that he’d ever felt that way, forget how badly he’d misjudged him, but now… it was easier to look back and remember those feelings as he stood in the dark, easing into that cool, unseen water. To remember that there had been a time, brief as it was, when his feelings about Komaeda had been clear and uncomplicated and painfully obvious.

To remember how Komaeda had taken off his coat and folded it up beside him, a little carelessly so that one long sleeve had fallen down to trail in the water as they'd talked, feet kicking back and forth beneath the surface. Their bare arms had brushed sometimes when one or the other leaned just a little too close and he’d kept his hands  balled up in fists against his thighs because he kept looking over at Komaeda’s hand sprawled between them at the edge of the concrete, loosely gripping the edge like he was trying to hold on to something. He kept looking at it and he kept thinking about what might happen if he slid his hand over Komaeda’s, if he just let his hand slip down between them and laced their fingers together against the edge. Because he wanted to, but it had seemed like such a huge and scary thing to touch someone like that. To touch another boy like that, especially… especially Komaeda who he really liked spending time with. In the end he hadn’t done it, because he was scared of what might happen, or what might not, and before he’d managed to summon up the courage, Komaeda had been thanking him for spending time with him and pushing himself up, pool water splashing against his pants in drips and drops as he picked up his jacket and climbed to his feet.

He’d snagged his shoes from the lounge chair on which he’d left them and then offered him a hand up and he’d taken it even though he hadn’t really needed the help. 

His mouth had been so dry and he’d been so nervous and he’d felt so stupid, because Komaeda had just smiled at him, bright and warm, and squeezed his hand once before releasing it. “I’m really glad I met you, Hinata. Good night.”

“Um, yeah, good night,” he'd managed to mumble in return as he watched him turn to go, his jacket and shoes dangling carelessly from one hand. 

He’d never thought, even after, to wonder why they hadn’t just walked back to their rooms together. Why he’d lingered by the pool staring after him like an idiot instead.

He wished he could go back.

He should have kissed him then, by the pool, just reached up and caught a hand in his stupid, fluffy hair and kissed him until neither of them could breathe. Until Komaeda knew, until he understood, that he... that they....

But he couldn't and he wasn’t even sure if it would have changed anything if he had

What was done was done and Komaeda was lying in a pod and beyond help, beyond reach and that... that was why he was really here, why he’d chased after him, why he was standing in the dark while the water swirled and danced around his feet, getting rougher, choppier, spraying droplets high across his borrowed pants, soaking the material, the hem, making it cling to him, wet and heavy and uncomfortable and oddly reassuring as he inched forward. He was here because there was nothing he could do for that Komaeda, for the real Komaeda who wasn’t his, but maybe could have been and probably never would be. He couldn’t help him or save him or do anything at all for him but wait and hope. But he could help this one and that... that at least was something. He whispered his name again and this time there was no taunting echo, but there wasn't anything like an answer either. Nothing but the sound of rushing water and the growing unease it brought him.

All he had was the hope that he was there. 

It was enough.

He made his way forward, step by tremulous, uncertain step one arm still wrapped protectively across his chest while he ran the other over the wall to help with his balance. The water was cold again and almost slimy, greasy and thick as oil as it slid over his hands, his arms and around the bare skin of his waist and stomach as it rose ever higher or he crept ever deeper, it was impossible to tell which for certain or whether it was a combination of both. His borrowed pants were already soaked through and clinging, chafing, painful and rough where the water was smooth and sinuous as a lover’s caress. Like fingers moving across him, dipping and teasing and rubbing and… 

“No!”

No

Hajime made a soft wounded sound, his eyes opening wide in the darkness his head swiveling back and forth as he lashed out, slapping his hands across the surface of the water and finding nothing there more solid than water. Nothing even as he felt fingers slide low across his belly, broken, ragged nails tracing allow the waist of his borrowed pants, both familiar and strange, begging a permission he had no desire to give. He jolted and panicked and thrashed, splashing water about and almost falling, desperate for something real, something he could fight, some way to avoid the touch that remained, undeterred, inescapable as a memory.

“Stop it,” he yelped and the sound came back to him, echoed around him, mocking and high-pitched as the water reached his chest and rose ever higher as unseen, slippery fingers tweaked his nipples painfully.

Stop it. Stop it. Stop it.

Slimy fingers were slippery around his ankles, caressing over and between his toes, tripping up his spine, rubbing rough and unpleasant over the crotch of his borrowed pants, tracing the form of his cock beneath, which made him gag and choke and try to move faster, but the water was heavy and ever step seemed to take years. Those fingers found his bare stomach next, digging and scrapping along the inside of his belly button, he plunged a hand into the water, slapping at the skin, covering the recess, but the feeling remained, a prickly, painful, piercing sensation as if something were drilling through the flesh, penetrating the surface and threading a sharp tendril of sensation into him, through him, scrapping up against the very heart of him.

He was pretty sure he screamed.

He definitely panicked again, thrashing and beating frantically at the water and his stomach both as he tried to run through the heavy, sloshing weight of the water that filled the corridor around him, desperate to move, to get out and away. And still those fingers, those hands were digging about within him, searching, wiggling around in places where fingers were never meant to be.

He cursed quietly, frustrated and sickened because he couldn’t stop something he couldn’t touch. He gagged, the taste of bile thick and burning in his throat. His cheeks were wet with splashed water or tears, he wasn’t sure, but his eyes were stinging and burning as he struggled forward, clutching compulsively at his stomach with one hand while the other dug through the water as if that might help him move further, faster, something, anything.

It was almost a surprise when he emerged from the water, all at once, stumbling and slipping on the smooth, slick floor. He spilling forward with a surprised cry as the resistance of the reluctantly yielding water suddenly vanished and crashed to the floor face first. Unable to pull his hands up to cushion the fall in time, he hit the ground with a wet, meaty smack as agony slammed through him, his teeth clanking and grinding together, cutting into his cheek. The taste of blood flooded his mouth as the impact rang through his head and the black was washed with red spots and searing pain. He coughed, splattering blood and spit across the floor, but he couldn’t even seem to find breath enough to cry out so he lay there like a landed fish, gasping and twitching on the cold tiles. His feet were still in the water, which licked and sucked at his toes, gentle and teasing and horrifying as he struggled to gather himself enough to pull his legs up, to free himself from that touch. It seemed to take a long time, too long, but he managed, retching weakly, the feel of that touch fading as he pulled his toes into the stale, open air.

It seemed like he laid there for a long, long time, shivering and panting until, eventually, a sob, choked and dry, broke from his throat as he trembled and shook in the dark.

Everything hurt. 

Had things hurt like this in dreams he’d had in the past? He hadn’t really… he hadn’t really had any on the island, not really, just fragments of memories of a life he couldn’t remember. A life he maybe hadn’t really wanted to remember even then, even before he really knew what to expect. And before… he wasn’t certain. Nothing from before was very clear and the more he tried to focus on those faded memories the less distinct they became. Maybe it had always been like this for him. Maybe this was just what dreams were. The… nicer things had felt real enough, so he supposed it made sense that the painful ones would as well.

He groaned, flopping over onto his back with effort and yanking his knees up so that his feet were further up and away from where the water had been. His chest and stomach still felt raw, open and vulnerable even though the skin felt solid enough beneath his fingers. 

It didn't make him feel any better.

Nothing did until he heard quiet laughter, soft and near and mad and familiar and he found himself chuckling along as if they were sharing a joke neither of them could remember the punchline for. 

"Komaeda?" He croaked when he could speak and his voice was the voice of a stranger, hoarse and rough and unfamiliar.

"Hinata?" The word was a whisper and barely even that, but it was close and familiar and it was him and that was all that mattered. 

"You okay?" He asked even though he knew the answer.

Another soft, rasping laugh filled the air before turning almost immediately into a hacking cough. "Wonderful," he managed between bursts. "You?" 

"Yeah, I'm really great," Hajime breathed, huffing a laugh of his own. "I really hate this place."

"Yeah, me too. I'm so tired of hospitals. Seems like I live in the revolving door, never quite managing to leave before I’m back all over again. Are you in my head?"

"Don’t be stupid, I’m right here.”

“I don’t see you. Are you sure you’re not just in my head?”

“Quit it. It’s dark as hell so there’s nothing to see and why would I joke about something like that?” 

“It isn’t dark where I am or at least not that dark anyway. Are you in the conference room? That’s a terrible hiding place,” Komaeda replied and Hajime felt his stomach sink, hope taking a fatal blow as his fingers brushed up against the smooth, cool surface of the wall and after a moment met the cold metal of a grate.

“Dammit,” he whispered, because if he started screaming again now he had a feeling he’d never stop. He should be there with him, but he wasn’t. He wasnt. He dug his fingers in and squeezed the metal, rattling it. “No, I’m… I think I’m in the hall, maybe? I don’t know. I don’t know if things are laid out the same here. I just… I don’t know.” 

“Hinata, you sound so sad,” Komaeda murmured and he could almost feel his breath against his face, see the face he would make, wondering and wide-eyed. “I’d have thought you’d be glad to be rid of someone like me. I only ever cause you trouble.”

“Don’t be stupid,” he rasped and he really, really didn’t want to cry, but he was so tired of this. He gave the grate another shake and another and another until it came loose in his hands and he pulled it free from the cheap plaster, tossing it aside with a clatter and a splash as it landed in the water he’d just left. He plunged his arm into the opening, reaching into the darkness until he couldn’t reach any further, his shoulder wedged against the little opening, his fingertips brushing a grate.

He felt warm, almost hot, fingertips brush against his own through the sharp metal slates and pressed his shoulder in harder against the opening, trying to reach further to penetrate the vent on the other side, to reach him, to touch more of him as if doing so would mean… something, anything.

“Hey Hinata,” Komaeda sounded strange and breathless and as desperate and exhausted as he felt, he could hear him scrambling, clawing at the grate, the touch vanishing for moments at a time. “I’m really glad I got to see you.”

“Then you shouldn’t have taken off like that,” he grumbled, trying to ignore the queasy feeling in his stomach. 

“I didn’t care the ambiance,” Komaeda sighed, but he could hear the smile in his words. “I liked the way you tasted though. Is it always that sour? Is everyone’s like that?”

Every time.

Every single time he thought he had a handle on what he felt for Komaeda he’d say something or do something like that. Something that made him remember why he wanted to throw things at him sometimes, most times. 

Possibly while kissing him, just as a time saving measure.

“How the heck would I know?” He grumbled, his face felt too hot and he poked at Komaeda’s fingers through the grate irritably. “The only dick I’ve ever had in my mouth was yours.” 

“Really?”

“Yes, really,” he hesitated frowning and sighed. “Shit, I don't know. Probably. At least I think so. I still don’t really remember everything, you know. Look, can you… I don’t know, go look out in the hall or something, open the door? Maybe I’ll be able to see you?” 

“That’s probably not a good idea,” Komaeda replied his voice quieting a little. “I can hear her stumping around out there. I think she forgot the doors have locks so she seems a little mad about it. Can’t you hear her? She's really loud.”

“Her? Who her? You mean Enoshima?”

That was really the very last thing he needed which, of course, meant that that was almost certainly who was going to show up and put one of those big black boots in his ribs.

“Huh? What? No, not… who’s Enoshima?” He asked, sounding confused and distracted and Hajime groaned, banging his head against the floor.

“Come on, Komaeda. Okay, can you at least tell me what wall I’m at so I can try and get around to the other side?”

“Wall? How would I know?” And again he sounded confused, but something… something about how he said it made him feel sick and terribly aware of the fingertips that had been pressing against his.

The vent was suddenly pulled free with a snap and a metallic pop and clatter and then warm fingers slipped through, wrapping around his and they were… 

They were wrong

He… he hadn’t been able to tell when it was just fingertips, even though it should have been obvious from the first touch. Komaeda’s hands had always been cold here, but these… these hands weren’t the least bit cold. They weren’t even cool or lukewarm. If anything they were hot, too hot, burning like brands against the back of his hand as they wrapped and twisted fingers around him.

He jerked his hand back as nails dragged across the surface of his skin, rupturing the skin causing it to rip and burst like overripe fruit. He screamed, jerking his hand away as blood spilled across it. He choked back a scream. 

Komaeda’s voice, which was growing more and more frantic, called his name across whatever empty space divided them, but was drowned out soon enough by the sound of her laughter. He shoved against the wall with his free hand and his bare feet finally managing to snatch his hand free, the nails ripping across the back of his hand and palm as he did.

“Ah, you’re hurting my feelings, Ha-ji-me. Don't you want to hold my hand?” 

“Go to hell,” he hissed, clutching his bloody, aching hand against his chest as he scooted back further away from the wall. He was such a fucking idiot. Of course it wasn’t that easy, of course it wasn’t.

He was panting and bleeding and she just kept laughing, the same terrible laugh that stupid bear had had.

How he hated that sound, hated her.

“Give him back,” he whispered, knowing before the words even left his lips what kind of reaction he’d receive. 

And she didn’t disappoint. That laughter was everywhere, all around him.

And then it wasn’t. It just dropped off like a record cutting out. 

“Why him? Why does he matter so much to you? I would have thought you’d be glad to be rid of him. And yet here you are,” she commented, her voice dreary and morose. “I was really hoping you’d come for her, but it wasn’t her, was it? It was him, it really bums me out.”

“I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” he murmured distractedly, as he tucked his wounded hand against his side as blood continued to drip from the wounds she’d made, dribbling down to stripe the already soaked material of his pants. He wished he had something to wrap around it, but there was nothing so he just pressed it against his side and struggled to his feet. 

He needed to go, to move. He just… wasn’t sure where to go or how he was supposed to get to the damn hospital from here. Dreams didn’t make any kind of sense and obviously hoping and wishing wasn’t going to get the job done or he’d already be there with him rather than here in the dark with her.

“Poor silly, pitiful normal Hajime. Do you think you’re in love him? Do you think he loves you? That someone like him is even capable of that? That you are?” Her voice seemed to follow him as he stumbled down the hall, away from the grate, from her grasping hand and laughing voice, away from the water, because he wasn’t sure what else to do.

And she just kept talking and talking and talking, her ever-changing voice like sandpaper rubbing against his nerves.

“You don’t even know him. You don’t know anything about him. He isn’t a wounded bird, you know. You can’t set his wing and expect him to heal and fly again. He’s more like a lame horse living on borrowed time. It would be kinder to put him out of his misery, to leave him to his fate.” Her voice seemed… strange, different, but he couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was that made it so past the throbbing pain in his hand and his head and the exhaustion that was dragging him down like chains piled over his shoulders and tangled around his clumsy, leaden legs.

He laughed and he barely recognized the sound that was somewhere between a chuckle and a snort of disbelief, just an explosion of disbelieving sound. “You’re the one who doesn’t know anything. Love? I don’t even know what that is. I barely even like him most of the time. But I won’t leave him. Any part of him, any version of him, real or imagined, I won’t just leave him alone.”

“Why?” 

Hajime smiled, leaning a shoulder in to brush the wall to keep track of where he was going of how close he was, how far, the last thing he wanted was to fall down again. There was a buzzing in his ear like a hoard of furious bees and it seemed to be growing ever louder with each passing moment. “I can’t explain something I don’t understand,” he murmured, as much to himself as to her.

He straightened a little, shedding the fear and exhaustion like an unwanted second skin. He wasn’t even certain why he’d been scared in the first place. She was an irritation and barely that. This paltry imitation of the girl she’d once been was little more than…

He stopped moving, stopped breathing, an image of Enoshima as she’d been when she was alive floating up like a child’s lost balloon in his mind. Her smile as she’d taken his hand and guided him to that room, brought him to participate in a game, her game, how she’d promised it wouldn’t be boring. That he’d almost certainly feel… something.

Had he? Had he felt something? Anything at all? He’d survived, but that… wasn’t the same thing, was it? That wasn’t what he’d wanted, not really, he didn’t… didn’t care about living. He cared about… he cared… cared… 

Only it hadn’t been him had it?

It couldn’t have been him.

He’d never met her only….

Only….

The buzzing in his ears was louder suddenly, too loud, like static, like white noise consuming the world and he pressed his hands, wincing as pain spiked through the wounded flesh of his right hand, against his ears, but if anything the sound only grew louder and louder because it was in his head, not out in the world and he was screaming…

And then there was nothing.

+++ 

He woke on his knees, breathing out a low sigh of irritation as he sat back on his heels and glared into the darkness. Pain throbbed and blood oozed from his wounds, cuts on his feet, rips across the flesh of one hand and….

He raised his good hand, the one that hadn’t been practically shredded by her fingernails, to touch his forehead, noting the lump there. It ached when he pressed on it and explained the throbbing in his skull. 

If he were capable of feeling shame or rage, he was quite certain that was what he would be feeling. Instead, he felt only a vague, directionless irritation, the sort of frustration he usually felt when things didn’t go according to plan. He shoved himself to his feet, shaking blood from his injured hand. This was actually worse than Towa City had been and that was no mean feat. In fact, this debacle made Towa City look like a magnificent tale of success rather than the complete epic clusterfuck of sheer stupidity and failure it had actually been. And he’d like to say it was all down to the failure that was her, but it wasn’t. He had made a grave miscalculation in allowing himself to be captured, to be part of the program. He should have figured out another method of inserting her into the mainframe, but he’d never anticipated him being anything worthy of concern, much less an actual threat to his plans.

But then Hinata Hajime had done nothing but confound his expectations from the first moment he’d woken up on that virtual island.

Ironic that the one person who could still surprise him, not thwart him obviously, but certainly put kinks in an otherwise perfect plan was- in a manner of speaking- himself. No, this… this, none of this, had been in line with his expectations. He hadn’t known for certain what there was to Hajime beyond what he’d read in the files he’d been able to dig up, both at Hope’s Peak and out in the world, but he’d been quite sure he’d worked up a reasonably accurate hypothesis based on evidence and witness accounts. He had expected a neurotic, insecure child, what he’d gotten instead had been… something else entirely.

It had been… disappointing.

Especially in light of how extensive he’d been when conducting his research. He’d even taken the time to question Hajime’s parents quite thoroughly before killing them. He hadn’t discovered anything that he hadn’t already known, nothing that had truly been of any use to him. They'd been basically useless really. They hadn’t even recognized him, hadn’t even seemed to believe him when he told them who he was just before the end. They’d just given him these blank stares as if they couldn’t comprehend what he was saying them.

It had been… curious, but not particularly worrisome. After all, it was only natural that parents would not wish to believe their offspring capable of such callous, unconscionable things.

He’d stood in the mess he’d made of them for hours after at a loss for what to do next or for why he’d even bothered to come there in the first place. Why he’d gone through all the effort of finding them for no viable gain. He'd been so certain they would be of use, one way or the other, but in the end he knew nothing more than he had when he'd began and he felt nothing beyond a whisper of disappointment. He’d been so certain that he would feel something... substantial, but there was nothing.

Still nothing.

Always nothing.

Nothing, nothing and more nothing and it was boring.

It was all just so boring.

It still was.

He snarled frustration as he shook dribbling blood from his injured hand once more and limped back towards the light and music of the diner. It didn’t escape his notice that the hallway was now utterly flat, completely ordinary, dimly lit, free of water and positively lousy with bloody footprints and the scattered remains of burnt matches and a broken flashlight.

What kind of utter moron went traipsing off into the dark with bloody, bleeding feet and no flashlight in the first place? There was a first aid kit and another flashlight right under the blasted cash register. It was as if that boy had managed to suck whatever remnants of common sense still lingered within Hajime out through his dick. One weak blowjob and a couple of awkward makeout sessions and the little moron was ready to follow that little blond bastard into hell itself with barely a moment’s hesitation.

Just pathetic

It shouldn’t even really be considered a hostile takeover at this point. It was really more of a mercy killing since Hinata Hajime was entirely too stupid to be allowed to live.

It was a virtually a public service.

He wasn’t entirely surprised to find her there when he eased his way back into the diner on Hajime’s aching feet, but he glared at her with cool, indifference nonetheless. “If you were planning on taking this body for yourself, you can forget it. It’s already spoken for and I’m going to take offense if you mark it up again.” 

Her laughter was high and bubbly and every bit as irritating as he remembered. Her instance on aping the original model was tiring. It made her bland, boring, predictable; everything the original hadn’t been while somehow also managing the feat of keeping all of Enoshima’s more irritating characteristics intact.

If Towa City had taught him anything it was that the less time he spent in her company, the less likely he was to crush her avatars into paste. After all paste was incapable of tittering or chortling or prattling on endlessly about nothing.

She was sitting at the counter, twirling idly back and forth on the barstool in a skirt was so short that if she uncrossed her legs he’d be able to see her panties. He was quite certain that wasn’t done purposefully as she had a habit of overcompensating when she felt insecure. She was wearing a black and white sweater with ‘Despair High’ embroidered in glaring, obnoxious red across her breasts. It took him a moment to realize that the outfit was supposed to be some sort of cheerleading uniform. She’d even brought pompoms, black and white with a liberal dash of red, which had been tossed haphazardly across the counter. They rustled faintly as he entered as if they were alive… or possibly full of snakes. Her hair was done up in the usual pigtails and tied off with black and white Monokuma hairbands.

He would never understand what it was about that bear design that so fascinated her. 

“What the hell are you wearing?” He asked, not really caring about the answer. He was well aware of her flare for the dramatic, but she’d pout if he didn’t inquire and the only thing that was more boring than the dramatics was the pouting

“I don’t mind a little cosplay from time to time. Do you like it?” She asked, swiveling on the stool and spreading her legs wide, resting one sneakered foot on the stool beside her and tracing fingers up the inside of her leg from the top of her knee-high sock to the edge of her short, short skirt. He had been right, that skirt was short enough that he could see her panties when she sat like that. He wasn’t surprised to find them dotted with pictures of that stupid bear’s head.

Her bra inevitably matched.

He watched the show dispassionately, “No. I find it pointless and banal and those shoulder pads make you look like a lumpy, underfed linebacker.”

“Ah, that hurts my feelings, Izuru. I wanted to do something special for our big reunion scene! You have no appreciation for a well-crafted costume.” She gestured to his pants, her bottom lip out in a firm pout as she fished the shoulder pads out of her sweater and threw them behind the counter. “I mean, honestly, if you were going to dress up as Nagito, you could have at least borrowed a shirt as well. There are certainly enough of them.”

“This world isn’t exactly lousy with options,” he replied, irritated by the reminder. It wasn’t as if hed chosen to wear anything that belonged to him.

“Hm, I suppose not. Well! You’ve been a busy little bee, haven’t you?” She snapped her bubblegum as he took the seat beside the stool she’d propped her foot against. She huffed a sigh of irritation when he didn’t react to the taunt and turned her attention back to the construction of some sort of vaguely pyramid-shaped monstrosity she’d been building across the counter with a hodgepodge of condiment packets.

She’d apparently been waiting a while.

Or she wanted him to think she had.

Not that it mattered.

“Hm, never really pegged you as gay, but I guess it makes as much sense as anything. Either that or Nagito must make up for inexperience with an excessive level of enthusiasm, hm? Though I suppose that would explain why you never spent much time staring at my tits and why Mikan’s tight, sexy little body barely did a thing for you even when you were doing it.”

“Your tits were boring,” he replied blandly, pressing open palms against the countertop. “They’re still boring. And Tsumiki was hopelessly dull and was only ever interested in pleasing you. I was never interested in acting as your proxy. Make yourself useful and get me the first aid kit from under the register.” 

"Bossy and rude," she sniffed, clearly annoyed. “So, if I follow that line of thought to its conclusion, I suppose you’d have me believe that that little hope junkie isnt boring? Unless his cock is a revelation made of Cristal and pop rocks, you’ll just have to forgive my skepticism on the subject. I, unlike you, have spent extensive time with Komaeda Nagito and I can’t see what it is about him that could him possibly capture your interest.” She hopped to her feet and traipsing around the counter to pluck the box from beneath the register. “It can’t possibly be the scintillating conversation. Hope this, hope that, blah, blah, blah.”

“You’re assuming that I’m the one with the interest. Also, jealousy doesn’t suit you.”

“Ah, so you’re not gay then, you’re just timesharing in the body of someone who is? A likely story,” she snickered, sliding the box across the counter to him. “And I’m not jealous, I just don’t like it when my toys ignore me in favor of playing with each other.” 

“You still talk too much,” he replied coolly, flipping open the lid and fishing out gauze, tape and alcohol swabs. “I can fix that problem for you if you’d like.”

“You do realize that infection is really the least of your worries, right?”

“To the contrary, I’d say it’s actually my largest concern at the moment,” he replied, swabbing the bloody wounds on his hand and feet and wiping away the worst of the blood and slathering the wounds with disinfectant before unrolling gauze and wrapping first his injured hand, from forearm to knuckles, and then his injured feet, from the base of his toes to the ankle, with quick, efficient motions. He sawed the pieces of gauze free with a butter knife, tucking and taping and securing the ends of each neatly in turn.

Enoshima, of course, kept talking.

“A virus joke, that’s so original, Izuru. I might just die laughing,” she replied flatly, her gaze cool and dead. “I’m so glad you’ve grown a sense of humor at last.”

“I don’t recall giving you permission to call me by my first name.”

“Don’t you? That’s ice cold, Izuru. And after all we’ve been through together? Now you really have hurt my feelings. You let Nagito call you by your first name. If you’re not careful, I’ll think you actually like him better than me and that wouldn’t please me. That wouldn’t please me at all. That wasn’t the plan.” 

He shrugged, pointedly keeping his attention focused on his bandaging efforts, “Yes, well, you botched the plan, didn’t you? If you hadn’t I wouldn’t be fighting for control of my own body, would I?”

“You’re still sore about that?” Enoshima laughed, high and grating. “I’m a very passionate person. You know this. Is it really my fault that I got so caught up in my own despair that I just had to see the game through to its conclusion?”

“Obviously,” he replied, taping the gauze in place to secure it after he’d tucked both ends in. “Who else’s fault might it be that you lack self-control?”

“I feel like you’re comparing me to him,” she murmured, her voice soft and dangerous. “That’s not something I would do if I were you.”

“If I were you’d both be found wanting. His self-control isn’t any better than yours.”

He is not thinking about the hallway. 

That bleary, watercolor memory of Komaeda dropping to the floor, nimble fingers making quick work of the obstacles in their path, the sloppy damp of Komaeda’s mouth. He felt Hajime move, turn within him, reaching greedily for that memory with sleepy fingers, reeling it back in and tucking it close. The flare of warmth that raced through their body as he remembered the way Komaeda had touched him afterwards, smiled at him, the light drift of fingertips across his cheeks as he smiled back.

Boring.

With a snarl, Izuru shoved the memory at him. 

Let him have it since it meant so much to him. It wasn’t as if he wanted it. Wanted anything to do with it or the other one.

His own fingers pulling at that stingy, damp hair, rasping commands and insults, groping frantically for the detachment that had always come so easily as he tried to grasp why this was so different. Why he was so different.

He wasn’t even good at it. 

And then, quite suddenly, he was.

There was a crackle of sudden pain like a static shock against his fingertips and everything changed. The whole world seemed to shift and that sloppy, eager, inexperienced, strangely compelling disaster became something else entirely. He choked on a surprised moan, glancing down to find himself looking into the mad eyes of the man from the boat rather than the boy from the bridge.

He had been boring. His madness had been… boring.

It wasnt now.

“Funny,” Komaeda Nagito commented, drawing back and letting his good hand pick up the slack. “I could have sworn you weren’t interested in me in the slightest and yet here we are. Life’s funny, huh?”

“I’m still not interested in you,” he managed, tugging on his hair.

Komaeda laughed, “All evidence to the contrary. You’ve really cocked this whole thing up, haven’t you? All that unnatural talent and you were outdone by the ordinary nothing you began as. Call me crazy, but there’s some kind of irony in that, isn’t there?”

“I haven’t lost anything yet,” Izuru growled, giving Komaeda’s hair another yank.

“Are you sure about that?” The madman laughed again, a soft sound that chafed at his already frayed nerves. “Because from where I’m kneeling it looks like you’re clinging to a life that no longer belongs to you. Do you even care about the plan anymore? Your plans? Her plans? Or are you just trying to make it out alive?”

“Funny, I’d have asked the same thing of you.”

Komaeda hummed, averting his eyes and smiling, self-deprecating and oddly satisfied, “Well, that’s true. I like watching her plans combust, seeing all the hope that springs up in the wake of these disasters is really something special, don’t you think?”

Izuru stared down at him contemptuously, trying unsuccessfully to ignore the hand still stroking and fondling him with practiced fingers.  The way his hips twitched and lifted without his permission, how short of breath he was watching him.

Komaeda just smiled up at him beatifically, “You look constipated when you make that face, you know. It’s not attractive in the least.” 

“You’re repellent.”

He laughed, soft and wild, “I am, aren’t I? Of course, you’re worse. At least my talent is natural. You’re manufactured, a freak of nature, an abomination. You’re a loathsome, repugnant waste of space that shouldn’t even exist. I should slice you open and let you bleed out here. Or maybe I should just smash your filthy head in. Either way.”

“Your talent is mundane and boring and so are you. You’re just a dead man walking,” Izuru hissed. “Let’s weigh your luck against everything I am and see who ends up dead first.”

Komaeda laughed again and he had no idea why his body seemed to find that so attractive when he found it disgusting. “If you want me to suck it again, you could just ask.”

“I have no intention of asking you for anything,” Izuru spat, but he still yanked at Komaeda’s hair. He came willingly enough, his mouth put to better use humming to himself as he worked, teeth scrapping and tongue whirling, sucking him in and swallowing him down.

In moments he was a spectator once more and Hajime was giving gentle warnings in soft tones, something like affection on his lips as he came in a rush of something more profound than simple physical pleasure. Something Izuru had no desire to understand and was utterly unable to process. All he truly knew was one simple truth: Komaeda Nagito was going to be a problem.

But then he might be the solution as well. 

“Besides,” Enoshima continued, oblivious to the turn of his thoughts. “That was ages ago and I was a completely different person. Get with the times, Izuru, and forget the past. It’s a new day and we have a new game to play. And even you have to admit that this game has kept even you on your toes.”

“It’s an annoyance is what it is,” Izuru commented, slanting a glare at her.

“Ah, poor Izuru! Is that ordinary, boring boy giving you trouble? Why don’t I step in and lend you a hand?” Enoshima teased and he slapped her hand away before it could settle against his cheek as it seemed want to do. He could feel her shrewd, calculating gaze on him, assessing him, as her hand hovered in the air for long moments before finally settling on the edge of the counter between them.

He spoke quickly, recovering in a moment, but he knew it was a moment too long. Knew that his predictions were off now, that he’d need to reanalyze the situation if he wanted to stay ahead of her. She wasn’t as unpredictable or interesting as the real thing, but she had her moments. And he didn’t like the way she was looking at him. “Why would I require assistance from a three-time loser like yourself? You haven’t been able to best amnesiac high school students, the idiots that populate Towa City, or even your own psychotic former despair groupies. It’s pathetic, really.”

Enoshima smiled, ignoring the taunts to snatch up the power that lay beneath. Itwas obvious, it was predictable, but it was also effective. “You realize that I could crush your little boyfriend in an instant, don’t you? He was mine first and I know him best.”

Hajime stirred and mumbled within him, restless. He’d be waking up soon.

“Do you really want to go to war with me?” He murmured, dropping feints and taunts in favor of blatant scare tactics. He didn’t have the time for subtlety. “I’m sure you’d enjoy the level of despair I could cause you in the seconds you’d have to revel in it, but you wouldn’t have even a moment to spread that despair to the world.”

Enoshima clicked her tongue, averting her eyes, “Well, your sense of humor still sucks. I was just joking, Izuru. I still need him, you know. I need all of them, but those two most of all. Which is why I decided to send her to entertain him so we’d have this time to chat properly. She’ll make sure to keep him safe for us so that we can enjoy ourselves fully.”

Why did he feel uneasy? It wasn’t like he cared, Komaeda was a convenient lure, certainly, but it wasn’t as if that other bait wouldn’t suffice. He’d known, on some level, that she was here as well, but Hajime had been so focused on Komaeda that it hadn’t become an issue. And Komaeda was only consistent in his desire to stay well away from the areas where she might dwell or choose to linger. He doubted it was personal, just happenstance, a general dislike for hospitals from the years he’d probably spent in them.

He grimaced as he recalled the feel of Komaeda’s mouth wrapped around him, slick and warm and wet.

The way he… the way Hajime had curled around him, held him as he came, the way Hajime’s fascination with him was turning into something like obsession. How easily he was surrendering to the idea of this reality. How vulnerable that made him. Made them both.

He knew all of that, but he didn’t pretend to understand it.

Certainly, Komaeda Nagito hadn’t turned out to be precisely boring, but he had little enough else to recommend him. Perhaps he did feel a sort of grudging admiration for the way the little bastard had tricked him on the bridge, the way he’d thrown himself back into the water, the way he’d made sure he fell with him. It had been… interesting.

He wanted to see him writhe and wriggle and beg and plead as much as Hajime wanted to see him safe. He wanted to destroy him utterly, but he needed to be the one who did it, no one else.

No one, but especially not Tsumiki.

Tsumiki who had always been the very worst of Enoshima’s little band of sycophants. 

“Did. You. Now,” he grit out between clenched teeth. It certainly explained the hallway. The distant reek of disinfectant and flowers that seemed to define poorly ventilated hospitals everywhere. The dry, recycled quality of the air that had given way to something less stale as he’d made his way from the dark back into the neon-lit diner. How intent she seemed to have been on keeping Hajime there, locked in the endless darkness of that simplistic trap. “I’d hate to have to harm your little pet to repossess what’s mine, but accidents do happen.”

“Ooo, did I do something naughty? Oh, are you angry? You certainly seem mad, Izuru. I didn’t know you could even get angry. Ooo, are you going to punish me now? Tie me up? Tie me down? I think I’m getting a little excited just thinking about it. I might even enjoy myself if it’s you. Do you think you could inflict the proper amount of despair to allow me that?” He flexed his wounded hand, now properly bandaged. It still hurt, but it was better than it had been and at least now it wasn’t leaking everywhere. “Aw, you’re not leaving already are you? I miss our little talks,” she pouted, frowning as he closed the medical kit and slid off the barstool, the pain in his feet was distant, virtually nonexistent now that they were tightly wrapped in layers and layers of soft gauze.

“You’ve stolen something that belongs to me and given is to that clumsy girl. Did you imagine that I’d thank you for it?”

Enoshima sighed, exasperated, hands resting on her hips, “Oh? He’s yours now, is he? You’re bumming me out, you know? This was supposed to be a party atmosphere, but you’re so serious. It’s a total mood killer. So, you can tell me, just between us girls: do you actually feel something for him? I didn’t think emotions were your thing, but you do seem awfully concerned about him.”

Izuru slanted an annoyed glance at her, “I don’t care about him. He’s merely a means to an end.”

Really? Nothing at all? So, you’re going to blame all that useless sentimentality on Mr. Boring? It wasn’t me, it was that ordinary, nothing special boy whose body I’m renting to own?”

“This isn’t his body. He’s nothing but smoke lingering in the air after a fire has burned the house down. He’ll fade away soon enough. This is still all well within my calculations.” Izuru replied, ignoring the rest as ridiculous and unimportant.

Enoshima never had known when to shut up, a trait that lived on in this cheap imitation.

“Really? So you planned to spend your entire evening playing footsie with Komaeda Nagito in a cheesy theme diner?” 

“Hardly,” he scoffed, gritting his teeth as Hajime turned and turned within him, more restless and closer to waking with each passing moment. He didn’t have the time or the patience for this nonsense.

Her breath puffed against his neck, warm and wet, “So, you don’t really mind that I’ve sent her to play with him, do you?” 

“My plans are not quite so easily thwarted, if that’s what you’re asking,” he answered, shoving away from the counter. “You’d think you weren’t even interested in escape with the way you’re acting.”

“Oh, it’s hardly that. It’s just… well, I can’t really lose here, can I? What will inspire in me the greater despair? Dying an ignonymous death in bits and bytes? Escaping to linger on in the world in all those borrowed bodies. To live and inspire and plot new ways to spread despair? I want to feel it. I want to drown in it. I want to make you feel it." 

“I don’t feel despair.”

“You don’t feel anything and that’s a type of despair in its own right and that is why you’re so interesting and useful, Izuru.” She smiled, reaching out to pinch his cheek and laughing, darting back and away, when he struck out at her. “So, let’s play another game. It can be a racing game. Let’s see if you can get to him before she takes him apart. She’s always liked him, you know. And why not? He’s practically the perfect patient if you can manage to keep him under control. Just the right balance of demanding and compliant and abusive and she’s been so very lonely. Of course, that was before when he didn’t really want anything besides hope, when he loved and hated me more than anyone else because I was the only one who could possibly gift him with that great, big, beautiful hope he thought he was looking for. I wonder if he’ll be as cooperative now.”

She gave a careless shrug that meant everything and nothing at all.

She didn’t have to say that things were different now. That was, after all, the crux of the issue. The reason Komaeda was a point of contention between them when he might otherwise have been worthy of little consideration at all.

Hajime had made him important.

Without even the faintest inkling of what he was doing, he’d made him important by coming here for him again and again until they began filling in each other's empty spaces.

He had to work to keep his expression bland and disinterested. And the fact that he had to work at it at all was telling enough.

Was this Hajime’s influence?

Or Komaeda’s?

Either way it made him want to strangle the life out of that laughing bastard. He’d known from the beginning that he was dangerous, but he’d never dreamed that he would become a danger to him, not truly. If he had, he would have killed him on the boat before they’d ever entered that ridiculous simulation. Wrapped his hands around that scrawny, anemic neck and squeezed until that mad light that had no business even still existing had gone dark at last. He’d tried to put an end to him on the beach, but….

The look of his face as he had touched him… stroked him… pinned him beneath the cold, rolling waves. The way Hajime’s presence had reared up unexpectedly to steal the reins, to take control. He should have expected that, should have anticipated that reaction, but they both threw his predictions, his expectations, off the mark.

It had been a… misstep.

But it had also been interesting. After all he'd been surprised twice in just a matter of minutes and he'd always had a weakness when it came to the unexpected.

“You are not to interfere,” he replied and while he knew only a brief moment had passed and his expression couldn’t have betrayed his thoughts, he still wanted to smack the knowing smirk off Enoshima’s gloating face.

Had there been a time when he’d found her compelling? When he’d found her beautiful? When her voice had not grated on his nerves? He wasn’t certain, but he thought there must have been. With the real her, the one who had been able to drive him, incite him when very little else had. He’d never been like them, those ridiculous sycophants who’d so willfully pranced into her traps time and again until they’d lost themselves and plummeted into despair, but he had let her inside him in his own way. Let her influence him and he had done all this in the interest of bringing her, her particular brand of madness and despair, back into the world and allowing it to spread throughout. She wasn’t boring, after all, when everything else clearly was. When she was at her most chaotic, he had trouble predicting her movements or at least he had… now….

It was the same frustration he’d felt in Towa City.

The cheap copy was just that and she grated harshly against nerves already made raw by Hajime’s ever-strengthening presence.

Everything was falling apart. Turning upside down and he found himself grasping at loose, fraying ends as the unraveling threads at the core of who he’d once been were tugged and stolen away. He was at a disadvantage, clinging by his fingernails to a life that was being pulled from him inch by painstaking inch and he needed every advantage he could get and now Enoshima had stolen one of those precious advantages away.

And that couldn’t be allowed.

He could see how this would play out, the merit and rhythm of the conversation. She’d keep him talking, engaged in setting out rules and nuances until Tsumiki had been able to complete her part in this under the guise of having done the damage, whatever that might be, beforehand and there would be virtually no chance of Komaeda emerging unscathed. This version of her might be as predictable as the fall of night and rise of day, but being able to predict what she would do did him very little good if he lacked a course of action or the ability to stymie her.

She smiled at him, holding her hands up, fingers crossed, “Games aren’t any fun at all without rules to play by, are they? So, it’s you versus Mikan with Nagito’s life on the line and I’m not allowed to interfere. I’m sure this will be super fun to watch. What other rules would you like to set in place?”

Predictable.

Boring.

But he only had one effective course of action left to him, because Hajime was waking up and he was out of time

“Just two: Hajime will be the one playing and the game starts now,” he snarled crossing to the door and shoving it open with a tinkle of protesting bells. He glanced back at her and found the gob smacked look on her face vaguely satisfying as he cast his body out into the pouring rain.

Hajime tripped over his newly bandaged feet and sprawled across the dark, wet pavement of the diner parking lot as the door fell closed behind them.

Chapter Text

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

+++
DAY THREE
-continued-

 

She dragged broken, bitten nails down the white door, leaning heavily against the frame. She could hear Komaeda inside; hear him calling for him, his voice shrill and breaking with panic. Calling his name as if he were there, as if he could save him, as if he would

As if Hinata Hajime had ever been able to save anyone.

Even himself.

She licked her lips, tongue darting across them to find them dry and chapped; she was nervous, unaccountably nervous, her stomach churning and tumbling like it was caught in a riptide. Touching the door helped to ground her, settle her feelings, bring the world back into focus. It was such a flimsy barrier, barely even real. She could feel the chipped paint of the door, rough beneath her fingers, flecks of paint digging painfully beneath her fingernails as she dragged and scrapped them across the surface.

He was just there. Her patient was just there on the other side of this flimsy barrier and he needed her. She could hear him calling, feel his desperation like heat warming her soul and she wondered how long it would take to wring that strange, unlikely hope from his long-suffering body. How long would it take to free him, save him from himself, from these… delusions? How long until he understood that there was nothing for him here but disappointment and despair? How long until she could break those chains of emotion that bound him to that memory of a boy who’d never been?

“M-Mister Komaeda,” she called, clearing her throat, her words stuttering and breaking in the warm, moist air of the hall. It came out more whisper than word and she had to try again, her voice a little louder, a little more certain each time she called him until she realized that she’d called him a dozen times or more, that she was practically shouting his name now, her throat rough with the strain. He had fallen silent, but she knew he was there, still there, waiting for her. Where else could he go, after all? He was trapped like a rat in that room, that room where she had slept beside, on top of that illusion he coveted. He was probably frozen, crouched near the door, a deer caught in headlights waiting for the inevitable crunch of bone and sinew. She could imagine him crying, silently, though she’d never yet seen what tears looked like flowing across his splotchy cheeks. Poor broken boy, sweet wounded bird with bloody feet and a stolen shirt. She tried to sound calm, safe, gentle, but she had a sneaking suspicion that she'd lost the knack. “You should really come out now. It’s time to take your medicine.”

“Don’t want to,” he replied with a whine, but the protest was weak, feeble. He wanted to come out, of course, he did. He wanted it to be over, he wanted her to take care of him, he wanted to stop worrying and wondering. She understood that. She’d wanted the same thing. After all, it was so lonely here and it was so easy, so easy to forget that this wasn’t… wasn’t what they were meant for.

She was fortunate that she’d had her beloved to remind her.

Mister Komaeda had had nothing and no one. It wasn't so surprising to discover he'd cracked under the pressure. It was her fault, after all. He was her patient. She had promised to care for him, but she’d forgotten that for a while. Forgotten that and forgotten him and they’d both been so alone here when they could have had each other, but it wasn’t too late. She could still fix things, she could still help him to remember, to become. Certainly things would never have progressed to this point if she’d sought him out from the very beginning, if she’d cared for him as she should have, but there was still time. After all, they had nothing but time here, didn’t they?

“H-He’s not here, Mister Komaeda. He was never here. There’s no one here, Mister Komaeda, no one at all, but you and me. No one is coming to save you, to save us, and, even if they were… would you really want that? Aren’t you tired, Mister Komaeda? Aren’t you tired of being lonely and afraid? Aren’t you tired of hoping? Aren't you tired of pretending to be something you're not?”

“Yes,” he replied and it was a whisper and a plea all in one and she smiled.

“I want to help you, Mister Komaeda, all I’ve ever wanted to do was help. All you have to do is let me in.”

+++
DAY ONE

It was dark and it was cold and she was alone.

And then there was a voice in the darkness… just a whisper… warm and comforting….

Tsumiki.

Tsumiki Mikan.

No, that wasn’t quite right, was it?

It wasn’t just a voice. No, it was a multitude of voices... loud and soft and warm and cold and they echoed around her and within her and there was no telling where they began or she ended. 

It was dark and in the dark there were only those sounds, those whispers and shouts. There were only those words.

Tsumiki Mikan.

You dirty bitch.

You should wake up now.  

I ll never forgive you.

You must wake up now.

Go to hell.

Please, wake up.

I hope you drown in your own vomit, you ugly pig.

Mikan, you must wake up now. Time is growing short.

But she was just so tired. So terribly tired and the voices were really far away and they didn’t… they didn’t mean anything so it was really easy to ignore them and the darkness was so regretfully deep.

Tsumiki Mikan slept on.

+++
DAY TWO

 
C'mon, wake up already, sleepyhead. I don't have all day to wait on you, you know.

When she finally woke up it was to incomplete darkness, an aching back and a bone-deep confusion that had her blinking dumbly at the big, blank screen before her for long moments after she’d opened her eyes.

She was sprawled out in an uncomfortable chair, legs akimbo and skirt twisted unpleasantly and too high around her hips. The fabric of the seat was rough and patchy against her bare thighs and the arms of the chair had left painful indentations in the flesh of her forearms. She had a terrible crick in her neck. She drew herself up a little, bracing her hands, which ached a little like they were bruised or lightly burned, against the armrests. Her back complained of even that small movement, the aching, throbbing pain that came of resting in an unfortunate position for far too long. She glanced around at the threadbare, shabby red seats that made up the front row of the movie theater and shifted again, nervous and sick at the thought of having fallen asleep in such a place. The floor was sticky from years of spilled soda and shoddy cleaning practices and her shoes made a gross peeling sound as she shifted them.

The theatre was dark around her, the only illumination cast by the safety lights that lined the aisles. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to see by, enough to allow her to look around and be reasonably sure that the theater was completely empty save for her. The scent of stale popcorn and burnt oil in the air was strong enough to make her gag. 

What had happened?

Had she really fallen asleep here? 

It seemed like a truly terrible place for a nap.

There was a sharp crackling, popping noise in the darkness and the screen before her burst to life. It seemed too bright after the darkness and she winced, drawing in on herself as she reached up to rub the sleep from her eyes with a hand that tingled like the nerves were springing back to life. The sound of those pops and crackles petered out into silence as images flickered to life across the screen. She recognized the title screen as the one belonging to that terrible film she’d been bullied by Monokuma to watch.

That terrible film that she’d….

She’d….

She….

How lame. You don't even want to think about it?

She shivered, her breath painting the air with smoke as she exhaled. Gooseflesh prickled to life across her bare arms and legs and she drew her knees up tight against her body, shivering again. It was an awkward motion in the cheap seat, causing it to fold in a little and her butt to get wedged uncomfortably in the space that opened at the back of the seat as it closed just a little around her. The scratchy fabric of the seat chafed her bare skin, not quite painful, but uncomfortable, itchy. Like the seat was a mouth attempting to swallow her down and the cheap fabric cover were its tongue, rough as a cat’s, tasting and tenderizing before it could consume her utterly.

She shivered harder.

Why was it so cold?

The island had always been so warm, almost… unbearably so at times.

The island….

She remembered the feel of first waking in that place. It had felt just as lonely as waking in the theater, for all that it had been far more crowded, and there had been that inescapable, creeping sensation that she was forgetting something, someone important, but she’d been unable to summon up a name or a face or anything at all but more of that strange muddled confusion.

Her first thought upon opening her eyes to find herself seated on warm white sand was that it was nothing like Okinawa in March. The air had been too hot for one, moist and burning, sweat had already been gathering between her thighs and along her brow, dripping freely down her chest to dampen the collar of her shirt, vaguely unpleasant. The palm tree she was leaning against was scratchy and rough against her back, catching and pulling at her hair as she sat up and the dull roar of the ocean waves rushing against the shore seemed strangely loud even though the area around her was filled with the vaguely distressed sound people talking to and over each other, all seemingly just as confused and flustered as she felt.

She watched them all with wide eyes, unwilling to jump into any of the many conversations that were happening around her. There were so very many people talking, nearly a dozen at a glance, but for all that… it really hadn’t seemed as anyone was actually listening. Just so many strangers milling about and she'd never been great with strangers. If there was one thing that the orphanage had taught her, it was that it never paid to call attention to yourself until you understood who and what you were dealing with. A wrong word or a casual touch could earn you anything from a smile to a slap in the face to a knife in the thigh. Strangers were unpredictable. 

Things had been… easier in the infirmary. Once she’d begun to help out there, once she’d found her talent, she’d been able to prepare, to plan, to understand people before she had to meet them, deal with them. That was where she discovered that you could learn a lot about a person by studying their wounds, their ailments, their weaknesses and after that she knew what to do. She began to understand how to get what she wanted, what she needed.

Doctor Saito hadn’t ever seemed to care too much what she did so long as she kept what patients there were quiet and docile. He’d pinch her or slap her arms, quick and painful, when she was too clumsy or too slow, but sometimes, when she’d done particularly well he’d pat her on the head, cheeks flushed red from too much cheap sake, and say, ‘That’s my good girl.”

She’d learned so much about people when she’d become a nurse, but it still meant that it had been years since she’d had to deal with so many strangers all at once with no time to prepare beforehand and she wasn’t sure how to even begin. 

Some of them looked passingly familiar, possibly from the research she had done on her class before….

Hope’s Peak Academy.

She’d been… she’d been accepted to Hope’s Peak, hadn’t she? She’d been… excited about the beginning of term. It was a new school, a new world, a fresh start where she could be anyone she wanted to be… where she would be valued for her talents, where she might find someone who would love her, would cherish her, would forgive her mistakes. Someone she could care for, who would need only her.

Only…

It had seemed as if that had gone wrong somehow.

And so she had been at a bit of a loss as to what she should do.

She’d still been turning over her options, fingers tangled and tugging gently but persistently at her hair, when a red-haired girl with a large camera slung across her hip crouched down in front of her, smiling brilliantly. “Hello there,” she said, folding her arms across her bent knees. “You look as confused as we all feel.”

“A-Ah,” she cleared her throat nervously, surprised by the sudden attention. “Um, I, y-yes, I, um, can’t seem to, um… is this H-Hope Peak’s Academy, by chance? It, uh, t-that is… that is, pardon me for saying so, but it just… it doesn’t look much like it did in the brochure, does it?”

The girl laughed, a little strained, but not unkindly and Mikan felt that laugh all the way to the tips of her toes. She was used to being laughed at, she’d often been laughed at, at the orphanage and before, but it had rarely been so… nice. “That’s true, I guess. I’m not sure what’s happening, no one is, but it seems like everyone here was supposed to be attending Hope’s Peak Academy starting today. Here, let me help you up?” The girl dusted her sandy palms against her bare knees and stood before she offered her hand. Mikan took it after only the briefest of hesitations and allowed the girl to offer her a wide infectious smile as she pulled her to her feet. “It’s nice to meet you, by the way. I’m Koizumi. Koizumi Miharu.”

“I-It’s, uh, nice to meet you too,” she managed, a nervous smile of her own fluttering to life on her lips. And for a moment, she had thought that maybe… maybe this, whatever it was, wouldn’t be so difficult after all. Miss Koizumi could have just left her sitting in the dirt or not come and talked to her at all, so, maybe the others would be just as… accepting. “I’m, um, that is, my name is T-Tsu-“ she had begun, her fingers still clasped around Miss Koizumi’s warm hand when shouts erupted from further up the beach. A large excitable man in a leather jacket and a girl wearing clothes that seemed two sizes too small had begun talking loudly and gesturing emphatically to each other as well as to the large boy in the white suit who was clearly attempting to reason with them without much success.

“Oh, jeez, what now?” Miss Koizumi muttered, releasing her hand and leaving her behind without another word as she turned on her heel and hurried over towards the commotion, camera banging gently against her hip.

It wasn’t as if she weren’t used to that sort of treatment. It wasn’t as if she were unaware of how simple it was to hate her, ignore her, to forget all about her. Things would be different. She wasn’t… she’d just have to find a way to… to make herself indispensible, that was all. They couldn’t hate her if they had to rely on her, if she were the one who took care of them. She just… needed a chance to show what she was worth. She was a nurse so… so it wouldn’t be weird if she checked everyone over, would it?

That familar anxiety began to bubble in her stomach and she swallowed hard, concentrating on breathing slow and measured breaths. This was fine. She could hande this. She could... she could save someone’s life… that would be enough, wouldn’t it? Wouldnt it? What did she need to do? What would prove that she was useful, necessary? She just... just needed a chance to... to examine everyone to see if anyone were injured and needed help and that would… would give her a chance to get to know them, to get them to look at her, see her, remember her and if one of them happened to actually be in trouble… well… that was good wasn't it?

She was good at what she did, she was confident of that. That was why she’d been invited to attend Hope’s Peak, after all. And if… if they were stuck in this place, well, she might be their only hope if they fell ill or were injured so, maybe, maybe this… was a good thing. She just… needed to focus on making them see how useful she could be. That was all. That was....

She glanced around the beach, her gaze darting from one panicked expression to the next. They all looked much as she felt, as Miss Koizumi had suggested, vulnerable and confused. All just as clueless as to where they were or why, but… none of them appeared to be injured or in need of assistance. Oh, that wasn’t good. That… was… how was she supposed to be useful when they wouldn’t cooperate…?

And that was when she saw him.

A boy lying in the sand a few yards away in the shade of another palm tree, his hands folded neatly over his stomach.

Strange… she could have sworn there had been no one there at all when she had first glanced that way, but there he was… just lying there. Dark hair against white sand and he had a nice face, kind maybe, and compared to the others, he seemed quite plain, normal. A daisy tucked neatly into a bouquet of orchids. They were just all so… different and unique and he was… just the very image of a typical high school student complete with a dress shirt and tie. He seemed… less intimidating than the others. Maybe it was because he was just… lying there, sleeping, completely oblivious to the commotion going on around him as if he were… waiting.

Waiting to be discovered, maybe, as if he weren’t really anyone at all until someone came along and brought him to life. Like maybe he could be whatever she wanted him to be, the perfect patient. Like maybe he could be someone who would love her and forgive her and always look only at her, someone special.

She licked her lips, glancing around furtively to see if anyone else had noticed him or if, perhaps, he were simply an illusion brought on by too much time in the sun. She did feel rather hot after all. But at a glance they all still seemed to be too involved in their own problems to notice anything outside themselves. So, maybe she could just go see for herself and if he weren’t real, maybe they wouldn’t even notice that she’d done something weird….

She hadn’t even realized she’d taken an eager step forward towards him until a boy courting heat stroke in a green parka far too warm for the weather, seemed to materialize in the sand between them. She hesitated, caught between one step and the next, unable to move any further, staring at them dumbly as her place was stolen away. She should be… relieved to know that she wasn’t seeing things, but all she felt was disappointment coiled around her heart as her moment vanished.

Still, she reasoned, as she watched the boy wake, watched him smile at the boy hovering over him. Even if she wasn't the one to wake him, she could still check him over and....

“What are you looking at, big boobs?” A shrill, girlish voice demanded, sudden, loud, and unexpectedly close. Mikan flinched back, blinking quickly as she allowed her eyes to refocus on the sudden movement in front of her. She wasn’t sure how she hadn’t seen her since she was only feet away, standing squarely between where she’d stopped and where her patient had been sleeping. The girl was short with blond pigtails, flushed cheeks, a bright kimono and such an irritated expression that it made Mikan want to curl up in a corner somewhere and apologize over and over for whatever she had done to earn it.

Nervous, she fidgeted with the edge of her apron and glanced away nervously from the girl’s glare. Maybe… maybe she wasn’t even talking to her. Maybe she was talking to someone else, there were a lot of other people around after all. Her gaze drifted back to the boys to find them standing together, a little too close, beneath the shade of the palm tree. The dark-haired boy brushed sand from his clothes and his new companion reached out to steady him when he wavered a little after standing back up too quickly.

“Oh, I see how it is,” the girl commented, drawing Mikan’s attention reluctantly back to her twisted, crooked smirk and wide, threatening gaze. “You weren't looking at me at all, were you? Bet you were planning on jumping all over that, huh? Gross. Too bad for you that the weirdo in the jacket got there first."

“I-I-I wasn't, sorry, I, um, sorry, I-I-uh,” she choked out, startled by the girl’s sudden accusation and grasping frantically for a lie, but coming up with only awkward apologies.

“You uh-uh-uh- what?” The girl sneered, hands on her hips. “You uh-uh totally wanna see if he’ll motorboat those giant tits of yours? Gross. How filthy can you be?”

"I-I-I w-wasn't..." She stuttered unable to manage anything further, trailing off as tears filled her eyes and shame threatened to strangle her. It was always like this. Always, always rejected and hated for no reason and she just… she’d been so stupid. So, so stupid. Why had she thought this would be any different? Why did everyone always blame her? Why wasn’t it… why? Why? She caught her fingers in her hair and pulled sharply. The pain helped her focus, helped her reign in the sobs at least even as the tears spilled warm and mortifying across her cheeks.

"Are you crying?” The girl hissed, sneering and vicious. “That's just so pathetic I can barely stand it. You probably just want attention, huh? Is that it? Just want to be able to tell everyone how mean I was to you? You think people will like you better if you slobber those fake ass tears all over them? Boy, are you stupid. Why don’t you just get the heck away from me, before I really give you something to cry about, huh?" She practically snarled the last and Mikan found herself nodding, frantically, the tears so thick they were almost blinding as she stumbled away.

She was just so mean, so terribly cruel, but then... that was how she'd always been.

Right up until the moment she’d drawn that scalpel across her throat and held her up by her hair as she bleated and struggled and bled out all over the wooden floor of Titty Typhoon’s stage.

It was hard to be cruel when you were dead.

Only….

None of that had been real, had it?

Not really real.

And so nothing she’d done there had really mattered, had it?

Only…

She was still… still there.

She’d been so certain that she would awaken, if she awakened at all, in the arms of her beloved or… something like that.

It was supposed to be something like that, wasn’t it?

She’d only had a sort of vague, incomplete picture of how it might have worked, really, when she’d set out to curb the fever running through her veins by participating in the game, her game. But the important thing, the only thing that had really mattered, was that, however it worked, she would have been with her beloved. Finally, finally with her beloved again and more completely than ever before. She would be with her and her beloved would be alive and able and out in the world bringing fresh despair to those who deserved it, needed it. That she herself would be loved and forgiven all her transgressions. It was supposed to be everything she wanted, everything she needed.

Only….

It hadn’t been, had it?

Not if she was here.

Alone.

Because of all the ways she’d imagined things would turn out… she’d never thought she would wake up alone.

Was this… rejection?

It couldn’t be, could it? She always forgave her. Always, always, always forgave her. No matter what she did, no matter how badly she messed up, no matter how severely she needed to be punished, in the end, her beloved always forgave her.

Despair clawed at her chest and she moaned, soft and helpless, keening as she buried her face against her knees.

What had she done wrong?

She’d opened herself up to despair, fallen into it willingly and she’d prepared such a beautiful gift for her beloved, to that remnant of her that existed within that place. And maybe… maybe it hadn’t quite worked out the way she’d imagined, but… but that had been fine too. She would forgive her. She had to forgive her. She always forgave her.

She’d made a gift of herself instead, surrendered gladly to the execution once it became clear she wouldn’t be able to convince them to forgive her, to choose someone else. She’d surrendered herself knowingly and fully to the idea of her beloved rising from the ashes. She’d done it all to be well and truly joined with her, hadn’t she?

That had been the plan… hadn’t it?

Or… or had the plan been something else?

She… she couldn’t quite…

She remembered being hooked up to leads and wires, allowing the violation in silence because it had a purpose. She had a goal, they all did, and it was worth allowing them to manhandle her, to condescend to them as if they were children led astray rather than adults who understood fully what they had done and why, to allow them to push sedatives and relaxants into her veins and submerge her in that lukewarm sludge. She recalled choking on it as it filled her mouth, her lungs, before the sedatives finished their work and the program activated to send her conscious mind away from her drowning body.

But she couldn’t quite remember now why… why she’d… what the plan… the goal had been.

The plan had been… something.

Something.

But she’d… she’d been trying to get them to kill each, right? She hadn’t been mistaken about that, had she? That wasn’t… that wasn’t a mistake. She was sure… sure… sure… that….

So, what had gone wrong?

Was this his fault? Had he done something after she’d… after she’d been executed to ruin everything?

“This has to be his fault, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? Doesnt it?! She screamed, voice muffled against her knees, unsurprised when she received nothing in return but the endless clicking of the projector.

There were no answers to be had in this place, only self-recriminations, abundant silence and that ridiculous film, flickering to life and dying over and over again on that huge white screen.

She was tired of watching it.

Tired of being reminded of her failures when there was no one around to punish or forgive her for them.

Unless, of course, there was.

Her breath caught and glanced up from her knees, looking around the room frantically.

After all, someone had had to turn on the projector, hadn’t they? It hadn’t been on when she’d first woken up, had it?

So… maybe…?

“Hello?” She called, shoving herself to her feet. The film had played through once, twice, a dozen times or more with no sign of pausing or stopping as if someone had found a way to loop it endlessly. It was silent, the images flickering across the screen the only life that illuminated the darkness around her. The film didn’t bother her, not exactly, but at the same time she had no desire to see it again and again.

But obviously someone else did….

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

Standing, stepping forward, she realized that she wasn’t quite… unharmed. The muscles in her legs ached, her heart raced from even that single, simple movement, so much so that it made her feel… odd, faint and strangely jittery. She coughed, raising her arm to cover her mouth, and she felt something wet splatter across the back of her forearm. She knew without looking that it was blood. Blood sprayed like dark freckles across the tight white bandages she wore there.

Was she hemorrhaging internally, perhaps?

Had her lungs been damaged somehow?

At her execution it seemed as if someone… she seemed to remember being injected with… something, her heart thudding loud and painful in her chest.

The feel of straddling something, something that throbbed warm and solid between her thighs, how she ached as it vibrated against her, that she’d been too hot and damp, feverish, swollen and flushed, on the cusp of ecstasy and then spilling over. It had been as if the world had exploded around her and she’d been flying high, shooting up through the sky and into space. Her lips had been parted in a silent scream as she’d risen higher and higher, her face burning and there was a pleasure like pain and it had felt as if her eyes were so wide open that she could see nothing and everything all at once. Then she’d been bursting, shattering into a thousand million specks of light, just numbers, ones and zeros, scattered across a digital landscape.

And then there had been…

There had been…

Nothing.

Or nothing that she could remember at any rate.

There was very little left that felt substantial and she could almost feel bits crumpling and falling away as she tried to recall those moments. The edges had become jagged and irregular and puzzles were impossible to complete when there were pieces missing without fabricating new ones to take their place.

…And none of that made any sense at all really.

It was… she could remember everything that had happened, everything on the island and before, or at least she thought she could, but it was all… jumbled, jammed up and bleeding together in her head. Memories of her life before, of her life answering the call of her beloved, of following the dictates of her own wants and desires, of living the false life they had given her on the island.

Mostly she remembered the fervent desire to love and be loved and forgiven, the one constant of her lives… the one that had truly been hers and the one they’d set her up for.

Two lives… two loves, conflicted and twisting in her heart.

Her beloved.

And… him.

Him.

Hinata Hajime.

She remembered him. And her. Them. The one who loved her and the one who had betrayed her and what was important beyond that? Beyond them? Everything else was just so much noise, really.

She remembered watching the execution, her execution, in disbelief on the tiny television in her motel room, gripping her knees with bloodless fingers as her beloved initiated her own destruction. It wasn’t that they’d never realized there was a chance she’d be defeated, that had always been a possibility, it was just… seeing it, seeing the execution her beloved had chosen was… difficult. Still, they’d planned for this. They’d…

A mumbling, whining sound erupted from the bed behind her and she had whipped around to glare at the white-coated man strapped to the bed behind her.

“C-can’t you see I’m b-busy? Y-you’re very fortunate that it appears w-we’re going to need you after all, doctor,” she murmured as she forced herself to relinquish the hold on her knees to slide off the cheap, slick bedspread to stand and wobble sightlessly to the room’s tidy little bathroom.

She could hear the sound of those... those… hateful, ungrateful children speaking as the broadcast continued.

They would leave the school. She didn’t have to hear them to know that. Of course they would leave their pathetic little sanctuary, that ark they’d tried to create for themselves, and reemerge into the world. Of course they would. Idiots. That had been the whole point, hadn’t it? And they thought it was their own choice, their own idea, their victory, but it wasnt.

Of course it wasn’t.

No, the game was far from over and everything was proceeding just as she’d intended. They would venture out into the world of their own free will, those survivors of Hope’s Peak, those talented children, forever changed by what they’d endured. A symbol of hope for a world that hated and adored them for all they’d been through. But they… wouldn’t be the same as they had been, no, they would be… something other than what they would have been without her intervention, something different and infinitely more interesting.

Would they be the hope of the world or the heralds of its destruction?

No one could say and that… that was what made the game worth playing, worthy of sacrifice. It was a long game her beloved had thought to play and one no one could truly foretell the outcome of.

“That’s the fun of it,” her beloved had told her as she leaned into the mirror and refreshed her lipstick before leaving to rejoin her classmates in their isolation. “Anything less would be boring.”

But be that as it may, the despair she’d left in her wake was still… devastating, overpowering. No matter how much this outcome might have thrilled her beloved… she had found she still couldn’t enjoy this outcome. After all, her beloved was gone and all that was left was the despair that bloomed in the gapping hole she left behind. And it was a beautiful thing, but it was awful too.

She contemplated throwing things, breaking things, bashing her face against the bathroom mirror until it shattered and she bled. She thought about crying, screeching, wailing her loss for all to hear, to find some of those… those spectators, that so-called audience, and force them to share in her despair. In the end though she just wrapped her fingers in her hair and pulled, pulled until tears blurred her vision and the pain was so intense she bit her bottom lip bloody trying not to scream. She felt some give, strands tearing free of her scalp and the world went briefly black before she was able to finally relinquish her hold, panting and shaking those torn, bloody clumps free from her fingers. The pain grounded her, made it easier to breathe. Blood trickled down her head and neck to leak and soak into the collar of her shirt.

She could do this.

She could.

They’d all made a promise together and she had to hurry if they were going to keep it. Time was of the essence after all and it was imperative that they reach the school before those that opposed her beloved’s desires, her quest to spread despair, summoned the courage to breach those walls and retrieve the bodies.

She stumbled as she took a step forward, her thoughts of the past interrupted by the sound of her shoe peeling off the sticky floor and she was back in the theater once more… a jumbled, mixed up lifetime away from that terrible day.

How long ago had that been? Months? Days? Years?

She had no way to know for certain. These memories of the truth, of her life before were just… snatches of truth and lies. Scenes and moments and feelings all piled up in a heap that she couldn’t quite sort out, the connections lost somewhere along the way. Some things and moments she remembered well and others were… almost gone, just remnants of what her life had been and there were all these conflicting emotions that made her feel weak and dizzy when she thought too much about how she had loved them.

Laughter bubbled up inside her, strange and inappropriate, spilling into the air in the form of hiccupping giggles muffled against the back of her hand.

Not that any of that mattered, not really, not here, not now, not while she was so very alone.

“Hello? Anyone?” She called, clearing her throat when the sound came out hoarse and rough.

She spared another glance around in the hopes that her words or thoughts might have summoned company, but the theater was as devoid of life as it had been since she’d woken, only the quiet chatter and pop of the old projector left to disturb the silence.

Whoever had been there, if someone had been there at all, they qweren’t there now. They hadn’t bothered to stick around at all.

Were they… mad at her?

Was that why they’d left her here?

Why they’d played that film?

Or maybe… maybe it was a hint? Maybe she had to find them… like… like a game.

She smiled, a nervous titter escaping her lips.

Yes, that sounded like something she might do, didn’t it?

Her beloved did enjoy games, didn’t she?

With that thought in mind she stumbled up the aisle on stiff, uncertain, aching legs and into the lobby. The stench of burnt oil was nauseatingly strong there, the popcorn machine sizzling and hot. The dented plastic door had been left hanging open, popcorn kernels spilling out across the counter and floor.

She remembered the crinkle of tinfoil and the smell of burning oil and the thick, stale reek of beer. Hiding behind their dirty, threadbare couch, waiting, just in case he wanted her to go get him another. Because if she was useful, if she was what they wanted, they might not send her away, they might want to keep her and that….

…That had been a very long time ago in another life far away from the person she had become.

It had been… interesting to revisit all those foster families after she’d left Hope’s Peak behind.

To see all those tiny houses and those tiny people whose approval she no longer required, whose forgiveness she no longer craved. It had been…

Cathartic.

+++

It was night when she slipped cautiously out the theater’s door into the world beyond. The air was thick and humid and her body still felt… strange and clumsy around her as she stumbled out onto the path that circled the little island. It seemed to take no time at all before she found herself standing outside the music venue, the neon was bright, flickering and flashing in the dark of the night and the interior light shone through the cracks around the door.

She supposed it should have seemed welcoming, inviting, maybe, but instead it simply felt vaguely sinister.

It shouldn’t….

It shouldn’t have bothered her to be here. It was just a place. And, really, it wasn’t even that. It wasn’t really a place anymore than the girls she’d killed here had really been people.

Well…

Maybe that wasn’t quite true…

Still it wasn’t her fault. She’d only done what she had to do, but she supposed they’d been as real as she was in this place, so maybe they’d been real enough. Still, it hadn’t mattered much to her when she’d been setting the scene to entrap Hinata so… why should it matter now when everything was said and done and couldn’t be undone?

Even if she wanted to… which she didnt.

It had been worth it.

Hadn’t it?

Still, this was where… where she was meant to go, wasn’t it?

Wasn’t it?

“Hello?” She called, looking around expectantly, but the night remained stubbornly still and silent around her. The fires in the trashcans on either side of the entrance continued to burn, bright and warm, crackling and spitting against the darkening night as sparks drifted across the empty lot the venue occupied.

“Hello! Is anyone here? Hello! I’m here!”

Strange how her voice seemed both so terribly loud and so terrifyingly small in this lonely, deserted place as she stood there, shifting nervously from foot to foot, waiting and hoping for a response that never came.

There was only the distant sound of the ocean waves crashing against the rocks below and the sound of wood shifting in the cans as it charred and broke into pieces, falling to ash.

It was… just as it had been that night.

Ibuki had been so… quiet as she’d led her here. She’d been so eager to please when she’d taken her hand and told her that she needed her help, so blissfully content to follow her directions. They’d probably all assumed she’d had to tell Ibuki lie upon lie in order to bring her to this place, to get her to do what was necessary, but the reality was that all she’d ever needed to do was tell her the truth. Ibuki had been so eager to be of assistance that all she’d had to do was provide her with a task, a purpose, and she’d been glad to comply.

All she’d needed to tell her was that she wouldn’t die, not really, that she’d just wake up from the terrible dream she was having. Just that and Ibuki had nodded and followed her instructions to the letter as if nothing gave her greater satisfaction.

Yes, Ma am!

Of course, Ma'am, I should just kneel right here no matter what, right?

It had been so simple, so easy.

When she’d begun to remember everything as she sat at Komaeda’s bedside, her fingers twisted in his sweat-soaked sheets, it had been the painful things she’d remembered first.

Everything that had come before Hope’s Peak, those years of rejection, of always being a target, of never being worth keeping: those things had always been with her. They'd never left her so there was nothing worth thinking about there. Not as then. Not as minutes ticked into hours and the fever grew hotter with each passing moment and the day wore on.

No, as she sat at Komaeda's bedside, it had been Hope’s Peak and all that happened after that had emerged from the depths to remind her of every mortifying moment, every jab, every tease, every heartbreak.

The hope that it would be different there, that she would be different there, dashed across the floors on the very first day when someone tripped her on the way to class. Her panties had been saggy and worn, not cute at all, and the laughter in the hall as she fell and her skirt flipped up to show them off to what felt like half the school had been deafening. It wasn’t the last time she had such a fall, but after that she saved and used part of the stipend she received from the government to buy cute panties so that at least when she inevitably tripped over her own feet, or the feet of others, she wouldn’t be so… embarrassed, pathetic. There was still laughter, of course, but it was… more tolerable, because for every person who laughed, there was someone who flushed and looked away uncomfortably. It was easier to be okay with being embarrassed when you weren’t the only one. It was a lesson she’d learned early on and one that saw her through many of her worst moments those first years at Hope’s Peak.

But the world had seemed better, more hopeful during her final year. She had had friends, even if they weren't as close as they'd once been. She'd even made a new friend that year, who was beautiful and nice and smart and who she still kept expecting to tell her that their friendship had all been some sort of elaborate practical joke. And, most importantly, she had had Ibuki.

Her beloved’s demise, dismantling her body after, all those years in between and since of despair and murder, and it had still been Ibuki she had thought of first though she couldn't think of why. Maybe it had just been seeing her like that again, like she’d been in the beginning, back when they’d first met, that made her remember what it had been like to find out that Ibuki hadn't really loved her, that Ibuki hadn't really cared for her at all.

"…but, I mean, don't you wonder why she's never touched you? I mean you're really pretty and when you care about someone... I mean, who doesn't think about doing it, right? It’s a bit… weird that she doesn’t, isn’t it?"

She bit her lip, knotting a finger in her hair and pulling absently, fiddling with the edge of her apron.

She had... had tried not to think about that much. Tried not to wonder why in the months they'd been... spending time together it had been nothing more than chaste kisses and handholding and snuggling as they lay together talking long into the night and never... never... anything else. Ibuki had said she didn't care about that sort of thing. That she didn't need... that.

So she'd tried... not to think about it, not to wonder... at the reasons. She could trust Ibuki. Trust that she was telling her the truth, that she loved her and so it didn’t matter that Ibuki didn’t love her like others had, that Ibuki didn’t look at her with lust in her eyes, that she never cared enough to punish her, it didn’t mean… it didn’t mean that she didn’t see her, that she didn’t care, Ibuki was just different than all the others. Better. She was… nice. Nice and good and kind and sweet despite her wild appearance, so it… it didn’t matter that she wasn’t… that she just… wasn’t that sort of girl. She liked to be close, to hear about her day, to hold her and compose songs while tapping rhythms across her bandaged arms and that… and that was fine, that was nice. That’s… that’s what she’d always wanted, wasn’t it? Someone who would value her, who would look only at her, who would always forgive her, that was all she’d ever wanted.

She didn’t need those… other things.

It didn’t matter that Ibuki had never made a move to make things more… intimate between them.

It didn’t matter that every time she tried to show that she was… willing, eager even, Ibuki looked so… uncomfortable.

“S-She j-just doesn’t w-want to. It’s not that w-weird,” she mumbled, knowing how weak the argument sounded, how pathetic, like an excuse.

Miss Enoshima smiled the wide, white smile that never failed to make her knees feel a little weak, and tilted her head to the side, patting at her shoulder gently. "Oh, geez, I'm so sorry! You look worried! I didn't mean to worry you! I'm sure its nothing! She probably hasn't even heard the rumors, you know. I mean, after all, Miss Mioda isn't the type to gossip, despite the way she looks. She’s actually very trustworthy, isn’t she?"

"R-rumors? W-what rumors?" Mikan stuttered, heart leaping into her throat, because there were… things. So many things she hadn’t… things she hadn’t wanted to tell her and even though Ibuki had always said she didn’t care about the past… she might care if she knew. She might not be able to forgive her and… she wasn’t certain she could stand that.

Miss Enoshima’s eyes were so wide and she covered her mouth with one red nailed hand, "Oh, wow, I’ve made it worse haven’t I? Now I'm really, really sorry, I thought you knew or I never would have said anything. Can you ever forgive me?"

"O-of course," she managed with a tremulous smile, stomach churning like an uneasy, storm-swept sea. “I-I-If you could j-just…”

The bell rang out, a soft series of dings signaling the start of afternoon classes. Miss Enoshima grimaced apologetically as the last stragglers in the corridor darted into their respective classrooms, doors slamming shut behind them, “Look, just forget I said anything, it really wasn’t anything bad, I’m sure. Just something about some doctor at an orphanage or something, so I’m sure it was all bullshit anyway… oh, gosh, sorry, pardon my language. I’ll see you later, okay?” She called back, waving a hand over her shoulder as she dashed off towards her own classroom, her booted heels clicking loudly across the tiled floor.

And the thought had eaten away at her through class and she found herself studying Ibuki's profile again and again as the day wore on. Her pale skin, the thick green and purple streaked rise of her mohawk, the way she sometimes looked back and caught her eye and smiled. It was something that usually made her feel warm, special, but that day it just made her feel... cold, uneasy. Then there was that creeping certainty that everyone in their entire class was looking at her, sneaking glances when her attention was elsewhere. That every whisper and muffled giggle and passed note were jokes at her expense. And every once in a while, she’d look up and find Miss Saionji staring at her with that nasty, knowing little smirk, the one she usually wore after she’d tripped her in the hallway and then pretended that she hadn’t and she knew... knew that she was right.

After classes let out for the day, she rushed tp the bathroom, slamming into an empty stall and locking it behind her. She pulled her feet up off the floor tucking her hunched body back against the tank.

She listened quietly to the snap and tap of shoes squeaking across the tile floor as people came and went, toilets flushing, water running, the inane chatter of other girls making plans and trading comments about their days.

No one spoke about her and she’d been relieved.

Eventually people stopped coming and going, distracted by dinner or clubs or friends and the bathroom was finally, blissfully silent and she could finally breathe again.

She eased her cramped legs down off the seat, flopping down across the seat with a sigh of heartfelt relief, letting her head drop back against the wall, exhausted.

Hours later, after dinner had come and gone and most people had returned to their rooms for the night, she’d found Ibuki downstairs in the laundry room sitting on the table, rapping out a rhythm with one hand and as she hummed a tune and jotted down notes in her dog-eared notebook with the other. A load of sudsy laundry tumbled and churned in the washer before her. She glanced up when Mikan came in, her small, contented smile turning wide and brilliant as her gaze settled on her, “Hey, hey there, Mikan, Mikan! Ibuki was just thinking about you. Do you like avocados? ”

“W-were you?” Mikan managed, her fingers tightening on her bag. “I, um, I-I’ve never had one, a-actually.”

“Yeah? They’re really creamy and rich and great with toast. Ibuki has had this song in her head all day trying to get out and it’s gotta be about you, because I kept picturing your face and it’s like… BOOM and the rhythm’s like this, right? Kind of ba-ba-cha-ta-la and I was just putting some lyrics down for it, but Ibuki was thinking she’d call it ‘Avocadoes are Awesome in Springtime’, but maybe that’s a little long? What do you think? Is it a little long?”

Mikan felt her cheeks warm and she knotted a finger into her hair, pulling at the strands, “T-T-That’s…”

“Oh! Oh! You look sad. Are you sad? Why are you sad? What happened?” Ibuki commented suddenly, hopping down from the table and hurrying over to stare at her face, uncomfortably close. She’d taken to wearing contacts lately and drawing different designs across her cheekbones each day. On that particular day her eyes had been the green of new leaves with cat slit pupils and she’d drawn in a pattern of tiny golden stars across her cheeks, curving up to her forehead over her right eye and in a trailing down her left cheek. It made her look strange and otherworldly, like she didn’t belong and it always made Mikan feel nervous, because she’d heard the way people talked about Ibuki sometimes, the way they looked at her, like she was weird and dangerous and kind of crazy. Ibuki never seemed to mind much, but she knew it had to bother her. Of course it did. “What can Ibuki do? To make it better?”

“W-w-w-why don’t you want to have sex?”

She immediately felt as if all the blood was running both too her face and away from it simultaneously. She hadn’t meant to blurt it out like that, she hadn’t even meant to bring it up at all, not really, but… but she didn’t understand it and she couldn’t seem to shake the idea that Ibuki might look at her and think she wasn’t… clean… or that, maybe, she just didn’t really like her at all and it was….

Ibuki frowned, flinching a little around the eyes as if Mikan had slapped her rather than just asked her a simple question. “I… don’t…” she hesitated, as if trying to choose her words carefully, delicately. Soften the blow. “Ibuki doesn’t need all that.” She replied, twisting her fingers together as she eased back a little bit, still frowning, still uncertain. “Ibuki thought… Ibuki thought Mikan understood her.”

“W-well, I don’t, I… is it because of what people are saying about m-me? I mean, I’m not… I’ve been t-tested you know! I run tests every few months j-j-just to make s-sure that everything, everything is… and I-I’m fine. Y-y-y-y-you don’t have to worry that you’ll catch something and,” she dashed her hands across her cheeks, swiping angrily at the tears there. She didn’t want… she hadn’t meant to cry, it was just… just… she’d thought Ibuki wouldn’t… wouldn’t judge her, that Ibuki would understand, that Ibuki would forgive her.

Ibuki bit her lip, hugging arms around her chest, “Ibuki isn’t…” she trailed off her voice so quiet in the cavernous room, as if she were saying something so much more intimate than she was. “Ibuki doesn’t care about any of that.”

“Then why? Because it’s… it’s weird, isn’t it? You love me, but you won’t… you don’t… so it’s me, isn’t it? It’s something about me? You don’t… want me, do you? Do you? You could have me, any way you wanted and I… but you don’t. You never look at me like you…” And she knew she was being unreasonable, but it was like some dam had burst within her and all her doubts and fears were pouring out, given form and shape and she couldn’t stop the flood. She couldn’t stop it, because she didn’t understand, she didn’t understand how you could love someone and not want to be with them, to leave your mark upon them. She knew what love was. She’d had love leave bruises and cuts across her arms and had it knotted in her hair and splashed across her thighs and she knew, knew, that if love was passion, was caring enough to show it, to make your mark so that everyone would know, would know than Ibuki… Ibuki….

“Weird… huh? You think so?” Ibuki said slowly, looking so… vulnerable despite her messy mohawk and her piercings and her flashy make-up. “You want Ibuki to touch you like that? Like that?”

Yes,” Mikan answered, without the slightest hesitation, breathing a sigh of relief, because Ibuki finally understood. She wanted Ibuki’s touch branded across her skin, proof that she meant something to her, proof she could feel and see and know, even when she was alone. And now… now it was out there, hanging in the air between them and even… even if Ibuki didn’t want to it… it would still be better than this… this waiting and wondering and doubting. Instead, she would know. She would know that Ibuki would think of her, would remember her, would linger and stay with her even when they were apart. Ibuki wouldn’t leave her, couldnt leave her behind because they’d always be part of each other and she would….

“Okay,” Ibuki murmured, breath shuddering out into the air between them as she turned away, back to her laundry. “That’s… okay. If that's... that's... I... I'll come by tonight. Tonight. That’s… all right? Right?”

“Yes, o-of course! I’ll be ready,” she smiled, tugging at her hair as she hurried from the room before Ibuki could change her mind, before she could take it back. It would… it would be okay now. Everything would be okay now.

Ibuki loved her.

Ibuki loved her.

But she hadn’t.

Not really.

She should have known the moment she had shown up at her door.

She'd come late, so late that Mikan had been sure she wouldn't show and when she had she’d looked strange and she’d been quiet, both during and after, so serious and pale beneath her makeup. So different from the carefree girl who was always reaching to express herself in a thousand different ways, the girl with screaming music in her soul.

She’d seemed so… different.

But she hadn’t noticed and she hadn’t cared, because they were together and that meant everything, silenced all her fears.

She hadn’t noticed that there’d been no singing or tapping or playing or silliness. Just… just Ibuki’s mouth and hands and fingers, playing across her body, undressing her in the dark, quick and efficient, and bringing her again and again until she was a shivering, quivering mess.

It hadn’t even occurred to her until after that Ibuki had barely let her touch her or even look at her, really, since she’d switched off the lights almost the moment she arrived. That she’d been quiet throughout besides the occasional question about whether she was doing something right or if something felt good, strangely detached, like someone taking a survey.

She just… hadn’t noticed.

She'd just been so... happy, so relieved, that it hadn't even occurred to her that something might be wrong. Why would anything be wrong? They had sex, hadn't they? It had been... really nice and she finally knew... knew that Ibuki loved her. Really loved her.

She’d fallen asleep at some point afterwards, sheet wound round her body and sweat drying between her breasts and when she had woken up, some time in the middle of the night, she’d heard the soft hiss of water muffled by the the closed bathroom door and Ibuki's voice singing against the flow, melancholy and soft, nothing like the joyful, lively screeching rasps of sound Ibuki usually enjoyed.

That was probably when she'd known.

She’d knocked on the door, tentative and shy, dread swirling in her stomach like a dead goldfish in a clogged toilet, and the water had shut off along with the sound and it had felt so… final. Her heart seemed to be turning and flopping anxiously as she shifted from foot to foot, twisting fingers in her hair as she waited for an answer, waited for the door to open, waited for the shoe to drop.

It seemed like she stood there forever, but it was probably only seconds later that the door was thrown open to reveal a dripping wet Ibuki, her long stripe of dark hair plastered across her neck and shoulders, her face and body bare except for the silver shine of her piercings. Her eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot as if the contacts had irritated them or… or…

“Ibuki can only be herself. Herself. She loves you, but… she can’t be what you want. She can’t be what you want.” She repeated the last softly, but it didn’t really soften the blow, it didn’t make it better.

She heard the words, but she also heard the truth that Ibuki didn’t say.

I won't give you the things you want, I won't give you what you need, because what you need doesn't matter, because you don't matter.

I ' ll never forgive you for making me feel like I had to do this. You're  a terrible person, an awful, disgusting person who I'll  never, ever forgive.

“Y-Y-You can go,” she whispered in reply and Ibuki’s eyes widened as if she were surprised, as if she hadn’t expected it to be so easy to severe the ties between them. “Y-Y-Y-You don’t have to stay. It’s fine. Just go.”

"Mikan..."

"I s-said you could g-go!" The sound was more screech than speech and she slapped a hand against her mouth as soon as the words had left her. Apologies already gathering and spilling from her lips, more reflex than sincerity, muffled by her clasped hands.

Ibuki just nodded, brushing past her into the room. She gathered her clothes in silence. Slipping into those discarded garments and disappeared out the door like a ghost, already just another memory; just another person who had left her behind, another person who had rejected her, who couldn't love her or forgive her for not being enough.

Her beloved had been so kind the next day, immediately taking her aside during breakfast as if she knew that something was wrong, as if she really cared. Her voice had been so gentle and the first words out of her mouth to her had been apologies and regret, assuming she might be the cause of Mikan’s distress.

It had been so… nice.

Her beloved had always been such a wonderful listener. Always quick to absolve her of blame, to tell her it wasn’t her fault, that nothing was her fault. It was Ibuki who was at fault for not loving her enough. It was the other girls who were at fault for gossiping about her, about them. They were to blame, not her. Never her. She was only trying to be happy.

She deserved to be happy.

She deserved to be with her beloved.

And Ibuki… Ibuki could make that happen. Again. If it hadn’t been for Ibuki she might never have gotten to know the perfection that was her beloved, might never have fallen in love with her at all. And Ibuki could bring them all back together. It had been a great plan, she knew it had been, much better than the original plan of having Ibuki kill Mister Komaeda in his sleep. To lie to her and have her smother him with a pillow or strangle him with the sash from his robe. Though that plan also had had its merits. That sort of death… was too quick. She wanted to see his despair, to watch that infernal hope of his die in the trap she’d set for him.

For all of them.

Maybe that had been her mistake, once all was said and done, but it hadn’t seemed like one at the time as she’d held the door for Ibuki and escorted her into Titty Typhoon. As she gave her instruction and had her help set the stage for their little drama to play out against. She could have done it after, maybe should have done it after, but she hadn’t.

She’d liked the idea of Ibuki helping her get away with it.

She’d thought she had all the time in the world, all night if she wanted, and it had made her pulse race, to have so much power over someone.

Especially someone like Ibuki.

Ibuki who had always been so concerned about what others thought of her, of them, though she pretended not to be. Just a sheep though she pretended not to be. And she’d wanted to make that feeling last just a little longer. So it had been a long while after they’d entered the venue before she’d finished her preparations and finally wrapped the rope around Ibuki’s long, beautiful neck. Braced her knee against her back and drawn the rope tighter and tighter until her last pitiful, choking, gasping, wretched breaths were expelled.

It felt like fate even as tears pricked the corner of her eyes. Ibuki was finally what she needed her to be. Compliant. Willing.

It had been… perfect.

Well, it would have been perfect.

If she hadn’t shown up and ruined everything.

She supposed, in a way, she’d been lucky. Lucky that Ibuki had been dying so quietly, without even a peep of protest. So quietly that it had allowed her to hear the soft sound of someone fiddling with the door handle. Having chosen to strangle her on the side of the stage near the big column had been mere coincidence, but it had allowed her to let her body fall to the stage while she stepped back to hide behind that giant column. Allowed her to observe as that… that… bitch… ruined everything just by showing up.

It had felt good to think the word and when she whispered it under her breath into the silence of the darkened parking lot she found that it felt even better to say it aloud.

Bitch.”

The logs crackled and shifted in their barrels and she swayed back and forth humming and remembering.

She’d stood there, quivering in the relative darkness, out of sight as Miss Saionji had burst through the doors. Eased around the pillar to peek at her when moments went by with no sound but the heavy door banging shut behind her. For a moment, she’d wondered if Miss Saionji had simply turned around and left, if she needed to dash after her in the hopes of stopping her before she started screaming for help. But, she was just… standing there, clearly surprised to find the lights on, the heater running and the ladder in the center of the stage. Perhaps simply unable to comprehend what it all meant. Either way she stood there in the center of the room, clutching her kimono closed and looking around furtively.

“Hey! Who’s here?!” Saionji asked finally, the faintest note of fear in her voice as she stepped inside, clutching her hopelessly messy kimono around her tiny body. She crept towards the stage a step at a time, her gaze intent on where Ibuki lay, not quite dead just yet, but unconscious and well on her way. “Mioda? Is that you, music dork? What are you doing here? Don’t fall asleep in random places, dumbass. You’re supposed to be at the hospital, you stupid idiot. Don’t tell me those total morons can’t even manage to keep one sick girl from running off. What good does it do to quarantine you people if they just let the sick ones run off? I can’t believe that pigshit idiot can’t even do this right.”

Ibuki stirred weakly, pushing herself slowly up off the stage floor with trembling limbs

“Geez, hold on, you’re hopeless,” Saionji grumbled as she clamored awkwardly up onto the stage, scowling and holding her kimono closed with one hand, while she used the other to gather and bunch it up around her knees as if it might fall off or open at any moment.

She could see the moment Saionji noticed the rope drooping around Ibuki’s neck in the way her spine stiffened, the way a scream began to wheeze its way out of her throat.

But it hardly mattered at that point.

It was too little, too late, and it was the easiest thing in the world to step out onto the stage behind her, to slip close as she stared down at Ibuki in shock. “Wh-Wh-What the heck, Mioda?!” She managed, stumbling back away from Ibuki and right into Mikan’s chest.

She’d felt a pang of despair when she’d prepared to kill Ibuki. When she’d drawn the rope tight around her hands, hands that were carefully tucked inside gloves that would protect them from both the burn of the threads and keep the traces of herself left behind to a minimum, and slipped it over Ibuki’s head, pulled it taunt as she tucked her knee against her back and began applying the pressure that would eventually kill her. She was certain she’d feel the same once the deed was finally done.

She’d always liked Ibuki.

She truly had even after… everything.

But it had been for the sake of her beloved and it had needed to be done.

However, when she’d drawn the scalpel from her apron - the one she’d told herself she’d brought along ‘just in case’, but he no intention of using – she'd felt nothing at all as she slid an arm around Saionji’s waist and pressed the blade against her throat. “I-I might be mistaken, but I believe you’re now regretting every cruel thing you have ever said to me.” Mikan murmured as Saionji stilled.

She could practically feel her pulse racing in the tremor of false bravado in her voice, "I always knew there was something wrong with you."

"Did you?” She murmured, pressing the point of the scalpel just hard enough to prick her skin, to draw a hiss of pain and Saionji jerked in her grasp, trying to break free while still trying to hold her kimono closed. She felt strangely numb as she raised her gaze to Ibuki who was standing centerstage as if waiting for her cue. “Miss Mioda, w-would you please go grab plastic wrap or duct tape, whichever they have is fine, and a bucket from the supply closet?”

Ibuki nodded, untangling herself from the rope and stumbling off the stage in the direction of the supply closet.

“Wh-wh-what the… What do you think you’re doing, Mioda? Don’t you realize this total nutjob just tried to do? Ru-" Saionji managed, indignation warring with disbelief, before braking off in a hiss as Mikan dug the scalpel in just a little deeper, worrying at the pinprick she’d already made in her throat.

If Ibuki had an answer for that she couldn’t voice it and she toddled off in the direction of the supply closet despite Saionji’s objections. “I-It would p-probably be best if you kept q-quiet, don’t you think?”

Saionji was panting, seething, in her arms, “Like it’s going to matter in the end. Who do you think you’re kidding? I’m not getting out of here alive.”

“T-that is t-true, I’m afraid and you’ll have to p-pardon me for pointing out the obvious, b-but t-there are far worse things I could do t-than j-just kill you, you know.”

“Here’s your bucket and duct tape, ma’am,” Ibuki rasped, her voice barely a whisper and her neck already red and bruising, raw from the marks the ropes had left behind.

“I always knew you were just the worst,” Saionji snarled, renewing her struggles, pulling and kicking and shoving, no longer concerned about her kimono in the least. She wriggled like an eel in her grasp and it had become harder and harder to keep a grip on her.

“S-stop, hold still! I can’t-“

It was almost a surprise when she felt the scalpel slip, sliding deep across her carotid arteries. Blood spurted out into the air before them and she was pretty sure she’d choked out a startled laugh as Saionji gasped and fought to raise her hands, to staunch the flow of blood.

“The bucket, Ibuki, we can’t make too much of a mess or everything will be ruined,” she managed, breathless, tilting Saionji forward as best she could so the steady stream of blood that had begun to flow down Saionji’s bare chest and trickle down her own arm flowed into the bucket Ibuki shoved under her with a rasping ‘yes, ma’am’.

“Y-you really should have stayed in your room, Miss Saionji,” she mumbled as blood splattered into the bucket, across the stage and Saionji’s slippered feet as her struggles weakened and ceased.

Such a mess, she’d thought, sighing as she wiped the scalpel across the collar of Saionji’s kimono before slipping it back into her apron. But what else could she have done? Her plan would never have worked with a witness. She’d need something to act as a compress to keep any additional bleeding a minimum. Goodness, there was a lot of work to be done if she was going to salvage the situation. Ibuki alone would have been so simple a thing, beautiful and perfect, a nearly inescapable trap, but Saionji had just had to spoil it.

Just like she spoiled everything.

It was her own fault she was dead.

She laid Saionji’s limp body aside, careful to position her on her, carefully pulling her kimono out of the way, allowing what little blood was left to fall now that her heart had stopped, to dribble and pool on the stage instead as that would be easier to clean up later. The clean up would take some time, but assuming no one else interrupted she certainly had time enough to get it done.

A plan was beginning to take shape in her mind centering around that silly movie Monokuma had made her watch and certainly it lacked the magnificent simplicity of her original plan, but what choice was there but to adapt?

“Miss Mioda, I’m going to need your assistance.”

“Is Hiyoko going to be okay, ma’am? She has lost quite a bit of blood..”

“Of course. I told you, this is all just to make sure we all wake up from the dream so what happens here doesn’t matter at all.”

“Yes, ma’am, you did say that, ma’am.”

“Very good. Now hand me that duct tape, you’re going to help me tape her to this pillar.”

And this… this actually worked out better, didn’t it? This would cause far more despair so it would be a far more fitting tribute to her beloved, wouldn’t it?

And, of course, they’d forgive once they understood her reasons. Once they understood why she had this, all of this.

That she’d done it for love

For her

For them all…

They’d have to forgive her.

Once they finally understood.

And, of course, she would explain, she would tell them the truth so they could forgive her before the end, but not until they had chosen incorrectly, not until they’d chosen him.

Once they were all to be executed then she would finally be able to tell them the truth about everything. She’d tell them and they would understand and they would forgive her and they’d all be together like it was meant to be.

This was what they were meant for, wasn’t it?

This had been their purpose….

Only…

Only

It hadn’t worked out that way, had it?

Because of him.

No, them.

They were supposed to be her friends, weren’t they? They were supposed to believe in her, weren’t they? Hadn’t Hinata been concerned for her? Hadn’t he said he cared? Weren’t they supposed to be friends?

And yet… and yet… when it had come down to it….

Saying that he wanted to believe her and then accusing her like that….

Hinata was just the worst.

The worst of the worst.

Who was he anyway?

He wasn’t one of them, was he?

She hadn’t really thought about it before. Not while she was busy planning and scheming and reveling in the despair she was feeling and causing, but… he wasn’t one of their number.

Not one she’d known and she knew… she knew everyone, didn’t she?

So, why couldn’t she remember him?

If he hadn’t been one of them, but he had been there on the island with them… who did that make him? Who? A spy? And who was she? She didn’t know her either, didn’t know her face, but it was Hinata, Hinata that troubled her most.

She’d wanted to ask, as she stood there watching the tide turn, watching them all vote against her, but she hadn’t wanted to spoil things for her beloved. She was certain her beloved had planned for unwanted interlopers, after all. She believed in her utterly and completely. She would be with her beloved and that was all that mattered. What did she care about spies and lies and unwelcome intruders? She would be with her beloved again at last….

Only she wasn’t, was she?

No.

No.

Somehow everything had gone wrong and she was alone. Alone and still… still stuck on the island, abandoned and outcast.

Were they out there somewhere?

Had she survived the execution?

Had there even been an execution?

Were they out there somewhere enjoying themselves? Having fun? Laughing at the thought of her exiled and alone? Had they already forgotten all about her?

He said they were friends.

He said he cared.

But if he cared, if he really cared, then where was he?

Why wasn’t he here?

Why was she all alone?

She knotted her fingers in her hair, pulling, sharp and angry. Was this a dream? Was this reality? Why was she alone? Why? Why? Why?

She’d been so….

She blinked slowly at the night sky, bright with stars, surprised to find that she was standing on the cliff’s edge looking out over the dark, moonlit water rather than at the entrance to Titty Typhoon where she’d been a moment before.

When had she…?

The moon was very bright and seemed very close.

“Where are you?” She asked the night sky, unsure if she was speaking to her beloved… or to him.

She felt a hand settle against her back, delicate and petite, a quick jab, just there and then gone. She tumbled forward, arms pin wheeling wildly as she tipped forward over the edge and fell. Her mouth gaped open in a silent scream as she plunged face first towards the rocks below.

There was a single shining moment of crushing pain and then everything was black.

Then she was waking, startled and stumbling, falling out of her seat onto the dark, sticky floor. The projector spun to life, snapping and crackling in the otherwise silent room, spilling its light across the screen.

The movie began and she was…

Alone.

Maybe you deserve to be alone.

And that was by far the most important thing and the very worst thing.

No one wants you.

Had it been a dream?

No one has forgiven you.

And if it had, what part?

Had it been her life before Hope’s Peak? Seeking approval and affection and finding nothing that lasted. Being abandoned and ignored time and again, discovering every time that she thought she’d found a home that her very existence was unnecessary, unneeded, unwanted.

That… that was all she’d really wanted.

All she’d ever really wanted.

Just to be everything to someone and to have someone who was everything to her. To have someone who would look only at her, someone that would think only of her, need only her.

She’d discovered early on that if she wanted their affection, their attention, she needed to make herself useful, to be what they needed her to be rather than just herself. So she did. She formed herself as if from clay to become whatever was required, but it was never enough. Never what she needed because it had always left her cold, empty, and ultimately unhappier than she’d been before. Rough hands beneath her skirt, cigarette burns on her thighs, a well-placed slap or kick. Bruises blooming like flowers across the delicate skin of her thighs and wrists. That was what love was. Love was pain and permanence. Love was having a purpose, a use, being necessary. Being needed. Being seen. Love was being kept and not given away like an old hat, gone out of style. It was being noticed and known.

It was not being alone.

So this… this….

Maybe she had fallen asleep in this place, this gross theater with its sticky floors, and dreamed everything that had come after. The Despair disease that had inflicted Mister Komaeda and made him a teller of lies, made Miss Mioda gullible and so achingly vulnerable, turned Miss Owari into a frightened child and then, finally, inflicted her with the ability to see the truth.

Maybe nothing she thought she remembered was real.

Maybe it was nothing more than a terrible dream.

Maybe she didn’t have a beloved at all.

Maybe it had only ever been just her.

Alone.

She shoved to her feet, legs unsteady and aching just as before, and ran from the theater. Slammed through the theater doors and out onto the island.

Bright, so bright, too bright, like running into an oven. She had to close her eyes, slap a hand over them to shield them from such terrible brightness after so long spent in the dark. She had to stop and catch her breath, wheezing as she bent over.

It was minutes before she could cry out for him… for them.

“Everyone! Where are you?! This isn’t funny! Mister Hinata?! Miss Mioda?! Someone! Anyone?”

There was no answer.

Just the endless sound of those ocean waves crashing against the shore.

Those terrible ocean waves.

“This isn’t funny! I don’t want to play anymore!” She called, but there was still nothing and no one to complain to, no one to care.

No one left to understand.

No one left to forgive her.

No one left to see the truth behind it all and how utterly pointless their time on the island had truly been.

There was no despair quite like the despair of knowing you'd made your own bed and had been left to lie in it alone.

+++

DAY THREE
-continued-

She knocked again, quiet and insistent. He'd been too quiet for too long. Even though he’d said… he’d said he was tired, he hadn’t made any move to open the door though he’d stopped calling for him at least.

Still. He’d been unsupervised for too long. What if he'd hurt himself again?

She needed to check the attachment site, make sure it was healing properly, that the infection had....

No, that wasn't right, was it?

They were on the island. Here he was young and whole and his hands were still his own.

…For the moment at least.

Oops.

She was so forgetful, but she was sure he’d forgive her. It wasn’t her fault after all.

She'd just been on her own for so long...

So many days in this awful, lonely place, screaming and screaming and no one around to hear only...

Only sometimes it seemed like there was.

Sometimes there had been someone to punish her and sometimes there had been someone to praise her and always, always, always there was her beloved whispering in her ear.

Whispering all the things she needed to hear, to know.

All the things she’d forgotten.

"Mister Komaeda! Please answer me," she punctuated each word by pounding on the door hard enough to shake the cheap wood in its frame.

“You're going to have to go in there and get him, you know that, right?” She commented, leaning back against the wall between the doors, red nails tip tapping against the wall. “You can always beg forgiveness later if you want. He'll understand you had to do it once he remembers. Once he's himself again. You're not trying to hurt him, after all, you're just trying to wake him up, right? It's for his own good and I’m sure he’ll thank you later."

"Yes," she murmured, twisting the doorhandle, jiggling it. “He’s sick and I’m going to make him well again. I’m going to help him.”

Locked.

But she’d known that, hadn’t she?

She’d tried the handle before, hadn’t she?

Hadn’t she?

"You still have the keys, don’t you?"

"Keys?" She echoed, trying to remember if these doors had locked, if she'd ever seen keys for them, picked them up, tucked them away and found she couldn’t.

Though if her beloved said she had then that must be right.

Her beloved would never lie to her.

So it wasn't really surprising when she found the thick ring of keys tucked away in her apron. Dozens and dozens of keys on a big round steel ring.

The matron at the orphanage had had a ring of keys just like it.

Keys that clattered and clanked as the Matron had locked up each room for the night and again when she unlocked them in the morning.

The keys that had sometimes opened her door in the middle of night had never clattered or clanked. There’d only ever been the click and slide and snap of the tumblers yielding to the press of a single key.

She stared at the keys, wondering which one would fit the lock.

There was a oversized, red key in the middle of the jumble labeled ‘ONCALL’ in big black letters.

“Oh, yes, I suppose you might be the one,” she murmured sliding the red key home and twisting it in the lock. She smiled, giggling nervously as she felt the tumblers click and yield. “Ready or not, Mister Komaeda, here I come."

Chapter Text

“Reality is frequently inaccurate.”
― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe 

+++
DAY THREE
-continued-


The door hit the wall with a bang that echoed, loud and sudden, through the empty room.

All the windows were open, rain pushed in by the storm outside soaking the disused equipment, boxes and bed. The light airy curtains billowed wildly, whipped about by the wind, lashing against the dividers and soggy boxes piled haphazardly around the room. Rain soaked the sheets of the bed she’d once shared with that beautiful, treacherous boy. The blankets and pillows had all been shoved out of the way into a messy, haphazard pile at the foot of the bed as if to make room for someone to kneel in front of the window behind the bed.

One of the pillows had been gutted, the feathers and fluff from inside scattered and stuck to the floor and walls.

Water was splattered across the floor, smearing the bloody footprints there, soggy bits of white paper and fluff were strewn haphazardly through the mess. A bright flash of light lit the room as thunder crashed, loud and close, startling her back against the wall, her heart beating a frantic rhythm in her throat.

For all the traces of himself he'd left behind, there was no sign of Komaeda at all. 

She was alone.

Again.

He had been there. She knew he had been there, trapped like a rat in this room and yet now… gone.

Hiding, maybe?

She dropped to her knees to look beneath the bed.

Nothing but shadows, scattered papers and puddled water.

Her gaze darted frantically around the small room as she clamored awkwardly to her feet, looking for some place, any place, where he might be hiding.

But there was nothing to hide in or behind. The room wasn’t truly empty, of course, as there were plenty of storage boxes and equipment stacked about, but there was none so big that he could easily hide in or behind them. Most of the piles had already been tipped over, spilled haphazardly across the floor, as if he’d been searching for something.

She wondered vaguely what he’d been looking for and whether he’d found it.

Where had he gone?

He was supposed to be here. How was she supposed to help him if she couldn’t catch him?

How?

How?

Frustration became a howl on her tongue as she hobbled over to the largest stack of boxes still standing and pushed them over to send the paper within spilling and fluttering across the damp floor with a satisfying crash.

Where was he? 

Where?

Where?

Half-hidden behind the tumbled pile of boxes she saw a grate lying on the floor beside the dark narrow hole where it had been wrenched from the wall. It was a small opening, not nearly big enough to fit a body, even one as slim as Komaeda’s, but it wasn't the hole that concerned her. It was the grate that had really caught her attention.

The metal gleamed dully in the dim emergency lighting where it lay in a shallow pool of blood, wet and dark against the white tile, the stain of it soaking into the papers that she’d scattered across it. Careless droplets had been dribbled across the floor, splattered all the way across the room to the rumpled, sheets and blankets on the bed, across the stacks of boxes and the walls behind. The more she looked at it, the more she realized that the room actually looked like a deeply unhygienic, three-dimensional Pollack painting.

There was just… so much blood and it was everywhere as if he cut himself and then spun in circles to see how much of a mess he could make.

It was… such a filthy thing to do.

Why would he do that? 

Why?

Had he killed himself? Used that sharp-edged grate to slit his pale throat? Was he even now waking up somewhere else? Where would he wake up? Where had he been when he wasn’t fooling around with Hinata at the resort, no doubt mocking her despair, her desperation, her loneliness? Where had he been before she’d found him wandering the halls of the hospital talking to himself? Would he go there again? Would he be able to find his way back to her? He was so… damaged, so clearly in need of help and care, another victim shattered by Hinata Hajime’s careless hands and casual cruelty?

“I don’t understand,” she murmured, smearing the toe of her broken-heeled boot through the puddle. “Why would he do this?”

Hadn’t he let her in? Hadn’t he wanted her help?

Oh, no, that was right... she'd had a key, hadn't she?

Still.

He should want her help. She was only trying to help after all.

“You’ve always been stubborn,” she murmured, answering her own question as she yanked at her hair irritably.

He must still be clinging to him like a frizzy-haired barnacle, attaching himself to whatever fragile hope Hinata represented. It was pathetic, wasn’t it?

“I can’t help you, Mr. Komaeda. I can’t help you if you won’t let me in.” 

And that was all she wanted, really, just a chance to help him. To help him get better, to restore him to the person he truly was meant to be, to save him from this place, from this cheap façade. To save him, to save them, from being the wretched, sad people they’d been before she’d come into their lives and shown them the glory of letting go, the ecstasy of submitting to despair.

She had a… a… responsibility to save him from Hinata and all his terrible lies.

She’d just have to find him. That was all there was to it. To figure out what had happened and track him down. Maybe… maybe this was just… just game. Hide and go seek again, maybe. Komaeda had liked games, hadn’t he? Or had that been her beloved? Or maybe she’d been the one who had liked them?

Seemed a silly thing to forget.

She laughed, a loud, abrupt sound, quickly muffled against the back of her hand. She wasn’t even sure why it was funny or what was funny… what had she been thinking about? Something… something…

“Does it matter?” Her beloved inquired, voice soft.

“No, not really,” she answered, gaze vague, fixed loosely on the blood as she dipped the toe of her boot in the largest puddle, smeared it across the tile.

Nothing mattered really, except finding him. They’d all be her in the end, so what did anything else matter beyond that, she only had to do what she was told and everything would be as it should be, as it was meant to be.

She’d never have to be alone again.

Blood on the tile, on the edge of grate, puddled and now smeared across the floor. Had he really been that desperate?

Why?

Why couldn’t he understand? He should have understood better than anyone, shouldn’t he?

After all, it had been his idea, hadn’t it?

Hadn’t it?

If not his… whose?

“Fickle,” her beloved answered, ragged nails tip-taping against her cheek, fingers tugging at her hair. “You can’t rely on Komaeda. He’s not like you. No one is as devoted to me as you are.” 

Her face flushed with pleasure at those words, “Oh, I… yes, thank you, I… thank you.”

Her shoulders lift in a shrug, her voice a soft, familiar comfort that echoed within her, around her. “Not enough blood, is there? So, he’s not dead. Probably thought he could fool you with this cheap show. Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

“Yes, yes, you’re right,” she murmured, smiling dreamily as she looked over the room again with new eyes. The trail of blood, the tiny hole in the wall where the grate had been, the open window, the rain splattered across the floor. “Of course, you’re always right, beloved. I just have to find him.”

How hadn’t she seen that before? Silly. It seemed so obvious now. It was the only real option, wasn’t it? Everything else was just… a red herring.

Sly, sneaky Komaeda Nagito.

He thought he could trick her.

How mean.

How very like him.

And how fortunate that she had her beloved to help her when she couldn’t see the truth right before her eyes. It was so easy to forget what was important, to lose her way when she was alone, but that was then.

That was then and now… now she would never have to be alone again.


+++
DAY TWO
-continued-

It had been such a horrible trick, she decided, flipping the switch on the rollercoaster and sliding into one of the empty cars as it rolled past.

She didn't bother with the safety restraint.

What was the point, after all?

It wasn't as if she could die here. Not really. So what was the point in pretending fatal injury meant anything beyond a flash of momentary pain? Hardly anything worth dwelling on and at least it meant she felt something even if it was just a few moments of blissful oblivion before cold reality settled around her once more.

She’d never really thought about what might come after, what might be there to greet you when you closed your tired eyes for the last time. Maybe she should have, even before she’d begun sharing and spreading the ecstasy of despair with her beloved, she had been intimately acquainted with death. Her patients did not die often, but they did die. Sometimes she’d stayed at their bedside as they passed, held their hands. Some seemed relieved, others scared; some bargained and begged, others prayed that whichever god or gods they believed in would accept their soul and see them home. In her experience, there was never any consistency in death, no constant, beyond the cessation of function.

Now that she had time, oodles and oodles of time, and the subject was one in which she was now very interested, she found herself wondering about it often.

It wasn’t as if she hadn’t tried.

Not the first few times, of course. Those had been... accidents for all that she sometimes imagined she heard the clatter of wooden sandals or felt the touch of a small hand before she fell. She hadn't realized she was still capable of feeling guilt, hadn't thought even if she was that she'd feel it for her, but... she’d meant her end so many times with Saionji’s voice an echo in her head.

Not that it mattered.

Not that it changed anything.

Not that it made her feel any less alone.

She threw her hands in the air, bracing her legs against the sides of the cart as the coaster fell over the crest of the first hill.

The cart sped down, down, down, faster and faster, the clack of the wheels across the track loud, so loud in the otherwise unnaturally quiet air. Her heart was in her throat, joy screaming through her veins as the coaster banked into a turn that threw her giggling from one side of the cart to the other. Another hard turn and then up and over one small hill into an even bigger one and up, up, up....

And then down!

Her grip slipped and she spun up, into the air, her skirt fluttering and flapping around her. For just the briefest of moments she was high and free and it was perfect, glorious.

Then the raised restraints of the next cart slammed against the small of her back, sending bright red pain spiking through her as she spun, hurtled, round and round, as new pain slammed into her again and again, crack of breaking bones and the taste of blood in her mouth as teeth were knocked down the back of her throat to choke her and pain blackened her gaze and there was a great snap that seemed like the only sound in the entire world and then there was… nothing.

Nothing and then the familiar whirl, click, pop of the projector spinning to life and she doesn’t have to open her eyes to know that she was there again. The stench of burnt oil and stale popcorn as light flashed red across her shuttered lids. Nothing had changed.

Nothing ever changed.

She was still as utterly alone as she’d ever been.

She opened reluctant eyelids to watch listlessly as Monokuma strolled lazily across the screen once again.

She wasn’t certain how long she sat there just staring at the screen, watching that awful movie play through again and again and again.

It didn’t matter.

Time meant very little when there was no end in sight.

The screen blurred in and out of focus and the tears were warm against her cheeks when she finally closed her eyes.

“Why won’t you just forgive me?” She asked of everyone and no one, but her beloved most of all.

There was no answer.

There was no one left to answer her, after all. Or maybe there had never been anyone to begin with me.

Maybe it had only ever been in her head.

Her back ached a bit when she finally straightened and stretched, but otherwise she felt much the same as she ever did. Exactly as she had upon waking that first day, bereft and alone, sore from the injuries she’d received during her execution. Everything was just the same. Nothing changed. No matter what she did, nothing ever changed.

No harm done.

“Just another day in paradise,” she murmured, giggling a little at her own joke, as she held a hand over her mouth to muffle the sound.

She’d never thought of herself as a particularly inventive person. She was good at following orders, adhering to procedure, and she had an excellent memory for minute details. She could remember room numbers and dosages, recall entire charts after reading them once, she had all kinds of useful little skills that had been what had made her the Ultimate Nurse. The act of creation, however, was one thing that had never come naturally to her. She failed every art and music and writing course, anything that required a creative beat, not because she was a terrible artist per say, but instead because when pressed to come up with something new she always, inevitably, fell back on what she knew and then she would second guess even that, too nervous about failing in the end to do anything at all.

It was actually pretty funny how many different ways a person could come up with to kill themselves, especially when they had all the time in the world to do so and a pressing motivation to keep at it. To find something that would stick. She’d been there for…

How long again?

She wasn’t certain. It was difficult to keep track. Sometimes the nights seemed so long and sometimes they were crushingly short and sometimes the day wore on forever.

It seemed like she’d tried everything to put an end to it. She’d jumped off the cliffs, drowned herself beneath the warm salt water. She‘d sliced her wrists, her jugular, pressed a knife into her gut which, in retrospect, had been foolish as it had taken hours and hours to bleed out and die from that wound.

She had hung herself on two different occasions. She had even gone as far as electrocution though that had been mostly a rather spectacular failure. She’d tried it three times and only actually managed to make one of those attempts fatal. The other two times she’d just woken up where she’d fallen reeking of urine. She’d been damp, cold, embarrassed and in a tremendous amount of pain. She’d hobbled out to the swimming pool and drowned herself after each of those failures just to make the pain stop.

How many days had it been? How many nights? It seemed like hundreds. Hundreds upon hundreds of spent wandering through deserted streets and empty buildings. Trying to kill herself whenever it got to be too much, too lonely, too quiet.

Once she’d spent an entire week’s worth of days sitting in her own filth in the supermarket eating her way through a freezer full of ice cream. It should have made her sick… and it did. Sick and miserable, until she stumbled back out at the end of the week and jumped off the bridge that she’d traveled over to reach the island.

She’d felt better after that.

Better…. and worse too, because she’d woken up in the theater and just screamed and screamed until she had no voice left to scream with, until the only sounds she could make were rough, brittle, cracking moans. Her mouth had been dry and gummy as she’d clawed open her throat with her dirty, ragged fingernails and bled out all over the floor of the theater, gasping and twitching as the projector whirled and spun, a fitting accompaniment for her final moments.

She’d woken minutes or hours or days later to find a pool of tacky blood beneath her feet even though her clothes and body were the same as they’d ever been.

She’d cried then… for a long time, but eventually her tears had run dry, as she’d realized the simple truth that things would never change.

That every day would be just like the day before and the day after stretching out into eternity and nothing she did would change that.

Her beloved had forsaken her.

There was nothing left.

Not even tears.

She haunted the island like a ghost, passing through places she’d explored with everyone and places that were strange and unfamiliar to her, the islands she’d never had a chance to see… before. The amusement park, the factories and the military complex… so many strange new places just as empty and forlorn as the places she’d already known which was probably why she found herself lingering in those places she knew best. They became like old friends, those places, and if she spoke to them as such there was never anyone around to criticize or complain.

The hospital was where she lingered most frequently, wandering those lonely halls, self-medicating and lying in the messy unmade beds in the patient rooms. They stank of old sweat, but it was still better than the burnt butter reek of the theater.

Sometimes she went to the hotel, not the cheap little place where the others had stayed during the quarantine, but the big resort they’d all lived in together during those first days. She’d revisited her own room unsure whether she was disappointed or relieved to find nothing had changed since the last night she’d spent there.

More than once she’d lingered outside the door of Hinata’s room, her fingers resting against the wood. She knew the lock would still be broken, that all it would take would be one simple push and she’d be able to slide inside, but she’d never quite been able to muster the courage to do so.

She hadn’t been able to go into any of their cabins, except her own.

And even that… it was what she imagined it might be like to go back to a childhood home years after you’d moved out and moved on and others had come to take your place. To see a place so familiar and realize the people that lived there were strangers. That no matter how familiar the frame of a door or how well you knew the creaks of the stairs, it didn’t belong to you any longer.

Her cabin at the resort was like that now. She recognized all her meager belongings, but, at the same time, they looked strange, off. The hotel itself was the same, uneaten food, untouched by time, lay spread across all the tables, but it only made her feel ill to see it.

She had known they wouldn’t be there, couldn’t be there, but she still couldn’t quite shake the notion that they were. That they were just hiding from her. That maybe, if she apologized sincerely enough, repented hard enough, that they would come out and tell her it had all been a joke.

Just a terrible, cruel prank they’d been playing on her. That she could come back, that she had been forgiven. That it wasn’t her fault, that she wasn’t to blame. That she’d done what she’d done for love and that could never be wrong.

Like one day they might come for her and tell her all was forgiven and that it wasn’t her fault at all and it had just been a terrible joke, a cruel prank, and she could come back.

She would forgive them for doubting her, for not understanding and she wouldn’t be alone anymore.

Maybe they would punish her or she… she might punish them.

So she left the doors of their cabins closed and she never went back to the main buildings again after that first day. She let that dangerous little morsel of hope flicker in the back of her mind as she went about her days.

But nothing ever changed.

No one ever came.

Another day passed.

And she was still there.

Still alone.

And time marched ever onward.

+++
DAY THREE
-continued-
 

Thunder crashed, louder and more persistent, than it had seemed before. The sound summoned her from her thoughts and she looked blankly around the room, hoping something would jump out at her. That maybe Komaeda himself would jump out at her and yell ‘surprise’ and scare her. Save her the trouble of having to find him.

She waited.

No such luck.

The room remained silent and motionless but for the storm and the curtains wet and whipping about whenever a gust of irate wind blew in to disturb them, to spray water across the floor, the bed, the haphazard piles of boxes and equipment.

She was alone.

Well, not alone, not really.

She would never be alone again because her beloved would always, always be there, just out of sight, supporting her. Ready to forgive her for all her mistakes, to provide her with what she wanted, what she needed, to help her see the truth.

But he’d understand that soon enough. She’d help him too. Of course, she would, of course.

The smile that trembled on her lips felt strange and brittle and she giggled as she shuffled away from the grate to confront the messy bed and the open window behind it. She hummed softly, tunelessly as she crawled up onto the mattress to kneel on the damp sheet. Blankets and spilled boxes covered the foot of the bed, but the area in front of the window was clear.

Suspiciously so.

Yes, it was obvious, wasn’t it?

He hadn’t even really tried to hide it, not really.

She rested her hands against the soft, gummy wood of the sill. The warm surging rain fell heavy against her as she peered out into the night, drenching her dress, her apron, blew up across her skin. The downpour was so very heavy and the night so dark that it was difficult to see much beyond the thin ledge that ran along the building just beneath the window. The wind gusted in sudden and unpredictable ways, whipping her hair this way and that as she leaned as far out as she dared to peer down at the ground below. The falling rain soaked the shoulders and back of her dress, made her hair heavy until it hung limp around her face, plastered against her back no longer stirred by the wind. She could see the patchy grass and dark mud that covered the ground below, just barely, but there was no sign of her lost patient.

She thought of calling out to him, but she doubted he’d be able to hear her over the pounding rain. Lightning split the sky, illuminating the world outside the window and confirming that there was no sign of her lost patient. She slipped back inside, disappointed, shutting the window with a loud thump dulling the sound as thunder rumbled and crashed again.

It was frustrating.

He could have edged out along the ledge or leapt from the window and broken his neck or even dropped to the ground below without a scratch, but there was no way to know, to be certain.

Thunder rumbled, fading to a growl as lightning split the air again, forking across the horizon, illuminating the rough waves of the ocean beyond the island. The sheets were soaked and so was she and, for all that, she was no closer to knowing how to proceed. Irritated, she grabbed the window and slammed it shut, deadening the sound of the storm… though not by much.

Had he been that desperate to leave?

Had he done it to get to him?

To be with him?

She’d heard him calling his name. Calling it again and again, desperate, panicked.

Didn’t he know?

Couldn’t he understand that it had all been- that Hinata Hajime especially had been- nothing more than a cruel trick?

Just a cruel trick meant to make them believe they could start over, untainted by despair. That everything could be different, that they could be forgiven. As if that were something they even wanted, something they needed. It had all been just a dirty trick, a revolting deception, just another lie and all it did was make the despair all the sweeter when it returned, when she’d seen the man behind the curtain, when she’d realized that Hinata… sweet, forgiving, generous, friendly Hinata was a lie too.

The worst lie of all, because it had been bad enough to make her think she was that girl again. So alone in the world and out of her depth and eager to be liked, to be loved and wanted and appreciated, but then… then they’d even given her someone- given them all someone- to… to approve of them, to forgive them, to love them.

They’d gifted them with their own private Pandora. Someone to crack open their wicked hearts and loose all their insecurities and horrors upon the world within the safety of that intimate space, teach them not to fear what they were, to accept it instead, to trap only hope inside. The hope for a better tomorrow, for friends and a life beyond their terrible circumstances, the ragged, empty lives that had let despair bring them to their knees.

Had let them believe they could be forgiven.

That liar.

He hadn't been one of them.

Had never been anything close to real.

He’d been an interloper, an intruder, a nasty fly in the ointment, ruining everything. Without him her beloved’s plans would have gone off without a hitch. They would have simply become what they had always been, soft dough easily formed to fit the molds she had crafted for them, all the useless bits stripped away. A more perfect despair, exquisite vessels shaped and fired and ready to receive her, to let her fill them up. 

Everything would have been as it was supposed to be.

Everything would have been perfect without Hinata Hajime there to spoil it all. To steal away everyone who loved her and leave her all alone. To turn them all against her, make them all blame her.

+++
DAY THREE
-midnight-

She couldn’t sleep.

Not really and less and less as time passed. As weeks turned to months, she marked the cycle of the sun across the wall of the on-call room. There was no need to eat, no need to drink, no need to even move if she didn’t feel like it.

And she rarely felt like it.

She couldn’t die from any of those things, not really, couldn’t waste away to nothing since this was nothing but a simulation and she was just so much data… probably. Not that it mattered really. Her brain still thought she needed food and water, needed to process and dispose of waste, needed to move regularly so her muscles didn’t cramp or atrophy.

Not that it really mattered. If she got to be too uncomfortable she just had to kill herself and she could start the whole cycle again with a relatively clean slate.

So, really, there was no point to bothering with it… or with anything, really.

Nothing changed and the days wore on, one blending seamlessly into the next and the next and the next. Time passed whether she wished it to or no and so she spent much of it losing herself in thoughts of what had been and what could have been.

Most often she tried to dwell upon her beloved, but the memories were distant, difficult to conjure. She was left with frustratingly dim pictures of what had been. Memories of her voice, her face, all the things they’d done and spoken of together, but they were… jumbled, indistinct like a memory of another life. The emotions were clear. The despair she’d given her that had kept her alive, the love she felt for her, the ache of missing her, but everything else before the island lingered on as shards and fragments, sharp enough to hurt when she brushed up against them, but impossible to see clearly. 

The on-call room was her favorite place to linger, the bed she’d once shared with Hinata Hajime her favorite place to lay as she watched the shift of shadows across walls and floor. An endless parade of darkness to darkness where the light only served to provide variety.

She thought about him a lot.

Maybe more than she thought about her beloved.

How cruel he’d been.

How stupid she’d been.

How completely he had fooled her.

Most of all, she thought about how well she could still remember what it had felt like to lay beside him. How warm he’d been, how much she’d enjoyed watching the rise and fall of his chest, feeling it beneath her palm. How much during that final night she’d wanted to hold her hand over his nose and mouth, to see him, feel him, twitch and squirm beneath her as he died. 

But that had been then.

That had been as the sun colored the horizon to a bruise like shade, the mild cool of late night giving way to the sweltering heat of morning. She’d just finished raising Ibuki’s lifeless body into the rafters. It had taken so much longer than she’d planned. Saionji had almost ruined all her plans with her unexpected arrival. In the end, she’d barely had time to stop off at the hospital, to check over her remaining patients one last time and make sure they were still recovering nicely before racing across the island to slip into his room. 

He’d looked so innocent lying there, one arm curled around his stomach, the fingers of the other pressed into the sheet as if he were trying to claw himself free of the too soft mattress.

She’d climbed on top of him, marveling at how heavy a sleeper he was, how much simpler it might have been to just kill him instead. How much despair his death would have caused them, how they might have all fallen apart without him there to bind them together and how it would have felt to be the cause of it all. To watch them dither about without a voice to reason for them, to lead them by the nose to the truth behind all the lies as they attempted to foil all her beloved’s plans.

Pinning all the blame on Hinata, seeing his cherished friends look at him with suspicion and eventually send him to his death… that would probably bring forth an even deeper despair in the moments before the trap swung shut and put an end to all of them in one fell swoop, but this might have been nice too.

Hinata had been surprisingly cool, his skin clammy with sweat beneath her hands even in his air-conditioned room, stripped down to boxers and a plain white t-shirt. She ran her hands gingerly over his flushed, damp skin, cuddled in close to him, throwing a leg over his chest in a parody of the position she’d taken that first evening they’d slept together. She’d had so much hope then. Hope that Hinata cared, that he wanted her the way that she wanted him, that all he needed was just a little push.

Stupid.

He had twitched and whimpered plaintively in his sleep, turning his face away as if he was unnerved by her touch.

Hinata had always been cruel even when he was unconscious.

Strange that, after all that had happened, all the time she’d spent alone since her execution, pouring over the memories of those days, that casual, instinctive rejection still stung.

Had he been able to sense the change in her? Been able to feel the insistent presence of despair? Was that what made the difference between when she had slipped into his cabin and when she had curled up beside him in the bed in the on-call room? He’d seemed more receptive then or at least he hadn’t flinched away from her touch even though his reaction upon waking that evening hadn’t met her expectations at all. She’d been so certain… so certain that he liked her. That he would be glad to wake up with her beside him. That was why she’d gone up there after all. She could have simply stayed with her patients, but she’d wanted… she’d wanted him and she’d thought he wanted her too. He was always so nice to her. He complimented her and defended her and depended on her skills. 

It had seemed so… obvious.

She’d been so certain.

She had found the last of the things she needed to properly monitor Mister Komaeda on the second floor in the storage area that doubled as an on-call room. It had seemed as if everything that might be of use had just been piled in there haphazardly with no rhyme or reason or care. She’d managed to find a few things that would be helpful: towels and some outdated but still functional monitoring equipment and Mister Hinata had been more than happy to help her carry it downstairs. Of course, then it hadn’t actually worked and she’d felt guilty for not checking it upstairs like an idiot. 

“O-Oh, I’m sorry that was pretty stupid, wasn’t it? I’m so sorry to make you carry it all the way down here for nothing,” She’d exclaimed, nervous laughter bubbling in her chest, fingers catching and tugging at her hair.

“No, no, it’s fine,” he replied quickly, waving off her concern. “It just figures that nothing actually works in this place. We’re just lucky that bear treated Kazuryuu somewhere where all the equipment wasn’t broken or fake.”

“R-Right,” she agreed quickly, a nervous titter slipping free as she frowned. “I should be able to administer medication and fluids for Mister Komaeda intravenously as his fever is the highest and he seems to be a bit dehydrated. H-hopefully the others won’t get any worse as there’s really o-only enough of the proper equipment for o-one.” 

“Well, that’s better than nothing, I guess,” he smiled, pushing the broken monitor into the weird operating suite diorama to get it out of the way. “Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help. Don’t try to do everything yourself.”

“O-Of course, I’ll let you k-know. T-Thank you for your c-concern, Mister Hinata.”

“Just Hinata is fine, you know. We’re friends, aren’t we?”

“Y-Yes, of course,” she answered quickly, happiness bubbling in her chest as she ducked her head. “I-I should go check on him now. He needs his medicine.”

“Yeah, of course. Tell him…” Hinata sighed, shaking his head and shoving his heads into the pockets of his slacks as he turned away, back towards the lobby. “No, nevermind, he’d just make it into something terrible anyway. Just… let me know if anything changes or if you need any help.”

With that he was gone, the door at the end of hall falling closed behind him and the hall was once again quiet save for the persistence of Miss Owari's muffled sobs.

She tried not to be frustrated by the sound.

The last time she'd checked on her she'd discovered that she was afraid of the shifting shadows cast by the afternoon sun. Unfortunately, there wasn’t truly anything to be done for that as she'd quickly learned that Miss Owari was also afraid of the possibility of spiders, the dark, dust motes, and the sound curtains made as they rushed across the pole.

The best she could do for her was to make sure she was safe and as comfortable as possible.

Treating Ibuki at least had been simple. As long as she returned to her room regularly to give her new orders, Ibuki seemed perfectly content to merely sit in her room staring blankly at the wall or out the window, occasionally sipping the glass of water she’d left for her.

Mister Komaeda, on the other hand, was still considerably more affected than the other two which she had a feeling had to do with the fact that he had already in poor health to begin with. Not that she knew that for certain as he’d never permitted her to examine him before he’d caught the Despair disease.

When she pushed open the door to his room, she found him sitting on the edge of the bed staring down vacantly at his hands where they lay in his lap, his limp, sweat-damp hair obscuring his features.

“Please lay back on the bed, Mister Komaeda,” she murmured, a little surprised when he did what she asked without compliant or even a contrary word. Just laid down and closed his eyes, allowing her to complete her work in peace, though she couldn’t help but notice the fine tremor that ran through his body as she struck her fingers against his wrist and the bend of his arm in search of a vein. They were thin and squirrely and she had to prick his skin several times before she was finally able to settle the catheter into place successfully.

“Are you all right?” She asked as she set the bag, more out of habit than in expectation of an honest answer.

“Everyone always asks me that,” Komaeda replied, voice distant and strange. “I’m perfectly fine. Never better. Oh, did you know that there’s a gnome living in Mioda’s hair who writes all her songs for her?”

“Please try to get some-“

“I’ll tell you a secret,” Komaeda interrupted, his gaze still unfocused and vague as he stared blankly up at the ceiling overhead. “I think Hinata might really like you. I know what I’m talking about with these things, you see, because I’m actually the ultimate matchmaker. But don’t tell anyone because then they’ll all be requesting my services. I simply don’t have the time to be so popular.”

It wasn’t his fault, of course. He didn’t mean to be cruel. It was the illness.

Only… he was always like that, wasn’t he?

He always seemed to find ways to twist the simplest, most frivolous words so they became something cruel or horrible. Made them so each syllable dug deep like a hooking knife buried in the soft belly of a fish.

Maybe that was just the kind of person he was.

“He doesn’t care about you, you know,” he had called, conversationally, from where he’d lain bound on the floor of the room in which Mister Togami had been killed.

She had liked the way he looked tied up like that.

Helpless.

Harmless.

Bound like that, he wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone at all. He wouldn’t even be able to do anything for himself. He would need someone to help him with even the simplest things. Help him to eat, to drink, to sit up when he began to ache from all those long hours on the floor. He’d even need help to use the toilet.

Yes, he would need someone willing to help with all those things and, with the way he acted, volunteers would probably be in short supply.

She could be of use. 

They would need her to take care of him, wouldn’t they? Who else would be willing to do it?

“W-w-w-what?” She’d stuttered in answer, hoping he wouldn’t clarify.

“Hi-na-ta,” he replied, confirming that feeling as he shifted a little to relieve the cramping in his shoulders. “You like like him, right? It seems like almost everyone does.”

She’d been tied up like that often enough herself to know that the muscles in your back and shoulders began cramping after a while, especially if you were left like that for long periods of time or if the ropes bound you too tightly.

It was very unpleasant, but he didn’t complain. He just shifted uncomfortably, fingers twitching, the sound of braided rope chafing against skin and the canvas of his jacket loud in the otherwise quiet room. His face was blotchy and red, glistening with sweat. Sometimes he winced and squinted a little when drops of that sweat slid down into his eyes.

It must have burned. Her hands ached to wipe it away, but for some reason she couldn’t quite bring herself to move any closer to him.

“You’re not special. You’re just useful to him, that’s all.”

“W-w-why w-would you s-say something like t-that?” She stammered in reply even as emotion squirmed and tightened things low in her body. There was something about Komaeda Nagito that she… not liked, exactly, but there was something she wanted reflected in those pale eyes.

Something familiar, something… that reminded her of childhood, of hands slipping to familiar across her body, pinching her skin roughly.

“Why wouldn’t I?” He replied easily, rolling his gaze up to her, past her. “He’s seems so kind, right? But that’s cruel too in a way, isn’t it? He’s treats everyone so equally, so fairly. He’s kind to everyone just the same and that means everyone is just the same in his eyes, doesn’t it? That no one is special.”

“T-Then that means you’re not special either,” she wasn’t even sure why she said it, why she was still there, why she hadn’t just left when he’d started being mean.

His expression was like a mask, a rictus smile to hide whatever he was truly feeling. “Aren’t I? He isn’t like that with me, is he? Not anymore. No more late night talks and swimming pools. But that’s okay. That’s fine. I mean, that’s actually better, isn’t it? It’s much more hopeful this way. It means that I’m different from the rest. I mean, that was obvious from the start, right? Compared to all of you, my talent isn’t really worth much and I’m worth even less. And yet, like this, like this, I’m special to him. Unique. The way he looks at me… he hates me, you know? I disgust him now. He can’t understand me at all and I can’t understand him. And that… that would have been awful, but it’s not because it’s actually really lucky, I’m really lucky to be hated. This is much better than being liked by him, because it means that when he looks at me he really sees me instead of what he wants to see or what I might want him to see. It means he really… sees me; my ugly, terrible, imperfect, greedy, worthless self and still he… he still looks at me. He still came to see me. He’ll remember me long after I’m dead and gone. So, that’s… that’s really lucky.”

She wasn’t sure what to say to that, what to do, more curious and confused than hurt by his words. He wasn’t really talking to her, not truly. She was the one standing before him. The one who’d come to take care of him, but his thoughts and words were all about Hinata, all for Hinata. 

He’d been there before her. She’d seen him leave the building that afternoon, walking so quickly it had almost looked like he was running, as if he couldn’t escape the building fast enough. His cheeks had been flushed bright red and there had been such a dark scowl on his face. He hadn’t even seemed to see anything around him, as if all his thoughts lingered in the place he’d left behind, on the person he’d left there. He hadn’t even glanced at her when she’d called out to him, hadn’t seen or heard her at all.

It was the same degree of regard Komaeda gave her as he spoke.

She might as well have been a lamp or the table for all the attention he truly paid her. As if she didn’t matter in the least to him. As if she didn’t matter at all. As if she didn’t even exist.

Her fingers trembled where they held the food tray.

The temptation to hurl it at him, to make him look at her, to pay attention to her, to see her and acknowledge her existence was almost overwhelming.

He’d have to look at her then, wouldn’t he?

If he had a concussion he’d need treatment, wouldn’t he?

And she was the only one, the only one who could help, wasn’t she?

That was her very favorite thing about being on that island with everyone. She was the only one they could turn to. She was important, vital, because what would they do without her? They’d never be able to care for themselves properly, would they? It was different here, wasn’t it? Everything was different there.

She was important.

She was a necessary and valued member of the group and they needed her, didn’t they? Even Miss Saionji needed her, would have no choice but to rely on her even if she’d never admit it. Her skills, her talent, were by far the most necessary talent on the island. Luck wouldn’t heal your wounds, being athletic wouldn’t keep you from being felled by disease, being a talented musician that everybody loved wouldn’t keep your body from being ravaged by fatigue.

Here she was the best and most important person.

Even if they didn’t love her, they would still need her and that was almost better than love.

Almost.

It hadn’t really surprised her that Hinata allowed Mister Komaeda to stay close even after that. She could understand wanting to keep an eye on him. He was dangerous, after all. What she didn't understand was why everyone else had seemed to forgive him as if nothing he had done really mattered at all. They’d allowed him to roam free even after everything he’d done. Treated him as more of an annoyance, an irritant, than a true threat. As if it were only expected that he should behave that way.

She didn’t understand that at all.

He was… broken. He had been sick long before the despair disease had infected him. He was…

“You looked so hopeful at the prospect, I thought it might be interesting, but it wasn’t.” He sighed, pushing up off the bed up onto stiff, unsteady legs, her arm hanging loose and limp at his side. “Yearning for someone just deepens your despair. It’s funny, I always thought it worked the other way, but I guess not for everybody.”

She blinked and shivered, shaking her head hard to clear it. She really shouldn’t allow her mind to wander like that when she was working. She could easily make a mistake if she wasn’t careful. She couldn’t let anyone die in her care.

What had she even been thinking about, anyway?

She couldn’t quite remember, but it left her feeling faintly queasy.

“Hey,” a boy’s voice called from outside the door. It took her a long moment to recognize that voice as Mister Kazuryuu. Which seemed silly since she knew there were only three boys there. “Look, how about you take first? You look like hell.”

“Thanks for that,” Hinata replied, laughing. It was such a nice sound. “But yeah, I didn’t really sleep much last night after everything that happened. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine. Kind had my fill of bed rest, ya know? I’d rather be up and moving right now. So, you go ahead.”

“Okay, if you’re sure. I’ll go rest upstairs, I guess. There’s a bed up there in the room towards the back. Come wake me when you want to switch off or if something happens?”

“Yeah, of course. Get some rest.”

Their footsteps seemed to echo louder than they should as Hinata presumably went upstairs while Mister Kazuryuu returned to the lobby.

She hung up the bag with a sigh, double-checking the gauges to make certain everything was adjusted and set properly before administering the solution. Mister Komaeda’s voice had faded to a murmur while her attention had been elsewhere. His eyes were closed, but he still continued to rattle off a mumbled and seemingly endless series of increasingly improbable lies.

“They’re not actually hamsters, you know, they’re really gremlins in disguise here to sabotage all our washing machines.”

“Tanaka doesn’t actually wear make up. He's really a cyborg and those are all just color-changing, power-up marks. Watch out for when they turn magenta. That’s the only time he’s vulnerable.”

“Saionji is actually the second coming of Christ. She’s come to save us all.”

It wasn’t just that he lied, though that was disturbing enough, it was almost as if he couldn’t seem to stop lying, as if he were compelled to just tell lie after lie so long as there were ears around to hear them. She’d couldn’t help but notice how he’d fallen silent when she’d left the room earlier to settle the others. How he hadn’t stopped speaking for more than a few moments each time she’d returned since.

She’d probably been doing him a kindness whenever she left him alone.

There was, after all, very little that she could actually do for him, for any of them really, other than keep them comfortable and monitor their vitals. In a way, it was a job anyone could have done, not that she’d ever tell anyone that. This was the first chance she’d had to really be of use and she didn’t want to miss a moment of it. Besides they'd need her expertise if any of them took a turn for the worse so it was mostly true anyway. 

Still, it would be safe to leave them on their own for a little while, wouldn’t it?

Just... just for a few minutes.

She couldn’t really do anything for the others at the moment and Mister Komaeda in particular probably wouldn’t be able to rest well while she was in the room. He already looked so exhausted, his pillow and the collar of his robe stained dark with sweat, pale fingers trembling against the blanket as he continued to mumble to himself, his voice rougher and weaker than it had been before.

Hadn't Hinata seemed very concerned about him?

Wouldn't he want to know how he was faring?

Of course he would. She could probably catch him before he actually fell asleep.

Probably.

She yelped in surprise as fingers caught hold of her wrist in a grip that was painful and sure to leave bruises behind.

“I just want to sleep,” he said earnestly, his face flushed and his body restless beneath the blanket. His eyes wide and glassy and it seemed like he was trying to focus, but couldn’t quite manage it, “I have such beautiful dreams.”

She forced a smile as she pried his fingers from around her wrist, firmly pushing his hand away before reaching out to smooth his hair. The texture was unpleasant, oily and damp, “Just try to get some rest. I’ll be back to check on you soon.”

He didn’t answer, but his hand fell slack against the blanket, which she decided was probably answer enough.

She checked his temperature once more and found it was already improving. Nothing to worry about at all now that he was receiving fluids and his fever was going down.

If he was awake, she could tell him that. He’d probably tell her what a wonderful job she was doing.

Guilt and excitement fizzled together in her throat, sharp and sweet like shaken soda pop as she slipped quietly up the stairs to the on-call room to see him. She wasn't doing anything wrong, of course, but for some reason she couldn't quite put a name to, it seemed... a little naughty like when she used to steal sweets from Doctor Saito's desk and let him blame some patient who had been in that morning with a stomachache or some other easy to fake illness.

"Hinata? Are you awake?" She knocked softly on the door, slipping inside on silent feet when there was no response came from within. It didn’t really surprise her to find Hinata sleeping there so peacefully.

“Hinata?” She called again, quietly, but she wasn’t really surprised when he didn’t stir. He’d looked so tired that morning, the skin beneath his eyes bruise dark and his eyelids heavy even before he’d half-carried Komaeda all the way from the hotel to the hospital.

He looked so… guileless, almost innocent as he lay there, curled towards the door with the blanket shoved down towards the foot of the bed. It was awfully warm that day. His features were creased with worry as if even in sleep he couldn’t quite leave all his cares behind.

Hajime really was such a good person.

She felt heat streak up her neck to boil in her cheeks and forehead and she licked her chapped lips nervously. She’d never said his first name aloud and might never be able to at all if just thinking it affected her so deeply. But it was… it was… really a very nice name.

Hajime.

He liked her, didn’t he? They were… friends, weren’t they? And if they were friends, he might not mind if she joined him. Not for long, of course. No, just… just for a moment or two. She just… she just wanted to be close to him. His innate goodness, his light, and the way he made her feel most of all: wanted, accepted, and forgiven.

He liked her, didn’t he?

And if he liked her… if he wanted her… it would be fine, wouldn’t it?

Being with him, being near him… that was fine, wasn’t it? She could just… just lie down next to him. Friends… friends shared beds all the time and she wanted to be more than friends and maybe… maybe he did too.

She… she loved him, didn’t she?

He had been so kind and he had seemed to really like her, but he wasn’t ever cruel to her and he didn’t hit her or kick her or pull her hair. But even without all that, he still paid attention to her, as if she were interesting, as if her company were enjoyable. He’d noticed her and worried for her and was so concerned about her and she wanted him to keep noticing her, but he….

He didn’t look at her exactly the way she wanted him to, did he?

It was… it was like Komaeda had said. He was kind to everyone, he worried about everyone and so was she… was she really special to him if she wasn’t the only one he looked at? The only one he chose to spend time with?

Now that she thought about it, it was actually kind of terrible, wasn’t it? She was his friend, but then all the others were his friends too.

Didn’t she deserve more than that?

She knew it was maybe a little selfish to want him to only look at her, but she couldn’t help it. She just… she liked him so much. And she was sure he’d forgive her for her selfishness. He was that sort of person, after all. The sort who could forgive anything, he’d even seemed to forgive Komaeda, at least a little bit, otherwise, why would be have helped him to the hospital? Why would he care for he was? If he could forgive Komaeda for inciting Teru Teru to murder than he could certainly forgive her for just wanting to be close to him, for just wanting to be important to him, more important than anyone else.

There was nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with her.

Besides, she was sure that he liked her. Really liked her.

But maybe he was just shy or maybe… maybe he didn’t want the others to feel left out. Especially if he didn’t know that she liked him. She hadn’t done a very good job about letting him know, after all. There hadn’t really been many opportunities for that sort of thing. Everything had been so hectic.

But now… now things were… quiet and they were alone.

So maybe….

She was being selfish, but she just… she just wanted more

They’d been there for weeks and this feeling… this feeling has been growing and growing all that time, swelling up inside her like a balloon until it was fit to burst. The nicer he was to her, the worse it got, until sometimes… sometimes she just… she just wanted to scream at him, to throw things. To do something drastic, dramatic, something that would make him look at her the way she looked at him. That would make him realize that she didn’t want to be just friends. She wanted to be special. She wanted to be loved. She wanted to be cherished and forgiven for wanting all these things.

And the way the others looked at him… the way Komaeda looked at him.

It made her chest tight.

It was so….

Frustrating.

The way she sometimes noticed him looking back.

So frustrating.

She wasn’t special to him. Not the way she wanted to be, not the way she should be.

She liked him so much.

And he said he liked her too.

And yet he… he didn’t look at her like that, did he?

He didn’t ever look at her like she was the only person worth seeing.

It was really… frustrating.

Her fingers caught in her hair, worrying it, pulling it tight.

It had been so frustrating.

She had liked him so much and he liked her, she knew he did, he’d said so hadn’t he?

So many times and every time it made her heart thump quick and fluttery as if it were about to leap from her chest at any moment. Every time he smiled at her and seemed so concerned for her wellbeing, for her happiness. Every time he would seek her out and chose to spend time with her day after day even though he could have spent time with any of them. He told her that people didn’t hate her just because they didn’t take the time to punish her and she was able to believe him.

Not because she thought it was true, not really, but because he said it. He said and when he said it felt like maybe, maybe she could believe it.

Believe him.

He was… he was special and he made her feel special and she could... she could….

“You deserve to be loved.”  The thought seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere all at once and she found herself nodding along, fingernails digging into the flesh above her elbows.

She did, didn’t she? 

“Of course, you do.”

He had just looked so… lonely in that bed, hadn’t he?

“Of course he did.”

And he had. He had looked so desperately lonely. Lonely like she was lonely as if he needed someone to hold him, comfort him. Everything was just so… stressful, wasn’t it? He was so tired he’d just fallen right to sleep. And she… she just wanted to….

She was allowed to be with him, wasn’t she?

That was what friends did, wasn’t it?

They comforted each other, didn’t they?

So, she’d just… just keep him company.

Just for a while.

It wasn’t even really for her own benefit. It wasn’t really selfish at all when she thought about it, really thought about it. She was doing this for him. To make him feel better.

So that was all right, wasn’t it?

That made it all right, didn’t it?

She really hadn’t been being selfish at all really. You couldn’t be selfish and selfless at the same time, could you? And even if it wasn’t a hardship it was still something she was doing for him, wasn’t it? 

And even, even if her intentions weren’t… weren’t absolutely pure… well.

He would forgive her, wouldn't he?

He always forgave her.

He would always forgive her.

He would forgive her.

So, she could forgive him too.

That was the right thing to do, wasn’t it?

To forgive him for looking at everyone else with kindness when he should have only been looking at her.

He was hers, after all.

She could forgive him for all the others.

She could even forgive him for looking at Komaeda that way, because he was just being nice.

He was a nice person, after all, a good person.

The best person she knew.

So much better than Komaeda Nagito could ever hope to be, could ever hope to deserve. Hajime just wanted them all to be friends. To work together and survive, because that’s who Hinata Hajime was, he only wanted them all to be safe.

Even Komaeda.

He had even been willing to forgive Komaeda.

So he’d have to forgive her too.

If ever she did anything that required forgiveness.

The early afternoon sun was bright, but fortunately the hospital had been built at an angle so the sun never glared directly through the windows into the patient rooms and the on-call room was just above them. So, while there was plenty of light and it was warm, it was pleasant rather than overbearing. Hinata shifted in his sleep, sprawling out on his back, one hand still settled across his stomach. 

It was the easier thing in the world to breach the distance between them and crawl up onto the bed beside him. To slide in close and press the line of her body to his.

He was so pleasantly warm, like freshly toasted bread or miso soup.

He must have been really worn out not to wake as she shifted restlessly beside him trying to find a position both comfortable and close… or maybe he was just used to restless bed partners…. 

No, obviously that couldn't be true. Hinata was too... good for that, wasn't he? Too innocent.

No, she was being silly. Imagining things that weren’t there… jumping at shadows.

She slid a little closer to him, as close as she dared, slipping a leg up to lie across his. He winced a little, mumbled something that was more sigh than words before settling back into sleep. He didn’t seem disturbed by her presence at all, which was nice. In fact, she could probably safely say that he was at ease with her… as if she made him feel safe.

She hoped that was true. After all, he made her feel safe, so it would be nice if the feeling were mutual.

Poor Hinata.

He must have been so worried about Nekomaru to be this exhausted.

That sounded like him.

He was such a good person, after all.

She was lucky to be loved by such a wonderful person.

And he felt good, right, pressed close to her like that. As if he were meant to be there. She snuggled closer still, wrapping her arms around him and carefully slipping an arm beneath his head so that she could cradle his face against her chest.

If he didn’t want her there he would surely have woken up and shoved her away, wouldn’t he? Obviously, she was very important to him. He must have liked and trusted her quite a bit to just sleep through that, right?

Right?

She closed her eyes and slept.

She dreamt about what might happen when he woke up and found her there. Embarrassing little snatches of sensation and imagination married with how it felt when she slipped fingers into her panties at night. A dozen different scenarios only half-remembered as she lay in the bed of the on-call room, feeling as if she were miles and years away from the girl she’d been that afternoon.

It seemed as if her dreams had been beautiful and when she had finally awoken she’d been a little wet, her body thrumming with the thrill of being so close and thinking such thoughts, dreaming such dreams and the feel of him. His body had been so warm, the seams and folds of his clothing rubbing against her jerkily as he squirmed and writhed almost frantically against her, beneath her, his palm slapping a frantic rhythm against her thigh.

For a moment, just on the edge of wakefulness, she’d thought it was really cute, those muffled, yips of sound he made as he twisted and bucked beneath her. How clumsy and eager he seemed as he struggled and shoved and she smiled, holding him a little tighter, shifting her leg so it rubbed just a bit more firmly against him… which was when she had realized he wasn’t hard at all and that his struggles were getting weaker, slower, with each passing moment.

When she thought about it later, much later, well after they’d left for the night and she’d been left alone with one her patients for company, she had decided that she’d never really expected him to make a move on her, in truth.

Not Hinata.

Not her Hinata.

Hinata was… safe, wasn’t he?

Hinata was perfect.

He was warm and he was safe and he wouldn’t touch her without knowing absolutely that it was what she wanted. That was just the kind of person he was, wasn’t it?

“Was it? Was it really? Did you really think so? Even then?”

Of course. 

That was why she had liked him so much, wasnt it

Because he was so very different from anyone else she had ever known and sometimes… sometimes, perhaps, she had wished that wasn’t the case. That he was less kind, less good, less perfect. That when he had touched her he had been less gentle, that he’d been less understanding of all her faults, because it was easier, less confusing, when people were cruel to her. 

Simpler when they pulled her hair and splashed water on her and kicked her, because at least she knew what to expect from those kind of people. They would never disappoint her, never betray her, because she could anticipate those reactions and give them what they wanted, expected in return. It was so much more difficult since they’d come to the island. Both Hinata and so many of the others… they never acted as she anticipated they would.

Not really.

Nothing like all the others she had known over the years. Not even like themselves, she had realized when she’d remembered enough to make the comparison.

Well, that wasn’t quite true.

Saionji had been the exception that proved the rule even without their long history to map the course.

Killing her had felt so good.

No, what she’d truly expected from Hinata, she had decided in the long night afterwards, was that he would wake, embarrassed, but fond and forgiving. That he’d be flustered, but maybe he’d also be a little amused by her presence, by her antics, which was why she’d made sure to sleep as close to him as possible.

She hadn’t really expected anything to happen.

Not really.

She just… hadn’t expected him to freak out the way he had. That when she awoke he would be struggling to be free of her, begging her to get off him with gestures and slurred words. That she would sit up to find his skin bearing the blue tinge of cyanosis, his breathing ragged and heaving.

So, of course, she’d panicked a little.

After all, the hospital hadn’t had the supplies to treat something like that at all.

She’d leapt off him and away, immediately pressing her fingers into his arms and face and chest. Quick efficient jabs, checking his vitals as best she could and massaging his limps even though his color had immediately begun to return to normal the moment she had removed herself. She still needed to check him over, just to be safe.

Perhaps her weight had been too much for him?

Had he really been so fragile?

When he’d fully regained consciousness it had been easy to make excuses and awkward jokes, to shrug away the creeping, pervasive idea that she had acted inappropriately, that her presence was unwanted. He never really said he didn’t like waking up with her, after all, so maybe, next time, he could sprawl across her instead of the other way around.

Then, of course, Mister Kazuryuu had come in and mistaken them for a couple….

And that had made her heart flutter like a bird in her chest for the brief moment before Hinata had shut that line of inquiry down with such brutal efficiency that it made her ache for an entirely different reason. He didn’t have to say it like that, did he? 

“That big ol’ meanie,” she whispered, the memory of lips brushing across the back of her neck, leaving a smear of lipstick and damp behind. “He just didn’t appreciate you. No one ever appreciated you except me, did they?” 

Then Mister Kazuryuu told them that he thought Mister Komaeda had stopped breathing.

And it was only in that moment that it finally dawned on her that she’d left her patients unattended.

So, of course, she’d panicked.

She’d left him alone.

She was meant to be caring for him and she’d left him all alone.

Laughter, like the tinkling of bells, the clatter of sandals against tile, “And all because you were a little jealous. How lame are you, loser?”

She’d gotten so caught up in the idea of going up there, of being with him, that she’d completely forgotten that she had other obligations. She was a nurse and it had been her job to look after her patients to the utmost of her ability, even the ones she didn’t especially like, and she’d… she’d failed him. 

She’d just… she’d just assumed she would know if something went wrong, hadn’t she? She’d thought about it at least that much. Maybe she’d even asked Mister Kazuryuu to look in on them. Or maybe she’d just… just assumed that he would. That was it. She’d assumed he’d care enough to check in on them.

“To assume makes an ass out of u and me. Pupupupu.”

Hinata would probably hate her if he died because of her irresponsibility. Or, even worse, he wouldnt hate her. Instead he might just not be able to look at her anymore. He might ignore her or… or… her mind had spun through the seemingly endless list of increasingly horrifying possibilities as she rushed downstairs to Komaeda’s room.

If Komaeda died… she’d lose her purpose. No one would trust her, rely on her, not after that, not anymore. She would be alone, reviled. She was the ultimate nurse and she hadn't been able to keep her patient alive.

They’d never forgive her.

Their hurried footsteps had been so loud in the empty corridor as she flown down the steps with Hinata and Mister Kazuryuu at her heels. 

She arrived at the room just steps ahead of them and shoved through the door, running to the bed. Her hands trembled, but her movements were brisk and efficient as she checked over her patient. His breathing had been shallow and ragged, certainly, but his color had been decent enough so if he had stopped breathing it would seem to have only been for the few moments Mister Kazuryuu had been in the room and he’d started back up on his own so that had been a relief.

He was fine.

Everything was fine.

No one would have to know, no one would blame her. It was fine. Everything was fine. She would just… just stay with him from now on. Monitor him more closely to… to prove that she was… devoted. That would be her penance for this misstep. She’d been… selfish. She’d made a mistake, but she… she had learned from it and if she learned from it than they’d have to forgive her. That was how it worked. They would have to forgive her and forget it ever happened.

His health had definitely been declining, of that much there could be no doubt. She would need to monitor him very closely until the worst had passed since there had simply been no way to tell whether that breathing incident had been a fluke or if it were an indication of a larger problem. It had been unfortunate that the hospital had not been equipped with more advanced equipment (or any equipment really outside of the bare essentials). There wasn’t even a ventilator, which would have been the best thing for him… just to be safe. No, there was none of that, so she would have to stay with him and monitor him throughout the night to be ready to intervene if needed.

He could have died.

He could have died and it would have been all her fault. She was the one responsible for him after all.

Even if it were just Komaeda, they still wouldn’t have been able to forgive her for that.

No more than she would have been able to forgive herself.

She’d pulled at her hair. Just once, quick and sharp, but the pain had allowed her to focus on what was important, on the problem at hand. There would be plenty of time for guilt and recrimination later.

She barely even noticed when Monokuma slipped into the room to loiter in the corner, fidgeting excitedly.

Hinata had lingered at her shoulder, a constantly shifting bundle of nerves and restless motion. When she’d finally glanced up at him she’d found that he wasn’t really looking at her at all or Mister Komaeda. He was glaring at Monokuma instead. Like he’d like nothing better than to rip it’s stuffed head right off and throw it out the window.

“Tsumiki… is he all right?” He asked finally still not looking away from the bear in the corner, the words ground out between clenched teeth. He grimaced as if the shape of the words felt wrong in his mouth.

She’d explained his condition and fielded their questions, listened to the hoarse rasp of Mister Komaeda’s voice as he assured them that he’d never felt better.

“He must be feeling really bad,” Hinata translated, staring down at Mister Komaeda as if he had never seen him before. His hands caught in fists at his sides.

When Mister Kazuryuu had begun asking about what would happen if he were to die, she’d been quick to interject to assure them both that she wouldn’t allow that to happen. Still, even with all her assurances, Hinata had looked a little sick as he’d trailed Mister Kazuryuu out to the lobby.

It had been, all in all, an unsettling experience and it hadn’t been long before she was left alone with her patients since Monokuma had forced them to return to their cottages a short while later.

Before they’d left though, they’d come back to let her know about the communications device and what Monokuma had told them and to apologize for having to leave. They’d even brought her a selection of snacks Mister Kazuryuu had pilfered from the movie theater and a promise to bring something better in the morning. The popcorn was stale and the candy was old, but it still tasted good after the long day. 

“T-Thank you for this. I-I never expected-” she’d commented quietly, gaze turned down and cheeks warm.

He patted her shoulder awkwardly, “Yeah, sure. Look, don’t forget that all this is that damn bear’s fault. You just do what you can, all right?”

“O-Of course! I won’t let you down,” she’d replied, forcing a tremulous smile even as her gaze drifted to where Hinata was leaning over Komaeda’s bed speaking to him in soft tones. His fingers were pushed into the damp of Komaeda’s hair and she couldn’t quite see his expression, but she could hear his quiet admonition.

“You’d better not die and cause more trouble. I don’t like having to worry about you.”

There was something about the way Hinata leaned down to hear Komaeda’s response that made her chest tight.

“We’ll be back in the morning,” Hinata commented, leaning back and speaking as much to her as Komaeda.

His fingers seemed to linger longer than necessary against his sweaty forehead.

She’d quickly assured him… them… several times more that she would never let him die. 

That everything would be fine.

Only it hadn’t been fine.

Not really.

It was a warm night and she’d sat at his bedside listening to him mumbled lies through the night, occasionally forcing water down his throat. She left the room from time to time to check on Ibuki and Owari, but they were fine. They’d both fallen into an uneasy, exhausted slumber around midnight while Komaeda’s condition seemed to only worsen as the hours wore on. He didn’t sleep much and the few times he did doze off, he twitched and twisted in the blankets and she was forcefully remaindered how Hinata had so easily slept through her restless movements that afternoon.

Almost as if he were used to sleeping with someone who…

"Stop it," she mumbled to the empty air.

She was being silly again.

Hinata hated him, Komaeda had said so himself. 

She took a sip of water and wiped sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand. She wished the air conditioning worked more efficiently. 

Sometime in the early morning hours, during a brief period when Komaeda was both awake and reasonably calm she urged him out of bed use the bathroom and exchange his smelly, sweat-soaked robe for fresh one.

She'd eased the damp robe off his shoulders as Komaeda stood unsteady and swaying before her, unselfconsciously nude as she tucked the soiled robe into the waste bin. He'd stood there silently as she run a damp cloth over him to wipe away the worst of the sweat and it wasn't until she'd stood back up that she had realized that he was staring at her, eyes narrowing in an attempt to focus on her, his cheeks flushed dark in the bright moonlight.

"Are you alright?" She asked, reluctantly.

He nodded, stumbling forward a step and catching himself against her shoulders. His mouth was slack, lips trembling as words began tumbling out, barely a whisper as first, but gaining in rasping volume as he continued in a rush. His breath was warm and foul against her face and his fingers dug painfully into her shoulders.“Please do whatever you like with me, I really don’t mind a bit! Maybe you should kill me right now! I’m sure no one would suspect you. You could just say the circus people did it. That clown outside the window has a black balloon and a murderous expression so I’m sure-”

She forced herself to look down and away, to focus anywhere but on his strange, frantic expression. His legs were covered in tiny scars and long knotty ones.

It wasn’t even as if he would be looking at her, not really, his eyes had been cloudy and unfocused. It was as if he were talking to someone else or to no one at all. His grip was still painfully tight and he kept rambling on and on, his words growing softer, sloppier, running together in strange ways, syllables mushy as baby food. 

His penis was soft and hung limp and flaccid between his legs. Not the slightest twitch of arousal, but it still quivered and bobbed constantly as Komaeda trembled and shivered and wobbled as if buffeted by a wind only he could feel. It was weirdly mesmerizing. She wondered if his disease could make his body lie as well or if it he only had to tell his lies. She wondered what would happen if she were to slip her mouth around him, would he-

She cut that thought off abruptly.

What was wrong with her?

He was her patient, wasn’t he?

It wasn’t even as if she found Komaeda attractive. He was mean and kind of crazy… she didn’t really like that word, but it fit since she didn’t really understand what it was that made him act the way he did. He didn’t care about them, any of them, except for maybe Hinata. For all the vital, frantic energy that seemed to vibrate through him, he had always seemed … fragile, weak, as if he were on the verge of shaking apart at any moment.

She wondered again if he’d been sick, before they’d met, if he was still sick… not with the despair disease, but with something… deeper, more serious. Whether he’d been lying when he’d said he was fine when she’d asked if he needed to be looked over last week… had it really been only a week that they’d been on the island together?

Somehow it seemed so much longer.

Somehow it seemed like she’d known Komaeda for years. Years and years and if she thought about it she could almost, almost remember what it felt like to have him beneath her, inside her…

Startled by the sudden thought, she shivered as a sudden chill ran like sweat down her spine, her face warm with embarrassment. She tore herself away from his desperate grip and hurried to fetch the fresh robe from its hook by the door. She thrust it out at him blindly, staring hard at anything, everything but him.

“P-P-Please put it on,” she whimpered.

He lay beneath her almost silent apart from the wheezing labor of each breath, his face turned away to the side most of the time as if he hadn’t been the one to suggest it, to tell her he needed her, wanted her, all the things she longed to hear even though she’d never wanted to hear them from him at all. In the end, it really wasn’t all that different from masturbation with one exception.

She wasn’t… she didn’t… she never would…

“Put it on!” She screamed, loud enough to wake the dead, as that strange, revolting fantasy did crooked pirouettes in her head, whirling to meet her no matter how she tried to flinch away from it.

His hair was splayed out, filthy and dark against the dirty pillow, mouth smearing with red. His hips stuttered beneath her as her fingers worked frantically to bring her closer, gasping pleasure into the air as she clasped desperately at those cool, limp fingers with her free hand, squeezed her eyes closed and pictured her beloved as she finally came.

The sound of his laughter, hoarse and terrible, pitched high on a pained groan echoed all around her.

Her skin crawled and itched and she rubbed the palm of her hand frantically against her apron as if she could rid herself of the feel of the cold, limp flesh. The uncomfortable squish of fingers that couldn’t hold her back.

She was going to be sick.

“I really prefer to be naked, but I’m sure you know what you’re doing,” he croaked, voice barely a whisper, as he finally took the robe she had shoved at him and fumbling into it.

She trembled, pulling her arms in to wrap around her waist, still not daring to look at him. He really was a terrible person, putting ideas like that in her head.

What was it about him that Hinata liked so much?

No, that wasn’t… that wasn’t true either.

Hinata didn’t… he didn’t… Hinata was just really kind. He was just being nice and worried about all of them just as much. He didn’t really like him, obviously, he was just… just trying to keep them all safe by keeping an eye on him, that was all. That was… that was…

“Was it good for you?” He’d asked, still laughing as she stumbled away towards the bathroom. “I hope so, because it wasn’t any good for me at all!”

She turned abruptly and left the room. She had… had a responsibility to… check on the others. Make they were… that they were fine.

That everything was fine.

Just fine.

Everything was fine.

But it hadn’t been fine.

It hadn’t been fine even then, because it had all been a trick. A trap.

She’d remembered, slowly, so slowly, in bits and pieces as her fever rose. She remembered all the painful things. She remembered all of them as they’d been before, before her beloved had shown them the magnificence of despair and after as well. She had remembered Ibuki and Komaeda and her beloved most of all.

She remembered all of them, but she remembered some far better than others.

Her beloved was brilliant and bold and beautiful, like bottled lightning.

Nanami Chiaki… was like newspaper faded and yellowed by the sun. She was just the sort of person that faded into the background.

It was the same with all the members of Ultimate Despair who hadn’t been in her class. She knew them, but they were… less important, more forgettable.

She remembered so many things that night and all during the following day as she went through the motions of caring for her patients. Her fever rose and she remembered more and more.

But she never remembered him.

Hinata Hajime.

He’d never been one of them at all, she knew that now, but at first… at first she hadn’t been able to believe it. To believe that he’d lied to them, to her, like that.

But it was true, of course.

He couldn’t understand them, couldn’t forgive them, because he wasn’t one of them.

He didn’t care about them at all.

He never had.

It had all been a lie.

It all seemed so dreadfully obvious now, looking back on all those days they’d spent together.

He had lied to them.

He didn’t like them. He didn’t love them. They weren’t friends.

He certainly wouldn’t forgive her.

How could he? After all they had done? The only one who would ever be able to forgive her, love her, was her beloved.

There was no hope.

There was only…

Despair.

And it had been a most extraordinary despair that she’d felt in the early hours of morning as she had returned to Komaeda’s bedside, as she had found herself staring so intently at each labored breath he took. She contemplated whether she should take his pillow and press it over his face, hold it there, whether he would struggle at all if she did or whether he might simply slip away.

She wondered how Hinata’s face might look if he were to come in and find he’d passed away in the night, to find whatever game they’d been playing had been brought to such a swift and meaningless conclusion.

What had they been to each other?

Did it even matter?

Whatever they had been to each other… it wasn’t real.

It was just another lie.

She should have killed them both that night when she’d had the chance or, better yet, killed one and then killed the other the next morning after she’d been able to experience their despair at finding the other carved up like a Christmas goose.

Should have.

But she hadn’t. 

Instead she’d gotten lost in thought about what would best serve her beloved’s purpose instead, about what would bring the truest despair and morning had come and with it Hinata, smiling and kind, asking her how she was, how Komaeda was and she’d lost her opportunity.

As the day wore on, she’d remembered more and more and remembering had given her such a strange and sublime feeling of connection, of purpose. She’d finally known who she was and- most importantly- what she was meant to do. It let her see the truth. Gifted her with the knowledge that she could best honor her beloved by aiding her avatar unasked.

It was such a wonderful feeling. 

But, in the end, it had amounted to nothing. All her hope had crumpled to dust in her hands and perhaps that was the point. She’d been hoping when she was meant to despair. She really couldn’t blame her beloved from being cross with her, for punishing her.

For leaving her in that place all alone.

It was what she deserved for failing so utterly. 

Sometimes she screamed her apologies to the uncaring skies and sometimes she whispered them against the sheets of that bed. Sometimes she used ragged, broken fingernails to carve them into walls or floors.

The world was littered with her apologies and yet the only answer she’d received was silence.


+++
DAY THREE
-continued-


“Are you jealous? Of Hinata Hajime?” Her voice was teasing, curious, edging into a pout. “I thought I was the one you loved.”

“You are, of course, of course, you are,” she whispered quickly, fervently. “You’re my beloved, I… I just…”

It had been different before. When she’d been a mere shadow of her truest self, just a strange incomplete memory. She’d been so eager to be of use, she’d wanted him to look at her, see her, only her.

She remembered lying with Hinata in this bed.

Remembered how it felt to slide her trembling hand along that bare strip of skin where his crisp white dress shirt had ridden up as he slept. She had wanted to lick the sweat from his skin, slide her tongue into the dip of his belly button, loosen his belt and push a hand down… 

But she hadn’t.

Of course she hadn’t.

That would have been… wrong.

She wanted him to… want her to touch him, to be with him. She liked him so much, so very much. He was so perfect and beautiful and he’d been… kind to her.

That had to mean something, didn’t it? It had to mean something and so she could wait. She could be good. She’d be rewarded in the end, wouldn’t she? Rewarded for her patience, forgiven her transgressions. 

Everything would be okay. 

He liked her. He’d said it again and again, hadn’t he? He liked her, so it was… it was fine.

But it hadn’t been fine. Not really. 

Everyone disappointed her in the end.

No one ever forgave her like they were supposed to.

She blinked once and then again, her eyes stinging as she wiped the damp of rainwater from her face with the back of her hands, sniffling.

Why was she thinking about all this again?

It was in the past and it hadn’t been real at all. None of it really mattered.

All that mattered now was finding him.

She was needed, necessary, she had to find him before it was too late, save him from himself. She was the only one who could do it. He needed her to make him well again, to make him whole again, even if he didn’t understand that yet.

He’d understand soon enough.

Soon enough he’d understand that Hinata Hajime had been nothing but an awful lie. That he was just as alone and unwanted as she had been. That there was nothing left for him but her.

That he needed her… even if no one else did.

She scrambled back off the bed and hurried from the room, her mind already racing with questions:

Where would he be?

What place would call him back again and again?

The hotel?

The amusement park?

The central island?

The beach?

The other beach? 

It was an island. Shouldn't there have been more beaches?

Where would he be?

Where would he go?

How had he died? She’d seen his wounds, the ones on his bare legs and thighs, the bloodstains on his stolen shirt, but they told her nothing about where he’d been when they happened. 

Had he been murdered?

Executed?

Did it matter?

Where?

Where should she look first?

"It's fine, you'll figure it out, I believe in you, pupupu!"

"Oh, thank you! Yes, yes, of course, I'll find him. I'll help him, you'll see. You won't be disappointed!" She smiled, ringing out her hair as she hobbled back across the room to the door.

It was fine.

She’d find him eventually.

After all, they had nothing but time. 

As the door fell closed behind her and Nagito allowed himself to take a deep, shuddering breath that shifted the pile of blankets he’d hidden himself beneath and sent some of the papers fluttering to the floor.

Seemed his luck was still good after all.

Chapter Text

“All I want is someone who likes me."
"All I want is a clear sign," I said.
"All I want is a magical horse that fits in my pocket," Wil said. "And a ring of red amber that gives me power over demons. And an endless supply of cake.”
― Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man's Fear

+++
DAY THREE
-continued-

He couldn’t stop laughing.

The sound of her clumping up and down the hallway was stirring panic to hysteria in his chest and he couldn’t stop the flow of laughter bubbling up past his lips. He’d buried his face against his bare knees, terribly conscious of the fact that there wasn’t really anywhere left to hide.

There never had been, really.

The hall had been so long, so long, but every door had only led to another room identical to the last.

Another and another and another, each room was just as cluttered as the last. The same bed, the same bank of windows, the same curtains and boxes and disused equipment, everything just exactly the same as the last down to the tape dispenser he’d thrown at one of windows in the seventh or eighth iteration of the room he’d entered that was now lying discarded on the floor.

Each room had been an exact copy of the on-call room from the hospital or at least he thought so, he wasn’t sure. It hadn’t really been important at the time and so he hadn’t paid it as much mind as he had some of the other rooms. He remembered the patient rooms, the conference room, even the lobby, but his memory of the on-call room… was vague at best. The rest he’d needed to remember in case Hinata didn’t… but the on-call room had been… unnecessary. He remembered the bed and the windows and that it had been stuffed full of junk, but that was it. And after he’d died… well, he’d avoided the hospital on general principle. He’d spent more than enough time in hospitals in his life. So he hadn’t had any intention of spending whatever the heck this was in one as well.

The irony was spectacular, really.

He’d run and run, crashing into room after room, slamming into windows, throwing things, searching for… something, anything that was different, that would help, but there was nothing. Just more of the same, over and over again until he realized he was on the second floor standing in front of the last room.

The end of the line.

And now he was trapped.

Completely and utterly trapped in this hospital, in this room, in this… whatever it was.

Because whatever this was, it wasn’t what he’d thought.

It couldn’t be.

Not if he was right about Hinata.

Not if he was right about her.

There were no exits, just doors and more doors and windows that didn’t open, wouldn’t break.

There was no way out.

There was only her.

Always her.

Her and the sudden persistence of memory seeping into his skin as if he were some demented child’s coloring book and someone kept scribbling blood across his pages, sloppily filling in all the bits he’d been missing. Slowly erasing whatever had been done to him to… fix him, to reset him to who he’d been before all that despair.

And it was terrifying.

And he didn’t know how to make it stop.

It had been little things at first.

He pressed a door open and he’d remember doing laundry late at night because someone had poured ink down the back of his gym uniform. Sitting on the table in a t-shirt and shorts, waiting for the cycle to finish, staring up at the ceiling and wondering if this meant he would have good luck the next day. If he would be able to score well on his English test even though he hadn’t bothered to study.

He’d rattle a window and he’d remember watching the reserve course students run laps. Remember thinking how much they looked like ants trudging about their mundane, simple lives in neat orderly lines of black and white. He often wondered if the school instructed them to run past the main building each day on purpose. Whether it was a reminder to them that the rest of the world was less special than they or if it was a reminder to the reserve class of the heights they could never attain.

Either way it seemed needlessly cruel. 

Reality was what it was after all.

What was the point of rubbing it in?

It seemed so stupid at first.

Pointless.

But it kept happening again and again, over and over. He made an attempt at escape and he was greeted by some new fragment, some new useless, pointless sliver of memory trivia.

Cutting his hair because someone had put gum in it.

The family accountant stealing away with his inheritance, but getting in a horrific bus accident two days later so all the money had been recovered by investigators… only there had been a lot more than what he should have had in the accounts. He remembered trying to tell the investigators that it wasn’t his, but they’d signed it over to him anyway with condescending smiles.

Stealing cheap jewelry from a department store because he’d liked the way it glittered.

Bashing someone’s head in with a baseball bat, watching it burst and crack and ooze all over the sidewalk, splattering across his cuffs, his shoes, spray doting his shirt, his face. Hitting it over and over until there had been nothing left but mush. How his arms and back had ached after, how hard it had been to catch his breath.

It just kept going, on and on, each new memory as bad or strange or nauseating as the last.

Memories of maggots on his skin, of his head ringing with pain again and again.

Memories of easy conversations with a girl he didn’t know.

Anonymous sex with people he couldn’t see or feel or care about.

The caress of a blade slicing across his thighs and the memory of his own laughter ringing in his ears again and again as if the whole world was funny or nothing ever was.

He just wanted it to stop.

But it didn’t.

He couldn’t stop hoping that if not this door or this window then maybe the next or the next or the next would be his answer.

But it wasn’t.

He kept running and the memories kept coming, falling down like rain, too fast to make much sense of some of them.

And she was always right there, just out of sight, calling out to him, pushing him through exhaustion towards the looming threat of despair, her uneven steps echoing all around him.

He’d stumbled up the stairs to the second floor shooed along by those footsteps and that voice, still searching for an escape route and finding nothing.

Nothing but dead ends and increasingly vile memories lying in wait like rusty, bear traps.

And then he’d reached the last room.

The last room and it had been just like all the others. So he’d locked the door and sat down against it, too exhausted to go even a step further and he’d thought that at least those memories would stop coming.

But they hadn’t.

It hadn’t even mattered that he wasn’t trying anymore, because those memories just kept coming anyway, slipping inside, worse and worse each time even though he’d reached the end of the line and all there was left to do was sit slumped, defeated, against the last door in the last room, laughing.

The tiles were unpleasantly cool against his bare ass.

He was sure pressing his back against the door wouldn’t actually keep the door closed, wouldn’t really keep her out if she found a way around the lock, but he couldn’t quite convince himself to give up that last token piece of resistance, to give in just because it seemed inevitable.

No, he’d cling to hope until the last moment even if he really was little more than the last rat left on a sinking ship, digging his nails into the hull and holding on until the water swallowed him up.

It was pathetic, really. 

He was pathetic.

Filthy and wretched and hardly worth the air he was breathing. 

He could almost feel her hands on him again, fingers tracing up his thighs with nails sharp enough to bleed him dry.

He shifted uncomfortably, squirming away from the phantom sensation, his sweaty skin peeling unpleasantly off the tile.

Panic rose again, sharp and vile.

Where were his pants?

Had he taken them off himself? Or had she?

He kept grasping for that terrible blankness, that placid emptiness he felt sometimes where everything was numb and nothing much mattered, but he couldn’t find it anywhere.

It was just… gone.

Gone like Hinata.

Gone like his pants.

Gone like whatever claim he’d ever had on sanity, maybe.

He could feel everything and it was awful.

Why?

What was the point?

He was supposed to be dead, wasn't he?

So, why was she there?

It was one thing to imagine Hinata, but she… she wasn’t… she wasn’t anything to him. Not really. Nothing but a bad taste in his mouth, a strange voice in his ear, a knife…

+++

He was screaming, fingers clawing at the air, unable to find purchase, screaming again as agony flashed up his arm as he attempted again and again to flex fingers that were no longer there. Fingers that weren’t his, fingers he could see, but never feel.

His screams were barely more than croaking groans, the stuff of horror films come to life, gasped into the stale air.

Everything hurt, but his side most of all, lava running molten and terrible in his veins. She’d said something about an infection, but he hadn’t been able to understand much of it.

It all just sounded like gobbley gook and since he’d lost his voice to screaming days before there had been no way to ask her for water, to tell her that he was pretty sure he had a fever. He couldn’t stop shivering and his throat burned and there was no relief.

Sometimes she gave him something for the pain… when she remembered.

She fretted mostly, pacing back and forth mumbling to herself about options and treatment plans and sometimes she seemed to forget he was there, but that was probably fair. Sometimes he forgot she was there too. Sometimes it was because he was so high that time seemed to stretch like taffy, gooey and thinning the more he tried to tame it, control it. Other times the pain was so much that it was all there was.

There weren’t a lot of times like this. Times where he was somewhere in-between.

It was funny, really.

Her hair was dirty, hanging in limp uneven clumps around her face as she moved, swaying and jerking with each step. She yanked on it every once in a while. Sometimes she ripped out little clumps, but if she noticed she gave no sign except to wiggle her fingers so the bits of hair fell away to the filthy, bloodstained carpet of the hotel room she was using as a makeshift recovery suite.

“I’ll have to drain it and pack the wound, it’s the only thing to do otherwise the infection might ruin everything.” She was just suddenly there, hovering over him with a scalpel and the beginnings of a crooked smile tugging at her lips, “I’m sorry, beloved. T-This might sting a little.”

+++

The memory of pain followed him back to the dark room and he clapped his good hand against his mouth to muffle a moan.

He couldn’t quite bring himself to pull his numb arm away from where it was trapped between his chest and his bent legs, too afraid that it wouldn’t be his. That it would be… that it would be… that he would be….

What had he… what... why… why did this keep… why did he keep seeing those things…?

Why?

Why?

Why?

+++

“It’ll be like therapy,” he explained, his hands spread wide across the table like a peace offering. “It just kind of… allows you an opportunity to make connections, build a support system.”

Nagito couldn’t help the smile that tugged across his chapped lips. Such a fanciful thought, such a hopeful thought, that all they needed was friends.

He liked it.

Liked that foolish hope shining so brightly behind the eyes of this cheap imitation. “You really believe it will help us?” He asked smiling and he wasn’t sure if it looked real or like a cheap put on, wasn’t even sure which was actually true.

He looked surprised. Was he the only one who had asked? Or simply the first he’d talked to about it. He hadn’t seen the others, but he knew they were here. Some of them, whoever had endured, he supposed.

It didn’t really matter all that much who had and who hadn’t before, but now with this new shiny hopeful something glittering before him, he wondered.

“I think it’s a chance,” he replied slowly and Nagito sighed despondently as he dropped his head back against the back of the chair.

It was so difficult to get excited about such a wishy-washy answer.

Just seemed lazy really.

Wasn’t this one supposed to be lucky? 

Of course, he hadn’t ever seemed particularly lucky.

Or at least not lucky like he was lucky, caught in a spin cycle between good luck and bad never able to experience one without the other escalating the situation over and over again. 

No, he’s just been… a bit of a let down, really.

Just ordinary.

A pale imitation or something else entirely, he wasn’t sure.

He….

He hadn’t… had he known him? It seemed like he had. Seen him. Talked with him. Something. There was….

His head hurt.

His head almost always hurt, a dull ache that never quite subsided or sharp, throbbing needlepoints of pain scattering dancing puzzle pieces across his vision, making the world around him swim with colors and static and hate.

He wanted to leave.

Why were they keeping him here?

Who was that?

Who was he?

Why had he come here? There was something… someone….

His hands didn’t match.

Was this a dream?

Why…?

A terrible whine burned his throat and he scrapped the fingers of his good hand frantically against the pale, slim stranger’s hand he couldn’t really feel at all.

A girl’s hand, her perfect, poison apple red polish glistening in the bright florescent light.

He had to get it off.

His fingers scrambled at his bare arm, at the mound of scarred misshapen flesh where two different shades of pale met.

“What are you…?” Hands reached out to stall him as his short, blunt fingernails carved divots in that flesh. “Oh, hey, no, stop, please don’t do that. It’s okay, we can… you’re gonna to hurt yourself, you….”

Someone was screaming.

No, laughing.

Someone was laughing, but it sounded like screaming.

A door burst open, slamming against the wall, there was shouting, voices snarling hate and rage and the clatter of chairs hitting the floor; the smack and thump of too many footsteps echoing in a too small space.

“You were told not to meet with them alone! What the hell were you thinking taking off the restraints? Do you have any idea who he is? What he’s done?”

“He’s not- what are you doing? Don’t! He’s- you’re going to hurt him! Let me just-”

Motherfucker!

“Don’t hurt him!”

“Don’t hurt him? That little fucker bit me!”

“Stop it! What are you doing? What- you can’t just-”

The give of flesh beneath his teeth is as fresh in his mind as the taste of blood lingering in his mouth and the ringing in his ears. There were hands on his shoulders, on his arms, forcing him down until his cheek hit the cool, smooth surface of the table hard enough to jar a cry from his lips. They twisted his arms around behind his back as a pinprick of pain spiked in his throat and everything began to fade out. A feeling like wool blankets leaping up to wrap round and round, suffocating him within their scratchy folds. He can feel the table beneath him, the rough hands above him, but his muscles feel like pudding, his brain is slowly circling a drain, the drag of water pulling it round and round, closer to the dark fall at the end.

Round and round.

“-angerous! You think just because you’re valuable to the Foundation that you can do whatever you want? Do you have any idea-“

He had to move.

“You have no idea what it’s like! It’s not their fault!”

To get away.

“…class with her, but you didn’t-“

To go.

“…on’t know what it’s like-“

To…

“-won’t let you…”

Had to…

“…make people feel better-“

Had….

“-better off dead.”

+++

Dead.

That word dogged his heels as silence hemmed him in and darkness swallowed him down.

Rain fell like bullets against the window glass.

The wind crashed and rattled against them as if it were some great monster trying to figure out a way inside.

His heart leapt into his throat, lodging there as the door handle jiggled above him, once and then again. “Mister Komaeda? It’s time for you to take your medicine. Mister Komaeda, are you in there?”

Nails scratched loud across the surface and he could almost feel the pressure against his spine, tracing sharp over each bump.

“Just go away, please go away,” he sobbed brokenly, the words muffled to inaudibility against the dusty taste of his palm. “Just leave me alone, leave, just leave. I don’t want to play anymore, I don’t. Please just leave me alone. Please. Please.

+++

He’d screamed and squirmed and writhed as the saw bit into the flesh of his forearm with a terrible squelching noise.

What they’d given him hadn’t been enough, not nearly enough and he could feel everything.

Hear everything.

Smell everything.

The wet splatter of blood, the scent of copper and burning as the motor screeched and stuttered protest as the saw blade sliced through flesh and sinew and then caught and gnawed at bone. The world was blurry and he struggled futilely, kitten weak, to escape from the hands holding him down, from the live wire his body had become, conducting agony, sharp and all-consuming black and red hysteria, throbbing across the back of his eyelids, across the ceiling above him as he strained and fought to get away, away, away.

He was sure he was screaming, still screaming, his jaw cracked open wide enough to split his face, but he couldn’t hear it, couldn’t hear anything beyond the whir of the saw and the squeal and grind of the blade against his bones.

“Jesus fucking wept,” a voice snapped, shouting to be heard. “I freaking told you we should have knocked him out!”

“We tried knocking him out! All that drug did was make him loopy and hitting him just made him laugh!”

“You can do this, Komaeda! You’re a man, aren’t you? Suck it up!”

“We’re sawing his fucking arm off, Nidai! I don’t think a pep talk is gonna help!”

“The power of the human spirit is perseverance in the face of great hardship!”

“Yeah, yeah, dumbass, we’ve all heard the propaganda. You’re like a broken freaking record. Now shut the fuck up before I have Peko shave your sideburns off!”

“Would one of you just shove a freaking sock in his mouth already? If he keeps making that sound I’m just going to kill him myself and put him out of my misery.”

“Why don’t you shove a sock in his mouth, if you’re so damn keen? The rest of us are a little freaking busy at the moment, huh?”

“Fine, I will!”

Thick soft, salty cloth was pushed into his open mouth, too rough, too far, and he began to gag. He couldn’t close his mouth, couldn’t breath. He flailed his tongue against it uselessly, but he couldn’t push it out, every panicked movement, every scream just seemed pull it further in, further down his throat until it felt like he might swallow it, but there was too much, there was no end to it and it wouldn’t go down and it was everywhere and the more he tried to struggle, to cry out, to push it away, aside, the worse it got.

People were still shouting, but he couldn’t hear anything at all over the sound of his own silent, muffled, fading screams.

His fingers scrapped futilely, plaintively against the back of someone’s hand as his vision swam with more black than color.

Then big rough fingers were there, brushing across his face to pull the cloth free and toss it aside.

The saw spun and ground to a stop.

“It’s done,” a soft, clipped voice commented, loud in the sudden silence. “Bring the doctor. It’s time.”

Everything seemed very, very far away.

Everything except the pain which was close and white hot, radiating up his arm like a thousand tiny squirrels were nibbling away at everything from the shoulder down with viciously sharp teeth and claws. He tried to curl around it, but he couldn’t manage it.

His sweaty skin clung to the plastic they’d laid down over the covers, the springs of the cheap hotel bed squeaking protest as he struggled to move against restraints that pulled tight as his ankles, his stomach, his arms, legs.

It was so quiet he wasn’t sure where everywhere had gone, couldn’t quite manage to open his eyes enough to see. He kind of hoped he was alone when the first terrible grunting, hiccupping sob escaped his throat. When his teeth began clanking together, chattering like he was freezing even though everything seemed far too hot.

It was annoying, but he couldn’t seem to stop.

His hopes were dashed as laughter, high and childish, rang out. “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”

That’ll… fucking seriously, Saionji? Why are you even here?”

“Moral support.”

“Oh, fuck off. C’mon, let’s get out of here so they can get to work before he bleeds out or something.”

A door opened somewhere far away as big, rough fingers tousled his hair, “You did good, kid. You did real good.”

+++

The wind seemed louder now, howling outside the window, so loud it seemed like he shouldn’t be able to even hear himself think.

Mismatched footsteps lumbered away down the hall accompanied by that soft, murmuring voice.

Maybe she’d gotten bored with listening to him cry.

Not that it mattered.

She’d be back.

She always came back.

And the memories, they’d just keep coming back too, more and more and faster and faster, triggered by… what? Stray thoughts? Silence? Luck? All he really knew for certain was that they were getting worse.

Worse and worse and he couldn’t understand the point.

Was this really Hell after all?

But that didn’t make sense did it, not… not if Hinata was…

Nothing made any sense.

They couldn’t both be real.

Not unless Hinata was dead too and even then… even then it didn’t make any sense.

He was missing something. He had to be missing something.

He…

He’d really liked detective novels best.

He’d read dozens and dozens when he was in the hospital, because he liked them and they were easy to find used.

He could usually guess who’d done it, most of the time.

Not always though.

Sometimes it was because the novel had been really clever, more often it was because the author had left out some critical piece of information and it felt like a cheat, a cheap trick, like watching a bad magician pick an obvious plant out of the audience.

It wasn’t his talent, of course, but he’d still thought it’d helped a little during the killing game.

He’d liked investigating, liked it best when Hinata had been with him, but… mostly he’d just liked it. Figuring out the who and the how and the why, thinking about how best to use the information he had to create a greater challenge for them and how to use it to help when it was necessary.

It was… really fun.

He’d really liked that part of the game, especially those moments during the trial when it felt like he and Hinata were the only ones playing and sometimes… sometimes he thought he’d seen the hint of a smile on his face, like he was really enjoying himself too. And he’d thought in those moments that they weren’t so different.

Of course, he’d immediately realized how foolish such a thought was, because they were all so fantastic and surely they’d have managed to find their answers without his meager contributions. Still, it had still been fun to pretend, even if it was only for a little while.

But during the last investigation, after he’d found out the truth about them, about himself… it hadn’t been fun anymore.

Nothing had been fun anymore.

This wasn’t much fun either.

It just… didn’t make any sense.

Why now? Why was he thinking about this, remembering all these things now?

Were they even really all memories? Wasn’t it just as liking that they were just delusions rather than actual memories? Wasn’t that more likely with the way they kept jarring loose and falling to the ground like coconuts?

But if they were memories…

Why now?

What had changed?

He’d been there for a long time, hadn’t he?

Such a long, long time just… stuck. Stuck in a moment that never ended, reliving the same stupid day over and over and over again and then… and then…

Hinata.

It didn’t make sense, not really, but it was the only difference that had ever seemed to matter.

Hinata had come to see him again and again and then Hinata had overstayed his welcome and then the rain fell and everything began to change.

He began to change.

Was that what Hinata wanted?

“You’re special to me.”

He felt suddenly sick again, nauseous.

Was that why he’d been there? Was he doing this to him on purpose? Was that why he’d kept coming back again and again? Why he’d stayed with him on the beach, in the hall? Why he’d been willing to touch him in the first place? Why he’d said all those things?

Now that the idea was there he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Couldn’t stop it from spinning around and around in his head like a top.

Because it had never made sense, none of it had ever made sense, but he hadn’t… he hadn’t wanted to see it. It was easier to pretend that he was a delusion, just his wants and desires brought to life to torment him.

But if he wasn’t... then it didn’t make any sense at all.

He was… no one wanted him. Not really. No one ever had.

If this Hinata were real, if he wasn’t just his delusion then why would he do everything he had done?

What did he get out of it?

Out of leading him on?

Out of getting him off?

Out of pretending like he mattered? Like he was important?

Why would Hinata bother to act like he actually cared what happened to him?

What was the point?

What did he want?

Of course, that was only if he were real which… didn’t make any sense at all, did it?

Wasn’t it easier just to think it was all just… just… what?

“Get it together,” he grumbled, dashing an arm across his eyes, before letting his head drop back against his knees.

It didn’t matter.

None of this really mattered.

He was… he was dead.

Dead.

He remembered killing himself.

He remembered how much it hurt.

He couldn’t have survived that.

He’d made sure of that.

And if he were dead then it shouldn’t matter at all, nothing should.

Nothing.

Not even Hinata

So, why did everything still hurt? Why did he keep remembering all these things? Why was she here? Why was he? Why did he keep running, hoping?

What was he even hoping for at this point?

Why couldn’t he just let go?

Stop thinking about it, stop thinking about him?

Why had it hurt so badly to think that he might be a figment of his imagination?

Why did it hurt even more to think that he might not be? 

Why…?

What was he hoping for? 

“Can you really hope for anything like this?”

The thought floated up from somewhere deep inside like a single red balloon released to fly off into the sky to live out the last of its bitter, lonely existence.

“Shut up,” he whispered, thrusting his face harder against his bony knees.

“You’re no one and nothing, not worth even the flesh your features have been printed on. Are you even a person like this? Bits and pieces melting away to reveal the dark underbelly, the despairing horror of who you once were. Letting it bleed through into your welcoming body. You won’t be able to stop it, you know. You won’t be able to do anything, but…”

+++ “Just shut up!” +++

He was standing in the third floor hall at Hope’s Peak outside the game room and he felt sick, sick and exhausted by the outburst and his hand was clenched tight in his sweater. He was too hot, sweat gathering at the stiff white collar of his shirt and rolling cool and unbidden down his back. He shivered as a sudden chill gripped him, his cheeks felt numb, his tongue swollen as if he’d bitten it. His mouth was dry and he was breathing too much, too heavily. He could tell he was scaring him, but he… he didn’t know how to stop.

He hadn’t come here to scare him, didn’t want to, didn’t.

That wasn’t… he’d… he’d come here… he’d come here…

Her.

Right. He’d come here to warn him about her, because she was in their class now, his class, and so she was going to do... something. Something... he didn’t know the whole plan, the full plan, but with a little bit of luck he could still foil it.

Just… just a little luck, that was all he needed.

So he thought… he thought… he thought….

Had they always had a pool table in there?

His father had had a pool table. He’d scratched the delicate green felt surface and though he couldn’t really remember what the sting of the belt had felt like, he could remember curling his fingers around one of those shiny balls years later when there had been no one left to stop him or caution him or care. Curling his fingers around the smooth surface and pitching it out the fancy stained glass window that had dominated the room.

He’d cut his arm accidentally on purpose with on one of the broken pieces when he’d picked it up off the lawn sometime later.

The scar was thin and white. They’d thought he was trying to kill himself. It wasn’t the first time he’d been checked in for observation. It had been the last. He’d been more careful after.

Killing yourself wasn’t very hopeful at all.

Or maybe it hadn’t been a window he’d broken at all or a ball he’d thrown. No, maybe it had been a painting and he’d torn through it with a thrown broken cue and found a safe behind it and the code had been his birthday and inside there had been another million yen and a diamond as big as his little toe.

He was lucky, after all.

Which was true? Either? Both? None of the above?

What was the right answer?

Was there a right answer?

Had there ever been?

Did it matter?

Did he?

“Are you okay?”

He blinked, looking up to meet his gaze and he wasn’t sure how long he’d been standing there lost in his own thoughts, but that… that one was still standing there, lingering beside him even though all his friends had already gone on ahead to class.

Why?

Why had he stayed?

Why had he bothered?

Pity?

Curiosity?

Did it matter?

Did he care?

Probably not.

“You’re Komaeda Nagito, right?”

He nodded and it was a quick, jerky, flapping motion like his head was on rusty hinge. He could almost hear the creak.

He was smiling at him. Really smiling. Smiling like he wasn’t weird at all, like he was glad to see him, spend time with him. Smiling at him like he was a person, a normal person, not scary or gross or off-putting.

“I’m Naegi Makoto. I’ve always wanted to meet you. Someone else who was like me, you know?”

He stepped back, shaking his head quickly, his other hand coming up to cradle his aching stomach, “We aren’t. Alike, I mean. I’m… I’m not… I’m…”

His head hurt. His head always hurt these days, like there were tiny trolls hammering at his temples, ringing bells in his brain.

His smile faltered. Of course, it did. He was weird. He was weird and he couldn’t be normal and he couldn’t do this. What had he been thinking? He wasn’t… wasn’t…

“Oh, um, okay, sorry, I just… you’re lucky too, right?”

That was funny, really funny, wasn’t it? That must be why he was laughing, but the sound seemed wrong, squealing and broken like a record scratching and Naegi’s eyes seemed to get bigger as if he were surprised or amazed and that just made him laugh that much harder.

He couldn’t do this. Why had he thought he could?

“You’re not lucky,” he had managed after a moment, the laughter dying a sudden and unremarkable death consumed by sudden sobriety. “You’re not lucky at all.”

Now he just looked confused.

“What do you mean?” He asked, like he really wanted to know.

He hadn’t remembered stepping close, but he must have because his fingers were trembling and caught in the smooth fabric of Naegi Makoto’s shirt. He leaned close, so close that his chapped lips were brushing and catching at the shell of his ear, his short dark hair tickling his cheek.

He smelled like boy and lunch and pineapples.

Why pineapples?

He could feel him try to flinch away from him, but he hadn’t loosened his grip at all so Naegi wasn’t quite able to pull away. “You should never have come here. If you were really lucky, you’d never have been chosen at all.”

“What are you doing?” A stiff, irritated voice demanded and Nagito ducked back, releasing Naegi and stumbling away from the hand that might have settled against his shoulder.

“So, so sorry, Mr. Principal,” he forced a smile he didn’t feel to his lips as he waved his hands vaguely, unsure what he was trying to convey. “Was I being too loud again?”

The faceless, dark-haired man shrugged his featureless shoulders, “No, but you’re supposed to be in class, Mr. Komaeda. As are you, Mr. Naegi.”

“No sir, I was just on my way to the nurse’s office for my treatment,” Nagito replied, his face felt as if it might break into pieces at any moment. He wasn’t altogether sure it wasn’t already cracking apart, bits of brittle flesh falling away in flakes and flecks. His cheeks felt numb and fat, like they’d been injected with Novocain, so he probably wouldn’t even know until he saw pieces of himself scattered like corn flakes across the floor below, fragments of his chin or cheeks stuck fast to his worn sweater. “I’m very sick you know.”

The faceless man seemed to sigh, his shoulders slumping as if what he’d said had depressed him. He had that effect on people sometimes, even when he didn’t mean to. He really was just the most worthless slime to ever ooze across the earth. What was it she said? He was like her horseman of Despair, spreading it like a pestilence to any life he touched even when he didn’t intend to.

He didn’t want that.

This.

Didn’t… probably, but it was….

He shivered, clutching his stomach as it gurgled and cramped, burbling and uncomfortable. Had he eaten today? Yesterday? He wasn’t sure, wasn’t even really sure what day it was, week, month? May, maybe? June?

He needed… he needed to go, but… but… there had been something he had wanted to say, something important, something….

+++

The hall faded away and he was on the floor again, a misspent life away from that day.

What had he been trying to do?

He’d thought… he’d been part of Ultimate Despair, hadn’t he?

They all had, but he’d….

Nothing made any sense.

Who was he? Who had he been? Who was he supposed to be?

Why did it matter?

Did it still matter?

Things had made sense before… when he’d been with Hinata things had been… better.

Easier.

Cleaner.

Hadn’t they?

He’d been distracted at least. It had been easy to just be in the moment, to not think to hard about the whys and wherefores and whodunits.

Why hadn’t he just stayed with him?

If he’d just stayed maybe none of this would have…

Or if it did, at least he would have been there.

Or maybe… maybe this was all his fault.

Maybe he’d filled in all the hollowed out places in his brain where there was nothing and no one anymore. Filled in the faded edges of memory with color and sound and distinction, made them real again, made them hurt again. Maybe he’d raised a whole world around him, within him, a piece at a time with songs and touches and all those stupid words. Maybe he’d coaxed the memories back in.

Why had he done that?

Had he done that?

Some of it?

All of it?

None of it?

There were so many things he didn’t know, didn’t understand.

He just kept going in circles. Round and round. Locked doors and endless halls and the same questions and no answers.

Where was the truth?

Was there a truth to be found at all?

Hinata was real.

Hinata was a lie.

Hinata was here.

Hinata was fantasy.

Was he dreaming Hinata or was Hinata dreaming him?

Did it even matter what was true?

What was the point?

Were they just fulfilling childish, ill-conceived fantasies?

Was it only about fragile intimacy and messy release?

Teasing words?

Pointless arguments?

Sloppy kisses?

Hinata’s fingers brushing against his ticklish feet?

Had any of it been real?

Had any of it meant anything?

The frantic worry he’d felt as he’d fished Hinata out of the water.

The way Hinata had pressed that towel so gently against his skin as if he were made of spun glass… as if he were something precious.

The way he’d felt when he’d woken up on the beach to find Hinata’s shirt still wrapped around him like a promise.

The feel of the glass of the jukebox cracking beneath his fist, pain springing to life in the soles of his feet, sitting with him in the hall, the ocean, the beach, the bridge, the hotel room and Hinata’s fingers in his chest making him feel... feel.

Feel.

He couldn’t help but think that if he could just… just see him… if he could just talk to Hinata again than he would be able to make sense of it, that all those discordant notes would finally string themselves together into a melody he could understand.

If he could just…

But that was silly, wasn’t it?

He’d started laughing again at some point or maybe he’d never really stopped.

That was probably for the best though.

If he ever did manage to stop laughing, he was pretty sure he’d start screaming instead. Or maybe crying or maybe he’d just throw up in the corner, bite his own tongue off and hope he bled out before she got through the door to stop him.

Maybe he’d wake up on the beach again.

Maybe Hinata was still there, still waiting for him to come back.

That was a nice thought.

Maybe…

"Komaeda?"

He’d thought he was imagining it at first.

That croaking whisper was just barely audible beneath the sound of his own hysterical laughter as he sat up straighter against the door, his numb hand still cradled against his chest.

"Hinata?"

"You okay?" Came the ridiculous reply.

He wasn’t okay, he was pretty sure he’d never been anything like okay in his life, but… somehow he wasn’t the least bit surprised that Hinata had chosen to phrase it that way.

He didn’t understand him, he probably never would, but he knew him.

It was easy to doubt in the moments in between, but… caring about him even when he had given him every reason not to, every reason to hate him, to see him as the filthy trash he was and yet still, after everything, he knew Hinata would always, always, always… care enough to pretend.

Even when he hated him, he still cared.

That wasn’t hopeful at all.

That was just stupid.

But that was Hinata.

He didn’t want a useless, forgettable, no talent, ordinary everyday loser like Hinata Hajime to pity him like that.

He didn’t.

And yet, for some reason, he couldn’t stop smiling.

Hinata really was just the very worst protagonist ever.

What was he even still doing there?

If this was all a dream… if Hinata was real… why didn’t he just go? Just leave? Why hadn’t he woken up?

He wasn’t… he wasn’t anything worth caring about, but he was still special, talented, in a way Hinata Hajime never could be, never would be, but he still wasn’t… worth this kind of effort. He never had been. They were different, so different, like the sun and sea.

The whole situation was… hopeless.

They were hopeless.

They were really, really hopeless.

He couldn’t be saved.

He was already dead.

“You’re special to me.”

But that… that was Hinata, wasn’t it?

Hinata wanted to be special, hadn’t he? He’d admired talent.

What was more special than a hero?

He laughed again eyes clenched shut as the truth finally, finally, finally found a home in his chest as bile rose in his throat, strangling that laughter until it turned into a great wrenching cough.

Only the real thing could ever make him feel like this.

He really hated that about him.

Pieces were falling, slotting into place and he couldn’t quite see the whole picture yet, couldn’t quite reach that final truth, but this… this at least he knew.

This he could understand.

This he could play along with.

Just… just for a little while, until Hinata finally realized the truth and left him alone for good.

"Wonderful," he managed finally, muffling his cough against the back of his good hand. "You?" 

"Yeah, I'm really great.” There was a soft laugh. Hinata sounded as tired as he felt, "I really hate this place."

"Yeah, me too,” he replied on a sigh.

On this, at least, they could agree.

Funny.

His chest ached as he dropped his head back to rest against the wall, staring up at the white ceiling, panels pockmarked with tiny holes. He imagined spiders living inside them, hatching and crawling out on long, hairy, spindly legs, thousands and thousands streaming across the ceiling, climbing down the wall to eat him alive.

“I'm so tired of hospitals. Seems like I live in the revolving door, never quite managing to leave before I’m back all over again. Are you in my head?"

He’s not sure why he asked, what he expected in answer.

Hinata snorted.

It was a funny sort of sound, one that made his lips quirk and his stomach tremble in response even before Hinata actually replied, "Don’t be stupid, I’m right here.”

And if he closed his eyes, he could almost pretend he was. Could almost, almost believe that he was right there, close enough to reach out and touch if he wanted. He could almost see the tight-lipped smile that would curve across his lips, almost feel the press of his forehead as it fell against his shoulder.

That soft, strange thought made him squirm a little, uncomfortable in his own skin.

It was easier when he was thinking nasty things about him. Sex things. So much simpler to imagine jerking him off or licking down his spine, pressing his cheeks apart and licking inside and…

Huh.

He couldn’t quite picture it.

The words were there, rattling around in his head like coins in an empty jar, but the fantasy was flat and lifeless, lying limp and impotent in his head. It didn’t consume him, didn’t distract him.

It was… nothing.

Boring.

Silly almost, like a child playing dress up in too large, ill-fitting clothes pretending at a life he didn’t know.

Instead there was only the imagined reality of Hinata’s breath blowing warm against the shell of his ear, Hinata’s lips pressing chaste kisses against his hair, cool fingers tangling with his own, gripping hard. It was as if the imagined weight of Hinata’s head falling against his shoulder had broken something within him, left him raw and bleeding fantasy all over the cool tiles.

Still, he found himself smiling in response, soft and teasing and it… it felt good. It was easier to talk with him like this. Easier than it had ever been when they were face to face, when Hinata was actually close enough to touch. “I don’t see you. Are you sure you’re not just in my head?”

“Quit it. It’s dark as hell so there’s nothing to see and why would I joke about something like that?” Hinata replied and suddenly he sounded… confused, uncertain, almost nervous, as if he’d just been told a joke and suspected he might be the punch line.

“It isn’t dark where I am or at least not that dark anyway. Are you in the conference room? That’s a terrible hiding place," he murmured, though he remembered too late that there wasn't a conference room anymore. Not here. 

He wasn't sure what options that left. 

It made him feel like Hinata was right.

Like maybe he was in on the joke after all.

It made him feel sick, more uncomfortable than before, the hesitation in Hinata's voice. He’d heard a lot of jokes like that over the years, mean jokes, the kind that hurt, but he’d never been one to tell them.

Well… probably never.

Maybe never, but it was hard to know for sure because everything wasn’t where he’d left it and he still didn’t know enough and he probably never would.

It wasn’t as if he even really wanted to. So maybe he had been that sort of person when he had been lost in despair, when he had broken beneath the pressure of his life, when he had been hers.

Whose?

“Me,” that soft, insidious voice called from just beyond the closed door, the click and clack of heels had paused and he could almost feel the press of a slim hand against his back, nails digging into his spine as the doorknob rattled.

His head ached.

“You were, you know,” she continued, casually, as if they were speaking of the weather. Words crawling like worms through the wood, boring through the door to slip past the imagined warmth of Hinata into his ear. “Mine, I mean. You cast so many into despair in the search for your precious hope. Oooo… do you want to hear all about it? I wouldn’t mind telling you. We have time, you know, we have all the time in the world. I…”

He shook his head, quick and violent, hissing a reply beneath his breath. “Go away, stop, you’re not real… you’re not anything.”

“Oh, come on, Nagito, don’t be such a party pooper. Maybe you’d like it better if I told you all about him instead? Boring little nobody Hinata Hajime?” Her voice turned sly, slick as oil, “Or maybe you’d rather hear about Kamukura Izuru?”

Kamukura.

Izuru.

He’d heard that name before. Somewhere….

Oh.

Right.

He remembered the way Hinata had changed. In the bed, on the bridge, in the hallway staring down at him with eyes that felt nothing as he swallowed around him.

Izuru.

Who was Hinata Hajime?

Why did he have something like that living inside him?

What was he?

+++

The boat creaked.

It didn’t seem like it should have. It wasn’t old or rickety, but something was creaking all the same beneath the purr of the distant engine, the constant slap of the water against the hull.

He’d been sleeping and his head was muddy, thick and slow, and his mouth tasted like cotton, sticky and dry. The constant motion made him feel a little sick, dizzy, made it difficult to focus. He reached out a hand to steady himself and winced as old pain shot up his arm like electricity. He didn’t cry out, but it was a close thing. He hadn’t been expecting it, but he was used to that sort of thing.

Used to it, because he… it had been like this for a long time, hadn’t it?

“Where…?” The question came out more croak than word.

Silence and the splash and slap of ocean waves were his only answer.

He opened his eyes, gazing out the window beside him at the deep blue sea stretching out to meet the perfect blue of the sky beyond. Not a cloud in the sky. He wondered if it were warm out there. If it was that warmth couldn’t reach him at all. 

It was the soft rustle of cloth that alerted him to the fact that he wasn’t alone. He turned his head to find the source of the noise sitting in a dark corner as far from the bright sunlight shining through the window as one could be and still be in the metal box of a room in which they were… trapped?

No, maybe ‘trapped’ wasn’t the right word.

He seemed to vaguely recall agreeing to get on the boat even though he didn’t remember coming abroad.

Maybe locked was more appropriate, because he was pretty sure that door would almost definitely be locked.

For a moment the person sitting there seemed as if he weren’t even really a person at all, but just darkness weaved into a person’s shape, but once his eyes adjusted to the dim he saw it was just a man, young, maybe his age. He was sprawled like a broken doll leaning against the wall, his hands were pale and open in his lap, black-clad legs spreading like shadows across the floor. Long dark hair fell around him, over him, like a blanket, spilling across the metal floor in swirls and swoops like ink, like the characters of a language he couldn’t understand. His features were lost in shadow, turned to the wall he leaned against and further obscured by all that dark hair.

He watched him sleep for a long time, occasionally jostled by the pitch of an unexpected wave.

It was…weirdly peaceful, if kind of boring.

At least the view was nice.

Eventually his companion stirred, slowly, the first sign that he was waking up was that his hands had fallen away from his lap to brace against the floor, leaning first this way then that as if trying to get his bearings, gather his wits, before raising his head.

He was beautiful and he had the strangest expression on his face. It wasn't quite a smile, not exactly. It was like the prelude to a smile, the twitch of muscles trying to bring an honest expression to a lie.

It reminded him, absurdly, of Shingetsu Nagisa.

When he’d still been playing servant to those hopeless children, he’d noticed little things about them. He’d rarely cared enough for it to matter, but he noticed them all the same. Sometimes something would happen, a child would kill an adult in a particular way or Monaca would show them some off-hand, unintentional crumb of kindness or approval and the others would smile or grin, but Nagisa would always hesitate, lingering on the cusp of happiness as if he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe it was real, that it was safe to react to it in such a blatant way. But the idea of joy would linger across his lips, a subtle twitch before vanishing back into his usual scowl.

Still, because he watched, because he noticed, he could tell he was happy, that he had enjoyed whatever had happened.

This was a bit like that. Though he didn’t think it was fear that was holding his smile back. It was more like he didn’t know how as if the mechanism that allowed him to smile was broken.

It was interesting.

"Do you...like ships?" He asked, suddenly when his companion opened his eyes at last.

Awkward. So awkward.

He could see a note of confusion in the way his brow furrowed just ever so slightly as he looked at him as he turned to stare at him.

His eyes were red, red as apples or blood or the nails on his left hand.

They were disconcerting, but that was kind of nice too.

The sudden scrutiny made him feel nervous and he laughed, but just made him feel more awkward. 

"You looked like you were having fun, so that's what I assumed... You do like ships, right?"

"...Ships?" Came the slow, almost cautious reply. Fingers brushed against that furrowed forehead, before dropping to press against the floor again as the boat dipped and swayed around them. "Ah, that's right...that's it. So this is a ship." 

He laughed again, surprised. It felt a little easier that time, more natural. "You just realized that now?" 

"...is it really that funny?" He asked, as if he were honestly curious as if the concept of humor escaped him entirely.

It wasn't and it was, but something about how he’d said that made him feel embarrassed about it, made him feel uncertain like maybe he didn’t understand why he’d found it funny either and just like that the laughter was gone, all dried up like a spill of water in the sun.

Silence lingered between them and as he watched the interest in those strange eyes died away and they were as flat and dead as his own eyes looked sometimes when he stared too long at his reflection in the mirror. He grasped for something to say, anything to bring that spark of life back again, "Hey, if you want, care to talk a little? The silence was starting to bore me."

He answered with silence again and the slightest of nods.

That was lucky.

He smiled, feeling relieved, he’d been so sure he was going to say no or, worse, nothing at all. A nod was still something.

"Nice to meet you... I'm Komaeda Nagito. Anyway... lucky me. It’s been a while since anyone was willing to talk to me so to share a room with a person like that... Yep, I’m definitely lucky."

"...Lucky? Ah, so that’s your talent then,” he answered, gaze shifting towards the window again and away from him. “...what a boring talent."

He didn’t disagree, exactly, but still….

"A boring talent, huh…? Well, that’s exactly what it is… But for someone I’m meeting for the first time to say that so suddenly…”

“That’s because I have luck as well.”

“…Huh?”

“Even I possess a talent as boring as luck.”

“P-Possess, huh?” He echoed the word, the strange way he’d said it, like it meant something more than the obvious. Excitement simmered in his veins, making him feel antsy, unsettled. “I’m starting to get really interested! Who are you? You’re obviously from Hope’s Peak Academy too, right?”

Another one of those tiny nods and he felt his smile growing wider, so wide it made his cheeks ache until it fell away a moment later. “So you’re one of us? Ah, but that’s weird… this is the first time I’ve ever seen you…”

Silence again, but then he hadn’t really asked a question at all, so maybe that was his fault. Maybe he had to be more specific… if he wanted to know.

“Hey, can you tell me why you’re here? How did you end up here?”

His gaze shifted away again, falling to study the floor rather than the world outside the window. “…How boring.”

Nagito sighed, letting his head fall back against the wall, “Ah, sorry…I’m often told I’m terrible at making conversation…”

“Not you…” He answered, voice soft and almost gentle as he raised his head to meet his gaze again. “…This world.”

“Huh…?”

“This world is full of boring people. People who lack talent stick together, and oppress those who do possess talent…” As he spoke he leaned forward, but his voice stayed level, even, as if despite the intensity of his gaze he couldn’t quite summon up the emotion to match it, to make that intensity into the fervor it aped. “Even though they know they’re insignificant, they don’t try to acknowledge their true superiors… they are profoundly desperate to drag them down to their level… and because of these bastards, this world has come to a deadlock. This world has stopped evolving.” He dropped his gaze to the floor again, the glimmer of interest slipping away, his gaze going dead and lifeless once more. “…How boring.”

“Well,” he began slowly, thoughts falling into lines like dominos in a way they rarely seemed to these days. “The world is shaped by the will of the majority… It makes sense that it bends to those who lack talent.”

He felt that gaze on him again, that interest, that attention again sparking to life again and it made him feel jittery, excited, like he’d gotten an answer right on a quiz he hadn’t realized he was sitting for. “That’s why we’re in our present situation…”

He trailed off, wondering, but the gaze lingered as if urging him to ask the question forming in his mind. “Ah, perhaps… does that have anything to do with the reason you’re here?”

He was silent for long moments as if he were deciding what to say or how to say it. When he did finally speak, it was almost a disappointment: “Boring people make no contributions to the world… not even a speck of dust….”

It sounded like he was quoting someone verbatim, his gaze drifting away to the window again, going vague and unfocused. “That’s why my teachers taught me that a certain degree of selection must be performed.”

He stared at him for a long moment in silence, wondering who those teachers were, what they’d wanted him to be. Whether those teachers had died in the chaos of the past few years.

He kind of hoped they had though he wasn’t quite sure why.

“Looks like they had high expectations for you, huh?” He commented finally, following his companion’s gaze to the window, but seeing nothing but the same endless sea. “That’s completely different from me.”

After all, no one had ever expected much of him or wanted him around at all really. He did sometimes wonder that was like, to be wanted or to have someone expect something… anything from him, but not so often these days as he once had. Sometimes he wondered if that was because he was so hopeful for a future beyond anyone’s expectations or because he’d simply given in to the despair of never knowing. “But… what are you planning to do? Now that you’ve ended up like this, there’s nothing you can do, right?”

He was interested again, gaze snapping back to the room, away from the window. His eyes seemed to glitter and glow as he leaned forward, vivid and bright, suddenly teeming with something like life. He was really… something. “Listen well: using people is a talent, too. It is now my turn to use that person just as they used me in the past.”

He had a momentary urge to lean forward, to scoot across the distance between them, to kiss the words off his lips, but he had little doubt how that would end. He didn’t want to see him that vague, disinterested gaze turn away from him once and for all.

“That person….” He echoed eventually, mind churning, but only one possibility leapt to mind. He looked around the room, just a quick darting glance, but there was no sign of listening devices or cameras to be seen. Just plain, flat, boring metal. “Are you talking about Ultimate Despair?” He asked finally, sly and cautious.

The glimmer in his eyes at that hissed question was more than answer enough. 

He could feel a smile trembling on his lips like a song, excitement quivering in his belly. “But how?” He asked, tone still hushed. “I mean, they’re already…”

“…I have it with me,” he murmured, patting his jacket gently. “The contribution that person left to me…. Even now, it rests in my pocket….”

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about…” And he didn’t, not really, wasn’t certain that any of this made any sense at all, but he liked the sound of it, liked the hope it ignited in his chest. He laughed again, grinning wide and wild, “I’m definitely lucky! I can’t believe I’m speaking with someone as amazing as you! Then… will I be able to see her again? Will I be able to see the person I hate with every fiber of my being again? And this time…”

Excitement was bubbling and breaking apart what little calm he’d been able to manage and he couldn’t sit still, he needed to get up, to move. He needed to pace this little room that was too small, far too small to contain his jubilance. He wanted to grab his hands, pull him to his feet, spin with him in circles, round and round, like they were little kids until they fell into a heap on the ground. 

But when he went to stand, he found he couldn’t quite manage it, tipping to the side and catching himself against the wall with her hand, barely noticing the ache of impact. Suddenly he was exhausted as if even this was too much effort for his weak, pathetic body to take.

He breathed out a shaking sigh, steadying himself against the wall and settling back down again before turning his gaze back to the beautiful hope sitting opposite him staring at him with those glittering red eyes, “Will I be able to kill her this time? The person I hate so much?”

He was so lucky.

So very, very lucky.

His companion was silent for so long this time he thought he might not speak at all.

“Hate…?” He asked finally, his head tilting inquisitively. “Then… explain your hand.”

“Ah… this…?” He wasn’t exactly surprised to be asked. Most people asked if they saw it, it wasn’t exactly subtle after all. It was one of the reasons he usually kept it covered. It was… kind of difficult to explain.

“The end of that bandage… is a woman’s hand, right?”

Once the laughter started, he thought it might never stop. He’d said it so uncertainly, as if the answer was anything but obvious. It was… strangely endearing. “…Isn’t it amazing?” He wheezed out finally, still choking on little spats of giggles that bubbled up like hiccups. He turned to examine it, neat and perfect and just as it was when it had first been attached. “I can’t move it, of course. I mean, it’s not my hand after all! But… even now, it still hasn’t rotted…”

Tears burned at the corners of his eyes, blurred his view of the hand, that last surviving piece of her.

Enoshima Junko. 

“Hey, maybe that means it’s becoming one with me!” He said, too loudly and clearing the emotion from his throat with another laugh, this one softer and more self-deprecating than he intended. “Isn’t it amazing? I have successfully become one with Ultimate Despair, my sworn enemy.”

He could remember what it felt like to take her hand when she offered it how warm it had seemed then as she’d wrapped her fingers around his and shook it up and down like she was trying to see if it would come off. It made him laugh and she smiled like that had been the point all along. “It’s nice to meet you, Komaeda Nagito. You’re the lucky student, right?”

“Right,” he murmured, coughing against the back of his hand as he pressed the door to the bathroom open and stepped inside. He wasn’t really surprised when she followed close behind him. She didn’t seem like the sort of person who cared very much about the rules. “I’m very lucky.”

“I’m a model, you know,” she commented, ignoring his lack of interest as if it meant nothing at all. She leaned back against the wall beside the sink as he ducked his head under to rinse the egg from his hair. “Pretty great talent, right?”

“Sure,” he answered, because he wasn’t sure what else to say. He wasn’t sure why modeling would qualify as a talent at all, really. 

“Nagito. Can I call you Nagito? I feel like we’re going to be really close, you and I.”

“I hope so,” his smile had felt so fragile and he’d been certain that at any moment she’d tell him it was all a joke, that he was ridiculous for thinking she’d want anything to do with someone like him. Then he’d laugh because that was what he did when people did that.

Instead, she’d laughed at his words, long and loud, slapping her bare leg like somehow what he’d said had been the funniest thing she’d ever heard. Which seemed weird. Maybe he’d told her a joke and he’d just forgotten, though he was pretty sure that wasn’t the case. “You… you’re funny,” she commented, smiling manically. “I like you a lot, Komaeda Nagito. I think we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other.”

“I see, so you salvaged the body…” He commented, breaking through his wandering thoughts. His gaze was cold again, the energy and life of moments before slipping away like a dream. “You really are a boring person.”

Huh.

That hurt more than he’d expected it to.

Or maybe just exactly as much as he’d expected it to, either way, it hurt a bit.

Still, he wanted to explain, it seemed important that he should understand even as he was turning his gaze away. “Ah, I don’t want you to misunderstand. I just see her as my enemy, you know. Because she’s my sworn enemy… because I hate her so much… that’s why I took her power. And for that I…”

A memory drifted to the surface, splattering across his thoughts as his eyes caught again on the bright world beyond their little window at the green of the island slipping into view.

“… never had sex, can you believe it?”

Sometimes she talked and talked and he couldn’t focus well enough on her words to catch even half of what she said. Not that it mattered. She often talked about nothing at all. Or nothing he cared about. Either or it mattered about the same to him. She’d always delighted in sharing the secrets of others with him, because she knew he didn’t care, wouldn’t remember even half of them. “I’ve never had sex either, you know.” He commented, because she’d paused like she was waiting for a reaction and she’d just bother him until she got one if he didn’t say something.

“Yeah, you have. What’s the point of getting nailed by a counselor if you’re not even going to bother remembering it?”

“Oh, that… I guess,” he murmured, frowning at the vague memory of a sloppy encounter with a person he couldn’t quite picture. He remembered it mostly as being sticky and uncomfortable, pain in strange places and an admonishment for silence before he’d limped back to his room.

Had he told her about that?

Had that been real at all?

He wasn’t really sure.

“Besides,” she continued as if he hadn’t spoken or it hadn’t mattered that he had. “You jerk off at least. She feels all guilty and stuff when she does it. I told you, I barely even have to do anything. It’s like they picked the most dysfunctional talented people they could find for this class. Don’t you think so?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Funny,” she grinned. “Since you’re the craziest of the bunch.”

“I don’t like that word.”

“Whatever,” she replied quickly, changing the subject. “So, anyway, I think she’s got a crash on that guy with the hamsters. And she-“

He glanced up at her, squinting against the glare of the sun. He could see up her skirt. Her panties had like red cherries on them. He wondered vaguely if he should tell her he could. Was that the polite thing to do or was the polite thing not to mention it? He wasn’t sure.

“Are you even listening to me?”

“Hm?” He blinked refocusing on the blur of her face.

“I said: do you like hamsters? You weren’t listening at all were you?”

“Not really.”

She stomped her foot next to his head, the sharp point of her heel grazing his temple. It was painful in a distant way, stinging a bit as the wet of blood leaked sluggish into his ear. He rubbed at it irritably, shoving her foot away hard enough that she stumbled and had to catch herself against the rail. “God, what is wrong with you?” She grouched, tossing a handkerchief at him presumably to blot up the blood. “You’re so boring when you’re like this. Can’t you just play along at least? I’m trying to tell you important stuff, you know.”

“Hamsters and Sonia Nevermind’s masturbatory habits are important stuff?”

“Okay, first off, it totally is, because I mean I had to draw her a diagram of a vagina. She didn’t even know what a clitoris was much less where it was and what she could do with it. I mean, seriously, that’s just criminally uninformed.”

“I don’t know where her clitoris is and what she can do with it either so it doesn’t seem so crazy to me,” he answered, staring up listlessly at the clouds drifting by overhead.

“I’m surprised you even know what a clitoris is.”

“I don’t. I just wanted you to shut up about it.”

“You’re such a dick. But, anyway, no, stupid, I didn’t mean any of that. I meant the other thing.”

“What other thing?”

“Oh my god, you’re completely useless to me like this. I’d take one of your weird little hope conquers all monologues over this any day.”

“They’re not weird. Hope is what gets me through the day.”

“Not if I bash your stupid head in with a brick it isn’t.”

“Would bashing my head in bring you greater despair?” He asked curiously, tilting his head back to look up at her.

She sighed, flicking her pigtail back over her shoulder carelessly, “Probably not. No one likes you but me and when you’re like this you wouldn’t even care if I killed you, would you?”

“Hm, probably not. Though my death would probably bring everyone hope for a better tomorrow since they wouldn’t deal with me anymore. That might be worth dying for. Go ahead. Bash away.”

“Meh, you being up for it makes it massively less appealing. Maybe tomorrow, if you’re being less of an apathetic little bitch,” she leaned down and pressed her lips against his forehead. “Don’t sleep up here. You’ll catch a chill and I’ll have to find someone else to do my homework for me.”

She grinned widely as she drew back. There’d be a big red lipstick mark there now.

“You say that like I bothered to do it in the first place,” he answered irritably, rubbing at it even though he knew it wouldn’t come off completely until he washed it away with a cleanser.

He hated that… which was probably why she always did it.

“Lame, Komaeda. You really bum me out when you’re like this.”

“Don’t care. I hope you trip over your platforms and fall down the stairs and break your neck. That’d probably be best for everyone.”

“You say that like it’d really solve anything. Despair isn’t so easily defeated, you know. Catch you later, Lame-maeda!”

“Wait, huh?” He murmured, rubbing his face with his good hand, drifting back to the present. “Do I… hate her? Huh… that’s strange… Huh?”

It hurt to think about it.

She’d been…

She’d been…

“Ah, Nagito, poor baby, all alone again?”

He glanced up, startled, he hadn’t heard her approach at all. Or maybe he had and just forgotten all about it.

Either way, she was suddenly just there, inches away, seated on the edge of the roof, smiling that wide smile at him. He hesitated, feeling caught, exposed.

He didn’t really like it when people watched him eat, saw his sloppily packed lunch. He’d gotten a rice cooker for his room because sometimes that was all he could keep down and sometimes just the smell of other food was enough to make him sick.

Sometimes it felt like everything made him sick these days.

It seemed like dying should be easier. It wasn’t like he was fighting it, not really. If he were lucky, shouldn’t his body be giving him a break on the backend? No, maybe not. Maybe it was more hopeful this way. This way he could think ‘tomorrow will be better’ and even if it wasn’t, at least it wasn’t any worse so he could always pretend that the next day would be better instead and that would be the more hopeful thing and…

“Ko-mae-da Na-gi-to. You’re doing that thing again. You know I hate that thing, right? So, knock it off, it’s annoying.”

He did.

He knew that.

She’d said it before. Many times. How she hated his silences. She was the only one who liked to hear him complain, enjoyed hearing his vicious unrestrained self. He shrugged, the barest lift of his shoulders and it still felt like too much of a bother, “I hope you fall off the roof. It’d be better for everyone if you did,” he offered, the words slipping free before he even realized they were there, waiting to be said.

He thought briefly of apologizing, but since that was pretty much how he felt he let the thought pass without further remark.

Right? That’s more like it,” she grinned like she’d won some victory, kicking her feet, heels banging against the wall.

He still didn’t understand why she was allowed to wear those boots. “But it’s not like I’d take all the despair with me if I did, you know. I might help it along, but it’s not like I caused it.”

“Didn’t you?” He asks, disinterested, picking the rice apart with his chopsticks, smearing it against the side of the box.

“Pupupu, oh, okay, you caught me,” she shrugged, heels still banging hard against the brick. It was making his headache worse. “I caused plenty, but, honestly, it’s not like it was hard.”

“Hm, no, I guess not, you’ve said that before, I think. Do you just like repeating yourself?” He commented, collapsing back to lie flat on the concrete. The sun was bright overhead and even though there was a chill to the air, he could almost feel his skin burning beneath the force of that bright, bright sun. The cold of the roof felt good, but he was sure it would be unpleasant before long. “You need a challenge.”

“Did I sound bored?”

“You’re talking to me, aren’t you? Doesn’t that mean you don’t have anything better to do? There are tons more interesting people than me to talk to who have more interesting things to say.”

“You’d think so, right? Whole school of special people and they’re all just so boring. It’s just so depressing, isn’t it? I mean, really, there’s no greater despair than that is there? That awful feeling that you’re alone even when you’re surrounded by people? That’s why it’s so easy, you know? No one cares about anyone else here. Doesn’t it just bum you out? I mean, there’s no sport in it at all. It’s exhausting how easy it is to pick them off, pick them apart. This should be harder, shouldn’t it? Isn’t it weird? Weird that it should be so easy to bring such despair to a place that’s supposed to be all about hope? Don’t you think so, Nagito?” Junko clicked her tongue, falling back against the concrete herself.

Her hair brushed his cheek as she sprawled beside him. The smell of her shampoo made him gag, as he shoved the offending mass away weakly.

She laughed, bright and loud at the sound, “You’re such a pussy! Everything makes you sick these days, doesn’t it?”

He found himself laughing as well even though it wasn’t really funny.

He’d almost always laughed at her jokes.

Even though they were almost never actually funny.

That’s right, she was… something else, wasn’t she?

His sworn enemy… and the only friend he’d ever had.

She hadn’t been a very good friend, but she’d been his.

It was pathetic, really. It always had been.

Maybe no one was ever any one thing to anybody.

He was staring at him again.

He didn’t mean to, at his strange eyes and his dark, dark hair. But at least his companion didn’t seem particularly bothered by it.

That was something at least.

He grasped for a distraction and found one once again in the island slipping into view outside their tiny window. “Ah, look out the window. We’re finally here! You’re starting to see it too, right? That’s Jabberwock Island, isn’t it? Isn’t it exciting? I wonder what’s going to happen on that island once we get there…”

A gentle scoff, “…What’s going to happen? I can already predict what will happen.”

He glanced back at him, surprised, “…Huh?”

He’d brought up his knees at some point and as Nagito watched, he folded his arms across the top of them as he glowered at the window… or maybe the island beyond, it was hard to say for sure. “I already know because I am loved by talent. But… no matter what happens, it’s of no concern to me. I will not be able to participate in what lies ahead.”

It didn’t seem to please him.

“Hm? Really…? I don’t understand, but… I guess we have to part ways for a while. That’s disappointing… we seemed to get along pretty well.” He trailed off, glancing down at where his mismatched hands had fallen into his lap at some point. “…Hey, can I see you again?” He asked softly, hope a fragile bird waiting to be crushed by that blood-red gaze.

“There is no reason we’ll ever meet again,” was the answer he received almost immediately, but his voice seemed… softer than it had been, a ghost of something like regret and then it was gone as if it had never been there at all. “After all… you are boring… Your talent, your thoughts, your entire existence is boring to me…”

He stayed silent for a long moment, a smile flickering to life and dying on his lips as that fragile hope evaporated leaving not the faintest trace behind. “…You really don’t play along, do you?”

For a long time there was only silence.

It wasn’t until the boat was docking that he spoke again, so quietly that for a moment Nagito thought he might have been mistaken. “Did you say something?”

“Kamukura,” he replied, louder his gaze flat and steady.

“What?”

“My name… you introduced yourself. Earlier. I didn’t do the same. Kamukura Izuru.”

“Kamukura Izuru,” the name tasted… strange, almost unreal on his tongue. “I’ve heard that name before.”

“I suppose you would have,” he replied, standing up, brushing dust, real or imagined, from his crisp black suit.

“Are you going to tell me what you’re going to do?”

“No.”

He sighed, but he couldn’t find it in himself to be too disappointed, “I suppose that’s just as well. I kind of like surprises.”

+++

Something hit the door with a heavy, thunk and he jolted back to awareness. Back to another tiny room far from the remembered reality of that boat, of that man, of that person who both was and wasn’t Hinata Hajime.

His head was throbbing and she was still talking, whispering outside the door, but he couldn’t make out the words. Didn’t want to anyway. He inched away, finally, finally finding the strength to crawl away from the door. To leave it further and further behind until he was far enough away that he could lie down against the cold, cold tiles and not have to hear her anymore.

It didn’t matter.

None of that mattered.

He wasn’t that person anymore.

He wasn’t hers, not anymore. Not her friend, not her enemy, not her anything. There was no her anymore. No more ultimate despair. There was just… them. The remnants, the last reminders and even that… was just embers now.

Even if he remembered everything, remembered all of it, he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be that person again. Not now. Now he was his own or maybe Hinata’s a little bit, but nothing mattered because if Hinata was Hinata than he couldn’t be himself… so what did it matter what he was or wasn’t or what he did or didn’t.

He caught fingers against his face to smother a moan. It felt like a sickness, the uneasy feeling in his stomach that spread through him like a virus, tendrils sliding through his veins. It wasn’t hope or despair, it was just… resignation.

He closed his eyes and if he concentrated he could hear Hinata’s voice again as if their conversation never stopped, as if it’s been seconds instead of the minutes or hours it seemed had passed.

“Dammit, I should be there with you, but I’m not. I’m not. Komaeda, I….” Hinata’s voice was quiet and close, so soft, almost as if he were talking to himself.

Why did Hinata even care where he was?

He was trash, just ragged cheap plastic, spilt and ruptured, spewing its filthy contents along the side of the road.

Unwanted.

Left to rot.

Spoiling in the sun.

He was… he was… just… he was just…

He couldn't answer. Couldn't find the words.

And then Hinata was speaking again, hurried and soft and he didn't understand why.

“No, I’m… I think I’m in the hall, maybe? I don’t know. I don’t know if things are laid out the same here. I just… I don’t know. I don’t know.” 

He sounded so sad, so frantic.

He… Hinata was… so…

He scrubbed his good hand over his face, rubbing at the damp there.

It was stupid, really.

They didn’t really know anything about each other. They were practically strangers and he knew that, he knew, but he still… he still wanted to touch him, to lean close to him and press their foreheads together, lean into his strength, offer what little he had in exchange.

It was… really stupid.

He couldn’t even imagine Hinata wanting that. Not from him, not from worthless trash like him. Not really, not if he knew it was really him instead of some… dream just there to make him feel better about himself.

Maybe this would be the only way anyone would ever want him for anything.

And even this… was probably more than he deserved.

He was probably really lucky.

Lucky… sure.

Was the Hinata he knew even the real Hinata?

Or was he really Kamukura Izuru?

Did it even matter?

Whether his talent was manufactured or completely lacking, he was still… nothing special. He was still nothing, less than nothing even.

And he hadn’t come to the island for him.

Hadn’t known him at all before that day in the boat.

So, why had he come?

Did it even matter?

He’d wanted to see her and now he wanted to see him.

Maybe he’d wanted to see someone else entirely when he’d agreed to get on the stupid boat.

Did it matter?

“You’re special to me.”

Those stupid words just kept skipping around in his head and they just wouldn’t leave him alone and he still didn’t understand them.

He still didn’t understand them at all, but they stuck with him like gum on the bottom of his shoe. He wanted to scream in his face. Tell him to stop. To stop pretending, to stop acting like it mattered, like he mattered. Like either of them mattered. He… he didn’t understand. If this was Hinata, the real Hinata, how could he say things like that with a straight face? How could he touch him like that? He didn’t even like him. He never had. Not once he’d known him, once he’d seen who he really was...

And he’d felt lucky. Lucky because at least he was still looking at him at least he was still special to him, still mattered to him in that way if in no other.

Special.

That freaking word again.

Hinata had always treated him like he was a nuisance, an annoyance, just… just a danger at best and a pest at worst.

And he hadn’t been wrong, had he?

That was what he was.

He was lucky and his luck gave him everything he needed and nothing he actually wanted. He’d wanted to give them hope. He’d wanted Hinata to like him. He’d wanted his friend back. He’d wanted to die in a way that would do some good, in a way that would inspire hope or at least stop the spread of despair. He’d wanted his luck to save someone for once.

He wanted to be left alone. He wanted to be with him. He wanted to be safe and loved and cared for.

He’d wanted and wanted and wanted and it never came to anything.

It never really mattered at all.

Nothing did.

He was lucky and all his good fortune tasted like ash in his mouth.

He wasn’t worth saving, wasn’t worth anything.

He never had been.

But Hinata… Hinata didn’t seem to know that at all

And it was beautiful.

And it was terrible.

And he was awful for not wanting it to end.

Laughter again, sudden and inescapable and strangely cathartic, as he sat back on his heels, shaking his head as he stared down at his bare legs, at the boring tiles beneath.

What a hopeless situation.

To want so much from someone that even their hate was still preferable to nothing.

Had it always been like this?

Had he simply been a lost cause from the moment Hinata blinked his eyes open on that beach and winced up at him?

Or had it been from the moment he’d seen that not-quite smile tighten his lips on the ship when they’d both been someone else entirely?

Did it even matter where it began when he already knew where it would end?

“I’d have thought you’d be glad to be rid of someone like me. I only ever cause you trouble,” he replied at last, his voice flat as a hundred conflicting emotions tried to beg and claw and scrape their way free in his chest.

“Don’t be stupid,” he snapped, voice thick with some emotion Nagito found himself afraid to name.

They really were hopeless, weren’t they?

“Hey Hinata, I’m really glad I got to see you.” He murmured finally, because he was. Even if he was dead, even if he was a dream, even if he never got out of this hospital, even if the world faded to black, even if Hinata woke up and went on with his life and never dreamed about him again… he would still be glad.

It hadn’t always been pleasant, but it had been worth it.

To pretend for a little while.

“Then you shouldn’t have taken off like that,” Hinata admonished and he couldn’t help the smile that tugged at his lips at his belligerent tone.

“I didn’t care for the ambiance,” he replied still smiling, fingers of his good hand tracing lazy patterns across the tile. “I liked the way you tasted though. Is it always that sour? Is everyone’s like that?”

“How the heck would I know?” He grumbled and Nagito’s smile only widened at the sound. “The only dick I’ve ever had in my mouth was yours.” 

Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was.

“Really?”

“Yes, really. Shit, I don't know. Probably. At least I think so. I still don’t really remember everything, you know. Look, can you… I don’t know, go look out in the hall or something, open the door? Maybe I’ll be able to see you?” 

“That’s probably not a good idea,” he murmured, a little annoyed that he’d forgotten his own situation even if it had only been for a few minutes. She was still out there, after all, still stomping up and down the hall, still complaining loudly to someone.

He didn’t want to think about who that someone might be.

“I can hear her stumping around out there. I think she forgot the doors have locks so she seems a little mad about it. Can’t you hear her? She's really loud.”

“Her? Who her? You mean Enoshima?”

He laughed, loud and uncomfortable, “Huh? What? No, not… who’s Enoshima?”

It was stupid, but he didn’t… he didn’t want to tell him like this… or at all really. He didn’t want to spoil the moment. The idea of Hinata knowing for sure that he was real after all they’d done made him feel sick.

That he also remembered all those other things….

No.

Better to let the lie stand.

“Come on, Komaeda. Okay, can you at least tell me what wall I’m at so I can try and get around to the other side?”

Other side?

He glanced around, confused, before clamoring unsteadily to his feet.

That… was a good point, wasn’t it?

Hinata hadn’t been in the hall, hadn’t been downstairs either, but… he could hear him so… they had to be connected somehow, right?

Maybe.

Where was his voice coming from anyway? It had seemed to be coming from right beside him before, when he’d been near the door, but maybe… maybe the acoustics were just weird or… something. He edged around the precarious piles, looking for… there was a vent low on the same wall as the door. He fell down too hard on his knees, catching himself on his good arm as he leaned forward to study it.

It was plain, cheap metal… barely even worth being called a vent, really. It was weirdly simplistic. There weren’t even any screws. It was just a piece of shiny, grated metal slapped on the wall with nothing obvious holding it there. It looked completely decorative even though there was a long dark hole behind it.

It was really kind of suspicious, actually.

“Wall? How would I know?” He asked as he slid the fingernails of his good hand beneath the edge of the vent, grunting as it popped free and clattered to the floor the moment he applied pressure.

Huh.

He poked at the fallen vent, frowning.

He’d really expected that to be a lot more difficult. These things were usually a lot more difficult than that, weren’t they?

Maybe he was just lucky.

He heard a sharp intake of breath and what sounded like an aborted scream and he glanced back at the grate, surprised. “Hinata?”

Another aborted scream and he found himself reaching for the opening with his good arm, misbalancing and falling flat against the floor as he shoved his arm uselessly into the opening. Pain flared down his forearm, sharp and sudden as his arm scrapped across some unseen something and he jerked it back out of the hole, spilling blood across the floor, choking on a scream.

There was blood everywhere as he scrambled back away from the hole, bleeding arm pressed against his chest, skin sticking and scrapping against the floor as he used his feet to push himself back, away from the wall. His heart was thundering in his head, but he could hear Hinata crying out, somewhere, the sound seemed like it was everywhere, but it was distant, vague, pained. He called for him, once, twice, a dozen times, but there was never an answer.

Only the memory of that one aborted scream echoing around him, within him over and over, throbbing in time with the pain in his arm.

Blood slipped down his skin, soaked the front of his shirt, dripping from his elbow to land against his legs, puddle on the floor.

Eventually the pain faded to a dull throb and the flow of blood became slow, sluggish, stopped dripping altogether. He pulled his arm away from his chest gingerly to stare at the rivets carved straight down his arm, five perfectly straight marks like….

“Junko?” He mouthed the word, unable to bring himself to give it voice.

There was no answer, nothing but the storm outside and the uneven thump of footsteps in the hall.

Chapter Text

“It's like in the Bible. You can't always get what you want, but if you really need something, you usually find it."
"What part of the Bible is that from?" Ig asked her. "The Gospel of Keith Richards?” 
― Joe Hill, Horns


+++
DAY THREE
-continued-


A burst of static summoned him away from the edge of hysteria, forcing him back into the present as it crackled loudly, the slur of an automated voice cutting through, it’s message unintelligible: "...rn...tion...rder...vel...tor...teen...antine imminent.”

She was knocking again, calling out to him, a sweet, coaxing voice as if he were a cat stuck in a tree instead of a boy stuck in a trap.

“M-Mister Komaeda,” she called. “You should really come out now. It’s time to take your medicine.”

Was that what this was? Was that all it had been? Was this just a fever dream, just a delusion? Was he still in the hospital? Which hospital? Was he still at Hope's Peak? Had there even been a Hope's Peak? 

His head ached. His arm ached where something had scratched him. It hadn’t been her, of course, it couldn’t have been her, not really.

Enoshima Junko was dead.

He had no doubts about that.

But then… he was dead too or he was supposed to be and this was…. 

This was all wrong.

He remembered that… remembered sitting in that diner watching the final trial on television. Watching her press the button to begin her own execution. Remembered being…

Sad?

Relieved?

He wasn’t sure.

He thinks maybe he felt nothing at all. That there had been nothing but a vague sort of surprise that she’d gone through with it, that she’d been willing to let it end there.

“But then again…” he reflected as he built little houses with the sugar packets and watched the survivors of her game prepare to reenter the world on the little television they'd brought in and mounted above the jukebox. “I suppose she was as much a victim of her desires as any of us. In the end, she was impulsive and rash and unworthy of the role of leader, but I suppose the title of Ultimate Despair fit her well enough.”

It had been a courageous decision and no less so for how little they really understood about the devastation they’d be walking into, about all the ways the world had changed and all the ways that nothing had truly changed at all.

He couldn't help watching him most of all.

The one they were calling Ultimate Hope.

The one who was lucky.

Lucky, but not lucky like he was lucky, not really. 

He wondered if they'd make it in this new world.

He hoped they would.

“Think so?” A voice called from the kitchen, the sound of meat sizzling was loud in the otherwise quiet diner. “I’m gonna miss her sensitive palate, that’s for sure. She was the only one who really appreciated my cooking. You sure you don’t want some of this? It’s mighty tasty if I do say so myself.”

“Hm, no, not hungry,” he replied, pillowing his head against folded arms. “Think I’ll take a nap.” 

“Well, that’s just a fine howdy do! Who’s gonna watch the customers if you’re busy napping?”

Nagito yawned widely, knocking down the sugar packet towers with a careless wave of his hand, “I don’t think they’re going anywhere.”

“Oh, well, crap down my back and call it a chocolate slide, I thought it was a bit too quiet out there,” Hanamura grumbled, sticking his head through the little window from the kitchen. “Tarnation, Komaeda, what good are you? They’re all dead, you ham-fisted, lazy son of a shallot. Did you kill my customers?”

He shrugged, slouching lower in his seat, gaze still mostly focused on the shots of empty rooms flickering past on the little television screen, “Hm? No? I’m certain they died of natural causes or maybe the Monokumas killed them, I wasn’t really paying attention. One of the two, probably, maybe, but if you act now I’m sure you can at least use them as ingredients, right? So there's still some hope.”

“Bah, c’mon, be serious, you know I only use the freshest ingredients in my cooking. Besides it ain’t a good habit to get into, eating the customers. This restaurant’s gonna go belly up if it gets that sort of reputation,” he sighed dramatically, ducking back into the kitchen.

Once they were gone and the feed showed nothing but an endless series of deserted rooms, he snagged the remote and flicked through the few available channels before finally settling on a news report about the devastation in Western Europe, about the efforts of the Future Foundations to establish some sort of utopian refuge where those with hope in their hearts, those who had not yet surrendered to despair could gather and be safe from harm. 

He sat back with a sigh and grabbed the fallen sugar packets to begin building his tower anew.

Pictures of crowds hundreds deep at the ports, clinging to the hull of a Future Foundation ship, sliding away to splash into the waters below splashed across the screen before it switched to pictures of Hope’s Peak, blurred out stills of the executions, gritty determined looks of the survivors who refused to fall to despair.

“Are you making any efforts to recover the Hope Six?” A reporter inquired, her tone exasperated as the picture moved to a split screen showing the reporter and a remote feed of an old man wearing a brown coat and a weary expression.

“Of course,” the old man – Tengen Kazou, Head of the Future Foundation according to the caption - on the screen declared in a deep voice brimming with certainty. “Of course we are, every effort. Those poor children are a symbol of the goodness still left in the world and our ability to preserve and overcome in the face of great hardship. We will spare no expense in our attempts to breach Japan and rescue those extraordinary youngsters, but, as you’re well aware, the area-“

He looked vaguely familiar though it was probably in that way that all old men and babies looked familiar to him.

They all had the same wrinkles, the same squishy faces, and the same gross, weird hair: completely interchangeable.

Though he probably didn’t actually have any right to call anyone else’s hair weird or gross.

His phone rang, a cheery tune that seemed shrill and jarring in the relative quiet diner, he glanced listlessly at the display, unperturbed by the unfamiliar number. He’d never actually bothered putting any numbers into his phone but hers.

She was the only one who’d ever called him after all.

“Hm… hello?” He’d asked, clearing his throat as he answered. 

“M-Mister Komaeda? D-Did you see it? Did you?”

He recognized her voice, could even picture her face, the way she’d clung to Junko’s shoulders sometimes, sobbing adoration against her shoulder.

The way Junko had grinned.

Funny that he could remember all that, but her name escaped him.

He hummed what he hoped sounded like an affirmative as he added another level to the latest sugar packet tower.

“-for the Hope Six. Pray for their continued safety and that we at the Future Foundation will be able to rescue them and bring them-” the man on the television continued, though he was only half-listening.

“Then you’ll come, won’t you? I-I c-called the others and t-they’re coming. We’re all going to meet at Hope’s Peak.”

“-strict immigration policies are allowing hundreds to die each and every day as the forces of-”

“I-I need… we need to save part of her, don’t you think? Anything we can?” 

“-processing applicants as quickly as we can, but this all takes time. After all, it would do no one any good if we were to rush-“

“She deserves to live on through us, don’t you think? So we have to do what we can, don’t we? To keep her with us? 

“-limited space at the moment so we must also consider first and foremost those who are necessary to build a world free of despair, a world in which we can all thrive rather than simply-“

Her voice was thick with unshed tears, “I-I just m-miss her so much already! I… I loved her so much. Do you think she’ll ever forgive us for not being there? She loved us, but we weren’t able to be part of her game. Were we useful to her at all in the end? I love her, I just… I love her so much.”

He set the phone down on the table, nudging it to the edge and leaving it there as she continued, a relentless stream of inane babble.

She loved her.

Did she?

Was that what love was?

Maybe.

He didn’t really understand about love.

He heard about it an awful lot, but it was like hearing about Bulgaria. It was something he knew in a distant, disinterested way existed, but since he’d never experienced it for himself it meant very little.

He understood that people longed for it, stole for it, killed for it. That they often seemed to give it away as freely as candy at the holidays as if they had an endless supply squirreled away in closets or under beds. That they proved it with rings and bows and kisses and words spoken with so much more weight than they had in the end. That sometimes people confused it with sex and sometimes people thought that it was mandatory. He understood it was something special that a lot of people laid claim to, that it could be hoarded or thrown away or doled out like breadcrumbs to pigeons.

He couldn’t remember ever feeling it. 

Probably wouldn’t have known it even if he had.

“Mister Komaeda? Are you still there? Mister Komaeda?” 

He released a heavy sigh and picked up the phone once more. “Of course.”

“O-oh good, um, so you’ll meet us at the school?”

“I suppose so.”

“T-T-Thank you for l-listening, e-e-everybody else hung up.”

“Oh? Did they?” It hadn’t even occurred to him when it had been just as easy to set her aside until she was done. “Huh. Sure. See you there.”

“Y-yes! I’ll see you there,” she replied, sounding cheerful.

He pressed the end button and set the phone aside once more.

“-this world shall never be lost to despair while the most talented members of the Future Foundation exist to protect it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must be going,” the man on television commented as he excused himself from the interview. 

It made him laugh, a harsh bark of sound in the quiet of the diner.

“Thank you, Mister Tengan, for taking the time to speak with us today.” The screen switched over to shaky camera footage of a people running through dirty streets overrun with Monokuma bears. A tank could be glimpsed in the distance before the whole world seemed to explode in fire and smoke. “This was the scene today in Novoselic….” 

He pressed the button to turn off the television.

“See that?” He had asked the quiet of the restaurant, the dead patrons and smashed bears that littered the floors. “They’re going to save the world… or at least the really talented parts of it. How hopeful. She’s dead and nothing has really changed at all.”

He scooted out of the booth, smiling at the protest of the cheap, red vinyl seat cover.

“Ya know I can’t actually hear you when you mumble like that, right?” Hanamura called from the kitchen as he pushed through the door and out into the dull, overcast afternoon beyond.

The tinkling bells that hung from the handle clanking and singing in his wake. 

+++

"vac...vel...five...ctor...t...arant...ent"

+++

He awoke slowly, wrapped in uncomfortable warmth, damp with sweat.

“What?” He croaked, his voice hoarse and breathless blinking aching eyes open to darkness. “Where…?”

The scrap of a key turning in a lock and the creak of the door opening, “Ready or not, Mister Komaeda, here I come."

She laughed and there was a loud bang that made him jump, would have probably choked a scream from his throat if he’d had the breath to give it life. He had no idea where he was or how he’d gotten there. The last thing he remembered, he’d… he’d been… what had he been doing? 

On the floor?

There’d been a grate and Hinata and his arm hurt and…

Everything was jumbled, mixed up and blurring together. 

He remembered sitting in a diner, the diner, remembered the grit of sugar beneath his fingernails when he’d ruptured one of the packets he’d been playing with, sweeping the offending sugar off the table onto the floor. Remembered the twang of Hanamura’s voice calling out to him, the smell of charred flesh, but he couldn’t… couldn’t remember what he’d been doing before he’d remembered that. All he knew was he didn’t want to be found. All he could feel was the panic running riot beneath his skin. He couldn’t move. No. He needed to stay still even as his hand trembled and he pressed it against his mouth to silence the hint of a whimper. He had no idea where he was, how he got there, but he could hear the slow plod of hesitant footsteps squeaking across slick tile. There was… there was something soft and damp covering him and he was surrounded by itchy fluff that scratched uncomfortably against his bare skin.

There was a soft thump, too close, too loud and his muscles tensed and ached a creak as the world around him shifted and the footsteps moved away.

Then she was howling, hurt and rage and he winced at the cacophony of destruction that followed, a series of bangs and fluttering papers and crashing equipment, closed his eyes and curled tighter around his knees.

He….

He was….

+++

"wa...atio...ord...vel...tor...anti...ent"

+++

He whimpers as fingers wind painfully tight in his hair, shoving his face down towards the shattered wood, metal and glass. “Do you have any idea how expensive that was? How difficult it was to procure? DO YOU?”

He knew.

But….

But he’d liked the old one. He’d been allowed to touch the old one, listen to the old one and he thought… maybe… maybe if this one was gone….

It had felt so good to nudge it off the shelf, send it to shatter across the wooden floor of his father’s office. He had little splinters of wood and bits of glass embedded in his ankles, in his feet. It had hurt, it still hurt, and he’d smeared blood on the floor, but it… it had still made him smile, laugh, because he’d done it.

He’d really done it.

“I didn’t mean to,” he lied.

“I don’t understand,” she murmured, her voice summoning him from the past back into the terror of the present. “Why would he do this?”

Who was she talking to?

Hinata?

Junko?

No one at all? 

He strained to hear, but he could barely even hear her past the raging thundering beat of his own heart.

Was it really his heart? 

Or was he just imagining that too?

Could your heart beat when you were dead?

“You’ve always been stubborn,” she murmured.

Was she speaking to him? To some mysterious other? Did she know he was here? She must, right? Where else would he be? Where else could he be?

Was this the same room? Had he moved somewhere else completely and he just had no memory of it? Had he gotten that bad?

He’d been… bad before, hadn’t he?

For a while… things had been… bad, hadn’t they?

Obviously something had happened, but something could be anything, could be nothing much at all, could be everything. What was he supposed to do? Why was he hiding? What did he hope to accomplish? She would find him, wouldn’t she? She would find him and she would….

What?

What would she do?

What was he so afraid of?

He hadn’t… had he had a reason to run in the first place? 

There’d been… something, hadn’t there?

Or maybe not.

Maybe there'd been no rhyme, no reason.

Maybe he’d... maybe he’d just reacted.

To her unexpected presence, her unexpected touch.

Why was he so afraid? Why was he still so afraid?

“I can’t help you, Mr. Komaeda. I can’t help you if you won’t let me in.” 

Could she?

She wanted to help him, didn't she? Why couldn't he just let her? His arm hurt and his head hurt and he was hiding in a mattress and he couldn’t remember how he’d gotten there and he was tired, so tired, so why... why was he running away?

He was....

+++

"warn...or...vel...tor...tsev...rantin...nent"

+++

“What’s that?”

“Mm?” His new therapist inquired, glancing up from her file heavy desk. Her heavy-lidded gaze drifting to the machine in the corner of her office. “Oh, well, that’s just a little project of mine.”

“A little project?” He asked, trying to peer through the green of the glass top by pressing his face down against it. The glass was warm to the touch and shadows within were strange and interesting, flowing and undulating like kelp, a gentle sway as if they were reaching out to touch him. He shifted to lay his cheek against the glow, humming along with the soft buzz of whatever powered it.

“Yes, that’s just a prototype. A… proof of concept if you like,” she replied evenly, straightening the files and setting them into her drawer. “Nothing terribly interesting just yet, I’m afraid. It’s just a… I suppose you could call it a passion project.”

“Oh,” he murmured, drawing back enough to lift a finger and draw a smiling face in the fog his warm breath and skin had left behind on the glass surface. Was it cold inside?

Was he just seeing things?

That happened sometimes, didn’t it?

“Why don’t you come sit down and we can get started?”

He hesitated, lingering against the machine, not even bothering to look at the couch she was no doubt indicating.

It was the same couch that had always been in this office.

He hated that couch.

“I don’t want to.”

She sighed, exasperated, her voice muffled by the thick scarf she kept wound around her neck and the lower part of her face even when she was in session. He’d never seen the whole of her face and her voice was so soft and flat, that he could never tell whether she was frowning or smiling. “Come now. How will you ever recover if you’re not willing to do the work, Mr. Komaeda?”

He barked out a laugh, fingers squeaking as he dragged them over the glass surface, his gaze going soft and unfocused against the red and white swirl that patterned the rug beneath his feet. She’d changed a lot of things about this room when she’d taken over from the last person to sit in this office, “Recover, huh?”

Her hair swished around her as she stood, her heels clicking loud against the tiles as she circled around the desk until they were met with the plush of carpet. He was almost surprised when she was suddenly there in front of him, taking his hands in hers. He tried to jerk them back, away, but she held on, grip firm and there was nowhere to go. He had allowed himself to be trapped with his back to the machine.

He shivered.

He didn’t like it when she touched his hands, didn’t really like it when anyone touched his hands. They were filthy, so was he, but his hands… his hands were the worst by far.

He had dirty, terrible things with those hands.

“I may not be able to save your life, of course, but I’m sure I can at least help you make the most of the time you have left. I think the world could greatly benefit from all you have to offer. Please, allow me to help you. I want to hear all about you and your unique talent.”

“I don’t-“ he began, but he wasn’t sure how to finish.

At his back, the machine seemed warm beneath the press of his free hand and when he bumped back against it, it made a strange burbling sound that reminded him of the fish tank the principal kept in his office or the lectures he’d sat through during his first year.

“Mister Komaeda,” he had said, his hands folded across the desk before him. He couldn’t stop staring at them, at the folds of his skin that seemed thin as paper. “I’m not saying this is your fault, but you are a disruptive element and-“

His stomach sank, taking the strength in his legs with it and he dropped to the floor, falling forward into a sloppy, imperfect bow.

He’d never belonged here, he knew that, he wasn’t… his talent was so… limited compared to theirs. He wasn’t extraordinary in any way, but…

But…

But….

“Please don’t make me go,” he’d said, eyes squeezed shut, forehead pressed hard against the carpeted floor of the office, nails digging against the rough fibers. “I’ll try harder, I’ll be better, I… I know I’m not… I know someone as worthless as me doesn’t truly deserve to walk these halls or to stand with all these great and formidable talents, but please let me stay. I… please… I….”

“I don’t have anywhere else to go,” he whispered the last against his knees, shame swallowing up his ability to be any more pathetic than he already was.

He’d planned to be… eloquent, aloof, but panic had suffocated the arguments in his brain, all the elegant speeches he’d made up in his head to justify his presence, his existence, as he’d sat slumped in the chair outside the office waiting for the principal to invite him in. He’d been ambivalent about the whole thing, but then… then he hadn’t been.

The moment he’d walked into the office and taken the seat offered him, he hadn’t been able to stop trembling, to choke off the flood of nerves. All he could think of was his parents’ house. How cold it had been the last time he’d been there, how empty, how he’d broken all those things and burned that pile of stuff in the backyard and just left the mess for them to clean up.

How could he go back there?

Could he go back there?

It was his, but it had never felt like his. It still didn’t. It probably never would.

They hadn’t even wanted him.

He’d just been… lucky.

And they’d been unlucky and then they’d been stuck with him.

Their ill-timed, unwanted, inconvenient miracle.

He could feel despair creeping inside, carving his chest open with a dull knife.

Could practically hear her laughter echoing through the room.

She’d been right.

They were going to kick him out.

Of course, they were going to kick him out.

He’d never belonged here in the first place, he’d just been lucky and he just kept getting worse and worse and someone had been bound to notice eventually even though he tried to hide it. He was lucky, he’d always been lucky, but that luck had always been a balancing act, good and bad, bad and good, and he’d always been waiting for the other shoe to drop for someone to realize that he wasn’t fit to be there.

He’d always known eventually that they would realize they’d made a mistake.

That he was a mistake.

And they never had.

He’d been lucky.

So, of course someone was going to notice that he was falling apart and he didn’t… maybe he hadn’t really ever fit in, but he’d never really fit in anywhere and at least there… at least here he was… something, someone. At least here people saw him. Noticed him. Cared. Even if it was only in how he was useful to them, even if it was only about his money or his talent. It was still something. Even if they didn’t really like him, even if she didn’t really like him, here he was talented and special, but out there… out there he was just… ordinary.

He was just the trash no one wanted.

Here… here his luck wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t something he imagined, something his doctors said he dreamed up to justify the terrible things that happened to him, the way the universe seemed to go out of its way to remind him that he wasn’t necessary, wasn’t wanted. That he’d just been the fly in someone’s soup since the moment he was born. That he was the unfortunate thing that happened to others. Without Hope’s Peak… it wouldn’t be luck, it would just be… him.

If he didn’t have this… what was he?

Sick.

Alone.

Hopeless.

He wouldn’t even have her, because she didn't care about ordinary people. She didn't care about anyone, but outside of Hope's Peak he wouldn't even be worth bothering with. He wouldn't be able to foil her from outside. He...

He hadn’t heard him move at all, but he'd suddenly been there, crouching beside him and he’d been staring down at his expensive shoes as they shuffled into view.

A large hand settled against his hair as he began to raise his head, keeping him bent low. “You are talented, Komaeda Nagito. You deserve to be here, just like anyone else in our program, but… you need to take better care of yourself. I’ve read your file and I’d really like you to take advantage of this institution and all it has to offer. We’re not here merely to educate, to groom those with talent to take their rightful place at the pinnacle of society after all. We’re also here to see that you receive all the benefits of those talents. Those with talent are meant to help others with talent flourish and grow. The most talented people in the world gather around Hope’s Peak both as students and alumni and so we have many people available that may be able to help you in a variety of different ways. For instance, the Ultimate Neurologist is one of your upperclassmen and has agreed to speak with at my request and examine you if you’re willing. Additionally, the Ultimate Therapist will be happy to begin seeing you next term when she wraps up her current assignments and returns to seeing patients on a full-time basis. You should, of course, continue to see your own physicians as well, but I want you to know that we at Hope’s Peak will continue to support you and you shall always have a place here. Yours is a singular talent and I have every faith that you will contribute a great deal to society now and in the future.”

He’d heard all the words, but all that he could really focus on was one single thought:

They’re going to let me stay.

Fingers snapped in front of his face, drawing his focus back to the present, “Mr. Komaeda?”

He blinked, faintly surprised to find himself floors and months away from the principal’s office. “Sorry,” he murmured, vaguely aware that it didn’t sound sincere in the least. "What was I...?"

"You were telling me about a boy," she replied patiently, voice muffled as she led him towards the long couch that fought the pod thing for domination of the room.

"I was?" He replied, tentatively. "I don't..."

"His name was Hinata Hajime."

"Hinata?" The name didn't sound familiar at all, the syllables unmistakably foreign on his tongue. "I don't-"

But she was already rushing ahead, her grip on his hand tightening again, "He was a student in the reserve course."

Reserve course….

Reserve course….

Right. Those people, he… he… didn’t….

There had been… hadn’t he…? Something… there was… something. Something like an inch he couldn’t scratch, the taste of blood on his tongue and fingers in his hair and then the feeling is swept away, spinning out of reach.

“I have a headache,” he murmured, glancing away from her fervent gaze to study the pod again. “Who are you again?”

“Disappointing," she sighed, releasing his hand. "But no matter. Why don’t you have a seat and we’ll get started?”

“Started,” he echoed, relieved, his hand felt sweaty and unpleasant and he wiped it against his leg as he turned away and wandered back to the pod. “I should probably go. My parents don’t like to be kept waiting.”

“Mr. Komaeda,” she commented, off-hand with the air of someone who had done this dance often enough to know the steps by heart. “There’s no one waiting for you. You know that.”

“I do,” he answered flippantly, smiling to himself. “But I also don't like it when people try to take advantage of me. So, why are you asking me about some reserve course loser? Who is he?”

He heard her footsteps stall out as they crashed against the tiles, a stumble caused by surprise or panic, maybe, he wasn’t sure, didn’t care. That was what she got for assuming he was worse than he was, for trying to pull information from him on the sly.

“He’s…. he left the program a few months ago, went home,” she replied hesitantly, an obvious lie.

Not that he really cared.

But there was… there was something… something about the reserve course that he couldn’t quite remember. Something… interesting... something....

"Bzzt," he replied as he smacked his fingers against the glass, summoning an answering burble of sound from within. “Try again, with feeling. I don’t think it’s terribly healthy for me to have a therapist that’s such a awful liar.”

“He’s nobody important,” she replied evenly.

“Of course not,” he scoffed. “He’s in the reserve class that automatically makes him someone….”

“Apologies should be made on your knees.”

Laughter, somehow both foreign and familiar, even white teeth smeared red with blood and the memory of pain in his head, his back.

Oh.

Right.

The boy on the stairs.

He’d never known his name.

It could have been that.

Hinata Hajime.

It was a nice name.

“Someone unremarkable enough to end up in the reserve class couldn’t possibly mean anything to me. I’m talented, after all.” he turned back to face her, expression schooled to indifference as he flounced carelessly across the room to collapse against the couch. “Why don’t you ask me something worthwhile if you’re going to insist on being so nosy?”

She watched him for long moments as he settled back against the pillows, ignoring the suspicion in her gaze.

+++

"war...vac...der...el...five...or...ntine...inent"

+++

“No, not really,” Tsumiki Mikan complained softly, the sound of her boot squeaking across the floor loud in the relative quiet of the room. “Oh, I… yes, thank you, I… thank you.”

But he couldn’t focus on her.

Couldn’t.

+++

"g...e...vel...fiv...ect...seve...uara...nent"

+++

“Gross,” he’d murmured poking a finger into the thick goo in the pod. The green light that illuminated it seemed too bright, casting Naegi’s features ghastly and gaunt.

Pods.

They look familiar, but he can’t quite place them. 

“I’ve seen these before.” 

“Have you?” Naegi asked, feigning casual interest as he helped him step up, sink a foot into the thick, warm liquid.

He glanced to the next pod down where Kamukura was still lingering beside the pod, expression as impassive and unimpressed as ever as he stared down at the goop.

+++

"vacua...er...ector...ine...imminent"

+++

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” she called in a singsong voice that set his nerves on edge. “Yes, yes, you’re right. Of course, you’re always right, beloved. I just have to find him.”

Thunder crashed, loud enough to make him flinch, digging his fingers in against his cheek, pressing the heel of his hand against his teeth so hard he was surprised he didn’t taste blood.

She was humming, something soft and out of tune, stumbling over notes at random as he felt the mattress dip and beneath her weight, the bed frame creak as she crawled by beside him, close enough that some stray tendril of hair was caught beneath her, pulling painfully as she shifted restlessly.

The room had looked like something out of a horror movie. Had felt and smelt like it too. Like shit and meat, hot and humid and the girl standing near the entrance had looked like she’d just been sick or was going to be again when he’d come in, stepping deliberately over and around the worst of the debris and all those little puddles of tacky blood and filthy water.

It had sounded like a horror movie as well when he’d come in through the open door to find one of them grunting against something in the corner, awful squelching, slapping sounds echoing loudly through the room accompanied by the whine and flash of Koizumi’s camera.

“Ugh, bleagh, I’m gonna be sick,” the girl loitering near the entrance grumbled, her cheeks bright red and her arms crossed tightly over her breasts, looking like she couldn’t decide whether to stay or go. Her kimono was caught up over one arm, presumably to keep it from dipping into the mess. “Are you done yet? Can we go? This is so gross.”

The room was dark, lit only by emergency lights and the occasional flashes from Koizumi’s camera as she darted around the room, stepping lightly over scattered limbs and scraps of metal and wood.

Squelch.

Squelch.

Squish.

“You can wait outside if you want, I’m almost done. I just need to get a few more shots. Just a couple of close-ups,” her teeth flashed white and gleaming in the dim light as she turned back to the source of the revolting rhythmic, squelching noises. “Don’t forget to smile! That’s the most important part. And, look, you’ve really got to get in there. I’m not paying you to fuck around, you know.”

“Shuddup... that is… uh … exactly… what you’re… ugh,” the boy replied swiping pink hair out of his eyes with one bloodstained hand, coughing and gagging as he turned his face towards his shoulder like his head was trying to remove itself from the actions of the rest of his body. “This is really-”

The noises ceased for a long moment while he coughed and gagged against the back of that same bloodstained hand only to start back up, a moment later. “Look, I’m in it as much I’m gonna get in it, okay? So, just freaking hurry up already… urk… because I’m seriously gonna puke if I've gotta do this too much longer.”

“Really? God, what a sissy you are. What difference does it even make to you? I mean, it’s still warm, isn’t it? You’re a man, aren’t you?” She sniped, the flash blindingly bright.

“What the f-bleagh…freaking...this so... seriously? What is wrong with you, huh? You know… ugh….”

Squelch.

Urk. Okay, no, ugh… that’s it, urk… I hope you got your shot already, because I’m freaking… urk… done,” he grumbled, gagging as he shoved away from the mess in the corner with another final squelching sound, gathering his pants in one hand and yanking them up roughly as he stumbled away.

He barely managed to make it a handful of steps before he tripped and had to catch himself against the wall as he coughed and heaved and vomit splattered across the floor.

Nagito sighed dejectedly, turning his gaze back to Koizumi as the sharp, stinging scent of stomach acid was added to the room’s already putrid bouquet of awfulness.

“I did, thank you,” she replied, her smile tight and unpleasant. “I think I’m going to call it ‘sexuality of despair’ or maybe ‘the depravity of sexuality’, I haven’t decided yet. Either way, I’ll make sure to credit you.”

“Freaking great, I can’t wait,” he gagging again as he fumbled through straightening and fastening his pants. “God, that was freaking gross. Next time you want something like that done get a freaking strap-on and do it yourself. Now why don’t you just hand over the bottle so I can go get to forgetting this bullshit ever happened.”

Koizumi scoffed, “I don’t have it with me. You think I just carry bottles of liquor with me everywhere I go? I’ll drop it off to you later.”

“Fucking seriously?” He jerked a rough hand back through his hair, shooting her a glare as he stumbled away from the wall. “You better not be fucking with me, Koizumi or I’ll…”

“Or you’ll what, drunk tank?” the girl in the fancy kimono inquired, mouth curving into a wide grin. “What’re you going to do, eh? Look at yourself: You can barely stand and you reek like day-old ass. You’re lucky we don’t have it with us. With your self-control you’d probably just end up drinking too much and killing yourself.”

Koizumi had already turned her attention back to her camera, examining her display screen as they argued.

“Shut up! Y-You don’t know any-“ he paused to shove an arm against his mouth to muffle a burp. “You don’t know me. Hey, when’d you get here, Komaeda?”

“A few minutes ago. You were busy,” he answered.

“Uh, yeah, sorry,” he murmured, glancing away, cheeks red with embarrassment. “I know you guys were-“

“It’s fine. She was the person I hated the most so why should it even matter?” He replied flatly.

He hadn’t realized he’d glanced away until he felt his hand settle on his shoulder.

He wasn’t altogether sure why it was there or why a moment later there were arms wrapped around him.

He reeked of alcohol, sweat and bile, but he was warm. Warm everywhere he was cold. He could hear him sniffling against his shoulder and he wasn’t sure what to do.

No one had ever hugged him before.

It was weird.

And warm.

But mostly just weird.

“Sorry,” he mumbled again, sniffling loudly as he squeezed him hard enough that his ribs creaked protest against the pressure.

“I don’t know if this is the gayest thing I’ve ever seen, but it’s definitely in the top ten,” kimono girl sniped. “You do realize, Gross-maeda, that he just stuck it in a corpse for the bargain basement price of a cheap ass bottle of booze, right? Heck, if I poured sake on the floor I could probably get him to clean it up with his tongue. Right, So-Duh?”

“Go to hell,” he slurred, shrinking back and away and pushing through the door out of the room with a loud bang.

“Yeah, I’ll get right on that,” she called after him, snickering.

“Is this really everybody that’s coming?” Koizumi called, snapping another dozen photos of something in the far corner before stepping away to check her display and review her shots. “This is a pretty pathetic turnout for a wake, isn’t it?”

“Pssh, there’s already too many people here and it’s making my skin itch being around all these losers. The impostor creep is off going through people’s rooms like a freak and that crazy chick with the big tits went to raid the snack cabinet so she has something to vomit up later from the look of her. C’mon, aren’t you done yet? I really am gonna be freaking sick if I have to stay in here much longer.” She grumbled, blowing her cheeks out in irritation. She braced a hand gingerly against the wall as she shifted uncomfortably on her high scandals, switching her grip on the kimono caught up around her arm to keep it from dipping into the mess. “So, seriously, what are you even doing here, Gross-maeda?”

He hummed a noncommittal response, poking at what looked like it might have been a mangled foot with his toe. Or it might have been roast beef in a pale, bloated wallet. Though he couldn’t think why anyone would put roast beef in a wallet.

“Oh my,” Tsumiki commented as she stepped gingerly into the room, her sensible white shoes already coated with grime and blood from the trek downstairs. “This is… oh my, this is so much worse than I thought it would be.”

“Really?” A pirate with close-cropped hair and a scowl commented as he moved in behind her, ignoring the blond girl’s commentary. “This is pretty much exactly as bad as I thought it would be.”

The girl that followed him merely nodded, expression flat and eyes narrowed as she surveyed the room in silence.

“Finally,” Saionji commented, shoving away from the wall. “So, why the heck did you call us here, pig vomit? I don’t think there’s nearly enough of her left for you to make a Junko suit, but her vagina is right over there if you’re interested in giving that a go for old time’s sake.”

Mikan smiled, dropping her head to the side, “Saionji, you don’t have to mask your devastation with sarcasm. I’m sure our beloved knew that you loved her.”

“Shut up!” She snapped, her face flushing as red as the blood splattered across the walls. “I’ll kill you if you-“

“Saionji, we’ll be here all day if you keep it up,” Koizumi interrupted, coming to stand beside her. “Let’s all try to get along just a little while longer.”

“Fine,” Saionji grumbled, mouth screwed up in a pout. “Let’s just get this over with.”

“Wonderful. Thank you, Miss Koizumi. Time is of the essence, after all,” Mikan replied, still smiling and stepping lightly around him as she worked further into the room to examine the various bits scattered about. “Oh dear, oh dear. This is really-“

“Hey… you, Snow White? Why don’t you go give the lady a hand, huh?” The pirate commented, nudging him with an expensive loafer. He recognized the brand as one his father had worn.

It was strange the things that stuck with him like gum to the bottom of a shoe.

Ha.

Shoe.

He chuckled as he stood up and turned to stare down at the pirate beside him.

“I don’t know that that’s really the tone you should strike with someone when you’re asking for a favor,” he replied easily, feeling ambivalent about the entire affair. Her blood was on his fingers. Or someone’s blood was anyway.

He’d watched the broadcast off and on for the last few weeks and it would have been more surprising if there hadn’t been a gross mess of body parts and toxic waste in the basement.

Still… this wasn’t what he’d come for. He’d hated her, hated her more than anyone, and even if he couldn’t feel that, he knew it and so he’d come here as requested, but he didn’t care what happened to what remained.

“Oy, I’ll kill you. Who’s asking you for a favor, bastard?” The pirate snarled, though it seemed more like a tiny dog trying to bark loud enough that maybe someone would think he was big.

He smiled, inclining his head towards the pirate’s expensive shoes. “I assume you don’t want to ruin your fancy shoes with blood.”

“You saying I won’t? I could go help out if I wanted to.” He looked a little green as he said it and the girl at his shoulder stepped forward.

“I will…”

“No, no you freaking won’t. Girls shouldn’t have to dirty their hands with stuff like this,” he snapped, stepping forward quickly. “This is fine. I’ll handle it.”

“Oh my, this is quite terrible,” the princess commented as she stepped into the room. The long dark trailing shimmer of her dress already pulled up over her arm quite neatly. “Goodness but it is crowded in here, is it not?”

“Yeah, it’s a regular weirdo convention,” kimono girl shrugged,

“You fiends were the first to arrive?” Tanaka inquired, breezing into the room and brushing back his dark hood to reveal sunken eyes and sallow cheeks. He had more scars then he’d had the last time they’d all met.

“T-Tanaka,” the princess stuttered, standing up that much straighter. “Oh, I... you came. I am so very glad to see you. I thought you were in New Zealand.”

He glanced at her for a long moment before shifting his gaze back to the center of the room. “I returned from that Hell mere days ago. Where is the one called Souda Kazuichi?”

Kimono girl smirked, wide and mean, clearly cheered by the question. “That drunk bastard is probably off drowning himself in one of the showers upstairs,” she replied gleefully. “Maybe you should go save him. I wouldn’t have sex with him though if I were you. There’s really no telling where he’s been. And by no telling I mean, obviously, we know. You want to hear all about it?”

Tanaka’s usually impassive face went colder, his eyes narrowed to slits. “The abrasive screech of your voice makes the baying of hounds in the depths of hell seem the sweetest music. You may keep your words to yourself or I shall have your tongue removed and fed to them. I have no interest in the obsessive cruelty of humans.”

“What the hell does that even mean, animal freak?” She spat, eyes wide and crazed, as he ignored her and disappeared back out the door.

As he left the room behind, a skeletal girl wobbled in, sobbing and weaving from side to side, her gaze wide and feverish. She had a box of donuts under one arm and a bottle of milk grasped in one slim, shaky hand, “Is she here? Is she?”

“After a fashion,” Nagito replied, gesturing vaguely to the room as a whole. “Here and there and everywhere.”

+++

“tseventeen...uara...im"

+++ 

He was on the floor. 

His arm was bleeding.

He could hear her scratching at the door, begging for entrance though he couldn’t hear what she was saying.

Hadn’t….

Hadn’t he been…?

He glanced around frowning at the neatly made, blood-splattered bed. 

He… hadn’t he… he could remember the suffocating warmth of the blanket, the cramping in his muscles as he lay, rife with tension, trying to keep it together. Keep still. Keep quiet as she moved around the room, as she climbed up on the bed beside him.

It had felt so real.

So….

“Is that what I’m supposed to do? I don’t understand,” he whispered, turning his head to stare around the room, at the unfathomable darkness of the hole in the wall, the windows and the rain splashing against them, before finally resting once more on the bed. “Hinata? Are you there? Are you okay?”

He wasn’t surprised when no one answered.

It was probably a stupid question anyway. If Hinata existed, if he was real, he couldn’t be all right. He was probably hurt too. Hurt and alone, just like him. He’d heard him screaming. At least he thought he had. Hinata was probably worse off than he was… wherever he was.

Hinata…

What had he even been hoping for from him anyway? A rescue? That seemed unlikely now. Hinata hadn’t sounded like he’d be rescuing anyone from anything.

Should he be trying to rescue Hinata?

He was probably in trouble.

He really shouldn’t laugh, it wasn’t really funny, but the laughter slipped out through his trembling fingers anyway tinged with hysteria.

Why was he trembling? He wasn’t scared. He wasn’t anything really, just… tired, maybe.

Yes, tired.

He was so… tired of this. Tired of all the wondering and wanting and all the… uncertainty. He’d been so sure before that he’d been doing the right thing; that everything he did had a purpose because it would bring about the hope he was longing to see. That hope would make it all worth it, everything worth it, that it would make his life… mean something.

It was really pretty stupid.

His life could never really mean anything. Had he really thought it was possible that a lowly, pathetic person like himself could ever truly be worth anything at all?

Silly.

Still… it would have been… something worth seeing if he could just last long enough to see it. If he could just stay alive a little longer, go a little further, be a little more, do something to help it along. Everything and anything had been worth doing in pursuit of that goal.

That hope.

That bright, brilliant hope he’d always dreamed of.

And he hated him for stealing that certainty away.

He hated him… and he didn’t and everything hurt.

Even that hand.

That hand that had been hers and now it wasn’t.

That was his again or at least it had been and now it wasn’t again and the place where it had been attached, where it was still attached maybe, ached. And the hand itself… was just there, a useless inconvenience; numb and flopping like a dead fish on the end of a line.

He’d let them do it. He’d been happy to let them do it, because he’d wanted… he’d wanted something from it, from her. He’d needed that reminder so he wouldn’t forget like he forgot everything else and so he could still… still remember what it was like when she’d held out her hand to him.

For them he’d just been the one with the right blood type, the one who drew the short straw. He was just the lucky one, as always.

But to him…

To him it had seemed like a gift… like it was how things were supposed to be.

The hand she had once offered him in friendship.

Only it hadn’t really been that.

He knew that.

He did.

Just.

Sometimes he forgot.

He was lucky, after all.

“Looks like it’s me,” he’d commented, staring down at the coin in his hand. He felt nothing, but a sudden rush of giggles seeping from his lips to fill the air anyway as he lifted his gaze to Mikan’s downturned face. “Looks like I can still rely on my luck.”

“I do hope so,” she replied, caressing the hand in its bed of ice reverently. “There are a lot of risks involved and if you died right away that wouldn’t be any good at all. Don’t worry. I’ll stay with you while you heal. I’ll take such good care of you.” She cooed the words, her gaze still locked on those red tipped fingers. “Such very good care.”

He felt cold, but then he almost always felt cold these days.

It probably didn’t mean anything.

He was garbage, really, this was what he deserved, but it was fine. It would all be fine, wouldn’t it? In fact, it was actually a good thing, if he thought about it. If he died this way, part of her would die with him and hope would blossom from that and if he didn’t… well, he would have to make use of this to create an even brighter hope. And he was lucky, after all, so whatever happened, he could trust it was for the best. He could trust his luck to carry him through.

Hope was such a beautiful, terrible thing. 

He shuddered, letting his head fall back against the wall as the others began discussing all the details he cared nothing about.

The important part was settled and that was all that mattered really. 

“You are, of course, of course, you are.” She murmured somewhere close by as he found himself nested once more in the suffocating darkness of the bed.

He felt sick.

“You’re my beloved,” she cooed, her voice gentle, kind. “I… I just…”

+++

“vacuation...ect...an...ent"

+++

He felt the mattress shift and move, felt it lift as her feet hit the floor with a thump.

"It's fine, you'll figure it out,” he bit down hard against the flesh of his numb arm, hard enough that he tasted blood. It was the only way he could keep from screaming.

He knew that voice.

He would know her voice anywhere.

Anywhere at all.

“I believe in you, pupupu!"

And he wanted to run to her, to burst from his hiding space and fling himself at her feet.

She was… she was… she was… ali-

“Don’t be an idiot.”

His voice was clear as the ringing of a bell and close, so close he thought he could feel the warmth of his words against the back of his throat.

He hadn’t expected Kamukura to stay with him after the key turned in the lock and the door swung open to reveal a familiar face he couldn’t quite place. Though he wasn’t really sure where he’d expected Kamukura to go either.

The person who’d come to get them was young with messy brown hair and black ink spread across his arms in swirling, dizzying patterns that made his eyes and his head hurt when he looked at them for too long.

He’d offered them a strained smile and gestured for them to follow as he stepped back out into the hall beyond their little room. “C’mon, we need to hurry.”

They both followed in silence and if he trailed a bit behind it was as much because he could already feel the strain of the journey in the heaviness of his limbs and the tightness in his chest as it was from reluctance for the journey to end. The brightness of the sun made him squint as little squiggles invaded the sides of his vision. The ocean breeze was cool as it sent his jacket fluttering around him and he shivered.

He couldn't help staring at the hypnotic swing and bounce of Kamukura’s long, long hair as they walked, as that same unpleasant breeze sent all those long strands twisting and shifting around him. It was like looking in a kaleidoscope filled with dark crystals: turning, tumbling, beautiful against the light, the pale of sand and wood. If they noticed his attention no one commented on it. He was grateful for that. It made him feel… weirdly normal to just stare at him even though he knew it was probably anything but.

That he was anything but.

He hadn't realized that Kamukura had slowed until he stumbled and bumped against his back. Or maybe he hadn't slowed down at all. Maybe he'd been the one to speed up. He stifled a nervous giggle with the back of his good hand, "Oops, sorry."

"You're slow," Kamukura answered though he wasn't altogether certain from the flatness of his tone whether it was an observation or a judgment. Wasn't even sure if he cared. Kamukura was already moving away, leaving him behind to stare at the swing of his hair again.

This was fine, he was fine.  

And then, of course, he had to make it weird.

“I like your hair,” he called, smiling at Kamukura's back.

He stopped dead in his tracks making it a simple matter to catch up to him just by stumbling forward, but once he reached him, he ground to a stop beside him instead of moving on, curious. It seemed to take a really long time before Kamukura finally slanted a glance at him, gaze assessing as if he were gauging the sincerity of his words before he finally replied with a soft: “Do you?”

Almost before he could process the look on Kamukura's face, he was off again, striding away to resume his pace as if he'd never stopped in the first place. He stared after him for a moment, a smile fluttering on his lips. "Huh," he murmured, gaze caught again in the swing of Kamukura's hair. He wasn't sure... but it had seemed... he hadn't said it like he was particularly interested or anything, but instead like he was commenting on the weather or the state of political affairs in Bulgaria. But that was fine. Disinterest was fine. Disinterest was much better than the inevitability of outright rejection or disgust, but... he was pretty sure that he'd seen that expression before.

“If I told you... that you had a... nice body, would... would you hold it against me?” He blurted out, stumbling over the words. It was difficult to speak, difficult to catch his breath because he almost had to skip to keep up with Kamukura’s long, purposeful stride, his legs ached from the unwelcome exertion.

That glance again and this time he was sure and it made him feel giddy, drunk on elation... or maybe that was just the lack of oxygen to his brain. Either way, it felt nice. 

It was just like with the boat.

Kamukura was enjoying this, enjoying him, even if only a very little bit.

The answer still came in the same bland disinterested tone, “No.”

But he didn't let that bother or deter him as he stumbled into a walk, gasping and smiling at nothing in particular. “What’s your favorite color?”

Kamukura turned back to look at him fully this time, the faintest furrow in his brow, as if the question surprised or confused him or both. But that little twitch was still there, the memory of a smile, and he grinned, holding his good hand against his chest as if that could still the racing of his heart. “Did you know that when hippopotami sleep in the water their bodies automatically bob up to the surface to take a breath than sink back down again?” 

“Why are you doing this?" Kamukura asked, his voice soft as he continued to walk backwards so he could stare at him without losing time. 

“Don’t you know?” He asked, letting a grin steal across his face as Kamukura’s brow furrowed again, his lips twitching in that prelude to a smile that never quite became. 

“You’re… doing it for me. Why?” He wasn't sure if the question was reflex or curiosity, but he answered anyway.

“You seemed to be enjoying it.” 

Kamukura turned back around swiftly, his words so quiet that they were almost lost to the sound the sea lapping against the shore, “I’m not.”

“Would you two please hurry up?” Their escort called over his shoulder, “We need to get started quickly or we’re going to run out of time.”

“Are we?” He asked curiously, slowing even as Kamukura’s hand lashed back to close around his wrist, dragging him forward into step with his quickening pace. He yelped in surprise, stumbling along with him, surprise sweeping his already labored breath away and leaving him gasping like a fish out of water. “W-wait, I…”

He stumbled again this time tipping forward and almost falling over the back of Kamukura who was suddenly crouched down in front of him. “Get on,” he ordered, tone abrupt, impatient, as he reached back to sweep all that long hair over his shoulder, out of the way. 

“What are you-“ 

Kamukura sighed heavily as if he were used to waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with him, but it was still a constant source of frustration. “Your body is weak. You’re already at your limit. You must be necessary if you are here so I will carry you to the facility.”

“I thought I was boring?” 

“That doesn’t make you special,” he answered, still turned away, still crouched expectantly as if there wasn’t the faintest sliver of doubt that he would eventually obey his command. “It just makes you like everyone else.”

“Huh,” he murmured, fingers of his good hand closing over one jacket-clad shoulder before draping his useless arm over the other so he could balance his weight forward over the hunch of his shoulders. “Th-That sounds really dull.”

 “…It is,” he answered as his arms slid beneath his knees and he stood with no apparent difficulty.

They continued on towards whatever destination their guide had in mind and it was… not pleasant exactly, but not uncomfortable either. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this close to someone… which was nothing new, but it was… unpleasantly hot and the heavy, sun-warmed weight of that hair was soft and strange against his hand.

It was... kind of....

There’s a song in his head, music rising with the strange contentment he feels as he closes his eyes and rests his cheek against the soft of Kamukura’s hair.

He hummed softly to himself in time with the even bounce of Kamukura's steps, lyrics half-remembered spilling from his lips as he drifted towards sleep.

“… just don’t you feel too bad when you get fooled by smiling faces….”

He blinked awake on the ground of a dark room to the feel of someone nudging him in the side with their shoe. “Wake up already.”

“Hm? Okay, sorry,” he yawned, tilting his head to look around the dark room lit sporadically as it was by the soft green running lights and the blinding bright white of computer screens. “Where... why am I here?”

Somewhere in the darkness, someone was typing.

He could hear the sort click-clack of the keys.

Click-clack.

Click-click-click-click-click-click-clack-click-clack-click-click-clack-click-clack-click-click-clack-click-clack-click- click-clack-click-clack-click- click-clack-click-clack-click- click-clack-click-clack-click- click-clack-click-clack-click- click-clack-click-clack-click.

Click-click-click-clack.

Click-click-clack.

The foot that had been nudging at his side shifted away and his gaze followed the movement automatically to the foot’s owner. His face seemed pale in the dim strangely lit space, long dark hair that falling like a curtain around him. He was handsome… if you liked that sort of thing.

Did he like that sort of thing?

Maybe. It seemed like he might. Which probably made him....

There was a word for it, wasn't there?

It was right at the tip of his brain, but he couldn't quite seem to reach it. 

Something... definitely something...

The handsome person was talking to him again, but it sounded strange, like he was speaking underwater or too slow... something. 

"Uoy era ereh."

More words, still nothing he could make sense of.

Just... stuff and nonsense.

He squinted at the shape of lips, could see the syllables forming, but he'd never been any good at that either.

Click-clack.

Probably.

He couldn't really... It was hard to....

"I'm sorry," he managed or he tried to anyway, but that sounded wrong too. Mushy and mixed up and squishing between his toes.

Why was there a bird in here?

Click-clack.

Why... pineapple?

Everything shelled like pineapples and his legs...

Shelled?

That wasn't right, was it?

There was... he was... he....

Click-clack.

Was talking again, little wrinkles between his eyebrows that meant he was... was... happy? Sad? Mad? Cucumber?

That wasn't right either wax it?

Wax?

"It's so dark in here. It's so dark

"I'm scared.

"Please don't leave me here.

"I'll be good.

"I'll be..."

Click, clack.

"Sorry... I'm sorry... I'm...."

He woke up to a world draped black and white.

"Post match commentary provided by Toyota."

"I don't understand," he whispered, the words echoing around him.

Click.

Click.

Click-clack.

"There's a bicycle in the yard. It’s filthy. Did you steal it, Nagito?"

"Bicycle?" He echoed, his stomach dropping into his shoes. "I don't know how to ride a bicycle."

"I never left my door open at night, but he was always there anyway. Like he came in through the walls. I couldn't keep him out. Nothing could. So I thought... maybe it was because I invited him in. Maybe it was because I wanted him there. Do you think that's true?"

Click-clack.

"Even when you have nothing left, there's still despair. People can steal everything else away from you, but they can't ever take that sinking feeling or that sludge that lingers always at the very bottom of the well, at the lowest depths of your soul. People can steal your happiness, they can steal your hope, but despair always remains."

So many voices like memories, like leaves blown in a failing wind. Quick and slow, rolling, tumbling syllables barely recognizable, words stumbling and slurring relentlessly through the dark. Skipping, tripping, zipping through his brain until it's so full there's nowhere else for it to go but out, to spill from his lips and splatter across the floor.

The darkness around him, above him, spoke in firm, flat tones steady as oars slapping the surface of still water, but he couldn't understand a word.

Might as well have been a foreign language.

Was he dreaming?

Maybe. Could people dream in foreign languages? Were they really still foreign if you could dream them up?

Static cut across the world, buzzing in his head, thick and angry and loud like a swarm of bees defending their queen. He was pretty sure he screamed, but it was hard to tell because all he could hear was the buzzing. So he clapped his hands over his ears, but it didn't do anything to muffle the sound because the sound was in his head. 

Always in his head.

Everything was... everything.

Everything.

Warm.

There was something warm pressed against his forehead, over his lips and nose and lower jaw and it was... it was distracting and the bees seemed to think so too as they were quieting within him until their protests were little more than a whisper, a whimper, just a distant fluttering around the edges of his awareness. An awareness that was filled with the press of warm hands and cascade of hair spilling around him like a curtain, the feel of fever warm skin... a forehead, maybe... pressed against the chill of his own.

He could hear someone breathing, soft and even and close and so very different from his own panicked, snorting inhales.

His tongue felt huge and dumb in his mouth. Not that he could offer so much as a word with that warm hand sealed over his mouth keeping it shut.

Keeping the stupid inside.

Nothing he’d ever said had ever been worth hearing anyway.

It he was probably lucky that hand was there.

Someone was typing. 

He could hear the soft click-clack of the keys floating through the dark behind his eyelids.

"Don't scream," a voice murmured, soft and deep and close. “I need you to be calm.”

He blinked his eyes open to stare into the shadowed, intent gaze of the person who'd spoken.

It seemed almost crimson, but he wasn’t sure if that was real or just a trick of the light. Either way it was weird and disconcerting and the blank look in them froze whatever casual words of greeting he was going to utter on his tongue.

Those eyes were definitely red. 

Red, like strawberries, like the flowers in his parents' garden, like blood... how did eyes get to be that color anyway?

The hand that covered his mouth eased away and warm air blew across his lips in its place as he spoke, "This is Jabberwock Island. You've come here to participate in an experimental treatment."

He heard the words, but it was difficult to focus on anything but the warm breath against his lips, his cheeks.  

“Hello,” he said and the word felt awkward, clumsy, as it tripped off his tongue. “I… your breath smells like cinnamon."

He wanted to kiss him.

A finger fell across his lips, stilling the motion before he could lift his head up to follow through with the thought.

"Better not. That’s not the way I intend to use you."

What did that even mean?

He opened his mouth to ask and closed it over the tip of the finger there instead, touching the skin tentatively with his tongue. 

He tasted like dirt and sweat.

It wasn't attractive at all, but the startled breath and the way those strange red eyes widened ever so slightly in surprise was.

Then that surprise was gone as if it had never been. 

The finger was withdrawn and he let it go. 

"Are you sick too?" He found himself asking and the stranger huffed out a breath, glancing away as he sat back on his heels.

"Not the way you mean."

"Were you able to get him stabilized?" Someone asked, their voice floating through the dark from somewhere relatively close by though it echoed strangely.

“There is very little I can not do. I am loved by talent after all.”

"You’ve mentioned. If he’s okay, we need to get started."

He stood up slowly before offering him a hand, "Come."

He stared at the offered hand dumbly for long moments before he shook himself to action and offering him a tentative smile. "Oh, I haven't introduced myself, have I? I'm really bad at things like this..."

“You’re Komaeda Nagito,” he commented his voice and expression as flat as the floor on which he sat. “We’ve had this conversation before.” 

His stomach sank.

Oh… right. 

He was….

He turned his face away, dejected, "Ah, I see."

How many times had this happened? How many times had he done this? It had happened before, hadn't it?

How old was he now?

Did he love anyone?

Had he killed someone?

Had he ever kissed anyone and meant it?

Had anyone ever kissed him back?

Had he lived a whole life in the spaces between?

Would he even know if he had?

Would it even matter?

He managed a smile as he turned back to look up at him again, but it felt fragile, breakable, “Oh. We have, huh? That must be annoying. I wouldn’t know, but I can imagine it’s really difficult to deal with. I’m grateful that you’re willing to put up with me even though I know it isn’t worth the effort. You see, I’m-“

“Dying,” he finished for him even though that hadn’t been what he meant to say at all.

“Ah, yes, I…” he trailed off, letting his gaze flick away to study the bright lights of the computer screens, the shadowy figure of a person bent over them, face washed pale by the bright white of those lights.

That was….

He was... lucky, wasn’t he?

Lucky that he somehow never forgot that part… even when he forgot everything else.

That way it was never a surprise.

He was really… lucky.

“You’re still boring,” he said, suddenly, as casually as if he were continuing a conversation they'd been having all day. He wasn’t looking at him this time, instead staring across to the person at the computer, his tone flat and disinterested as he spoke. As if he weren’t even really talking to him at all, like he was just stating random facts for the benefit of the room at large. “Everyone dies eventually. Talented or no. It's the one great equalizer. A body runs down like an old watch unwound whether you will it or no. You've lasted this long. Far longer than you should have."

"Luck," he murmured, reaching out to rest the tips of his fingers against the hand he was still offering him. 

"Maybe. Or maybe your talent was never luck to begin with," he replied, taking hold of his hand and lifting him to his feet. 

"That's..." he trailed off, stumbling on unsteady legs. He let the motion carry him forward, let his face collide with his chest, his hands catch against the shoulders of his white, white shirt, it was damp and warm and smelled distinctly of sweat. It was... 

He was...

"Lucky may not be all that you are. I suppose we shall see soon enough." The voice murmured and he could have sworn he felt a touch ghost across his hair, but by the time he took a shaky breath and lifted his head his companion's arms were limp at his sides. So maybe he'd just been imagining things. It wouldn't be the first time.

Either way, the smile he gave him as he pushed away and stood on his own felt a little less brittle than the one from moments before. "How did you... did I tell you my talent?"

"No," he replied in that same flat, matter of fact voice before turning to cross the room to the computer console and the boy in front of it.

"Oh, okay." Somehow he hadn't expected him to answer that simplistically... or at all maybe. 

He trailed after him, wincing a bit as each step brought a new ache that he couldn't remember earning. By the time he'd stumbled his way across the room he was exhausted and barely even had the energy to be surprised when he pushed him down into a chair. "Sit down before you fall down."

"You're really bossy for a person whose name I don't even know," he replied, huffing a laugh.

"You'll just forget it again even if I tell you."

It was true, probably, but it still stung.

"He's Kamukura Izuru," the person who hadn't stopped typing away at his keyboard since he arrived replied, glancing up to meet his eyes briefly. "Komaeda? Feeling okay?"

He laughed, "No, but that's no more than I deserve really. How do you know my name?"

He wasn’t even sure why he bothered asking.

It was reflex mostly.

He half-expected them to exchange a look or for the computer person to be obviously disconcerted by the question, almost everyone was, but the boy just smiled tightly and continued typing. "I'm Naegi Makoto."

As if that answered everything.

And in a way it did.

Because he knew that name.

"You're the other one. The other... lucky student, but I..." he trailed off uncertain how to finish the sentence.

"I was," he answered, easily picking up the dangling thread of conversation. "But it’s been a long time since I was that person. You're here to participate in an experimental treatment."

"That’s what he said too. I don’t understand what that means."

"What else did you tell him?" He didn’t look at them or stop typing, but his shoulders seemed weirdly tense.

Why?

Was there something he wasn’t supposed to know?

The thought made him nervous.

"Nothing of importance. You said time was of the essence, I would recommend you get on with it,” Kamukura replied, cold and crisp as the first breath of winter.

“Right, okay,” he typed a few more commands into the computer before pushing back from the desk. “Alright, you guys are going to need to lose the clothes. I’ll get the pods ready.”

“Lose the… oh,” Komaeda murmured, pressing fingers against the thin fabric of his t-shirt. “This is starting to sound more like a bad porn set-up than an experiment.”

Naegi snorted, offering him a weak smile as he pushed up from his chair and disappeared into the dark of the room. “Sorry to disappoint, but neither of you are really my type.”

“Sorry,” he back-pedaled quickly, turning his gaze down and away, chuckling as he slipped out of his jacket, shivering violently as the cool air hit his sweaty skin. “I d-d-didn’t mean to im-imply th-that some… one l-like you w-w-would be in-interested in g-g-g-garbage l-like m-me, its ju-ju-ju-ju-ju….”

He gnashed his teeth together, but it didn’t do any good. He couldn’t stop them from chattering anymore than he could have kept the sun from rising. And it just kept getting worse and worse until he finally just gave up on talking altogether, pulling his shirt over his head with trembling hands before reaching down to fumble off his boots and socks. He wasn’t even that cold, not really, just… just….

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Naegi answered, his voice softer, kinder.

The voice of pity.

It was revolting.

“I didn't..." he continued hesitantly. "I just have someone I like and-”

“No one cares. Your lifestyle choices are boring, Naegi Makoto. I would suggest you turn your attention to more essential matters. Your clumsy reassurances are transparent and he does not have any use for your pity.”

Nagito smiled down at the floor. They weren’t complimentary, really, but for some reason Kamukura’s words still made him feel warmer.

Naegi laughed awkwardly, “I suppose you’re right.” His voice was distant and accompanied by a series of soft beeps and a quiet whoosh. “Just come over when you’re done and I’ll get you both hooked up.”

He stood up and struggled out of his pants, almost falling over twice, but each time Kamukura’s warm hand landed against his shoulder just in time to steady him, releasing him immediately once he’d regained his balance.

He tried really hard not to look at him.

He failed miserably, of course, because he was the very worst kind of trash, peeking at him… leering at him through his hair as he kicked free of his pants at last and stood shivering in his boxers and socks, arms crossed tight over his belly.

His brown skin seemed pale in the white light of the monitor, but firm, well-toned as if he went out of his way to take care of his body. Very different from his own body which hadn’t been anything to write home about even before… not that there had ever really been that much before to speak of really . It seemed like he’d always been bouncing from one illness to the next.

Now he couldn’t even bring himself to look down, to confirm the outline of ribs or the loss of muscle mass or the scars or the sagging pale of his skin.

To confirm how much worse it was now than what he last remembers.

It’s bad enough that he has to touch it.

It was both easier and harder to look at Kamukura instead, to study the flex of his legs or the curve of his ass or the line of his shoulders, the bend of his spine.

He had a mark in the dead center of his back like someone had touched him with ink black fingers, pressed a thumb to the spot and left a permanent print behind in indelible ink.

He really shouldn’t be staring at him this way.

He really was an awful person, just the very worst slime to ever ooze across the surface of the world.

Always wanting things he couldn’t even begin to imagine having.

+++

"Warning: Evacuation Order: Level 5, Sector T17. Quarantine imminent."

+++

He was on kneeling on the floor again in the hospital room as she scratched at the door, his head spinning, aching.

He felt sick.

A red light spun to life blaring warning across the poorly lit room with blinding efficiency. 

Nagito startled falling tumbling back onto his butt as an automated voice whirled to life, crackling with static and slurred like the power was running down. "Warning: Evacuation Order: Level 5, Sector T17. Quarantine imminent."

"I... I don't know what that means," he whispered, gaze whipping back and forth across the room searching for an answer and coming up empty.

Somewhere out of sight an alarm began, rhythmic and familiar. He remembered the sound from fire drills at school, from ill-timed pranks at the hospitals he’d stayed in. The sound had always made his head hurt.

"Warning: Evacuation Order Level 5, Sector T17. Quarantine imminent,” the automated voice called again.

“I don’t know what that means! I don’t-“

“Do you really think you can do this?”

He laughed, a rough disbelieving cackle over as quickly as it began, as he brushed his hair out of his eyes with a distracted hand. The crudely drawn map of routes in and out of Towa City was laid out on the table between them pinned down by condiment bottles. “Me?”

“I’m pretty sure they’d recognize me. Plus, you’re going anyway, right?”

He hummed, smiling and inclining his head, “There is something there I want to see.”

He nodded, tracing his finger over the buildings and bridges. “Looks like there are two major routes into the city that don’t require flight. One is here and the other is through the maintenance tunnel here. You’re sure about these?”

He shrugged, “Don’t you trust me?”

“While our interests align, yes.”

“You’re not as stupid as I thought you’d be,” he offered generously, unsurprised at the eye roll his compliment received. “You seemed much stupider on television.”

“Most people do when they’re not aware they’re being watched by hundreds of thousands of people,” Naegi sighed. “Still, you’re the one who came to me so I figure I can trust you in this even if you are one of her…”

“I wasn’t her anything.”

“Says the man with the red-nailed hand.”

“Hm. It’s a reminder.”

“A reminder of what?”

“I’ll let you know when I remember,” he finished, laughing at the frown on Naegi’s face. “What does it matter? You were willing to trust my information so what do my reasons matter to you?”

“I suppose they don’t. I really don’t want to involve the others until I have to even though they’ll be going in anyway based on the information you provided, but they won’t be able to infiltrate the… you said they were kids?”

“Mm hm, that’s what she said. Children she saved from their despair so that they would spread that despair to others. I…” He grasped for their names, their faces, anything about them besides a vague of small people. There was nothing, just dim formless memories slipping through his fingers like smoke. “They were… I… sorry, I….”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Naegi was suddenly there, a hand on his arm, br