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theoretical friction of lucky stars

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Hinata knows, theoretically, that he’s capable of playing it cool. He’d totally slammed the killing blow on Enoshima Junko a few weeks ago, after all. A few days ago, he’d even managed to get Komaeda out of the pod without giving into the increasingly intense urge to just squat down on the ground and cry for a very long time.

(He keeps catching the tail end of conversations that seem to suggest there’d been some kind of bet concerning his reaction to Komaeda waking up. Hinata’s not sure , exactly, but Sonia’s missing a brooch, Koizumi keeps complaining about how her life would be so much easier if she just had that damn wide angled lens, and the last time Hinata had been in Togami’s cottage he’d seen like fourteen Jabba Pearls, just laid out on the desk. Something’s fishy.

Hinata thinks it’s pretty immature, anyway. It’s not even like he’d been that emotional. He’d been pretty cool about the whole thing, really.)

But he knows he can play it cool. He can at least play it disinterested - he has enough experience in that area.

His hands start doing the shaky thing almost immediately when he sits down across from Komaeda. That’s decidedly uncool, but it doesn’t matter, he reasons, folding them together under the table after he’s set his coffee down, because Komaeda doesn’t have to see his hands. Just his face. And general body language. Which are gonna be really cool.

Komaeda beams at him as he sits down. The sun streaming through the window feels a little warmer, all of a sudden.

One thing Hinata’s noticed about Komaeda - after breakfast he likes to sit by himself at a table by the window, taking his time finishing his tea. Hinata’s wondered if it’s because he likes the sunlight. He’s touched Komaeda’s skin - his actual skin - and it’s usually pretty cool to the touch. He sometimes wonders if it’s a cold-blooded thing. And then he has to remind himself that Komaeda isn’t a reptile. And then he usually has to make himself think about something else.

“Good morning, Hinata-kun!” chirps the not-reptile in question.

Hinata has to clear his throat. Sit up taller. “Hey,” he says, “What’s up?”

Komaeda gestures to the china teacup in front of him (another fun Komaeda factoid Hinata’s picked up on - he’s fond of the ornate teacups that can be found in the cabinet in the kitchen. There are at least ten different patterns. Komaeda seems content to cycle through them, but the one with the blue roses has made the most appearances). “I’m just taking a moment to enjoy the sunlight and finish my tea.”

As planned. “How is it?”

Komaeda blinks. “The tea? Or the sunlight?”

“Oh, you know.” Hinata desperately casts around for a response. “Either? Both?”

“The sunlight is wonderful,” Komaeda says, “But I oversteeped the tea.”

“Damn,” Hinata says, “That’s disappointing.”

Komaeda sighs. “It’s to be expected of me,” he says, proceeding to take a sip.

“Well,” Hinata says, “Tea is. Hard.”

Komaeda is still in the process of taking a sip. Hinata doesn’t have much else to say on the subject of tea, so he decides he may as well get on with it.

“Hey, so.” A good start. Super relaxed. Very conversational. “I was wondering. If you were planning on doing anything about the, uh. Necrotic hand situation?”

Never fucking mind.

Komaeda (thankfully) seems too surprised by the question to really take notice of the sudden and immediate cringe that snaps down Hinata’s spine at his own terrible choice of a conversation lead in. Hinata watches him swallow, eyes suddenly wide over the rim of his cup, watches him lick his lips like he’s stalling, thinking.

Hinata wishes he’d just written a letter. Komaeda probably would’ve liked a letter.

Komaeda finally sets his cup down.“What should I be doing about it, Hinata-kun?”

So I’m kind of working on this thing...

Hinata’s already fucking this up. It’s only been thirty seconds.

“I mean,” he says, “You don’t wanna keep it. Right?”

Komaeda tilts his head, drums his clean nails on the tablecloth. “I was thinking of keeping it, actually.”

“Uh.” Well. That’s inconvenient.

“As a reminder.” He waves her hand, long, elegant claws slashing through the air. Hinata has to force himself not to flinch back. “Of it all. Good and bad.”

“Uh- huh.” Hinata doesn’t mean the nervous laughter, exactly, but his world is sort of burning down and collapsing around him and it’s pretty difficult to bite down on it.

Komaeda isn’t hurt, or offended - that much is clear. If anything he looks a little amused. “Do you think that’s gauche, Hinata-kun?” Hinata gets the sense it’s less a question than an observation.

“Probably not the word I’d use,” Hinata says, voice a little ragged.

“Then what is the word you’d use?”

“Honestly?” While they’re here, and all. “Horrifying?”

“Oh.” He somehow manages to make even that small utterance sound conversational, as mild as it is.

“I mean,” Hinata says, because wow, that was rude as fuck, “I just. If you wanted. I could help you out. With it.”

“Help me?” Komaeda looks baffled.

“Uh.” He raises a hand. It hangs in the air, awkward. “Ultimate Surgeon. You know.”

Komaeda blinks pale lashes.

“Right,” he says, his voice quiet. “Ultimate Surgeon. Of course.”

Nothing like starting the day with a miserable failure, Hinata reflects.

“Well!” He plants his hands against the tabletop, springs himself up so hard he feels the chair teeter behind him as he lands on his feet. “I have to go and do- so many things and- I just thought I’d- you know. The offer’s there.”

“...Thank you?” He sounds uncertain.

Hinata abandons his coffee (someone’s gonna give him hell about that later - they’ve apparently decided that this is a collectivist island society that’s really serious about doing the dishes), and he totally doesn’t actually run from the dining room, but he does almost knock Tsumiki flat on her ass when he rounds into the hallway.

“Sorry, sorry-” he gasps over the sound of her startled shriek, even as he steps forward to catch her in his arms. He ends up holding her steady with his arms wrapped around her shoulders and lower back, her thigh wedged snugly up against his waist.

It’s pretty mild, as far as Tsumiki’s falls go.

“Oh,” she breathes, eyes glimmering with tears, “Hinata-san! I’m so clumsy-”

“No, no,” Hinata cuts in, desperate and breathless, attempting to smooth her skirt down without actually touching her, somehow, “It was my fault-”

Please forgive me-!”

I ran into you, seriously-”

“Oh!”

Hinata glances up to find a very amused looking Komaeda. Why, is his only question, directed in the vague direction of the cosmos.

“Uh,” he says, because he suddenly feels the need to explain himself, holding Tsumiki in a bastardised tango dip as she weeps gently in his arms, “I was just- leaving , and I ran into Tsumiki here by accident-”

“How romantic!” Komaeda claps his hands together. “What a hopeful sight!”

Hinata almost drops Tsumiki. “No!” he totally doesn’t shout. “I mean! It was an accident ! A direct result of my own incompetence! It’s not romantic! At all!”

Tsumiki lets out a gurgling sob. Oops.

Komaeda just continues to look amused. Almost militantly so, in fact. Like he doesn’t have a choice but to look amused. “And what a happy accident!”

Hinata finds himself praying for an earthquake. A fire. A swarm of locusts. Any disaster will do.

It doesn’t come. Hinata suspects that it’s because he is the disaster. At no point does it occur to him to set Tsumiki on her feet - all he can do is keep staring at Komaeda’s firmly benign smile.

“Well,” Komaeda says, finally, brightly, “I should be starting my day. See you both later!”

And with a small, tinkling wave, he disappears, leaving Hinata to cradle a teary Tsumiki in his wake. He allows himself the indulgence of one ragged sigh before he sets about the task of calming her down, helping her steady herself before he leads her into the dining room.

“Are you okay?” he asks, letting her sit down, “Seriously? Did I hurt you?”

“N-no,” she stammers out - she’s less teary now, which Hinata counts as a blessing, “You caught me in time.” She tilts her head, gives him a significant, slightly perplexed look. “...You’re... strong .”

“Uh,” Hinata says, feeling a sudden need to avert his gaze, “I mean. I’m no Nidai or anything.” He’s also realised he’s no unremarkable, kind of skinny Neo World Programme Avatar Hinata Hajime since waking up, but he’s trying to keep that on the down low. He doesn’t think he’s quite emotionally prepared for Nidai and Owari’s squat and suplex club. He can just barely handle the sight of himself shirtless in the mirror, let alone the prospect of Nidai feeling him up.

“But I didn’t expect you to be-” She claps a hand over her mouth with a gasp. “I mean, I didn’t mean to say-!”

“Hey,” Hinata cuts in, wondering if he should, like, pat her head, or something, or if that’d be weird, “It’s fine. No harm done, right? As long as you’re okay.”

She offers him a shaky smile after a moment’s hesitation. Hinata considers this his good deed for the day. “Thank you, Hinata-san.”

“Listen, I really need to go and do things,” he says, “But do you need anything? Tea?” He almost offers her a blanket, but then he thinks that might be condescending.

Koizumi swoops down on them a moment later, as if summoned by supernatural design by the presence of another girl’s tears. Hinata gets the unpleasant task of explaining his own lack of vigilance to her increasingly unimpressed expression.

“Why am I not surprised?” she sighs. She pats Tsumiki’s head. It doesn’t seem to be weird when she does it. “I’ll handle this. Shoo. Go work on your thing.”

Hinata is relieved at the dismissal.

He makes it all the way to the bridge before it hits him.

“Work on my…” He physically turns to stare at the hotel area, heart thumping in his chest. “Thing?”

 

 

Hinata hadn’t really meant for it to end up like this. There’s a high probability that all those hours spent sitting by Komaeda’s pod, not stressing, definitely not obsessing, or anything like that, made him go a little loopy. There’d been no blueprint - the entire thing had started one afternoon when Souda and Koizumi dragged him off to Electric Avenue to loot for scrap parts (get out of that dark room, they’d said - get some natural light). There’d been something weirdly calming about tearing through metal with his hands and digging up wires and cogs and power sources like fossils.

“You building something?” Souda had asked him, with a pointed glance at his pile of trash. Hinata had glanced down to find that his was much bigger than the other two.

“No,” he’d said, blinking, “At least. I don’t think so.”

He doesn’t really remember much of what happened next - all he remembers is sitting at his desk in his cottage, going with the flow until he’d realised pale dawn was creeping through his windows, making the lights left on in his room feel too warm, too sickly. The controller chip he has now is streets ahead of the one he’d built that night, but there’d been a significance to the first one, and he remembers spending a very long time just staring at it, biting at the inside of his cheek until it started to bleed.

“Hey, Souda,” he’d said at breakfast, running on caffeine and the twenty minute cat nap he’d managed to snatch beforehand, “What do you know about neurorobotics?”

Between Souda’s enthusiastic pointers, their weirdly well-stocked library, and Naegi-kun getting him the equipment he can’t from Electric Avenue, Hinata has-

He has something. Something he’s pretty sure might actually be functional soon.

The warehouse had been the obvious choice for his makeshift workshop. Nobody goes there, for a reason - even Hinata gets a little chill every time he walks in through the door. He’d been worried, a little, that Komaeda would, but Hinata’s spent plenty of time there even since the other boy had woken up, and he hasn’t seen him once.

It’s supposed to be a secret. It had been a secret, just between Hinata, the warehouse, and the prototype robot arm that’s been his main source of socialisation for the past few weeks.

Until he'd just been minding his own business in the warehouse, when the door had been all but kicked down.




Hinata totally doesn’t scream at the bone-rattling BANG that cuts through the air as the door smashes into the wall. He’s in the middle of soldering, and sparks go skittering across his worktable as he jerks, dropping his tool. He rips his goggles off, letting them clatter to the floor as he stares at the open door with a feeling that’s oscillating somewhere between terror and peeing oneself.

Who the fuck- Okay, so he’s panicking a little. Partially because also can’t actually see who’s interrupted him, because they’re backlit by the sun.

Then the figure steps into the room, and Hinata really does almost pee himself.

“Oh no,” he groans, a tiny sound, way under his breath.

Saionji takes her lollipop out of her mouth. “You would be hiding in the dark.” She is wearing sunglasses. This is unusual.

She is also in the immediate vicinity of Hinata’s secret. This is terrifying.

“Uh,” says Hinata, speaking louder than he has to, probably, but his heart is hammering in his chest to the point of distraction, “I was just…” Just knocking together a quick neuroprosthetic, you know. No big deal.

He’s so fucked.

“I wondered where you’d been hiding all this time,” she remarks.

“You,” Hinata says, “You wondered. About me.” This is absolutely a lie. He knows Saionji would never take the time out of her day to consider him in any kind of depth beyond perfunctory hostility.

He has an idea of who might, though. And he is suspicious, to say the least.

She steps closer. Hinata feels the desperate urge to circle around the desk, put himself between it and Saionji, but even he knows it’s futile at this point.

“I just thought it was weird that you weren’t spending every waking moment with that walking omen of death,” she continues, “Given all that time you spent crying over his pod, and all.”

Hinata bristles. “I didn’t cry over his pod-”

But he breaks off when she draws closer, stopping dead as she takes in his handiwork. She actually reaches up and pushes her glasses down the bridge of her nose, presumably to get a better look at it.

“How cute,” she sneers, finally.

‘Cute’ is probably not the word Hinata would’ve chosen, and frankly, he’s a little insulted, but it’s not like he has the upper hand in this situation, so he keeps his mouth shut.

“It all makes sense now.” She gestures with her lollipop. “He’s gonna love that creepy valentine, he gets off on that kind of shit.”

“It’s not a-” He pauses. “Are you chewing gum and eating a lollipop? At the same time?”

Her expression curdles. “We’re out of gummies,” she says, “You don’t get to judge me. This is peak survivalism.” She gestures at Hinata’s work table again. “So that’s looking pretty finished. Any reason why skeletor out there is still walking around with the freaky corpse hand?”

Hinata feels himself flush. “Who said it was for Komaeda?”

Saionji stares at him. She snaps her gum.

“You’re pathetic,” she says, with such utter scathing sincerity Hinata can practically feel his skin peeling off.

Like Hinata doesn’t already know.

“Anyway,” she says, rolling her eyes, “I’ve seen enough. Have fun with your weird robot fetish.”

She turns to go.

“Wait,” Hinata says, darting after her, “Wait. You can’t just- leave-” She knows too much. This could ruin him.

“Pretty sure I am,” she says.

“You can’t tell anyone about this,” he says.

She sniggers behind a hand. “Please.”

“I mean it,” he insists, drawing himself up to full height, “You can’t say a word about this.”

She stares up at him. “Am I supposed to be intimidated by the guy who’s whipped by the walking skeleton?”

He has got to get this blushing situation under control. “I am not whipped-”

“Yeah,” she cuts in, “I’m so done here.” She slips her sunglasses back over her eyes and pops her lollipop back into her mouth.

Hinata is desperate. It’s time to play not only his hand, but the entire deck. “You need gummies?” His voice echoes in the vast, uncaring hollow of the warehouse.

She stops.

“I can get you gummies,” Hinata says, taking this small window of opportunity, this blessing, with both hands and clinging to it, “ So many gummies.”

Saionji is silent for a moment. She reaches up with a hand, pushes her sunglasses down the bridge of her nose so she can resume eye contact.

“You have my attention,” she trills.

(“Hinata-kun,” says Naegi, later, face rippling a little because they’re on an encrypted line and it’s fond of dropping out whenever it gets the chance, “I don’t mean to pry, but… is there any special reason you need three crates of gummy bears?”

“Please,” Hinata says, defeat ringing hollow in his voice, “It’s really important.”

“...Alright,” Naegi says, with this curious little laugh, “I guess you have your reasons.”

Naegi is a good friend. He doesn’t ask too many questions and always gives Hinata a second to compose himself if he needs it.)

 

 

Hinata steals back to the hotel area sometime after eleven, eyes tired from staring at impossibly thin wires under bright white lights for too long. No one seems to be loitering in the common area, which he’s thankful for - apparently he can’t help but give off a suspicious vibe when he’s returning from the warehouse, judging from how he’s constantly getting intercepted. That or everyone is just that friendly. Hinata isn’t sure - he hadn’t expected them to be, after the truth came out.

He lets out a deep, heavy sigh as he unlocks his cottage door. He’s ready to faceplant onto the bed and close the book on the day, but he’s gross and sticky and sore from sweating under hot lights and pushing his mind to the limit all day. He makes sure his curtains are drawn before he strips down, tossing his dirty clothes in the general direction of the laundry basket as he heads into the shower room. He turns the temperature in the shower up to somewhere in the vicinity of ‘gently scalding’ and proceeds to switch his brain off, inhaling steam deep into his lungs and letting himself drift for a moment.

He’s always been bad at shutting off. It’s worse now. He takes what he can get.

It’s only when he’s slipped into his sleep clothes and collapsed onto the bed, hair still a little damp, that he realises he’s forgotten to turn the light off. He groans, loud and growling and completely self-indulgent.

“Fuck it,” he grumbles, rolling over and yanking the pillow over his head.

The sun will rise in a few hours, anyway. What’s the difference?

The knock at his cottage door is hesitant. Hinata lifts his pillow from his face, cranes his head to check the clock on the wall. It’s after midnight - not that it really bothers him, because there’s been a lot of this, people knocking on his door during the time he’d ordinarily be asleep. Sometimes they want to talk. Sometimes they just want to sit in silence.

Hinata gets it. Sometimes he wants the same thing.

It’s not like he’s been getting much sleep these days, anyway.

“Door’s open,” he calls out.

He sits up as the doorknob turns and clicks. It swings inwards, and Komaeda peers around the edge of the doorway.

He really should've turned the light off.

“Oh,” Hinata says, perfectly cool, and natural, not stiff or awkward, at all, “Hey.”

“Hello, Hinata-kun.” It’s his usual degree of pleasantness. It’s not that Hinata thinks Komaeda isn’t sincere about it - it’s just he thinks it would be good to see something else from Komaeda, once in awhile. “I hope this isn’t too late?”

“No,” Hinata says, “I was still awake.” Mostly.

Komeda nods. “I came by earlier, but you were out.”

“Oh.” He swallows. “Yeah, I was. Doing things.”

“Yes, you said you had many things to do this morning.” He tilts his head. “With Tsumiki-san?”

“No,” is Hinata’s instantaneous response. “No. I did nothing with Tsumiki. I… I hung out by myself. All day.” Just him and the robot.

“Ah.” He looks doubtful. His hand curls into a loose fist. “Well. I was passing by and saw that your light was on. And I thought we might... ” It’s rare that Komaeda looks uncertain, but here it is, brows knitted together, expression a little fraught. “Discuss?”

Hinata nods back. “Sure. Uh, do you wanna sit down?” He waves a vague hand at the couch by the window, circles back to the mattress he’s sitting on. “Wherever’s good.”

“Thank you,” Komaeda says, smooth as he steps into the room, lets the door drift shut behind him. The click as the catch sinks home feels too loud, kind of final, in the otherwise silence. Komaeda opts for the couch, Hinata observes - just observes, doesn’t judge, either way.

Hinata pulls the pillow onto his lap, neat and discreet, because he’s just remembered he’s in his underwear. Not that he thinks Komaeda would care - it’s just that Hinata’s not exactly down with the idea of having what he expects to be a challenging conversation like this. He can tell Komaeda has a worried mind just by looking at him.

Komaeda takes a breath. Hinata holds his own.

“The hand,” Komaeda says, after a moment, eyes shining, cautious, “It disgusts you.”

Hinata could groan. He’d known it’d just make Komaeda fret. He wishes he’d just kept his mouth shut.

“Komaeda,” he says, “That’s… that’s not what I meant.”

Komaeda clasps both hands together over his knee, settles back against the couch. “Then it’s the idea of it that disgusts you.”

“No, I,” he says, pushing his hair back from his face, “That’s not… I shouldn’t have said what I did.”

Komaeda shrugs his shoulders. “You were being honest with me.”

“It doesn’t matter what I think. How you cope,” Hinata says, “With. With all of it. That’s none of my business. If keeping it works for you, then you should do it.”

Komaeda tilts his head. “What would you do, Hinata-kun? Would you keep it?”

The irritation that flashes through Hinata is swift and heated, and it’s all directed at himself. “I already said, it doesn’t matter what I think.”

“I heard you,” Komaeda says, “And I didn’t say that I disagreed. I just want to hear what you would do, Hinata-kun.”

Hinata hesitates. The admission that Komaeda isn’t scrambling to bend to Hinata’s opinion is- honestly, something he hadn’t been prepared for. Maybe that makes him egotistical.

“Do you really need the reminder?” His voice is quiet when he finally speaks. “Do you really think there’s a chance you’d forget?”

Komaeda cocks his head. “Is Hinata-kun unfamiliar with the concept of wearing one’s mistakes?”

“I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to literally wear them,” Hinata says, arching a skeptical eyebrow.

“But there is a certain impact to doing so,” Komaeda says. He raises her hand, putting it between him and the ceiling, staring up at long nails. “The idea that others may look at it and feel even a fraction of the disgust I feel towards myself is an appealing one.”

“See,” Hinata says, “That doesn’t sound like a ‘reminder’ to me. That sounds like you’re trying to punish yourself.”

“I see Hinata-kun is also unfamiliar with the concept of justice,” The smile is back. Hinata almost chokes on how much he can't stand this feeling, how Komaeda constantly looks like he’s in on some joke the rest of them aren’t.

“‘Justice’,” he repeats, slowly, “As opposed to atonement?”

“I’m not sure there’s much point in making that distinction,” Komaeda says.

“Yeah, well,” Hinata says, exhaustion crashing over him, sudden, suffocating, almost, “Why do I get the feeling that if we were applying the idea of justice the way you’re hinting at, we’d all be dead?”

Komaeda doesn’t seem to have anything to say to that.

Hinata scrubs at his forehead with the back of his hand. “...That was uncalled for.”

“Hinata-kun-”

“Honestly?” Hinata says, “I’m still working this out. I don’t really know… what I’m doing?” A nervous laugh bubbles up in his throat. It’s mirthless - just a residual shiver of discomfort, of voicing his vulnerability.

Komaeda is silent for a moment. “You said you wanted to help me,” he says, finally, “Why is that?”

“What?” He clutches at the pillow in his lap with tense fingers. “What do you mean, ‘why is that’?”

“Did I phrase my question poorly?” He tilts his head, a thoughtful expression creeping across his face. “What do you hope to gain from helping me?”

Hinata’s brow creases. Surely Komaeda’s self-deprecation can’t be this crippling? Surely he can comprehend altruism on a conceptual level, even if he struggles with accepting it?

“I’ll try it this way. Would removing the hand help me,” Komaeda asks, “Or you, Hinata-kun?”

The well of his annoyance cracks. Some of it leaks out in Komaeda’s direction. “That’s a pretty damn offensive question, Komaeda,” he says.

“I guess I’m just confused,” Komaeda says, shrugging his shoulders, a strange, almost harsh glint in his eyes. There’s something wrong about it, with the way he keeps smiling. “Is this an attempt at meaningful atonement, or is it the last resort of a well-meaning reserve course student drowning in his own guilt, grasping at whatever he can to make himself feel better?”

Komaeda may as well have reached out and slapped him. He hasn’t heard those words come out of Komaeda’s mouth since he’d woken from his dream. The worst part is all of it, every word, had struck far too close to home for Hinata’s liking. He feels the smile twisting across his face - a wild animal scratching back at an attacker.

Wow ,” he says, hollow laughter bubbling up in his chest again. “You’re gonna throw that in my face? Seriously?”

“I’m just asking a question, Hinata-kun.” Wide eyes. The cat and mouse smile remains.

“Seems like a waste of time, if you’ve already made up your mind,” Hinata scoffs.

“I was waiting for your answer before I made up my mind, Hinata-kun,” is Komaeda’s smooth response.

“You know what I am,” Hinata says, “Who I am. Everyone on this island does.”

“And yet.” He waves a hand.

“And yet what?” He casts the pillow to the side, getting to his feet. He stands over Komaeda, who seems utterly unbothered by this turn of events. “Should I make you call me Kamukura-kun, Komaeda?” He doesn’t quite spit the name out - it belongs to him, after all, and try as he might, Hinata finds hatred a hard thing to commit to. “Would you believe I’m capable of things like meaningful atonement then?”

“I suppose I might question your sincerity in that case,” Komaeda tells him. He folds his hands together again - a prim little gesture, like Hinata’s being mocked. He thinks he might be.

“You know,” Hinata says, his voice soft, “All that time you were asleep? I guess I forgot how much you like to play your little games with people.”

This is just annoying. The fact that he would come here to-

“I know what you’re doing,” Hinata continues, staring down at the other boy, “You really underestimate how transparent you are, Komaeda.”

Komaeda’s eyes sparkle as he reaches up to close his hand around Hinata’s wrist. “How easy it is to lure you out!” His voice has turned that rapturous, almost gasping kind of breathless. He looks up at Hinata like he’s staring directly into the blazing cut-out of an eclipse, and all Hinata can think is how much he hates it.

He tears his arm back, leaving Komaeda’s hand to hang awkwardly in the air. “You’re gloating about luring out something that was always there?” He arches an eyebrow. “Low standards, Komaeda.”

“Low standards for a low creature!” Komaeda trills.

“Is that why you’re here?” Hinata says, dryly.

His eyes are deep and distant, dark irises, swimming pupils. “I’m here because, as luck would have it, your light just happened to be on as I was returning from the laundry room.”

“Sure,” Hinata almost snaps, “Blame luck. That’s an easy out for you, right?”

Komaeda grins. Hinata doesn’t want to look at it anymore, so he shifts his gaze away from it.

“...You are playing a game,” he says, after a moment. “You didn’t come here to insult me,” He’s not even really looking at Komaeda - he’s too deep in his thoughts for that. “Even if you’re obviously enjoying baiting me.” He’s focused on some random spot on the wall, and Komaeda is rendered in the same kind of blur he’s often sketched out in within the boundaries Hinata’s head.

“You don’t think you’re worth helping,” Hinata continues, thoughts solidifying like the slow creep of dawnlight through a crack in curtains, “Or you don’t think you can be helped. Am I in the ballpark here?”

Komaeda’s grin falters a little. He raises his eyebrows. “How forward of you, Hinata-kun.”

“Hey,” Hinata says, voice lilting, “I’m just asking a question.”

“Ah, yes.” He tilts his head. “You never answered mine, incidentally.”

“Which one?”

“Would you keep it?”

The question hangs in the air between them. Komaeda’s eyes on him is almost a physical sensation - like the slow mount of deep-sea pressure before cracking ribs and drowning in the dark.

“To be honest,” Hinata says, finally, “I’d want to. But I think I’d also want someone to tell me not to.”

He watches Komaeda process that, eyes sharp as they stare at one another.

“Interesting,” Komaeda says at last. It sounds noncommittal - Hinata can tell it’s deliberate. His eyes are clearer, now - coloured ink washing away the black.

Hinata takes a breath.

“Can I look at it?”

Komaeda doesn’t flinch, not quite -it’s just a little jerk, like an unexpected shiver’s gone creeping down his spine.

Hinata had asked about the hand, before, just once, just after Komaeda had woken up. He’d been almost blase about the check-up, letting Hinata poke and prod at him with easy humour - until Hinata had asked to see the hand.

(“I’d prefer it if you didn’t, Hinata-kun.”

He hadn’t pushed it.)

The question is enough to make Komaeda’s expression flicker. Hinata’s not so inclined to feel bad for him at this point.

“I mean, I thought that was the point,” he continues, voice flat, “You said so yourself, didn’t you? For people to look at it, and be reminded of the things you’ve done. It’s not about not letting yourself forget - it’s about making sure nobody else does.That’s what you want, isn’t it? You want everyone to know exactly what you are, how ugly you are, how much blood is on your hands.”

Komaeda’s expression is strangely neutral, but he also isn’t saying anything. Hinata thinks that speaks louder than any words could.

“This is about shame, isn’t it, Komaeda? Such a pointless, self-indulgent emotion.” His voice is hollow in his ears now, toneless. “You can’t even punish yourself properly - you have to make everyone else do it for you.”

Komaeda doesn’t even try to defend himself. It’s almost pitiful.

“Hey, Komaeda,” Hinata says, unable to keep the scathing note out of his voice, “Just a thought. Maybe you’re just as bad at meaningful atonement as a well-meaning reserve course student, drowning in his own guilt.”

He’s kind of shocked when Komaeda offers her hand to him without a word, palm turned upwards. Hinata balks, then, staring down at the hand for a moment. When he glances up at Komaeda’s face again, he’s turned his head away, like there’s something terribly fascinating about the door, when Hinata knows for a fact there isn’t.

Reality comes back to him in a rush. Guilt snaps through him when he realises how badly he’d forgotten himself - this isn’t Komaeda, dark swirling eyes and breathless rapture, gleefully extolling the virtue of murder for a higher purpose, Komaeda tearing himself to shreds as a final fuck you to the rest of them before he trades his life to kill them all. This is Komaeda, tired and thin and pale, wearing his own self-mutilation and dark memories, sitting on Hinata’s couch, alive despite everything, and he can’t even look at Hinata.

He hadn’t spent all that time sitting by a comatose Komaeda, running tests and psychodives until his brain started to snap, for this.

“Komaeda.” There’s a sinking pit in his stomach, a well of guilt. “I didn’t- I was just-”

“Being honest.” A jagged giggle that’s gone as quickly as it comes. He still doesn’t look up. “You’re right, of course, Hinata-kun. About everything. It seems I really am transparent.”

Hinata gets the sinking feeling that this might’ve been Komaeda’s play from the start - a even deeper, more nauseating lurch of horror when he realises he’d danced right into it.

“You’ve solved the mystery.” That pleasant tone, his easy cadence - all faked. Gloss on rust. “So here. Finish it. The way you used to.”

“...You don’t want that,” Hinata protests.

“I thought we just established that I do.” Komaeda looks up at him, then, eyes indistinct and unreadable like there’s gauze stuck over his irises. “Isn’t it what you wanted, Hinata-kun?”

Hinata bites the inside of his cheek, suddenly not feeling so clever. Still, though, there’s something about the way that Komaeda’s looking at him that stops him from saying no, that this is isn’t a good idea, this is a terrible idea, even if part of him knows he should shut this down, tell Komaeda to go to bed, never mention the hand again.

Instead he gets on his knees, because there’s something agonising about the idea of towering over Komaeda while he does this. This way Komaeda is looking down on him, and Hinata feels like less of a threat. He doesn’t miss the way Komaeda’s eyebrows rise as his knees hit the floor - only a fraction, but enough for Hinata to notice.

He swallows around a dry throat as he curls his hands around Komaeda’s wrist, feeling the grainy weave of the bandages wrapped around it. He holds Komaeda’s gaze as he feels out the catch, pulls the closure loose with a gentle tug. Komaeda looks down with a blink, then, so Hinata does too, sinking his teeth into his lip as he busies himself with unwinding the bandage, unravelling it the rest of the way, letting it flutter to the floor.

The stitches get to him first - dark, thick, almost heavy against Komaeda’s pale skin, against the dead skin. It’s a haphazard job - they’re messy, unfocused almost, not a neat line so much as a winding, confusing path. There’s something deliberate about it, though - Hinata can tell the suture points had been deep when they’d been made, like they’d been done with an aggressive hand. They make a jagged ring of scars, rough and raised. He trails his gaze up to where Komaeda’s own arm ends, stomach almost flipping when he notices more deep scarring scored into the skin. Botched amputation attempts, he realises, with another lurch of his gut.

“Oh,” Hinata breathes, “Komaeda.” It hurts to look at. It’s a pain he can’t imagine - not when he’d been sedated for everything that had been done to him. Not when Komaeda has a enough scars for the both of them.

“I knew it would repulse you,” says Komaeda, wry smile curled across his lips. “I did try to protect you from it.”

He isn’t exactly wrong - it is repulsive. It’s just that Hinata feels sad, more than anything else. This feels wrong, he realises, gut lurching, chest tightening. This is invasive. He just wishes it was enough to make him tear his eyes away.

“This is.” He runs his fingers across thick stitches, “This is really unbelievable.

Komaeda doesn’t say anything. Hinata gets the sense that he doesn’t find that to be an especially complimentary thing to say.

“How did you… how did you do this?” Hinata breathes, leaning in closer, and god, this should be gross, this should be awful, this is a terrible thing, what Komaeda’s done to himself, but he can’t get over it, can’t stop touching it, flipping the palm upwards so he can get a look at the stitches that wind through the other side, “This is crazy . It’s not even decaying.” He'd known that already, of course - it's impossible to miss. It's just he seems to have misplaced his filter.

The underside of the acrylic nails are clean, Hinata realises - like they’ve been maintained. Carefully. Lovingly.

“I’m just lucky,” Komaeda almost sighs from above, “I suppose.”

He’s smiling when Hinata finally manages to tear his gaze away from her hand, tilting his head back to peer up into grey eyes.

“Did you… do this yourself?” He already knows the answer. He isn’t even sure why he’s asking.

Komaeda’s eyes flicker. He breathes out - a laugh, maybe, or something that really wants to be. “Of course I did.”

“It must’ve been agony.” His voice is barely above a whisper.

“Yes,” Komaeda says, “It was.” He sounds blase, but his eyes are distant now, like he isn’t really present in the moment.

“You must’ve really wanted this.”

“Yes,” Komaeda says again, quieter now, “I did.”

Hinata strokes his fingers downwards, trailing over scars and mismatched skin, until cold fingertips slot in neatly between his own. Something’s fluttering, at the back of his mind, but-

“Does it feel familiar?” Komaeda asks, idle curiosity liquid in his voice.

“Familiar?”

“It belonged to her, after all.”

Hinata stares at him, for a moment. Then something in his brain grinds, like it’s been sanded down, worn through, about to snap, and then it rolls over him like ink dark night bleeding into orange sunset - violets and leather and something darker, something animalic, sinking into his nose so it’s all he can smell, so he almost chokes on it, sharp nails tickling at the nape of his neck, something soft and warm and indecipherable. She’d been big blue eyes and expensive mascara, a touch that didn’t hurt, just burned, a bleeding artery to drink from, a purpose, strawberry blonde the only colour in a greyscale world until the sky had bled red, and they’d stood atop the world they’d destroyed together-

Hinata-kun.”

He surfaces to hands pressed against his cheeks, wide grey eyes and pale lashes, the sound of harsh, ragged breathing in his ears. He realises, distantly, as he raises shaking hands to cover the ones pressed against his face, just to make sure that they’re real, that he’s real, that it’s his own breathing.

He blinks a few times, bringing Komaeda back into focus, worried eyes, skin paler, somehow, than it had been before.

“Breathe,” Komaeda is telling him, and Hinata can feel fingers curling into his hair, rubbing at his scalp. It gives him something to fixate on, warmth, rhythmic repetition. He closes his eyes again, focusing on the touch, the faint, distant sound of the ocean lapping at the shore, soft rhythm lulling his heartbeat into something calmer, something he can actually breathe through.

It’s only when the smell of violets fades that his breathing levels out, and he can find the presence of mind to form words again.

“What happened?” he rasps out - his throat’s dried out at some point, probably the heavy breathing.

“Despair.” His voice is flat when he says it, but there's a contemptuous note there. “It was her, wasn’t it?”

Hinata finds himself unable to speak again. A buried memory, he thinks. A ghost. Nothing more.

Hinata thinks that he has too many ghosts.

He takes a deep swallow, squeezing tighter at Komaeda’s hands. “I’m sorry,” he says, “You shouldn’t have to…”

“It is what it is,” Komaeda says simply, “I know how it feels.”

Hinata feels a sudden flash of anger at how fucking cavalier he sounds. Like it’s normal.

“You want to know what I really think? About that hand?” He grabs at Komaeda’s hand, his real hand, because he can’t even bear to look at her’s anymore. He clasps Komaeda’s hand between his own, because he’s seething, now, he can feel himself boiling over and he doesn’t really care to stop it.

“I hate it,” he says, words coming out rushed and frantic, “I hate it, I hate that she still has a hold on you, I hate that you feel like you have to keep her with you, like she’s still here-”

Komaeda’s eyes are wide, like he’s shocked. “Hinata-kun-”

“Fuck her,” Hinata almost spits, “Fuck her, fuck what she did to you, and all that bullshit she put in your head.”

“She’s a part of me,” is Komaeda’s response, his voice thin.

“She’s dead ,” Hinata snaps, “She’s dead, Komaeda. She’s dead, and Hope’s Peak is nothing but ashes, and you’re still here, so what does that tell you?” Komaeda doesn’t say anything, so Hinata keeps going, not even thinking about his words anymore - they spill out of his mouth, total overflow, honest and raw. “You’re not what Enoshima fucking Junko told you you were. You’re not what that fucking school told you you were. None of it matters. You outlived them both.”

There's a reason the words come so easily to him, this broken record that sometimes is the only way he can sleep at night.

Komaeda’s smile is thin and wan. “It’s to be expected, really.”

Hinata hesitates at that, thrown off course a little. “...What do you mean?”

“Good luck,” Komaeda says, “Bad luck. Rinse and repeat. It’s always the same. My entire life. This is temporary. It always is.” He raises her hand. “This? This reminds me not to get too comfortable.”

“What, so you spend the rest of your life torturing yourself?” Hinata snaps, “Fuck that, Komaeda. That’s not fair.”

“Please don’t talk to me about what’s fair, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda says. He looks tired, all of a sudden. “Sometimes I think it would’ve been better if you’d left me to dream.”

“Don’t you dare say that to me,” Hinata almost hisses.

“But what a worthless venture it was,” Komaeda sighs. “Look how much inconvenience I cause you.”

“Because you don’t listen,” Hinata says, “I don’t think you even want to try.”

Komaeda is silent for a moment. Then a smile crosses his face. “Once I woke up on an island,” he says, “With a chance to start again. And then Monokuma turned up, and none of it mattered anyway, because I played directly into her hands, and I did so gleefully. How many chances do you think I need to prove my own worthlessness, Hinata-kun?”

That was my fault!” Hinata cries, sliding his hands down, fingers tearing at Komaeda’s wrist, “Do you get that? That wasn’t your luck, that was me!”

“How can you be sure?” Komaeda asks.

Hinata pauses in disbelief. “...You can’t blame your luck for every single bad thing that happens in the world. That’s… really self-absorbed, for one thing. Impossible, for another.”

Komaeda just smiles. Hinata can’t stand it.

“I was acting under instruction,” Hinata presses, “Her being there… was because of things I did. Do you get that?”

“Controlling you even after she’d died, yes,” Komaeda says, his voice soft, “But regardless of my theories about how I might have played into it - have you ever considered the possibility that she’s stained you in a way that can’t be erased, Hinata-kun?”

“No,” Hinata says, voice shaking, “ No. I can’t believe that. I can’t.

“I believe it’s true in my case.”

“I believe in you.”

Komaeda freezes. His fingers curl in on themselves, nails scratching at Hinata’s palm. Hinata can feel his heart pounding in his chest - he hadn’t meant to say that. He knows better - knows that Komaeda isn’t even capable of hearing things like that, that they glance off the armour he’s built for himself before they even get a chance to connect. Hinata looks at Komaeda’s utterly shocked expression and loathes it, loathes being vindicated likes this, loathes that the only reaction his words got him is disbelief. All of a sudden it feels like there isn’t enough air in the room for the both of them to breathe - his lungs feel like they’re burning.

Komaeda finally manages a laugh. “Putting your hope in me is a mistake, Hinata-kun,” he says, glancing away. “You’d think you would’ve learned that by now.”

“Well,” Hinata says, unable to keep the bitterness from his voice, “Maybe a piece reserve course trash isn’t capable of learning from his mistakes.”

That makes Komaeda look up again. “Hinata-kun. I didn’t-”

“Save it, Komaeda,” Hinata says, feeling exhausted again, “Whatever you’re gonna say - that you didn’t mean it, or that you shouldn’t have said it, whatever. I know you meant it. You always mean it.” He lets go of Komaeda’s hand, lays the back of his hand against his forehead and closes his eyes.

“Hinata-kun?” He sounds cautious.

“But, you know, maybe you’re right.” He isn’t quite crying - his eyes are just burning, around his optic nerves. “Maybe that’s all I’ll ever really be. Maybe I should’ve known my place. Maybe then none of this would’ve ever happened.”

Hinata opens his eyes to find that Komaeda has leaned in closer to him, peering at him with worried eyes. Hinata smirks, self-defeating, self-loathing.

“Maybe you were right,” he continues, “Maybe I am just trying to make myself feel better.” He nods at her hand. “You keeping that. Me spending all that time sitting there, waiting for you to wake up. Maybe it’s all the same thing.”

“...You waited for me?” It might just be Hinata’s imagination, but he thinks Komaeda’s voice cracks - just a little.

Hinata tilts his head. “Did you think it was just a coincidence I was there when you woke up?”

“...I thought maybe I got lucky,” Komaeda admits.

Hinata shrugs, the weak laugh that escapes his throat feeling like dust in his mouth. “I mean,” he says, “You can pretend that luck kept me sitting there day in, day out, if it really makes you feel better.”

Komaeda stares at him for a moment longer. Then he shakes his head, a small, thin laugh escaping his throat. “Why bother?”

Because you didn’t deserve to die like that, Hinata almost says, but he doesn’t - he can’t, having seen the evidence of how badly it had scarred Komaeda, can’t risk plunging him back into the darkness, one he might not be able to claw his way back from. One that Hinata can't bring him back from.

“I had to,” he says instead.

Komaeda raises his eyebrows. “So I’m an obligation.”

“Stop putting words in my mouth,” Hinata snaps, voice rough with frustration, “You weren't the only one. I waited for all of you.”

“And, I'm sure to the surprise of no one, what an inconvenience I was,” Komaeda says, “Keeping you waiting so long.”

“You were hurting,” Hinata says simply. “I don’t know if I would’ve wanted to come back, either.”

Komaeda’s smile falters.

“As always,” he says, after a moment, “Hinata-kun wastes too much kindness on me.”

“Komaeda,” Hinata says, wearily, “You ever consider the possibility that you could use more kindness?”

“No.” He folds his arms across his middle, glances off to the side.

Access denied. Hinata bites the inside of his cheek for a moment. “You always look away when I say things like that.”

Komaeda doesn’t seem to disagree, but neither does he seem terribly inclined to do anything about it. Hinata takes a deep breath, lets it out in a sigh. He doesn’t have any fight left in him - it’s late and he’d been tired to begin with, and Komaeda, is still really too much for him to deal with. He knows he’d stopped thinking clearly a while ago, doesn’t have the presence of mind to really care.

Komaeda jumps, a tiny, startled noise escaping his throat and shoulders hitting the back of the couch when Hinata reaches out, fingers skimming his jaw, tilting his head up. He’s visibly alarmed, eyes wide, lips parted slightly. Hinata waits for him to shrink back from the touch.

He doesn’t.

Hinata isn’t prepared for that. He’d known he’d been playing with fire, fully expected to be burned.

Maybe he just needs to push a little harder.

“I don’t want things to be the way they were before,” Hinata tells him, his voice throaty in his own ears, “I want them to be different. Because I...”

It’s- distracting, having Komaeda this close to him, close enough to notice things he hadn’t before. Komaeda’s lashes are almost translucent at this distance, absorbing the light overhead, fluttering over dark undereye circles that the warm light turns almost purple. Sometimes Hinata still has trouble not picturing Komaeda as the younger avatar of himself. Seeing him like this, up close, as confronting as it is, helps. His face is more angular now, like someone’s sanded his cheekbones to be even sharper, more sunken in, paler from being locked up in the dark for so long. Maybe that’s why Komaeda seems to favour the sunlight, Hinata finds himself thinking - because he’s been starved of it.

Hinata wonders if Komaeda feels strange being in his own skin again, like he sometimes does. If he feels like he could just close his eyes and be someone else entirely when he opens them again.

Komaeda takes a shaky breath, and Hinata snaps back to reality. Hinata been going somewhere with this - it’s just that all of a sudden he can’t remember where, exactly.

“...Different how, Hinata-kun?” Komaeda’s voice is quiet. Everything is quiet, like the world beyond Hinata’s cottage has ended, just blinked out of existence - no rolling tide outside, no wind rustling through the palm trees.

“I…”

This should be too much, Hinata thinks - too close. He can feel Komaeda breathing, almost see his pulse ticking in his throat. The last time he’d been this close to Komaeda, there hadn’t been a pulse, just cold skin, open wounds, smears of bright coagulating blood. The thought makes him dizzy, and he leans further into Komaeda, fingers tightening on his jaw as if to steady himself, forces himself to focus on how Komaeda isn’t frigid to the touch, but warm, alive, under his fingertips. He needs this - something to chase away the blank stare of dead, glassy eyes that flickers in the dark corners of Hinata's mind on a maddening loop.

Komaeda closes his hand around Hinata’s wrist, and Hinata lets out a deep, shaky exhale, as if Komaeda's dragging him from some dark, swirling ocean. The additional tension nudges them even closer together.

“...I should go.” It’s a breath above a whisper. Hinata can feel it, idle sibilance stroking his face. Caution emanates off Komaeda like a warm glow.

Hinata swallows. Yeah, you probably should, part of him tries to say, but it’s like the words are sinking stubborn claws into his throat, hiding in the dark, refusing to face the light.

“...Shouldn’t I?” There’s something in his eyes - pleading, maybe. Hinata isn’t sure what for. Komaeda bites his lip, just for a second, and then Hinata suddenly finds himself staring at Komaeda’s mouth. He’s aware of the beat his heart skips - actually has a chance to miss it.

He’d thought he’d lost control of the situation earlier. He’s an idiot.

It’s Komaeda’s turn to swallow. “...Unless you want me to stay?”

The realisation that he doesn’t want Komaeda to leave washes over him - it’s just Hinata doesn’t know what might happen if Komaeda did stay. His mind turns to white noise the more he tries to think about it.

Hinata wonders if the problem is that he’s thinking too much. If he just let go, maybe-

“I should go.” More forceful this time. He uncurls his fingers, releases Hinata’s wrist, and all Hinata can wonder is who Komaeda is actually trying to convince.

“If.” It comes out dry, cracked - Hinata has to clear his throat. “ If you want to.”

Komaeda’s eyes flicker. It’s almost like they dim. His mouth twitches like he’s about to smile. “I think it would be best if I did.”

Just like that, the tension saps away- Hinata can breathe again, but the air suddenly feels as cool as Komaeda’s voice sounds. All it takes is Komaeda standing up, disentangling himself from Hinata’s grip, for it to feel like it never happened at all. Hinata doesn’t even really know what ‘it’ was, but he knows it was something.

“I’ve taken up enough of your time tonight, Hinata-kun. It’s late. You must be tired.” He’s back to not looking at Hinata again, speaking too quickly for his calmness to be entirely convincing.

“...Yeah,” Hinata says. He feels numb. He feels like everything, his mind and his heart, every single nerve in his body, had been firing on all cylinders under Komaeda’s touch, and now it’s like they’ve burnt up, leaving nothing but ashes and empty husks behind.

Komaeda nods. “I’ll let you rest, then.”

Hinata watches Komaeda head for the door. He wonders what Komaeda would do if he asked him to stop - if he told him he’d changed his mind.

Komaeda reaches the door. Hinata says nothing.

He gets the briefest flash of grey eyes. “Good night, Hinata-kun.” He sounds so normal. It makes Hinata’s stomach sink.

“Night, Komaeda,” he says, knowing his voice is timid, and then Komaeda’s gone with a swing and click of the door.

Hinata stares after him for a moment, the silence almost tangible, like he’s breathing it into his lungs. Then he sinks forward with a groan, folding his arms against the couch and burying his face against them.

“Good job, Hajime,” he growls at himself, because if he doesn’t, he’s either going to punch something or cry.

Eventually he summons the will to get himself into bed. He lies awake for what feels like a very long time. Every time he closes his eyes he’s confronted with the ghost of warm skin beneath his hands, the fluttering rhythm of a pulse that isn’t his, grey eyes, staring directly into his. The eyes are alive, this time. Hinata takes what he can get, these days.

He falls asleep to the first trickles of orange light and the sound of birds singing.

 

 

Komaeda doesn’t come to breakfast the next morning. Hinata waits, twisting a napkin in his lap, for him to show, leaning on the fact that Komaeda tends to be one of the last to turn up for moral support. Twenty minutes after Mioda is the last one to sit down, Hinata’s torn the napkin to shreds, and Komaeda still hasn’t turned up.

He barely even manages to make it seem like he gives a shit about the newly metamorphosed butterflies Tanaka has bred, too focused on destroying yet another napkin under the table as the insects flutter with perfect serenity over the table.

Hinata is not experiencing perfect serenity, and honestly kind of resents their presence.

“Where’s Komaeda?” Koizumi asks at one point.

Hinata glances up to find no less than five separate pairs of eyes looking at him expectantly.

“...Am I supposed to know?” he almost snaps. So maybe he’s slightly grouchy - he’d managed to toss and turn himself into three hours of sleep at absolute best . He’s allowed to be a little irritable.

“He’s your “friend”,” Saionji says. Hinata can almost see the quotation marks.

“Sorry to disappoint,” he says, “But I have no idea.” He turns his attention to his coffee, where it remains for the rest of breakfast.

He’s quick as usual to depart from the dining room, but this time he heads in a different direction, desperate to get to Komaeda’s cottage before the others have a chance to catch him. A quick look tells him that Komaeda’s curtains are drawn. He raises his hand to knock on the door, and-

Hesitates, fist hanging awkwardly in the air.

Maybe Komaeda is still asleep. Or maybe Komaeda doesn’t want to see anyone.

Or maybe Komaeda doesn’t want to see him.

The thought is a troubling one, but it makes sense - Hinata hadn’t exactly handled either himself or Komaeda well last night Or any single thing about that situation. The thing is, he can’t not check in - he couldn’t live with himself, knowing that if Komaeda is upset, he’s the reason for it.

He steps away from Komaeda’s door with a sigh, folding his arms across his chest when he hits the pathway, thinking. He can’t ask one of the others to check for him - that would open up too many questions Hinata isn’t really prepared to answer.

Then it hits him - an easy, unobtrusive solution, one that doesn’t involve him backing Komaeda into a corner, or waking him up, or potentially starting another awkward tense not-fight.

He slips back into his own cottage, rummaging through his desk until he digs up a pencil and a piece of plain white paper. What a perfectly obvious, normal solution, that nobody would have any business finding weird or inappropriate.

Now he just has to write the thing.

“Get it together, Hajime,” he grumbles at himself with an irritable click of his pencil, after almost two entire minutes of staring blankly down at the equally blank sheet of paper.

It’s not like he’s writing the guy a damn love letter, or anything.

In the end, the note he carries over to Komaeda’s door is a brief one:

Missed you at breakfast. Hope you’re okay.

Hinata


He crouches down and slides the note under Komaeda’s door. He springs back up immediately and glances around to make sure he hasn’t been caught, lurking around Komaeda’s cottage like some kind of creep, instead of the concerned friend he truly is. Satisfied that he has managed to pull off the operation without being exposed, he heads off to the bridge, ready for another day of glaring lights and complaining and cursing out an inanimate object.

Chapter Text

“Dude,” Souda says that night, when he catches Hinata dragging all his things back from the laundry room, “You know if you ever need help, you can just ask right?”

“Uh,” Hinata says, struggling to keep everything balanced in his arms, because a t-shirt is threatening to go tumbling to the ground and why doesn’t he have a basket, “Sure? Thanks? You too?” He means it, really, he’s just- distracted.

“I mean,” Souda says, “I know you’ve probably got it covered, because you’re way out of my league and all, but man, I don’t know, it’d be really cool to just see , even.”

“Um, sorry,” Hinata says, “I don’t… really get what you’re talking about?”

Souda looks dumbfounded. “The robo hand you’re building for Komaeda?”

Hinata drops his laundry.

Souda lets out this nervous laugh. “Haha, oh man-” He actually squats down like he’s thinking about picking up the laundry, when they have so many more important things to be focusing on.

Hinata tries not to be rough as he grabs Souda and hauls him to his feet, he really does, but he feels oddly like he’s losing his mind and knows he’s probably not as careful as he should be as he drags him off in the direction of his cottage.

“Uh, dude-” Souda is clearly speaking around a mouthful of shock, “Your laundry-”

Hinata throws his door open. “Forget the laundry.” He pushes Souda into the room ahead of him, lets the door slam shut behind them. He sets his hands on his hips and descends upon Souda, backing him further into the room. “Who told you?”

Souda looks frightened. Good. He should be. “Uh, Koizumi-”

Koizumi?” He’s not proud of the way his voice spikes in pitch. “ Koizumi told you?!”

“Dude, you don’t have to yell-”

I’m not yelling!” He isn’t. At all. He’s totally calm, and collected, and this is fine, this is all absolutely fine, “When? When did she tell you?”

“She didn’t,” Souda says, shrinking back, “I heard Saionji talking to her-”

Saionji.

Hinata almost shivers as it all clicks into place.

Of course.

He whirls around

“Hey, uh-”

What, Souda?”

He looks stunned, confused, utterly bamboozled by this turn of events. “Are you... leaving?”

Yes, Souda.” How is this not obvious , Souda?

“Oh. Okay. Do you want me to, like, wait here for you to get back?”

Hinata takes a deep, cleansing inhale through his nose. Counts to five, because there’s no time to go all the way up to ten. “No, Souda.”

“So we’re done talking?”

It takes substantial effort for Hinata to refrain from rubbing his temples. “Yes , Souda.”

“Okay.” He looks doubtful. “It’s just it seemed like the conversation wasn’t over and-”

“It’s postponed.”

“...So we’ll talk later?”

“Yes, Souda.” He wrenches the door open, gestures in a way that hopefully conveys ‘ get the fuck out of my cottage’ without actually having to say it, because that would be unfair.

“Uh,” Souda says, finally moving towards the door, “Sure. Okay.”

Hinata maybe closes the door behind them with more force than necessary.

“Well.” Souda clears his throat. “Good night, dude.”

“Good night , Souda,” Hinata says, in a way that hopefully conveys ‘ get out of my sight, please’. The ‘please’ is possibly the most important part- he’s a little frazzled, but Souda is still his friend.

He waits for Souda to return his own cottage before he stalks off down the path, bestowing a rapid knock on the cottage door in front of him. He listens to the faint rustling behind the door, before it swings open.

“Do you have any idea what time it-” Koizumi pauses, squinting at Hinata. “Why are you so angry?”

“I’m not angry,” Hinata insists, “But if I was, it would be totally justifiable, because I, apparently, live on an island of rats.”

Koizumi yawns. It’s an impressive one - he can practically hear her jaw crack behind the hand she throws up to cover it. “What are you talking about?”

Hinata’s heart is seconds away from detonating in his chest. “I just think it’s really funny that your- your friend-”

Koizumi rolls her eyes. Hinata ignores it.

“-Just happened to be the one to catch me- doing. Things. In the warehouse.”

“‘Things in the warehouse’,” Koizumi repeats, her voice dragging like she’s trying her very best to be very patient with Hinata.

Yes,” Hinata hisses, “ Things.”

“And am I supposed to know the nature of these ‘things’,” Koizumi asks, “Or should you actually be having a conversation with Hiyoko?”

“No, I should definitely be having a conversation with you,” Hinata says.

“Really? Because it sounds like you might actually be mad at her,” Koizumi says, “And not me. Which is actually really convenient, because she’s right here.”

Hinata feels the colour drain out of his face.

“If I have to get dressed things will not end well for you,” Saionji’s assurance comes from somewhere in the lamplit room, beyond the doorway.

Mmm ,” Hinata groans, slapping a hand over his forehead.

Koizumi just raises her eyebrows at him. It’s very disapproving school teacher. Hinata feels appropriately admonished.

“I really walked into this one,” he says, “Didn’t I?”

“You really did,” Koizumi agrees.

“...Can I just.” He rubs his temples. “Go? And we can forget this ever happened?”

Koizumi fixes him in a steady look. “Some advice,” she says, “Don’t wake people up late at night, it’s rude.”

Hinata just frowns at her.

“Also.” She raises her eyebrows as she leans in and lowers her voice. “If you have something that you’d like to give to another person, you might want to do it sooner rather than later. As possibly the person in question may find out some other way. About the gift. That you may or may not have.”

A strangled noise escapes his throat. It’s probably what a dying wolf sounds like.

“Good night, Hinata.”

Hinata possibly has lost part of his mind, because he swears that the tiniest smile graces her face before the door clicks shut. He can’t remember the last time someone closed a door in his face, but it’s super frustrating. He knows better than to push Koizumi further, though, and so settles for letting out a ragged sigh, dragging his palm down his face.

He turns around to the unpleasant reminder that his entire week’s worth of clean clothes and linen are currently all over the deck. As if he doesn’t have enough to deal with.

“Fuck this,” he grumbles, trudging over clean up his mess.

“Hey, dude?”

Hinata glances up to find Souda standing at his cottage door. Even in the moonlight, Hinata can tell he’s concerned. “You need help with that?”

Hinata surveys his scattered kingdom of laundry.

“Yeah,” he says, feeling sheepish, “That’d be great. Thanks.”

He makes it all of twenty seconds of them loading laundry into their arms before his sheepishness and guilt reaches critical levels.

“...Sorry for being a jerk.”

Souda almost drops his stack of clothes as he thumps Hinata on the back. “Nah,” is his cheerful assurance, “It’s all good.”

“No, but seriously,” Hinata insists, “I’m sorry.” He pauses. “I’ll take you to see the… the project sometime, yeah?”

Souda beams. Hinata’s pretty sure he’s just made his entire week.

“Just!” he says, holding up a hand before Souda can get going, “You have to promise. Not to tell anyone. Especially him. Okay?”

“Oh, right, sure!” Souda says, with a rapid nod, “You have my word, dude! My lips are sealed!”

Hinata feels a little encouraged by this, as they head back to his cottage, arms full of clothes. Even if Saionji has proven herself to be an opportunistic conniving backstabber, he does trust Souda not to tell (he guesses he trusts Koizumi, too, the difference being that she’s smart and potentially unpredictable enough to double cross him - if she had a reason to).

“Where should I put this?” Souda asks him, after Hinata’s managed the miraculous act of finessing his way into the cottage without dropping everything.

“The couch is fine,” Hinata says, “I’ll fold it later.”

“Sure thing.”

“Thanks, Souda,” Hinata says, feeling another twinge of guilt for being so short with him earlier, “Seriously.”

“No problem!”

A pause.

“Oi,” Souda’s voice drifts, sounding curious, “What’s that?”

Hinata dumps his own pile of laundry on top of Souda’s. “What’s what?”

Souda points at the floor. “That.”

Hinata turns around. His heart skips a beat at the sight of the folded up piece of paper on the floor.

“Uh,” he says, quick to walk over and snatch it up before Souda can get his hands on it, “I guess... it’s a note?”

“...From who?” Curiosity glimmers in his eyes.

“Oh,” Hinata says, rather loudly, “Who knows, really? I have no idea. No clue at whatsoever. It’s a total mystery. Maybe someone has a complaint. Or something.”

Souda looks nonplussed. “A complaint?”

“Yeah,” Hinata says, eyes darting, “You know. When you have a complaint and you… put it in… writing…” He feels his soul perishing in real time with every new word he utters.

Souda blinks. And then he gasps, so loudly Hinata almost jumps. And then his eyes begin to sparkle. “Maybe it’s a love note!”

“Nope,” is Hinata’s instantaneous dismissal, “ Definitely not a love note.” He pushes that thought away. Far away.

“No, but think about it!” Souda insists, grabbing his arm, which Hinata neatly extends so he can hold the note out of reach. “It’s bound to happen, right? Hot-blooded young adults, sharing in a great tragedy, thankful to be alive. Who knows what might bloom, on a secluded desert island, if given the chance?”

“...Didn’t realise you were so creative, Souda,” is Hinata’s slightly strangled response.

Souda’s eyes brighten even further, somehow. “ Koizumi seems to like you!”

Hinata actually laughs. Loudly.

Souda does not seem to share in his amusement, confusion creasing his brow. “What’s funny?”

“Oh,” Hinata says, feeling strangely numb, “You’re… you’re serious.

“Yeah? What’s the problem? You guys are always talking, and she’s super cute.”

“Koizumi isn’t into me like that,” Hinata says. He pauses, casting around for an appropriate choice of words. “I’m… not on her team.”

“Aw, come on, dude,” Souda says, giving him an encouraging thump on the back, “We’re all on the same team here!”

Hinata is dumbstruck for a solid thirty seconds.

“Haha,” he finally croaks out. Sometimes he has serious concerns about Souda. “ Anyway. It’s. It’s probably nothing. Komaeda’s probably just cranky at me for leaving a plate out again, or whatever.”

“Oh man,” Souda exclaims with a laugh, “ Komaeda. Can you imagine getting a love note from that guy?”

“No!” Hinata says, at a perfectly normal, level volume, “Nope! Who would ever imagine that? Definitely not me!”

“Man,” Souda says, almost wistfully, “It’d be so weird.” A thoughtful expression crosses his face. “I think he’d be really enthusiastic, though. Like, have you listened to him when he gets going? Some of the stuff he says is wild. I bet he’d come up with some really freaky shit.”

“Komaeda is pretty enthusiastic, isn’t he,” Hinata says noncommittally, feeling vaguely like he’s going to pass out.

“What kind of girls do you think he’s into?” Souda seems really into this line of conversation, which is really unfortunate.

“No idea.” He needs this to be over. Now. “So hey! This has been fun, but I’m feeling kinda tired and I didn’t get much sleep last night…”

“Oh, yeah,” Souda says, seemingly having forgotten all about Komaeda and his hypothetical ‘freaky shit’, “Damn, it’s after midnight!”

“It’s late,” Hinata says, shaking his head, gently ushering Souda in the direction of the door, “We should both get some rest, yeah?”

Souda, for once in his life, is actually easy to get rid of. Hinata goes to the effort of locking the door behind him before he wanders over to his bed and sits down,finally unfolding the note. It’s written on the back of his own brief note from earlier.

Dear Hinata-kun,

I’m writing you this because it’s now after dinner time and you aren’t in your cottage, otherwise I would’ve spoken to you face-to-face.

Thank you for checking on me - it’s very kind of you! I’m fine - I just felt a little unwell this morning and found myself without much appetite.

I’m very sorry if I worried you.

Sincerely yours,

Komaeda

There’s probably no good reason for Hinata to be smiling about such a brief, polite letter. There’s certainly no reason read and re-read it a million times before he falls asleep.

He doesn’t let that stop him.

 

 

Souda is sitting with Komaeda at breakfast the next morning. Hinata is unsure of how to feel about this development. He can’t actually hear what they’re talking about across the table, because Mioda is currently playing a very loud and enthusiastic solo on the spoons while Sonia claps along, but Souda is grinning and Komaeda is giggling, and it’s really getting on Hinata’s nerves for reasons he doesn’t care to comprehend. He removes himself from the scene, wandering out to the doorway to wait.

Saionji barely even spares him a look as she attempts to pass him by. Hinata grabs her by the arm. She glances up, and it’s very difficult not to shrink back at the open disgust that floods her face.

“I’m gonna scream for Mahiru,” she says. It sounds like less of a statement and more of a threat.

“Hey,” Hinata says, “ Sis. Walk with me for a second.”

Saionji rolls her eyes. “You thought that sounded cool, right? Because that’s pretty much your lamest attempt at seeming cool yet.”

No it’s not, he almost snaps, but he really needs to stop making it so easy for people, so he bites down on it.

“So remember how I swung you all those gummies,” he says instead, “Because you promised not to talk. And then you talked. What’s up with that?”

She cocks her head and pouts theatrically, tapping her chin with a finger. “That’s weird,” she says, rolling her eyes in a way that’s clearly meant to create the illusion of her being thoughtful while simultaneously casting disrespect on Hinata’s entire life, “I definitely don’t remember promising not to talk.”

“You-”

He pauses. Mentally reviews their conversation. Feels the cold scald of dawning horror. Rewinds the conversation. Reviews it again. Shit.

Shit.

“And there it is,” Saionji says, popping a gummy into her mouth. “Can I go now?”

“Why,” Hinata groans, “Are you like this?”

“Your first mistake was thinking I’d sink low enough to take a bribe,” Saionji says. She punctuates this with an especially loud chew.

You blackmailed me,” Hinata hisses.

“Yeah,” says Saionji, “But I have standards. Unlike you. Mr Necrophiliac.”

“That’s not even accurate-”

“Would you prefer corpsefucker?” She’s not even bothering to chew with her mouth closed at this point. Hinata knows she’s doing it to drive him insane. It’s working.

“He isn’t dead,” Hinata snaps, “And I don’t want to- do that. To him.”

She rolls her eyes. “We’re done here.” She shoves the bag of gummies into her belt with a threatening crunch . “Looking at you makes me sick.”

He watches her go, defeat dragging at his shoulders. He’s tempted to give into them - just lie down on the floor for a bit.

“Hey.”

He glances up. Saionji is levelling him a purposeful stare over her shoulder.

“Man up,” is all she says, before she turns and heads into the dining room.

Hinata suddenly doesn’t feel all that hungry anymore.



The thing is, Hinata doesn’t even know how to bring it up. He’s considered just breaking into Komaeda’s cottage and leaving it for him to find, maybe with a note, now that he knows Komaeda responds well to them ( just thought of you - no need to thank me! Or bring this up! Ever!). The thing with that is that even though Komaeda might be resourceful, and Hinata wouldn’t even necessarily be surprised to learn that he can perform microsurgery, he’s pretty sure there’s no way Komaeda is capable of doing it on himself.

Which means he can’t just drop the thing and disappear from the island forever.

He takes to getting up early and raiding the kitchen for food before spending most of his days and nights in the warehouse, just daring the universe to send someone to bother him. He’s tired of Saionji making whipping motions at him across the dining room; tired of Sonia insisting that she’s seen this exact scenario in an authentic Japanese drama before and would of course be delighted to give him advice (Hinata has never heard of this alleged drama and honestly refuses to believe it exists); sick of Tanaka repeatedly approaching him and offering him ‘sealing sigils’ for any ‘metal work’ he may happen to be crafting.

Hinata doesn’t remember asking anyone for their input, is all.

After four days of this routine isolation, Hinata returns to his cottage to find an envelope on the floor, obviously slid under the door in his absence. The envelope in question is a pale sky blue, adorned with printed rainbows and smiling clouds that glisten with iridescent silver glitter.

Who ?” is all he has to ask of the letter, because this is a puzzling and rather unexpected aesthetic that he honestly can’t attribute to anyone. Maybe Mioda. Possibly Saionji (this one he can actually believe, especially if it contains a threat).

He opens the envelope, his eyes going wide at the familiar handwriting.

Dear Hinata-kun (written under a printed image of a smiling sun) ,

I’m very sorry about the stationery - I know it’s juvenile and the glitter is tasteless, but as luck would have it, it was all I could find in my desk. Trust me - I’m as affronted as you are.

Hinata catches himself smiling, and puts a stop to that business immediately.

I don’t mean to overstep any boundaries, but your presence has been missed in group settings this week. I’m sure you have your reasons to be absent, and I don’t mean to pry into things that don’t concern me, but I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.

Sincerely yours,

Komaeda

“‘Things that don’t concern me’,” Hinata reads aloud. If only Komaeda knew.

He checks the time - after two in the morning. Hinata thinks it’s a safe bet Komaeda probably keeps pretty weird hours, but it’s still an unsociable time to go knocking on his door. He pauses for a moment, staring thoughtfully at the happy sun, before he heads over to his desk.

Dear Komaeda-

Too formal, not his style. He crumples the sheet of paper up, hurls it in the general direction of the trashcan.

Hey there-

What? No. Into the trash.

Komaeda-

So apparently greetings just aren’t his thing. He taps his pencil against the desk rapidly, deep in thought.

Everything’s fine. I’ve just been busy. It’s nothing to worry about.

Better.

I think the stationery is kind of cute.

Hinata looks down at the words he’s just written, and considers the perilous nature of conveying tone through written correspondence. Could he potentially draw a winking face? Could he live with himself if he did? Would Komaeda find it tacky?

He ultimately decides to leave the sentence as it is. The stationery is kind of cute. Why should he lie?

It’s nice that-

Hinata wrinkles his nose and erases the words. No.

It’s really cool that-

No.

I really appreciate you-

No.

There’s eraser dust all over the page. He sighs, plucking the paper off the desk with his fingers and shaking it off gently. He sighs again, craning his head back to stare at the ceiling for a moment.

He should just be honest.

It’s sweet of you to check on me.

He’s being perfectly objective - it is sweet of Komaeda to check on him. It’s not a factually incorrect thing to say.

It’s sweet of you to check on me.

Hinata

There. Short and to the point, but polite enough to thank Komaeda for his concern. Perfectly acceptable to be slipped under Komaeda’s door in the middle of the night.

Hinata lives to regret his decision. Turns out you can’t just unsend letters, no matter how strongly you regret your selection of a certain word. Unless you want to stealth into someone’s cottage, but Hinata’s been in a luck stalemate with Komaeda before, and he doesn’t want to tempt those energies, and have Komaeda wake up to Hinata trying to steal the note back. He has no idea how he’d explain that away.

He doesn’t sleep a wink. He’s so tired of fretting about it that he gets up and gets dressed at the first cold light of morning, trudging over to the warehouse before the sun is entirely up.

The combination of sleep deprivation and just looking at the hand for too long makes him fry a couple of biosensors. It’s extremely annoying. He’s genuinely just considering dragging a futon and blankets into the warehouse and barricading the door with heavy machinery, just so he never has to speak to anyone ever again. Or at least until the hand is done. He has a sudden vision of returning to a stack of notes Komaeda, and ignores the little flip his heart does at the thought.

(The note that waits for him that night, once again written under the image of a smiling sun:

Dear Hinata-kun,

I’m relieved to hear that you’re alright. And that you didn’t find the stationary heinous.

It is very kind of you to refer to a repulsive creature like myself as ‘sweet’, but it would be more accurate to apply the word to yourself for doing so.

Sincerely yours,

Komaeda)

Eventually he has no choice but to accept that he’s done all he can do without Komaeda’s direct involvement. This hits him when he realises he’s changed out the casing four times - he knows Komaeda likes pretty things, but ‘pretty’ is totally subjective as a concept, and he can’t exactly just sidle up to Komaeda and ask what he’d personally like to see in a totally hypothetical robot hand that totally doesn’t exist and absolutely isn’t being constructed for him in secret, right now. He’d initially opted for the same green as Komaeda’s parka, but the obvious concerns there were a) potentially too matchy-matchy, and b) Komaeda rarely wears it anymore, unless he’s doing it to shield himself from sunburn, given how disgustingly hot the island is in real life.

Then there’d been the brief, delirious period, inspired mostly by sleep deprivation, where he’d caught himself working on some holographic glitter monstrosity, before he remembers that Komaeda had expressed distaste for glitter.

(He’s keeping that one, though. It’s weirdly hypnotic to look at. Komaeda doesn’t have to know.)

He actually goes to the lengths of swiping two of Komaeda’s favoured teacups from the kitchen for inspiration - Komaeda’s favourite has apparently shifted to the one with the sunflowers, but the blue roses are still a mainstay.

The absence of the teacups causes something of a drama. Komaeda ends up asking a lot of pointed questions, mostly directed at Sonia, about the teacups in question, and the mystery of their whereabouts.

When sneaking into the kitchen the next morning, he finds a sign stuck up on the china cabinet, written in familiar penmanship:

PLEASE return dishes to their appropriate places after use. Thank you :)

“You have really nice handwriting,” Hinata blurts in a panic, because Komaeda almost catches him returning the sunflower patterned teacup (no good, yellow would clash with Komaeda’s skintone). He’s not lying, exactly. He’s actually been meaning to tell Komaeda that - it’s just they haven’t spoken face to face much lately.

“...I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda says, eyes wide and innocent, as if Hinata hasn’t seen his handwriting from the notes they’ve exchanged.

The blue roses, however, have potential. It’s just that Hinata kind of wants to punch himself in the face when he realises he’s spent four hours meticulously painting tiny blue roses onto ceramic plating. At which point it occurs to him that they don’t even have a fucking kiln on the island. And that it’s liable to shatter, anyway.

“This is stupid ,” he informs the hand. The hand says nothing in response, but Hinata thinks it probably agrees. It probably also wishes Hinata would stop personifying it, but he’s really hard up for proper socialisation right now.

By nightfall, he’s thrown together a functional combination of black and silver chrome, and decided he’s washing his hands of it. His actual hands. Not the robot one.

He really needs to get out more.

 

 

He drags Souda with him the next morning, because he did promise (and if he’s being honest with himself, it’s actually the final frontier of procrastination, and Hinata is determined to squeeze every last drop out of that well). Souda’s almost giddy beside him, talking so quickly and walking with such a pronounced spring in his step that Hinata’s kind of just waiting for him to vibrate straight onto the next plane of existence. The critical levels of hype just make Hinata nervous - he doesn’t think it sucks, not completely - but what if it does?

It turns out he has nothing to worry about.

“Hoooooo,” Souda breathes, bending down over the hand, eyes almost incandescent, “ Wow.”

“So it’s, you know.” He clears his throat. “Okay?”

“It,” Souda breathes, a rapturous look in his eyes, “Is god damn incredible. Can I touch it?

“Go ahead.” Hinata’s very thankful Souda seems transfixed by the hand, because he knows for a fact he’s looking very pink right now. “It’s pretty experimental,” he says, “I just kind of. Freestyled it. I don’t even really know if it’ll work.” That’s about ninety-five per cent bullshit - he’s actually pretty certain it’ll work.

“I don’t even know what some of this tech is ,” Souda says, “And you just… made it up? With junk from the Avenue and Seaking?” He raises his head to look at Hinata, something approaching wonder in his eyes. Hinata isn’t sure if he likes it.

“Well,” he says, crossing his arms over his chest, “I had help, you know. Naegi-kun got me things I wouldn’t have had otherwise - you gave me advice.”

Souda waves a hand. “Yeah, but dude, that was nothing,” he protests, “That was like, not even a sketch. This is crazy.

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” Hinata says.

Now Souda is blushing. He casts his gaze to the side. “Aw man,” he says, sounding a little pleased despite his embarrassed countenance, “You’re just being nice.”

“I’m being serious,” Hinata insists, and something in his voice is apparently enough to make Souda look at him again.

“...Man,” Souda says, with a sheepish laugh, “I know you’re just being a good friend right now… but I’ll take it, I guess.”

“I’m being real with you,” Hinata says, keeping his voice firm, because he needs Souda to hear this, “You’re still the Ultimate Mechanic. Don’t forget that.”

Contemplation washes across Souda’s face. He’s silent, for a moment.

“Yeah,” he says, finally, “I am.”

“You are.” Hinata’s not so good at the whole masculine slap on the back thing, but he does opt for an encouraging pat instead. “ And you’re a really good friend, too.”

“Jeez,” Souda says, with a laugh, “You really know how to sweet-talk a guy.”

“No, I absolutely do not,” Hinata is very quick to protest.

“Uh,” Souda says, looking puzzled at Hinata’s sudden outburst, “I was kidding, but sure.”

There’s an awkward pause. Hinata desperately searches for a relatively smooth exit to this conversation.

“...Do you think it’s ready?” Hinata asks. There’s a sense of finality hanging in the room, over he and Souda.

“That’s not my call to make, dude,” Souda says, “It’s your project.”

“Yeah,” Hinata says faintly, “I guess. I guess I should,” he takes a swallow, talking to himself more than he is Souda, now, “I should. Talk to him about it. Show him, at least.”

“Wait, what ? You haven’t told him yet?” Souda is exactly the appropriate level of aghast.

“Um,” Hinata says, suddenly feeling nervous, “It’s… it’s a surprise?”

“This is a pretty big surprise, dude,” Souda says, arching an eyebrow, “Like. This’ll need surgery.

“Oh,” Hinata says, perfectly level, “Fuck. I haven’t even… talked to him about that.” Shit. That’s a major fuck up. He slaps a hand over his forehead. “I should probably bring that up with him. I don’t even know if he’ll trust me enough to screw around with this.”

“....You’re gonna do it yourself?” He looks surprised.

“Well.” Hinata hesitates. “I mean. Yeah? I guess?”

“But how- oh.” His eyes widen. “Yeah. Right. The… you… uh. The guy.”

“Yeah,” Hinata says, throat suddenly feeling dry, “The guy.” He’s eager to change the subject, all of a sudden. “But. I mean. Maybe he’s already thought about it. He probably already knows, anyway.”

“Uh.” Souda looks confused. “Why do you say that?”

Hinata almost rolls his eyes. “Because everybody else seems to.”

“Well,” Souda says, “I kept my promise. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but me and Komaeda have been hanging out more recently-”

“No way,” Hinata is quick to assure him, “I don’t really pay attention to what Komaeda’s doing, so there’s no way I’d possibly know that.”

“Oh yeah,” Souda says, eyes lighting up, “You know, he’s not so bad once you get past all the rambling and the shit-talking himself and the weird hope stuff? He’s actually super nice. A little creepy, sure, but he’s kinda creepy-cute?”

Mmm ,” is Hinata’s non-committal response. “I can see how you’d form that opinion.” It’s not like it’s factually incorrect to apply that label to Komaeda, and who is Hinata to contradict Souda anyway?

“He talks about you a whole bunch.”

His heart leaps in his chest. “ What ?”

“Oh, yeah,” Souda says, “Like, all the time.”

“...What does he say?” Hinata croaks, “Like, specifically?”

“Oh, all kinds of stuff,” Souda says, very helpfully, “Hinata-kun this, Hinata-kun that.”

“Oh,” Hinata says, dry as a bone, “That clarifies things.”

“But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know,” Souda says, “Because he definitely would’ve mentioned it if he did.” He gestures at the hand. “I think he’ll be really psyched about this.”

“...You do?” Hinata is cautiously pleased at this prospect.

Souda nods enthusiastically. “Oh yeah,” he says, “For sure. He always talks about how generous you were, with all the gifts you gave him back in the… thing. I think he likes getting presents - he got super amped up when I gave him a mineral water yesterday.”

“Oh,” Hinata says, faintly. He gets a flash of a memory, back at the beginning, before it all unravelled - Komaeda smiling, a soft presence, can in hand and a tongue stained blue, leaning against a dizzy Hinata for just a moment.

He could probably stand to do more of the gift-giving thing, he figures. What would be the harm, honestly? Surely that counts as meaningful atonement, right? It probably wouldn’t count against it.

“You should tell him, man,” Souda says, clapping him on the shoulder, “He’ll love it. And it’d suck if it went to waste, right?”

“Yeah,” Hinata says, and then firmer, stronger, “Yeah.”

He thinks that maybe Souda isn’t so clueless after all.





He’s faintly nauseous by the time he knocks on Komaeda’s door. It’s kind of like public speaking jitters, only Hinata’s about a thousand times more hopeful that he just chokes on his own spit and dies before he ever has to have this conversation (maybe Tsumiki knows something about neuroprosthetics)-

Some traitorous part of himself seizes control of his hand and makes him knock, the sharp rapping almost deafening in his ears.

“You don’t have to knock, Hinata-kun!” is the instant, breezy response.

What the fuck , Hinata thinks with a clench of horror - how the fuck? The traitorous part of him that seems to revel in the prospect of abject misery just pushes the door open with his free hand, revealing Komaeda leaning over his desk, watering can in hand.

“Hello, Hinata-kun!” he says, pleasant as ever, pausing to offer Hinata a smile, before he turns his attention back to tending to the fern that sits on his desk. “It’s been a while since we’ve had a chance to chat, hasn’t it!”

“Um,” Hinata says. “Hey.” He shifts the case to his other hand, trying to shake the feeling of eyes crawling on his back. “How did you know it was me?”

“Just a feeling,” is Komaeda’s nonchalant response. He continues to water his fern.

“Oh,” Hinata says. “Cool.”

There’s a pause. Hinata feels the urge to start laughing, and maybe never stop.

“Is that new?” he asks instead, “The fern?”

He takes a moment, while Komaeda is otherwise occupied, to congratulate himself on that really smooth, fluid choice of conversation topic, because of course the plant is new, Komaeda’s only been awake for less than a week.

The whole breaking into Komaeda’s cottage and just leaving the thing idea is looking more attractive with each passing second.

“It’s looking good,” he says, weakly.

“Gracie does seem very happy!” Komaeda doesn’t seem fazed at Hinata’s undeniable awkwardness - in fact, his expression might be sunny enough to light the whole room, if Hinata cared to test the theory by hitting the light.

Her name is Gracie ?” Hinata chokes out. The fact that he has now arbitrarily assigned the fern feminine pronouns is forgotten in the face of the sudden urge to melt into a puddle that he’s suddenly overcome by.

“I mean. Yeah,” Hinata says, “That is one happy plant, alright.” And it is a happy plant - it’s flourishing, Komaeda is doing a really good job of taking care of it, he can tell even from the doorway. Hinata just wishes he’d never opened his mouth about it to begin with.

“It seems luck has smiled upon me,” Komaeda says, tapping one of the fern’s leaves with a finger. It’s an affectionate gesture, Hinata realises.

(“Creepy-cute!” says Souda’s grinning face in his mind.)

“I mean ,” he says, struggling to keep the desperation out of his voice, struggling even harder to stay afloat in this terrible conversation, “It’s a fern. They’re pretty hardy. You barely even have to look after them.”

Komaeda glances up. His expression is decidedly neutral. Hinata reflects on the fact that not only has he barged into Komaeda’s room late at night, he has now proceeded to grievously insult his horticultural abilities.

Leave the hand, some conspiratory part of his mind hisses, Leave it and run. You’re pathetic.

Hinata does not run. He just- kind of idles, awkwardly, in the doorway. “Uh,” he says, “That came out really wrong-”

Komaeda sets the watering can down on the desk. It makes a rather loud sound.

“What I meant,” Hinata chokes out, with the looming feeling that all he’s doing is digging this hole deeper, “Is that it wasn’t luck, you know, but that you did that yourself-

“Hinata-kun is very honest,” Komaeda smiles.

Hinata-kun is a dick, Hinata thinks.

“That case looks very mysterious!” Komaeda chirps, clearly as ready for a change in conversation topic as Hinata is.

“Oh,” Hinata chokes, looking down at it, “Yeah. It’s kinda.”

He shoots a nervous glance at Komaeda, who at least looks genuinely interested. He clears his throat. “...I’d. Like to show you something.”

“A surprise from Hinata-kun?” Komaeda asks, eyes lighting up, “How exciting!”

Hinata’s stomach is currently in the process of attempting to cannibalise itself, so he’s not too sure about that.

“So. You might already know,” Hinata says, setting the case on the ground and busying himself with unfastening the snaps so he doesn’t have to look at Komaeda’s face, “People are bad with secrets around here, I guess. But I thought, you know, since it’s pretty much ready to go now, that you could at least look at it.”

What do I already know?” Komaeda asks. Hinata doesn’t look up.

“It’s not, you know,” he continues, what little confidence he had to begin with already beginning to wane, “ Completely done, and I don’t really know if it’s your style, and I tried, to make it pretty, and all, but I didn’t want it to be too much and- and it looks really messy because there’re all these loose wires- but you know, this is the part where I’d need your input, if that’s a thing you’d be interested in, and I know you already said you didn’t want to, but I just. I just thought I’d...”

He trails off, because he’s rambling as a distraction at this point and he knows it’s probably getting on Komaeda’s nerves. He peeks up to find Komaeda just staring at him, utterly owl-eyed, and takes a good solid five seconds to really let the self-loathing sink in. Komaeda’s probably not used to being the one to get rambled at.

“Anyway,” he pushes on, “I... made this. For you.”

His heart leaps neatly into his throat as he swings the upper section of the case open.

Komaeda simply regards the hand with a blank stare. Hinata can pretty much taste his own heartbeat.

The silence stretches for an uncomfortably long time. Komaeda’s face remains frozen in the same indecipherable expression. Hinata feels himself breaking out into a sweat.

Maybe Komaeda can’t tell what it is? It does look like kind of a mess.

“So. Um.” He clears his throat, trying to to knock down the wall of tech jargon his mind is currently insisting he spew out, because that’ll just complicate things, and he’s pretty sure Komaeda’s already on the verge of checking out of this conversation. “It’s a neuroprosthetic,” he says, viscerally aware of the bead of sweat currently making its way down the back of his neck in the direction of his spine. “You know. For your hand. If you wanted it.”

Good job, Hinata, you’re really selling it.

“Oh,” Komaeda says, his voice oddly quiet, “A neuroprosthetic. For my hand.”

“Yeah,” Hinata says, with an overly enthusiastic nod because he’s actually starting to panic, because Komaeda just keeps staring.

And staring.

Then he slaps his hand over his mouth. His eyes are impossibly wide.

A high-pitched, ragged gasp splits through the air. It takes Hinata a second to connect that sound to Komaeda .

He watches in horror and amazement as Komaeda sinks to his knees on the floor, slowly, with a strange kind of serene grace. A wave of numbness prickles over Hinata’s skin as he watches Komaeda press the other hand to his mouth, listens to another gasp (a sob, Hinata realises, as the numbness beginning to prickle at his brainstem), watches tears well in his eyes, sudden and striking like a flash flood.

Not exactly the gentle laughter and brush-off Hinata had been prepared for. Hinata, in fact, had not been anywhere close to prepared for this.

“Um,” he says, trying to keep his voice from shaking, “Hey. It’s. It’s alright.”

Komaeda sobs again. The sharp, desperate noise informs Hinata that the situation probably is not even in the vicinity of alright.

Well. This is going about as badly as it could’ve.

Hinata approaches Komaeda like he’s approaching a cobra, cautious, unnerved. He’s never actually seen Komaeda cry before - not like this, not properly. Sometimes he gets a little teary when he’s really deep into his feelings about the hope thing, but it’s never been like this, such open, trembling sobbing, eyes betraying an overloaded mind.

He gingerly gets on his knees so he’s level with Komaeda, his movements almost instinctive now, because he doesn’t have time to overthink things. He reaches out, wraps his fingers around one of Komaeda’s wrists, making him jerk his head to look at Hinata. His chest is rising and falling with rapid breaths, shoulders trembling a little as he makes little whimpering noises behind his hand.

“Hey,” Hinata says, voice low, as soothing as he can manage, “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

Komaeda continues to tremble as Hinata coaxes his other hand away from his mouth. A faint whimper escapes his lips - he’s still staring beyond Hinata at the prosthetic, almost like he’s trying to convince himself it’s real. Hinata watches, transfixed, as his eyes well over with a blink, scattering the first tears at the corners of his eyes.

“Hey,” Hinata says again, curling his other hand around Komaeda’s, “Komaeda.”

Komaeda just keeps staring at the case, sobs quieter now, just tiny, hitching noises with every trembling rise of his chest.

“Komaeda,” Hinata says again, firmer this time, “Look at me.” Stop freaking out.

Slowly, like he’d forgotten Hinata was even in the room, Komaeda turns his head, setting his wide, wet eyes on Hinata. Hinata isn’t quite sure what to do now, because having Komaeda actually looking at him when he’s like this is kind of worse than the alternative.

“...Hinata-kun?” he says, congested and shaky, voice cracking around the sound of Hinata’s name. It sounds like a question.

“It’s alright,” Hinata says again, voice dropping softer, quieter, “Please- just-” He’s slipping his palm up to rest against Komaeda’s real hand, interlocking their fingers before he even really knows what he’s doing, trying to steady him, or give him something else to focus on, or-

Komaeda freezes, for a moment. Only his eyes keep moving - tears leaking from the corners, gaze skimming down to look at their joined hands. Hinata’s vaguely aware of Komaeda’s fingers trembling against his own, realises that Komaeda is still shaking, and so he raises his free hand, pushes Komaeda’s hair back from his tearstained eyes, leaves his fingers tangled there in his curls. He’s close enough to feel Komaeda’s little gasp more than hear it, raising his head again to lock eyes with Hinata.

Hinata opens his mouth - not to speak, or at least he doesn’t think so, because he doesn’t really have anything to say. It’s just that Komaeda’s eyes look so clear, and he doesn’t think the shine in them is all tears. Komaeda glances down again, and Hinata can almost feel his gaze skimming across his lips.

“Hinata-kun.” He’s never heard his name spoken with such softness. Hinata knows it isn’t a question, this time.

He squeezes his eyes shut and drifts forward, wondering if Komaeda’s still staring as he presses their lips together. It’s barely anything at all, just Hinata’s parted lips catching at Komaeda’s lower one for a moment, but there’s a rising pressure in Hinata’s chest, like something’s trying to claw its way out of him, desperate and reaching.

He doesn’t quite pull away - he can still feel Komaeda breathing, eyes a blur to Hinata because of the close proximity. He can feel Komaeda’s fingers, tense as they claw against the back of Hinata’s hand.

It all happens at once - Hinata doesn’t remember who gets there first, but suddenly they’re both there, Hinata pressing open-mouthed kisses against Komaeda’s lips, Komaeda’s nails scratching against the back of his hand, digging deep enough to sting. The snap of pain rips a small, surprised noise out of his throat, and then Komaeda’s letting go, fingers snatching at the front of Hinata’s shirt and dragging him closer. Hinata lets out a groan when Komaeda parts his lips and lets him in, and then his ability to think is gone, slipping through his fingers like water.

Nothing about it really works - it’s messy and unfocused and wet and almost too much all at once, Hinata setting trembling fingertips at Komaeda’s jawline as the other boy pulls him even closer with a desperate, tugging hand. Hinata finds himself overwhelmed, all of sudden, nudging his forehead against Komaeda’s as he falters with a skip of his heartbeat. Komaeda is fluid in his response, tilts his head to the side, raises his own hand to coax Hinata’s jaw further open, dragging a shaky little moan from Hinata’s throat when he licks into Hinata’s mouth.

Hinata ends up being the one to shatter into pieces, because he’s needed this, he’s needed this so bad, how hadn’t he realised-

He grabs at Komaeda with desperate hands, pushing them through Komaeda’s hair so he can pull him closer, sealing their lips together. Komaeda lets out a strangled noise, and all of a sudden it’s so desperate it’s almost violent , teeth clicking together so hard it’s painful for a moment, before Komaeda pushes forward. It’s like being swept up in a whirlwind - Komaeda is everywhere, all at once, tearing the breath out of him, making Hinata grab onto him with desperate, shaking hands as he tries to keep up.

When Hinata breaks the kiss because he needs to breathe, he can feel the mess Komaeda’s made of him, saliva smeared about his lips, every nerve in his body lit up like steady points of searing neon glare. At some point during all of it Komaeda’s managed to shift up so he’s sitting straddling Hinata’s thighs, his very slight height advantage feeling much more pronounced like this. Hinata’s aware of his own panting as he slides his hands down to cup Komaeda’s jaw again, drawing him back in, the press of their tongues turning filthy and deliberate. Komaeda’s snatches at Hinata’s, shoving it up away from his belt, creeping up underneath to press his palm up against the flat of Hinata’s stomach. The noise he lets out is a surprised one, hand pressing harder, sinking lower, and the realisation that Komaeda is feeling him up shocks Hinata into letting his own hands wander. He squeezes at Komaeda’s shoulders for a moment before he strokes down over his thin arms, finally slipping his hands up under Komaeda’s loose t-shirt.

Komaeda is the one to break away this time, a startled, shivering gasp escaping his throat. He pulls his hand away from Hinata’s stomach, forehead pressed against Hinata’s as he grabs him by the wrist, guides his hand downwards. Hinata swallows, heat blitzing straight through the haze as Komaeda presses his hand up against what is definitely hardness in his jeans, a stuttering, longing moan escaping him when Komaeda licks at his lower lip with purpose. Hinata doesn’t even hesitate, curling his hand around Komaeda, rubbing at him without even considering the notion of restraint or mercy. The shaky little moan Komaeda lets out makes heat snap through him again, low and dark in his belly. A growl escapes him when Komaeda bites him, sinking his teeth into Hinata’s lower lip for a delirious moment.Then Komaeda’s reaching out, too, and Hinata hadn’t even realised he’d gotten hard until Komaeda touches him, rubs him up, deliberate, purposeful.

And then Hinata comes back to himself.

Panic swells, so deep and immense he could drown in it.

“Komaeda,” he gasps, grabbing at Komaeda’s wrist to force it still, “Stop, stop, I-”

Komaeda springs away immediately, throwing his good hand out behind him to catch his weight, back arched to adjust for the imbalance. He’s ruined, completely - hair a mess, flush rising high on his cheeks, panting so hard his shoulders are rising and falling, lips glossy and swollen, parted as he draws in desperate breaths.

“Oh,” Hinata croaks, hating that the sight of him all messed up like that makes him feel weak, “Oh, fuck .”

“Hinata-kun?”

“Fuck,” Hinata whispers, dread sinking in his stomach, pushing his hands through his slightly damp hair, “ Fuck, I’m sorry, I-”

It’s a moment before Komaeda speaks.

“...You made a mistake.” There’s an odd airiness to his voice, a lack of surprise hovering under the way his voice still trembles.

“I shouldn’t have...” Taken advantage of your gratitude. Taken advantage of you when you were like that.

He hadn’t even given him a chance to say no.

“You shouldn’t have,” Komaeda repeats, that curious airiness still hanging there.

Komaeda watches him get to his feet with that curiously blank expression.

“I’m sorry,” Hinata says again, and he is freaking the fuck out now, because he hadn’t meant for this to happen, not now, maybe not ever, “I’m sorry, I can’t, I need to, I-”

Komaeda doesn’t say anything.

Hinata does the only thing he can do. Komaeda’s blank stare haunts him all the way back to his cottage, running so fast that he’s panting again by the time he slams his cottage door behind him, where he promptly slaps both hands over his face and slides down with his back against the door, groaning in abject horror and self-loathing as he sinks all the way to the floor.

“Nice one, Hajime,” he says, voice muffled by his hands, “Fucking nailed it.”

It occurs to himself that he could’ve saved himself the fucking trouble - he had ended up dropping the hand and running, after all.

He’d dropped the hand.

He’d left the hand.

With Komaeda.

And run.

“Shit,” he hisses. “ Shit.”

The truth, as it often tends to be, is cold and uncaring of Hinata’s feelings.

He has to go back.

Chapter Text

Hinata thinks that Komaeda’s door has no business being this intimidating. No slab of wood should be this intimidating. The fact that he has no one to blame but himself makes the situation extra unbearable.

Part of him wants to laugh. Part of him is laughing, because it’d been a joke, really, the way he’d tried to pretend that he hadn’t wanted to kiss Komaeda. Or end up in aggressive make-outs with Komaeda. Or feel Komaeda up through his stupid tight jeans with the stupid skull chain he still insists on wearing. The forty second trudge back to Komaeda’s cottage had been plenty of time to look back on the way he’d genuinely tried to convince himself that it was normal, that all the sleep deprivation, the stress, the obsessing, the painting tiny blue flowers onto ceramic plating was all just because he was helping out a friend, that there’d been no extra element to it, that he hadn’t been, on some subconscious level, trying to woo Komaeda with his pathetically geeky offering.

The fact that there are several people on this island who know, right at this moment, what he’d been doing, and are excruciatingly aware of his critical lack of game, is so humiliating to Hinata that he briefly considers fleeing the island for good after all. The other option is just walking straight into the sea and drowning himself, bringing about his tragic, untimely death at the age of twenty-one.

Hinata Hajime, Ultimate Tragedy. It has a depressingly fitting ring to it.

The realisation that anyone could walk by at any moment and witness him cowering before a door is an unpleasant one. The realisation that anyone could walk by at any moment and ask what he’s doing cowering in front of a door is even more unpleasant. They’d probably ask what Komaeda’s done now, and Hinata would have to make up some story, only he sincerely doubts his ability to invent a story, because even thinking about Komaeda plunges him into a dark, humiliating and paralysing place where he’s horrified at his own lack of control and the fact that he had to wait ten entire minutes for his boner to go down before dragging himself right back here to pick up his mess.

The urge to retch hits him, and he closes his eyes, wills the churning in his gut to settle down, because after everything else he’s done today, throwing up on Komaeda’s door is definitely not an option.

He raises his hand and knocks.

It takes Komaeda a moment to answer. “Yes?” Flat. Curiously neutral. Entirely unlike Komaeda.

“It’s me. Uh. Again.” The sound of his own voice makes him cringe. “I… I think we should talk.”

“Yes.” Monosyllabic Komaeda is a rare thing. Hinata suspects it can’t mean anything good, but he takes that as his cue to enter.

Komaeda’s barely moved in the approximately twelve minutes since Hinata ran from the room. He’s sitting up on his knees now, hovering over the case. Other than that, he’s still in the state Hinata had left him in - hair mussed up, cheeks flushed, teary-eyed. He glances up from the case when the door opens - Hinata gets the feeling that he’s been staring at it the entire time he’s been gone.

Hinata takes a cautious step into the room. Komaeda doesn’t seem to be offended by his presence, but he does seem out of it, expression faintly dazed. The neglected hinges of the door shriek way, way too loudly as it closes, but Hinata puts that down to the fact that he’s about ready to jump out of his skin to begin with.

They stare at each other for a long moment. Hinata has to swallow down on the urge to just go to Komaeda, to do-

Something.

He takes in a deep breath instead. Lets it out again.

“I’m sorry.”

Komaeda is silent for a moment. “I’m not sure why you feel the need to apologise, Hinata-kun.”

That catches Hinata off guard. He opens his mouth.

He closes it again.

“Wh -. Um,” is his eventual pitiful offering. Remember when you could string a sentence together, Hajime? What happened to that?

“Not that I don’t understand your anguish, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda says, voice a little more animated now, a little more normal , like he’s settling into a groove he’d lost, “I can only imagine how revolting it must have been, realising what was happening, how disgusted you must have felt when you’d collected yourself enough to realise what I was doing to you.”

“What,” Hinata says, because what.

Komaeda spreads his hands, letting out a gentle laugh that’s tinged with self-loathing. “The fact that I would even dare to touch you in that way, as though you would ever in your right mind seek that kind of contact from a worthless human receptacle of detritus like me, is honestly ludicrous. It’s no surprise that you reacted with horror and ran after I pressured you into something as vile and undesirable as that.”

“Detritus?” It’s the only part of what Komaeda’s just said that Hinata can even begin to engage with right now, because at least that’s just casually baffling instead of straight up making him question reality.

“Waste,” Komaeda clarifies, kindly, “Refuse. Trash.”

“No, I know what detritus is, it’s just-” It’s just Hinata has no idea what the fuck is happening right now or how to process it.

Komaeda had been getting back into his groove, then. Hinata’s kind of disappointed, but it’s not like he was making good use of Komaeda’s dumbstruckness anyway.

“Wait,” Hinata says, desperately trying to grab a hold on this situation, “Wait. Just. Wait. You pressured me?

“Your reaction made it very obvious that you didn’t want it, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda says.

“Komaeda,” Hinata says, now wondering if he’d maybe tripped and smacked his head as he’d fled, and this is now some concussed vision where things are the opposite of what they were in reality, “ I kissed you.”

Komaeda’s brow creases. “Yes,” he says, “And then you physically fled from the room?”

It occurs to Hinata that this a point that’s very difficult to argue against.

“Okay, yes,” he says, strangled, “Yes, I did do that. But I…” He swallows. “I just. Panicked.”

“A panicked reaction,” Komaeda surmises, “At my unbecoming display of emotion.”

“It wasn’t- I mean,” Hinata says, “Yeah. Yeah. I panicked.”

Komaeda shrugs. “Then you weren’t in your right mind, and it was wrong of me to-”

“But neither were you,” Hinata points out, with a flare of frustration, “You were freaking out, and I took advantage-”

“Oh, no,” Komaeda says, eyes wide, with this little laugh, like this is a silly, trivial little issue that Hinata’s blowing completely out of proportion, “You could never take advantage of me, Hinata-kun. Please don’t concern yourself with that.

Well. Fuck.

Hinata has to raise his hands and cover his face, take a moment to breathe.

“Hinata-kun?”

“Mmmm?” He feels too sick for words.

“Have I said something objectionable?” He sounds hesitant.

Hinata drags his palms down his face, fingertips settling their weight in the under-eye circles whose enduring appearance had, weirdly enough, coincided with him waking up from his pod. He looks at Komaeda for a moment, taking in his nonplussed, concerned expression.

“You really don’t know,” he says, voice a little muffled by his hands, “Do you?” He already knows the answer.

Hinata watches Komaeda’s shoulders tense, the way his nails scratch lightly at his jeans. “...I thought it might reassure you?”

“Komaeda...” How can he even begin to explain this - if this is Komaeda being real with him, not just putting on a show for Hinata’s benefit. For maybe the first time in his life, Hinata would welcome the idea of Komaeda getting caught up in his philosophy - but he can’t bring himself to believe that, anymore than he can bring himself to believe that Komaeda hadn’t meant it. “I don’t want that responsibility. I shouldn’t have that responsibility.”

Komaeda blinks. “Isn’t this absolving you of responsibility, Hinata-kun? You no longer need to be concerned about your actions.”

“Yeah,” Hinata says, tiredly, “I do. In fact, I need to be extra concerned about what I do, now.” As though his levels of concern hadn’t reached critical mass several days ago. “You can’t just give me blanket permission to do whatever to you.”

Komaeda actually looks confused. “Why not?”

“Because you’re a person ,” Hinata says, “Not some, I don’t know, toy.”

Komaeda laughs. “You’re concerned about the prospect of hurting me!” he exclaims, like this news is hilarious and endearing.

“Yeah,” Hinata says, wearily, “That’s a pretty accurate summary of what’s happening right now.”

“But that’s absurd!” Komaeda says, “I trust you implicitly to not hurt me, Hinata-kun!”

Hinata has to make himself ignore the little leap his heart gives at that admission, because in this context, it is in fact a terrible thing to hear.

“...You do remember that just a few days ago you called me a shitkicker reserve course student, right?” he asks, “Like, we’re both on the same page here, right?”

Komaeda brow creases. “Those aren’t the words I used, Hinata-kun,” he protests. Hinata can’t, but also can, believe that this is what’s finally upset Komaeda.

“Yeah, but that’s what you meant ,” Hinata says, arching an eyebrow at Komaeda.

Komaeda purses his lips. “That wasn’t exactly what I -”

“What part of me is it, exactly, that you find so trustworthy?” Hinata snaps, “Is it the worthless reserve course student, or is it the person who tried to murder you the first time they met you?”

Komaeda tilts his head. “If you recall, Hinata-kun,” he says, mildly, “ I pulled the gun on you.

The sheer fucked-up gravity of this situation drags at Hinata like it’s trying to drown him. It takes him a moment to recover.

“I’ve fucked up,” he says, after a moment, dragging his hands through his hair, “ So badly. I don’t even know what to say.”

Komaeda looks faintly impatient. “It’s because you’re fretting too much, Hinata-kun,” he says, “The fact that you’re even bothering to waste the energy being concerned about the impact a minor mistake might have had on me-”

It wasn’t a minor mistake.”

Komaeda falls silent. Hinata remembers a time when he was capable of modulating an acceptable inside voice. That was before he met Komaeda, and started getting to know Komaeda, and started getting into extended conversations with Komaeda.

“I don’t just,” Hinata says, slapping a hand over his forehead, “Go around kissing people just because, Komaeda .

Komaeda’s eyes widen. “I didn’t mean to imply anything untoward about your romantic pursuits-!”

“That’s not what I mean.” He’s worrying about the wrong things.

“Then I’m afraid you’ll have to explain it to me,” Komaeda says, “Because it seems I’m too simple to understand.”

“It’s not that you’re simple,” Hinata says, “You just…”

You’re just fucked up. Like the rest of us. Whatever.

“I wanted to do it,” he says, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice, trying to hold steady, “Maybe… maybe not right then, but… I’ve been thinking about it. For a while, now.”

Komaeda seems to need a moment to sit with that, which is great, because what Hinata really needs right now is a good, solid thirty seconds of absolute silence in which to calculate exactly how soon his heart is going to beat right through his damn chest and leave him dead.

He hopes it’s really soon.

“I have noticed,” Komaeda says, a little haltingly, “That you’re very good at giving people what they need.”

Hinata’s about to protest that one, but stops short when the full weight of Komaeda’s words sink in.

“...Is that what you needed?” He should be more careful about it, but Komaeda’s given him a crack in the doorway, and he can’t help but push against it.

Komaeda’s eyes flicker. “...It seems that’s how you read the situation.”

He’s uncertain, again, fingers scraping at his jeans. Hinata thinks that Komaeda must know his attempt to snake out of answering the question is searingly obvious. “Was I wrong?”

The smile creeps back. He giggles. “Does it matter?”

Yes,” Hinata says, raggedly, “It matters.”

Komaeda lets out a pensive hum.

“‘Need’ isn’t a good word,” he says, “Because it suggests that I have expectations of Hinata-kun. Demands, when that isn’t my place. When actually, I would gladly embrace anything you wanted to do to me, any single whim you deigned to bestow upon me, and be thankful for it, because the very thought of being used by Hinata-kun for any function is almost unspeakably hopeful.”

Hinata’s so used to this play that it shouldn’t even phase him anymore. The thing is, it does - he knows that Komaeda’s habit of tearing himself to shreds isn’t just for show. It’s just that he knows how to wield it in a way that advantages him.

“So did I do something you didn’t want me to?” He’s been here before - needing to cut through the whirlwind Komaeda throws at him. He thinks it should be easier, by now.

“Have you forgotten how the situation escalated?” is Komaeda’s almost sweet response.

Hinata’s answering sigh borders on a growl. “You really don’t like giving straight answers, do you?”

“Do you really want one, Hinata-kun?”

Hinata hesitates. Thinks about it. Thinks about what game Komaeda might be playing now. Thinks about what Komaeda’s really telling him.

He thinks he gets it. He almost wishes he didn’t.

“I should’ve,” Hinata says, “I don’t know. Asked.

Komaeda looks baffled. “Asked?”

“Before I came into your cottage and dropped that-” he points at the case, “On you. And then kissed you.”

Komaeda tilts his head. “And at what point would it have been convenient to ask?”

“I don’t know ,” Hinata snaps, raking a hand through his hair, “I don’t fucking know, Komaeda. Alright? I made a fucking mistake.” That part is true, regardless of the confusing, watery mess the rest of it is - it hadn’t been the time.

Hinata’s not sure that there’ll ever be a time.

“Yes,” says Komaeda, “That seems to be the case.”

“Yeah,” Hinata says, bitterly, “Apparently I’m really fucking good at making them.” He wonders if the hand was one. He wonders if Komaeda was another.

This road would be easier to navigate, he thinks, if he had a better idea of where he was going. He tilts his head back, staring at one of the bigger cracks that’s worn itself into Komaeda’s ceiling, mentally willing it to open up and swallow him whole.

“It’s really not worth worrying about, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda sighs.

Hinata realises with a lurch of his gut that Komaeda thinks the issue is done. Case closed. Resolved.

“Yeah,” Hinata says, slapping a hand over his eyes because he knows that despite Komaeda’s request he’s pretty much going to worry about this until the day he dies, “Good talk, I guess.”

He lets the silence drop over them, because he doesn’t know what else to do - force Komaeda to keep discussing it, when he clearly doesn’t want to? When Hinata isn’t even really sure what he wants to say?

“Thank you.” Komaeda’s voice is quiet, the warmth of reverence singed into the edges of it.

Hinata glances down. “For what?” He almost laughs. As if he’s done anything other than make an idiot of himself today.

Komaeda gestures at the case, which, in all his stress, Hinata had managed to completely forget about.

“...Oh,” he says, blankly, because that had kind of been the entire point. Hadn’t it? What a convenient exit from the previous conversation.

Hinata thinks it’s about time he had something other than abysmal luck, even if he’s partly responsible for it.

“No one’s ever,” Komaeda says, haltingly, his gaze firm like he’s making himself sustain eye contact with Hinata, “Done anything even remotely like this for me before.”

Hinata almost feels dizzy, with how he snaps between frustration and sadness. “It’s fine,” he says, “It’s not a big deal. Seriously.”

“It’s a huge deal,” Komaeda says, quietly.

Hinata really hopes that the blush that’s crawling its way up his neck is easily mistaken for a residual frustrated flush from earlier. “Well,” he says, “I just wanted to…”

“You wanted to help me,” Komaeda finishes. “And I sat there a few nights ago and doubted your sincerity.” He gives one of those laughs, the little one that would border on flirty if it wasn’t so heavy with self-loathing.

“I mean,” Hinata says, crossing his arms over his chest, “I wasn’t exactly sensitive about the hand thing.”

“When you said you believed in me,” Komaeda says, “I didn’t think you were being sincere.”

“Why else would I say it?” Like Komaeda thinks Hinata just challenges his philosophy because he thinks it’s a fun thing to do.

“Because you’re a kind person,” Komaeda says with a gentle shrug.

“Yeah, no, I’m actually kind of a dick,” Hinata protests, “Like, seriously, ask anyone. They’ll tell you.”

“I wasn’t aware that investing this much time and effort into something like this-” He gestures at the case, “Was behaviour typical of a ‘dick’.” He can hear the speech marks in Komaeda’s amused tone of voice. The word sounds weird, coming out of his mouth. “And, now that you’ve mentioned it, I have had conversations with others about that very issue, and disagreed with them.”

Hinata has to take a moment to just think, and not say something really stupid, because Komaeda’s just admitted to sticking up for him and that’s kind of-

Amazing .

“I mean.” Hinata clears his throat. “It was partially intellectual curiosity. And. Personal development.”

It’s such a weak defense that even Komaeda doesn’t swallow it, judging from the patient smile he gives Hinata.

“And, you know. For you. Obviously.” He pauses. Arches an eyebrow. “ Who said I was a dick?”

His eyes glimmer. “I thought you endorsed the sentiment, Hinata-kun. Why so annoyed?”

He’s being teased. Hinata suddenly feels less like he’s treading water in a hurricane.

“I just think,” he says, “That some people really shouldn’t be making comments to that effect. Because if some people were, that would be really hypocritical.”

“I agree,” Komaeda says, mildly.

Hinata doesn’t know where all the tension in the room fled to, but he’s glad he doesn’t feel like he’s choking on it every time he takes in a breath anymore.

“So,” he says, a little awkwardly, because he had come here for a reason, despite the long and stressful detour it’d taken, “You do want it? For real? Actually?”

Komaeda’s teeth snag at his lower lip. Hinata watches him worry it for a moment - it’s less tense, more thoughtful.

“There were many thoughts going through my head earlier,” he says, finally, “First that I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And then that I didn’t deserve what I was seeing - this impossible, incomprehensible kindness you’d shown me. And I think that’s what broke me down, because I’ve never been in a position where I’ve had to… receive that kind of treatment on such a level.” He smiles, white teeth, tension. “I’m… extremely embarrassed.”

“Don’t be,” Hinata says, realising he sounds like he’s honest to god begging, “Please.”

“No doubt my appearance was even more unsightly than usual,” Komaeda says, looking despondent.

“No,” Hinata says, alarmed, “No, it wasn’t, you... you were fine. Really.”

“My self-esteem isn’t in any immediate danger, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda assures him.

That’s because you don’t have any, Hinata almost says, but he manages to think better of it, which is a relief, because he’s been struggling with the whole ‘thinking better of’ deal when it comes to Komaeda lately.

“I think,” Komaeda says, “In all the confusion, of waking up, and- and reconciling it, and me, and… and everything. That I lost sight of what’s actually important. But this...” he waves his good hand at the case, “This, and you… have reminded me. And that’s something I needed. Desperately.” His eyes are a little glossy when he laughs again. “You’ve given me a wonderful gift, Hinata-kun.”

“We’ll see how it runs, I guess,” Hinata says with a shrug, “I’m pretty sure there’ll be bugs to iron out.”

“I’m not talking about the hand,” Komaeda says with a shake of his head, “Not exactly.”

Hinata blinks. “Then what?”

Komaeda raises her hand. He looks at it like it’s the first time he’s really seeing it.

“I’ve allowed despair to consume me for too long, I think,” he says, voice quiet.

Hinata’s breath catches in his throat. This - another thing he hadn’t expected.

“But hope endures.” This smile is a warm one - there’s a naked sincerity to it that Hinata’s not sure if he’s ever seen before, not on Komaeda’s face, not when he’s talking about this. “It always does.”

“Yeah,” Hinata says, quietly, unable to take his gaze off Komaeda, “It does.”

Komaeda had been right about that much.

“Thank you, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda says, simply.

He lets her hand drop, stares up at Hinata. Hinata is struck by how calm he looks. It’s strange on him, like something out of a dream, and he thinks, maybe, that Komaeda expects him to say something, do something, only Hinata’s frozen, a curious warmth spreading through his chest.

And Hinata thinks, if there was ever going to be a time, the right time, it might’ve just slipped him by.

He hesitates. Takes a swallow.

“Komaeda,” he says, “You know… you know you’re not alone, right?”

Komaeda shrugs. “I’ve grown accustomed to being alone.”

It’s not a real answer to what Hinata’s just said, and he thinks they both know it.

“Just,” he says, keeping his voice steady, “Remember that. Okay?”

He expects the protest. It doesn’t come - Komaeda just nods his head.

“Okay,” Hinata says again, “Okay.”

It’s not perfect, or anything - but he gets the crazy feeling that he might’ve just pulled it off. Somehow. This could still be a concussion dream, he reminds himself, so it’s probably good to keep his expectations low.

“So,” he says, “When do you wanna do this?” Like he’s inviting Komaeda to go hang out on the beach, or something.

Komaeda shrugs. “When would you like to?”

That gives Hinata pause. “I mean,” he says, “Whenever you’re ready? Like. Do you need time to psych yourself up? This isn’t exactly a minor thing.” For either of them - there are things that Hinata knows how to do that he’s never done before, and the whole concept of trusting himself has been a tenuous one in recent weeks.

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that. I’m unbothered by the prospect of surgery,” Komaeda says, “I’m quite used to hospitals by now. They bore me.”

Hinata only wishes he had that kind of luxury. The hospital still kind of freaks him out, despite all the time he’s spent in there recently, going over the others with Tsumiki. It’s kind of even worse now, with all the peeling paint and wear and tear - every time he’s in a room by himself he’s about ninety per cent sure something grotesque is about to jump out from some liminal space and grab him.

At least he’s pretty sure he could beat up a horrific nightmare abomination at this point. If it came down to it.

“Right. Sure. Well, I’ll need to do inventory, see what’s there, medication, anaesthetic-”

“Oh, anaesthetic is probably unnecessary,” Komaeda interrupts.

Hinata just looks at him, all thoughts of the hospital’s spookiness abruptly cancelled.

“What?” Komaeda looks nonplussed.

“No.”

“No what?”

“Anaesthetic is non-negotiable,” Hinata tells him. “For real , Komaeda.” Where does it end?

“It’s just another unnecessary step-”

“You might be cool with the idea of me screwing around with your nerves while you’re conscious,” Hinata cuts in, “But I’m not.”

Komaeda blinks. Then shrugs. “If it’s for Hinata-kun’s comfort.”

“Thanks. Really appreciate it,” Hinata says, dryly, and then: “Jeez, you’re kind of a masochist, aren’t you?”

BAD CHOICE OF WORDS, HAJIME, some horrified and totally correct part of him screams.

Komaeda, however, seems utterly unruffled. “I suppose,” he says, blithely, “It’s only pain.”

“Right,” Hinata says, that peculiar pressure rising in his chest again, “Well. Anyway. That won’t be an issue, because you’ll be anaesthetised, and there’s gonna be-” He takes a steady, grounding breath, “ So many needles.”

“...You seem concerned by the prospect?” Komaeda looks curious.

“I’m,” Hinata says, “Not the biggest fan of needles, honestly.” Or cannulas. Or beeping monitors. Or anaesthetic itself. All things that tend to play starring roles in his increasingly frequent night terrors. But Komaeda doesn’t need to know what - not if Hinata wants him to trust him to get him through this.

Komaeda looks troubled by this. “Hinata-kun shouldn’t have to aggravate his needlephobia for the sake of scum like me.”

“You’re not scum,” Hinata almost snaps. Komaeda just looks at him like he’s surprised. Oops. “...And anyway, it’s not, like, a phobia,” he protests, “Not really.”

Komaeda tilts his head, looking thoughtful. “I’ve been anaesthetised many, many times before,” he says, “I could probably administer it myself.”

“Uh,” says Hinata, arching an eyebrow, “That’s definitely a huge ‘absolutely not’.”

“But-”

“Komaeda. It’s fine. I can do it.” He can do it. He’d signed up for this when he’d first started tinkering with the thing. There’s nobody else on the island who can do this. He pauses before his next words, mulling them over. “I mean,” he says, “This is for intellectual curiosity, right? I want to make sure it works.”

He’s lying, so obviously that he’s honestly kind of surprised Komaeda doesn’t call him on it.

“I am delighted to serve as Hinata-kun’s test subject,” is what he says instead.

“Yeah, how about we don’t call it that?” Hinata says, very calmly.

“Then what should we call it?”

“I don’t know,” Hinata says, “A favour?” For a friend, he almost says, but…

Well.

Komaeda blinks. “‘Favour’ implies reciprocation,” he says, “If it’s a favour, then I’ll owe you something.”

Hinata considers the idea that it would probably literally kill Komaeda to chill out once in a while. “Sure,” he says, “If that’s how you want to put it.”

“But there’s nothing Hinata-kun could ask of me that I wouldn’t do,” he says, eyes wide.

Hinata can think of a few things, but it’s not like he’s going to list them - he’s not terribly interested in Komaeda owing him for this. He’s just interested in getting Komaeda to stop deflecting. “Well,” he says, “Anything could happen, right?”

Komaeda glances past him. It takes Hinata a second to realise he’s gazing at the hand in the case.

“I suppose,” he says, sounding pensive.

“Well,” Hinata says, “Leave it with me. I’ll… take a look at some things. Let you know.”

“This is all very exciting, isn’t it?” Komaeda beams.

Hinata watches him smile while he confronts the reality of performing surgery on Komaeda, of Komaeda putting his trust in him like that. He gets the looming feeling that this will not be the last time he feels this anxiety.

Looking at Komaeda’s smile helps, though. A lot.

“Uh,” he says, “Yup. Pretty exciting.”

He glances up, trying to give himself space from the swell of anxiety in his chest.

“...The paint in here’s peeling really badly,” he observes.

It’s not really relevant to anything, but it’s something that stands out to him all of a sudden, the sharp cracks, the spaces where the pigment is curling off the wall. There’s a spot above Komaeda’s bed where it’s almost like one big sheet, hanging down. Most of the buildings on the island are torn up from lack of care - the paint on Hinata’s own walls is starting to bubble and crack in places, and the door to his shower room had scared the shit out of him three days in when its hinges apparently decided it was time to give up the ghost and fall on him when he’d tried to pull it open.

It’s a situation they’re all working with. Hinata tries to leave the heavy lifting to Nidai and Owari and does his best not to step on Souda’s toes with mechanical things - they’ve got a pretty good system going.

Irritation flits across Komaeda’s face. “Yes,” he says, “It’s terrible. I can’t stand it - it makes the whole room feel dilapidated no matter what I do. Sometimes I just want to tear it all down.”

Hinata understands that impulse.

“We could try and fix it,” he says, “I know Koizumi got dragged into helping Saionji repaint, I’m sure we could dig up some more.”

“... We could?” Komaeda repeats, looking skeptical.

“I mean,” Hinata says, flushing a little, “Yeah? I wouldn’t mind helping you fix up the place.”

He’s expecting Komaeda to go off on one of his rants, about how he isn’t worthy, how Hinata shouldn’t waste the time on someone as worthless as him, et cetera et cetera.

Instead Komaeda just looks thoughtful. He sighs after a moment. “I would like it if it didn’t feel so miserable in here,” he says. He waves his hand at the desk. “That’s partially Gracie’s role. Though she’s fighting a losing battle, I’m afraid.”

Hinata pauses. “...Right,” he says, “You like plants.” He’d almost forgotten how they’d been a prominent fixture of Komaeda’s living space before.

“It’s silly of me,” Komaeda says, with a little laugh, “I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever tried to raise.”

“Gracie’s doing okay,” Hinata points out.

“I’ve learned not to expect too much,” Komaeda says.

“Yeah, well,” Hinata says, “Don’t give up hope, right? She might surprise you.”

Komaeda looks pleased at the thought. Hinata suspects it must feel very daring for him.

“She might,” he says, quietly.





They don’t really say a lot as they head over to the dining room. It’s weird for Komaeda to not be filling the silence with animated chatter, but Hinata figures they’ve had an eventful morning, and it’s not like it’s a tense silence. Hinata actually feels relaxed, which is almost a foreign sensation to him at this point. He knows he hadn’t said everything he’d needed to say. Even still, the air feels clearer around them, and it’s almost like this is the first time Hinata’s actually feeling sunlight on his skin in months. Which probably isn’t that far from the truth.

How bad can things really be, when Komaeda is smiling like that?

There’s an audible drop in chatter volume when they enter the dining room together. Hinata notes with a quick look around that they’re the last ones to arrive. He somehow ends up locked in direct eye contact with Koizumi, as she stares at him while Saionji whispers in her ear behind a hand. At this point, Koizumi exchanges a significant glance with the imposter, who is wearing Togami Byakuya today.

For fuck’s sake, Hinata thinks, with what he really feels is a tremendous degree of patience.

“Sorry, everyone!” Komaeda says, cheerfully oblivious, “I see that my presence is unwanted.”

Nope ,” Hinata cuts in, pressing his hand against Komaeda’s lower back and pushing him forward a little, “That’s definitely not it.”

This display is apparently enough to trigger Sonia physically and repeatedly slapping at Tanaka’s bicep. Hinata attains self-awareness too late. Komaeda doesn’t seem fazed by the touch, or by the fact that their every action is obviously being scrutinised, but Hinata tears his hand away like Komaeda is on fire all the same.

“Let’s just.” He clears his throat. “Go sit down.” He’s tired.

Souda’s giving him a pointed look across the table. Hinata considers for a moment, then flashes him a quick thumbs up, because it’s not like Souda knows about the extra dimensions to whatever’s going on between him and Komaeda, other than the hand.

Souda grins, and it proves too infectious for Hinata to remain straight-faced.

Lunch is totally the best meal he’s eaten since he woke up, and he’s pretty sure it has nothing to do with the actual food. He wedges himself into conversation with Mioda, because she talks enough for the both of them, and he can see Sonia practically shimmering as she attempts to engage him, which is not a thing he’s doing today, even if he can tell it burns her to leave the table with Tanaka without having the chance to asking some ‘polite questions’. The others trickle away in small numbers. Hinata’s seriously considering just catching a nap under the table - he figures he’s less likely to be disturbed there than in his cottage, simply because people won’t know where to look for him.

“Hinata-kun!”

Hinata glances up at Komaeda and Souda, who both look very excited. They’re going hunting for oysters, apparently. An invitation is extended to Hinata. He politely declines , because he thinks if he doesn’t start reconciling this sleep debt soon his body will collect on it in the form of death.

To his great dismay, upon their departure, he is immediately ambushed by Koizumi and Togami.

“Let’s have coffee,” Koizumi says. It’s most definitely not a suggestion.

So much for napping. Hinata sincerely doubts it’s just coffee.

“Everything okay?” Concern flickers through him, despite his exhaustion. Koizumi just a little too dark under the eyes, and he’s noticed the impostor’s identity has been prone to fluctuating recently. The Togami persona is a comfortable one for Hinata to deal with, but he can’t shake the concern. He doesn’t know enough to know for sure if the switching means bad things, but even in his constant absence, he’s noticed it, and thinks it’s probably worth keeping an eye on.

“We’ll get to that,” Koizumi says.

As he’s led over to a table by the window, Hinata thinks he probably isn’t nearly awake enough for this conversation.

“So,” Koizumi says, “What’s happening?”

Hinata wonders if this is a trap - Koizumi is never that casual in her expression. Ever. “...We’re sitting here drinking coffee?” he attempts.

“No,” Koizumi says, raising her eyebrows, a little annoyed, mostly impatient, “What’s happening happening?”

Hinata takes a sip of his drink. “I get that this is a pointed question,” he says, “I’m just not sure what you’re talking about?”

Koizumi leans across the table towards him. “On an island somewhere,” she says, “There is a boy, who has a thing to give to another boy, and probably some things to tell him as well. What’s happening with that?”

Hinata chokes on his drink.

“Oh, come on, Hinata,” Koizumi says, looking like she’s just barely keeping herself from rolling her eyes, “How long are you planning on keeping this up, exactly?”

Hinata takes a moment to curse Saionji.

“...He was very happy with the outcome,” he almost grumbles.

She exchanges a look with Togami. He could swear the both of them are smiling, just a little.

“So everyone can quit gossiping now.” He sips his coffee. He’s kidding. Mostly.

“No one gossiped,” Togami is very quick to say.

“Okay,” Hinata says, fixing Koizumi in a pointed stare, “Sure. I must’ve just imagined all the obvious evidence. And the spying mission.”

“It’s not spying if you’re obvious,” Koizumi says.

“So you admit you sent her.”

“I admit to nothing.”

He’s still a little raw about the Saionji thing. The ribbing is good, though - it feels normal. Grounding. Even if he can tell Togami’s getting a little impatient with it.

“Alright,” Hinata says, “What’s this really about?”

He thinks he probably has a good idea. The other two had been his last line of defense against total madness while he’d been trying to wake everyone else up. He has no doubt he would’ve lost his mind completely if it hadn’t been for them gently keeping him grounded - nudging him into keeping an eye out for contact from the Future Foundation with them, into helping Souda build the observation drones that watch where the rest of them can’t. Helping him cut his hair when he’d started ripping chunks of it straight out of his scalp, when it started looking like there was a real chance Komaeda might never come back.

His belief in the future had been such an amorphous thing, when he’d first woken up from the program. He thinks there’s a reason it’s starting to look more and more like his friends.

“We didn’t want to bother you while you were,” Togami pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose, “ Preoccupied.”

“‘Preoccupied’?” Hinata repeats. His concern ratchets up another notch. “Did… did something happen?”

Koizumi sighs. “No. Nothing happened.”

“Which is the primary concern,” Togami says, “There’s been no movement, as far as we can tell. No attempt to contact us - other than the contact you’ve presumably had with Naegi.”

Hinata pauses. “...It’s been weeks, by now,” he says, a faint sense of dread dawning on him.

“Correct.”

Hinata stares at him. “And there’s been nothing?”

“Souda’s drones haven’t picked up on any attempt to physically reach us,” Togami says, “In the sky or the sea. And the comms network has been silent.”

“We were actually hoping Naegi might have said something to you,” Koizumi says.

“He hasn’t mentioned anything,” Hinata says, “But it’s been a week since we last talked.” It has been unusually long, now that he thinks of it. Naegi can sometimes be hard to get a hold of - Hinata knows he’s busy - but they usually talk at least a couple of times a week.

“Talk to him,” Koizumi says, “See if he knows anything.” Her brows draw together. “...If he hasn’t been compromised.”

“I trust him,” Hinata says, voice a little sharp all of a sudden.

“I’m not talking about trusting him.” Significance is heavy in her voice. “I’m talking about trusting them .”

It clicks. Hinata has to take a swallow, even as something dreadful sinks in the pit of his stomach. “...I didn’t even…”

He hasn’t thought about it, really - how much what Naegi did for them might’ve put him in danger. Not with the gravity that it deserves. He’s been...

“You’ve been,” that significant light in Koizumi eyes again, “ Preoccupied.”

“Not too preoccupied for this,” Hinata almost snaps.

“Except you’ve gone from sleeping next to his pod to spending all your time in the warehouse,” Koizumi says. It’s not voiced like an accusation - there’s a softness, a patience to it. “The rest of us have barely seen you.”

Koizumi won’t bullshit him. It’s something he appreciates, even as he feels the ends of his nerves frazzling in real time. “I-”

“You don’t have to defend yourself,” Togami tells him, “All you’ve been doing is your best. ”

“I’ve been selfish,” Hinata almost snaps.

“No,” Koizumi says, “You haven’t.”

“This is important-

“It’s cause for concern,” Togami says, “But it isn’t a problem. Yet. There was no reason to bother you.”

Hinata presses a hand to his mouth, exhales deeply. Maybe they’re not completely wrong, but it does nothing to soothe his guilt.

“I don’t think we need to worry the others,” Koizumi says, “Just yet. But we need to be very, very cautious. If they’re playing some game, trying to flush us out, or trying to force us to make the first move… things have the potential to go very wrong.”

“We didn’t make it through all of that just for them to…” His free hand clenches into a fist.

“Exactly,” Koizumi says. She’s grim - the air is grim, heavy enough that Hinata can almost feel it as he breathes it in.

Hinata breathes out against his hand, thinking of the others. Thinking of Komaeda’s soft smile.

There’s too much to lose, he almost says. He knows it’s redundant. They all have too much to lose.

“Talk to Naegi,” Koizumi says, “And we’ll keep monitoring the situation. Okay?”

“...Yeah,” Hinata says, closing his eyes for a moment.

And he’d thought he’d been tired before.

“There’s another thing,” Koizumi says after a beat. There’s something strange in her voice.

Hinata’s stomach sinks as he opens his eyes again. How can there be more to worry about?

Koizumi pinches the bridge of her nose. She radiates exhaustion. Hinata finds himself wondering if a nap club is a viable proposal. “At some point someone’s going to ask you to help them salinate the pool.”

“...Oh,” Hinata says, confusion washing over him, “And that’s… cause for concern?” He won’t be going shirtless around the others any time soon, but he can’t see how this is an especially negative development. The pool actually looks sort of sad as it is, empty and forgotten - he figures fixing it will at least help with overall morale.

Koizumi does not move an inch from her visibly exasperated state. “Some amongst us,” she says, “And I’m not naming names - were very excited to discover several crates of hard liquor in the hotel storage room, and are suggesting we celebrate the occasion by-” Her air quotes are full of contempt, “‘Getting white girl wasted'.”

Hinata isn’t stupid enough to laugh. It’s a real struggle not to crack a grin, though. “Uh-huh.” He keeps it non-committal.

“Sonia is very enthusiastic about the idea,” remarks Togami.

Hinata cuts it super fine with the whole not-laughing thing. “Sonia said that?”

“Again,” Togami says, perfectly neutral, “Very enthusiastic.”

“Obviously I don’t endorse this,” Koizumi sighs, “Because it’s going to be a mess. You of all people know I can’t stand it when bad decisions are made in front of me.”

Hinata bristles. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know exactly what it means,” Koizumi counters.

“I gave him the hand,” Hinata grumbles, “ And it went really well.” Koizumi doesn’t have to know he’s lying.

But she apparently does. “Could you be any less convincing?” Hinata opens his mouth to defend himself, somehow, but she continues. “Anyway, I just wanted to let you know. So you have time to reflect on your potential actions, and their potential consequences, and the fact that you’re one of the more sensible people on this island.”

“Saionji is involved,” Hinata surmises, unsure if his amusement is quite hidden at this point, “Isn’t she?”

This time Koizumi does roll her eyes. “Yes,” she says, her disapproval evident, the weight of many arguments clear in her eyes, “One of many.”

Hinata shrugs. “Sounds like they’re determined enough to find a way even if I do say no.”

Koizumi fixes him in a stare. “I just want you to remember,” she says, “That you had the power to stop it.”

She’s lying, and all three of them know it. Hinata has no power in this situation - the pool will be salinated and the party will go on, with or without him.

“Sure I do,” he says.

Koizumi resumes pinching the bridge of her nose.






Hinata peeks up over his fingertips, watching the light of the laptop screen as it pulses gently.

CALLING…. NAEGI MAKOTO…

He sighs as the call drops out unanswered. It’s the third time he’s tried this evening. He’s been so stressed about Naegi he hadn’t even managed to get a nap in. He can practically feel his brain groaning as it tries not to snap.

“Where are you?” he asks the computer screen.

But never mind, he guesses - it’s not like he has a shortage of problems to deal with. He slips the laptop closed with a soft thump, before he heads out the door with a mission in mind.

Tsumiki looks apprehensive as she answers her door, eyes wide as she peers around it, like she’s expecting something to jump out and attack her. Several times now Hinata’s wondered if it would be rude to sit her down and have a serious conversation about anxiety medication. It probably is rude - it’s not like she’s asked him for his opinion. Plus he figures that if one of them has to be medicated, then they all have to be, because it’s only fair, and he suspects that a good number of them would prefer to suffer like “real men”.

“Hey, Tsumiki,” he says, trying to come across as gentle and non-threatening, knowing that it won’t work, that it never does, “Can I ask you something?

Hinata’s honestly shocked that there seems to be at least one person left on the island who isn’t aware of the hand situation. She listens to him with wide eyes as he gives her a rundown of the circumstances, appropriately sanitised of details such as ill-advised make-outs and feel-up sessions.

“And…” She swallows, “And you want... m-m-me to help you?”

Who else would I ask? Nope. Try again. “No one else can, Tsumiki,” he says, “You’re the only one with the skill.”

She turns bright red. “I’m nothing,” she whispers.

Jeez. Hinata has to bite down on physically cringing out of sympathy. “You’re not nothing, Tsumiki,” he says, “You’re really amazing.”

“Nnnn.” She folds anxious fingers together, bringing her arms up over her chest - defensive, Hinata thinks. “No...”

She and Komaeda could really stand to be a little nicer to themselves, Hinata thinks.

“I was actually gonna ask,” he says, “If you could help me do some inventory at the hospital?”

It’s a gamble - putting too much expectation on her might cause her to crumble. He’s banking on putting her in an environment where she knows her way around giving her a chance to get in her zone and get her to unwind, even if it’s just the tiniest bit.

“You don’t have to promise to help me with the surgery, or anything,” Hinata assures her, “I just figure you know your way around there, right?”

She hesitates, clutching at the front of her dress.

“I’m… r-really flattered that you’d even ask me, Hinata-san,” she says finally, voice trembling a little, “Of course I’ll accompany you to the hospital.”

Little victories, Hinata figures.

Once she stops crying and self-flagellating, Hinata’s actually a little taken by surprise at how efficient Tsumiki is when she’s in her element. She seems to calm down a little when they enter the hospital storeroom. He’s almost afraid to speak, fearing that he might disrupt her focus.

“I’m not an anesthesiologist,” she says, and Hinata thinks it’s nice that she’s obviously too distracted to cry and stammer like she usually does.

“But you know what these all do?”

“Yes,” she says, sounding a little absent as she hovers her hand over the vials. She picks one out, inspecting it with slightly narrowed eyes. Hinata lets his eyes glance over the label - fentanyl. “Do you know if Komaeda-san has any sensitivities?”

“Sensitivities?”

“If he’s had reactions to anaesthesia before.”

“Uh.” Oops. “I’m not sure?”

She continues rummaging through the vials. “History of seizures?”

“...I’m not sure?” He’s an idiot. A moron. He was right to not trust himself - right to trust Tsumiki.

“These are things you should know, Hinata-san.” She freezes. Her eyes widen. She drops the vial. Hinata’s reflexes work for him as he snatches it out of the air before it hits the ground and shatters.

And there’s the switch, he thinks, with a surge of disappointment.

“I-I-I-I mean!” she gasps, hands clutched to her chest, “I didn’t mean, to, to, to question your judgement, or your authority-”

“Tsumiki,” Hinata breaks in. He sets the vial down, reaches up to place both hands on her shoulders. She lets out a little squeak that borders on terrified, and Hinata’s heart pulls for her. “I’m not angry. Or offended. You don’t have to be scared.”

She whimpers.

“Tsumiki,” Hinata says again, hoping that his hands feel steadying and grounding rather than intimidating, “I’m not making you do anything, okay? If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. It’s entirely up to you.”

That seems to make the tears stop. They stare at each other for a moment.

“I.” She takes a swallow, and when she speaks again, her voice sounds stronger. “I want to help you. And Komaeda-san.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.” Her voice sounds stronger still. “I’m sure. I’ll do it.” She flinches back a little, after, eyes round, shocked like she can’t believe what’s just come out of her mouth. Hinata watches her for a moment, expecting a retraction, watching for the faintest glimmer of doubt in her expression.

“I can’t even begin to thank you enough, Tsumiki,” he says, when he’s satisfied she’s not going to take it back - not immediately, anyhow.

“It’s the right thing to do,” she says, and then, her voice small, “Komaeda-san shouldn’t have to carry that anymore.”

Hinata pauses. There’d been something, in her voice, a layer to peel back, but he thinks if he chases it, he might frighten her. “Yeah,” he says, “I agree with you. But, seriously. Thank you. I’m sure he’ll be grateful, too.” He’s also sure he’s going to have to hear all about Komaeda’s gratitude, at length, in excruciating detail, but he can bear that, he thinks.

She shakes her head. “It’s nothing,” she says, though Hinata’s sure it isn’t.

A beat of silence passes between them. Tsumiki rocks back on her heels for a moment, a nervous gesture.

“Hey,” Hinata says, “Quick question. You have any recommendations for someone who desperately needs to sleep?”

She blinks. Glances up at the wall of medication in front of them.

“Temazepam,” she says, sounding a little firmer than usual as she points out the boxes.

“Nice,” Hinata says, with a surge of relief, grabbing one.

Whatever. He’s earned this.




Night is falling by the time he makes it to Komaeda's cottage.

“You don’t have to knock, Hinata-kun!”

Hinata thinks that he’s going to keep doing it, anyway, regardless of Komaeda’s apparent freaky extrasensory perception of who’s at his door. Komaeda, he thinks, is entitled to boundaries and privacy even if he doesn’t want it them. He just sighs to himself as he pushes Komaeda’s door open, mentally steeling himself for the no doubt surprising and potentially disturbing conversation that awaits him.

What awaits Hinata is Komaeda facing away from him, lying on his belly on the floor with his upper half supported by a pillow. He’s dressed only in a t-shirt and his underwear, and that’s something that Hinata hadn’t been prepared for, and to be honest really doesn’t need right now.

There’s just - a lot, happening, right here, in front of him. More than Hinata had realistically imagined, given how bony the rest of Komaeda is. Not that he imagines Komaeda. Not that there are any specific images that are in need of correcting, now that Hinata has this new perspective. Not that this new perspective will have any impact on Hinata’s nightly activities.

He tries really hard not to absorb how much flexing and stretching it takes Komaeda to get into a sitting position - he really does. He takes a moment to wonder if Komaeda’s legs have always been that long as Komaeda swivels around to face him, placing the book he’d clearly been reading neatly at his side.

“Hello, Hinata-kun,” says Komaeda, and thank fuck he does, because Hinata’s so distracted he’s pretty sure he never would’ve found it in himself to initiate conversation.

Hinata takes this moment to realise that sunset is super flattering on Komaeda, weaving soft yellow and orange into his hair, softening his cheekbones.

“Uh.” Stop staring you fucking moron . “Hey!” Too loud. Way too loud.

And then he freezes, blood turning cold in his veins, because there’s something very wrong with this picture. The fresh pink scars on his upper thighs, memories of recent deep gouges, shouldn’t exist, because they hadn’t happened, in reality. Only, they obviously have. And they must’ve been inflicted by someone.

Hinata feels a sudden wash of guilt at how his first thought had been about Komaeda’s ass.

“You’re alarmed,” Komaeda observes.

“N...nope!” Hinata chokes out. Should he ask? He should probably express concern, right? Komaeda doesn’t seem to be bothered about exposing them to Hinata, but...

“It’s fine,” Komaeda assures him, and Hinata feels a tangible sense of relief, because Komaeda's finally understood something.

And then: “I steamed the carpet earlier.”

“...You steamed the carpet?” Hinata repeats. He’s lost the plot of this conversation so quickly it’s kind of dizzying.

“So it’s clean,” Komaeda kindly explains, “So you see, there’s no cause for concern - I’m not lying in my own filth, anymore than I ordinarily am, existing in this flesh.”

Hinata cannot believe that Komaeda truly thinks that it’s the idea of Komaeda lying on a less-than-immaculately-clean rug that’s got him fumbling over every second word - but then, why would he think Hinata’s worried about his potential self-harm tendencies? It’s not like Komaeda isn’t open about his lack of regard for his own physical well-being.

“...I didn’t even know we had a carpet steamer?” What is he doing? Hinata certainly doesn’t know.

“Souda-kun and I found a broken one at the motel!” Komaeda chirps. “Fortunately he was able to mend it.” Hinata can tell that this is a source of considerable happiness for Komaeda.

Why hadn’t he fixed the damn carpet steamer? Why can’t he be as smooth as Souda?

“It might seem peculiar,” Komaeda says, jerking Hinata from his contemplation of the truly terrible idea of asking Souda for romantic advice.

“Uh,” Hinata says, “I mean.” The scars aren’t even on Komaeda’s radar, he realises. They probably couldn’t be further from his mind.

“I developed a habit of reading on the floor as a child,” Komaeda explains, “And I guess it’s stuck.”

“Oh.” That’s what he’s worried about. “That’s not that weird.” He almost tells Komaeda it’s not the weirdest thing he’s ever done, not by an astronomically long shot, but he figures they both probably know that.

“You just seem a little uncertain.”

Like he always is, around Komaeda. “I’m fine,” he says, with a shake of his head, “Just… a long day.”

“Ah.”

A beat of silence. Hinata remembers he’d come here for a reason, other than, you know, being generally disturbed by Komaeda, and checking out his ass.

He’s a wreck.

“So I asked Tsumiki if she’d be okay with helping me with the surgery,” he says, eager to get away from that last thought.

“Oh, yes,” Komaeda says, eyes brightening a little, “I know!”

Hinata’s still not entirely past the idea that Komaeda’s at least a little omniscient. “...You do?”

“Tsumiki-san already visited me to explain!” Komaeda chirps, “Which was such a surprise, since no one really ever comes by, except you!”

“Oh,” Hinata says, pretty sure that this conversation has traversed the usual awkward-sad path that comes with conversing with Komaeda in record time.

“And Souda-kun, recently!”

“Oh.” That’s a happier thought, even if Hinata has often found himself wondering what Komaeda and Souda talk about, when he sees them heading off for one of their outings. Knowing Souda, it’s probably girls, which is... interesting to think about. “Cool.”

“Souda-kun is very cool!” Komaeda agrees. Hinata thinks Souda would probably be really psyched to hear that. "I'm constantly amazed that he would waste his time by spending it with worthless garbage like me!"

“I’m glad you guys are getting along.” He means it. It’s good for the both of them.

“Souda-kun is very easy to get along with.” He pauses. Tilts his head with a vague expression of consternation. “Except he talks about girls… quite a bit. ” Hinata almost fucking loses it, because called it. “And I don’t really know… how to respond?”

“Yeah,” Hinata says, with a smile, “Sounds like Souda.”

“I just tend to politely agree. Though I feel like I’m being… untruthful… sometimes?” He looks concerned. Hinata hates that it’s endearing. “I would like for my… new friend… to be able to trust me.” He becomes visibly excited at the mention of a new friend, and, yeah, endearing, and all that stuff. Hinata is a total wreck, whatever.

“It’s probably fine,” Hinata says, waving a hand, “He probably doesn’t even notice. Souda’s kind of…”

“Unobservant,” Komaeda says, just as Hinata says, “Straight.”

Komaeda lets out a surprised sounding laugh.

“Haha, oh man,” says Hinata, slapping a hand against his forehead, “I’m a jerk.”

“...But you’re very truthful,” Komaeda says.

Hinata pauses. Squints. “...Did you just sneakily call me a jerk?”

Komaeda’s eyes go round. “No!” he almost gasps, “Hinata-kun, I would never-”

He really is a jerk. “Komaeda. I was kidding. It was a joke.

“But even still-”

Hinata’s not in the mood for this. “It’s fine,” he says, “What did Tsumiki say?”

“Oh. She just asked if I was alright with her being there. And then some questions about my medical history. She was very thorough!” He laughs. “It was almost confronting. I’m certainly in good hands!”

“...Huh.” Tsumiki definitely hadn’t mentioned this to him. “That’s… that’s good. I’ll talk to her, then. See what her thoughts are.”

He hesitates. Thinks about the scars again.

He should check. It’s the right thing to do.

“Are you… doing okay, Komaeda?”

A surprised laugh escapes him. “What a strange question!”

Right, Hinata remembers - Komaeda isn’t bothered in the slightest about them all being screamingly fucked up. It should probably upset Hinata more than it does, but he figures Komaeda is probably better off than Hinata is.

“I’m in very high spirits!” It’s totally guileless. Hinata believes him. It’s just he has to avert his eyes from the scars to do it.

“Well.” He clears his throat. “I’m glad.”

“Are you doing okay, Hinata-kun?”

Hinata almost laughs, but he can see the honest concern in Komaeda’s face, and he’s not about to disrespect it, when he’s pretty sure Komaeda’s attempting to be sweet.

“I feel like I haven’t slept in about three years,” he admits.

Komaeda looks troubled by this information. “....You do look tired.”

Hinata cracks a smile at this obvious attempt to be diplomatic. “I look like shit.” He knows he does - he’d made the mistake of glancing in the mirror before he’d left his cottage.

“You could never,” is Komaeda’s immediate response, like it’s some god-given, indisputable truth, and Hinata just doesn’t need the implications that carries right now. “But you need to sleep, Hinata-kun.” He sounds like he’s doing his best Koizumi impression. “Disrupted sleep is catastrophic for the mind.”

Hinata's about to make some smart comment about how is mind is a catastrophe regardless, but then he realises Komaeda Nagito is attempting to give him life-coaching. Hinata cannot even begin to comprehend the sheer amount of poor life decisions that have lead him to this point.

He scrubs at his forehead with the back of his hand. “Yeah,” he says, bleakly, “I know. I just. Can’t?”

“Can I help?”

Hinata’s heart skips a beat, but he might just be developing a heart condition because this sleep debt is slowly eating him alive.

Komaeda shrugs. “I know that I’m functionally useless, but if there’s anything I can do-”

“You’re not useless,” Hinata cuts in.

“You’re entitled to your opinion.” Hinata wonders if Komaeda means to be passive-aggressive as often as he is. “Regardless, if I can help… I owe it to you.”

“You don’t owe me anything, Komaeda,” Hinata says, tiredly, “Everything I’ve done has been by choice. And it’s fine, I think. Tsumiki helped me out with some sleeping pills.”

Komaeda’s eyes light up. “As expected,” he says, “Her pharmaceutical knowledge must be incredible.”

“Yeah,” Hinata says, “She’s really amazing.” He really hopes Tsumiki’s sneezing, wherever she is. He rakes a hand through his hair. “I just. I think I’ll feel better when all this is done.” He fucking hopes so.

Komaeda’s eyes go wide. “I’m prepared, if it’s been bothering you at all!” he says, “Whenever it’s convenient for you and Tsumiki-san, I’m ready. ”

Hinata pauses. “I mean,” he says, “It’s probably better we do it sooner rather than later, I guess.” Otherwise he’s pretty sure Koizumi’s going to actually kill him and do it herself. “Maybe tomorrow? If I actually get some sleep?” The idea of doing surgery while dead on his feet is a horrifying one.

“Whenever you want to.”

Hinata arches an eyebrow. “It’s your surgery, Komaeda.”

“Yes,” Komaeda says, as though he feels it’s completely unnecessary for Hinata to be taking this into consideration, “But I’m ready.”

Hinata takes a moment. “Yeah,” he says, “You and me both.” Something occurs to him. “Well. You’ll have to avoid eating anything between now and then, if we’re gonna do this tomorrow. Sorry.”

Komaeda shrugs, smiles. “It’s no trouble.”

Hinata suspects he could tell Komaeda he’s not allowed to eat for a week and Komaeda would insist it’s no trouble, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary their nightmarish stay in the funhouse had provided.

“Okay. Great. I should go find Tsumiki, I guess,” Hinata says, “See what she thinks. And I guess I’ll… come by tomorrow? See how we’re all feeling about it then?”

“Of course.”

Hinata nods. “Okay. So. I guess. I’ll talk to you tomorrow?”

It occurs to him that he's repeated this sentiment at least three times now. It occurs to him that it's because part of him doesn't want to leave, just yet. As if there's something else he needs to do.

Silence settles over them. Hinata wishes everything would stop being so damn awkward. Just for once.

“Well,” he says, “Good night, Komaeda.”

Komaeda smiles. Hinata’s heart does the skip thing again. “Good night, Hinata-kun.”

There are several ways Hinata wishes he could bookend this exchange, but Komaeda’s sitting on the floor, and Hinata’s been pretty bad about choosing his moments lately. He forces himself to leave instead.

It turns out he doesn’t have to look all that hard for Tsumiki. Unlike the collision of last time, this time he narrowly avoids ending up literally entangled in her as he hits the pool area, executing a reflexive twirl out of the way before he can smash into her again. When he spints to a fault he finds her, clutching her hands, clenched in a death grip around paper, to her chest.

Hinata desperately hopes that looked as sick as it felt.

“Hey,” he says, figuring he may as well keep on this train while the going is good, “I was looking for you. That was...” He pauses. “Lucky.”

Maybe he’s been hanging around Komaeda too much.

“Yes!” she says, breathlessly, “I was looking for you, too!” She glances down, then jumps, like the paper clutched in her hands startled her with its presence. “I, ah! Took the liberty of asking Komaeda-san some pre-surgery questions, and- I shouldn’t have overstepped my place!”

“No no no!” Hinata says, very quickly, waving his hands as the peculiar urge to place one of them on her head returns to him, “You did a really good thing! Seriously! Please! Thank you!” He and Tsumiki always end up yelling at each other when they speak anyway - best to get it out of the way early. “Can I see?”

He has to smooth the paper out when she hands the notes over, because she’s almost shredded them in her tense grip. His eyes widen when he sees the amount of information she’s taken - Komaeda hadn’t been kidding about her thoroughness. It feels kind of invasive, flipping through pages of Tsumiki’s neat handwriting, finding out that Komaeda has issues with an irregular heartbeat, wheezing, shortness of breath, that he’s anaemic, that he has a history of post-anaesthesia hypothermia. These aren’t exactly surprising things to have confirmed, because Komaeda is a few steps away from frail on a good day, but it’s different, seeing them written out in black and white.

Komaeda is not, Hinata notes, allergic to latex.

“Useless information,” he grumbles to himself. He’s such garbage.

“Wh-what?” Tsumiki, of course, looks terrified when he glances up.

“Uh!” Hinata stares at her, hoping his expression is to some degree encouraging. “This is all really useful information, Tsumiki.”

“I thought… it would be helpful,” she says, voice barely above a whisper.

“It is,” Hinata assures her, “Really.”

She glows a little bit at that. Hinata’s relief is palpable.

“Do you need this back?” he asks, “I’d really like to take a closer look at it.”

She shakes her head. “I made a copy.”

Now he has no excuse not to pore over the intimate details of Komaeda’s medical history. “Thanks, Tsumiki. Seriously. This is a big help.” He lets out a tiny sigh. “I don’t know if you have plans tomorrow-”

Her eyes widen. “None! At all!”

Great. Now he’s sad again. “Well,” he says, “In that case. Komaeda’s ready. I’m ready. Or at least I will be, I think, if I get some sleep for once. I know it’s sudden, but if you think you’re up to it…”

“I can do it,” she says, and this is different. Hesitance still hangs over her, but there’s something steelier, more determined about her. One of her hands is clenched in a fist at her side, making the bandages crinkle.

You’re a lot braver than everyone gives you credit for, Hinata almost tells her, but he doesn’t want to push her into a deflection loop - not when she’s on this streak.

“Yeah,” Hinata says, “You can. For sure.” He feels a littler lighter. “Let’s talk about it in the morning, yeah? After we’ve all had a chance to rest.” He’s so ready.

He leaves Tsumiki in a relative state of calm - relative, because Tsumiki’s standard of ‘sort of calm’ is more along the lines of ‘panic’ for some of the rest of them.

There’s a splash of optimism in his chest as he unlocks his cottage door and slips inside, letting out a heavy sigh.

He checks the time. It’s only nine.

“Time to knock the fuck out,” he announces to the room around him, with no small amount of glee.

He pops one of the pills before he brushes his teeth, letting it dissolve under his tongue as he changes into his sleep clothes. The darkness of his cottage feels soothing around him - uncomplicated. He lets the warmth of his blankets seep into his skin, listening to the lull of the ocean in the distance. He imagines melting into the tide, the unknowing, uncaring push and pull, and then he imagines nothing at all.




Sunlight, for once, doesn’t feel like a threat in the morning.

For the first time since the Program, Hinata actually sleeps through the whole night, manages to avoid waking up with all of his covers wrecked and halfway on the floor in tangled chaos. Squinting his still bleary eyes at the clock, he discovers he’s slept for twelve entire hours.

He feels fucking amazing.

Turns out Hinata enjoys temazepam. Hinata enjoys temazepam so much he takes the time to pop every single individual pill out of every individual blister and wash them down his bathroom sink, and decides that he’s going to trust the key to the medication cabinet to Koizumi. There are some things he can’t afford to fuck around with.

He feels like an actual human being when he knocks on Komaeda’s door this time. He likes to think that gives him the upper hand - a better chance of not being rattled right out of his skin by Komaeda’s compulsive weirdo habits. Komaeda, as usual, reminds him that he doesn’t have to knock.

“I’m not gonna stop,” Hinata says, when he’s opened the door, “Just so you know.”

Komaeda is sitting at his desk, tending to Gracie. “I am blessed by your kindness, Hinata-kun,” he says, “Though it’s entirely unnecessary.”

Hinata decides he’s going to swerve all the way around getting into a ‘does Komaeda deserve the basic level of consideration Hinata would offer to literally any other human being?’ debate. “How’s she doing?” he asks instead, nodding at the fern.

Komaeda looks content. “She’s happy.”

Hinata approaches the desk, bending down a little to inspect the plant. “She’s definitely looking healthy.”

His eyes brighten. “I’ve been singing to her.”

“...Oh,” Hinata chokes out, because that’s distressing, for a number of reasons. Mostly because of how cute the image is.

“I’m a truly abysmal singer,” Komaeda says, nonchalantly, “But she seems to like it.”

“Maybe you’re not as bad as you think,” Hinata suggests. It’s almost certain, in fact, given Komaeda’s staunch commitment to slandering his own virtues at any available opportunity.

Komaeda laughs. “You haven’t had the misfortune of being subjected to my tone-deaf caterwauling, Hinata-kun.”

Hinata raises his eyebrows. “You don’t strike me as a... ‘caterwauler’.”

“No?” Komaeda says, looking curious.

“Your voice is.” He clears his throat. “Pretty smooth.” Except for the semi-regular bouts of hysteria and cackling, but he figures Komaeda hasn’t been doing too much of that at his plant, because that noise travels, and Hinata figures someone would’ve heard it (and complained, probably).

“Smooth?” Komaeda repeats, apparently so surprised by this suggestion that he needs to lean back in his seat.

“Yeah. Like.” He casts around for a good word. “Calming.” Bad word.

Komaeda laughs at this, like Hinata’s being ridiculous. “Saionji-san says I’m ‘like three breaths away from a death rattle’,” he says, “How can that possibly be calming?”

Hinata rolls his eyes. “Don’t listen to Saionji,” he says, “Ever.” He decides he’s not going to let Saionji distract him from what’s important, though - not right at this second, at least. “How are you doing?”

“You’re asking if I’m still feeling comfortable about the prospect of surgery,” Komaeda surmises.

Hinata’s not going to play around. “Yeah.”

“My thoughts haven’t changed since yesterday,” Komaeda says.

“Oh,” Hinata says, relief crawling into his veins, “Good. I’m feeling good about it, too.”

“But I did have a thought, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda says, looking serious all of a sudden.

Apprehension sparks in Hinata. If Komaeda’s having second thoughts, he doesn’t know what he’ll do. Accept it, of course, and then probably drown himself. “Yeah?”

“I just thought it would be best if I apologised in advance.”

Hinata just barely manages to stop the eyeroll in its tracks. Of course. Here we go, he thinks - time for Komaeda to get some last minute self-flagellation in. At least he’s acting normal.

“What for?”

You know what a catastrophe I am, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda says, with a small shrug, “How things go wrong when I'm involved. If I happen to die on the operating table today, it’s important to me that you know it isn’t your fault.”

Hinata is struck dumb for a moment, unable to speak through the lump that suddenly rises in his throat.

“What,” he croaks, after what must be a full minute, “The fuck ?”

Komaeda’s expression falters. Like he’d expected a different reaction from Hinata, apart from horror, apart from him clutching tense fingers at his own hair.

“Why would you say that?” The pitch of his voice is rising - he’s not used to being the first one to get hysterical between them, but it’s like Komaeda’s just jammed a knife between his ribs. “Are you fucking kidding me, Komaeda?”

“...You seemed nervous,” Komaeda says, shrinking back a little.

“Well,” Hinata says, “I’m definitely nervous now.

“I was only trying to comfort you-”

Comfort me?” Hinata repeats, absolutely sure he sounds a little hysterical now, “How the fuck was that supposed to comfort me?”

“I don’t want something as inconsequential as my death to worry you-”

No,” Hinata snaps. Before he knows what he’s doing, he’s leaning across the desk, closing the already narrow gap between them, taking Komaeda’s face in his hands so he can’t look away, so he has to listen.

“Listen to me,” he almost hisses, and Komaeda just nods, rapidly, eyes wide and round. Hinata wonders if he’s scaring him. “You’re not going to die,” Hinata tells him, staring directly into his eyes, “I refuse to let that happen.”

Komaeda’s jaw drops. Hinata thinks he’s going to say something, for a second. He doesn’t. They stare at each other for a long, silent moment. Eventually, Komaeda raises a slightly trembling hand, covers Hinata’s own with it.

“Hinata-kun,” he says, softly, “I didn’t mean to upset you.” The genuine contrition makes everything worse, because Hinata gets the idea that Komaeda doesn’t even really understand why Hinata’s upset.

“That,” he says, voice shaking a little, “Was the most upsetting thing you could’ve said to me.”

Komaeda looks faintly horrified. Hinata knows he still doesn’t understand. “I’m… I’m sorry?” he says, uncertainty stark in his voice, “It wasn’t my intention.”

“Then don’t.” He lets out a ragged breath. “ Say things like that. Like you’re putting your life in my hands and expecting to die.

“But as I said, it wouldn’t be your fault-”

“Why are you letting me do this if you don’t trust me?” Hinata demands, his voice trembling. There’s a familiar feeling, uncoiling, dark, seeping outwards like machine oil, starting in his chest and creeping its way into his throat. It’s hard to breathe, all of a sudden.

Of course Komaeda doesn’t trust him with this. He knows exactly what Komaeda thinks of him, after all, under the layers of artifice, the gaudy, shining worship.

Komaeda has the audacity to look stunned at the suggestion. “...Of course I trust you, Hinata-kun.”

“Yeah?” Hinata says, with a bitter laugh, “Because that’s not the impression I’m getting.”

Komaeda looks up at him for a silent moment. Hinata almost feels his stare, sinking into the black haze Hinata can imagine all too easily, warping the air around him into something sickening. He startles a little, when Komaeda stands up, causing Hinata’s hands to slip down to curl around Komaeda’s shoulders.

“What are you-?” Hinata croaks, when Komaeda cups his jaw with his only functional hand.

The haze freezes when Komaeda kisses him, then dissipates entirely as Hinata takes in sharp inhale. It’s only the briefest, gentlest thing, but Hinata can’t help the way his fingers dig into Komaeda’s shoulders, clinging to him, anchoring him. Hinata is speechless when Komaeda pulls back. His skin is tingling, raw, almost like Komaeda’s just reached out and ripped the layer of despair clean off it. They’re way, way too close to each other - Hinata can feel Komaeda’s breath ghosting across his lips, even if he can’t breathe himself.

What the hell is happening?

“Please don’t despair, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda murmurs, “Not for me. Not for this.”

“Komaeda-”

“If it’s trust you’re worried about,” Komaeda says, “Don’t be. I see now that, unthinkable as it is, you’ve put your hope in me. Nothing can stand in the way of that. Not when it comes to you.”

It wouldn’t be a comfort to Hinata - not ordinarily, not when he doesn’t buy into Komaeda’s hope zealotry. But Komaeda’s eyes are bright and honest, and it makes Hinata’s heartbeat dissolve into a thrumming, erratic pulse.

“My.” Hinata swallows. “My hope.” The word is uncertain on his tongue.

He thinks, raising his hand to cover Komaeda’s, that it’s probably a bad thing, for him to feel like Komaeda makes sense for once.

“Hinata-kun,” Komaeda says, voice a little shaky, “You-”

“Oh!”

Hinata cringes as the moment shatters, broken glass . He’s pretty sure a stress knot forms between his shoulder blades in an instant, because of course he’d left the fucking door open, and of course Tsumiki had come looking for them.

Congratulations, idiot.

“I!” Tsumiki gasps, fingers clutching at the hem of her skirt, “W-went to your cottage, Hinata-san, but you weren’t there, and I thought that this is where you’d- I’m so sorry!”

Hinata lets Komaeda go, stepping away from him, heart still obnoxiously loud and fast in his chest.

Apparently the universe isn’t done punishing him yet.

“It’s fine, Tsumiki,” he says, trying to force his voice level, “Komaeda was just worried about the surgery.” He’s sure Komaeda looks surprised, beside him - maybe even incredulous. He can deal with it - Hinata can’t afford for Tsumiki to go off on an uncertainty spiral.

“Oh!” she gasps again, “If you need more time to comfort him-!”

Hinata’s pretty sure that, whatever the fuck that just was, it wasn’t so much comforting as confusing, but it’s not like that’s new, when Komaeda’s involved.

“He’s fine,” Hinata says, shooting him a stern look, “Aren’t you, Komaeda?”

Komaeda pauses. Then the mask of pleasantness wipes across his face. “Yes,” he says, brightly, “Of course! I am entirely too honoured at the prospect of being in your care, Tsumiki-san!”

Tsumiki’s eyes go wide. She opens her mouth.

Oh no, Hinata thinks, savagely - not this shit. Not now . If he has to endure Komaeda and Tsumiki tearing strips out of themselves while elevating the other on an endless loop, he’s going to combust, and then nobody will be getting a robot hand.

“So we’re all here now!” he says, fighting the urge to rub his temples, “Are we doing this or not?”

The sternness in his voice is apparently enough to make them get it together.

“Y-yes!” squeaks Tsumiki.

Komaeda’s eyes are blazing. “I have spent my entire life dreaming of a moment like this!” He clutches at his face. “For worthless scum like me to be blessed with such talent, such hope, makes me-” He breaks off, shivering with a little gasp. Hinata watches in silence as he sees the sweat physically break out on Komaeda’s forehead. It’s extremely evocative of things Hinata doesn’t particularly want to think about right now.

He takes a moment to reflect on the fact that everyone on this island is needlessly dramatic, about every single thing, including himself.

“Alright,” he says, “Well. Let’s get down to business.”

There’s a pause.

Hinata looks up. Tsumiki and Komaeda are both staring at him, both looking a little incredulous. It tells him all he needs to know about how lame that remark had been.

“What?” he demands. He is not in the mood to be judged.

Nothing!” they chorus, in perfect unison.

Chapter Text

Hinata ends up tuning out what he’s sure is an upsetting conversation that goes on between Tsumiki and Komaeda as they head for the hospital. It’s disorienting, for him, listening to them prattle on like they usually do, knowing where they’re going, knowing how many times he’s trudged from bridge to bridge on this island with a darker purpose in mind.

You’re fine, he tells himself, because his hands are shaking, just a little, at his sides. It makes him wonder how much of what he tells himself is lies. He doesn’t wonder too hard, though - he never does.

He supposes that he is, on some level, fine. He’s alive, for one thing - in the best physical condition of his life, for another. He has the kind of abilities he’d dreamed of as a first year at Hope’s Peak. The others are fine, too, by those standards. They’re alive, and the future is a possibility for all of them.

Tsumiki, who Hinata leaves scrutinising thick syringes and vials of fluid, is fine. Komaeda, who plasters a blithe smile on his face and slips into a hospital gown without a visible care in the world, is fine. Hinata, who snaps on disposable latex gloves in preparation for attempting complex surgery on someone he harbours at best confused feelings for, is fine.

Fine is the brick in the wall he can’t afford to test. He knows if he jostles it too much, everything might crumble. Hinata isn’t sure he can live without the wall, unsteady as it is.

Komaeda’s disposition about the whole being on an operating table deal is so blase Hinata can’t help the quiet part of him that harmonises with it.

“You’ll be fine,” Hinata tells him. He thinks maybe he needs to hear it more than Komaeda does.

“Of course I will,” Komaeda says, mask fogging up a little as he speaks.

Hinata doesn’t know if he’s being truthful. He wonders if he should say something. He doesn’t.

He lets Tsumiki count Komaeda into chemical sleep. Hinata makes himself watch as he slips away, staring into glassy eyes before pale lashes flutter and stay closed. Part of him wants to reach out, press his palm against Komaeda’s chest, make sure he’s still breathing. He shakes his head, vicious enough to make his hair ruffle with the force it generates - he can’t afford to be shaken up, can’t afford to let Komaeda’s words rattle him. Not here. Not now.

“Hinata-san?”

“I’m fine,” he says, letting his eyes slip shut, seeking momentary refuge in darkness, “Do what you need to do.”

It’s not like flipping a switch for him - it’s not as distinct at that. It’s more like there are a million different tracks in his mind, wired into his synapses, and all he has to do is derail from one and jump onto another. It’s so easy to change track right now it might worry Hinata, at any other moment. Worry feels distant to him by the time he opens his eyes - just white noise, barely even a concept worth considering in the face of his suddenly steady hands, sharply focused eyes. He remembers the first time, waking up and feeling this way, feeling capable, for the first time in his life, of incredible things.

The one thing he’d ever truly wanted in his whole life, and it had been the first thing to tarnish, to grow dull.

He watches Tsumiki dose Komaeda with another syringe, watches the fluid drift up the tube. The revulsion is there, but it’s distant, a cowering child behind a wall of gauze. It’s a good feeling, being grounded - he thinks it’s been a while since he’s let himself feel this, wondering why, when there’s something that feels right about attaining this level of detached clarity.

He watches Komaeda’s chest rise and fall in silence as Tsumiki works. He knows there’s no cause for concern. He almost wishes things were a little more unpredictable. Perhaps he’d been too hasty in treating the ‘what-ifs’ with such distaste.

“He’s ready,” Tsumiki says, after a moment, eyes bright above her surgical mask.

He nods. “Let’s begin, then.”

It’s delicate work - bloody work, slicking down the sickly off-white of his latex gloves. He takes Enoshima’s hand first, ripping through old, thick stitches, the grind of the saw echoing off the walls of the theatre. He has to take part of Komaeda’s arm to level the crooked, butchered mess of the self-amputation job out enough to fit the robotic hand. Tsumiki weaves around him, so fluid he barely even realises she’s there half the time, suctioning up excess blood so he can work, passing him tools, monitoring the anaesthetic that keeps Komaeda under.

Her hands don’t shake at all, he observes. Some other part of himself is smiling at that.

He’s working at fusing Komaeda’s nerves with the ones he’d built himself when the possibility of the other boy waking up during surgery dawns on him. He’s too focused on manipulating sensitive neural pathways to really give the image the consideration it warrants, but it’s almost alluring to think about - Komaeda being lucid, pale under the bright lights, being forced to watch Hinata do this to him, transform him. Hinata’s heart races a little at the thought, at the knowledge that it would’ve been so easy to engineer such a situation, so many different ways to play such a game.

He wonders if Komaeda might’ve liked that. Thinks about how Komaeda had been the one to suggest forgoing being anaesthetised. Thinks about how Komaeda might’ve screamed and struggled from the pain. Hinata wonders if he would’ve had to strap Komaeda down. Wonders what it was like when Komaeda had cut his own hand off.

He gives himself a fraction of a moment to glance up at Komaeda’s face. The peace he sees there is striking - it’s a strange thing to see on Komaeda. Even in death, his face was frozen in a scream, eyes blown wide, forever unseeing. Hinata thinks that, if Komaeda were awake for this, it wouldn’t have taken long for the screaming to become tedious. It would’ve been so easy to dose him with neuromuscular blockers, paralyse his vocal cords, silencing him. It would’ve been easy to force his body into a chemical vice, more efficient than any mechanical restraint could ever be. So easy to let Komaeda feel everything - to make him feel everything.

It’s not the idea of causing Komaeda pain that makes Hinata’s pulse quicken - it’s the idea of being the one to decide whether or not Komaeda gets to feel it. He imagines it, for a moment, as linking nerves with his hands loses its edge to the inevitable monotony, degrading into the same dull, grey sludge everything else does - wide eyes being forced to witness Hinata cut his way beneath his skin, denied the freedom to respond or interfere.

He thinks, in the end, that he’d only let Komaeda feel pain for a little while. He thinks that Komaeda would want to see it all, and Hinata likes the idea of Komaeda having the gift of total comprehension, of being able to look into Komaeda’s eyes and see total and absolute comprehension . Komaeda gives Hinata his trust so freely. Hinata thinks about how easy it would be to twist trust into total submission - if Komaeda would give Hinata that so freely, too.

Yes, Hinata thinks - Komaeda would’ve liked it. It thrills him, the kind of thrill that lights up a dark, dusty part of himself that’s lain dormant since a girl with a vision had sliced him open with sharp fingernails and bled into him, leaving a part of herself behind. It’s a shame, knowing that such an opportunity had been wasted - that he and Komaeda could’ve shared the experience together.

The vague buzz of regret stays with him until he thinks his work is done, and he takes a step back, taking a moment to close burning eyes before he opens them again to look at the transformation he made happen.

The silence is tremendous. Hinata has no idea how long he and Tsumiki have been in here, bloodying themselves above the stark white unconscious boy below them, whether it’s been hours or months or years. Time has derailed for him, in here, and while the notion bores him, there’s a part of him that wants to cling to it. He pushes it aside.

Stasis is something Hinata can no longer tolerate. He thinks the rot of it has already begun to set in.

“It’s done?” Tsumiki sounds breathless.

Hinata rips his bloodstained gloves off, tosses them into the biohazard bin. He steps closer to Komaeda, reaching a hand out out to cover cold fingers.

“It’s done.”

It feels like something crumbles when he swallows, falling away into the empty cavity inside of him. He lets out a breath.

“We should clean up.”

“Yes.” Her voice sounds strange - far-off, like it’s in the distance. He looks up to find uncertain eyes and pale blue scrubs stained with pink.

“Something the matter?”

“What will you do with…?”

Hinata watches her eyes shift - until they’re trained on Enoshima’s hand. Such incredible presence from a cold, dead lump of flesh. Tsumiki’s demeanour isn’t nervous - not anymore. It’s just tense - like she’s wound up as tight as she can go, like an overtuned guitar string. He can’t see because of the mask covering the lower third of her face, but he thinks she might be clenching her jaw.

The silence hangs over them.

“I think I’m going to throw it in the incinerator.” His voice is toneless, tinny in his own ears.

Tsumiki takes in a low, deep breath. She says nothing.

“What do you think?” he asks. Like he’s seeking her permission.

Something in her eyes flashes - something harsh, but sad, something distant again.

“Do it,” she says, after a moment. She turns away.

“Do you want to-?”

“No,” she almost whispers. “I don’t want to see it ever again.”

So Hinata goes in search of the hospital incinerator, leaving Tsumiki to handle the post-op clean-up. A seething, raging part of him stabs through his precise and level state of mind, seizing control of him and throwing the dead flesh into the basin so hard it thumps against the bottom. He wants to spit after it. He doesn’t know what stops him. Maybe it’s that she’d been a part of all of them. Maybe it’s that this, burning the last of her, doesn’t mean a thing - not when Hinata sometimes can’t escape the feeling of the last remaining shreds of himself splintering and cracking under the weight of perfumed ghosts and crumbling cities.

He raises a hand to push his hair back, only when he does, there’s a lot less of it than he’d been expecting. The realisation makes him feel nothing, where he thinks there should be something. It’s not a new sensation - sometimes he’s unsure of how much is left. Sometimes he thinks it’s a lot less than it feels like there is, when he’s surrounded by the rest of them, when he can feel sunlight on his skin.

He stays, a moment, before he realises he’s waiting for nothing. He spends enough time being strangled by ghosts. This is one he can walk away from. So he does.

He returns to find Tsumiki, all blood spatters and shining eyes. She only offers him the briefest glance before she turns back to her task.

“It’s gone,” he tells her. She’s gone.

For a moment, he thinks she’s not going to respond. It’s as he’s lifting Komaeda’s limp body onto the the wheeled hospital bed that she does.

“Thank you.” Her voice is blank.

His eyes are stinging, all of a sudden. He doesn't quite realise there are tears in his eyes until he’s blinking them away. “Don’t thank me,” he says.

He’s glad for the distraction of getting Komaeda into his room, hooking him up to monitors and IVs, as much as it sends something cold and awful crawling down his spine. The more he shifts out of focus and precision, the more he starts to feel things again, the more immense the pressure building in his chest feels, the more he feels like he’s going to burst open and bleed out on the linoleum, staining it black.

It’s only when Komaeda’s properly set up, and Hinata has a chance to actually look at him, pale and unconscious, that something in him snaps. He sinks to the ground, burying his face in his hands, nails digging into his scalp.

He trusts you, some idle voice in his mind says, like it’s been waiting to get the chance to speak, and he thinks it would be mocking, if it cared enough to be. Poor, misguided thing.

Shut up, he wants to say, Shut up -

“H-Hinata-san?” Tsumiki’s voice seeps through the white noise.

“...I’m fine,” he chokes, forcing it to be louder than just a breath.

She can probably tell he’s lying, because the whole curling up in a ball on the floor deal doesn’t really belong anywhere near the phrase ‘ I’m fine’. His breath comes sharp, like he’s inhaling a razor every time he takes a breath, like he’s forming an oozing, lacerated groove in his throat.

“Hinata-san.” Her voice is steadier, now, and there’s a hand resting atop his head. “You’re having a panic attack.”

He laughs. It’s almost a shriek. “ No,” he gasps.

“Hinata-san.” Like it’s a rhythmic mantra, trying to pull him back down to earth. “Komaeda-san is okay. You performed the surgery. It’s over now.”

Judging from the warm tears currently sliding down his cheeks, he’s started crying at some point. That just makes him laugh again.

There’s a firm pressure on his shoulder. It takes him a minute to glance up, fingers dragging at his cheeks.

Tsumiki’s expression is stern as she practically shoves the plastic cup at him. “Take this,” she says.

“No-”

“Hinata-san.” She’s clearly in no mood to fuck around. “Take it.”

So he does, tossing the pill into his mouth. When he swallows he feels like he’s swallowing a mouthful of wet cement.

“Now breathe,” she says, and Hinata is in too many pieces to remember how without her instruction.

He doesn’t know how long he stays on the ground, hiding with his face buried in his arms. Eventually, his heartbeat stops feeling so loud in his ears, and his skin stops feeling like it’s prickling all over. He manages to take a full breath, feeling his lungs burn as they strain under the burden.

He glances up to relief wavering on Tsumiki’s face.

“Is that better?” she asks.

Hinata licks his lips. “Yeah,” he says, “Yeah. Thanks.” He shakes his head, because it almost feels like there’s a blur filter slapped over it.

She clasps her hands together. “We help each other,” she says, “Right?”

Hinata almost asks what he helped her with. Then he thinks of Enoshima’s hand. “Right,” he says, voice a little croaky. When Tsumiki offers him her hand, he takes it, lets her help him to his feet. His head’s mostly stopped spinning, anyway.

He rubs at his eyes with tense, clawed hands. “Fuck,” he groans, “I’m really sorry about that, I don’t even know what I was…” His vision is blurred by white pressure patterns when he drops his hands - he has to blink a few times to bring the world back into focus.

Not hyperventilating is great, he thinks. It’s amazing how much less hopeless he feels when his brain is properly oxygenated.

“Stress,” Tsumiki says, and when Hinata looks up at her with a start, she flails a little. “Um! Just my... medical ... opinion!”

Hinata almost laughs - as if he hadn’t just lost his shit all over the damn room. “Whatever it was,” he says instead, “Sorry you had to see it.”

She looks nonplussed. “...I’ve seen worse, Hinata-san.”

Of course she has. “I’m still really sorry to inconvenience you.” He realises he sounds like Komaeda. Fantastic. “Thank you. You handled it really well.” Probably, he thinks, better than most of them would’ve. Not for the first time, he’s struck by how strong Tsumiki is.

That seems to pacify her. “I need to remain calm in those situations, Hinata-san.”

Right. It’s just every single other conceivable situation that makes her freak out, Hinata figures. Not that he can really blame her, considering the trajectory of their collective lives up until this point. It’s not like Hinata isn’t constantly freaking out - he’s just better at faking it. He thinks. He hopes.

He glances at Komaeda’s unconscious form. “He’s okay?”

“He’s stable,” she says, “There’s nothing abnormal about his condition.”

“Hope it stays that way,” he mutters, using the word, because why not, he figures. He’s still not over Komaeda’s cheerful reminder of his own catastrophic luck earlier.

He glances at Tsumiki, who looks completely worn through, still in her blood-spattered scrubs. He shudders to think of how rough he must look.

“Go take a break,” Hinata says, “I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Incredulousness flits across her face. “...Are you sure you don’t want to take a break, Hinata-san?”

She’s obviously still rattled from earlier. His stomach sinks - he’s supposed to be the one who has his shit together, here.

He also doesn’t feel like he can leave Komaeda’s side. Not just yet.

“No,” he says, firmly, “You worked really hard, you deserve a break.”

She turns bright red. “It was really nothing, Hinata-san!” she breathes, clasping her hands together in her lap, “ Really ! I just followed your lead!”

“Seriously,” Hinata says, “Go take a shower and decompress. That was a big job. Take a minute.”

“I should be here,” she says, and there’s a little bite to it - pride coming through, Hinata thinks.

“You can come back when you’ve had a chance to recalibrate,” he says, “Then I’ll go, and you can monitor him. Sound fair?”

She looks unconvinced. Hinata knows it’s totally warranted.

“Besides,” he attempts, “He only just got out of surgery, so he’ll be out for a while, right? So there probably won’t be any gross stuff to deal with until then.”

She pauses, eyes reflective.

“Y-you’re right,” she says, “I should. Probably wash this all this blood off.” She almost sounds disappointed.

Sometimes Hinata just gets the urge to laugh at how fucked up all of them are.

“I really owe you, Tsumiki,” he says, because otherwise he’s worried he really will start laughing.

She actually tears up. Hinata thinks, with no small amount of bewildered fondness, that she and Komaeda occupy two very specific niches of the ostentatious hysteria spectrum.

At least they’re both back to normal. Kind of. Whatever passes for normal, these days.

“Um!” she sobs, “J-just. Keep an extra eye on his temperature! Because of the-”

“The hypothermia,” Hinata says, “I know. You can trust me.”

She pauses, looking almost confused. “Of… of course I trust you, Hinata-san?”

Fantastic, Hinata thinks - at least someone does. What a fucking stressful trust exercise this entire experience has been for all of them. Hinata’s never doing surgery again .

“Great,” he says, “So I’ll keep an eye on things until you get back.”

Hinata doesn’t do much of anything once she leaves - just sits in the chair beside Komaeda’s sleeping form. He’s still riding what Tsumiki’s given him, whatever it is, and he’s honestly glad for the chance to just empty his mind like he’s turning over a basket of toys on the floor, and sit and stare off into the distance for a while.

He’s half drifting off to sleep when a soft moan cuts through the air, and he jumps like it’s a thunderclap instead of the tiny noise it actually is. He raises disbelieving eyes to Komaeda, who, against all expectations, seems to be stirring.

Seriously?” he breathes, because it can’t have been much time at all, Tsumiki’s not even back yet-

Komaeda’s eyes open, narrow slits feathered by heavy lashes. Hinata realises he’d been stupid to expect even a moment of peace. He seems to be attempting to sit up, which is absolutely not happening on Hinata’s watch.

“You stay right where you are,” Hinata almost barks, “That blood pressure doesn’t need to be any lower than it is.”

For a moment he expects Komaeda to defy him, but for once, he seems content to obey, settling back against the bed. Hinata feels bad for snapping at him first thing, but then he figures - how else is he going to try and make Komaeda listen to him?

“Any pain?” Hinata is so prepared for this. That med store hadn’t even seen him and Tsumiki coming. He’s ready to medicate Komaeda up to the damn waterline if he asks for it.

“Mmmn.” His eyes look glazed - clearly still battling the hypnotic. Hinata wishes he wouldn’t battle it, but Komaeda is nothing if not stubborn. “No.”

Hinata’s about to push it, ask him if he’s sure, really sure, even if it’s plausible, kind of, given the dose of painkiller. Then Komaeda raises his hands to cover his face, rubbing at it like he’s trying force himself to wake up.

His hands.

“Holy shit.” It comes out of Hinata’s throat as a croak. He gets the dizzying sensation that all the blood in him drains away in an instant, leaving him lightheaded, breathless. “Komaeda-”

“What-?”

Komaeda stops. Raises his hands, very carefully, like he’s worried he’s going to drop them somehow.

“Oh,” he says, voice raspy from lack of use, eyes impossibly wide, which must be quite the task, given all the drugs in his system.

Hinata thinks he should probably say something, only he’s finding it pretty hard to even breathe right this second. Then Komaeda laughs, and even if it is just a tiny, sleepy thing, Hinata thinks he really does stop breathing at the sight of it.

It’s almost too much. Hinata thinks he’s shaking. Komaeda’s definitely shaking, hands trembling in the air above his face.

It takes Hinata a second to realise that it’s probably not out of sheer emotion.

“Hey,” he says, softly, “Take it easy, okay?”

Komaeda isn’t shaking - he’s shivering, so hard his teeth chatter a little. Hinata swears under his breath as he stops focussing on the hands, snatching up the inner ear thermometer and snapping a clean plastic cap on it.

He’s really not into Komaeda’s body temperature being thirty-five degrees.

“Wow,” he says, pain burrowing its way into his chest, “That anaesthetic really knocked you around.” It’s the polite way of saying ‘ really fucked you up’, he reasons.

“It’s always like this,” Komaeda manages, still slurring a little. He’s the very picture of abject misery - it’s almost like his hair is wilting, even as he shivers.

Hinata sighs, walking over to the stack of blankets they’d dug out of the storage room earlier, washed in preparation because things are kind of dusty back there. “Tsumiki said this might happen,” he says.

“As expected of her,” is his sleepy response.

“But you still could’ve, you know. Said something. Instead of waiting for me to figure it out.”

“Would’ve just worried you.”

Hinata takes advantage of his back being turned to Komaeda to get a really good, satisfying eyeroll in. “I mean,” he says, “Yeah. It’s probably a good idea that I worry about stuff like debilitating side effects?”

“I’ll live,” is Komaeda’s simple response, clearly struggling to manage even those two words.

And if you didn’t? Hinata almost asks, but he’s not really in the mood to hear about Komaeda’s lack of concern for his own life right now, and nor is he in the mood to think about Komaeda dead and pallid, laid out on an operating table. Instead he busies himself with piling blankets on top of Komaeda - he gets up to two before Komaeda gives a tired laugh and swats his hand away weakly.

“This is excessive,” he says.

Hinata shakes the last one out, drapes it over Komaeda’s shoulders, because the hospital blankets are thin and he refuses to let Komaeda run this show. “Deal with it,” he says, firmly. Is he smiling back? Why would he do that, when Komaeda is being so damn difficult?

“I am dealing with it,” Komaeda says, and it’s kind of funny, watching him struggle under the stifling weight of the blankets, “My temperature will go back to normal on its own.”

Hinata just raises an eyebrow.

“I told you,” Komaeda says, sounding distant, slow, “I know what to... expect...”

It’s at this point he promptly knocks out, head lolling to the side as his eyes slip shut. It happens so suddenly that Hinata can’t help but let out startled laugh, smacking his hand over his mouth to stifle it so he doesn’t rouse Komaeda from sleep again.

He realises he must still be smiling when Tsumiki finally returns, hair a little damp and in a fresh change of clothes. “Is something funny, Hinata-san?” she asks.

“What? Oh. No. Nothing’s funny.” He shakes his head. “I think I’m a little delirious?” A little, he scoffs at himself - he’s about two seconds away from out and out giddiness.

He gives her a brief rundown of Komaeda’s stubbornness versus the waning anaesthesia, which causes her to throw Komaeda an incredulous look. “So soon ?” she asks.

“I don’t think he knows how to relax,” Hinata remarks, “Even if he’s drugged up to the eyeballs.”

Her eyes are tormented. “I specifically tried to make sure he’d be unconscious for hours,” she says, obviously unhappy.

“Yeah, well,” Hinata says, in what’s probably a pathetic attempt to comfort her, “It’s not your fault. It’s just. Komaeda.”

Figuring that Tsumiki’s probably more well-equipped to watch over Komaeda than he is in his current stir-crazy state, he excuses himself. Two things occur to him as he leaves - one, that, at some point, night has fallen, and he’d totally missed it, and two, that he’s suddenly starving.

It’s nice to be able to focus his energies on a basic, no-brainer task for once - even if he’s positive this is just a temporary thing.

 

 


He makes it all the way across the bridge and into the hotel kitchen before he explodes, punching a triumphant fist skyward and then following it himself, leaping into the air, because he has to do something with this sudden surge of electricity zapping through him. He manages to pull it together long enough to get the pantry door open, when the image of Komaeda’s sleepy smile washes across him again, tearing through every snarl and obstacle in its path. Hinata is overcome, punching both arms into the sky this time as he tears through the air to the beat of his exhilarated heart.

When he rights himself it’s to the confronting image of Mioda thrashing around, limbs flailing wildly. Hinata would’ve been dismayed, probably, if not for this, because had she been in the kitchen the whole time? Instead he watches this display in stunned silence for probably close to a full minute, because it looks like she’s really feeling herself, and he feels kind of rude interrupting.

“Are...are you okay?” he finally manages.

Mioda’s raging comes to an abrupt halt, mid-thrash. Her torso is bent at almost a ninety degree angle to her legs, arms still thrown out in awkward claws, hair tangled and laying across her face in messy strands. Hinata is kind of freaked out, honestly. It’s probably a good thing Tanaka isn’t around to witness this, what he would probably deem a “demonic” contortion.

“Ibuki was moshing with Hajime-chan!” she proclaims. She blows a strand of hair out of her face - it rises into the air and proceeds to fall back exactly where it started.

“Uh,” Hinata says, “I wasn’t- there’s no music?” He’s never moshed in his life.

Mioda stands up straight at this, hands resting on her hips as consternation washes across her face. “Silent disco?” It seems to be a question, but Hinata doesn’t really understand it.

“Uh,” he says, “No. No silent disco.”

“Oh,” she says. Her dismay is palpable. “Ibuki is disappointed but not surprised. If it was moshing, that would’ve sucked.

“Thanks,” Hinata says, dryly, “I’m working on it.”

Her eyes widen with climactic glee. “Ibuki can help!”

“I think I’ve got it covered,” Hinata chokes out, struggling and failing to deal with the image of he and Mioda in some dark club, thrashing around to some death growling straight from hell. Not really his scene, he thinks.

“Hajime-chan needs to punch harder,” she tells him, “Really reach for his soul.

“I’ll make extra sure to reach for my soul next time,” he promises with a very serious nod.

She seems satisfied with this response, treating him to her own, equally serious nod. She bends down, reaching for something on the bottom shelf. “What is Hajime-chan up to?” she asks, plastic crunching as she retrieves a package of gummy bears, “Lurking around the kitchen all alone?”

“Mmmm!” Hinata totally doesn’t gurgle. “Nothing! Just getting some food! For myself!”

“Hajime-chan sounds super nervous about food!” Mioda says, loading another bag of gummies into her arms, and then another, “Is he feeling sick?”

“Nope!” Hinata says, “Feeling great, actually!” That part isn’t a lie. He pauses with his hand around a kiwi, stares down at her for a moment. “...That’s a lot of gummy bears.” She’s up to six bags. He’s pretty sure she’s cleaned out the shelf.

He has a bad feeling about this.

“Ibuki and Hiyoko-chan are having a contract meeting!” She jumps to her feet with a little hop, bags of candy crunching ominously in her arms.

“‘Contract?’” repeats Hinata, “Contract for what?”

“Hajime-chan,” she says, patiently, like Hinata is an idiot, “Every band needs a contract. It’s just good business practice.” Her eyes darken. “Ibuki has learned from the last time.

“You’re starting a band? With Saionji? ” That’s an ominous notion.

Her eyes gleam. “It’s gonna be an epic doom metal deep filthstep fusion with freakbeat and black sludge influences!”

Hinata carefully asks no further questions regarding the band’s creative direction, because he really doesn’t have the time for a discussion about “legitimate” genres at this exact moment. “I didn’t know Saionji played an instrument.”

“She doesn’t!”

“Oh.” He thinks he might be getting a headache. “Alright. Good luck?” Is he supposed to congratulate her? He honestly doesn’t know.

She beams, though, so he figures he hasn’t missed the mark entirely. “Thank you, Hajime-chan!”

He smiles back, because the room is swimming with good vibes at the moment.

Well. Except.

“...Do you know who keeps putting durians in here?” he asks, “Because it’s really not cool.”

Mioda shrugs. “Ibuki doesn’t know,” she says, “But they’re rank. And Ibuki resents them. Deeply.”

Which Hinata regards as a clear sign that you’ve fucked up. He sighs. “I guess I’ll,” he says, “Bring it up at the next island meeting.”

They’ve only had one thus far. It had been mostly harmonious, until the last twenty minutes, which had been consumed by a heated debate concerning the exact length of time one should reasonably be allowed to leave their clothes in the dryer before expecting them to be evicted. Several people had gotten their feelings hurt - Owari had at one point threatened to choke Komaeda out again.

Hinata is not looking forward to this looming durian discussion. Even still, he wishes it was the least of his worries.




He’s gone for less than an hour in the end, between the kitchen detour and the quick, reluctant shower. Komaeda’s still knocked out when he gets back, pallid but looking pretty restful, at least. Hinata notices that Tsumiki’s disconnected the obs monitor, leaving it to sit in the corner closeby to Komaeda’s bed.

“I’m back,” he says, “How’s he doing?”

“Ah,” she says, “S-surprisingly stable? Except his temperature. But even that’s improving.”

Hearing the words ‘Komaeda’ and ‘stable’ uttered in the same sentence is weird. “That’s good to hear,” he says, “You seem worried?”

“N-no,” she says, “Just. Just surprised. Komaeda-san is very…” She throws a glance at him. “I underestimated him.”

“Yeah. He’s a bag full of surprises, alright.” He hoists the bag he’d dragged back with him aloft. “Want a lychee?”

Her smile, though shaky, is a genuine one. Hinata is glad for it. She tries to sacrifice the chair to him, but he makes her sit. He doesn’t mind sitting on the ground, and Tsumiki needs all the consideration he’s possibly capable of giving.

Hinata promptly goes through about six lychees. Tsumiki only manages the one, looking as though the mere idea of eating in Hinata’s presence gives her anxiety.

“So we make a pretty good team,” he says, throwing a lychee peel in the direction of the nearby trashcan. He sinks it. He fights the urge to celebrate this achievement.

In an unprecedented event, the compliment doesn’t make her burst into tears, or start gurgling, or clutching at anything she can get her hands on. She smiles - it’s mostly between herself and the floor, but Hinata will take it.

“You’re good to work with, Hinata-san,” she says.

“Well.” He shrugs. “Everyone’s in good shape, considering. We do good work.”

He’s quiet as he examines her smile, thinking that this is an angle that works for talking to Tsumiki - the teamwork angle. He knows he hasn’t cracked the code, not completely - but he knows he doesn’t have it all figured out. He just pretends to.

Something occurs to him. “Tsumiki.”

She casts suddenly nervous eyes on him. Hinata takes in a deep, steady inhale, trying to ground himself.

“I should’ve been more sensitive,” he says, “I… didn’t even think about how her hand or… about how it might’ve felt. Being reminded of her.”

She’s quiet for a moment, clearly deep in thought. When she giggles Hinata almost feels it, like a hook ripping through his chest.

“There’s no need to worry about that,” she says, “ Everything reminds me of her.”

Hinata purses his lips. “It must be hard.”

“No.” She giggles again. It’s a tired thing, tinged with desperation, peaking at the end. “It was easier,” she says, “With her. She made everything easy.”

Hinata doesn’t say anything. He knows he would be speaking out of turn.

“No one ever loved me,” she says, “Until her. She loved all of us. But she… told me I was special. She made me feel special.”

Hinata takes in a sharp breath. Seeing Tsumiki with all her layers peeled back like this, no tears, no hysteria, no contrition just for existing, is confronting. Not the swirling mess of teary, rapturous despair she’d been just before she died - just a tired, lonely scrap of a thing, suffocated by ghosts, like he is.

“I miss her. All the time.” She glances up, at the wall beyond Hinata. An empty smile crosses her face. “You probably think that’s stupid, right?”

“No,” Hinata says, voice a little rough, “I don’t think it’s stupid at all, Tsumiki.”

“You didn’t love her.” It isn’t a question.

Hinata hesitates. Considers his words. Figures Tsumiki deserves the same amount of truth she’s giving him.

“She was… fascinating,” he says, every word a mine buried in the dirt, waiting to be stepped on, “For a while. But no. I never loved her.”

“She loved you. You were...” Something flashes in her eyes - bitterness, maybe. Jealousy. “ Special .”

Hinata has to smirk at that. “Well. I always wanted to be special.”

She twists a lock of hair around her finger. “She was good,” she says, “At giving people what they wanted. She always knew.”

Hinata has nothing to say to that - knows that there’s no point in denying that she hadn’t given him what he’d wanted, broken straight through his brittle cage of boredom. “I guess you’re right. I got what I wanted.”

Curiosity lurks at the corners of her eyes. “Did it make you happy?”

Hinata thinks about it. “No,” he says, finally, because for all that Enoshima had been a promise, she’d been a broken one.

I was happy,” Tsumiki says, now staring down at her skirt like it’s especially fascinating, “They were the happiest days of my life.” This time when she laughs Hinata has to watch her blink back tears. “I’m sorry, this is-I’m- pathetic-”

“I don’t think you’re pathetic, Tsumiki.”

“You should,” she says, wiping at her eyes, “I’m so full of despair. How can you even stand to look at me?

“You think I’m not full of despair?” Hinata lets out a croaky, tired laugh. She glances up at him like she’s startled. “After… after everything? Everything I’ve done?”

“...But you beat it.” She thinks he’s lying to her, he realises. His stomach sinks.

“No,” he says, “It never goes away, Tsumiki. No matter how hard I try.” No matter how many hours he sinks into trying to reap something worthwhile from what he’d sown.

Uncertainty hovers in her eyes for a moment, clouding her irises. “You are … different, now.” Her eyes blink wide, after the words leave her mouth - Hinata can tell she hadn’t meant to say it. “Ah. I shouldn’t…”

“No,” Hinata says, “Tell me. It’s alright.”

She’s quiet for a moment, shoulders so tense her posture is unnaturally straight. She picks up one of the lychee peels, begins twisting it between her fingers, eyes distant.

“I remember… him. Or... it’s you, isn’t it? Sometimes I…” She shakes her head, lightly, like she’s dazed. “Your eyes. They scared me, at first. When I woke up and saw you like that.”

Hinata’s chest tightens, even as he raises a hand to hover over his red eye. “I...” He wonders, somewhere in the back of his mind, if it’d been like that for the others. If he’d scared them, too. If he still does, like he sometimes scares himself.

“You looked at me,” she says, voice almost a whisper now, “Back then. Just once. You looked at me like I was… nothing.”

She rips the lychee peel in two, hands shaking a little. Hinata’s mouth goes dry.

“Tsumiki,” he says, “I’m…”

He’d been so indifferent to the idea of being feared, before.

“You’re different,” she says, with a nod, “But you’re also the same. I know. I know how it feels. When we were operating… it reminded me.”

Hinata feels sick. He wishes it was like that - that whatever creature had been there in that moment had been separate, something he could run away from. “It’s not like that,” he says, “The real me is… it’s everything.” He pauses - almost laughs. “That doesn’t make any sense, does it?”

“Yes,” she says, “It does.” Her voice softens. “You can’t pretend it never existed.”

“No,” Hinata says, knowing that she’s speaking for the both of them.

“You can’t take it back.”

“No,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper, “We can’t.”

She smiles. Tilts her head back, so her eyes gaze at the ceiling. “Do you ever wish you were dead, Hinata-san?”

Hinata’s too tired to pretend otherwise. “Sometimes.”

“How do you make it stop?” Her voice is small, so soft he barely even hears it.

He bites his lip. “I… have hope,” he says, after a moment.

“...Hope,” she repeats, like the word is foreign to her, like she’s sounding it out for the first time in her life, “You sound like him.” She inclines her head in Komaeda’s direction.

Hinata shrugs. “Maybe he had some things right,” he says. “I believe in the future. I believe in all of us. Sometimes it’s hard, but…” He swallows. “If I give up hope, then what’s left?” Another piece slots into place. Hinata remembers a time when he would’ve been horrified to realise he and Komaeda are on the same page.

She’s quiet, for a moment. She’s looking at him like there’s something she’s hoping to find, if she stares into his eyes long enough. It’s the first time he’s really felt self-conscious about the spontaneous heterochromia - the first time he’s really had a chance to.

“There’s footage, you know, Hinata-san,” she says, finally, “Of… everything. Of course, it makes sense, with all the cameras, but...”

Hinata does know about the footage. He just tries to avoid thinking about it. There are things he wants to see - things he isn’t sure if he can bear seeing. Things he’s sure might destroy him, for good, if he were to see them. There’s already so much in his head that not knowing something for once almost feels like a luxury. “Yeah. I know.”

“I watched myself,” she says, her voice curiously blank. The smile is faint, barely an echo of one, but it’s there, crawling across her lips as she drops her gaze to her hands. “I watched myself kill Saionji-san and Mioda-san. It’s… hard. To have hope. When you see something like that. When you know what’s really inside of you.”

Hinata’s breath catches in his throat. She doesn’t seem interested in his reaction, just keeps staring down at her hands. He wonders what she might be imagining.

What’s really inside of you, he thinks. He curls shaking hands into tense fists, nails scraping hard against his palms. He thinks they might bleed.

“I liked killing.” It doesn’t sound like an admission, Hinata thinks - just a statement. A fact, like the sky being blue. “It made me feel… powerful.”

Hinata isn’t sure what to say to that. He knows she isn’t the only one.

She raises her eyes. “What was it like for you?”

He doesn’t quite smirk - he manages to swallow down on the self-loathing in time. “Boring.”

He apparently doesn’t do as good a job of concealing the whole self-loathing deal as he’d wanted. Her eyes flicker. “...You feel guilty.”

He breathes out a laugh through his nose. “Yeah,” he says, “I can’t sleep at night, sometimes.” All the time. “Still… trying to figure out how to live with myself, I guess.”

He wonders how much the hesitance shows on his face, in his voice. It occurs to him that, for all the time he’s spent listening to the others talk about everything that happened after the fall, he’s barely talked about it himself. It’s conveniently difficult to get a grip on those kinds of things, he supposes, when you go straight from fifty days of stasis to being closed off in a warehouse on your own.

He suddenly wonders how much that might’ve had to do with it.

She looks taken aback. “But you’re a hero, Hinata-san.”

“Hah,” he grits out, “ No. Definitely not… that.” He could choke to death, he thinks, on his own revulsion. He can almost taste it, something acidic and burning at the back of his throat - it makes him feel sicker, the nausea churning in his gut almost unbearable.

“But you are. You were amazing,” she says, “When you… defeated her.” There’s a quiet awe in her voice. Hinata doesn’t know which makes him feel worse - that, or the vein of something darker there, buried shallow enough for him to hear it.

That hits the switch on the self-loathing, for the moment. “...You watched that, too?”

“I had to,” is all she says.

“...Do you hate me for it?” He almost doesn’t ask. He wouldn’t blame her, he thinks, if she did hate him.

She pauses, eyes bright with contemplation.

“I don’t know,” she says, finally. “I wish she was still here. But I don’t know if I hate you for taking her away.” She turns her head to the side, suddenly looking thoughtful. “Not that you ever could.”

Hinata cocks his head. “What do you mean?”

She smiles. “I’m still here.” The words send a chill trickling down Hinata’s spine, but it’s nothing compared to her eyes, blank, dark, almost rapturous in their total absence of light. “And as long as I am…”

He leans in closer to her - thinks about taking one of her hands. Doesn’t know what she’d do if he did - doesn’t know what, exactly, he’s dealing with here. Who he’s dealing with. The thought that he might never know, not for any of them, dawns on him.

“Tsumiki. You’re not just a remnant,” he tells her, “You don’t begin and end with her.”

“It was different for you,” she says, softly, “You could never understand.”

“You’re strong,” he tells her. “I know you don’t think so, but you are. You’re stronger than you think.”

That makes her look at him, head jerking towards him like he’s shouted out of the blue. “ Me ?” she asks, pressing a hand to her heart, even as she lets out a hollow laugh, “I’m weak, and- and stupid. And desperate. Everybody knows it.” Her voice softens again. “ She knew it. Sometimes I think it’s the only reason she…”

“It doesn’t matter,” Hinata says, “ She doesn’t matter, anymore.”

“She was everything to me.” Fresh tears glisten in her eyes, fingers grasping as if in desperation at the hem of her skirt.

“She was. And now she’s gone. It’s all gone,” he says, his own eyes beginning to burn, “We destroyed it.”

Nothing’s left,” she whispers.

You’re left, Tsumiki. You said it yourself.” She flinches when he reaches out, takes one of her hands between his own. Her fingers tremble in his grip, bandages rough against his palms. “ We’re left.”

The way she stares at their entwined hands is all shock and constricted pupils, like she can’t quite believe Hinata is touching her. Hinata hates it - hates feeling like he’s perched on some unreachable pedestal, hates being reminded of how it felt to just accept that feeling as a constant of his universe.

“Like you said,” he says, gently, swallowing down on the revulsion, “We help each other, right?”

She stares at him for a moment. “You care,” she says, voice quiet, like she’s only just putting the thought together as she voices it. “You didn’t. Before.”

“No, I… I cared,” Hinata says, “Just. About different things.”

Tsumiki is quiet for a moment. “You care for him.” She glances to the side, at Komaeda’s sleeping form.

Hinata blinks, heart faltering in his chest. He opens his mouth. Closes it again. She isn’t looking at him, though - her strange, distant gaze is still fixed on Komaeda.

“Yeah,” he croaks, after a moment. “Yeah.”

Admitting to it, out loud, feels… strange. Not that it’d been a secret, really - not that the idea of admitting it is something he hates. He just thinks he’s spent a long time not letting himself feel it, keeping it taped up behind fear and revulsion.

“Things change, Tsumiki,” he says. He knows better than anyone, he thinks, going from mediocrity to godhood to whatever mangled bastard son of the two he is now. Hinata knows he was never supposed to exist - not like he is now. “It… doesn’t have to be like it was. It can be different.”

“How?” Her voice is small.

He takes in a breath. “Even at the end,” he says, “We go forward.”

Her lips part, like she’s about to say something. All that escapes her is a tiny, almost broken noise.

“I believe in you, Tsumiki,” he says.

Something tells him it’s the final blow. It takes Tsumiki approximately five seconds to confirm his suspicions, for the tattered mess her composure had been to unravel. Hinata’s kind of abysmal with people crying around him. That isn’t new information, but it doesn't help him now, with Tsumiki curled in on herself and sobbing. Hinata also isn’t exactly great with hugs, but Tsumiki doesn’t seem to notice - in fact, she seems desperate to welcome the hesitant embrace he offers her, fingers clawing at Hinata’s shoulder blades through his shirt. He pats her on the head with a gentle hand, and after all that speculation, finds that it’s kind of weird, but not nearly as weird as he’d anticipated.

She’s enough of a mess to distract from the few tears that manage to pierce the veneer of stability he’s forcing himself to project. Hinata is glad for that much.

“It’ll be okay,” he murmurs. He almost tells her that the both of them will be okay, but he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to live with himself if it turns out to be a lie. It’s easier to speak in general terms - less accountability. He’s still trying to understand why the others trust him like they do.

He holds her until she finally peeks up from his shoulder, still sniffling. “Oh,” she sighs, voice thick with tears, “I’ve… ” She wipes at her eyes with the back of a hand. “C-cried all over you… I’m awful-

“It’s fine,” Hinata says, “It’s not like it’s the worst thing I’ve been smeared in today.”

She blinks. Then she giggles - tired and fractured, but still there. Hinata’s putting it down to the fact that she’s obviously at least a little bit hysterical, instead of his own lukewarm sense of humour, but it chases away some of the darkness in her eyes. She’s apparently taken to carrying tissues with her, knowledge Hinata welcomes, given how prone she is to crying jags. She presses a wad of them to his damp shoulder even as she dabs at her own eyes.

“Thanks,” he says, pressing them down so she can have her hand back.

She blows her nose. It’s loud and inelegant. Hinata almost smiles. “N-no,” she stammers, voice a little muffled through the tissues, “Thank you, Hinata-san. I’m sure that was disgusting for you to see-”

He shakes his head. “I’m here whenever you need me, Tsumiki.”

She doesn’t seem to know what to say to that. Hinata gets the sense she isn’t used to it. He isn’t really sure what to do, now that her tears have mostly dried up and the threat of awkward silence is quickly descending upon them. He considers it, for a moment, glancing around the room. He figures the lightening the mood approach has paid off for him in the past. If it ends up in awkward silence then at least he can say he did his best.

“You should shoot,” Hinata says.

She blinks. “Shoot?” she repeats, “Shoot… what?”

Hinata nods at the discarded lychee peels, then points at the trashcan.

“Oh!” She shrinks back. “No. I-I can’t.”

“Sure you can,” Hinata says.

She clutches at her chest. “I probably have… terrible aim…”

“But you don’t know until you try, right?”

She hesitates, for a moment. Then it gives way to the cold steel of determination, and she reaches down to retrieve one of the peels.

The peel rebounds off the wall with a soft thunk before it tumbles into the trashcan.

“Yeah!” Hinata exclaims, clapping his hands together once as he thanks every single benevolent force in the universe for doing him this solid, now fully expecting a surge of bad fortune on its heels.

(He really has been hanging around Komaeda too much.)

Tsumiki looks downright amazed at herself.

“See?” Hinata says, picking up another peel, “You’ve got it.” He sinks his easily.

They go peel for peel for a minute. Tsumiki giggles every time she sinks one. Hinata just barely edges her out by one, but she doesn’t seem to mind, a tired smile fixed on her face by the time they’re done.

“That was… fun?” she remarks, like she’s surprised to be thinking it.

Hinata shrugs. “We can play more games sometime. If, you know, you’d be into that.”

She shrinks back. “Um! You don’t have to try and make me feel better by suggesting ludicrous that will never happen, Hinata-san! It’s alright!”

“Are you kidding?” The fact that tossing lychee peels into a trashcan is quite genuinely the most fun Hinata’s had in weeks is a depressing thought, but he guesses that’s just his life now. “I’d love to play games with you.”

“... Really?” she squeaks.

“You like pool?” He knows he’s seen a table tucked away somewhere. It’s probably dusty and chipped, he figures, but salvageable. He’s been keeping an eye out for things that have the potential to boost group morale - the only thing that’s stopped him up until this point is that it’s way too easy to picture someone getting their feelings hurt and the situation quickly escalating its way into impromptu pool cue jousting. He figures Tsumiki is a fairly low risk candidate for that kind of behaviour.

“I… don’t know,” she says, blinking rapidly, “I’ve never played?”

“I can teach you.”

She wrings her hands together. “Oh!” she says, “I’ve seen that in a movie!”

“...Yeah?” He doesn’t quite know where she’s going with that.

Her eyes grow wide and earnest. “I don’t mind if you press yourself up against me while you teach me how to-!”

Nope. The panicked look on Tsumiki’s face inspires vague, casually violent feelings towards numerous people in Tsumiki’s life. “How about we just skip that part entirely and just play as. You know. Friends.”

“...Friends,” she says, slowly, looking disbelieving at the very thought.

Maybe Komaeda can play pool as Friends, too, Hinata thinks. Then everybody can make a friend and stop being so amazed by the concept. “We can just hang out,” he says.

Her eyes widen even further, somehow. “You want to… hang out. With me.

“Sure,” Hinata says, “If you want to hang out with me, that is.”

“And you don’t want to,” she says, voice wavering, “Put your hands up my skirt, or-”

Those casually violent feelings again. Hinata anticipates siccing Komaeda, in full condescension mode, on Hanamura at some point in the very near future. “Nope,” he says, “None of that. I just want your company, Tsumiki.”

She stares at him, completely mute, for a long moment. Worry seeps into Hinata’s veins. He wonders if he’s overstepped that invisible line of too much to be believable.

Then she beams, and it’s bright and honest enough that it almost sends Hinata into shock. “I… I would really like that, Hinata-san.”

Hinata doesn’t know how he manages to keep pulling this stuff off, given that he’s one hundred per cent bullshitting his way through absolutely everything, but he isn’t about to derail this train. “Then let’s do it, yeah? It’ll be fun. I bet you’ll be really good - you have good aim.”

Her eyes sparkle. Hinata is delighted by this development. “...I hope so,” she says, something like wonder in her voice. She’d used the word. Komaeda would probably be over the moon, if he were awake.

The swell of relief is suddenly chased away by a surge of bone-deep weariness. He yawns, so hard he actually feels his jaw click like it’s about to dislocate itself as punishment for the continued sleep deprivation. He figures it’s only a matter of time before his body starts rebelling. “What time is it? It’s gotta be getting late.”

Tsumiki checks the watch hanging from a loop on her apron. She blinks. “It’s eleven-thirty.”

What ?” Hinata asks, because when? It only hits him now how wrung out Tsumiki looks. “Jeez. We should get some rest.”

“Um. I made up the bed in the staff room earlier-”

“You take it,” Hinata says, “I’ll stay here with Komaeda.” He thinks he’s just made a breakthrough with Tsumiki, and he’s not terribly interested in repeating the- unfortunate shenanigans from the Program. Like. Ever. Again. As long as he lives.

“But-”

“He’s my responsibility.” Hinata is so glad Komaeda is knocked out for this. He’s had enough hysterical tears for one day.

She pauses. “Alright,” she says, seemingly satisfied with the answer and visibly too tired to argue. She gets to her feet, reaching for her bag. “I’m upstairs if you need me, Hinata-san. If anything goes wrong, or. Or.” She yawns, throwing a hand up over her mouth to cover it. “Anything…”

“Thanks, Tsumiki.” He’s pretty sure she’s swaying on her feet, but that could just be the bleariness of his eyes.

She smiles at him. What an amazing change of pace, he thinks. “Good night, Hinata-san.”

"Night, Tsumiki."

Chapter Text

Hinata waits until Tsumiki’s gone to slump forward, burying his hands in his face. Despite the fact that he feels like his brain’s been taken out by a truck, something tells him he won’t be getting much sleep tonight. Part of him nudges in the direction of the med cabinet, but he swats the urge away, letting out a deep, grounding sigh as he gets to his feet, busies himself with switching off most of the lights in the room in a feeble attempt to make the the environment more soothing. He throws a glance at Komaeda, who doesn’t look like he’s waking up anytime soon, then shrugs, stripping down and slipping into a t-shirt and loose fitting sleep shorts he’d dug up from some godforsaken corner of his dresser. There’d been something about wandering around the hospital in nothing but his underwear he’d found uncomfortable. He grabs the one remaining blanket and crawls into the chair beside Komaeda’s bed, limbs and eyelids heavy with exhaustion.

Of course, because he’s an absolute wreck, he just ends up watching Komaeda sleep like a total creep for the next thirty minutes instead of doing what a normal, well-adjusted person would do and go the fuck to sleep. He knows it’s thirty minutes because his eyes slide across to the clock on the wall when Komaeda lets out a muffled sound. Hinata scrambles to his feet when Komaeda’s eyelids flicker, then slip open, pale lashes catching the low light.

Trust Komaeda to wake up at midnight, he thinks, rolling his eyes while he still has the chance.

He is glad Komaeda waited until now to begin to stir. He’s seen enough to know how despair goes hand in hand with the domino effect, and he’s pretty certain he isn’t capable of managing Tsumiki and Komaeda in the throes of it. Tired as he is, he almost permits his brain to offer up the image of all three of them despair spiralling at the same time (team building exercise, he thinks with a dark humour), but ends up shoving it away, because he thinks he’s had enough of that for a lifetime.

Komaeda seems a little more lucid in his second attempt to return to the waking world. Hinata isn’t exactly thrilled by how washed-out he looks, but his eyes actually focus on him when he glances up, and he guesses that’s something.

“Hey,” Hinata says, “How are you feeling?”

It looks like it takes considerable effort for Komaeda to blink. “Fine.”

Hinata purses his lips - Komaeda sounds raspy, and is visibly not very ‘fine’ at all, but Hinata’s pretty much resigned himself to having to drag even the slightest bit of honesty out of Komaeda at this point.

“Okay. That’s good. You still feeling sick? I brought food, but- you probably shouldn’t tempt fate.” He sinks his hand into the bag he’d dragged back from the kitchen. “I have juice? It’s probably room temperature by now, though, if you’re not into that.”

“Juice is fine,” Komaeda says, so slow and dazed that Hinata honestly wonders if he knows where he is right now, “Thank you.”

He has to help Komaeda sit up, gnawing at his lower lip as he does, because he knows Komaeda isn’t exactly the most robust person on the island, but it’s another thing to see him like this, grey-faced and muddled. Hinata doesn’t even bother asking if Komaeda wants the straw, because he’s getting it.

“When you’re feeling up to it,” Hinata says, watching very closely as Komaeda sips from the bottle, “I’d love to run some diagnostics and just make sure-”

Komaeda reaches out, presumably to set the juice on the nearby tray. Hinata sees it - the twitch of his robotic fingers, the immediate hiss that tears itself from between his teeth.

Hinata’s stomach sinks.

“You’re in pain,” he says, unhappily.

“Ah!” Komaeda croaks, eyes widening like he’s panicked at being caught out, “Please don’t worry, Hinata-kun, it’s only very minor-”

“You’re lying,” Hinata interrupts, because he can tell, and he has zero time for it, “Don’t move it, just- just let it rest for a while, alright?”

Komaeda’s brow creases. Hinata notices that he’s avoiding eye contact. “It’s manageable-”

This is frustrating. Abjectly so. “Tsumiki and I just performed major nerve surgery on you,” he says, “And you really expect me to believe that your level of pain is ‘manageable’?”

“The thought of burdening you when I have already inconvenienced you so much-”

“Enough, Komaeda,” he says, “You should’ve said something.”

“I can handle pain-”

“Yeah, well, good news - you can let me handle it instead. How bad is it?”

Komaeda looks upset. “Hinata-kun-”

“One to ten, Komaeda,” he says, the last of his patience draining away, “Give me a number.”

Komaeda hesitates. “...Five?”

He’s absolutely lowballing it, which is a worrying thought. Hinata’s kind of relieved, though - he’d expected Komaeda to put up a fight for much longer than that. He just shakes his head, walking over to the drawers that stand against the far wall. He wrenches one open, contemplating the options before him. He sighs.

May as well make sure Komaeda has a good time, while he’s here and all.

He returns to Komaeda with two round blue pills in a plastic cup, handing it off to Komaeda while he cracks open a bottle of water.

“So that’s-”

“Morphine,” Komaeda finishes for him.

“...Yeah,” Hinata says, a little taken aback. “How’d you know?”

Komaeda graces him with a patient smile. “I was ill long enough to become well acquainted with opioids, Hinata-kun.”

There’s something about the way he says it that gives Hinata pause - too lilting. “... How well acquainted?”

“Are you asking if I have a history of self-medicating, Hinata-kun?” The patient smile is still there. Hinata doesn’t understand how he’s managed to lose the upper ground in this situation to someone who’s currently still waking up from being anaesthetised, but Komaeda’s just unpleasantly unpredictable like that.

“You said it yourself,” Hinata says, “You were sick for a long time. I get the feeling that things like chemo and pain management weren’t exactly a huge part of the Ultimate Despair thing.”

He stiffens as the words leave his mouth, because he hadn’t even considered the notion that explicitly referencing it like that might’ve upset Komaeda. Komaeda just seems to find it funny, a tiny laugh escaping him. “It certainly wasn’t high on the list of priorities, no.”

“I’m asking because I need to know if you’ve built up a tolerance,” Hinata says, frustration mounting in his chest, “Not because I want to make fun of you for being a-” He cuts himself off, knowing he’s about to go too far, knowing frustration is a poor excuse for it.

Komaeda seems only too happy to finish that thought for him. “An addict?” His voice is too bright. “A junkie , Hinata-kun?”

For fuck’s sake.

“Komaeda,” he says, wearily, “Please. Don’t do this to me right now.”

“I’m only finishing the thoughts you’re too polite to,” Komaeda lilts.

No,” Hinata says, hands clenching into fists, “You’re treating your own shame like it’s some kind of spectator sport. That’s what you’re doing. Can you please not act like this is funny? Or like I’m enjoying this?” He hadn’t meant to raise his voice, but he’s here now. “I don’t want to ask you invasive questions, alright? I need to know this so I can help you.”

“And if I’m beyond help?”

Komaeda!” Hinata snaps, and he almost sinks his fingers into his hair and tugs, “That’s enough!”

Komaeda, to his credit, does shut up, mute and wide-eyed like he’s startled.

Hinata lets out a halting, ragged breath. “Can you just- for once, make things easy for me? I’m trying to give you painkillers, do the bare minimum, not- not fix you, or whatever deep, existential thing you’re trying to make this into. I genuinely don’t give a fuck if you used to wake up and chew a handful of opiates for breakfast every morning. I don’t even give a fuck if you do it now. Nothing you say is going to shake me off, or shock me, or whatever it is you’re trying to do.” He slaps his palms against his thighs, fighting the urge to grind his teeth. “Have you forgotten who you’re talking to?”

“... Of course not,” Komaeda says, voice a little croaky.

“Then just. Stop.” He drags his hands down his face, “Stop trying to make me give up on you. Because I’m not going to. Alright?”

When he lets his hands drop to his sides he takes in Komaeda’s wide, shocked eyes, his sickly complexion. Then he realises he’s yelling at someone who’s just barely come out of surgery, and frowns around a twinge of guilt.

“Hinata-kun’s idealism is admirable,” is Komaeda’s eventual response.

Well. Hinata rolls his eyes as all his goodwill immediately spirals down the drain. He’s exhausted. Komaeda is exhausting. “Yeah,” he says, “Me not wanting you to be in incredible amounts of pain is fucking idealism. Whatever. Are you gonna give me a straight answer or not?”

“The last time I had morphine was under the supervision of a doctor,” Komaeda says, his voice perfectly level, “And I never self-administered any care for the lymphoma after the Incident.”

Hinata honestly kind of can’t believe that Komaeda has been so forthcoming with him. He briefly wonders if he’d become so frustrated that his mind has taken it upon itself to invent a happier reality. Komaeda is still looking at him, though, and he’s pretty sure he actually heard those words come out of his mouth.

Then something catches him.

Any care?”

Komaeda smiles. It’s a little sharp. “I deserved the pain.”

Hinata’s stomach sinks. He could argue with Komaeda on that one - he wants to. But he knows that this time is the same as the last time, and every other time before that - he can argue all he wants. Komaeda won’t hear it. His thoughts drift to Enoshima’s hand, and he has to claw them back again, because that’s done, now, and all they have left is what’s in front of them.

“Just,” Hinata sighs, “Take the meds. Don’t make me do it intravenously - I’ve had enough of needles for one day.” He’s also so crushingly tired that, talent or no talent, he doesn’t quite trust himself not to blow one of Komaeda’s veins out.

Komaeda pauses. His brow creases. Hinata can practically see the wheels turning in his brain.

Got him, Hinata thinks. He can play dirty, just this once. He lets a thin smile curl across his face. “It’ll shut me up, if nothing else, right?”

Komaeda looks at him. He folds - smiles in return, gives a weak shrug of thin shoulders. “It would probably be beneficial if I were unconscious for a few hours,” he says.

“You definitely look like you need a rest.” Hinata leaves out the part about him needing a rest too.

“I look even more disgusting than usual, no doubt,” Komaeda almost chirps.

Hinata’s about to chew him out for it, before he realises he doesn’t know how to, without making it awkward. It’s either he flat out lies, because Komaeda does look like shit right now, or he fumbles his way through telling Komaeda he doesn’t look disgusting, like ever, and he does such a shit job of it that Komaeda’s able to shut him down.

Hinata thinks it’s frustrating, being able to analyse his own behaviour, while not really being able to do anything about it. It’d been easier when he didn’t care so much.

Komaeda doesn’t seem to be waiting for a response, though - he finally downs the pills. Hinata passes him the water in silence, watches Komaeda intently as he swallows them.

Almost too easy.

“Do I have to make you open your mouth so I can check under your tongue? No, don’t actually open your mouth, it was a joke- ” He’s reaching out and easing Komaeda’s jaw shut before he even knows what he’s doing. “Jeez.”

He then realises what he’s doing and snatches his hand back like Komaeda’s skin is burning. It isn’t - in fact it’s concerningly cool to the touch. An easy out.

“Still cold?” he asks, really hoping that the few remaining sickly fluorescent lights are filtering out all the red on his face.

“Mmm,” Komaeda says, “It’ll pass. It always does.”

“Well.” He’s not wrong about that. Probably. “Tell me if anything changes.” He narrows his eyes. “I mean it.”

“Mmmm.” Komaeda and his non-answers. They’ll be the death of him.

Promise me.”

“...I promise,” Komaeda says, and though it sounds pleasant enough, Hinata can tell he finds the idea roughly as appealing as chewing on glass.

Thank you,” Hinata says, with a little flicker of relief.

They stare at each other for a moment.

“Well,” Komaeda says, briskly, “I’ll apologise in advance for anything unbecoming I might do in the coming hours. Though there’s a high possibility you won’t even be able to detect a change from my usual self.”

“You’ll knock out pretty quick,” is Hinata’s expert opinion.

“Let’s hope so.” It comes out as a sigh. Hinata really should go easier on him - it definitely seems like Komaeda has no intention of going easy on himself. Like ever.

“Maybe try and sleep now?” Please.

“Is Tsumiki-san coming back?”

Hinata shakes his head. “She’s asleep upstairs. She was pretty wiped out.” An understatement, but it’s not like he’s going to fill Komaeda in on the details of his and Tsumiki’s conversation. Despite not being an actual therapist, he’s big on the whole patient confidentiality thing.

Komaeda cocks his head. “And what will you do?”

Hinata shrugs. “Hang out here, I guess. I brought things to do. Books and stuff. Maybe try to sleep.” He’s thinking about trying to see if he can get a hold of Naegi, who’s sometimes around in the early morning. It’s just if he tells Komaeda that, he suspects no amount of morphine will stand in the way of Komaeda waiting up to god knows what hour just to get a glimpse of Ultimate Hope.

“I suppose the best I can hope for is that watching over me isn’t a complete waste of time.”

Hinata really hopes Komaeda falls asleep soon, because he’s stretched so thin he isn’t sure he can take much more of this. “Making sure you’re okay isn’t a waste of time.” He can see Komaeda gearing up to disagree with him. “Seriously,” he says, before Komaeda gets the chance, “You should get some rest.”

“...I suppose you’re right.” He’s surprisingly quick to turn over, half-burying his face against his pillow.

Thank you, Hinata thinks, relief blanketing him.

It’s short-lived. He only gets as far as picking out a book from the pile he’d dragged along with him, because it’s not like he can indulge himself with this weird, obsessive impulse to watch Komaeda like a hawk while he’s still awake.

“Hinata-kun?”

Please god. “Yeah?”

“I have to use the bathroom.”

Hinata looks up, very slowly. He looks at Komaeda’s face, then up at the mostly empty bag of saline solution, hanging off the rack.

Of course Komaeda has to use the bathroom.

Komaeda is apparently still sober enough to read the mood. “It’s fine, I’ll go myself-”

“Nah,” Hinata cuts in, “You’re not walking anywhere.” Knowing his- their? - luck, the seemingly successful surgery will yield only terrible things if Komaeda is allowed to wander the hospital unsupervised. He mentally reviews the potential contributing factors to a disaster - inexplicably wet floors leading to a slip, a loose electrical cable, a ceiling tile giving up and meeting its unfortunate end in its final act of smashing Komaeda’s skull in.

He realises that Komaeda lives like this. It’s a horrifying thought.

“Then how-?”

He bites the bullet. “I guess I’ll. Carry you?” The suggestion falls to pieces even as he says it. No, Hajime, that’s a ridiculous and terrible idea.

Into the bathroom?” Komaeda seems mortified by the prospect. “And then what will you do - hold me up while I relieve myself?”

Hinata isn’t sure if either of them are ready for that. He wishes Tsumiki were still here, but thinks this would be a poor excuse to wake her. “I’ll get you a wheelchair.”

“Really, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda says, arching an eyebrow, “That’s a bit much. I’m perfectly capable of walking.”

They stare at each other for a long, entirely too tense moment.

“Alright,” Hinata groans in defeat, “Fine. But I’m helping you walk there.” He’ll at least have the IV pole to hang onto while he pees, he figures. It’ll probably make a loud noise if it falls, if something terrible does happen and Komaeda ends up compromised.

Komaeda is visibly troubled by Hinata’s insistence upon this point, but he still lets Hinata help him up regardless. Hinata has plenty of time to think about how thin Komaeda feels through the hospital gown, arm wrapped around his waist, the wheels of the IV pole screeching merrily along beside them. He mentally adds it to the nebulous list of general concerns and queries he’s been collecting for Komaeda since the first day they’d met.

Maybe he can put them in another letter, he tries to to joke with himself. It’s not especially funny.

“Be careful,” he cautions, feeling curiously like he’s releasing a duckling out into the big scary world. It’s a fucking bathroom, Hajime.

“I always am, Hinata-kun!” Komaeda says, as though he isn’t frequently reckless and utterly unconcerned with his own physical and mental wellbeing. As though that’s meant to reassure Hinata in some way.

Hinata dutifully distracts himself while he waits for Komaeda. He stares up into the fluorescent lights overhead for so long he’s pretty sure he’s singing his retinas.

“Komaeda,” he calls out, because surely it’s been too long already, “You okay in there?”

“Yes, Hinata-kun!” is Komaeda’s chipper response. “...Though it is a little awkward, speaking to you while I do this.”

Komaeda fucking Nagito just told him he’s making it awkward. Hinata takes it as a cue- an imperative, maybe- to calm the fuck down. He’s relieved when Komaeda appears at the doorway, safe and unharmed as far as he can tell just by looking. The return journey is fairly painless, apart from being forced to reflect once again upon Komaeda’s worrying thinness.

“I’m sorry you had to stand by for that,” Komaeda says, as Hinata helps him back into bed.

Hinata bristles. “Are you seriously apologising for needing to pee?”

“I’m apologising for inconveniencing you.”

“You know what’s really inconvenient?” Hinata is maybe a bit savage in yanking the blankets up over Komaeda’s chest. “You constantly going on about how you’re an inconvenience.”

Komaeda looks completely astonished, like Hinata’s just relayed to him a complex riddle he’ll never even begin to fathom, let alone solve. Hinata isn’t going to give him a chance to, either. “I’m gonna unplug you from this,” he says, gesturing at the the now empty saline bag, “I think you’re out of the woods as far as dehydration goes.”

Komaeda seems to have no objections, so Hinata shoves his distaste for cannulas aside for the moment, long enough to free Komaeda from the IV and staunch the bleeding with taped down gauze. There’s something about the way that Komaeda seems perfectly content to allow Hinata to do whatever to him that feels shamefully compelling. Hinata just lies to himself, tells himself he just appreciates being trusted.

“Now,” Hinata says, just barely managing to refrain from putting his hands on his hips,“Go to sleep .”

Either the trip to the bathroom genuinely took something out of him, or the quiet time drugs are starting to kick in. Either way, Komaeda doesn’t push it this time - he just lets out a vaguely acquiescent hum, turning onto his side a little as his eyes drift shut. Hinata spends way too long watching this go down before he realises he’s being a creep, mentally slaps himself, and reaches for his book.

It’s only a few minutes, he’s sure, before the rustling of blankets disturbs him. He sighs.

“Komaeda,” he says, glancing up, “ Seriously-”

Komaeda’s wrinkling his nose. Hinata thinks it probably shouldn’t be as cute as it is.

“Itchy,” Komaeda complains.

Had Hinata been annoyed? He definitely doesn’t remember being annoyed.

“Yeah,” Hinata says, “That’s the morphine saying hi.” He watches as Komaeda raises his flesh hand and rubs at his nose. He’d been hoping for the new one, just to see it in action again, but he guesses Komaeda’s running on muscle memory and force of habit now.

Itchy.” He’s almost whining now, and it’s doing weird things to Hinata’s chest.

Still. It’s pretty funny. “Want me to scratch for you?”

Komaeda blinks. Fixes slightly bleary eyes on Hinata.

He smiles. That’s definitely the feel of something fluttering in Hinata’s stomach.

He is pathetic .

“You’re smiling,” Komaeda points out.

“What? No, I’m not.” Komaeda’s high - what does he know?

“You are,” Komaeda says, itchiness apparently forgotten as he attempts to sit up.

“Hey, no-” Hinata leans over to hover above him, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder and pushing him back down. “Just. Lay there and chill out for me, please.” Why is he so difficult?

Komaeda apparently hadn’t been that invested in getting up - he’s almost boneless against Hinata’s hand. “You look like you did when I woke up.”

“Huh?”

“Smiling.”

Hinata pauses. “Oh,” he says, and then, “ Oh.” He means woke up woke up. As in, from the Program.

“It was a good thing to see,” Komaeda murmurs.

“...I was happy to see you,” Hinata admits. That’s underselling it, but Komaeda seems to be having a nice, relaxing time, and Hinata isn’t about to ruin it with a sob story.

Komaeda’s eyelashes flutter. “I’m really happy you were the first thing I saw.”

Hinata really hopes that Komaeda’s too bleary-eyed to realise how hard he’s blushing right now.

He can’t quite believe this is real. Maybe he’s fallen asleep in the chair after all, and this is all a pleasant dream, depicting an alternate reality in which Hinata is able to speak to Komaeda like a normal human being and Komaeda can go five seconds without reminding Hinata of his worthlessness as a human being and the fact that he probably deserves to die.

Or maybe heavy opioid abuse has been the key to them having functional interactions all along. Depressing, but entirely plausible.

He feels a flicker of concern when Komaeda’s face goes blank all of a sudden. “Komaeda.” He raises his voice when he gets no response.“Hey, Komaeda. You doing okay?”

Komaeda licks his lips. “I can’t feel my face?” he says, voice running a little drowsy, “Or. Anything? Except. It’s like.” He seems to consider his next words very seriously. “Blanket.”

“Aha,” Hinata says, unable to help the smile, “Feeling pretty good?”

“It’s nice,” Komaeda sighs. He arches his back a little, stares up directly into the lights, blinking slowly, lips a little parted.

“Good,” Hinata says, “I’m really glad.”

Komaeda doesn’t say anything to that, so Hinata lets him drift, figuring he’s all but slipped into sleep.

It’s another few minutes before Komaeda speaks again.

“Hinata-kun.”

Hinata glances up to meet sleepy eyes, heavy blinks. Exasperation fizzles in his chest. “What’s up, Komaeda?”

“I made you angry.” He’s slurring a little. “Before.”

Something pulls in Hinata’s chest - a ribbon tugged loose.

“No,” he says, “I wasn’t angry, I was just…”

He looks down at Komaeda, drowning in blankets, eyes barely open. He’s definitely high. He probably won’t remember that this conversation ever even took place (the expert opinion of someone who’s never done morphine, but has enough expertise implanted in his head to make a guess. He just doesn’t know if it’s an educated or hopeful one).

He lets out a breath. “I just hate it,” he says, “When you say those kinds of things about yourself.”

“...I don’t wanna make Hinata-kun sad.” It’s slurred again, words bleeding into each other, but Hinata gets enough of it to make his stomach sink.

He swallows, and finds that his throat is bone dry, all of a sudden. “You don’t make me sad.” Only Komaeda kind of does make him sad - just not in the way Hinata thinks he means. Hesitation sweeps across him.

Fuck it.

“I actually.” He swallows again. “Really like being around you.” It’s a thought that haunts him, has haunted him, ever since Komaeda had gone spiralling down that deep, terrifying drain in the first class trial, ever since he’d seen Komaeda for what he really was. Or what he thought Komaeda really was. It’s inconvenient, the way Hinata’s grip on Komaeda keeps changing, the way everything keeps changing, quicksand under his feet, slowly dragging him under.

Remember when I thought you were boring? he almost says.

Kamukura Izuru hadn’t known shit.

“Me too.” He’s clearly half-conscious. Hinata really should just let him sleep. Only Komaeda’s chronic inability to keep his mouth shut is apparently defiant even in the face of a morphine high. “Hinata-kun.”

Hinata can’t help but think about how often Komaeda uses his name. “Yeah?”

“I really…” he trails off with a long, sleepy blink. For a second Hinata’s pretty sure he’s drifted off for real this time, but then there’s a flash of grey.

He leans forward. “You really?”

“Mmmm.” He’s struggling to speak. Hinata knows that trying to make him finish that thought is selfish - and impossible, probably, given how out of it Komaeda obviously is.

“Close your eyes, Komaeda,” he says, gently, “You can tell me when you wake up.”

Komaeda, stubborn as always, doesn’t close his eyes. Hinata can tell it’s a close call - he’s blinking like his lashes are impossibly heavy now. Hinata can see the steady, deep rise and fall of Komaeda’s chest beneath the thick layer of blankets.

“Hinata-kun?” He’s slurring more now, getting harder to understand.

“Yeah?”

“Will you stay?”

“Stay?”

“With me.”

“Oh. Yeah. I was gonna sleep here.” He gives the arm of the chair a light thump. “I’m not going anywhere. Don’t worry.”

“But here.” Komaeda raises a limp wrist, lets it slap back down against the sheets.

Oh.

Oh.

He shouldn’t, probably. He shouldn’t, definitely. He’s prepared to sleep in the chair he’d dragged down from the storage room, prepared to totally fuck up his sleep hygiene with the timer he’d borrowed from Souda, set to go off every sixty minutes so he can make sure Komaeda hasn’t died in the night, or something. He’s prepared to be responsible.

Komaeda’s lips stick together a little when he opens his mouth to speak again. His eyes are almost blank, but there’s something in them, some strange, dull light.

“I’m tired,” he says, voice cracking, “Of being alone.”

The gasp Hinata lets out is a quiet one, breathed in through his nose. There’s that curious burning sensation behind his eyeballs again, and god, he’s been so emotional ever since he came back. It’s such a dramatic shift in gears from how he’d been before - that’s probably why he’s struggling to cope with it all, his brain’s not used to firing down these particular wires like this.

Probably.

So that’s how he justifies it, putting his book down, getting up from his chair, approaching Komaeda’s bed. There’s really not enough space for the both of them - Hinata has to kind of wedge himself around Komaeda’s body, over the blankets, because he tells himself that makes it better, somehow.

“I’m here,” he says, voice barely above a whisper.

He wonders who he’s actually saying it for - Komaeda is no longer lucid enough to hear it. Nobody, he supposes.




He dreams of chewing on moonlight, cool and metallic in his mouth.

Then he wakes to his face half-buried in Komaeda’s hair, and he’s just annoyed at his subconscious’ twisted sense of humour. Even through bleary eyes and a foggy mind he can tell it’s still dark outside, the only proper source of light being the dim light up above. The room is dark apart from that, and Hinata shudders to think of the dark hallway beyond. Maybe it’s a good thing that he’s woken up like this, tangled up in another person, otherwise-

When had he gotten under the blankets?

He flinches, only remembering to trap his startled cry behind closed lips at the very last second.

“Oh, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda’s soft voice drifts from somewhere down below, nearly scaring Hinata to death in his already on-edge state, “You’re awake.”

“Holy shit don’t do that,” he gasps, realising too late that the surprise caused him to clutch an anxious hand at Komaeda’s arm.

There is a not inconsiderable amount of touching happening right now, Hinata realises as he blinks himself fully awake. His hand on Komaeda’s bicep. Komaeda curled up against his chest. Legs pretty much tangled together. He’s broken into a sheen of sweat, what with being under four blankets, and when Komaeda breathes, breath scattering across the skin of Hinata’s throat, it’s a cool, almost bleeding sensation, makes a shiver tremble down his spine.

This is either a fuck up of astronomical proportions or a wet dream. Either way, Hinata is disappointed in himself.

He can practically feel- no, he actually feels Komaeda winding up, because he can feel every little shift Komaeda makes, because apparently at some point in the night they’ve both somnolently decided that it’s a good idea to sleep pressed up against one another. Which is insane. Because it’s an objectively terrible idea.

He really should’ve slept in the chair.

“Forgive me, Hinata-kun, I-”

There it is. That trembling, dripping with conviction voice that signals a forthcoming avalanche of self-deprecation. Not tonight, Hinata decides - not right now.

“It’s fine,” he cuts in, even as his heart makes a liar of him by continuing to thunder obnoxiously, “You just startled me a little.” Something occurs to him. “How long have you been awake?”

“Oh. Not very long,” Komaeda says. There’s a strange idleness to his voice.

He’s lying, Hinata realises. He sits with that thought for a second, then pushes it away.

“Um,” he says instead, “I don’t know if you remember, but you asked me to stay with you-”

“I remember,” Komaeda says. It would be innocuous, except Hinata can still feel him breathing, and this time he exhales deep, cool enough against Hinata’s skin to make his own breath catch.

“Oh,” Hinata says, a cold snap of alarm flashing through him. That’s a horrifying thought. He wonders what else Komaeda might remember. “So. So this is… okay?”

Part of him had wanted to try and not talk about it, but he’s starting to realise that, as frustrating as it is, it’s a bad move when Komaeda is involved.

“This is okay,” Komaeda says, and Hinata isn’t going to argue with that, even if most of him is screaming the contrary.

“How are you feeling?”

“Mmm. Better. I think?”

Hinata wriggles back a little, putting enough space between them to feel Komaeda’s forehead, press his palm against his arm. “You feel warmer.”

“Maybe I’ve been siphoning your body heat,” Komaeda remarks, “Hinata-kun is very warm.”

“Yeah, well,” Hinata grumbles, as he kicks the blankets off himself and onto Komaeda’s side of the bed, “It’s me versus four blankets, and I’m not having chills. I should take your temperature-”

“Don’t bother.” It comes very quickly. “I do feel much better.”

“Yeah, uh, remember how you tried to tell me you weren’t in pain?” Hinata says, dryly. “Your word’s kind of in disrepute, Komaeda.”

“I promised to tell you if anything changed, didn’t I?” Komaeda insists.

Hinata considers this. “...You did.”

“And here it is,” Komaeda says, “I do feel much better.”

“...You bounce back pretty quickly,” Hinata says, successfully cutting off the for someone so sickly that almost comes tumbling out of his mouth.

“How lucky I am,” Komaeda croons. Hinata feels a pressing urge to smack his forehead. “But we’ll see how I’m travelling after the morphine wears off, I suppose!”

Yeah, right, Hinata thinks. Komaeda’s getting another dose the second Hinata detects even a hint of pain. He doesn’t care if he has to shove the damn pills down his throat.

Hinata remembers that he’d wound up in this incomprehensible situation for a reason. He takes a breath. “...How awake are you?”

“Oh. Very.” The significance there is frail enough for Hinata to push it aside.

Hinata bites his lip for a second, stares at the hand, between them, fingers curled loosely against the pillow.

“Do you think I could just-” He has to steady himself before he reaches out, skims his fingertips over metal knuckles.

A quiet gasp escapes Komaeda. Hinata’s heart skips a beat - something dizzying sparks in his chest in its place, leaping into the back of his throat where it sits, warm and almost alive .

“You felt that,” he whispers, and of course Komaeda had felt it, Hinata had designed it that way, but knowing it had worked, knowing he’d pulled it off, is something else entirely, rushing through his veins and leaving him dizzied, “You felt that.”

Komaeda’s looking at their hands with starry wonder in his eyes. “I felt that,” he repeats, voice soft, just an echo. Hinata can tell he isn’t really checked into the conversation, watching as he twitches his fingers, every move accompanied by a soft whirr.

“Holy fuck ,” Hinata almost gasps, because he’d been denied this opportunity by Komaeda’s sickliness earlier and he’s not about to let it happen again. “Hold up two fingers. Um, please?”

He has to tear his eyes from Komaeda’s face for a second, to watch him throw a victory sign. Komaeda’s expression is awed, like a star has fallen from the sky into his hands and he can’t look away no matter how much it blinds him.

“Okay,” Hinata says, voice shaking, “Okay. God. Um. Try three? Make a fist? Wave at me?”

Komaeda seems too transfixed to tell Hinata to fuck off as his commands keep coming. It’s all way too fucking cute and unbelievable for Hinata to cope with, and he can’t help himself after a moment, grabbing Komaeda by the hand and trailing gentle fingers down his palm.

“Do you feel that?” He hadn’t needed to ask - he’d felt Komaeda’s answering shiver.

“Yes,” Komaeda whispers, eyes wide and bright like the moon beyond the window.

“And-” He keeps going, trailing his fingers down to where the prosthetic ends and Komaeda’s arm begins.

“Yes.”

Hinata laughs, swallowed up by relief and pride and giddiness, and then Komaeda’s laughing too, and he’s knocking his forehead against Komaeda’s as he interlaces their fingers together. “And that?”

“Yes.” It’s so breathy. Hinata feels his heartbeat speed up, but that might have something to do with the sudden urge he has to start cheering and turning cartwheels up and down the hospital hallway, because-

“I did it,” he says, voice hoarse, “ We did it, I- Komaeda. We did it. We fucking did it, it worked, it-”

He only misses half a beat when Komaeda kisses him. His chest feels peculiarly empty all of a sudden, as if his heart’s blinked right out of existence - then he feels a cold touch against his cheek, and it all comes rushing back, and it’s almost like his chest is too full. For a moment he’s perfectly still, and then he raises his hand, resting it over the the cold almost-sting of Komaeda’s hand, marvelling at the sharp, foreign feeling as he presses his lips to Komaeda’s again.

They’re just… celebrating . Right? Hinata’s tired enough, delirious enough, wants it enough, to buy that.

“Ahhh?” It’s an uncertain sound, a little stilted as it breaks free from Komaeda’s throat.

Hinata freezes. “What?” he asks, “What’s wrong?

“Nothing’s wrong, it just-” Hinata takes in a sharp breath when Komaeda kisses him again, “Feels strange-” Another kiss. Hinata’s starting to feel light-headed even if they’re just shallow little things.

He squeezes Komaeda’s hand. “What’s it like?”

“I can’t explain it,” Komaeda breathes - another kiss, fleeting, like Komaeda just wants to speak with his lips against Hinata’s. “Hinata-kun, I’ll never be able to repay-”

“You don’t have to repay me for anything,” Hinata says, soft-voiced, “Just-”

Just, he repeats in his head, slipping his hand up, sinking his fingers into Komaeda’s hair.

They’re still, for a moment. Hinata can feel Komaeda breathing. Wonders if his hand would be shaking if it weren’t made of metal joints, because Hinata’s hands are certainly shaking. They’re close enough in the near darkness that Komaeda’s face is a double-vision blur to him. There’s just the glare of his eyes as they reflect the moon outside, pale hair soft and illuminated like it’s swallowing the light. Hinata has the fleeting thought that it’s almost like Komaeda is made of moonlight, and then he thinks that’s a pretty lame, sappy thing to think, and-

Komaeda kisses him, open-mouthed this time, wiping Hinata’s mind blank for a second. He gets that it’s an invitation, in some fuzzy, distant corner of his mind, and finds himself responding before he’s even really realised how he wants to respond, parting his own lips. The second that passes feels far too long, Hinata feeling bracketed in by his own nerves and what he’s pretty sure is a comparative lack of experience. He catches Komaeda’s lower lip between his own, sure that Komaeda can hear his heartbeat, with how deafening it is in his own ears.

A little sigh escapes Komaeda, and then it’s like he melts into Hinata, everything going soft and warm all at once. Hinata lets himself dissolve, bleeding outwards into a delirious, liquid mess. He jumps a little when Komaeda, like he had last time, reaches up to coax his jaw open wider, only the touch is cold, this time, and the feeling is so stark and so surprising he can’t help but stiffen. Komaeda backs off, and Hinata can’t really blame him, because he’d’ve done the same thing. Stop hesitating, some distant, staticky part of him hisses.

The silence is almost viscous in the air between them.

Komaeda’s words stumble over each other, almost panicked. “You must be disgusted-”

Hinata’s pretty sure his heart physically shrinks in his chest. “No-”

“I’ve evidently become too comfortable and-”

“Komaeda-”

Obviously, you wouldn’t want to-”

Hinata is displeased yet totally unsurprised to realise he’s fucking this up. “No,” he cuts in, immediate, breathless, “ No, I do want to.” Bad, he thinks - whatever it is, he wants it bad .

“But...you seem uncertain?” Komaeda’s voice is rough around the edges, like he needs to clear his throat. It makes Hinata’s heart skip a beat.

“I’m. Just.” He swallows around the lump in his throat. “A little. You know. Nervous.”

He can envision Komaeda’s incredulous expression with a disturbing clarity. “...But it’s only me, Hinata-kun.”

Only you , Hinata wants to say. Wants to laugh. Only you. As if Komaeda could ever be ‘only’ anything.

He clears his throat instead, drawing back a little. “I… don’t think they programmed me with this talent.” The self-cringe is dampened this time, because he’s so overwhelmed that he can’t quite manage to breathe properly, but it’s still there, because of all the times to make a stupid joke-

“...Ah,” Komaeda says, after an apparent half-second of reflection, “Well. That does explain why you’re being so gentle with me.”

Gentle?” Hinata repeats, a little strangled.

“It’s a novelty,” Komaeda says, totally, almost concerningly blithe, “Being given such consideration. It seems that something about my demeanour encourages a lesser degree of care!”

“Oh,” Hinata says, stomach sinking a little, because that’s not exactly a pleasant statement to have to process. Then something hits him. “Wait..Are you saying you want me to be…” He clears his throat again. “Uh, rougher? With you?”

“I’ve grown to expect it,” Komaeda says, as idle as he can possibly sound, still a little breathless, “But that’s irrelevant. Does Hinata-kun want to be rougher with me?”

Hinata knows, objectively, that it’s a really stupid thing to even consider, given Komaeda’s current post-operative state, given the fact that Hinata really has no idea what he’s even doing. That doesn’t make it any less intriguing to think about.

“But do you like-?” He’s getting carried away - getting ahead of himself. This isn’t the time to get over ambitious, when his thoughts are already flying faster than he can get a grip on, when he’s already trying to will his hands not to shake. “I mean. I. Guidance. Would be... nice.”

He feels pathetic. Komaeda, however, seems to have other concerns than Hinata’s embarrassment. He lets out a dreary sigh. “Well. I’m, as you’ve probably noticed, woefully substandard at this sort of interaction-”

“No no!” Hinata breaks in, setting a hand to Komaeda’s cheek, “You’re, um. Really good. Really.”

Smooth, Hajime. He takes a moment to reflect on the fact that Komaeda even bothering to indulge him is an actual miracle.

Komaeda hums. “I suppose I must be...” He pauses. “ Satisfactory, on some level. Based on past evidence.

It takes Hinata minute to process what Komaeda’s getting at. “Uh,” is his intelligent and thoughtful response, pretty sure the blush creeping across his face must be straight up glowing in the dark.

“Regardless,” Komaeda says, “I wouldn’t even dare to dream of dictating the terms of this encounter-”

“Um,” Hinata interrupts, a little frantic, “ Please feel free to… dictate.”

“...Is it the thought of touching me that disgusts you?” Komaeda asks, “Because if you would prefer to just close your eyes and not have to subject yourself to the indignity of putting your hands on filth like me, I will strive to make this as painless as possible.”

Hinata swallows. “That’s,” he says haltingly, “Not it. At all.”

Komaeda looks at him for a moment.

“...It would be much easier for Hinata-kun to do whatever he wants if he were to get on top of me.” The way he widens his eyes is definitely pointed.

Hinata almost smiles with the snap of relief. “...Thanks for not dictating,” he says, a little sly despite the fact that he kind of feels like he’s been punched in the chest.

“Like I said, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda tells him, looking very earnest, “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

Hinata almost laughs, but then he has to deal with the whole prospect of climbing up and straddling Komaeda, which is sort of daunting. He holds Komaeda’s gaze for a second - there’s an uncomfortably loud rustle of fabric as Komaeda shoves his layers of blankets to the side. Hinata takes that as a sign that Komaeda is not, in fact, kidding around. He takes a deep breath before he rolls over, taking it slow and careful because he’s terrified he’s going to crush Komaeda, or shatter a bone, or something equally as horrible. It turns out to be a fairly painless process, apart from some awkward shifting and limb tetris, and then Hinata is staring down at Komaeda.

The dim lighting softens everything. Hinata doesn’t know whether he’s pleased or disappointed by it, because Komaeda does look appealing, spread out beneath him with his pale hair splashed across the pillow - it’s just he wishes he could see it better. Hinata doesn’t know whose luck he should be thanking for the way Komaeda’s hospital gown has slipped down at some point in the night to expose a pale shoulder, but he’s still pretty grateful.

Komaeda lifts his chin, eyebrows raised. “Does Hinata-kun just want to look?”

Hinata suspects he’s being teased, but he can never really be sure with Komaeda. He takes the bait anyway, because otherwise he’s pretty sure he could sit there all night wondering if Komaeda’s hospital gown had been that short the entire time. He sinks down to press their lips together, soft, now, because the uncertainty is back, sinking its claws into his chest. Then Komaeda’s fingers are suddenly digging into his shoulder blades through his t-shirt, which Hinata takes as a subtle cue to-

Bite Komaeda, is apparently the first impulse his brain can conjure, because some foggy, distant part of his memory remembers the way Komaeda had bitten him the last time. His brain almost grinds to a halt at the way Komaeda gasps and jolts against him, pressing tighter against Hinata as his back arches up off the bed. Hinata figures that the biting thing works, and does it again, teeth dragging at Komaeda’s lower lip, making Komaeda let out a little sigh, fingers clawing at his back.

There’s something about doing this when he isn’t panicking and Komaeda isn’t a teary mess that makes it a million times easier and a million times more terrifying .

A shiver snaps down his spine when a cold hand pushes up under his t-shirt, flat against his abdomen, and that’s- really interesting, almost jarring, because Hinata’s only just realised how flushed he feels all over. He holds his breath for a second, remembering the last time, wondering if Komaeda has intentions of sinking lower. Wondering what he’ll do if Komaeda does. He knows there are relatively few options, when it really comes down to it. If he had the brain power to spare, Hinata would probably be ashamed of the way his cock twitches at the thought of Komaeda touching him with the robot hand, and oh hey, fetish Hinata never even realised he had-

He’s a little disappointed when Komaeda seems to decide on not escalating, instead settling for slipping his frigid hand back up Hinata’s chest, winding his arms around the back of Hinata’s neck, drawing him in closer again. Hinata wonders if he’s supposed to escalate, given that he’s allegedly supposed to be ‘dictating’ this show. He wavers for a moment, uncertainty buzzing in his chest, wishes he could just ask Komaeda without sounding like an idiot who doesn’t know the first thing about reading cues (which he kind of is, but that’s beside the point).

He could gauge Komaeda’s approval on that one, he figures. Pretty easily.

He licks into Komaeda’s mouth as he shifts all his weight to one elbow, snaking his free hand down between them to rest on Komaeda’s thigh. Komaeda doesn’t seem to have any reaction to that, so Hinata keeps going, tense and alert for any change in Komaeda’s body language. He skims his fingertips up Komaeda’s thigh, pushing the gown up gently, like he’s trying to do it without Komaeda noticing, which he doesn’t seem to, even when he has to pick up Hinata’s slack as far as making out goes.

Komaeda is apparently completely unbothered by Hinata shafting him on that. His mind goes blank for a second when Komaeda sucks at his lower lip. Hinata’s distantly aware of the fact that something that sounded suspiciously like a purr just came out of his own throat , which is a sound he hadn’t even realised he was capable of making. Hinata’s pretty sure his spine liquefies thanks to the way Komaeda sets about making a mess of him. Komaeda isn’t forceful with him, not quite, but it feels almost bruising, teeth and lips and pressure. He’s pretty sure that this isn’t what Komaeda means when he talks about being filthy, but he revels in it anyway, tingling lips and the slickness of saliva, Komaeda being too close to him, Hinata not being able to muster the will to give a fuck when he wants it so much.

Hinata always imagined Komaeda would be good with his mouth. It’s so nice to be proven right, is the delirious thought that shoots through his mind - so fucking nice.

Komaeda,” he gasps, breaking to breathe, pressing his cheek against Komaeda’s shoulder. He traces circles on Komaeda’s hip with his fingertips, a futile attempt to steady himself.

“Mmm,” is the shivery little noise Komaeda lets out, and Hinata officially can’t deal with drawing it out anymore.

It takes Hinata curling his fingers under the elastic of Komaeda’s underwear for him to earn a low, sharp hiss from the other boy. Hinata’s breath catches in his throat - he’s pretty sure time stops around them as he lets the elastic go with a snap, exhaling around a shiver as he lets his palm rub up against Komaeda, and fuck, he almost curses aloud, because it’s almost too much for him, in the state he’s in. Komaeda isn’t even touching him, he thinks, feeling like he’s floating, the only thing keeping him tethered to this plane of existence is how warm Komaeda feels against him, the cold fingertips skimming the back of his neck making him shiver even harder.

“Ah...” Komaeda sounds lost, incoherent, maybe.

“Can I…?” He doesn’t finish the thought - he doesn’t think he has to, touching Komaeda like this, knowing his voice is dripping with want because he can hear himself, breathy and rough in his own ears.

Only then does Komaeda speak up properly, voice throaty: “Isn’t that boring?”

What?

It makes Hinata jerk his hand away like he’s just set it down on a hotplate. Which makes him almost lose his balance, so it ends up right back on Komaeda’s hip.

“Um!” he almost chokes, “Are… are you bored?” He should’ve known he’d be lousy-

“Oh, no!” Like he’s absolutely aghast at the mere suggestion. “Not at all, Hinata-kun. I’m actually incredibly exhilarated!” Komaeda shifts under him, hips working a little, as if to prove his point.

“Oh,” Hinata says, strangled because that just made his fingers brush up against something that caused his brain to short circuit, “Good to know.”

“I just thought I might save you the trouble.”

“Trouble ?”

“Of dealing with secondary concerns.”

Hinata is speechless for a second.

“Secondary?” he says, slowly, “Concerns- don’t you want me to…?”

Ordinarily, he wouldn’t push it, and take Komaeda at his word, but there’s pretty... hard evidence to suggest that Komaeda is into what Hinata is selling him, awkward as it no doubt is.

“Hinata-kun,” Komaeda says, and Hinata’s rattled by how sweet his voice sounds, “It’s appreciated, but entirely unnecessary.”

“Uh?”

Okay. He’s lost. Not exactly new territory when it comes to Komaeda, only everything about this is new territory, and he’s already half-convinced he’s managed to screw it up. He draws away to sit back a little, because he needs eye contact for this one. Komaeda looks just as bewildered as he feels, which Hinata thinks is probably not a good sign.

“Sorry,” Hinata says, still breathing a little heavily, “But. I’m confused. Are you not into this?”

It feels completely ridiculous to be asking that question. Komaeda is obviously into it. It’s just, Hinata thinks, the warm, soft haze in his brain beginning to dissipate a little, that when it comes to Komaeda, things are seldom easy, and often confusing.

“Of course I am,” Komaeda says, and of course he is, but…

Hinata’s missing something.

“What are we doing?” Hinata whispers, suddenly feeling cold all over. Part of him is screaming that this is an absolutely terrible time to be asking that question, when he’s on top of Komaeda, when Komaeda’s hospital gown’s ridden up around his thighs to the point of indecency - when they’re so close to… something .

The other part of him is taking himself squarely by the shoulders and telling him that this is probably the last chance he’ll get to ask, before-

Before this gets really messy.

“...Is this an expression of regret?” Komaeda asks, voice equally as quiet, “Or a legitimate question? Because I don’t mean to be condescending, Hinata-kun, but I think it’s fairly apparent what we’re doing.”

“No, I mean…” Hesitation washes over him. There’s no talent that can prepare him for this kind of conversation. He’s learned that, by now.

He lets out a sigh, settling back on his thighs with flaring regret so he can look down at Komaeda. He takes in a deep breath, feels his shoulders rise.

“What are we doing , Komaeda?” It echoes a little, in the vastness emptiness of the hospital.

And to think - they’d kind of had a mood going on.

Komaeda stares up at him for a long moment. The dim light makes his eyes hard to read. He takes a sharp breath. “This is another mistake,” he says.

“I…” His chest feels heavy. “Yeah. But not in the way I think you mean.” He tilts his head back, staring up into dimmed lights, willing himself to just say it, wishing he knew what he wanted to say.

“It doesn’t have to be complicated, you know.”

It makes Hinata blink, and he glances down, brings Komaeda back into focus. Komaeda’s fingers are cold as they link in with his, metal joints whirring softly. It sends a chill trickling down Hinata’s spine, even as his head begins to buzz again.

“You don’t have to worry, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda tells him, “I don’t mind if you use me for this. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s been that way.”

That admission, and everything it means, almost knocks Hinata breathless. He’d known, obviously - Komaeda doesn’t carry an air of inexperience, had been too fluid for Hinata to get the misguided impression that he’d been pulled into it without knowing what to do. It’s just the way Komaeda talks about it, like he’s disconnected from it entirely, like it means less than zero to him, makes Hinata feel nauseous.

“It’s more than I deserve.” Hinata hates that Komaeda laughs as he says it - like it’s some kind of joke. Like he’s expecting- hoping that Hinata will laugh along with him.

“I don’t want to use you,” Hinata says, helplessness a heavy pit in his chest.

There’s a pause.

“I don’t know what to be,” Komaeda says, and his words come slow, the intonation of his voice rising a little as if it’s something he’s realising for the first time, “Or. How to be. If I’m not a tool being used.”

Hinata swallows. “Komaeda…” The realisation that he’s probably done a terrible thing dawns on him.

Komaeda rolls his head to the side - the smile that crawls across his face is thin. “You waste your sympathy on me, Hinata-kun. I keep telling you.”

“Yeah, well,” Hinata says, “That’s my call to make. Not yours.”

“You assume I want sympathy,” Komaeda sighs, “I don’t. It’s undeserved.”

“Maybe you don’t want sympathy,” Hinata says, “But you do want someone to…to care about you.”

He’d almost repeated Komaeda’s own words, from the Program, back at him. Only he doesn’t think he can say them like Komaeda had, doesn’t know if Komaeda can even hear them like that, because this isn’t them in the warm sunlight, waves tumbling and breaking against the shore, Komaeda telling Hinata he wants to be loved someday, Hinata thinking that someday is just at the end of this game, that’s all it is, a fixed point, that maybe, if they make it through, they-

This is them, older, now, sharper edges, rougher, like they’re both crumbling in the salt-heavy seaside air, a Hinata who can barely sleep at night and a Komaeda flushing out a morphine high, and Hinata’s belief in someday is a weak, faint thing - but it’s there, and it’s enough, because it has to be, because it’s all he has, all any of them have.

“I’m almost insulted,” Komaeda says, quietly, “That you think I’d forget my place enough to even think of wanting something like that.”

“Then why did you tell me you did?” Komaeda is ribbons, countless colours, different textures, all woven together. All Hinata can do is keep cutting through them. Keep pulling at frayed edges. Until he finds something.

After a moment, Komaeda turns his head to look up at Hinata again. His eyes are cautious, watery.

“Wh-” His voice cracks - Hinata watches him lick his lips, try again. “When did I say that?”

“Before.” It’s all he has to offer. Sometimes Hinata wonders if before is all he has to offer Komaeda - if there’s anywhere they have left to go, for all Hinata talks about moving forward.

Hinata watches Komaeda think like he’s watching him trailing a finger across spines of library books, and it’s almost like he sees Komaeda pick out the right memory. “Ah,” he says, flat-voiced, “That was... regrettable. It seems I have an unfortunate habit of becoming too comfortable in Hinata-kun’s presence and-”

“You know what?” Hinata has to interrupt him, because he can’t take Komaeda talking at him about how worthless he is, he can’t do it anymore, “For the first two days after everyone else woke up, all I did was sit next to your pod. I couldn’t even eat. I ran tests, for part of it - found out about the trauma that was keeping you in your coma.” A quiet, broken laugh drags its way out of his throat. “I must’ve run, what, thirty psychodives? And they all failed to complete. You were so deep, I started to think there was a chance I might never reach you. But I kept going. I never stopped.” He swallows, because he has to, because he knows his voice is about to break and he thinks if he lets that happen, he’ll lose his mind.

Komaeda stares up at him, blank-faced. Confused. Like he’s not even sure Hinata’s really there, let alone saying these words to him.

“I knew,” Hinata has to keep going, now - there’s something about the moonlight that makes it easier, like this is a secret, a dream, like it’ll be like it never happened in the morning, “I knew, that you might’ve been happier, wherever you were, in your mind. I knew there was a chance that you didn’t want to wake up. But I kept going, because…”

He has to focus on the way Komaeda’s eyes reflect the moonlight, because it means they’re alive, and it’s too easy, always, to slip into old memories where they hadn’t been.

“Because I couldn’t live with the idea of you not coming back.”

Komaeda’s eyes go impossibly wide. His fingers clutch at the sheets. The shine in his eyes brightens - Hinata can’t tell if it’s the moonlight that’s shifted, or if it’s something else.

“You can’t…” he manages, at last, but Hinata can tell it’s a sentence that really isn’t going anywhere. “Someone like you shouldn’t…”

He breaks off with a tiny, frazzled sound. It hurts, watching Komaeda struggle with it, almost enough for Hinata to regret saying anything in the first place.

“Is this how you intend to redeem yourself?” Komaeda asks, after a protracted silence, “By saving me?”

Hinata might be dizzied by the lack of sleep and the moonlight, but he’s pretty sure that’s contempt in Komaeda’s voice.

“I’m just straws for you to grasp at, aren’t I, Hinata-kun?” That’s definitely contempt. Hinata can almost feel his neck straining against the whiplash. “A pet project for the suffering reserve course student.”

The words had been enough to anger him, a few days ago. Now he just feels tired, sad, suffocated, like Komaeda has his fingers wrapped around his still-beating heart, squeezing everything he is between cruel, desperate fingers.

“You’re trying that played-out tactic?” Hinata breathes out a laugh. “Really, Komaeda? You’re better than that.”

“It hurts you,” Komaeda says, archly, “Don’t try to pretend it doesn’t. The truth eats at you, no matter what you do.”

“Great observation, Komaeda,” Hinata says, tiredly, “Was it the full-body flinching or the tortured expression that gave it away?”

“You joke,” Komaeda says, “But you’re only deflecting.”

They’d been making out ten minutes ago, Hinata thinks. They’d actually been happy, for once, he’s pretty sure.

Hinata almost cracks a damn smile. “Yeah, okay,” he says, palming his forehead, fingers digging into his scalp. “You’re right. I am worthless.” This, he’s sincere about - Komaeda had been right about it hurting. Hinata knows that’s why he chose to use it as a bludgeon. It’s Komaeda deciding to bludgeon him at all that is unusual. Komaeda’s words tend to be more like a knife between the ribs, subtle, almost nothing until they land. This is artless - this is Komaeda lashing out, blindly, and Hinata’s really not sure what to think, where he’s going with it, if he’s going anywhere with it.

“But you thought I was good enough to die with a bunch of Ultimates,” he says, “So clearly somebody holds me in some kind of esteem.”

“You were incidental,” Komaeda says. He pushes himself up on his elbows, bringing his face closer to Hinata’s. Hinata doesn’t bother to tell him to stop pushing himself this time - if Komaeda wants to be difficult at his own expense, Hinata’s done with trying to save him from himself. “That’s all. Debris swept up in the wake of people who actually matter. The only reason I even bothered to enlighten you to the nature of your miserable existence was so you’d be forced to suffer with me, before you died, and-”

He shuts up, jaw tightening, like he’s been slapped, stopping his words cold. Hinata knows it was a slip-up - he just doesn’t know if Komaeda meant to slip up.

“Suffer with you, huh?” The words leave him slowly - he’s puzzling things out. “So you were suffering too?”

Komaeda laughs, high-pitched, echoing in the dark room - laughs, and nothing else. Hinata’s seen desperation enough times by now to know what it looks like.

He takes a breath.

“I think I’m finally starting to really understand you, Komaeda,” he says, quietly.

Komaeda almost scoffs at him. Hinata gets the sense that he’s scrambling. “Go on, then,” he says, “Give me the no doubt stunning insight of a reserve course student.”

“It’s easier,” Hinata says, “To push people away. Isn’t it, Komaeda?”

“...You.” His expression changes - a piece of contempt falls away, shatters. “You assume I want someone like you anywhere near me.”

Hinata’s been here before - staring down an argument that’s so weak and transparent he can see every muscle, every vein. The sense of finality, heavy at the back of his throat, is a familiar one.

All he needs to do is reach inside of it and pull it apart. All he needs to do is break it.

“Yeah, well. All that stuff I said before,” Hinata says, “About waiting for you. None of that was real. It was all just a story.” He lowers his voice. “I read it in a book , once.”

Komaeda doesn’t seem to have a scathing comeback for that one.

“How’s that for insight?” There’s no malice in it - Hinata doesn’t feel any. He just feels empty.

This had been a mistake.

He breaks eye contact with Komaeda, notices that his hospital gown is still hiked up. He lets out a sigh through his nose, trying not to actually touch Komaeda’s skin as he pulls it down. Once he’s done that, he shifts, climbing off Komaeda and swinging his legs over the edge of the bed.

“...Where are you going?” Komaeda doesn’t grab Hinata, or anything - but with how startled his voice sounds, he really doesn’t have to.

Hinata knows he’s won. He isn’t sure how he feels about Komaeda being predictable for once.

“Thought you didn’t want me near you,” he snaps, and okay, just because he thinks he understands why Komaeda’s acting like he is, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt .

Komaeda hesitates.

“So I’m removing myself from your shining presence, ” Hinata says, “Does that make you happy?”

He looks at Komaeda, shoulders tense, eyebrows drawn together, not looking frightened, exactly, but certainly upset. Hinata’s not exactly getting a whole lot of happiness from his countenance, honestly. Not that he’d expected to. He closes his eyes - takes a deep breath.

Komaeda is still staring at him when he opens his eyes again. “I’m calling in that favour you promised me,” Hinata says.

Komaeda’s gaze turns apprehensive. Hinata could laugh, remembering that Komaeda had insisted that there was nothing he’d hesitate to do for him.

“That night in my room,” he continues, “When you asked me if I wanted you to stay. I wasn’t honest with you. But I need you to be honest with me now. Yes or no. Do you want me to stay?”

It feels like Komaeda looks at him with that tortured expression for a very long time. Hinata’s almost expecting the dawn to start leaking in through the window, but he knows, in reality, that not so much time has passed at all.

Finally, Komaeda nods - only once, quick enough that Hinata might’ve missed it with an ill-timed blink.

Hinata lets out all the air he’d been holding in his lungs.

“Okay,” he says, simply.

Sheer astonishment wipes across Komaeda’s face as Hinata crawls back onto the mattress. Despite his obvious uncertainty, he makes no move to push Hinata away - just sits there, still enough to be unnerving, like he’s playing dead, as Hinata plants a hand against Komaeda’s chest and pushes him back to lie on the bed.

“...Why?” Komaeda asks, when Hinata moves over to lay down beside him, voice blank and curious with what Hinata can tell is disbelief.

Hinata lets out a heavy sigh. Reaches a hand out to plant it in Komaeda’s hair. It isn’t a soft gesture - part of Hinata really just wants to close his fist, yank on the hair between his fingers until it makes tears spring to Komaeda’s eyes. Not that he’s angry, not exactly. He doesn’t have a word for it. It’s always been difficult for him to take what he feels for Komaeda and distil it into words that make any kind of sense. It bleeds together too much, some dark, sticky residue that’s seeped into his brain or his heart - he isn’t sure which, just that it’s stuck deep inside him, roots growing downwards, tangled and messy like the rest of him.

You were the one who said it doesn’t have to be complicated.”

Komaeda looks very pale. Hinata tells himself it’s just the moonlight.

He lets out a ragged sigh. “So. Just.”

He never finishes that sentence. Instead he just trails his hand down, skimming over Komaeda’s cheekbone, his throat, before he finally laces their fingers together. He likes the cold against his skin, he decides - it’s different, from the Program, from before, and every little thing that’s different makes the rest of it feel like it’s fading away.

He watches Komaeda for a moment, moonstruck eyes fixed on their interlaced hands. His heart leaps into this throat when Komaeda finally shifts forward, body language tense and hesitant, almost like he’s afraid, tucking himself up against Hinata’s chest. It feels like Hinata’s heart bursts open in his throat, warmth spilling out across his tongue, between his teeth.

He shifts closer to Komaeda. Throws a nervous arm over his waist.

“I’m here,” he says.

This time he knows Komaeda is awake to hear it.

Chapter Text

Hinata’s thought about the whole ‘morning after’ deal. Pop culture seems to think it’s a nice, warm, comforting thing. Hinata’s always secretly looked forward to the prospect of it happening to him someday - these days less because he’s a lame romantic, more because he just wants five minutes in a day where he gets to relax.

Turns out pop culture lied to him, but he figures it’s not the first time he’s been betrayed by an institution he put his trust in. He guesses the warmth is there - he’s sticky with sweat, thanks to Komaeda’s small mountain of blankets and the fact that he’d totally forgotten to pull the curtains last night, the island's way-too-exuberant sun blazing right through the window. Komaeda’s hair has found its way into his mouth, which probably means Hinata’s been sleeping with his mouth open, which must’ve been a sexy look. His spine is absolutely livid with him.

Upon reflection, spending a good five to six hours wedged onto a one-person mattress with another fully grown adult male probably wasn’t the brightest idea Hinata’s ever had, but it’s not like he’s exactly cornered the market on bright ideas at any point in the last few years.

He wrinkles his nose as he cranes his head back, trying to dislodge Komaeda’s hair from his mouth without actually spitting it out . He raises his hand from where it is, resting against Komaeda’s waist, gently removing the few remaining tendrils from his mouth. His hair is getting long, Hinata thinks, wilder and darker than it had been in the Program.

He’s glad Komaeda is still asleep. Maybe he’ll never have to know that Hinata drooled on his hair.

He’s also kind of freaking out that Komaeda is still asleep, because it means he has to decide whether or not Komaeda has to wake up alone. He mentally tabs through his options. Nudging Komaeda awake seems both rude and terrifying. He could try and go back to sleep and procrastinate on it for a while - judging from the position of the sun, it’s still the early morning. He could get up and start his day, go check on Tsumiki and maybe use that as an excuse to get Komaeda up, but there’s something that doesn’t feel right about that.

Komaeda had wanted him to stay.

Hinata breathes out a sigh, rolling his eyes at himself as he drapes his arm over Komaeda again, tentative so he doesn’t wake him. Good excuse, Hajime.

It does him no good, in the end. Hinata must be radiating waves of anxiety or something, because it only takes a few minutes at the most before Komaeda twitches in his arms. There’s a split second where Hinata wonders if he should’ve backed off, given Komaeda space, but he never gets the chance to, frozen in place as he listens Komaeda let out a soft yawn and a sleepy, but unmistakably alert hum.

“...Dreaming.” Komaeda seems to find the assessment appropriate grounds to wriggle closer to Hinata, warm against his chest.

Hinata’s heart leaps at his ribcage like it’s trying to stage a jailbreak. His arm seems to be malfunctioning, possibly attaining sentience, because it just winds itself tighter around Komaeda’s waist.

“No,” he says, voice sticky and rough from lack of use, “Not dreaming.”

Komaeda is still for a moment. Then Hinata feels him tense, a coiled spring, and figures that, thanks to Hinata’s stupid mouth, he certainly isn’t going to go back to sleep now .

Hinata squeezes his eyes shut. Please don’t freak out please don’t panic please don’t take it back please-

Komaeda’s movements are slow, sluggish or hesitant or somewhere in between, adjusting his position on the mattress so he can set his eyes on Hinata’s face. Komaeda looks at him like he’s not even sure Hinata’s really there, all naked disbelief and shock and something brighter - hopefulness, Hinata realises, throat tightening-

He tenses his hand, letting his fingers dig in against Komaeda’s waist through the plain cotton of the hospital gown, like a pinch, only less mean. It makes Komaeda blink, gaze flicking downwards for a second before it returns to Hinata’s face, eyes entirely too wide for whatever probably too early hour of the morning it is.

“Hinata-kun?” It trembles a little, leaving Komaeda’s lips.

Hinata stares for a moment. He wonders if he’s supposed to kiss Komaeda good morning.

“Oh!”

There’s a squeak of shoes against tile, and then Hinata practically backflips out of bed, part of him resenting being ripped out of the warm sheets with Komaeda so suddenly. Tsumiki’s standing at the doorway, eyes wide above the hand clapped over her mouth.

Lucky us, is the dry, entirely infuriating thought that pops into Hinata’s mind.

“I’m sorry!” she squeaks, muffled behind her hand, “I didn’t- I’ll let you-!”

She bolts. Hinata sighs, taking a moment to grind the heel of his palm against his forehead. He throws a wide-eyed Komaeda a glance over his shoulder, like he’s asking for advice.

“I should-”

“Yes,” Komaeda is quick to say. He looks dazed. Hinata probably figures it’s better he has a minute to truly wake up, anyway.

“Wait here,” is HInata’s completely redundant order before he springs up, following Tsumiki from the room. He catches up to her at the end of the hallway, both hands pressed against her mouth below frantic eyes.

“Don’t apologise,” Hinata jumps in before she can get going, “ Please .”

“I was interrupting something-”

“You weren’t,” he says, “Really.” He’s glad he didn’t kiss Komaeda now, given that their track record shows that they apparently have a very thin threshold of physical touch before they give up on impulse control entirely. Hinata’s kind of annoyed with himself, but at least he’s not the only one who's weak, he figures.

She looks doubtful. “...Are you sure?”

Hinata raises an eyebrow at her. “...What did you think we were doing, exactly?”

She flails her hands. “Nothing that was any of my business, Hinata-san!”

She totally thinks they were up to nasty things. Terrific. Maybe he should’ve kissed Komaeda after all.

“You were upstairs, ” he protests, folding his arms across his chest. “Give me some credit. He just got cold and confused in the middle of the night because of the morphine.” Not a total lie, he reasons. “I was just treating him as best I could.”

Wow, that’s really convincing, Hajime.

Her eyes are wide enough to border on droll. “Of course, Hinata-san!”

She doesn’t believe him. Great. The last thing Hinata needs is to get a reputation for being loose when he hasn’t even managed to graduate from touching Komaeda over his underwear yet.

“Like.” He slides two tense, frustrated hands through his hair. “Whatever.”

Komaeda is way too exuberant when Hinata manages to get Tsumiki back into the room they totally weren’t having sex in, which is annoying, because it makes him look guilty. He appears entirely unrattled by whatever they’d both woken up to this morning, which Hinata is kind of resentful about, because he’s definitely rattled. Hinata is glad when he and Tsumiki are in agreement that it’s fine for Komaeda to leave the hospital, because it means he gets to walk away from this situation in which Tsumiki is awkwardly hovering and attempting to do an obs check on Komaeda without actually looking at him (a venture which proves rather unsuccessful). He just hopes Tsumiki is kind enough to not voice anything incriminating in the presence of others, because Hinata enjoys the thought of not being harassed by Saionji about it.

He doesn’t have much hope.

The walk back borders on excruciatingly awkward for the first couple of minutes, dead silent and with Hinata not being able to bring himself to look at either of them.

Then Komaeda, because he’s Komaeda, thanks Tsumiki for blessing him with her wonderful talent, and Tsumiki, because she’s Tsumiki, wails loudly and insists she’s nothing but a worthless swine, and Hinata settles into the blissful white noise of both of them diving eagerly into a self deprecation loop that is probably unprecedented in its blind sincerity, thus absolving Hinata from having to dispel any awkwardness himself.

He deserves a rest. It’s not like he can actually stop them, anyway - they’re already into the swing of things.

 

 

The three of them return to the hotel courtyard to the sight of Mioda perched on Owari’s shoulders, biting her tongue as she hangs a string of lights from one of the umbrellas.

Concerning. Hinata can feel Tsumiki tense up beside him.

“We have ladders for that,” Hinata calls out. He can all too easily envision Mioda taking a tumble into the empty pool and cracking her skull. Komaeda would probably blame himself. It would be a disaster.

“Ibuki and Akane-chan are bonding through teamwork!” is Mioda’s dismissal, “And Mikan-chan is right here in case anything goes wrong!”

Tsumiki squeaks. Hinata can tell she’s probably not into the idea of treating Mioda’s impending skull fracture.

“Well,” Hinata says, not especially comforted, “Alright.”

“Besides, Akane-chan has very strong shoulders. She could probably put Ibuki through a wall.” The way she says it makes it clear it’s an appealing thought to her. Hinata doesn’t really understand.

“I could put you through two walls,” is Owari’s firm assertion, and then, after a pause, “Probably three.”

“Sick,” is Mioda’s only assessment.

Please don’t do that,” Tsumiki whispers miserably.

Hinata cringes as he watches Mioda shift all her weight to one leg, extending the other leg out behind her for balance as she leans around the umbrella to drape the string of lights over the far side.

“Uh,” he says, “Seriously, though-”

“Sonia-chan is looking for you!” Mioda interrupts, clearly without a care in the world as she gambles her life for the sake of some fairy lights.

“She is?”

“She has things to,” Mioda leans back so that she’s sitting on Owari’s shoulders, kicking her legs idly but stable, which is a tremendous relief to Hinata, “ Delegate.”

“Delegate?”

“It’s a fancy word for making someone do stuff you don’t wanna do,” is Mioda’s charitable explanation. Hinata feels Komaeda shake a little beside him - laughter, he realises.

“Yeah,” says Owari, “She made herself head of the survival party committee, or whatever she’s callin’ it.”

“Survival party?” Komaeda repeats.

“Yeah, we’re gonna get plastered and forget we’re alive to celebrate being alive,” says Mioda, eyes sparkling.

Komaeda claps his hands. “I do enjoy irony!”

Mioda cocks her head. “What’s ironic about getting really drunk?”

“Anyway,” Hinata cuts in, because there’s no way he’s sitting here listening to Komaeda and Mioda debate rhetorical devices - he just refuses to do it. “Who else is on this committee?” He knows Koizumi isn’t touching it, which leaves a scant number of organisationally-minded people on the island.

“Just Sonia-chan,” Mioda says.

Hinata is not even slightly surprised by this knowledge. “Right.”

“Heyyyyyy.” Mioda’s voice sounds hushed, which is entirely unusual for her. “What’s that?”

She’s staring at Komaeda. Oh good, Hinata thinks - a Q&A session. Just what he’s in the mood for.

“OH, WOW!” she’s hollering all of a sudden, scrambling down off Owari’s shoulders as she bounds in Komaeda’s direction like some especially lairy rabbit, “NO WAY!”

She almost takes Hinata out in her haste to get at Komaeda. Hinata totally doesn’t sigh as he steps out of the way, settling in to watch Komaeda stare at Mioda with startled eyes as she snatches his arm.

“You ditched the freaky corpse deal!” she exclaims, “Is this Nagito-chan’s new brand? A new concept? A new artistic era, perhaps?”

“Um,” Komaeda says, sounding kind of shrill, “No?” He’s at a loss for words, for once, Hinata observes - it’s kind of cute. “Hinata-kun-” The look in Komaeda’s eyes could be a plea for help. “He-”

“Oh, yeah, right!” Mioda’s practically vibrating as she turns to Hinata. “Hiyoko-chan said you were working on a Valentine-”

“It’s not a Valentine,” is the firm response Hinata can’t help but give, “It’s a project of intellectual curiosity and personal development-” Fuck Saionji.

“Sure, whatever,” Mioda cuts in, “Can you make me one?”

“No,” Hinata says.

“Hajime- chan!” It’s like Hinata’s ripped out her still-beating heart and stomped on it. “Why are you so cruel?”

Because he’s had about four hours of sleep total these past few weeks and he’s not about to put himself through that again. He just shrugs, trying his very hardest to radiate you’re my friend but deal with it vibes.

Whatever . It’s fine ,” she sighs, “Ibuki doesn’t want to be a knock-off, anyway .” It sounds like she’s trying to convince herself more than anyone else. She seems too fascinated by the hand to be annoyed about it any longer, which Hinata is fine with. “I bet it shreds,” she whispers, eyes glittering as she grips Komaeda’s wrist tighter, leaning down to inspect the hand, “ So hard.”

“I don’t really know what you mean by that, Mioda-san,” is Komaeda’s cheerful response, “But I’m sure my shredding is appalling.”

Mioda almost squints. “We’ll see about that,” she promises. It feels vaguely ominous.

“Haha,” Hinata says, giving the still rattled looking Komaeda a pointed glance, “Anyway-”

“Hey, guys! Everything cool? We heard yelling.”

Hinata glances up just in time for a wrench-wielding Souda arrive, Nidai beside him, obviously ready to go at a moment’s notice. Hinata is looking forward to catching a nap in about eighteen months at this rate. “Everything’s f-”

“Look!” Mioda cries, Komaeda exuding an impressive amount of patience as she waves his arm around for him, “Nagito-chan is a badass hybrid human now!”

Komaeda turns pink at this assertion, opening his mouth like he’s about to protest. Hinata’s doesn't feel any less tired or annoyed, but he’s pretty sure there’s a smile sneaking across his face, watching Komaeda try to keep up with all the positive attention.

WHOA,” Souda shouts, and the way he lurches back in shock is so comical and absurd that if it wasn’t Souda Hinata would suspect he’s faking it, “DUDE. The wrench clatters to the ground as if in punctuation.

“Dude,” Hinata agrees, mildly.

“You didn’t tell me it was going live!”

Was he supposed to? “It,” he says, haltingly, “Was a surprise?”

The hand is passed from Mioda to Souda. Komaeda is still clearly not used to the new sensation of touch, given the way his lips part at the sudden feeling of multiple hands on him.

Interesting, is Hinata’s entirely objective, scientific observation.

“Dude!” Souda’s yelling, “Dude, dude, we gotta-”

He raises his hand. It’s kind of awful, watching Komaeda stand there and stare at him like he doesn’t understand what’s happening. Hinata honestly has to wonder if Komaeda’s ever high fived someone before.

“Uh,” Souda says, with an awkward laugh, “High five, dude!”

Komaeda is frozen for what feels like a solid ten seconds, “Oh!” he gasps, pressing a hand to his chest, where it clutches a little at the neck of his t-shirt, “Oh- of course! Yes! Of course!”

Yep, Hinata thinks - he’s definitely standing there, smiling like a fucking goof, as Souda and Komaeda high five. The resulting crack is a satisfying one - clearly slamming his hand into cold metal is a painful experience for Souda, but he laughs anyway as he shakes it out. Komaeda looks utterly lost in the world as Souda pulls him in for a one-armed dude hug, eyes growing wider still when Souda slaps him on the back.

“Oh,” Souda says, looking alarmed when Komaeda fails to give him the boisterous response he’s clearly expecting and instead just kind of almost stumbles to the ground, “Sorry, right, you’re- that was my bad-”

“It’s no trouble, Souda-kun.” Komaeda looks at once dreamy and not in total comprehension of his life as it currently stands before him. “I am honoured to receive your affection.”

“Aw man ,” Souda says, fondly, “You’re cute.”

There it is again - that mild flare of resentment that Souda clearly doesn’t agonise himself to death over every little thing he says to Komaeda. He has no comprehension of the gift he has.

“Yeah, it’s cool and all.” Hinata hadn’t even been aware of Owari skulking over until he’d felt her, standing next to him. “But how is it in a fight?”

“What?” Komaeda says, pleasantly.

What?” Hinata says, loudly.

Tsumiki lets out a soft gurgle. It’s too goddamn early in the morning for this kind of bullshit, Hinata thinks.

“You know,” Owari drawls, “How’s it square up?”

“It doesn’t,” Hinata says, wondering if he should be inserting himself bodily in between her and Komaeda, because he doesn’t quite trust her not to throw a punch at Komaeda.

Nidai’s booming laughter rings out. “You made a good effort with your high five, Souda!” he declares, “Now let’s see what Komaeda’s really made of!”

“...Ahah?” Komaeda doesn’t sound as opposed to the idea of being smacked around as Hinata really wishes he did. If he has to fight someone on Komaeda’s behalf, he’s gonna be annoyed -

Any way!” he jumps in, grabbing Komaeda by the shoulder and physically turning his slight frame away from the enormous hand that currently threatens to high five him directly into the empty pool, “Komaeda’s really tired and definitely needs to get some rest! So! Maybe we can see what he’s made of later! Bye guys!”

Everything goes very silent when he throws his arm around Komaeda’s shoulders and steers him off in the direction of the cottages.

“Uh,” Souda calls after them, “Bye!”

Hinata can’t even bring himself to care what the others think anymore - no sense in guarding a sandcastle that’s already been razed by a wave. It’s either sleep deprivation or daring that makes him drop his arm, slinking it about Komaeda’s waist, knowing full well that the both of them are still visible from the pool area.

Whatever.

“I’m actually feeling quite well, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda tells him. “You don’t need to trouble yourself assisting me like this.”

“...I know,” Hinata says, as what feels like the billionth blush before midday makes its appearance.

A beat of silence. It’s long enough for Hinata to feel tense.

“Oh,” Komaeda says, mildly, and that’s it, oh, then more silence until they get to Komaeda’s terrace. It isn’t comfortable, but it also isn’t exactly uncomfortable. Hinata wishes he had a word for it. They idle for a moment, in front of the closed door. Hinata feels the first tingles of awkwardness-induced anxiety, knows he has to say something.

“Did you remember your keys?” is his pathetic offering, “Because I can pick the lock, if you didn’t.” Just in case Komaeda needs a reminder of his many and varied skills.

Komaeda responds by just reaching out and turning the knob, fingers whirring as they curl around the handle.

Hinata arches an eyebrow as Komaeda pushes the door inwards. “Do you ever lock your door?”

Komaeda shrugs. “It’s not as though I have anything that especially needs guarding.”

Hinata shakes his head as they enter the room together. Komaeda, he notices, does not step away from his touch. Hinata isn’t especially interested in taking it away, either.

“Don’t you ever want, you know, privacy?” Hinata can personally think of a few things he can’t live with the idea of being caught in the middle of.

Komaeda shoots him a thoughtful glance. “I’m frequently alone,” he says, “So I never really feel a pressing need for it.” He tilts his head. “But then I suppose it’s necessary sometimes.”

So maybe Komaeda is a real boy after all.

“Hello, Gracie!” The plant, he steps out of Hinata’s touch for. There’s a note of fondness to his voice, a warmth that feels a little too familiar. It’s easy enough to place - it’s present in Komaeda’s voice often enough when he speaks to Hinata that it’s kind of impossible to miss. That Hinata apparently occupies a similar place of emotional attachment as Komaeda’s fern is weird to think about.

Hinata lingers for a moment, watching Komaeda approach his fern. He wonders if Komaeda always greets her. It. It’s a plant, Hajime.

“I’m sorry I was away for so long,” Komaeda says gently, tracing a finger across one of the leaves. He talks to it like it’s a friend, Hinata realises.

I’m frequently alone, Komaeda’s voice echoes in Hinata’s head. His chest feels heavy, all of a sudden, like it’s full of rainwater.

“Looks like she held it down while you were gone,” he remarks. He’s calling it she again, but he figures it’d probably be pretty rude of him to come into Komaeda’s cottage and offend him by disrespecting his fern.

Hinata remembers that he had a normal life, once.

“She’s extremely resilient.” Komaeda reaches for his pink watering can, pauses halfway. Hinata watches him think for a moment, before he grabs it with the robotic hand instead. That makes something warm well up in Hinata’s chest, fissuring outwards as he watches Komaeda observe the hand’s functionality with wide, amazed eyes.

“...Yeah,” Hinata says, dazed at even the most simple action Komaeda carries out with the prosthetic, the knowledge that he’s responsible for it. Pride feels good, he thinks, even if it’s foreign to him.

Komaeda sets the watering can down. “She has to be, of course,” he chirps, still staring at the hand, “To survive my catastrophic presence.”

“You don’t-” But what’s the point? He’s tired. He can work on the futile mission that is bolstering Komaeda’s withered husk of a sense of self esteem later. He inclines his head towards the hand. It’s still a little disorienting to see Komaeda with it, the urge to flinch now replaced by some dizzy feeling Hinata doesn’t know how to put into words. “How’s it feeling? Is it giving you any trouble?”

Komaeda glances down at it, curls his fingers against his palm one by one. “I think it’s fine, Hinata-kun.”

“Is it hurting you?”

He can see Komaeda thinking about lying. “Only a little,” he admits.

Which means a lot. He shouldn’t have let Souda high five him. That’s definitely the real issue here. He sighs. “Can I see?”

Hinata remembers the last time he’d asked Komaeda this favour - how sickening it had ended up being. Komaeda doesn’t even hesitate this time - just holds his hand out for Hinata to take. Hinata doesn’t miss the little breath he sucks in when Hinata takes it between his own careful hands, feeling out the metal, working the finger joints carefully. At some point, Hinata realises he’s just being self indulgent - Komaeda clearly isn’t used to whatever sensory pathways are lighting up in his brain in response to the prosthetic. Hinata knows this because Komaeda keeps making noises, sometimes little ones at the back of his throat, sometimes little sharp inhales. Hinata knows this, and keeps touching him anyway.

“Is there an issue, Hinata-kun?” Komaeda asks, finally. He sounds a little breathless.

“Oh,” Hinata says, shaking his head a little to clear it. Just me. “‘No. It’s fine. It’s just. I’ve been so wrapped up in making it I kind of forgot this was the endgame.” He snorts. “That probably sounds so stupid.”

“It doesn’t,” Komaeda says, “You… it seems as though you devoted an incredible amount of time to m-” He cuts himself off. “To it.”

“Ah,” Hinata says, “Yeah. I guess I did.” Komaeda’s about to say something, but Hinata cuts in before he can get going. “You should probably get some rest.”

They’re still holding hands. Neither of them acknowledge it.

“Oh.” Komaeda blinks, then nods. “Yes, of course. Though I would like to take a shower first, I think.” He raises the hand, considers it for a moment. “It’s waterproof?”

“Uh, yeah,” Hinata says, “Of course. Wouldn’t be much good if you couldn’t shower or whatever.”

“What about things with a more… emollient texture?” Komaeda tilts his head. “It’s only... I occasionally like to use lotion.”

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Hinata says, absently, “Should be fine.” That’s kind of a cute thought-

He almost dies where he stands when it dawns on him that Komaeda is probably not talking about moisturising. Very slowly, he raises his head to look at Komaeda, who has the unmitigated gall to look unruffled.

“Uh,” he chokes, “Yeah! You can, um… use all the lotion you want! Any lotion! Anywhere!”

Komaeda gives him an utterly composed smile. “You really thought of everything, didn’t you, Hinata-kun?”

He almost says something stupid about how he hadn’t taken Komaeda’s masturbation habits into account when designing the hand, actually, but isn’t it really fucking convenient that it managed to pan out this way. “I mean!” he says instead, attempting not to choke on his own words, “I try!”

“You’re holding my hand very tightly,” Komaeda points out.

Hinata lets go with a totally not even a little bit panicked, “Sorry.”

“I wasn’t protesting, Hinata-kun,” is Komaeda’s mild response.

Oh. It’s probably too awkward to take his hand again, now. Fuck . He wonders if Komaeda will even care if it’s awkward, but the notion of just taking Komaeda’s hand for no reason at all is terrifying, for some reason. “Okay,” he says, way too late.

Komaeda seems unsettled by the protracted silence. “...Was I supposed to protest?”

Hinata wants to slap himself - of course Komaeda would assume he’s responsible for Hinata acting weird, instead of pinning it on Hinata’s continued inability to act normal in Komaeda’s presence. “No.”

Komaeda’s clearly waiting for further elaboration. Hinata swallows. Hard.

“Are you-?” Komaeda begins.

“I think-” Hinata says at the same time.

Hinata goes tense. Komaeda breathes out a nervous little laugh through his nose. Hinata really wishes he could just sink through the floor.

“Please continue, Hinata-kun,” says Komaeda.

He’s so flustered he almost tells Komaeda not to worry about it - before he remembers he can’t do that. “...Um,” he says, feeling like his throat is full of lead, all of a sudden, “Well. I… think we…” He clears his throat. “This morning. Or… last night.” He doesn’t particularly want to discuss it, but he knows he’s only setting himself up for a later disaster if he leaves that particular thread loose.

“Oh.” That curiously neutral expression returns. Hinata wonders if it’s supposed to be a mask. It certainly feels guarded. “Yes?”

“Um. Is it- I feel like it’s… weird,” Hinata says, “It’s weird, right? Now?”

“Do you think so?” is Komaeda’s mild response.

“Well,” Hinata says, “I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling kind of weird.”

“Oh.” He’s acting suspiciously neutral. Almost like he’s trying to convince Hinata he doesn’t have any feelings at all on the matter, which Hinata honestly finds impossible to believe, given the aggressive level of feelings they’d both been on the night before.

“I… would really like it to not be weird between us,” Hinata says, as if his and Komaeda’s relationship hasn’t met the criteria for varying highkey forms of ‘weird’ since the first minute they met.

“Then it isn’t,” Komaeda says simply, shrugging his shoulders.

No,” Hinata groans, helplessly, “That’s not how it works.”

“If you’re concerned about the possibility of me being upset with you in any way,” Komaeda says, “It’s unnecessary.”

“...You seemed pretty upset last night.” Hinata’s not exactly keen to bring it up, but he’s also not keen on the prospect of letting Komaeda bury what he’s actually feeling.

Komaeda spreads his hands. The smile he offers is tired, but Hinata’s pretty sure it’s one of his sincere ones. “An extremely unfortunate byproduct of physical and emotional fatigue, combined with heavy duty painkillers.”

It’s plausible. It’s rational. It’s partially why Hinata doesn’t exactly buy it. “Okay,” he says, instead of voicing his feelings, “I guess. As long as you’re not upset with me.”

“I’m not upset with you, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda says. It doesn’t exactly sound dishonest, but something still bothers Hinata about the way he says it.

Still. It’s not a complete brush off. Hinata can tell. “Okay,” he says, “So. Maybe we can do it again sometime?”

Komaeda looks confused. Hinata congratulates himself on his continued inability to say something a normal person might say in the presence of Komaeda, ever.

“You know,” he says, his voice some horrible half-gurgle, “Not the, like… harsh words… but the…” He covers his face with a groan. “I have no idea what I’m saying, sorry.”

“I think I understand, Hinata-kun.”

Hinata peeks out from between his fingers. He can’t quite believe that, somehow - they don’t exactly have the most illustrious history of mutual understanding. “...You do?”

“...Are you suggesting that you would like it if I asked you to stay?” Komaeda looks about as apprehensive to voice the idea as Hinata is to hear it.

Hinata jerks in surprise. “...What, like. Right now?”

“Oh,” Komaeda says, eyes widening a little, “It seems I have misunderstood.”

“No, no,” Hinata says, very quickly, “Um. No. You haven’t. I think I’d just, uh,” he swallows, “Be a distraction. Right now.

“Hinata-kun is incredibly distracting,” Komaeda agrees. His eyes are kind of glittering. Hinata’s willpower is rapidly decomposing - even he’s not dense enough to miss the thick layer of innuendo hanging over this conversation.

“Right,” Hinata practically wheezes, “Okay. You too.”

He privately reflects on the fact that if he does leave the island, now that the hand thing is over with, he and Komaeda will have an excuse to communicate only through written correspondence, which means never having to embarrass himself like this again.

Komaeda clasps his hands in front of himself. Hinata wonders if he’s doing it to hide the fact that he’s shaking a little. A smile winds across his face. “Well,” he says, “You could stay. If you wanted to.”

Oh god. Hinata squeezes his eyes shut, because that at least helps him concentrate - helps him block out what Komaeda does to him on a visual level, at least, tired and wrung out as he is. Not that tired and wrung doesn’t work for Hinata, apparently.

“I think,” he says, slowly, “You need to rest right now. And I... need a minute.” He needs about a billion minutes. “And I think… even if I have good intentions… if I go to bed with you now…” When he opens his eyes again, Komaeda is staring at him, eyes wide. Hinata realises Komaeda is holding a breath. He wonders how long that’s been going on. “...Neither of those things will happen.”

“Ah.” It’s a knowing sound.

“So maybe…” He claps a hand over the back of his neck, digs his fingers in a little. “Later… it’ll be fine if we… distract each other a little.” It’s annoying, listening to himself talk in circles like that, but what else is he going to say? Hey Komaeda let’s wait until we’re both well - rested before we hook up. No thanks. Komaeda would probably laugh at him.

Komaeda’s eyes go shiny as Hinata watches him contemplates the proposition. “...Distraction can be beneficial in times of stress,” he says.

“Yes,” Hinata says, noncommittally, “It can.”

They stare at each other for a long moment. Hinata’s sure that the level of giddiness he’s feeling is due to exhaustion, and thus not entirely inappropriate of him to be feeling at this current moment.

“Well,” Hinata says, “I’ll let you rest without, um, distraction . And I’ll check on you later, and... make sure you’re doing okay, and stuff.” And stuff. Every word out of his mouth feels loaded, right now.

“Perhaps I’ll even be awake when you return!” Komaeda says brightly.

Hinata almost chokes. What a terrifyingly appealing thought. “Maybe, yeah,” he says, “But if you’re in pain you should probably take one of those and just sleep it off. It’s not like we don’t have, you know. Time.”

They do have time, Hinata realises - not that they didn’t before, but now that Komaeda has the prosthetic and there’s some indication of mutual feelings, whatever they may actually be, everything feels a little less urgent, less suffocating. It’s a novelty, realising he actually has time now to…

Mess around.

He hesitates. He knows he’s down to two choices - keep hovering like an idiot, or get the fuck out of Komaeda’s cottage before he makes... some kind of decision. A bad one, probably.

Komaeda cocks his head, obviously drinking in Hinata’s hesitation. “...Does Hinata-kun want to stay after all?”

Of course he does, but it’s not like he can actually admit it - not after that irresponsible stunt he’d pulled in the hospital. Not when he knows how failing to pick his moments with Komaeda backfires. “No.” He shakes his head. “It’s just…”

Komaeda’s eyes are shiny with curiosity. Hinata sighs. Manages to avoid slapping himself in the forehead.

“I don’t know if I should kiss you, or what,” he admits. He knows he’s turning red before he’s even finished speaking.

“Oh!” Komaeda, now, is also turning red. Hinata reflects on how they’re both really good at this.

“Like,” he says, “I don’t know if that’s… lame… or… not that you’re lame! I’m lame!”

“Oh, no, Hinata-kun, not even slightly- ” He sounds kind of strangled.

Hinata knows by now exactly the kind of feedback loop that’s coming. He also knows he has a pretty efficient way of derailing it at his disposal.

They’re still standing close to one another from earlier, so it only takes a little step for Hinata to invade what little remains of Komaeda’s personal space. He looks up at Komaeda, into his wide eyes, which are doing a great job of giving Hinata the wonderful ability to taste his own nervousness.

“Close your eyes,” he says, and then, because that feels abrupt and kind of mean, “Please?”

Komaeda, for his part, obeys Hinata’s directive without a further word, which makes Hinata wind a little tighter. He runs his tongue across his lips as he stares at Komaeda for another second, before he tells himself he’ll never get anywhere if he keeps playing it like this. He cups Komaeda’s jaw with shaky hands (light touches, because he isn’t entirely convinced he isn’t going to burst into flames on the spot), only has to guide Komaeda down a little to brush their lips together.

The fact that it’s actually happening in broad daylight, with neither of them in the midst of some kind of emotional crisis, or tripping out on something, is enough to make Hinata freeze for a second. He can feel Komaeda hesitating, like he’s waiting for Hinata to guide him, which Hinata really wishes he wouldn’t do, because there’s only one person who knows what they’re doing in the room and it definitely isn’t him. He does a potentially dumb thing in parting his lips straight up, which just feels kind of awkward and aimless, and so in blind panic he just ends up sucking at Komaeda’s lower lip, which he’s sure is just abrupt and weird and he really should’ve just left when he had the chance-

Then Komaeda slicks his tongue against Hinata’s lips, which sends his head spinning, and he’s pretty sure he makes some kind of pathetic noise before his body does another dumb thing independently of his brain and nips at Komaeda’s lower lip. A tiny sound escapes Komaeda’s throat, which Hinata thinks might be approval, so he psychs himself up and does it again-

Ah!” Komaeda’s voice breaks a little on the gasp, which probably means too much teeth-

Cold fear prickles in his chest. “Did I hurt-?”

Apparently the question is so ridiculous Komaeda’s not even going to listen to the rest of it, just winds his fingers into Hinata’s hair and draws him back in with enough determination that Hinata zips right past nervous and fumbling and headfirst into something that kind of masquerades as confidence. It’s probably another stupid idea, because Hinata is probably a little too into the biting thing and Komaeda is definitely too into it, but Hinata bites him again anyway, harder, this time. Komaeda doesn’t quite lunge for him, because it’s not assertive enough to be called that, but it’s less like Komaeda opens up for him and more like he makes Hinata claw at him, hands scrabbling at Komaeda’s hips as he licks into his mouth, senses blurring together in a rough, patchy sort of delirium.

Hinata doesn’t really remember when he ended up with his back pressed against the door, but he’s fine with it, really, he can totally shut this down whenever he feels like it. Who is he, anyway, to spoil Komaeda’s fun, and stop him from sighing out broken little moans every time Hinata bites him, until everything ratchets up to the point where needing to breathe takes a backseat to needing to be closer to one another, and Hinata’s thoughts dissolve into a slick, warm mess of sensation, saliva smeared on his lips, Komaeda shivering against him as they lick at each other.

Then Komaeda leans against him, chest to chest, entirely too warm beneath his t-shirt, and slips a thigh up between Hinata’s own, and Hinata realises he either stops this now or accepts that it’s game over and gives into his sudden, burning need to grind up against Komaeda and-

Hinata thinks he has a pretty good idea of what comes after that.

Komaeda ,” he groans, slipping tense, affectionate fingers into his hair, “We…” Protestations don’t seem to be readily coming from his mouth. Weird.

“Mmm?” He mouths against Hinata’s lips.

Of course Komaeda’s choosing now to be receptive to Hinata’s affection. It’s his own damn fault, Hinata figures.

“...I should go,” Hinata murmurs.

“...It seems as though you don’t want to,” Komaeda observes. His voice is low in Hinata’s ears, and that’s. Pleasant. Really. “Though it’s possible I’m misunderstanding the situation entirely.”

“No,” Hinata says, “I really, really don’t want to. But I should.” He knocks his forehead against Komaeda’s - not hard enough to hurt, but enough to signal that he’s putting his foot down without doing something jarring like pulling back from Komaeda abruptly.

Not that he can, he realises, because it’s not exactly like he can just phase through the door, no matter how much he wishes he had that kind of power.

He feels Komaeda shiver when he presses a single, soft kiss to his lips. “So that’s what I’m going to do,” he says, his voice a little raspy, “Okay?”

“Okay.” He sounds dazed. Hinata totally gets it.

“Uh. You kind of have me trapped, here,” Hinata says, after an awkward moment. He barely manages to swallow down the nervous laughter welling up in his throat.

“Oh,” Komaeda says, faintly, “Yes. I’m sorry.”

It’s a burden, Hinata thinks, feeling Komaeda step away from him. He doesn’t want Komaeda to step away from him- every single nerve in his body is pissed at him for starting something and then making Komaeda step away. The regret only worsens when he gets a look at Komaeda, pink flush dusted across his cheeks and creeping down his neck, lips wet enough to catch the light, and looking at Hinata with this suffocating, dark hunger in his eyes.

The knowledge that it would be criminally easy to grab Komaeda and shove him down onto the bed and pin him there almost makes Hinata lose it. He has to turn and slap a hand over his eyes to give himself a second to cool down.

“...You’re really bad for my impulse control,” he groans, “You know that, right?”

“I’m terribly sorry, Hinata-kun.” He sounds distinctly unsorry. Which is fine. Hinata doesn’t want Komaeda to be sorry for it.

“Don’t be.” He lowers his hand. Komaeda still looks halfway trashed. Impulse control, some part of him sneers. “I should go.” His resolve hardens. “I will go.”

Komaeda just nods. Hinata thinks he catches a distinct vibe of disappointment.

He clears his throat. “I’ll see you later,” he says, “Okay?”

As much as Hinata doesn’t want to leave, he also doesn’t want to wind up spending the rest of the morning speaking in half sentences with Komaeda when they could be hooking up instead, which is a depressingly plausible reality. It almost causes him physical pain to turn around and set his hand on the door handle.

“Hinata-kun.” There’s an urgency to his voice.

Hinata squeezes his eyes shut. He’s going to ask, he realises, dread and resignation creeping over him, and you’re not going to be able to say no to him.

“Thank you,” Komaeda says, gently, “For everything.”

Oh.

Now he’s blushing again. Great. He peeks over his shoulder, hoping it conceals most of it. “Nothing to thank me for,” he says, “Really.”

A beat of silence.

“So I’m gonna go!” he blurts out, “Before I- yeah.”

“A wise decision, Hinata-kun.” He’s pretty sure Komaeda’s making fun of him, but he’s also too flustered to really have the presence of mind to resent it.

“Well,” he says, voice pitched high, “Sleep tight!”

 

 

Hinata makes it to his front door in record time, bright red and drowning in embarrassment.”Sleep fucking tight,” he grumbles at himself as he fishes for his keys, “Could’ve handled that better.” Thinking about it, though, it’s a mild comfort to realise that he probably could’ve handled it worse .

It’s still the late morning, but Hinata’s so wiped out from all the commotion and the general burden of dealing with Komaeda that his first act upon getting his door unlocked is to make a beeline for his bed and collapse into it, dragging a pillow over to him and shoving his face into it. He has contort himself in ways that he’ll no doubt later regret to get his shoes unlaced and kicked onto the floor, but he gets there in the end. He thinks about it for a second, then sighs, half turning over so he can wiggle out of his jeans, tossing them into the void before he rolls back over, trying his level best to melt into the mattress.

He lays face down in his pillow for what feels like a long time, letting the cacophony of all the thoughts in his head wash over him in rolling waves. He’s exhausted, physically, but too wired to sleep. He really needs a-

Distraction,” he almost sneers into the pillow. He snorts at himself. He’s so lame.

Still, he thinks, arching his hips off the bed a little, it’s actually not the worst idea he’s ever had. It’s utilitarian of him, if anything. He slips a lazy hand in between the sheets and his hips, settling back down because he’s too tired to bother dredging up the stamina for anything more. He closes his eyes and presses his face further against the pillow, muffling the little sigh he lets out when he rocks his hips forward, rubbing up against the warm press of his hand more out of instinct than anything else. He realises he doesn’t even remember the last time he’s rubbed one out - not because he hasn’t done it, but because his brain is so fried these days his perception of time is like a bent out of shape paperclip, distorted in awkward places and fundamentally useless.

It’s not like he doesn’t have an insane amount of new material to go off.

He considers the idea that Komaeda might be, at this exact moment, using his lotion (Komaeda’s phrasing, not his). His dick is really into that concept.

He mulls it over for exactly two seconds.

“Fuck it,” he sighs. It’ll help him get to sleep, he figures - totally utilitarian, he’s totally not about to jerk off to thoughts of Komaeda for self indulgent reasons-

It only takes a little mental creativity before he’s half in his bed and half inside his head, trapped between Komaeda and the door. The imaginary Hinata he slips into is better at it, like he wishes he could be, grabbing at Komaeda’s ass like he’s been thinking about ever since he wandered in on Komaeda reading in his underwear, yanking him forward to grind on him, trailing open-mouthed kisses down his jaw and throat, using his teeth, making Komaeda gasp.

“You suck ,” Hinata grumbles into his pillow, even as he grinds up against his hand, wishing it was Komaeda’s thigh. He shudders a little as he feels himself start to stiffen, still keyed up from cutting his makeout session with Komaeda short, “You’re so gross, you’re fucking garbage -

He wonders if Komaeda talks to himself like this when he does it. He’s torn on whether or not that’s a hot image, because Komaeda’s perpetual torrent of verbal self-abuse isn’t exactly his favourite thing in the world. Thinking about Komaeda calling himself filthy and disgusting while he plays with his cock, fingers himself, is a different thing entirely. He thinks about what Komaeda sounds like when he touches himself. He thinks Komaeda would probably loud - he’s heard enough of Komaeda’s sudden, vaguely inappropriate moaning noises to get an idea. He thinks Komaeda would probably be very loud if Hinata slipped his fingers inside him, pinned his hips against the mattress to keep him at his mercy, if Hinata was rough with him like he keeps implying he’d like him to be.

His mind decides to hit him with a disorienting jumpcut of him sinking down between Komaeda’s legs as he fucks him with his fingers, lapping at the head of Komaeda’s cock with his tongue, which would probably make him gasp and buck his hips up off the mattress, probably let out a shaky little moan when Hinata goes lower and-

“Oh,” he groans, smashing his face further into the pillow, “Fuck.

That works. That works a little too well. Komaeda does fucked up things to his head, but it’s not like that’s new. He rolls with it, testing the image out, experimental thoughts of pressing teasing sucks and nips to the soft, vulnerable skin of Komaeda’s inner thighs, raking his fingernails down them, leaving angry red streaks, Komaeda’s long legs over his shoulders so he can sink lower, deeper, and-

Hinata -kun,” Komaeda might gasp, taken aback by how filthy Hinata’s acting, might tangle his fingers up in Hinata’s hair and pull him closer, and Hinata wouldn’t have a choice, then, other than to flick his tongue against where his fingers had just been.

“Fuck,” he breathes into the pillow again, voice gravelly until it breaks off into a little whimper when he squeezes himself through his boxers.

He can tell it’s going to be a good one, instead of just a tool to work himself over and get him to sleep - his skin is starting to tingle all over, and there’s a pressure, agonising and almost distorted with need , low in his belly. He’s about to make such a mess, he realises. He rolls over to lay on his back to save the sheets from getting trashed, shoving his t-shirt up, exposing his chest and abdomen to the cool air. His hand shakes a little as he slips two fingers under the waistband of his underwear, dragging it down just enough to let his cock spring free, shuddering a little at the slight disorientation of relief when it brushes up against his abdomen.

He lingers for a moment, dragging his palm over the stickiness leaking from the head of his cock, not knowing when he’d gotten this easy, not exactly finding it in himself to care. For a second he thinks about rummaging through his drawers for lube, but he figures he doesn’t need it, wired up and wet as he is. He’d usually take his time, work himself up slow and deliberate until his self control shatters, but he thinks he’s way beyond that point, all things considered.

He curls a tight fist around his cock, letting out a sigh as he strokes downward, deliberately rough on himself as he flicks his wrist back up, squeezing tight enough over the head to wring more clear slickness out of himself. He has to clap his other hand over his mouth at the cry that pulls out of him, because it’s the middle of the fucking morning and knowing his luck someone (Souda is his first bet) will hear him being noisy and come to check on him, and Hinata thinks if he doesn’t finish this he really will snap.

He lets his eyes drift shut, breathing out against his palm as he settles into a quick, almost frantic rhythm, like he’s trying to find that steady, throbbing pulse and rip it out of himself. Every noise he muffles with his hand is one he imagines Komaeda making, pitched higher, needier. He mouths against his palm as he thinks about licking Komaeda out, thinks about Komaeda, thighs trembling slightly, mindlessly grabbing at Hinata’s hair, pulling him so close he barely even has enough space to breathe . He doesn’t even really believe Komaeda would be insolent enough to pull his hair like that, but fuck it, he thinks - he’s entitled to some creative license while he gets himself off, so imaginary Komaeda can just shut up and do what he’s fucking told.

Imaginary Komaeda does not shut up, but he does settle into tortured, whining little noises when Hinata continues to tease him with his tongue, and maybe Hinata’s being a dick and withholding what Komaeda really wants to pay him back for being so pushy. Being withholding apparently isn’t one of Hinata’s strengths, not even in his imagination, because he can’t help wondering what Komaeda would do if Hinata pressed up against his entrance with his tongue, pushed inside of him. His mind decides that Komaeda would probably let out a startled, wordless cry, arching his back right up off the bed and rocking his hips up against Hinata’s mouth, and the thought of messing Komaeda up so bad he can’t even manage words, denying him coherence, is so good it’s almost obscene -

Shit,” he hisses against the flesh of his palm, squeezing “Ah-”

It tears through him before he even really knows it’s happening, a surge of burning white noise and a loud cry muffled against his palm, hips snapping up off the bed involuntarily and skin prickling all over as he feels a warm, sticky sensation dash up his abs and chest, dribbling down his fist. He shudders with it, eyes snapping open with a loud gasp when he feels that dizzying pulse again, and again, fist slicking up so much that filthy, wet noises ring in his ears until he finally gives in and stops, too sensitive to wring anything more from himself. He collapses back against the mattress, panting so hard he feels dizzy, almost like he’s hyperventilating. He throws the back of his clean hand over his eyes, focusing on breathing, the prickling feeling across his skin abating into a pleasant, full body tingle that makes him feel like he’s made of warm static.

He opens his eyes slowly when the shivers finally subside, peeking down at himself. He’s not entirely surprised to see that he came everywhere, because he can’t even remember the last time he’d come that hard, but the mess is more annoying than anything else, now that he’s cooling down.

He wonders what Komaeda would think, seeing him like this.

“Shut up,” he groans at himself, reaching out with a savage hand to rip a handful of tissues out of the box on his nightstand so he can at least make an attempt to clean up the terrible mess he’s made of himself. There’s a part of him that really, really wants to go for a second round with that thought in mind, but he can already feel himself beginning to fade. He powers through the clean up, eyes blinking slower and slower as he does, eventually figuring that’s as good as he’s going to get it without dragging himself into the shower. He’s not even sure if he has the lucidity to make it there, so he just rolls over a little, placing the dirty tissues gingerly on the nightstand, grimacing a little as he does.

“Future Hajime’s problem,” is his sleepy reasoning, and after that, it’s only another few seconds before his eyes drift closed.




It takes until the evening for Sonia to finally hunt him down. He’s wandering back from Rocketpunch after his nap, plastic bag crunching at his side, absorbed not so much in thought but in staring blankly at the sand beneath his feet as he walks.

“Hinata-san!” she trills. Hinata’s only a few steps above braindead at this point, so it takes him a minute to even register that someone’s trying to get his attention. That nap hadn’t been nearly enough to offset… everything about his life.

He gives her a sluggish glance. “Oh,” he says, “Hey.” He’s really glad he dredged up the willpower to shower before he headed out, because Sonia’s cluey enough for the alternative to get awkward, fast.

She’s dressed down - for Sonia, anyway. Hinata suspects that Sonia wouldn’t be caught dead without a petticoat, and her hair is still pinned up in that absurdly neat crown braid that somehow manages to escape the ruins of humidity entirely, but there’s a black t-shirt tucked into her high-waisted skirt, emblazoned with a red crucifix that is just this side of gaudy. It’s slightly too big on her, and Hinata knows there’s one person on the island who’d immediately taken it upon himself to hoard anything with that sort of aesthetic.

“Nice shirt,” he tells her.

The way she smiles at him tells him she knows exactly what he’s getting at. Sonia never quite smirks, exactly - she’s too well-bred for it, but Hinata can sometimes tell when she wants to. “Thank you, Hinata-san,” she says. It’s a relief to have someone accept a compliment so graciously, instead of physically bursting into tears and treating it like a personal invitation to list every single one of their insecurities in graphic detail. “It’s quite a warm evening, and I’m afraid my wardrobe is more compromised for choice than I would like it to be, here.” She gives a neat shrug. “Such is life, I’m afraid - but isn’t it wonderful to have such dependable friends in times like these?”

Friends. That’s really funny, Hinata thinks. Sonia is really funny. He wonders if Komaeda would ever-

Shut up, Hajime. “Yeah,” he says, “Friends are good.”

Sonia has the grace to not visibly react to this banal statement. “May I have a moment of your time?” She tilts her head. “If you’re not busy, of course?”

He had been on his way to Komaeda’s, but given that he’s fully expecting (hoping, really) Komaeda to be drugged up to the gills and ideally unconscious, he figures it can probably wait. “Sure.”

“As you might already be aware,” she says, “I am currently coordinating some forthcoming festivities commemorating our collective survival.”

“Someone mentioned something was going on, yeah,” Hinata says. He congratulates himself on delivering a really informative statement.

She beams. “Wonderful,” she says, “Then, with that in mind, may I ask you for a favour?”

When she mentions fixing the pool up, Hinata’s brain gives a slight lurch, because he feels like he had that conversation with Koizumi months ago. He tries to pinpoint when it was, exactly, as Sonia starts talking about some drama, something about Nidai suggesting that if there’s no water in the pool, then it only makes sense for them to use it as a fight ring, and that’s the point where Hinata tunes out, exhaustion rolling over him like a wave.

“Hinata-san?”

He just barely manages to avoid flinching. Sonia is bent forward slightly, peering at his face. It makes him wonder how long he’d let his mind wander. “Yeah!” he says, a little too loudly, “Sure! I’ll help out! I’d love to!”

She gives him a long look. “...Are you feeling alright, Hinata-san?”

No, he thinks, but that’s not really new. “I’m fine,” he says, “Just. Long day.” Long week. Month. Life. “You know.”

“Someone did mention something was happening with you, yes.” She’s making fun of him. Great. The smile she offers him is sincere, though, so it’s not too difficult to let it slide. “Perhaps a rager will allow you a chance to let off some steam, yes?”

“...‘Rager’?” Hinata repeats. Koizumi is probably shuddering, wherever she is.

Her expression flickers. “Yes,” she says, “Is there an issue with that, Hinata-san?”

He’s pretty sure that’s dread, trying to pierce through his brain fog, telling him not to proceed with this line of discussion, but he’s just too tired to care. “Just,” he says, raising his hands defensively, plastic bag rattling as he does, “It might be worth considering something a little more chill.” He hopes Koizumi appreciates him going to bat for her.

All warmth in the atmosphere drains away as Hinata is fixed in a cold stare.

“Hinata-san,” Sonia says, drawing her shoulders back and puffing her chest out like she’s some kind of especially elegant bird about to savage a much smaller, weaker bird, “With all due respect, what is the largest celebratory function you’ve had to oversee?”

Hinata has to pause. “...I’ve never thrown a party,” he admits.

Sonia gives him a curt nod. “As I’d thought.”

His shoulders tense. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“There’s no need to act defensive, Hinata-san,” she says, “We are simply discussing facts. And the fact is, you have never coordinated so much as a simple birthday party, whereas I have been personally responsible for coordinating many diplomatic and cultural events for various heads of state, dignitaries and revolutionaries.”

“I guess,” Hinata says, but she doesn’t have to be so brutal about it. “But we’re not heads of state. Or dignitaries. Or...” He trails off, when he remembers that they all technically check that third box. “...Most of us, anyway,” is his hurried conclusion.

“But we will party like them!” Sonia declares, slamming a determined fist against her palm.

Hinata doesn’t know what that means, but he’s pretty sure Koizumi isn’t going to like it. “Sure.”

“Souda-san is building a smoke machine as we speak,” she informs him, eyes sparkling.

“Oh,” he says, thinking that Koizumi is probably going to hate that idea.

And a laser light projector!” she says.

“Oh,” he says, mildly, because Koizumi is definitely going to hate that.

“I do hope it won’t affect the construction of his drone.” She looks troubled. “I would prefer it to be a fair fight.”

This just keeps escalating. Hinata thinks he’s kind of glad he has nothing to do with planning whatever this is. “What drone?”

Her eyes glitter. “His entry for the drone battle tournament, of course!”

“The what,” Hinata says, pleasantly.

“The drone battle tournament,” repeats Sonia, confirming that Hinata had not, in fact, misheard her, “To mark the beginning of the festivities. It’s customary in my home country.”

Her visage of polite patience makes Hinata feel like an uncultured dullard. “Oh,” he says, “ That drone battle tournament. Right.”

“You will be participating, of course,” Sonia informs him.

“Oh,” Hinata says, mildly, “Really?”

“As I understand it,” Sonia says, “There are few people on this island capable of constructing their own drone.”

“Uh,” Hinata says, “Probably? I’ve never really thought about it.” He pauses. “...You know how to build drones?”

“I’ve been building them since childhood, Hinata-san,” she’s quick to assure him.

“Oh,” Hinata says, “Cool,” because it is cool, and he’d probably even enjoy talking to her about drone mechanics if he weren’t currently dead on his feet. “Listen,” he continues, “I would love to build a drone, but it’s just… I need to keep an eye on Komaeda… with the whole prosthetic thing.” That and the mere thought of having a soldering iron anywhere near his person makes him want to throw up. He’s in the mood for gentler things. Like reading on the beach. Or finding some nice rockpools. Or taking up knitting. Or even just napping. Maybe with someone else. “It was a pretty major surgery.” Not a lie. “He’ll probably need a lot of help.” Also probably not a lie.

She actually takes a step back, pressing a hand to her chest as if she’s appalled at herself. “How thoughtless of me!” she exclaims, “Of course, given Komaeda-san’s condition, you have so much to oversee!”

“Maybe even as much as you do,” Hinata jokes.

Her eyebrows shoot up. “It’s quite possible!” That almost makes him laugh, but he’s supposed to be playing the role of concerned and serious friend, so he bites the inside of his cheek to keep himself quiet.

“I’m really sorry,” he says, kind of meaning it, “I’ll definitely participate in the next one.” He wonders how Komaeda feels about drones.

“Think nothing of it!” she says, very earnestly, “As I said earlier, it’s wonderful to have friends to depend on.”

Hinata manages a very thin smile. Friends.

Sonia’s eyes turn sharp. She slams her fist into her palm again - this time, more savagely. “Souda-san and I will just have to battle one-on-one.” Her eyes glint. “I hope he’s well-prepared.”

Hinata gets the sense that nothing, nothing, could possibly prepare Souda for what’s coming for him. “Me too,” he says, anyway, because he’s allowed to hope for things, even if they do seem impossible.

“So,” she says, with a brisk, final little clap of her hands, “I trust I can count on you to help with the pool?”

“For sure.” He can lift bags of salt. Let Souda figure out the filter.

Her gaze turns expectant. “And is it going well?” she asks.

He blinks. “Is what going well?”

“Oh!” she says, “I should have specified. It’s only… you mentioned Komaeda-san?”

“Ah,” Hinata almost chokes. He hesitates. Briefly considers trying to deflect, but Sonia is less prone to being bamboozled than some of the others. He’s dodged it for longer than he thought he could.

“It’s... going?” he says, “I think?”

She smiles. “It’s wonderful,” she says, “When things go. Isn’t it?”

Hinata thinks about that, as he wanders down the path to Komaeda’s. It had been such a simple thing for Sonia to say, but he can’t stop thinking about it, about how complex everything feels. Maybe he needs to stop thinking so much, and just. Go.

He stares up at Komaeda’s door. He shrugs.

He raises a fist to knock, but catches himself - it’s possible that Komaeda’s deep in sleep and wouldn’t hear him anyway, but Hinata doesn’t want to risk it. Sending vaguely apologetic energy out into the universe, even if he’s pretty sure Komaeda actually wouldn’t care, he pushes the door open, quick to slip inside and close it gently behind him to block the light from streaming inside.

The room isn’t entirely dark, but the shades are drawn and the lights dimmed, dusting everything in a warm glow. Komaeda is currently sleeping like the dead (just not his particular visage of death, for which Hinata is incredibly thankful). Hinata hovers by the doorway for a moment, listening to Komaeda’s deep, even breaths, considering how to proceed. He doesn’t want to just drop his things and leave - it feels too impersonal, and there’s a selfish part of Hinata that wants Komaeda to know he’d been here, that he’d cared enough to come by. He scans the room, deep in thought, until his eyes land on Komaeda’s desk. He creeps over, cursing the plastic bag every time it crunches. There’s just barely enough light in the room for him to see what he’s writing, next to smiling cartoon clouds.

Sorry for coming in while you were asleep - I just brought some things by and didn’t want to wake you.

He doesn’t sign his name - just sets the bag down on Komaeda’s nightstand with the note folded on top. They’ve written to each other enough by this point, his handwriting is distinctively messy, and he figures Souda probably isn’t lame enough to be in the habit of leaving notes. Or dropping by with sick supplies. Or addictive painkillers. Maybe he should let Komaeda tough it out.

He looks so peaceful, is the only thing, curled up on his side, lashes skimming his cheeks. Hinata almost envies him, but he can’t help the little twinge of relief - Komaeda’s looked in desperate need of a good night’s sleep since the first moment they met.

It would be so easy, he realises, to just lay down beside him. Curl up against him, maybe - he imagines Komaeda is the kind of person who gets cold easily. The thought gives him pause, because really, it’s way too easy. He’s even pretty sure Komaeda wouldn’t mind.

He hovers, for a moment. Then he sighs, more at himself than anything else, careful as he sits down in the gap left by the curve of Komaeda’s sleeping form. Komaeda doesn’t stir, just keeps breathing, deep and even. Just watching him is making Hinata feel sedated. Calm, even.

Hinata maintains the pretense of feeling out Komaeda’s temperature as he reaches out and skims across Komaeda’s cheekbone with the back of his hand. He knows there’s no point, because there’s no one to see him, no one to question him, already knows that Komaeda’s skin will be cool to the touch like it always is. Then he abandons pretense entirely, because there’s no one to see him, after all. He slips his fingers into Komaeda’s hair, because he’s always been curious, ever since he first felt the impulse to touch it that first afternoon they’d spent together on the beach. The texture is coarse against his fingers as he tangles them up in pale strands, and it's such an innocuous touch it should be nothing, some part of him thinks, but it isn’t.

Komaeda dreams about it, Hinata thinks - waking up beside him. He’d as good as admitted it in the morning.

“You’re really bad for my impulse control,” he whispers, only this time it’s fonder, under dim golden light, “You know that, right?”

“Mmmn...” Hinata almost jumps out of his skin at the sound of Komaeda’s voice, before he realises it’s nothing, just a sleepy jumble of the vaguest word sounds. He watches Komaeda’s eyelashes flutter. He holds his breath for what feels like a full minute, before he figures Komaeda isn’t going to stir. He settles back down again, heart still fluttering, petting his hand through Komaeda’s hair, careful, touch soft so he doesn’t wake him. Komaeda lets out another quiet sigh, eyelids flickering - not like he’s restless, Hinata realises, but like he’s dreaming.

“I hope it’s a good dream,” he says, before he can catch himself. Komaeda, of course, doesn’t say anything, and after a moment, settles down again with another sigh.

He realises he’s sitting here, attempting to have a conversation with a sleeping boy who almost definitely won’t retain any of this. He raises his free hand to cover his eyes - get it together, Hajime. Too much of a coward to touch him like this when he’s awake, right?

He takes a breath. He wants Komaeda to be awake for it, he realises - lucid enough to know that it’s what Hinata wants, too. He wants Komaeda to understand it, that he’s not the only one who wants.

They have time. Hinata’s still not used to the thought, not when he’s so used to it feeling impossible.

He pets Komaeda’s hair once more. He breathes out a laugh at himself.

“Sleep tight,” he murmurs, before he leaves Komaeda to dream.

Chapter Text

“It’s lavender.”

Hinata almost tells Koizumi that he can see that, because the paint cans sitting by the door have colour tags on them. Then he thinks better of it. “Oh.” He’s pretty sure he hasn’t even seen a lavender wall on this island, but it’s not like it’s the weirdest thing they’ve dug up.

“Is that a problem?”

“Oh, no. It’s just.” Hinata waves a hand. “You know. Lavender.”

“And?” She arches an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you’re bothered because it’s a girls colour?”

“Nope!” Hinata is quick to say, “Not me! I love lavender!” He’s actually ambivalent on lavender, but Koizumi is already annoyed with him (which isn’t really his fault, because how was he supposed to know Saionji was coming over) but it’s just not worth the conflict. “It’s just… maybe Komaeda-”

“Will throw up and die when you turn up on his doorstep with all of this shit.”

Hinata has to try very hard not to wither away where he stands. “Hey, Saionji.”

She shoulder checks him as she passes him to enter the room. The physical damage is negligible, but Hinata suspects it’s intended as an act of psychological intimidation. “Big bro.” Hinata’s surprised that she even bothered to greet him at all.

“If you waffle around for two weeks again,” Koizumi says, brandishing a paint brush in a manner that’s clearly meant to be threatening, “You will become at least seventy per cent more annoying.”

“You told me I was already at maximum annoying threshold like a week ago,” Hinata reminds her, watching Saionji as she crosses the room and flops down on the bed like she lives there.

Which is probably not all that far from the truth, Hinata reasons. They maintain eye contact, for a moment. Saionji isn’t quite glaring at him, but her disdain is palpable.

Koizumi looks unimpressed. “Yes.”

“Okay, then!” Hinata says, suddenly very eager to leave, “Good talk. Thanks for all your help!”

He gathers up the paint cans with little incident. He swears he hears Saionji snicker as he turns to leave. He’s pretty sure the two of them just enjoy screwing with him, but whatever, he has the paint now, so they can just have fun with that, screwing, shut the fuck up, Hajime.

There’s no answer when Hinata knocks on Komaeda’s door after stashing the paint in his own cottage. He’s a little unprepared for the stab of disappointment, because part of him had been hoping to talk to Komaeda, after everything. Maybe also do other things with Komaeda, but talking is really his main priority. Sure, Hajime .

He debates letting himself in again, but when he peers around the side of the building he sees that Komaeda’s shades are drawn. Probably out with Souda, Hinata figures. Or napping, but this doesn’t seem like enough of an excuse to wake him.

He ends up slipping a note under the door: how do you feel about lavender?

It ends up being a fortunate thing that Komaeda isn’t there. Shortly after he delivers his note he winds up being accosted by a small gaggle consisting of Sonia, Owari and Nidai. Hinata knows that turning Sonia down was never an option, and ultimately ends up spending a good portion of the afternoon pretending he’s having a much harder time of hauling bags of pool salt around than he actually is.

“Souda-san!” Sonia calls out at one point, and Hinata pauses, wiping sweat off his brow as he glances up, heart leaping into his throat. Souda is quick to come to Sonia’s heel, leaving Komaeda to hover by the gate for a moment, alone and looking uncertain, sunlight reflecting off his pale skin in a way that makes him seem radiant.

Hinata wishes he could remember when, exactly, he got so corny.

Komaeda catches his eye. Hinata drops the bag of salt he’s holding with a thud. Komaeda stares at him for a moment, eyes wide like he’s surprised. Then he waves, smile breaking across his face. Hinata launches his hand into the air in return, throwing an enthusiastic wave back at him. He has to swallow back the urge to follow Komaeda back to his cottage, settles for watching him until he disappears from view, because he knows Sonia will have his head on a pike if he bails early.

She’s staring at him, when he turns around, sunglasses perched on her head and gaze pointed.

“What?” he asks, turning back to his bag of salt with a sense of purpose, like he hasn’t spent the last two minutes ignoring it.

Sonia lowers her sunglasses. “Nothing at all, Hinata-san.”

Hinata can’t quite manage to be annoyed about it.

There’s a piece of paper on his floor waiting for him when he gets back.

It’s difficult to answer without proper context, but I have nothing against it.

Good work today!

Hinata catches himself smiling at this two line note before he puts a stop to it. He wanders over to his desk to wrench the bottom drawer open, tucking the note away with the rest of them.

 

He catches Komaeda in the kitchen the next morning, humming to himself, clearly absorbed in making his tea. Hinata watches him for a second as he picks up his teacup. Sunflowers, today. Apparently still on that kick.

Hinata’s feeling pretty optimistic about raising the issue of painting Komaeda’s room. It should be easy, he figures - Komaeda’s already talking about wanting to fix his walls, and Hinata has the comforting lie that it’s just a friend helping a friend at his disposal, in case either of them get weird about it.

Someone probably will get weird about it, he figures.

“Hey,” he calls out.

Komaeda lets out a surprised little noise as he spins around. A shattering noise cuts through the air. Hinata’s jaw hangs open, mid word, for a second, as confusion washes over him. He looks at Komaeda’s robotic hand, clenched into a fist, then to the floor, then to his hand again. Komaeda, too, stares at his own clenched fist like he can’t believe what he’s seeing. Hinata watches Komaeda uncurl his fingers, slow and hesitant, shards of shattered porcelain falling from his hand.

Noooo,” Komaeda whimpers, actually whimpers, sinking his hands into his hair and tightening his fingers into anxious claws.

So much for it being easy.

“Oh, wow,” Hinata says with a sudden wash of guilt, “I must’ve really startled you, I’m sorry-”

Komaeda just lets out a strangled noise, which Hinata assumes is probably a terrible sign. He appears to be pulling at his hair, which is another terrible sign.

“Please just- please stop pulling your hair, please?” Hinata says, trying very hard not to sound as bone deep exhausted as he suddenly feels while he goes to Komaedas side, “You’re gonna rip it out if you keep going like that. It’s okay.”

Hinata is distressed when Komaeda refuses to let go of his hair, or even look at him. “ It’s isn’t,” he moans, voice almost crossing into despair territory.

His hand hovers over Komaeda’s shoulder for a moment. Then Komaeda slumps down further and Hinata loses his nerve. “There was always going to be an adjustment period,” he says instead, trying for soothing, ending up somewhere in the region of weak and watery, “You’re still learning how to use-”

It was my favourite one,” is Komaeda’s miserable whisper. Hinata’s pretty sure he’s actually crying. He hadn’t realised that Komaeda’s attachment to the teacups had been this intense. This personality quirk might be endearing if Hinata didn’t have to manage this sudden and alarming emotional breakdown over Komaeda accidentally squeezing too hard and shattering the thing.

“Well,” Hinata says, awkwardly, “It’s sad, yeah, but… the others are just as pretty, right?”

At this point Komaeda apparently decides he’s over Hinata’s disastrous attempt to comfort him during this difficult time, and proceeds to sink to the floor on his knees, stretching his hands out over the shattered remains of the teacup.

“Komaeda- no, don’t try to pick it up with your hands, you’ll cut yourself-” He has to scramble down to Komaeda’s level and grab him by the wrists to stop him from injuring himself.

“Better me than anyone else,” is Komaeda’s sullen response.

Hinata arches an eyebrow. “Or I can get you a dustpan,” he says, “You know - the sensible thing to do. Then nobody has to bleed.”

Komaeda murmurs something Hinata doesn’t quite catch - probably something about how he deserves it. Hinata realises he’s still crying, which is terrible, because when he isn’t going off on a thrilling despair jaunt and drooling all over himself, Komaeda’s almost a pretty crier.

Hinata wonders if it makes him a jerk to think of it that way. Or a creep. Probably both.

“Hey,” he says, softening his voice. Komaeda flinches when Hinata reaches out and touches his shoulder, which is a pretty good deterrent from him ever touching Komaeda without explicit permission ever again. “Sorry, sorry!” he almost cries, snatching his hand away and leaving it hovering awkwardly in the air between them.

No! ” Komaeda almost wheezes, “It’s fine , Hinata-kun, really, I…”

Hinata looks at him for a second, furrows his brow. He’s really worked up about this, which Hinata doesn’t quite understand, but he knows by now that sometimes Komaeda’s priorities can be a little peculiar. Slowly, experimentally, he reaches out again, only skimming Komaeda’s shoulder with his fingertips at first. This time Komaeda’s eyebrows raise a little, but he doesn’t pull away, which makes Hinata feel a little braver, slipping his hand along the line of Komaeda’s shoulder so it rests more towards the juncture of his neck. Komaeda lets him do it, but Hinata can tell he isn’t exactly happy about it, shoulders so tense beneath Hinata’s touch he’s surprised Komaeda isn’t shaking.

“Hey,” he says again, softer, this time, “Come on. It’s okay.”

He shifts his weight so he can move closer to Komaeda, throwing his free hand out on the floor for balance. He can’t take his eyes off Komaeda, transfixed by his tearstained, flushed countenance.

Komaeda’s eyes grow wide as Hinata leans over. “Hinata-kun-”

Hinata almost sighs. “Komaeda-”

He registers it as pressure, for a split second, before the sharp sting sets in. “Ow!” he yelps, tearing his hand away from the floor as tears spring to his eyes, “Shit!”

Oh.” It’s a pitiful sound, as much as resignation colours it.

Hinata doesn’t exactly have time to focus on it, all attention currently consumed by the rather sizable cut oozing across his palm, welling up with blood. He stares down at the offending chunk of porcelain with its sharp edge stained pink as he presses his thumb to the cut to staunch the bleeding. “ That sucked,” he remarks, jaw clenching a little through the pain.

Komaeda is silent. Hinata squeezes harder against his palm - harder still when he glances up and Komaeda appears to be wilting with visible misery, brows knitted together as he stares down at where Hinata is currently bleeding.

It’s not a major injury, but Hinata can tell it’s deep. He’d made a point, at the beginning, of locating all the first aid supplies in the common areas. Just in case. He directs Komaeda to where the kitchen’s kit is, partially out of practicality, because bleeding all over the place while he tries to comfort Komaeda feels like an uphill battle, but mostly to give Komaeda a distraction. Hinata reaches for the kit when Komaeda sits down with it, but Komaeda gets there first.

“Let me.” It sounds more like a plea than anything else. His voice drags with guilt.

“Sure,” Hinata says without missing a beat, holding his hand out for Komaeda.

Hesitation tears a path through Komaeda’s expression. His hand falters in mid air when he reaches out, like his arm’s stalled. He looks like he regrets the offer, and for a second, Hinata expects him to take it back. Then he takes Hinata’s wrist with light, cautious touches, like he’s frightened he’s going to burn Hinata. Hinata almost tells him not to worry about it, because looking at Komaeda stressing out is making him stress out, but he knows, deep down, that giving Komaeda an out would be a setback for the both of them.

“Go ahead,” he says, gently, and he’s relieved when Komaeda reaches for the kit.

“I’m so sorry.” Komaeda’s voice is barely above a whisper, eyes still glossy as he winds the bandage around Hinata’s palm.

“It’s not your fault, Komaeda,” Hinata says, “That was all me. And it barely even hurts, anyway.” It’s a lie, but Hinata will live, and he can’t bear the thought of giving Komaeda more to fret about.

Komaeda’s eyes flicker. “Mm,” is his noncommittal response. Hinata realises he hasn’t looked up from the bandage the entire time, like he’s afraid to make eye contact with Hinata.

Hinata knows a dead end when it’s staring him in the face. “You’re pretty quick at this,” he remarks, nodding down at the bandage.

“I’ve had,” the giggle he lets out borders on hysterical, “ Countless accidents. Of course I know how to properly bandage an injury.”

Hinata almost cringes. He sits there for a moment, long enough for Komaeda to finish fixing him up, before he gives up on finding a soft solution to Komaeda’s worries. “Komaeda,” he says, wearily, “It’s seriously not a big deal. It was just me being clumsy.” More like his own inability to stop staring at Komaeda like he’s some kind of idiot and Komaeda is some kind of object, but owning up to that probably isn't a great idea.

Hinata reaches for him again, but Komaeda seems to have lost any welcome reception he had for the two of them touching, drawing his shoulders back, out of Hinata’s reach. It’s like being punched in the chest, and Hinata has to take a swallow and wonder how things unravelled so bad, when it was meant to be simple, when there’s no reason for it not to have been simple.

“Well!” Komaeda says, a little too suddenly, loudly, “If there’s nothing else you need me for, I’ll just. Go.”

Komaeda,” Hinata groans, feeling helpless in the face of Komaeda’s obvious panic, “You don’t have to-”

Komaeda’s clearly not interested in hearing Hinata’s attempts to soothe him, because before Hinata really even gets a chance to blink, Komaeda’s scrambled to his feet and disappeared with a swish of white and green.

Hinata, on his knees next to the shattered teacup, stares at the empty doorway for a moment. Then he slaps his injured hand, palm open, against the floor. The resulting smack does nothing to make him feel better.

 

Komaeda disappears for the rest of the day. In the evening, Hinata spends as long as possible idling around the dining room until it’s well after any reasonable approximation of dinnertime. Souda doesn't know where Komaeda is when Hinata asks, which means it's pretty much a certainty that nobody knows where Komaeda is.

Hinata isn’t stupid , and he knows that Komaeda isn't stupid, either - this isn't down to the whims of dumb luck. Part of him really wants to take advantage of Komaeda’s unlocked door policy and wait in his cottage for him to get back, because he’ll have to return at some point, but spooking Komaeda so badly would probably do more harm than good, despite his continued insistence that Hinata enter at his whim.

He spends all night rolling from one side of the bed to the other, grinding his face into the pillow as he grinds his teeth. A little after dawn he’s driven himself insane enough to make an executive decision, rolling out of bed and pulling on a pair of jeans before he heads out into the still dim light.

When the door opens he’s confronted with the image of a bleary eyed, sunrise drenched Komaeda in nothing but messy hair, a t-shirt and his underwear. That’s almost enough to derail him. He grits his teeth and forces himself to stay focused.

“...Hinata-kun?” He can forgive Komaeda’s palpable confusion - it’s stupidly early. Hinata played it this way on purpose.

Hinata takes a deep breath. Dancing around it won’t do either of them any good, and Hinata doesn’t put it past Komaeda to ghost again if he lets him slip away now.

“You’re avoiding me.”

Komaeda swallows. His shoulders sink, giving him that peculiar wilting feeling again. He sets his hand against the doorframe like he’s counting on it to support him.

“That's not a question, either,” continues Hinata, “So don’t think it is. I know what you're doing.”

It takes him a minute. “It isn't because of anything you did, Hinata-kun.”

“Because of the teacup thing?” He knows he doesn’t actually need to ask - they both know exactly why Komaeda’s weaselling out of having anything to do with Hinata.

Komaeda doesn’t actually answer, but Hinata supposes he doesn’t have to. He breathes out a sigh. “How long were you planning to avoid me?”

Komaeda lowers his gaze. “...I don’t know.”

“So indefinitely.” He fends off the urge to rub his temples. “Until… when, exactly?”

“I don’t know.” His voice isn’t harsh, exactly, but Hinata would have to be completely tone-deaf to miss the note of frustration.

“Forever?”

Komaeda says nothing. He keeps his eyes trained on the ground, like he's expecting to find something there. Hinata feels a little flash of guilt, because he knows on one level what he's just done is come into Komaeda’s space and chewed him out before the sun is even properly up. Sinking his teeth into his lower lip, he reaches out and curls a finger underneath Komaeda’s chin, earning himself a rapid blink as he coaxes Komaeda into making eye contact.

“Come on,” he says, “Don't be like that. I'm not… angry at you.” He isn't, he insists to himself. “I just… really don't like the thought of you ignoring me.” Selfish, Hajime.

Horror flashes across Komaeda’s face. “I-”

“Or the thought of you being alone.”

Komaeda’s jaw snaps shut with an audible click.

Hinata wonders if Komaeda will ever stop shooting down every nice thing someone says to him.

“...I’m terribly sorry to have insulted you like I did,” Komaeda finally manages, eyes looking strangely watery, “And that I made you suspicious.”

Hinata blinks. “ Suspicious?

“It makes sense that you'd feel that way, given my past-” his eyes flicker, “ Indiscretions.”

There's a part of him that almost buckles under the weight of astonishment, but Hinata refuses to screw this up. “Komaeda,” he says, “I was worried about you.” There's something absurd about speaking like it's past tense - like he’ll ever be able to stop worrying about Komaeda.

Komaeda looks horrified again. “But I'm fine, Hinata-kun.”

“You didn't really seem fine when you ran off looking terrified and disappeared yesterday.” It’s a titanic struggle to keep himself from sounding dry. “Souda didn't know where you'd gone, either.”

If Hinata didn't have his hands on him, he's pretty sure Komaeda would've physically lurched back into his room. “ I made Souda-kun worry too?”

For fuck's sake. “That’s kind of what happens with,” he only pauses a little, “Friends.”

“But-”

Hinata’s already holding Komaeda’s face, so he’s pretty well positioned to step further under the doorway and press his lips to the corner of Komaeda’s mouth, which earns him a little squeak that tears right through whatever Komaeda was in the middle of saying. He considers he’s probably taking a risk as he moves to press their lips together, but then Komaeda’s hands are digging into his shoulders and he figures he made the right move. Hopes he made the right move.

“Don't do that where someone might see , Hinata-kun.” His lips catch against Hinata’s as he speaks, just wet enough to send a weak shiver down Hinata’s spine.

Hinata leans further into him, and if as he slides his hands down to cup Komaeda’s hips he just happens to feel up Komaeda’s ass a little then it's a total accident, could’ve happened to anyone, really . “I just did.” He immediately feels really lame, so he decides instead to focus on how being fully clothed while Komaeda is pretty exposed really works for him. It’s not his fault Komaeda likes his t-shirts so low cut, he reasons with himself - Komaeda just does that, on his own.

He can sense Komaeda figuring out how to respond to that, so he doesn’t give him a chance, pulling Komaeda tighter against him as he flicks his tongue against Komaeda’s lips. If Komaeda’s confused by this sudden and probably indecent turn of events, he doesn’t voice it, just loops his arms around Hinata’s neck and opens up for him. Hinata thinks he should probably stop doing this, only he doesn’t, and then Komaeda lets out a shaky little moan and this wasn’t the direction he’d pictured when he’d left his cottage-

Click.

Creeeaaak.

Hinata stops dead as Komaeda snaps his hands down onto Hinata’s shoulders, fingers suddenly clutching hard enough to hurt. Hinata rears back a little, unable to keep from glancing down at the effects of their endeavours. Hinata is wearing jeans, but Komaeda is not, and Hinata has only just now recalled that the thin fabric of Komaeda’s underwear does exactly nothing to hide much of anything, which only seconds ago felt like a great idea . Komaeda wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, eyes wide as he and Hinata stare at each other for a split second.

Hinata wheels around just as Nidai emerges from his cottage and into the pale early morning sunlight, putting himself in between him and Komaeda. Hinata can only pray that he’s obscuring the worst of the evidence with his body.

“Nidai!” Hinata says, proud that he only sounds a little strangled. “Hey!”

“Good morning, Nidai-kun!” Komaeda says, pleasantly, breath tickling across the junction of Hinata’s neck and shoulder with how close he’s standing. Hinata bites the inside of his cheek and tries not to shiver. “How wonderful that you just so happened to emerge from your cottage at exactly this moment, of all moments, when Hinata-kun and I are standing here, to share this hopeful morning with us!”

The good thing about Komaeda’s tendency to ramble is that it’s hard to tell if he’s just being normal or if he’s doing it out of panic, Hinata supposes.

“Hinata!” booms Nidai, “Komaeda! How,” he clenches his fist, brow creasing with visible emotion, “ Powerful to see two young men seizing the day so early!”

“Yep!” Hinata says, voice at a perfectly reasonable volume for just after six in the morning, “ Definitely seizing that day! I was just getting Komaeda here up!” Fuck. “For... training !”

“Training,” Komaeda echoes, embracing the obvious lie Hinata’s just told with a greater degree of composure than Hinata could ever hope to, “Yes. Hinata-kun has been so diligently assisting me with building up my appalling stamina and resistance.”

Hinata doesn’t know if Komaeda meant to sound so dirty, or if it’s just him.

Then Komaeda says:

“Hinata-kun really gets those juices flowing!” and Hinata has to wring every single last drop of willpower from the very depths of himself to avoid whirling around to stare in horror at Komaeda, screaming out loud, or both. He keeps staring straight ahead while his brain checks out of the conversation, whatever Komaeda and Nidai are talking about fading out to a would-be blissful white noise as he does his best not to choke on his own spit. He distantly registers that Nidai appears to be leaving, and forces himself to wave, hoping it looks even slightly normal. He stands perfectly still as he listens to Nidai trod off down the path, retrieve Owari in a flurry of loud to the point of inconsiderate chatter, until there’s silence again, and he gets the pleasure of listening to his own heartbeat hammering in his ears.

He closes his eyes for a second.

“Hinata-kun?”

“You’re terrible.” He opens his eyes, because leaving them closed won’t exactly do anything to help the reality of the situation. “You know that, right?” After taking a minute to stare directly into the rising sun and dredge up strength, he whirls around to glare at Komaeda. “Juices? Really?”

Komaeda folds his arms across his chest, offering Hinata a beatific smile. “Well, I wasn’t going to lie to Nidai-kun!”

Hinata is not amused. He privately reflects on the fact that it’s probably a good thing he’s been reminded that Komaeda’s a total nightmare of a human being before he romanticises him too much. “Whatever.” He presses his hands to his face and lets out a long, slow breath. “Don’t talk about… ugh… juices ever again, please.”

“Even when I’m consuming them?”

Hinata lowers his hands enough to peek over them, eyes narrowed. “You do this stuff on purpose.” He’s entitled to throw that accusation around this point

Komaeda graces him with the very sweetest of doe eyed smiles. Hinata bitterly resents that it makes Komaeda look so pretty in the pastel light of early morning, soft colours glancing off the high points of his face, when he’s trying his best to stay annoyed with him. “Do what on purpose, Hinata-kun?”

“You’re not cute,” Hinata grumbles, which is a bold and manifest lie, “So quit pretending you are.” He lets his hands drop to his sides with a sigh, because if he keeps hiding behind them he’s going to let Komaeda get the upper hand, which he refuses to do after that little display. “Anyway, forget that. I came here for a reason.”

“I’d noticed,” Komaeda says, mildly.

Hinata would stiff-arm Komaeda and his smug face back into his stupid cottage if he didn’t sincerely believe he’d shatter a few of his ribs in doing so. That and he’s actually relieved Komaeda’s apparently escaped the throes of his anxiety freakout - for now, anyway. “ Not that.”

“Oh?” Komaeda raises his eyebrows. Hinata’s annoyed that he has the audacity to doubt him. “Then what?”

“You know how you were complaining about your walls?”

Komaeda’s expression darkens a touch. “...Yes?”

“Wanna fix them?” He shrugs. “Assuming you don’t really hate the idea of having a lavender room?”

Komaeda pauses. “Ah. That’s what the note was about. It did seem like an oddly specific question.”

Hinata nods. “Koizumi helped me out with some paint. I don’t have any plans today, so…” He says it like he ever has plans that don't consist of failing to sleep or fretting about something.

Komaeda pauses. “Are you sure it’s a wise idea?”

“What do you-” Realisation hits him. “Are you freaking out about the idea of me getting hurt?”

“I’m not ‘ freaking out’,” Komaeda protests, “I’m expressing reasonable concern.”

Reasonable. Sure. “Come on,” Hinata says, trying for joking, “I think I can take a couple of cans of paint and some rollers if it comes down to it.”

Komaeda doesn’t look convinced.

“You’re not the only one with luck, remember?”

Komaeda’s eyes widen. Hinata watches him wage some kind of internal war for a moment, hands tensing by his sides.

Finally, Komaeda averts his eyes, looking faintly tortured. Hinata steels himself.

“It is,” Komaeda says, slowly, “Unbearable.”

Hinata blinks, waiting for Komaeda to get to the actual point.

“So,” Komaeda says, “If you’re insisting, Hinata-kun…”

“Oh,” Hinata says, figuring there’s a role he’s supposed to step into, “Yes. I am. I insist.”

Komaeda spreads his hands, tosses his hair to one side as if in defeat. “Then it can’t be helped.”

“Nope,” Hinata agrees, feeling vaguely triumphant, “So I guess you just have to deal with it.”

“...Just.” Komaeda looks anxious. Hinata is not a fan of this development. “There’s one thing.”

“Yeah?”

“I wonder,” Komaeda says, clasping his hands together, “Would you mind if I put Gracie in your room? I wouldn’t want her to be harmed by the fumes.”

Hinata almost laughs. He manages to wear it down into a smile that feels soft on his face. “Sure,” he says, “We can do that.”

Komaeda beams. Hinata feels it, deep in his chest.

“Well. I guess,” Hinata says, “You should be prepared to get dirty.”

Komaeda laughs.

Hinata wasn’t trying to be funny, but that’s okay.

 

Komaeda seems to relax a little when they get Gracie safely relocated, enough to at least not be verbally apprehensive about all the fatal possibilities that come with Hinata helping him fix his room. He even seems pleased, Hinata thinks, without exhibiting obvious guilt for feeling that way, which is a real novelty.

Komaeda pauses, roller in hand as he considers the sheet of peeling paint hanging down from the wall above his bed. Hinata can all too clearly envision Komaeda lying awake at night seething about peeling paint. It almost makes him smile.

“Go,” Hinata says, with enough daring to nudge Komaeda’s hip, taking the roller’s pole away from him, “Tear it down.”

Komaeda stares up at the wall for a moment longer. Then determination crosses his face, and he jumps up on the bed, reaching up with mismatched fingers to grasp the section of wall that’s peeled back the most. It comes away with an obscenely satisfying dull riiiiiip, and Hinata can’t help the smile watching Komaeda do it, the way he smiles harder when Komaeda throws the curl of paint behind him with a flourish.

Komaeda, finally, stands over the pile of peeled off paint with a vaguely triumphant expression, as though the blood feud between Komaeda and the difficult paint had been simmering for years.

“That was cathartic,” he remarks, sounding a little breathless.

“I’ll bet,” Hinata says, “Wanna get the rest of it?”

Komaeda’s eyes gleam.

The entire experience is encouragingly devoid of catastrophe. Komaeda takes instruction about as easily as Hinata inspected, helping him tape off areas that need protection before they get started. They even manage conversation without it being tense, or weird, or making anyone burst into tears or start yelling. Just mundane things, like how Tanaka’s butterflies are doing, or the current factional drama over whether or not red lights are too “threatening” for a party (Sonia categorically refuses to hear criticism of her current light set up, and Hinata can tell Koizumi’s veneer of detached disdain is starting to crumble).

“Have you ever thought about giving Gracie a friend?” Hinata totally doesn’t spend time thinking about Komaeda’s plant. Usually not more than once a day, anyway. Sometimes up to five.

Komaeda laughs like he’s trying to brush Hinata off. “The fact that she’s survived for as long as she has is more than I could’ve ever hoped for.”

“So you haven’t thought about it?” Hinata’s learned by this point that he usually has to keep digging until Komaeda gives him a real answer.

Komaeda is silent for a moment. Hinata can tell he’s pretending to be really interested in the section of wall he’s painting.

“I might’ve contemplated it,” he finally admits.

There it is. “You should. You’re doing a really good job of looking after Gracie.”

“Someone once told me that ferns are hardy enough to withstand even the most inexpert of gardeners,” Komaeda says sweetly.

Someone has a habit of saying really stupid things in your presence.” That thought ideally would’ve stayed internal, but Hinata can’t really do anything about that now. It’s not like it isn’t true, he figures.

“There’s really no need to be concerned for my ego, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda says gracefully.

Hinata’s good mood sours a little - he hates this game. “You could just accept that you’re doing a good job of raising your plant.”

“Adding more variables to the situation will tempt bad luck.”

So maybe he’s not going to acknowledge his own success, but Hinata’s slightly encouraged by the knowledge that he didn’t quite disagree. “Is that how it works?”

Komaeda pauses. “It’s... unpredictable.”

“Okay, so,” Hinata says, patiently, “What if nothing bad happens?”

“What if it does?”

“What if it doesn’t?”

“It’s silly, ” Komaeda says, his voice somehow sharp and pleasant at the same time, “To devote so much of your concern to such a minor thing, Hinata-kun.”

“I don’t think it’s silly,” Hinata says, “It makes you happy, right?”

Komaeda scoffs. “As though that’s significant.”

“It’s significant to me.

Komaeda freezes. Just stops dead. It’s a quiet thing - he doesn’t make a sound, or drop anything, or even breathe any louder than he usually would. Hinata’s not even sure he’s breathing at all. Komaeda doesn’t protest, though, and Hinata decides he’s going to keep his mouth shut and not give Komaeda an opportunity to flip his words around on him.

Komaeda, for a while, remains silent, even when he returns to his task of painting the wall. Hinata doesn’t push it - he can tell Komaeda needs a moment. When he sneaks a look at Komaeda over his shoulder, his expression is curiously blank.

Finally he speaks. “I did think.” He falters. “ Do think. The idea of starting a garden is…”

“...Hopeful?” Hinata teases, trying to play it cooler than he feels.

Komaeda gives him a Look. Hinata’s just happy Komaeda’s actually looking at him again. He can do nothing about the soft laugh that insists on stealing out of his chest.

“I’m just kidding.”

“You’re being disrespectful,” Komaeda chides, but there’s a glimmer in his eyes and a half smile on his face.

“I do think it’s a hopeful idea, though,” Hinata says, “Really.”

Komaeda’s expression cracks, and it’s like all the easy humour drains right out of it, leaving him blank faced again. He slowly turns his head to look at Hinata, a little paler than he’d been a second ago.

“We could start one,” Hinata says, reluctant to let the flow of conversation halt, “Even if it’s just us.”

Komaeda keeps staring.

A glance downwards reveals that Komaeda’s clutching his roller in a death grip. He shrugs. “Just a thought.”

Komaeda’s quiet for so long Hinata starts to wonder if he should make him sit down, or maybe if he’s misinterpreted everything and screwed up bigtime. Then Komaeda opens his mouth.

“I would,” he says, his voice small, “Like that.”

Hinata realises he’s light-headed. The fact that he can’t really tell whether it’s Komaeda or paint fumes should probably worry him more, but Hinata can’t quite manage to be worried about a thing.

“I’d really like that, too,” he says.

Hinata nearly jumps out of his skin at the high pitched almost-moan that worms its way out of Komaeda’s throat, but then Komaeda’s slapping a hand over his mouth to muffle it, eyes widening as though he’s horrified with himself. Hinata stares at him for a moment, wondering if he should ask, but then Komaeda clears his throat and lets his hand drop.

“Excuse me,” he says, demurely.

Hinata has to try very hard not to laugh. “Did you do something?”

Komaeda flicks his hair across his face when he turns away, but Hinata’s pretty sure he catches a smile despite Komaeda’s attempts to conceal it. “How fortunate that you missed it.”

“Missed what?” Ignorance is easy to feign.

Komaeda lets out a soft giggle. Hinata feels light-headed again - almost dizzy enough to just sit down on the floor when Komaeda glances up at him with colour dusted across his cheeks and hair still scattered across his forehead. He raises his eyebrows.

“You look warm, Hinata-kun.”

“Huh?”

Komaeda gestures at his own face with a circular motion. “Flushed,” he clarifies, “Are you feeling alright? Should we take a break?”

Hinata’s about to reply that no, he feels fine. Then Komaeda reaches up with a hand and pushes his hair back from his face, and Hinata’s jaw locks into place. He doesn’t really know why such a simple gesture makes him screech to a halt, only he knows exactly why, and when Komaeda’s hair sticks to its usual habitual unruliness and ends up falling right back in his face, Hinata has to devote serious mental energy into not reaching out and pushing it back for him.

Hinata remembers he’s supposed to be answering a question.

“I actually,” he says, “Feel really energised.”

Komaeda smiles. If he notices Hinata’s face heat up more in response, he doesn’t mention it.

“Yes.” His voice is so gentle Hinata kind of wishes he could fall face first into it, somehow, “Me too.”

 

“What should we do now, Hinata-kun?”

That’s a pointed question, Hinata realises. When he glances up at Komaeda, he’s sipping his water with his eyebrows raised.

Neither of them had been kidding about feeling energised, apparently - by the time late morning rolls across the island, they’re done. Komaeda seems pleased, almost buzzing beside Hinata as they loiter on Komaeda’s terrace with a snack (Komaeda had insisted he wasn’t hungry, but Hinata’s realised he has a weird thing about making sure Komaeda’s eating, which he prefers to just act on instead of thinking too deeply about). Hinata casts a glance around the area at Komaeda’s question - it appears to be deserted, but Hinata knows that anyone could be lurking close enough to overhear.

“Uh ,” he says, eloquently, “What do you want to do?”

Komaeda lets out a soft hum. “Anything.”

“Oh,” Hinata says, calmly, “Okay.”

Komaeda seems determined to hold eye contact. Hinata finds himself unable to look away.

“Do you.” He doesn’t realise he’s folding his arms across his chest until he’s already done it. “Want to take a walk?”

Komaeda blinks. “Take a walk where, Hinata-kun?”

“Wherever, I guess? Just… you know. Like we used to.”

Komaeda says nothing, only tilts his head. Hinata can practically see the cogs turning behind his eyes as he takes another sip of water.

“Do you need help investigating something, Hinata-kun?” he asks, finally. “Is there some mystery that needs solving?”

Hinata almost cringes. He can’t say he hadn’t been expecting this, despite Komaeda’s suggestion that he understood Hinata’s feelings. Of course he hadn’t understood - it’s Komaeda he’s dealing with.

“Um,” he says, “No.” Not in the way you’re thinking of, at least.

“Don’t tell me it’s because you want my company.” Komaeda laughs, then, like it’s some hysterical joke, like it’s absurd to even think of it.

Hinata feels his shoulders tense. “...What if that’s exactly what I want?”

Komaeda stops laughing. He looks like Hinata’s reached out and slapped him, rather than ask if he’d maybe like to hang out together.

“It’s just it’s really nice out today, and, it’d be good to stretch and...” He makes himself say it. “It was always good. Hanging out with you. So.” He wonders if it’s possible to make himself unlearn how to blush.

“...But you always treated me with such suspicion and disdain.” Hinata does cringe, this time, at being reminded of that truth.

“No,” he says, but it’s nothing, really, barely more than a whisper. He doesn’t even think Komaeda heard it.

“I just can’t imagine why you’d want to relive such an unpleasant experience when there’s really no need to!” Komaeda spreads his hands. Hinata wishes he’d stop smiling. “You’ve already spent all day with me - surely you’ve grown bored of my disgusting presence and puerile chatter by now?”

“No, actually,” Hinata says, “I haven’t.”

Komaeda pauses. Then laughs again. It’s faintly hysterical. He’s so off his guard that Hinata feels a little swell of guilt.

“We don’t have to, Komaeda,” he says, “If you don’t want to hang out with me, it’s fine.”

Komaeda is quiet for a moment. “Isn't there something else you'd rather be doing?”

“Doing-? Oh .” Hinata almost splutters all over himself. “...We can do more than one thing?”

Komaeda shifts. It looks distinctly uncomfortable. Like Hinata feels. “I suppose we can.”

Do you want to hang out?”

Komaeda doesn’t hesitate for as long as Hinata expected him to. “Yes,” he says, his voice small.

Hinata thinks he should be happier about not having to wind himself in circles to drag an honest answer out of Komaeda for once, but he’s been through enough of this with Komaeda to feel suspicious when things are this easy.

He’s not going to argue with it, though. “Well. ” He raises a hand, pushes his hair back from his face. “Can we meet at the gate in ten minutes?”

 

Hinata might’ve been able to stick to the ten minutes thing if he didn’t suddenly feel a pressing need to fuss with his hair for at least fifteen. He finds himself in the regrettable position of not only running late, but his hair looking exactly as unruly as it did when he'd tore through changing out of his paint spattered clothes. Already off to a great start, he thinks.

Something catches his eye as he turns to leave the room, conspicuous somehow amongst the junk scattered on his desk. He hesitates. He’d given Komaeda things in the Program all the time, little trinkets, drinks, snacks. They’d even had a kind of pleasant afternoon in the park on Blue Ram once. Hinata doesn’t really remember much of what they talked about - the whole thing is a disorienting blur in Hinata’s mind. Sometimes he’s not even sure if it’s a real memory, or something else, a dream, a glitch in the Program. Maybe. He’s never asked Komaeda if he remembers it. Hinata’s memory of it might be fuzzy, but he thinks he’d rather have that than nothing at all.

He doesn’t know why the thought of giving Komaeda something makes him kind feel like he’s been punched in the chest now.

He lets out a rough sigh, covering his eyes with one hand as he reaches out and takes the object with the other. It’s a significant downgrade from the last thing he’d given Komaeda, but maybe it’s better that way. He doesn’t want to overwhelm Komaeda. He’s pretty sure you’re supposed to avoid triggering the other person’s fight or flight instinct when you’re on a-

“...Date?” He finishes the thought to the room, almost a whisper, like someone’s going to hear him.

Is it a date? Hinata isn’t sure. He’s never really been on one. He hadn’t called it a date, when he’d asked, but neither had Komaeda. Hinata pictures it, for a second, Komaeda in his cottage, wondering the same thing. There’s a good chance Komaeda would refuse to let himself wonder. Should Hinata have told him he’d meant it to be a date? Even if he’s not sure if he had? He wishes he had a better idea of what to do - he already feels like he and Komaeda are at a disadvantage, having screwed up the proper order this badly. Hinata doesn’t know what the proper order actually is, but he feels like you’re probably supposed to go on at least one date before someone feels someone up through their jeans. Or builds someone a robotic prosthetic.

Hinata then remembers that he and Komaeda have already attempted to murder each other. He thinks this is how he’s going to trigger another panic attack, so he shoves the thought aside and the door open, focusing on the sunlight on his face.

It kind of feels better. Better still when he sees Komaeda waiting for him at the gate, hands shoved into his pockets, pulling his jacket taut, expression distant and thoughtful. Hinata almost regrets interrupting him, but Komaeda smiles at him when he notices his presence, enough to make his cheeks heat up a little.

“Hey,” he says, and then, after thinking about it, “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

“Oh, no,” Komaeda says, “I wasn’t waiting long at all!”

“Oh,” Hinata says, a little too loudly, “That’s good, then.”

They stare at each other for a moment. Komaeda smiles at him. Hinata kind of feels sick. A seagull screeches, somewhere in the distance.

“What did you-”

“So should we-”

“Ahah.”

“Hahaha.” Hinata isn’t laughing because he finds it funny. “Why don’t we just. Go. And see where we end up?”

It’s a little easier, once they start walking - getting his blood circulating does wonders for stopping his heart from thudding in his chest so obnoxiously. By the time Komaeda starts telling him about Souda’s in-progress drone (after swearing Hinata to secrecy), Hinata’s almost forgotten he was even nervous to begin with.

“Like an actual laser?”

Komaeda shrugs. “So he tells me. I haven’t actually seen it, he’s been very secretive.”

“Wow. He’s really taking it seriously.”

“As is Sonia-san,” Komaeda says, cheerfully.

It hadn’t taken long for things to get cutthroat between Sonia and Souda. The awkward politeness Hinata’s watched them dance through since waking has been vaporised by the brutality of competition. Hinata has personally witnessed both of them going dead silent when the other enters the room, and has personally had to wait the good ten seconds it takes for them to stop death staring one another. Tanaka keeps commenting on the “aura of malevolence” like he’s pleased about it. Hinata doesn’t really understand.

“She was totally lying about not building a flamethrower, by the way,” Hinata says.

“How fortunate her cottage didn’t actually burn down,” Komaeda remarks.

“At least we know the sprinklers in the cottages actually work now.” He hopes, anyway. Komaeda’s not the only one who’s accident prone on this island.

When Hinata glances down he realises they’ve wandered further than he’d thought - the shoreline is starting to get rockier, rising up through the sand more and more the further they walk. This far out the beach it actually feels like deserted, secluded from view from the buildings on the island. “I haven’t been down this way in forever.” It definitely feels like forever since he woke up.

“I like it down here,” Komaeda says, with a little sigh, “It’s peaceful.”

Hinata wonders how often Komaeda’s come this way. “Have you ever been up?” Hinata waves a hand at where the rocks start to rise up in a jagged outcrop. “There are some really cool rock pools up there.” He shakes his head. “Or… there were, anyway. Tide’s low. Wanna go see if we can meet some hermit crabs?”

Komaeda goes pale.

“...Not into hermit crabs?” is Hinata’s lame response. He’s pretty sure Komaeda’s fears aren’t crustacean induced.

“It seems,” Komaeda squints against the sunlight as he stares up at the outcrop, “Perilous.”

“I think it’ll be okay.” He almost says something corny about protecting Komaeda, but he also doesn’t want to get laughed at, so he keeps his mouth shut.

Komaeda’s eyebrows knit together. “What if the tide rises?”

Hinata doesn’t especially want to play this game. “I mean. Chances are we’ll probably see it coming?”

Wide eyes. “Poisonous jellyfish?”

Hinata almost sighs. “I think as long as we’re wearing shoes we’ll be safe.”

“Slippery algae?”

Well ,” Hinata says, trying to sound bright as he throws himself in the path of Komaeda’s noisily oncoming anxiety train, “Instead of us standing around worrying down here… what if I went and looked around first? And made sure everything was safe?”

Komaeda’s eyes go round. “The ocean is never completely safe.”

“Well,” Hinata says, “Good thing we won’t actually be in the ocean?”

Komaeda hesitates. Hinata can practically see the cost/benefit equations running behind his eyeballs. “...I suppose it’ll be fine if we’re both extra sure to be extremely vigilant.”

Hinata thinks he’ll count that one as a victory. “Alright,” he says, turning to face the rocky outcrop, “Be back in a second.”

“Please be careful!” Komaeda calls out.

“I will,” Hinata promises, even if he’s pretty sure the odds of him slipping and drowning in a rock pool are probably in his favour. He’s not going to tell Komaeda that, though.

“I’ve been concerned for your wellbeing ever since the teacup.”

Hinata’s stomach sinks. He pauses where he is, throws a glance over his shoulder. “I thought we reached an understanding on that one.”

Komaeda links his fingers together, shoulders tense with visible anxiety. “It’s a dreadful omen.”

It takes immense effort to keep the deep sigh that wells up in his chest strictly internal.“‘Omen’,” Hinata repeats, arching an eyebrow, “You been hanging out with Tanaka or something? Branching out from the hope stuff?”

Komaeda’s expression remains unchanged. “He did say that the drawing of blood was cause for concern,” he says, “Apparently it usually indicates some form of bargain, or trade.”

Oh no. Hinata had been joking . Suddenly Komaeda’s attempt at a social sabbatical makes a lot more sense.

“Okay,” he says, patiently, “You remember he actually thinks you’re a demon, right?”

“He actually says I’m a shade that’s broken through to this mortal coil!” Komaeda is quick to correct him.

Oh my god, Hinata does not say. “I mean. That’s cool. Just… maybe think about that before you take his advice on blood magic to heart.”

“Who better to ask than Tanaka-kun?” Komaeda seems utterly nonplussed.

Hinata hates that it’s probably a fair question. “I mean,” he says, “I guess.”

“He seemed particularly concerned with the spiritual significance of it.” Komaeda is apparently intent on continuing this line of conversation to Hinata’s great dismay.

Spiritual significance?” Once again, Hinata’s lost the thread of the conversation entirely. “It was a teacup .”

“Yes, but Tanaka-kun seems to believe that because it was a token that represented you-” Komaeda cuts off like someone’s jerked his power cord out of the outlet. He goes very still. Primal horror radiates from his tense shoulders.

It takes Hinata a second. “What are you even-” He freezes. His heart almost sputters to a halt. “Wait a minute,” he says, slowly, “That teacup was your favourite because of…?”

Me?

Komaeda turns bright red. It’d be kind of funny if sunflowers, Hajime - fucking sunflowers wasn’t droning on in Hinata’s head on a sickening loop.

“I,” Komaeda says, voice barely above a whisper, “Ah.”

Hinata congratulates himself on neither sinking to his knees nor opening his mouth and saying something completely stupid. Not that he actually makes the situation any less awkward - not when he he can’t actually manage anything other than staring at Komaeda in dead silence.

Komaeda lets out a huff of a laugh, flicking his hair a little as he turns to face the ocean. It does very little to conceal how pink he is. Hinata can tell he’s embarrassed, humiliated, maybe, and wishes he could say something to make it better, but the only word hovering on his lips is cute and he’s pretty sure that’ll just fluster Komaeda even more.

Actually ,” Hinata chokes, “Now that you mention it.” He figures if he embarrasses himself too then maybe it’ll take the strain off Komaeda.

Komaeda’s eyes are practically electric when he glances up. Hinata hopes it isn’t with panic, but it isn’t a very strong hope.

“So, um.” He’s preemptively choking on his own lameness, but when is he not, these days? “Your hair’s getting pretty long.”

“Oh.” Komaeda blinks, reaching an absent-minded hand up to push his hair back from his face. “Yes. It’s verging on annoying, actually.”

“Yeah, I noticed you have to push it back a lot.” He wonders if he should tell Komaeda it looks nice. He figures Komaeda’s just going to rebuff him anyway, so he bites his tongue, shoves his hand into his pocket instead. “But, uh. I…”

Komaeda’s staring. Hinata can’t deal.

He sighs. “Here.”

Komaeda just looks down at Hinata’s hand for a long moment. Hinata cannot tolerate the silence, so he continues, “Even without the gacha machine, I guess I just have a habit of collecting stuff? I found these in my room when I woke up, someone must’ve- anyway, that’s not really important, I just…”

Komaeda is wordless as he keeps looking down at Hinata’s hand.

“I swear this is a total coincidence,” Hinata says, “Weird, right?”

Lucky, right, he almost says. There’s something that feels a little more than just coincidental about the hair elastics complete with sunflower baubles he’d found in his drawer the day he’d woken up somehow migrating to the top of the pile of unsorted junk on his desk in time for him heading out with Komaeda today.

He’s suffered through enough protracted silences from Komaeda over the last couple of weeks to have realised he almost hates it when Komaeda gets that way. He nearly clenches his fist. “They’re sort of girly, so I get it if you don’t want them-”

“No!” Hinata feels a physical sense of relief at Komaeda finally speaking again, though it’s dampened by the fact that Komaeda sounds like he’s borderline panicking. “They’re very cute!”

Like you, Hinata almost says, only that would probably be the corniest thing he’s ever said in his life, so he doesn’t. “Kind of, yeah,” he says instead. “I just thought they might be. Practical.” He clears his throat. “And also. Look nice. On you.” Why does he even bother. Why does Komaeda even bother.

“I look atrocious in everything, Hinata-kun, but thank you for the sentiment!”

“...You're welcome.” He manages to avoid cringing at himself. Mostly.

Komaeda takes a step back, pressing free hand to his chest. “I didn’t bring anything for you!” He’s visibly dismayed, and, more importantly, blushing.

“Oh,” Hinata says, “That wasn’t why- - you don’t- it’s really not a big deal. It was totally a last minute thing. Really.”

Komaeda, finally, hand maybe trembling a little if Hinata lets himself look at it for too long, accepts the hair elastics. Hinata doesn’t even realise he’d been tensing his shoulders until he feels them relax.

“Anyway!” Hinata claps his hands now that they’re both free again. “I’m just gonna.” He gestures at the rocks. “Go check all that out.”

“Of course.” Komaeda sounds distant. Hinata thinks they both probably need a minute.

He’s not even sure it takes him a whole minute to confirm that the coast is clear up on the rock face, like he’d known it’d be. He still idles for a moment, pressing his hand to his cheeks as he sends his gaze skyward. He wills himself to get it together, takes a moment to actually, properly breathe, dizzying himself on oxygen .

“It’s fine up here!” At least he’s managing to sound normal, even if he knows he’s still blushing. He wanders back over to the low edge to look down and find Komaeda’s already putting his gift to work, hair pulled back from his face and gathered into a loose ponytail. It brings out the finer points of his bone structure, gives Komaeda nothing to hide behind. Hinata’s heart does a kickflip and promptly settles itself in his throat when he can’t quite keep his gaze from skimming down the long line of Komaeda’s neck.

Maybe the hair elastics were a mistake.

Komaeda, most likely because he has eyes, notices Hinata staring. Apprehension washes across his features. “...Does it look bad?”

“You look really good,” Hinata says, words tumbling from his mouth all in a rush.

Komaeda seems too flustered to protest. He also seems pleased, though Hinata would never call him out on it. “Thanks to your intervention,” he says, half under his breath.

Hinata’s about to tell Komaeda that his face is entirely his own doing and actually requires no intervention whatsoever, but he thinks that’d probably be pushing it, so he holds his hand out for Komaeda instead. “Wanna come up?” he says, “It’s really pretty up here.”

Komaeda probably doesn’t need the assistance, but Hinata always worries, and he seems happy enough to take Hinata’s hand and let himself be helped up. “Watch your step, though - you were right about the algae.”

Komaeda glances down with a look of concern at Hinata’s warning. “How,” he says, faintly, “ Alarming .”

“You need me to hold your hand?” He’s teasing. It doesn’t make it any less of a sincere want.

It takes a second before Komaeda looks up at him. “Are you offering, Hinata-kun?” He almost sounds droll .

Hinata holds his hand out for him. “Sure,” he says, “If you’re asking.”

Komaeda regards Hinata’s hand for a second before he stretches his own out. There’s a moment where they have to negotiate how it’s going to play out. Someone ends up linking their fingers together. Hinata prefers to think it was the both of them.

Once he manages to swallow enough to dislodge his heart from his throat, Hinata has space to let himself revel in how easy it feels, walking hand in hand with Komaeda. They’ve touched hands before, but it’s never been casual like this, like it’s nothing, when it’s everything. Komaeda almost sells Hinata on seeming unaffected, but his fingertips are scraping against the back of Hinata’s hand like the idea of letting go frightens him, like he’s clinging to Hinata in a death grip. Hinata thinks he’s probably doing the same.

The breeze is insistent up on the rocks, tangling in their hair, pulling at their shirts. Hinata has to squint against the sunlight as it glitters off splashes of water, shielding his eyes with his free hand as he names off different kinds of aquatic life for Komaeda. Hinata’s not really sure how much of it is Komaeda just feigning ignorance for Hinata’s benefit, but he does seem genuinely interested, and Hinata can’t quite manage to worry about it anyway when Komaeda’s fingers keep squeezing rhythmically at his own.

Komaeda gets upset when Hinata squats down to poke an anemone with a stray piece of driftwood, causing it to shrivel in on itself. “It’s mean , Hinata-kun!”

“Alright, alright.” He’s laughing as he gets to his feet - he can’t help it, Komaeda’s just so distraught. He winds his arm up and throws the stick off into the distance. “There. No more terrorising anemones. I’m sorry.”

Thank you,” Komaeda says, with such an honest note of relief that Hinata finds himself laughing again. A smile winds across Komaeda’s face. “But it is good to see you looking unburdened, Hinata-kun.”

His laughter tapers off. “Unburdened?”

“You’ve seemed.” He pauses. “Out of sorts.”

“Oh. Yeah.” ‘Out of sorts’ is an understatement. He can tell when Komaeda’s trying to be diplomatic. “You noticed, huh?” he jokes.

Komaeda averts his gaze. Hinata can’t help but smile, for some reason. “It was difficult not to.”

“Yeah,” Hinata says, rolling his eyes at himself a little, “Sorry about that.”

Komaeda breathes out a little laugh. “Why should you be sorry when it seems like I’ve contributed significantly to your stress?”

Hinata shrugs. Komaeda moves with him when he gives an idle swing of their joined hands, learning into his touch. “I would’ve found something else to stress about anyway,” he says, “Don’t feel guilty.”

“Mmm.” Komaeda’s brow creases.

Hinata swings his arm again, revelling in the little pulse of warmth the playful gesture spills through him. “You’re not allowed.”

Komaeda laughs. Warmth pitches lower in Hinata’s belly. “If that’s a direct command…”

“It is,” Hinata says, pleasantly.

“Well, then,” Komaeda sighs, “That’s that, I suppose.”

Hinata totally doesn’t catch him smiling when he nudges Komaeda’s shoulder with his own. Komaeda flicks his hair again as he turns his face away. Hinata almost calls him on his attempt to hide, but there’s enough warmth hovering in his chest to keep his mouth shut. Let Komaeda keep his secrets, he figures - especially when he’s doing such a bad job of it.

“You were right,” Hinata says, after a moment, “It is peaceful out here.”

“Isolated,” Komaeda agrees.

Hinata tightens his grip on Komaeda’s hand. “Just us,” he says, gently, “Right?”

Komaeda glances at him. The wind plays with his hair as they stare at each other. Not for the first time he finds himself a little dry-mouthed at how long Komaeda’s lashes are.

“Right.” Komaeda shifts a little, close enough that their shoulders almost touch. Hinata isn’t in the mood to confuse the invitation.

He reaches out with his free hand as he turns to face Komaeda properly, skimming his fingers across the sharp line of his jaw. Long flashes flutter at his touch, and for once, Komaeda doesn’t tense up, or pull away - only tilts his head into Hinata’s touch, stray scatters of hair tickling at the back of his hand.

“You look nice with your hair up,” Hinata is bold enough to volunteer, because he figures Komaeda won’t be able to protest when their lips are pressed together. His guess proves to be correct - Komaeda’s eyelashes flutter closed before Hinata’s, and then Hinata follows him into darkness with a swell of confidence, the wind a gentle, steady whistle in his ears as he chases Komaeda’s warmth.

Hinata doesn’t push him for very long - just long enough for the warmth in his chest to start thinking about creeping downwards to sit in his belly, before he backs off, letting his forehead rest against Komaeda’s.

“Maybe it was a good omen.” He’s kind of mumbling, not even really thinking about what he’s saying.

Komaeda pulls back enough for eye contact after a beat of silence, eyes glossy with curiosity. “What was?”

Hinata shrugs. “The teacup thing. Or at least… not a bad one.”

Komaeda blinks at him. Hinata shrugs, reaches out and touches Komaeda’s hair.

“The sunflowers. They came back to you, right?”

Komaeda’s eyes widen.

Hinata decides that he likes it when Komaeda works up the initiative to kiss him first. It usually means he’s doing something right. He hums, soft in the back of his throat, as Komaeda kisses him, once, twice, sinking all the way against him on the third like he doesn’t care if they go tumbling to the algae dusted rocks after all. A little laugh rumbles in Hinata’s throat at Komaeda’s eagerness even he winds his arms around Komaeda’s waist, pulling him closer, close enough that he’s pretty sure he can feel Komaeda’s heartbeat through his thin skin. Komaeda siphons another sigh out of him when he parts his lips, catching at Hinata’s own, tongues slicking together enough to make something warm and liquid pulse in Hinata’s belly.

“Hinata-kun.”

“Yeah?”

“I…” His voice catches, as if on a sob. Komaeda’s eyes are clear when Hinata pulls back with a little shock of alarm to get a gauge on whether or not he’s actually crying, but his expression is apprehensive, brows knitted together. It makes Hinata draw closer to him, as if by instinct, like he’s trying to shield him from… something.

Komaeda’s voice is soft when he speaks, almost serene. “I don’t think I want to push you away anymore.”

Hinata’s sure his jaw drops. Komaeda’s soliloquies, he can handle. Komaeda’s weird, uncomfortable insistence on oversharing about the tragedy of his life and his philosophy, no big deal. Even Komaeda despair spiralling and cackling in front of him is something he’s getting better at dealing with. He's so used to Komaeda deflecting that he’s still shaky on what to do when it stops, when Komaeda lets him in. He looks at the other boy for a long moment, transfixed by the way Komaeda’s holding himself, the way his eyes look a little too glossy for comfort.

“...What does that mean?” Hinata asks, voice cracking a little, because he thinks if he stands there dumbstruck for too long this moment will slip through his fingers.

Komaeda glances away. Hinata realises he’s holding a breath, waiting for Komaeda to speak.

Komaeda opens his mouth.

An ominous rumble descends from the heavens. Hinata blinks, tearing his gaze from Komaeda’s face to shoot a surprised glance skywards.

“Oh, come on-”

Komaeda lets out a shrill, panicked giggle just as there’s another thunderclap, followed by the sky opening up like it’s burst a seam. It takes about ten seconds to go from scattered droplets pattering on the rocks to thick, drenching sheets - ten seconds to totally ruin Hinata’s day, and whatever little moment they were just having. “I’m sorry!”

Hinata is not amused.

“Why are you apologising ?” He’d be grumbling if he didn’t have to speak up to be heard over the hiss of the rain.

“Because my mere presence is a gateway to catastrophe, Hinata-kun.” He shrugs his jacket off his shoulders, exposing his thin arms.

Hinata’s in the middle of rolling his eyes, water trickling into his eyelashes and all, when Komaeda sidles up beside him, throwing the jacket up over both of them. Hinata’s heart does a little flip at that. Still. “You should keep this on,” he says, taking the time to reflect on how fake he is even as he steps closer to Komaeda, raises an arm to stretch the jacket out on his side like some kind of makeshift tent,“You’ll get cold-”

“The rain is warm,” Komaeda points out, “And I think it should absorb enough water to keep us from getting too saturated while we walk back.”

Hinata pauses. “Right.” He’s about to say thank you for thinking of me, but that kind of feels crushingly lame, so he just-

Keeps his stupid mouth shut, but only because he finds himself stepping in and pressing his lips to Komaeda’s. He’s close enough to feel Komaeda take in a sharp breath before he pushes forward, leaning into Hinata. Hinata closes his eyes, because despite the rain and the fact that his arm is already annoyed at him for hoisting his side of the jacket aloft, it’s actually kind of nice. He might even consider staying here, just like this, for a while, if they had a better way of keeping the water out.

Komaeda’s eyes are half-lidded when he pulls away.

“Uh,” Hinata says, voice a couple of notches higher than he’d like it to be, “Thanks.”

“It’s.” Komaeda shakes his head, as if dazed. “No trouble, Hinata-kun.”

“We should.” Laughter is rising in his chest and he’s not quite sure why. “Be getting back. I guess.”

Unless they want to drown. Hinata’s kind of undecided on that one - it's weird, almost suspicious, feeling optimistic. 

Chapter Text

The walk back sucks. Hard. Maybe the whole umbrella sharing thing is nice in theory - Hinata just finds himself wishing they had one, instead of a soggy jacket. He doesn’t feel like the jacket makes much of a difference in the end, between its unconventional shape and how insistent the rain is. His jeans still end up totally soaked all the way to a few inches above the hem, wet sand plastered on them like paste.

“Ugh,” he groans when they hit his terrace, bending over to tear at his shoelaces because if he doesn’t get his sneakers off now he’s going to scream. Turns out canvas doesn’t play nice with sand and water. Surprise of the fucking century. He grimaces when setting his foot down makes an unpleasant, grainy squelch, probably looking cool as hell as he hops around trying to rip his socks off.

“Please don’t slip, Hinata-kun.” Komaeda looks perturbed, shaking wet sand out of his shoes behind Hinata. He tugs the hair tie out of his damp hair, expression turning apprehensive when it gets stuck for a moment, before finally pulling free. He stretches it out, slips it over his hand so that it circles his wrist like a bracelet. It’s like all the volume’s seeped out of his hair. Hinata resents that he still manages to look kind of nice, when he can feel his own hair sticking to his forehead in a soggy mess.

“I’ve got it covered, thanks,” Hinata grumbles, throwing his socks, overarm, in the vague direction of his shoes. “This sucks,” he declares, digging his keys out of his pocket with a savage hand. He gestures for Komaeda to go in ahead of him - he apparently isn’t expecting it, because it takes him a moment for him to drift through the door, eyes a little dazed.

“This sucks,” Hinata says again, totally not pushing the door any harder than it needs in order to make it close behind them.

“So you’ve said, Hinata-kun,” is Komaeda’s mild response. He’s sure Komaeda must be so into him right now, looking half-drowned to death and whining like a little kid. “It’s certainly not ideal.”

Hinata just barely manages to skirt around actually growling as he scrabbles at his tie, squeezing water out of the knot as he struggles to get it loose. “I’ll get you some hangers,” he says, heading for his closet, “And then we can-”

He shoots Komaeda a glance to find him staring, grey eyes wide above where he’s clutching his sodden jacket to his chest like it’s a shield. His gaze is so intense it makes Hinata come to an abrupt halt, bare feet slipping a little in the water he’s tracked across the wooden floor.

“What?”

“Nn,” Komaeda says, voice a little high pitched, “Nothing, Hinata-kun!”

Concern prickles in Hinata’s chest. He approaches Komaeda, because what he really needs right now is for Komaeda to have caught a chill, or something equally as horrible. “No,” he sighs, because he’s not in the mood for the Let’s Painstakingly Investigate What’s Wrong With Komaeda Now game, “Something’s wrong-”

Komaeda drops his jacket with a distinctly wet thunk , wrapping his arms around himself, fingers clutching at his wet t-shirt. Hinata knows for a fact that his eyes widen, which is only natural, because he’s confused as hell. Komaeda seems to be going through something, hugging himself as his eyes sparkle, but Hinata can’t for the life of him figure out what the fuck is going on.

So the usual, as far as interacting with Komaeda goes. “Are you… okay?”

“It’s only…” Komaeda says, breathily, and Hinata can almost feel his gaze as it trails down his torso, “Such a hopeful sight, is, ah…”

Hinata raises an eyebrow and glances down at himself for the first time. Only now does it occur to him that his shirt is white, completely drenched, and clinging to him like it’s been stuck down to his body with craft glue.

Tanaka’s right. Komaeda is a fucking demon. Shade. Whatever.

He manages to plaster an incredulous expression on his face even as he feels the blush crawl across it. “Are you kidding? ‘ Hopeful’? That’s what you’re gonna call your little- Yeah, he definitely gets redder, “-Wet t-shirt fetish?”

The fact that Komaeda’s t-shirt is also wet and thus clingy is something that Hinata is steadfastly refusing to notice or acknowledge.

“It’s not a fetish, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda protests, at least having the decency to look admonished, “It’s just- you’re very... modest , and- many wondered-”

“Don’t try and put this on the others,” Hinata says, arching an eyebrow, crossing his arms over his chest, half because he’s annoyed and half to deny Komaeda the view, “Or are you admitting to being a nasty little gossip, Komaeda? Am I being,” he almost rolls his eyes, “ Distracting, right now?”

“I would never gossip, Hinata-kun!” Komaeda declares, pressing a hand to his chest. “It’s not as though anyone would bother to take the time to-”

Hinata takes another step closer to him. Komaeda’s voice falters.

Slightly distracting!” he almost squeaks.

Huh. That’s kind of…

He slaps a hand against his forehead. “I’m the worst.” The statement comes out matter-of-fact, because it is a fact.

“Oh, no!” it comes out as a cry, and Komaeda ends up being the one to close the distance between them, his presence almost humid, too warm, too suffocating, “ No, Hinata-kun, you’re wonderful-”

“Komaeda,” Hinata cuts in, because he doesn’t want to hear about how wonderful he is right now, he is sick and tired of that dance, “Shut up.”

He gets a flash of wide eyes before he tilts Komaeda’s chin down and presses their lips together. Komaeda’s bony fingers come up to clutch at Hinata’s shoulders, locking them closer together, that peculiar heat curling off Komaeda still, ghosting across Hinata’s damp skin.

He can’t believe he’d spent all that time in the sim wishing he could shut Komaeda up, when it’d been this simple all along.

“Hey, Komaeda,” he says, when they pause to breathe, “How come you came here instead of your own room?”

Komaeda’s eyes go round. Hinata’s heart sinks as Komaeda flinches away, back towards the door. “Forgive me, Hinata-kun - I’ve obviously intruded where I’m not welcome, and was rude enough to not seek permission before-”

“No!” Hinata cuts in, because he was just teasing , “You’re not intruding, you’re - you’re welcome here, um, whenever-” Komaeda’s eyes somehow widen even further when Hinata grabs him by both wrists, as if this is somehow more surprising than Hinata kissing him. Hinata catches himself staring, dumbstruck, mentally slaps himself, forces himself to speak because he can feel this situation rapidly slipping out of his control.

“I just. You know. Wondered if you wanted to be here.”

“...I was enjoying being in your presence.” He looks pretty reluctant to admit it, Hinata thinks. “As though scum like me has any business-”

“I was enjoying being with you, too,” Hinata interrupts, before he can really get going.

“...Mmm.” Komaeda goes from completely astonished to kind of flushed in the space of about two seconds before he turns away.

Someone has to step up, Hinata realises, and it probably isn’t going to be Komaeda.

“Komaeda.”

Komaeda glances up again. Hinata swallows, steeling himself. “Let me be… uh, real with you.”

According to the headspace Hinata currently finds himself in, ‘being real’ consists of drawing Komaeda back into another make-out, because that just feels easier and more desirable than trying to articulate the swirling tangle of thoughts in his head. He thinks they probably should’ve dealt with the whole wet clothes situation while they had the chance, because now they’re kind of sticking together where they touch, but then he considers the possibility that they’ll probably be dealing with it pretty soon given the way things are panning out-

Right. He’s supposed to be stepping up.

“Is this… you know... happening?” Hinata murmurs against Komaeda’s lips. They have to get undressed anyway, and Hinata’s already getting hard, embarrassing excuse for a human being that he is. He wonders if Komaeda can feel him.

Komaeda’s quiet for a second. A sharp breath. “Admittedly. I find it hard to believe you’d want… this," Hinata makes himself ignore the little crack in his voice, "Given my… display that night.”

That’s guilt, tense and strung out in Komaeda’s voice, Hinata realises. Which, fair, Komaeda had been kind of a dick, but it wasn’t like either of them had really been bothering to manage the situation in any kind of productive way. It’s not like either of them have been managing much of anything, lately.

“I’m not mad at you, Komaeda,” he says, raising a definitely not trembling hand to skim Komaeda’s cheek, “And if you… want this… then…”

Silence washes over them. Hinata listens to the rain pelt down on the roof, drumming almost quick enough to keep up with his heartbeat - listens to Komaeda breathe.

Komaeda, eventually, lets out a hum. He nips at Hinata’s lower lip, just once, teasing - Hinata’s not especially proud of the way it makes him twitch in his underwear.

“I have been wanting to atone for my poor behaviour.”

Well, Hinata thinks. 

There’s a part of him that he has to force into submission. The part of him that’s all of a sudden really feeling the uncomfortable physical reality of such a long, nightmarish stretch of time exchanging hesitant touches with Komaeda without any proper relief, the part of him that whispers fuck yes let him atone give him what he wants. There’s another part of him that can’t bear the thought of being Komaeda’s atonement, of shame and obligation being what pushes Komaeda into this, and Hinata realises that's probably why he's avoided taking his chances up until now.

“I was actually thinking,” Hinata says, tugging lightly on Komaeda’s chain belt, winding it around slightly shaking fingers, “...Maybe I can do something nice for you?”

He’s depressingly prepared for the little start of surprise Komaeda gives against him. He can tell Komaeda isn’t ready for that suggestion, doesn’t let himself think too deeply about why that might be. “...But you’ve already done so much, Hinata-kun!” He’s overselling it, voice a little too high pitched.

A non-answer. Hinata thinks he’s getting better at not giving Komaeda the satisfaction of rolling with them. “...So is that a ‘no’ or what?” He pretends his hand isn’t shaking when he reaches up, tucking it under the hem of Komaeda’s shirt to rest against the rough scrape of denim, cool skin.

He feels more than hears Komaeda breathe.

“Whatever Hinata-kun would like to do with me,” Komaeda says, finally. There’s a note of uncertainty in his voice, lurking beneath the plain deference.

“I would really like,” Hinata says, “To touch you.” He cringes as he says it, knowing he’s terrible at this, knowing he’s light years away from anything even remotely resembling smooth.

Komaeda doesn’t seem bothered by it, exactly, but his hesitation is palpable enough to quell the heat mounting in Hinata’s stomach. He wonders if he’s pushed it too far, taken beyond that fine line of consideration that overwhelms Komaeda, makes him lash out.

“Would that be okay?” Hinata’s pretty sure this isn’t how you’re meant to go about seducing someone, but it’s not exactly like he has a plan B other than asking direct questions. He knows by now subtlety doesn’t exactly work with Komaeda, not for this. Whatever the hell it is.

“I.” The uncertainty is more pronounced now, a little waver audible in his voice. “Of course, Hinata-kun.” There’s a little uptick on the last syllable of Hinata’s name, almost like Komaeda’s asking a question.

Hinata gets the terrible, lurking feeling that he’s screwed it up again. “...You don’t seem very enthusiastic?”

“Oh!” Komaeda gasps, expression an even split between panic and surprise. “No, that’s not it at all! That someone like you would even think of dirtying your hands by touching me in even the most superficial of ways, let alone something like this… I’d never even dare to dream it.”

Deflecting again. At least Komaeda is as fucking abysmal at flirting as he is, Hinata thinks, fighting the rising urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Then what is it?”

“...You burden yourself with so many unnecessary chores for my sake,” Komaeda says. He hesitates, eyes flickering. “It makes me… uncertain.”

Hinata doesn't think that one is empty deflection. “Um,” he says, trying desperately to keep his voice steady, “The thing is. I don’t… really see it as a chore, actually. Like. At all.”

Komaeda looks bewildered. “I…” He swallows. He’s nervous, Hinata realises, head spinning a little. “I fear you finding me tedious.”

Hinata’s pretty sure his own expression is now mirroring Komaeda’s. “You are,” he says, voice halting a little between his words, “Probably the least tedious person I’ve ever met?”

He watches Komaeda bite the inside of his lip for a moment. “...That’s not what you said before.”

“Before?” The flicker of confusion is there and gone, chased away by the memory of a rocking boat. Hinata curses the memory, hates it for existing, hates the feeling that some part of himself ruined his life and left him to deal with the tattered mess he left behind. “Oh, no,” he says, forcing down the sudden crash of nausea, “ No, I… that wasn’t…”

That wasn’t me, he almost says, only he knows that would be a lie.

“I didn’t know you then.” He takes a deep breath. “I... was wrong about what you were.”

“How funny.” Komaeda’s expression indicates that he does not, in fact, find the situation funny. “It seems we both have that experience as far as each other is concerned.”

“Yeah,” Hinata says, “I guess we do.” He almost asks what Komaeda thinks he is now, but he isn’t sure he’s ready to hear the answer. “I don’t think you’re boring, Komaeda. If that’s what you’re worried about.”

Komaeda’s brow creases. “It’s challenging,” he admits, “Reconciling what I know about you.”

“...Would it be better for you?” Hinata asks, “Calling me… thinking of me as Kamukura Izuru?” Part of him wishes he was more horrified at how little the idea really bothers him.

The suggestion clearly surprises Komaeda. “...You would be comfortable with that?”

Hinata shrugs. “Is that how you think of me already?”

There’s a sharpness to Komaeda’s gaze. Hinata kind of feels like he’s being picked apart. “I don’t know what to think of you,” he says.

Hinata can’t help the rueful smile. “That makes two of us, I guess,” he says.

“I don’t understand your intentions ,” Komaeda says. He looks frustrated. It makes Hinata wonder how long it's been bothering him.

Hinata could laugh. Could. “I don’t understand yours .”

Komaeda blinks. “But I’ve always been very transparent about my intentions.”

Hinata just stares at him. “Uh,” he says, “You think so?”

Something like annoyance flickers in Komaeda’s eyes. “I communicate my intentions. Whether or not people choose to listen to me is another matter.”

“Komaeda,” Hinata says, very patiently, “Sometimes you… do things, or... word things in a way that’s… kind of impossible to understand.”

“You act as though your actions are easy to understand.”

Hinata opens his mouth. Closes it again. “I…” he barely manages, “What do you need help understanding?” His lack of game must be worse than he originally thought, because if slaving over a robot hand for a guy, subjecting him to a handful of awkward but really enthusiastic makeouts, and giving him fucking hair elastics on a failure of a maybe-date hasn’t gotten the point across, Hinata isn’t actually sure what will.

Spitting it out, maybe.

Komaeda waves said hand, joints whirring softly. “No matter what I do,” he says, “You still persist. In talking with me, spending time with me. Doing things like-” He curls his robotic fingers into a fist, “This. I’ve spent so much time thinking, trying to understand why, but no amount of thinking helps me understand why.”

His mouth feels dry, all of a sudden - he knows he’s heading into territory he might not be able to retreat from. “I guess,” he says, “At first. I liked being around you. And then I just wanted to understand you. And now…”

Komaeda’s sort of blank-faced. Hinata, not for the first time, thinks he doesn’t like seeing him neutral like that.

He sighs. “And now I guess it’s both? And I just… want to make things better. For once. Instead of…”

Instead of tearing things apart just so I can see how they work.

“But I guess if you want to know my intentions,” Hinata says, “As in, right now. In this moment. I guess…” Fuck it. “This is a date? Maybe?” A really terrible one, but...

Komaeda’s eyes widen. “Ah,” he says, “You’ll have to forgive me, Hinata-kun. I’ve never been on a date, so I didn’t realise what was happening.”

“I’ve never been on one either,” Hinata admits.

“You’ve never-?” Komaeda looks baffled. “But you…”

“I was kind of busy the last few years,” Hinata says, unable to keep his voice from turning dry, “Had other things going on. You know.”

“Why on earth would you waste such a first on me?” He sounds appalled.

Hinata has to try very hard not to visibly react to that. “...Because I wanted to?”

Komaeda stares at him for a long moment. “Are you ill, Hinata-kun?” He actually looks concerned. It might be cute, if it wasn’t so fundamentally horrible.

“What? No, I-” Hinata wishes he’d just kept kissing Komaeda. Hinata’s considering the idea of maybe never opening his stupid mouth again, for as long as he lives. “I don’t have to be sick to want to spend time with you.”

“It’s incomprehensible,” Komaeda insists, “When any of the others would definitely- ”

“If I wanted to ask any of the others out,” Hinata cuts in, “I would’ve asked them.”

“But this is nonsensical.” Komaeda raises his hands, threads his fingers into his hair, expression tortured. “Even if I was worth your spit, I don’t have any idea of what to do on a date. I ruined the date.”

“Well,” Hinata says, carefully, “I mean, maybe it’s not perfect, but it's not like I gave you a heads up or anything. If anything, I'm the one that's screwing it up.” As usual.

“But the rain,” Komaeda says, unhappily, “You’d never have to deal with such terrible luck with one of the others.”

Hinata is actually speechless for a second. “...That wasn’t actually your fault. You get that, right?”

“Of course it was!” He seems impatient, frantic as he obviously is - like he thinks Hinata’s playing dumb on purpose. “Just like the teacup! And countless other disasters!”

“Komaeda,” he says, voice level, “Maybe sometimes a cloud is just a cloud.”

“No,” Komaeda protests, shaking his head so hard his hair fans out a little.

“And a teacup is just a teacup,” Hinata presses, “And a cut is just a cut.”

“No.” His voice is barely above a whisper. Hinata’s throat tightens at how dark Komaeda’s eyes are, all of a sudden. His voice climbs, in pitch, in volume. “ No. You don’t understand, this can’t be happening -

Hinata swallows as he takes a step forward - he knows a derailing train when he sees it, knows Komaeda is about to go sailing right off whatever edge he’s currently hurtling towards. “Komaeda,” he says, trying to keep his voice steady, failing.

It’s only another second before he has Komaeda backed up against the door, all big terrified eyes and pale skin. “ Something terrible will happen.”

Hinata takes a breath. “What if it doesn’t?”

“It will .”

“You don’t know that-” Hinata reaches for him.

Don’t touch me.”

Komaeda raises his hands, throws them up between them like a shield, like he’s scared Hinata just laying his hands on him will hurt him. It’s probably exactly what he’s frightened of, Hinata realises - that Hinata just touching him will trigger some catastrophe. “It’s the only thing I know. You’re being careless about what you think are minor accidents because you can afford to be.” He lets out a shaky exhale. “ Everyone’s been taken from me.”

“I’m still here,” Hinata says, softly.

“For reasons I can’t comprehend,” Komaeda says, “I have explained this to you, Hinata-kun. They’re minor accidents until they stop being so minor. If harm were to come to you because… if I lost you, I-”

He lets out a sharp exhale, slaps a hand over his own mouth with a soft smack. It’s the kind of thing that probably should’ve hurt, but Hinata can tell Komaeda’s too worked up to even feel it, can tell it had cost Komaeda something to let that half-sentence leave his mouth.

They’re getting somewhere. Hinata just hates that it hurts so much.

“I’m not going anywhere, Komaeda,” he says, “You don’t have to be afraid.”

Komaeda’s avoiding eye contact, which is a terrible sign.“You shouldn’t make those kinds of promises, Hinata-kun.”

“Why not?”

“It’s foolish,” Komaeda says, “And more significantly, dangerous for you .”

“You said you didn’t want to push me away anymore.”

Komaeda’s eyes waver as he looks at Hinata, a frightened creature cowering in the underbrush.

Hinata takes a breath. “If that’s your intention… then I want to be closer to you, too, Komaeda.”

Komaeda’s quiet for a second, eyes taking on a peculiar gloss. Then he breathes out a laugh. There’s no humour to it - it sounds almost angry. Bitter, maybe, Hinata thinks. “There’s nothing left of me, Hinata-kun. There’s not even enough left of me to cast a shadow in your light.”

Hinata doesn’t know where the impulse comes from, but it seizes him rough and hard, like a hand forcing its way into his chest, squeezing his heart against his ribcage, muddling the beat. He closes his eyes, because there’s no other way he can steel himself for what he’s about to do.

He reaches his hands out, feels out Komaeda’s wrists with gentle hands.

He hears Komaeda suck in a breath, try to tug his hands out of Hinata’s grip. “I told you-”

“Komaeda. Please.”

Another breath. The apprehension is so thick Hinata almost chokes on it. The tension of Komaeda trying to rip himself out of Hinata’s grip unwinds, and Hinata’s left standing with his eyes closed, hands curled about Komaeda’s wrists. He guides Komaeda’s hands up so that his fingers slip into his hair. The robotic fingers are cold against his scalp, but Hinata doesn’t especially mind - he has more confronting things to consider.

“What-?” Komaeda sounds too taken aback to be panicked anymore. Good, Hinata thinks - maybe. He hopes.

“Can you feel them?”

It takes Komaeda a moment to answer. “...Feel what?” At some point, Hinata can’t remember when, they’ve both started whispering.

“You must be able to feel them.” Hinata doesn’t touch them himself often, tries to avoid it as much as he can, but he’s done it enough to know they’re obvious, buried under his hair.

Fingers move against his scalp. He’s sure that Komaeda’s making a mess of his hair, tentative as the touch is, but it’s nothing to Hinata, not now.

Eyes closed, his hearing is sharpened. He listens to Komaeda swallow, a low, wet sound.

Time feels slow around them, viscous and tangible, settling in Hinata’s lungs.

“...Ah.” Hinata can hear the struggle in Komaeda’s voice, how small it sounds.

There it is. Hinata thinks he’d feel less vulnerable naked in front of Komaeda.

“No one else has touched them,” Hinata says, “Since… since it happened. Only you.”

A shaky breath. Komaeda says nothing.

“Sometimes I feel like there's nothing left of me, too,” Hinata says, “Just a bunch of scars and… and pieces of something that used to be a real person.”

Part of him is afraid of what he’ll see when he opens his eyes. He makes himself do it, because he knows he can’t stand here with his eyes shut and block out the world forever, much as some part of him wants to. Komaeda is stark pale, eyelashes dewy with tears. Still, his fingers trace abstract shapes across Hinata’s scars, even as they stare at each other. Komaeda doesn’t flinch away from the scars, and that’s kind of funny in an awful, sickening way, when he can’t even bear to touch them himself.

“I don’t understand ,” Komaeda whispers.

“Me neither,” Hinata says, “But maybe that’s not important.” He knows his fingers are digging into Komaeda’s wrists - knows that they’re converging, that maybe they’ve been converging this whole time, that eventually, they have to meet, or ricochet off one another. He’d told Tsumiki that the only choice was to go forward at the end. He hadn’t been able to bear the idea of telling her the truth, that there’s always another possibility.

They can always fall apart.

“Maybe I’m,” his voice is starting to tremble, now, because he knows he’s fretted with the loose link in the chain of his composure too much, and if it all comes crashing down around him, so be it, “Sick and tired , of trying to understand everything, or- or pretending like I do. Maybe I’m sick and tired of going to sleep and wondering if tomorrow I’m going to wake up and find out that it wasn’t real again.”

The only thing that’s keeping him from crumbling entirely is the feeling of Komaeda’s fingers, stroking at his scalp.

“Maybe I’m sick ,” the sob rips through his chest, making his breath stutter, “And fucking tired, of knowing that so many people have tried to play god with my head, and knowing that I let them do it, and knowing that I have fucking nothing to show for it, that nobody wanted me before and nobody needs me now, and that the only time I really mattered to anybody was when I-”

He pulls at Komaeda’s hands, forcing them flat against his scalp. Part of him thinks how nice it would be, if Komaeda were to break his neck. How he’d welcome it, the only real way he’ll ever be able to block any of it out properly. Komaeda, still, doesn’t seem to have anything to give to Hinata in the way of words - just teary eyes and an almost-frown, like Hinata’s a puzzle he can’t make sense of. He certainly feels like it, pieces of a jigsaw puzzle kicked across the floor.

“Sometimes part of me wishes I could go back,” Hinata tells him, “And just be… ordinary, again.”

Komaeda sucks in a breath. There’s something on his face - close to panic, Hinata thinks, or maybe pain, like Hinata’s reached out and slapped him. It looks like he’s going to say something, for a moment, but the little sound in the back of his throat fizzles out, and Hinata’s left with the silence again.

“But I can’t,” he says, “I made a choice. And maybe I have to live with things the way they are, or maybe it’s just- programming. Deprogramming. Forever. Maybe I’m still in a lab, or asleep in a pod on an island, or… wherever I am. And maybe I wake up tomorrow and none of it was real. Or I remember another part of myself someone forced me to forget.” When he swallows it feels like he’s forcing a razor blade down his throat. “And it all changes again.”

The last time Komaeda was silent for this long, Hinata thinks, he’d been dead.

“But you’re real,” Hinata keeps going, because he has to, now, even if he’s really not sure of what he’s even saying, “Or at least… you feel real to me. And you make me feel…”

Fucked up, are the words that want to come out of his mouth, but he knows in his battered heart he could never make Komaeda understand that he doesn’t mean it in a bad way.

“You talk so much about bad luck and accidents and… and being a catastrophe. So if you’re a catastrophe,” Hinata says, “And I was never meant to exist… what if we’re both mistakes, Komaeda?”

He hisses a little when Komaeda, expression still frozen, curls his fingers into Hinata’s hair, pulling hard enough to hurt. It’s not enough to make him stop. Not nearly enough.

“What if you were right when you said we’re the same?” he whispers.

“Stop.” The first word Komaeda gives him. “Stop it, Hinata-kun.” His fingers tug again. It makes Hinata’s eyelashes flutter.

“Why?” He’s pushing Komaeda to breaking point. He knows it. He just doesn’t know if he can stop.

“Because this is nonsense.” His voice is rough with desperation, high with pleading. “It’s crazy .”

The fact that it’s Komaeda saying that to him makes him want to laugh. Scream, maybe.

“And you’re wrong,” Komaeda says. His voice comes out croaky, like he hasn’t spoken in years and his throat muscles are on their way to petrifying.

“About what?”

“About… about no one needing you.”

The words cut him. Hinata knows he hadn’t meant it that way, but Komaeda may as well have reached out and torn his chest apart, outwards from the centre, like he's opening a book.

“Komaeda,” he says around a tired laugh. “What are you doing to me?”

“Damaging you.” He’s deathly serious about it, eyes dark, voice grim. “I’m poison, why can’t you see -”

“You’re terrified,” Hinata cuts in.

“Yes!” A note of frustration cuts splinters in his voice, makes it crack a little. “It seems you’ve finally realised!”

“Do I scare you, Komaeda?” It’s an awful, sickening thing to think about. Komaeda shrinks back against the door. Hinata thinks again about how hard he’s pushing. Part of him is screaming for him to stop, that he’s going to fuck this entire thing up, maybe in a way he won’t be able to fix. That all he’s going to do is shove Komaeda so hard he ends up going over the edge of whatever misguided, broken mechanism inside of him that keeps him so fixated on Hinata, so faithful in circling back to him no matter how hard Hinata tries to push him away.

Maybe it’s better that way. Maybe it’s better if Komaeda lets himself accept the truth. Maybe it’s better if Komaeda walks away.

Komaeda swallows. Hard. Wets his lips with an anxious tongue.

“It’s frightening to love something.”

There’s a dizzying moment where Hinata’s pretty sure he’s going to fall. He knows, rationally, that he’ll hit the floor at some point, but part of him thinks once he falls he won’t stop, that whatever black abyss is trying to worm its way inside of him is too eager to swallow him whole.

“God.” It’s completely hollowed out. “How can you say that?

“If you didn’t want to hear it,” Komaeda sounds resentful - angry, maybe, “Then you shouldn’t have forced me to say it, Hinata-kun.”

He lets out a shaky breath. “How could you possibly…”

“How can you ask me that,” Komaeda says, “When everyone loves you?”

Hinata barks out a tired laugh. “The worthless reserve course student?”

Komaeda’s eyes flash. “No one sees you that way.”

“Yeah.” Hinata tilts his head. “Except you .”

“I don’t,” Komaeda says, voice sinking low, thick with something that sounds like guilt. He lets out a shaky breath, and the next time he speaks, his voice is impossibly small. “I tried to.”

“Didn’t seem like you needed to try very hard at all.”

“Have you decided you want to accept all the deflections that you so graciously cut through, Hinata-kun?” Komaeda asks, “Because if you would like to revert back to that fiction and pretend those conversations didn’t happen, I wouldn’t object. I would understand.

“We don’t get to hit rewind on this,” Hinata almost growls.

“Why not?” Hinata hates the complacency on his face.

“Because if that was a thing that I could do,” Hinata says, trying and failing to keep the snap of anger from leaking into his voice, “I would’ve done it by now.”

“I could make it,” Komaeda whispers, “So easy for you, Hinata-kun. All you have to do is ask.”

“Do you really expect me to buy that?” Hinata demands, “After what we just woke up from? After how hard I tried to get you to leave me the fuck alone?”

Komaeda presses his lips together in a thin line. Hinata can tell he hadn’t been expecting a counter.

“Sorry, Komaeda,” he says, “But that’s bullshit, and you know it.”

Komaeda has the grace to at least look admonished. “Well. I’ve never pretended to be anything but a wretched, selfish creature, Hinata-kun,” he trills. He tilts his head back against the door, smirking a little, exposing his pale throat in doing so.

He claws himself back into focus. “So why are you trying this now?”

“Because it’s better that you’re not near me,” Komaeda says, “I have explained this to you. All I am is a dead end.”

“Then walk away !” Hinata cries, feeling like he’s boiling over, like he’s powerless to stop it, “You talk so much shit about being unworthy of being in my presence and how it’s better I’m not around you - what’s stopping you, Komaeda? I’ve never asked you to stay, or… or tried to make you stay. If you don’t want to be around me, then don’t.”

“Of course I want to be around you,” Komaeda says, quietly. There’s a steadiness to his voice, despite its softness

“This may sound really fucking wild to you,” Hinata says, “But I want to be around you, too.”

“You’re not listening to me-”

“I am listening,” Hinata says, and then, softer, “And I’m saying it’s worth the risk.”

The frankness seems to be enough to knock Komaeda off course for a second, arching back from Hinata, eyes wide. Then his expression sharpens. “What?” He breathes out a laugh, soft, desperate. “What is it that you could possibly want from me, then, Hinata-kun? What is it that you think I can give you, that’s worth the risk? What is it that makes me so-” he almost spits the word, “ Special?”

“No one’s ever made me feel the way you make me feel,” Hinata says.

“So disgusted ?” Komaeda coos, craning his head back with a smirk.

“Stop doing that,” Hinata snaps, “Stop throwing that kind of stuff at me-”

“These are things you yourself have said to me-”

“I didn’t understand you-”

“You don’t understand me now -”

“Then let me try!” His own voice comes out loud enough to startle him - he realises that they’ve both been shouting, wonders if their voices are carrying. His voice cracks a little, as he tries to force it quieter. “That’s all I want, Komaeda. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“What a wonderful, devastatingly hopeful thought!” His lashes are dewy again, Hinata realises. “Being such a novelty to you!”

“...You’re angry at me,” Hinata observes. Figures - he could’ve worded that better.

“I am ecstatic,” breathes Komaeda, a giggle rippling through his voice. It’s a little eerie. “Even if you’re obviously lying. Or maybe you aren’t, but this will only be temporary.”

Frustration sparks to life, burning low in Hinata’s veins. “Yeah, well, you don’t get to decide that.”

“I know that novelty will only carry me so far,” Komaeda coos, the smile that winds across his face raw in its honesty and sharp enough to hurt.

“You’re not just a fucking novelty!” Hinata snaps. He’d back Komaeda up against the door again, only he’s already shoved up against it as far as he can go. “You mean something! Why can’t you just let yourself?!”

“Because you’re asking something impossible of me!” Komaeda’s almost shouting, again. It’s still so strange to hear.

“What?” Hinata frowns as he glances up at Komaeda. “ What’s impossible?”

Komaeda takes a breath, the harsh light in his eyes wavering. He gazes beyond Hinata for a moment, opens his mouth like he’s about to say something. Closes it again. Hinata almost tells him not worry about it, because just looking at Komaeda like this is making anxiety flare up in his own chest.

Then Komaeda opens his mouth and says in a soft, hesitant voice, “I don’t know how to mean something.”

Hinata doesn’t quite know what to say to that. “...It’s not,” he says, “A skill. Or a thing you do. You just… exist.”

Komaeda laughs. It’s a dead sounding thing. “Nothing good has ever come from me ‘just existing’, Hinata-kun.”

“You’re wrong.” He forces his voice steady.

Komaeda laughs again, reedier this time, craning his head back so that it thunks gently against the door. “Stop it.”

“You’re wrong,” Hinata presses.

“This is just you giving people what they need, Hinata-kun.” Komaeda keeps staring up at the ceiling. He almost sounds bored , Hinata thinks at first, but when he speaks again, he realises the flatness to his voice is nothing more than artificial detachment. “I appreciate the fiction of meaningfulness you’re trying to create for me, but I’m aware that it’s nothing more than fiction, so you should save yourself the trouble.”

“Maybe not everything is about you ,” Hinata snaps. “Maybe I’m trying to give myself what I need.”

Silence winds around them for a second. Slowly, Komaeda lowers his head, eyes bright and wavering like sunlight rippling through water. “And what is that, Hinata-kun?”

You, Hinata wants to spit out, it’s always been you , when I woke up to your stupid face on that beach, when I knew there was no chance for us, when I knew there was .

“I actually felt normal today. With you,” he says instead, voice raspy, exhausted, feeling like his throat is creaking with every sound, “And now we…” He swallows. It does nothing to soothe the burning feeling. “I just want something to feel fucking normal. For once. And I think that you...”

There it is again - that expression, like Hinata’s struck him across the face, eyes tortured, lips parted like he wants to speak. Hinata doesn’t know what it is, but he thinks it probably isn’t a positive emotion.

He lets out a weak laugh, lungs almost groaning as it leaves him. “That must sound so fucking stupid to you,” he says, “Wanting to be just… some ordinary trash . After… after everything .”

Komaeda just keeps staring at him. Hinata feels a surge of self-loathing - of course Komaeda’s appalled at him, it’s not like Komaeda hasn’t been enthusiastic in letting Hinata know exactly how he feels about the idea of being ordinary.

The laugh that escapes Hinata sounds more like a growl, stuck in the back of his throat. “Honestly?” he says, “I don’t know why you bother with me.”

Komaeda, still, is silent. For a dizzying, frightening second Hinata feels terror rising in his gut, because maybe this isn’t real, maybe this is just another simulation, and Komaeda is glitching out, frozen in place. The wheezing exhale Komaeda lets out derails his anxiety, and he’s even angrier at himself, for letting himself be irrational enough to even entertain a fear like that.

Still, Komaeda says nothing, not even when his laughter tapers away. Hinata feels his face burning, not out of embarrassment this time, but something closer to shame, that he’d ever thought he could make this work.

“You...” He smiles, even as his eyes well up with tears, because it’s the only thing he can manage. “You can’t even say anything.” A tear breaks free, tickles him enough to make him shiver as it runs down his cheek. “Not that I blame-”

He cuts off with a sharp breath when Komaeda wrenches him forward. Hinata only gets a flash of dark, desperate eyes before Komaeda surges up against him, doesn’t kiss him so much as he bites him, teeth and desperation and something frantic, something that feels mindless, almost dark.

“How could you ever doubt that you’re real ,” Komaeda says, voice a frantic, almost panicked murmur between harsh breaths, “When-”

Hinata hisses when Komaeda digs his fingers into his shoulders where Hinata’s shirt has slipped down. It takes a second for the static of initial contact fade and for the pain to set in, burning and sharp, and Hinata realises Komaeda must have used his robot hand to claw at him.

“Komaeda-”

“That I’m alive,” Komaeda’s voice hitches - Hinata feels him tremble, feels the damp stain of foreign tears pressed up against cheek, mingling with his own, “Is because of-”

Komaeda -”

“That the only reason I’m anything is because of-” His words stutter to a halt with a desperate, shaky inhale, and judging from the way he’s clinging to Hinata with bruising fingers, Hinata’s sure he’s struggling to stand, let alone keep speaking.

“Please,” Hinata rasps out, dizzy again as he feels himself begin to unravel right into Komaeda, words tumbling from his lips before he can even really process them, “Please, I need you-”

Hinata-kun- ” It comes out as a whimper. Hinata feels his head spin harder, feels Komaeda’s fingers digging into his shoulder blade again, “ Don’t -”

“Harder,” Hinata almost begs, voice gravel in his own ears, “Make me feel-”

It doesn’t feel normal, exactly, standing like this, Komaeda’s fingers tearing at Hinata’s skin, shaking so hard with the effort not to completely lose himself to his tears that he can’t even kiss Komaeda properly, but them clinging to each other like this makes something click into place in a part of himself he doesn’t even really comprehend.

Komaeda jerks a shaky exhale out of him when he reaches out with his mismatched hands and grabs Hinata by his belt loops, guiding him forward until Hinata’s pressed up against him, hip bones digging into hip bones. The situation’s gotten to both of them, clearly - Hinata has to bite his lip around a groan when he grinds up against Komaeda, pushing him back into the door.

“Sorry,” he breathes, even as he presses his mouth to Komaeda’s again.

“Why?” Komaeda says back, compliant enough to tilt his head back when Hinata trails his lips down his jawline.

“I don’t know,” Hinata says, pausing in between kisses, “I’m being too eager?”

“This is eager?”

Hinata stiffens. “Don’t provoke me.” He doesn’t exactly mean for it to sound like a warning.

“Or what?”

“Komaeda.”

Komaeda scratches him again, sharp fingertips raking over oozing blood. Hinata’s beyond it.

It’s obscene, probably, the way a dark little thrill pulses in his belly when he pins Komaeda up against the door by his thin shoulders and sinks his teeth into the soft skin of his throat. Komaeda lets out a broken little gasp, sharp against Hinata’s ears, so he closes his eyes and digs his teeth in again, shaking with nerves and adrenaline even as he bites a messy path down to Komaeda’s sharp collarbone.

“I need you,” he breathes out, soothing Komaeda’s abused skin with his lips for a moment, “So,” Komaeda lets out a pathetic, hitching little noise when Hinata bites his collarbone, hard, Bad -”

Komaeda’s answering whimper gets swallowed up by a deep, shaky exhale, and Hinata has to force himself to disengage from the part of him that needs to keep biting and scratching at Komaeda, needs to keep sinking lower and lower, dirtying his hands until he finds the part of Komaeda that’s most vulnerable. He straightens up so he can get a look at Komaeda’s face, finds him leaning back against the door with his eyes closed, lips parted as he breathes.

“...Is that okay?” Dread flickers in his belly, thick enough to keep his words from coming out as anything above a shaky whisper - he needs it to be okay, as much as he needs Komaeda-

Komaeda opens his eyes, a slow, almost cautious flicker of his pale lashes. His eyes are still wet, but darker, now, big and fathomless enough that staring directly into them makes Hinata’s head spin.

“I…” It looks painful for Komaeda to swallow, Hinata thinks. A tear strays when he gives a rapid blink. He lets out another whimper, and Hinata takes in a breath, skimming the back of his hand across Komaeda’s cheek, wiping the stray tear away.

Finally, Komaeda nods, and for such a would-be innocuous gesture, it feels like Komaeda’s shoved his hand right into Hinata’s chest, pressing down on his heart with enough force to wring all the blood from it it.

“Okay,” Hinata says, as much for himself as for Komaeda, voice feeling like broken shards of porcelain stuck in his throat, “Okay.”

He’s gentler, this time, when he moves forward, pressing their lips together and leaning all the way back into him. He’d half-expected Komaeda’s acceptance to send him into a deeper frenzy, but he's like dry wood, all but consumed, content to splinter and crack in showers of ember until he's nothing but steady flame, bright and tall enough to etch scorch marks into the ceiling. His hands are shaking as he sets them about Komaeda’s hips, but it feels good to slow it down, he thinks - it makes sense.

Komaeda’s still shaking under his touch. Hinata slips one hand up under his shirt to rub soothing touches into his hip, shifting the other one up to press up against Komaeda’s zipper. He has the delirious thought that he might actually be burning up, has to be, because Komaeda feels so cool beneath his hands.

“Ah…”

“Can I…?”

“You don’t have to ask for permission for every little thing, Hinata-kun.” Komaeda sounds amused. Hinata doesn’t find it especially funny, but he’s glad that Komaeda’s obviously a little more present in the moment.

“Well, I want to,” Hinata insists, pressing his lips to Komaeda’s jaw, “And I’m going to keep doing it. So you’d better get used to it.”

Komaeda hums. “You’re always so kind to me.” He says it like it’s a novelty, even if he’s made the same observation what feels like a thousand times.

Someone has to be,” Hinata says, dropping that line of conversation in favour of focusing on getting Komaeda’s jeans off. His attempt to do it one handed fails, and he deeply regrets that he has to pull back from Komaeda a little, eyes narrowing as he fidgets with the button.

“I can-”

“I’ve got it,” Hinata insists. It feels like it takes ten years, and every second is excruciating, knowing that Komaeda is watching. He curses his stupid, nervous hands as he manages to unsnap Komaeda’s button, finally. Victory.

“You’re up,” he blurts as he finishes dragging the zip down, eager to move on from that little hiccup.

The jeans are still damp, clinging to Komaeda’s thighs a little as he peels them off. Hinata’s stomach sinks at the return of pink gouges, something he’d managed to forget about in all the chaos. He breathes out a sigh, pressing hand against the concave of Komaeda’s stomach, palm brushing up against the elastic of his underwear.

Hinata blinks. Something isn’t right. Something else.

“Are these dry?”

“Always!” is Komaeda’s cheery response.

Hinata almost asks. Almost . He kisses him instead, openmouthed, shooting for insistent, probably ending up somewhere closer to rhythmless and unnecessarily drooly. Komaeda doesn’t seem to mind, though, a tiny, contented noise escaping his throat. The lack of rhythm isn’t so bad, Hinata guesses. There’s something about the languid pace that calms him down, despite the rapid fire beat of his heart, makes him feel like he’s melting into Komaeda’s body even as he slips a hand into Komaeda’s hair. Komaeda makes that contented noise again when Hinata rubs gentle circles into his scalp.

“This?” He taps Komaeda’s thigh with his other hand. “This is bad. No more of this. Okay?”

Komaeda glances down. “...I didn’t do that to myself .” He says it like he’s astonished Hinata would even contemplate the prospect, like he hasn’t both deliberately sawed a limb off and gutted himself in the time Hinata’s technically known him.

Hinata squints at him.

Komaeda leans back, gaze turning plaintive. “I didn’t! I swear, Hinata-kun!”

“Okay. Sure. So enlighten me as to how you ended up with these?”

“Well.” Komaeda tilts his head. “There was a serial killer.”

“A serial killer.” His first instinct is to be incredulous, even with his hand pretty much shoved down Komaeda’s underwear - but this is Komaeda he’s talking to, for whom being tossed into the garbage immediately prior to winning the lottery was actually relatively a tame occurrence. “And he went for your thighs?” It’s totally absurd. Hinata can probably relate.

“She,” Komaeda corrects, “I think it was a warning.” He sounds way too nonchalant. “At least, I hope it was. What a disappointing attempt at a fatal blow that would’ve been. She missed the femoral arteries and everything.

“Uh,” Hinata says, faintly, “Yeah. That. Sure is disappointing.”

He can tell this conversation is heading exactly nowhere. He swallows whatever Komaeda’s about to say next with a firm, insistent mouth, nipping at his lower lip with sharp teeth as extra incentive to shut up, please. Komaeda seems content to forget about serial killers and the prospect of being murdered for the moment, slinging his arms around Hinata’s waist and opening up for him with a little sigh. Komaeda is way less difficult when he’s being made out with. Hinata once again bitterly laments his appalling lack of Komaeda Management Strategies in the Program.

Eventually he realises Komaeda is trying to push him backwards.

“...On the desk?” Hinata blurts, with a little jolt of surprise.

“Oh. No?” Komaeda sounds equally surprised. “...Is that where you want to do it?”

“I mean,” Hinata says, because like he knows what he’s doing, anyway, “The desk is... fine, I guess-” The desk, upon further reflection, is probably not fine, because there’s paper and old plastic bottles and all assorted kinds of junk on there, and wow, has he always been so messy? Komaeda seems like the kind of person who hates mess.

“But if you’d be more comfortable in another place...”

“Maybe," Hinata says, “The bed would be better?” Maybe? He can all too easily envision this devolving into a twenty minute discussion concerning the pros and cons of every available surface in Hinata’s room, and he’s just not in the mood. He thanks his lucky stars that he’d managed to find the energy to change his sheets in the morning. He’s pretty sure it’s his only saving grace, given that the bed is a tangled mess of evidence betraying how restless and chaotic his sleep has been lately. He’s kind of embarrassed - he’d bet an entire fistful of Jabba Pearls that Komaeda diligently makes his bed every single morning. Komaeda probably thinks he’s gross.

He almost wishes they were doing this in Komaeda’s room, paint smell and all.

“Understood.” Komaeda smiles at him. It’s different to what Hinata’s used to, between the rising colour on his cheeks and slight darkness to his eyes, more like the Komaeda who is sometimes unkind enough to insert himself into Hinata’s dreams and leave him waking up to a load of dirty laundry. “Then can I continue, Hinata-kun?” Hinata’s about to ask what he means, but then Komaeda grabs the hem of his now-drying t-shirt, and-

“Uh,” is the only response Hinata is capable of giving. His brain jams, watching Komaeda peel his shirt off, thin fabric creeping up over the flat of his stomach and the sharp relief of his ribcage, slow enough to be torturous. Hinata’s so used to forcing himself not to stare that he almost looks away, has to catch himself before he does, because he can’t let himself affirm Komaeda’s beliefs. Not when he’s made it this far.

So he stares. It’s hard, on some level, to see Komaeda exposed like this, painful, almost. When he used to think about Komaeda in the sim, they’d been gentler thoughts, like Komaeda would be soft under his hands, even after everything had gone wrong. He doesn’t entertain those kinds of thoughts anymore, not since he’d taken the first steps to hover over Komaeda’s pod and seen him, really seen him, a gaunt, pale thing under fluorescent lights, withering away at the end of a feeding tube. Semi regular meals and exposure to sunlight have done him some good, but if Hinata lets himself linger on it for too long, he always ends up struck by how frail Komaeda looks, like his only defence are his sharp edges, skin pulled taut over sharp ribs and shoulders and clavicles. Hinata has the dizzy thought that Komaeda might hurt to touch, now, like if he wasn’t careful about it he’d wound himself on Komaeda’s pronounced edges.

Hinata still wants to touch him - maybe needs to touch him, if the way his hands twitch at his sides just looking at him is any indication. He wants to lay his hands across Komaeda’s ribs, dig his fingers into his hip bones hard enough to bruise, press his lips to the sharp edge of his cheek, and if Komaeda were to wound him, he doesn’t think he’d mind at all.

“You’re disgusted,” Komaeda observes. He makes no effort to cover himself, even as he says it, like he’d been expecting Hinata to be repulsed, like he welcomes it.

“No,” Hinata’s says, softly, “I’m not.” He’d looked so different, in his swimsuit, what feels like a million years ago. It’s just, it’s easier to hold onto delusions of Komaeda being at least somewhat okay when Hinata isn’t being confronted with the knowledge that he could physically count all of Komaeda’s ribs if he wanted to. Easier not to focus on the air of neglect Komaeda carries, whittled down by dark years and the loneliness that Hinata knows about but hates to think of.

He lets out a deep exhale, dredged all the way from the bottom of his lungs. He’s accepted the reality that his hands are probably going to shake the entire time, reaching out to set them on Komaeda’s thin shoulders. Despite the colour dusted across his cheeks, Komaeda’s skin still feels peculiar and cold beneath his hands. Innocuous as the touch is, it makes Hinata’s heart get stuck in his throat.

It’s a struggle to speak. “You look. Different . Is all.”

“I suppose I must.” He shrugs. “I’ve always been physically repulsive, but it was probably easier to look at me the way I was before.” His smile is thin. “I look very… chewed up and spat out, now.”

“You’re not physically repulsive,” Hinata says, meaning it, for the scant amount of good it will do as far as changing Komaeda’s mind goes. Then he decides to double down on it, because while he’s here, and they’re both swiftly heading towards nakedness, and all. “And...I always thought you were nice to look at.”

Komaeda lets out a soft laugh. “You don’t have to lie to protect my self esteem, Hinata-kun.”

“I’m not,” Hinata insists.

Komaeda looks unconvinced. Hinata sighs, pressing the back of his hand to his slightly sweaty forehead. “Like.” He’s a mess, he thinks, as he gestures to the situation that is currently, ostentatiously transpiring in his jeans. “Come on.”

“...A compelling argument, yes,” is Komaeda’s eventual response, eyes darkening a little.

Hinata wants to laugh, because they’re both beyond help. He doesn’t, but he must smirk, or something, because Komaeda tilts his head, looking faintly bemused, and asks, “What’s funny?”

You are,” Hinata tells him.

Me ?” His eyes are wide with astonishment.

Hinata shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it,” he says, “Just-” He clears his throat. “Should we maybe…?” He waves a hand in the general direction of the bed.

That makes it feel real - realer still when Komaeda, after hesitation plays out across his face, holds his hand out for Hinata. Hinata takes it, linking his own fingers in with the cold, crowding up against him until they’re close enough to kiss. Somehow, even with neither of them paying attention, they manage to make it to the bed without tripping or falling. Hinata gets as far as getting a knee on the mattress before he makes the mistake of looking down at Komaeda, weight resting on his elbows with his back arched, and he realises he’s way overdressed.

“Oh,” he says, numbly, “Give me a second... I should probably-”

Komaeda’s eyebrows shoot up when Hinata reaches up to undo his first button. There’s a prickle of self consciousness, and then Hinata has to look down and pretend he’s really struggling with getting his shirt undone, and can’t possibly look at Komaeda looking at him, even if he wanted to. He chances a glance upwards when he has his shirt shrugged off, finds Komaeda there with his eyebrows still raised, shoulders tense like he’s bracing for something.

“It’s not that exciting,” Hinata grumbles, knowing for a fact that he’s some blinding shade of red as he skims his fingers across the waistband of his jeans.

Isn’t it,” is Komaeda’s polite, very restrained response. Hinata can tell he’s trying to play it cool, too, which is a small comfort. “Would you like me to look away?” The thought is clearly distressing for him, judging from the wounded expression he’s doing a terrible job of concealing.

Hinata thinks about it for a second. “No,” he says, trying very hard to sound extremely cool and composed and like he’s totally unflustered by Komaeda staring at him as he strips down. He is staring, Hinata thinks, eyes round and dark (oh god) as they peer at him from beneath his drying bangs. Something blows in his chest - he’s not annoyed, exactly, just kind of overwhelmed. “Is it really that hopeful?” he asks, remembering Komaeda’s florid response to his wet shirt.

“Don’t tease, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda says, and Hinata wonders what he’s actually being chided for. Keyed up as he is, he just barely manages to avoid rolling his eyes as he tugs his zipper down (Komaeda is still Komaeda, he figures - his finer qualities, and the more annoying ones). It’s not like he was trying to make a big production of getting (mostly) naked anyway, he reasons as he peels his jeans down over his hips.

Komaeda bites his lip. Hinata almost misses the soft noise Komaeda lets out, somewhere deep in his throat. He feels his cock stiffen, and is suddenly struck by an intense need to rip his jeans off the rest of the way and have them anywhere but physically on him, self consciousness be damned. He barely even registers the thud as they hit the floor, already busying himself in climbing up onto the bed. He settles himself over Komaeda’s lap and trying to pretend his heart isn’t beating hard enough to shatter his rib cage with the way Komaeda is looking at him.

It’s hard not to buckle under how suffocating it feels all of a sudden, straddling Komaeda in his underwear like this, the closest they’ve gotten to anything.

“Pink,” is Komaeda’s cogent observation, after a moment of silence. He reaches out with a hand to touch Hinata’s underwear, traces a few of the flowers with his fingertips. Hinata can tell the touch isn’t meant to be sexy, but having Komaeda’s hands on him right there makes something in his brain snap.

“Yeah?” he croaks, hoping he sounds vaguely intelligible, “What about it?”

“...It isn’t what I pictured,” Komaeda admits.

Hinata almost groans - Komaeda is way too casual about this shit. “What did you picture?”

“Mm.” Hinata almost leaps out of his skin when Komaeda shifts his hand, stroking light, teasing fingertips over Hinata’s hard on, which is doing its best to strain right out of his underwear. “This, mostly.”

Hinata’s brain snaps again. “Oh,” he says, voice rough, all of a sudden, “Yeah?”

“Mmmhmm.” Komaeda’s lashes look lighter, more fragile, against how dark his eyes suddenly are.

“That’s,” Hinata says, helplessly.

“You know, Hinata-kun.” Hinata’s spine pulls taut like a bow when Komaeda flattens his palm out, cool touch stroking over his abs and pulling a little shiver out of him. “You're not the only one who looks different.”

Hinata can’t help but snort, even as his skin prickles all over. “You think you’ve been subtle about that?”

“Do you think I was trying to be subtle?” Komaeda counters.

Hinata tries very hard to look unimpressed. “What were you trying to do?”

The smile Komaeda gives him is more smirk than anything else. He doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t have to, when he trails his hand down, just barely skimming his touch over Hinata’s cock, making Hinata’s skin prickle and his heart thump. Komaeda drops his hand, gaze bordering on droll as he glances back up at Hinata.

Hinata takes a breath.

“So,” he says, unable to keep himself from glancing off to the side for a second, because he feels desperately silly all of a sudden, “I’m… not exactly, you know… great. At this.”

Komaeda looks surprised by this assertion. “Why do you say that?”

Hinata pauses, taken aback. Then breathes out a helpless laugh through his nose. “I have no idea what I’m doing, Komaeda. Can’t you tell?”

Komaeda tilts his head. “It’s not as though we’ve done much.

Hinata rakes a hand through his hair. “Yeah, that’s... kinda the point I was trying to make.”

“You over-complicate things.”

Hinata has to laugh. “I over-complicate things?”

Komaeda settles back on his elbows. Looks up at Hinata through his lashes. “I’m much easier than you seem to think I am, Hinata-kun.”

Hinata figures if he swallows as hard as he possibly can, it might buy him enough time to think of an appropriate response to that. It doesn’t. “Oh,” is the only, strangled sound he can manage.

“So you see,” Komaeda says, mildly, “There’s really no need to be so worried.”

Hinata appreciates Komaeda making the effort to comfort him - he really does. “Oh, we.” Hinata clears his throat as another item of concern decides to grace him. “Ah. Probably lube would be good, right?” Probably.

Komaeda gives a light shrug. Right, Hinata thinks - he's about to (touch wood) get off with the guy who thinks anaesthetic is unnecessary for surgery. Of course he's ambivalent. “Not if it’s a bother.”

Hinata pauses. "Isn’t it the whole point of lube to make things less… bothersome?”

“I don’t need it,” Komaeda assures him.

“Well,” Hinata says, fighting what feels like a losing battle to remain calm, “I think I’d be more comfortable with it.” Komaeda goes way too hard for the physical and emotional abuse angle for him to be in a place where he can trust honest feedback on that just yet.

“Then by all means,” Komaeda says, looking utterly unbothered either way.

Reluctant as he is to take his hands off Komaeda, he crawls over to his nightstand, almost getting himself tangled in his sheets in the ensuing scramble. He bangs the top drawer open, rummaging through for the mostly-full bottle of lube he’d swiped from Rocketpunch’s dusty shelves shortly after he’d woken up, when he’d entertained delusions of establishing some kind of normalcy in his new life. Hinata’s tried his best, but jerking off has been useless to that end.

He’s irritated at the blush crawling across his face as he returns to Komaeda with the slim bottle clutched in his hands. Komaeda blinks at the bottle. “You haven’t used it much,” he points out.

Hinata almost lets out a strangled noise as he sets it down on the bed, because he guesses they’re talking about this now. “Um,” he says, “I guess not?” He breathes out a laugh, almost breathes some helpless lie like he hasn’t had the time or the energy, but then he realises that the nervous part of him wants to talk shit, stall for time, and bites down on it.

Komaeda tilts his head, curiosity bright in his eyes. “It’s interesting.”

“What?” Hinata asks, “What’s interesting?”

Komaeda shakes his head. “It’s not important,” he says, “I just go through a lot.”

“Oh,” Hinata says, pretty sure he’s breaking into a sweat, and hadn’t Komaeda just said he didn’t need it?

Komaeda smiles. “But I suppose everyone has different methods, don’t they?”

Hinata’s kind of dumbstruck about how relaxed Komaeda is about all of this, when he feels like he’s about to burst into flames. He knows if he were in Komaeda’s position, he definitely wouldn’t be so casual about basically admitting to fingering himself on a regular basis, scarred thighs open for someone else. Komaeda’s self-loathing and vocal conviction in his own ugliness don’t seem to be an impediment to him laying himself out on the bed like he wants Hinata to eat him. Hinata actually considers the idea for a moment, because he feels like in Komaeda’s fucked up conception of appropriate human interaction, getting on your knees for someone is probably a nice thing to do. It’s just he doesn’t trust himself not to fuck it up and bite Komaeda.

Maybe he doesn’t have to, though. “...I can, um,” he says, voice trembling because his brain is jamming on him again, “Do that for you. If you want.” He’d kind of been banking on embarrassing himself with a quick, dirty, nervous, probably appalling handjob, but if Komaeda wants otherwise-

Komaeda raises his eyebrows. Hinata watches him tongue the inside of his cheek. “...It’s not necessary.”

“I mean,” Hinata says, “Technically none of this is necessary.” He swallows, has to avert his eyes for a second because he doesn’t think he can maintain eye contact with Komaeda as he says it. “...I want to do it for you. If you think you’d, you know. Like it.”

The pause is maybe two seconds, but still way too long and suffocating for how keyed up Hinata is right now. “The idea doesn’t repulse you?”

“Ah hah,” Hinata almost wheezes, grasping for a way to articulate himself. He’s not really into the idea of admitting he’s jerked it to the guy before him probably more times than is probably appropriate, considering the history of their relationship, “Nn. No.”

“You want to do it,” Komaeda repeats, slowly, like he’s considering every sound. His voice rises a little on the last word. Hinata doesn’t think it’s meant to be a question, but it sure sounds like one.

“...Do you not want me to?” He’d been foolish enough to hope they’d reached some kind of understanding. “Has no one ever… you know… looked after you like this?” It seems impossible, because Komaeda is clearly experienced in this sort of thing, and yet...

Komaeda’s quiet for a second. Hinata watches him think, watches his eyes turn cloudy. “‘Looked after’,” Komaeda repeats. He looks like the words are uncomfortable in his mouth, like they’re transplanted there from a foreign language. “I think… maybe? A long time ago.”

“Ah?” He doesn’t quite get it, but it feels precarious, asking too many questions, any questions at all, about this. Hinata’s not even really sure if he wants to know. Better to let Komaeda volunteer his own information.

Komaeda turns his head, raises the robotic hand. “But it was different.” The cloudiness in his eyes recedes a little. “You’re different.”

“In a good way, I hope.”

“More than I deserve,” Komaeda says. There’s something flat about it.

Hinata kisses him, because he knows he can’t chase that sentiment away with words. “You’ll have to tell me how you like it,” he says, a weak attempt to distract Komaeda from wherever his head is right now.

Komaeda’s tone instantly brightens, which Hinata figures is a win. “Anything you do to me will be a miraculous gift, Hinata-kun.”

He sounds sincere, but Hinata does not like the standards that are being hinted at here. “I mean,” he says, “I’m happy you’re as into this as I am, but-”

I want to make it good, he’d been about to say, but then Komaeda’s leading him back into another kiss, and Hinata suspects he’s trying to distract the both of them. He breathes out a sigh through his nose when Komaeda licks at his lower lip, and he gives in, parting his lips and letting their tongues slick together. He pets his fingers through Komaeda’s hair for a second, before he moves down, trailing his fingertips down the sides of Komaeda’s slender throat before coming to rest on the shells of his shoulders. Komaeda slinks further up against him, and it takes Hinata second to register it as the encouraging gesture it’s probably supposed to be.

It's quiet in the room, except for the sounds of their breathing. 

Hinata slips his slightly shaking hands down as Komaeda nips him, soft at first, then harder when Hinata’s touch ghosts over his nipples. Like he wasn’t already shaking enough, he thinks, setting his fingers around Komaeda’s ribcage so he can skim the pad of his thumb over one of Komaeda’s nipples experimentally. He feels Komaeda sigh against his lips, so he repeats the motion, working himself up to rubbing against it in slow, deliberate circles. It makes Komaeda get bite-happy, and Hinata likes the feel of Komaeda’s teeth, enough to pay the same kind attention to Komaeda’s other nipple. Komaeda whines when Hinata tweaks it, and Hinata almost laughs, even as Komaeda bites him hard enough to pinch, arching up off the bed so hard he might’ve knocked Hinata off his lap if there were more to him.

Part of Hinata laments his own lack of patience, even as he skims his touch down across the flat of Komaeda’s stomach, but he figures he’ll probably get a chance to tease those kinds of noises out of him another time, to familiarise himself with them like he really wants to. He lingers for a moment, touch slowing to a halt over where his brain tells him a puncture wound should be, where instead there’s just unmarred skin framed by sharp ridges of bone. He feels more than hears Komaeda take in a deep breath, his stomach trembling against Hinata’s palm. The gravity almost swallows him whole - but cold fingers settle over Hinata’s own, the feeling stark and startling enough to jerk him out of the darkest corners of his mind. Hinata kisses Komaeda harder, unsure if it’s meant to be an apology, comfort, seeking refuge, something in between. He knows this isn’t the time to dwell on ghosts, so he pushes them away, hand shaking a little as he trails it down to pause where Komaeda’s underwear and skin meet.

He licks into Komaeda’s mouth. “Can I-?”

Please,” Komaeda moans. Fuck, Hinata thinks.

He drags the waistband of Komaeda’s underwear down with hesitant fingers, heart jamming when Komaeda’s mouth falters against his, breath ghosting across his damp lips as it mingles with his own. His wrist feels heavy as he moves it, dragging his palm across the head of Komaeda’s cock and finding it wet, before he finally curls his fingers around the shaft. Komaeda moans out a few shivering syllables that might be Hinata’s name, losing most of it between how hard his voice is trembling and the touch of their lips. Hinata realises his mouth’s gone bone dry just at touching Komaeda’s cock, how fucking good it feels to finally get there, and he sucks on his tongue before he sinks down to kiss him open-mouthed again.

Adjusting to doing it to someone else is weird, he thinks as he gives Komaeda a few slow, purposeful strokes. Komaeda whimpers again, and Hinata feels fingers, cold and sharp against his shoulder blade, bruising at his waist. Quiet, Hinata thinks -  it's so quiet in the room, and he hadn't even realised how much background noise had been screaming in his head for days on end until it stopped. Hinata murmurs vague, comforting nonsense back at him, speeding up just a little, chasing some kind of rhythm. Komaeda arches up against him, fingers raking across Hinata’s skin and making him hiss.

Komaeda lets out a little gasp like he’s surfacing from some kind of watery depth. “Sorry-”

Hinata hums back at him, pausing to suck gently at Komaeda’s lower lip. “It’s good,” he says, “Don’t worry.” There’s something grounding about the sting.

It’s hard to keep rhythm between his wrist and Komaeda’s mouth, so he settles back on his thighs, far back enough to actually see what he’s doing, close enough to feel the heat curling off Komaeda. He wishes he had the presence of mind to be more self-conscious about staring, but that instinct seems to have left him. Hinata thinks the sight of Komaeda and his long limbs arching off the bed into Hinata’s touch, all but naked save for where his underwear is barely still on him probably short circuited the better part of his brain.

He slows down, drinking in the little whispery sound of longing it draws from Komaeda. “Do you still…” Hinata clears his throat, because that isn’t quite what he’d meant to say, “I want to…”

“Mm.” Komaeda shivers when Hinata tightens his grip on him, and Hinata can’t help but watch in total fascination at the way the squeeze wrings out a tiny, glossy bead of stickiness from Komaeda’s slit when he drags up again. “Please , Hinata-kun,” he breathes, eyelashes fluttering when Hinata drags his thumb through it, transfixed by the slip as he smears it across Komaeda’s skin.

Komaeda's way too worked up for someone who's barely been touched. Hinata can't help but wonder what it'll be like when he pushes Komaeda even further.

“Well. Since you asked so nicely.” He’d meant it to be a joke, trying to lighten the mood, only his voice is too rough when it leaves his mouth, so it just winds up sounding dirty. Hinata’s glad he’s pretty sure he’s already flushed all the way down his throat.

He licks his lips, tugs at Komaeda’s now functionally useless underwear with his free hand as a prompt. The sight of Komaeda arching all the way up off the bed for him is almost enough to render him completely useless, but desperation is bubbling in his veins, enough for him to push through and help Komaeda writhe all the way out of his underwear. Hinata’s not even sure where they end up. It’s hard to care when he sees Komaeda in his sheets, pale hair and too-thin skin looking anemic against bluish veins and the flush splashed across him like a map of where his blood is the warmest.

Hinata dreads the thought of looking away, so he doesn’t, reaching out with a blind hand to search for the lube by touch. He won’t look away, he thinks - not for anything.

“Are you-?”

“If you say ‘disgusted’,” Hinata breaks in, words coming out in a low, rapid rush, “I swear, Komaeda.”

He doesn’t even know exactly what he’s swearing himself to, but Komaeda seems to absorb his sentiment all the same, understanding enough not to push it. Hinata swallows the little swell of triumph when his fingers catch at the smooth plastic lube bottle. He gets as far as squeezing out what feels like too much, probably is too much, rubbing it between his palms to take the edge of the cold off, before it hits him that this is it - he has nowhere left to go, except-

Komaeda’s looking at him like the sight of Hinata warming up lube between his hands is the single most captivating thing in the world. Hinata’s certain that can't be the case, but the dark intensity of Komaeda’s eyes staring at his shiny fingers makes him stop in his tracks. It's nothing compared to the way his chest tightens when Komaeda meets his gaze. Hinata thinks he can see into Komaeda’s eyes like he's looking into the bottom of a glass, and it's so open and vulnerable that Hinata feels an insane urge to ask Komaeda why he'd ever let someone like Hinata see him like this.

“It’s alright, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda says, and Hinata has to wonder how transparent he must look right now.

Hinata bites his lip and nods once, inching over to settle between Komaeda’s thighs more on instinct than conscious thought, because he knows if he thinks too deeply about it he’ll just wind up paralysing himself. Komaeda seems content to let himself be moved around, and Hinata doesn't know if he should be apologetic for leaving glossy, slightly tacky fingerprints on him when he touches him, raising one of Komaeda’s thighs so he can spread him open more.

Hinata thinks he'd been going to say something. It's just it's hard to remember what words even are when he has Komaeda underneath him like this, when Komaeda is crazy enough to trust him like this. He trails his touch down the back of Komaeda’s thigh, only using his nails a little as he leaves behind sticky smears, holds his breath while he keeps moving downwards, smoothing his other hand across Komaeda’s lower abdomen-

Komaeda arches his back up off the sheets in response, rolling his head to the side as he lets out a thin, trembling sigh. Hinata watches his chest rise and fall with a dry mouth. It takes a second for him to consider the possibility that Komaeda is probably attempting to communicate something to him, but screw it, he thinks, it’s not even his fault - his dick is too hard to be up on nonverbal cues right now.

“...In?” It comes out deeper, throatier than he’d expected, because the just the idea of it is enough to make him dizzy.

Please ,” Komaeda whispers, and when his eyes flutter open they’re all dark and blown out, and Hinata has to sink his teeth into his lip so hard he almost draws blood, to stop himself from coming right then and there. He wonders what Komaeda would do, if he came in his boxers - tries to picture Komaeda’s expression at him making a mess of himself, flooding himself with humiliation, and for fuck’s sake Hajime get with the program you’re supposed to be trying not to come all over yourself-

Hinata’s already circling around the slight dip of tightness with a fingertip when he breathes out a rough, “You sure?”

Komaeda’s answering exhale is caught somewhere between impatience and desperation. Hinata almost stalls when clawing fingers sink down to scrabble at his wrist, tugging it forward, but a tiny, wavering sound escapes Komaeda’s throat when Hinata’s fingertip nudges up against him. That’s encouragement enough for Hinata, breath snagging in his throat as he sinks his finger inside, trying to take it slow and failing miserably when he realises how hot it is, inside.

It’s not like he’s completely new to the idea - he has foggy memories of coming a sticky mess all over his hand to incognito browser tabs on his phone switched to silent, blanketed by the darkness of after hours in the reserve student dorms. No amount of porn or dirty fantasies or messy fumbling with himself could’ve prepared him for the way Komaeda sighs as Hinata sinks all the way in, high and trembling from his sticky lips, head tilted back and wide eyes fixed on the ceiling like he’s seeing something incomprehensible. Hinata knows relief when he sees it, spread out before him, glossy eyes, pink blush creeping down a pale throat and chest.

It almost kills him. He survives, but only barely, head swimming a little, halfway paralysed by uncertainty. Komaeda’s fingers bite at his wrist, sharp enough to get him moving again, figuring, if nothing else, he can mimic what he’s seen, and maybe he won’t completely suck. Surely Komaeda wouldn’t let him suck. Surely Komaeda’s invested in him not sucking. Right?

“I can take more,” Komaeda tells him after a moment, and Hinata’s too frantic to obey to really treat the idea with much caution. He settles back against against the mattress a little, knowing for a fact his eyes are wide as he claws in a steady, deep inhale, timing it with pushing back inside Komaeda with two fingers. “Ah,” Komaeda breathes, eyes going half - lidded.

“Is that okay?”

It looks like it takes considerable effort for Komaeda to open his eyes all the way. “How many?”

There’s something dirty enough about Komaeda asking that question to rattle Hinata a little. “Two?” he almost chokes out.

“Oh,” Komaeda says, breathlessly, “More, then. Please.” That almost makes Hinata die where he sits.

“Um.” Hinata feels dizzy, maybe on the verge of passing out. “Well,” he says, voice gravelly to his own ears. He clears his throat. It makes no difference. “Sure.”

He’d roll his eyes at himself, but it’s probably a bad time, given where his fingers are. He holds his breath this time, retracting his wrist a little before he lines up a third finger and pushes in.

Ah -"

Hinata stops dead when Komaeda winces in obvious pain. “You told me you didn’t need lube,” His voice is heavy with exasperation as he tries and probably fails to regard Komaeda’s flushed, teary face with sternness .

Komaeda’s lashes flicker. “I wasn’t lying.”

“You just-”

“It feels good.” Hinata wonders if Komaeda is actually as exasperated as he sounds, or if it’s just the fact that Hinata has three fingers inside of him that’s making him sound so urgent.

“...But it hurts?”

“Hurts enough,” Komaeda breathes.

Hinata pauses. He only kind of gets it. “Right,” he says.

Komaeda tips his head back against the pillow. “Before,” he says, “When you asked me to make you feel it.”

Hinata swallows. “...Oh.”

“Do you understand now?” It comes out sweet for how breathless Komaeda is, but the impact’s kind of lessened by the way he sinks his fingers into the sheets and grinds back against Hinata’s fingers.

Hinata’s mouth goes dry again. “I think I’ve got it, yeah.” He swallows. “But. Tell me if I do get too rough.”

“That would be extremely difficult, Hinata-kun,” Komaeda assures him.

Hinata isn’t sure he’s proud of how much he likes the thought of the precedent that’s being set here.

He goes slow at first, hesitation racking through him, making his hand shake a little, eyes trained on Komaeda’s face for any slight hint that he’s hurting him. It doesn’t get easier, not exactly, because Hinata’s still struggling to even breathe and Komaeda is still tight and impossibly hot around his fingers, but he settles into something that resembles some kind of rhythm, inching deeper with each pass. Then Komaeda shivers, so hard Hinata can see it, huffing out a breath as his eyes flutter closed and he tips his head back.

Hinata tries to ask, but it gets stuck in his throat. He swallows, licks his lips. “There?”

“Mmmmm -!” It’d probably be mean of Hinata to pretend like he was going to wait for a verbal answer - he rubs up against the same spot again, and Komaeda’s shaky moan of affirmation rises in pitch, turning desperate and loud enough that Hinata’s really glad he hadn’t gotten around to opening his windows in the morning.

“Yeah,” Hinata says under his breath, encouraging, towards himself or Komaeda or maybe both. That’s at least something to focus on, but it kind of proves difficult, because it’s impossible to not be distracted by the sight of Komaeda, eyes-half lidded, twitching with little shivers every time Hinata hits him where he needs it.

It takes Hinata a minute to figure out what he’s doing, shifting between hard and soft touch, gaze hyperfocused on Komaeda’s face (like it could be anywhere else right now). His eyes sting a little because he isn't blinking enough and he knows it, because even a fraction of a second with his eyes closed means he doesn’t get to see.

He plays trial and error dry-mouthed until he realises that Komaeda gives him the loudest noises when he's merciless about it. He locks his wrist into place with his palm pressed up completely still between Komaeda’s legs, letting his fingers do the work with a deliberate rhythm that would be frantic if it weren't so steady. Komaeda rewards him with teary eyes and desperate little ‘oh!’ noises every time the pressure is too much for him. He’s getting louder, Hinata thinks, wondering if he should maybe press his free hand against Komaeda’s mouth to muffle his sounds. Then Komaeda’s voice cracks so suddenly it feels almost violent in Hinata’s ears, dissolving into a long, shivery gasp that sounds like it hurts, almost. Hinata’s on the verge of asking Komaeda if he’s faking, only he figures that would be rude, and he's actually pretty sure Komaeda’s not faking.

“Can you get off like this?” He’s almost growling, he realises. He’d probably be ashamed of himself if he had the necessary brain capacity. “Without me touching your cock?” Hinata has no idea what that might feel like, never quite been able to bring himself off like that, but it’s not like he’d be sore about seeing Komaeda do it.

“Uh-huh!” Komaeda sobs, actually sobs, hitching and high up in his throat, and Hinata’s pretty sure he’s seconds away from losing it himself. Komaeda must sense blood in the air, because he chooses that moment to reach out, hooking his fingers in the elastic of Hinata’s underwear. The cool air licking at his cock rips a low hiss out of him, and he realises he’s so much more fucked up than he’d thought, a sticky string of precome there between the head and the fabric of his underwear before it snaps and disappears-

Komaeda reaches up and wraps his fingers around Hinata’s sticky cock, and Hinata flinches back and withdraws his fingers with a short, sharp yelp. Panic flashes across Komaeda’s face for a split second, and his hand shakes in the air between them.

“I-I shouldn’t have-!”

No,” Hinata gasps, because if he screws this up now he’s done, he’s out, he’s leaving the fucking island- No no no, it’s fine, it’s just, I’m really fucked, and I-”

Komaeda, turned out as he obviously is, still manages to look bewildered. Hinata lets out a frustrated noise at his own stupid mouth, and stupid brain, and general inescapable stupidity, laying the back of the hand that is not currently thinking about getting wrist-deep in Komaeda across his forehead.

“I’m close,” he says, face burning as he carefully threads together words in a way he hopes is even vaguely coherent, “And if you touch me, I’ll-”

“But don’t you-?”

“No,” Hinata says, “Yes, I want you to, just- you first.” It’s not as if he’s planning on being far behind Komaeda, anyway - not in the state he’s in.

Komaeda continues looking bewildered.

“Watching you…” Hinata doesn’t have a word for it - not in his current headspace, saturated in warm static.

He lets it hang in the air between them. Komaeda’s eyes are glossy, contemplative, as he looks up at Hinata.

“Then watch, Hinata-kun,” he says after a moment, voice breathy, settling back on his elbows and tilting his chin down, blinking up at him through pale lashes. It’s a really dirty move, in Hinata’s opinion, but Hinata’s kind of realising Komaeda’s got more of those up his sleeve than he’d initially thought.

Something twists inside of him. “Fine,” he says, softly, settling between Komaeda’s thighs again. Komaeda lets out a little surprised noise when Hinata grabs him by the hips, just short of dragging him up the mattress so he’s half laying in Hinata’s lap. It knocks the smugness off Komaeda’s face, and Hinata holds his gaze with a little flicker of triumph. He doesn’t even bother to tease it out when he shoves his fingers back inside of Komaeda. Hinata can’t quite find it in himself to dredge up any shame as he watches Komaeda bite his lip around a moan.

Hinata doesn’t like that. He reaches out with his free hand, brushes his thumb against Komaeda’s lips. “Trying to be modest?”

“I’m so,” Komaeda flicks his tongue against the pad of Hinata’s finger, “Indecent -”

No fucking kidding, Hinata almost says. “Yeah?” He drags his thumb down, forcing Komaeda to keep his lips parted. He flicks his fingers inside of Komaeda, sudden and deliberate enough to almost make himself wonder if it’s too much, out of nowhere like that. Komaeda lets out a hoarse, wordless cry, eyes widening as his hips snap into Hinata’s touch. Hinata pins his hips to the bed with his free hand because he's decided he's over the thrashing, staring down at Komaeda as he rubs that spot again. He retreats, abrupt and probably cruel, to deny Komaeda the opportunity to really settle into it. The noise Komaeda lets out sounds almost wounded.

“Speaking of indecent. I thought about this.” It comes out soft and low in Hinata’s throat, without him really meaning it to. Then realisation clicks in his head, and he’s almost annoyed with himself, but Komaeda’s already owned up to using Hinata as jerk-off material, so the whole coy deception thing really feels pointless. “When I left you the other morning. I came back here, and I thought about doing this to you-”

Oh -” Komaeda gasps, fingers clawing at the sheets.

Hinata twists his wrist without even really thinking about it, sinking deeper before he retreats and leaves Komaeda with nothing, noting with idle fascinating the way it makes Komaeda’s thighs tremble on either side of his. “I thought about,” he continues, “Going down on you- shhhh, here, you're okay-” He pushes back inside him, because those are fresh tears in Komaeda’s eyes and it's pathetic and good in a way Hinata hadn't ever really considered might be possible until now. Then Komaeda writhes back against him, and Hinata thinks better of it.

“Stop moving,” he tells Komaeda, fingers stopping just short of where he knows will shake Komaeda up the most. The whine that bubbles up from Komaeda’s throat sounds frustrated, which is a novelty to Hinata. He keeps Komaeda hanging for a while, abandoning grinding his fingertips up against where Komaeda needs it in favour of fucking him hard, barely a pause between slipping in and out, with his fingers.

Hinata-kun,” Komaeda begs, “Please-”

“You told me to watch,” Hinata reminds him. He doesn't even bother to look up at Komaeda’s face just yet, too absorbed in watching the rhythmic pulse of his slick fingers as he abuses Komaeda with them. He’s fascinated by the wet, almost click-like noises he gets on every stroke, the skin stretched around the base of his fingers flushed and swollen to the point it borders on raw. “Are you in a rush? Do you want something from me, Komaeda?”

He listens to Komaeda wheeze out a shaky breath. He takes his time in raising his head, finds Komaeda with tear tracks on his cheeks and lips that look bruised from being bitten.

Hinata wonders if Komaeda would enjoy being told he's pathetic. He’d mean it affectionately.

He pretends to sink deeper by accident, noting with approval that this time Komaeda keeps himself still when he whimpers. He strokes the fingertips of his other hand down from Komaeda’s sternum to the base of his cock, watching Komaeda shiver harder the lower his touch gets. “Hm?” He doesn’t really do much with Komaeda’s cock, just studies it, the way it’s fully hard now, swollen and flushed as it leaks against the flat of his stomach like it’s begging for something, anything . Hinata bites the inside of his cheek as he skims a featherlight touch up the vein on the underside, swiping his fingers through the warm stickiness pooling a little on Komaeda’s skin. Komaeda isn’t big, which isn’t a bad thing - Hinata still thinks about what it would be like, what Komaeda would do, if he lowered his head to lap up the stickiness.

Yes,” Komaeda whines, jerking Hinata from his idle imaginings. He looks up again to see Komaeda’s face flushed, eyes glazed with something that looks like agony. Hinata suddenly can’t take his eyes off his face.

“You’re such a mess,” Hinata sighs, even as he rubs soothing circles against Komaeda’s hipbone, a little giddy at the knowledge it’s his fault Komaeda’s in such a state. Komaeda lets out a soft moan at the insult, and that’s almost too good, enough to make Hinata twitch in his boxers. He’s never been so consumed by thinking with his dick before, has a feeling he’s going to be horrified by all of this later when his blood has a chance to settle down. It’s irrelevant to him now, with Komaeda turning his head to the side and letting out a broken little noise when Hinata goes deep enough again. “But I want the same thing, so I guess you’re pretty lucky.”

Komaeda’s lashes look heavy, weighed down with the dew of tears and what he thinks must be the urge to squeeze them shut with the way Hinata’s back to unravelling him from the inside. He can tell it’s a struggle for Komaeda to keep himself from thrashing, can feel his hips trembling when he rubs over bone and soft skin with gentle, encouraging fingers. Komaeda’s gone almost quiet, comparatively, little hitching sounds caught between a soft moan and deep, trembling panting in time with the rhythm Hinata’s forcing on him.

Hinata isn’t even annoyed at the way his voice spikes on a loud ‘oh!’ all of a sudden, hips snapping up off the bed so hard it takes Hinata a second to pin him back down. It doesn’t stop, the litany of ‘oh oh oh’ s spilling from Komaeda’s lips getting longer, more frantic with each breath. Hinata’s not even certain he’s breathing anymore, jaw slack as he watches Komaeda lose it, but he knows for a fact his cock is leaking against the front of his boxers, can feel the dampness where it’s pressed up against Komaeda’s thigh.

“Close?” It’s completely redundant. It’s just, Hinata can’t help teasing Komaeda.

Hi-” It’s either the beginning of Hinata’s name or a desperate, hiccuping noise. Either way, it makes Hinata bite his lip, lock his wrist tighter and finger Komaeda harder, consumed by nothing other than the urge to get Komaeda there. Komaeda’s so flushed now it looks like his skin’s been rubbed raw, thighs trembling uncontrollably either side of Hinata.

Komaeda lets out a high pitched noise that might be too loud, loud enough to carry even through the closed windows, but it’s there and gone in an instant when his voice cracks again. Hinata really does stop breathing when Komaeda spasms with a silent scream, eyes squeezing shut as he comes, hard, judging from how violently he’s trembling, the way he spills all the way up his own torso in messy pulses.

Hinata moves without thinking, shoving Komaeda’s hips back against the mattress with a bruising hand while he keeps the friction inside of Komaeda constant, punishing, knowing Komaeda has more to give him if he plays with him like this. Komaeda arches his back up off the bed, eyes wide when Hinata doesn’t back off. He claws at the sheets first, panting as he shudders against Hinata’s merciless touch, then at Hinata’s arm, raking angry red streaks against his skin. Hinata knows, somehow, it’s not an imperative to stop, that it’s just Komaeda going to pieces, composure self destructing in a flurry of sharp nails and shattered little noises. Komaeda’s not strong enough to overpower him no matter how desperate he gets, so Hinata lets him scratch, panting a little himself against the strangely gratifying sting.

Hinata- kun !” Komaeda hiccups, finally, voice raw and broken like he’s at the tail end of a coughing fit, cheeks tearstained and lips slick with his own saliva. There’s an urge, for a second, to keep wringing it out of Komaeda, force him past the threshold of over-stimulation, find out exactly how hard he can push him. The idea is so intriguing Hinata almost keeps holding him down, keeps turning him out.

Komaeda collapses when Hinata withdraws his fingers, spine untensing as he slumps back into the mattress like he wishes it could swallow him whole. His panting is shaky, as turns on his side to press his face against the sheets - Hinata thinks he might be sobbing a little.

“That looked fun.” Hinata’s utterly sincere, sincerely awed by the dripping mess in front of him. His forearm still burns with Komaeda’s scratches.

Komaeda opens his eyes a little, breath still coming shallow. He lets out a shaky sound that might be an affirmative, but the look in his eyes is still scrambled and incoherent, and Hinata suspects there’s a good chance Komaeda hadn’t even heard him. He leans over Komaeda, pushing his slightly damp bangs back from his forehead. Komaeda closes his eyes again and tilts his head into the touch, and Hinata can't help smiling to himself, busying himself with messing gently with Komaeda’s hair until it’s substantially more of a wreck than when he first started. Komaeda seems to appreciate the affection, tapped out as he is, so Hinata figures he’ll probably live. He takes this moment while Komaeda’s drifting to wipe his hand off on the sheets with a grimace, because he figures they’re a lost cause by this point anyway.

It takes Komaeda maybe a minute to open his eyes again, grey and dull and dazed. The hard flush is receding to a pleasant pink.

“...Was that you not knowing what you were doing?” he croaks out. It looks like it takes significant effort to maintain such a level of coherency.

“I don’t know,” Hinata says, because fair, that did come off a whole lot better than he was expecting, “I just... kind of winged it?”

“You winged it.” Komaeda might look astonished if he wasn’t so obviously wiped out.

Hinata pauses. “Was it good?”

Komaeda just stares at him. Hinata feels thoroughly admonished.

He drums his fingers against his thigh. “I was really into it?” he attempts. He does not point out the fact that he’s still achingly hard, because he figures that probably speaks for itself.

Komaeda lowers his gaze to regard Hinata’s hands. He does this for a long moment.

“Something the matter?” Hinata finally asks.

His eyes widen a little, totally earnest. “Perhaps you have a talent, Hinata-kun.”

Hinata groans. “Come on, don’t start with that.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re gonna kill the mood.” He shifts his hips a little, hoping to remind Komaeda of the fact that there is, in fact, still a mood left to be killed.

Komaeda lowers his gaze further still. His eyes widen again. Hinata watches him tongue the inside of his cheek, before he licks his lips.

Hinata feels like he might’ve won.

“What do you-?”

“Just touch me.” He knows he sounds strangled and beyond desperate, and he doesn’t even care anymore.

He’s expecting Komaeda to protest, at least long enough to clean himself up, because again, he figures Komaeda’s the kind of person who worries about that sort of thing. He’s kind of surprised when Komaeda just nods and pulls himself upright. He lets Komaeda help him out of his underwear, and he’d thought he’d cleared the nerves, but there are some still left to flicker like dull lights as Komaeda stares at his naked body with such bright eyes and intensity Hinata could almost kid himself into thinking Komaeda’s vibrating, just slightly.

His stomach flutters when Komaeda reaches out to set his mismatched hands on him, and his skin feels almost normal next to the cold touch of the prosthetic. Hinata’s still worked up enough that the cold against his heated skin makes him wince a little - though not, he realises, in a way that’s entirely bad. It’s just he’s so strung out he’s beyond foreplay, a memo which Komaeda doesn’t seem to be getting, judging from the way he’s apparently intent on feeling Hinata up without even the slightest hint of visible shame. A shiver goes rocketing down his spine when a cold finger traces over his nipple, and while he hisses, thinking that that’s maybe something they can investigate later, need and impatience twist in his belly.

“Enjoying yourself?” Komaeda coos. He has the nerve to smirk.

“Enjoying yourself ?” Komaeda is unbelievable. A demon. Shade. Whatever.

“I thought you wanted me to touch you, Hinata-kun.” He sounds breathless, but he’s speaking with that pleasant, lilting pitch that means he’s teasing Hinata.

“Uh-huh,” Hinata affirms, grabbing Komaeda’s hand and guiding it downwards, “So do it.” Komaeda breathes out this little laugh, which just makes Hinata laugh.

Komaeda pauses. Hinata idly considers screaming. “Are you sure you want this hand?”

Hinata blinks. He doesn’t understand the question. “Yes?”

Komaeda looks concerned. “But it’s inferior.”

“Inferior?” Hinata’s so out of it he doesn’t quite process what Komaeda’s getting at at first. “Oh. No.”

Komaeda looks puzzled. “No?”

“No.” He tightens his hold on Komaeda’s wrist, taking his chin with his other hand and tilting it down so he can really get up in his face. “There is nothing inferior about you.”

Komaeda opens his mouth, obviously to protest. Hinata’s not hearing it. Not now.

“I want you, ” he says, squeezing his fingers around Komaeda’s wrist for emphasis, “Your hand. Your body. You.”

It’s the kind of candid speech he’d usually never even consider using on Komaeda, because he knows that Komaeda, usually, isn’t even capable of hearing things like that, let alone of accepting them. He’s just so desperate for it he can’t be bothered dancing around it anymore, doesn’t want Komaeda to have an out for this one.

Komaeda looks stunned , for a moment. Then he turns bright pink, and a frantic little moan escapes him, similar to the noise he’d made when he and Hinata had reached an agreement about the garden thing. It’s so bizarre and awkward and endearing, somehow, that it startles a laugh out of Hinata, right up until Komaeda slinks forward to kiss him, something forceful and spirited about it.

Hinata-kun-” Komaeda sounds breathless, exhilarated, maybe, like he’s giggling.

Oh ,” Hinata groans, lashes shuttering, gut lurching when Komaeda finally touches his cock, “Fuck-”

Delirious and fucked up on Komaeda as he is, he almost shoves him back against the sheets, almost grabs him by his skinny hips and pushes inside of him. The urge to get his cock properly wet is almost breaking his mind, but whatever sliver of him is still clinging to grace keeps him still. He’s wound so tightly he knows if he does it he’ll snap the second he’s inside Komaeda, and he thinks that’s probably the kind of thing you’re meant to discuss beforehand-

“If you want my body,” Komaeda rasps, not missing a beat as he keeps stroking Hinata, “You can put it in me, Hinata-kun.” Hinata’s more transparent than he’d like to be, obviously.

Fuck, ” Hinata says around a gasp, and he almost just does it, fuck his uncertainty, fuck the consequences, he’s tired of consequences, tired of worrying all the time-

“I can’t,” he breathes, “I can’t , not now- ” He doesn't want it to be some quick thing that's over and done in a second. Still, he knows his control over himself is at breaking point, he knows it, knows if Komaeda decided he wanted to push him on his back and sink down onto his cock he’d be powerless to stop it. There’s some part of Hinata that likes that thought, wants Komaeda to do it, wants Komaeda to make him fuck him.

Komaeda, instead, slows the movement of his wrist down, until it comes to a total stop, forcing a longing whine out of Hinata. He gives Hinata a long, thoughtful look, teeth catching at his lower lip, eyes practically glowing. He groans a little at the loss of touch when Komaeda lets go of him, feeling around for the lube bottle as he rises up on his knees.

Hinata sucks in a breath when Komaeda pops the lid open with a loud crack, leaning forward to drizzle the clear substance on Hinata’s straining cock. It’s cold enough to make him hiss through his teeth - Komaeda makes a little apologetic murmur as he takes Hinata in hand again, pumping his cock a few times to get him wet.

“A-are you.” Stammering. Nice, Hajime. “Are… are we -?” They are, Hinata thinks, thoughts turning wild-

Komaeda just shakes his head. Hinata likes that he apparently knows him well enough to decipher his incoherent stammering. He watches, dazed, a little dumb-founded, as Komaeda leans back on a hand, squirting lube on his inner thighs. Hinata's jaw drops a little at the sight, watching it drip down Komaeda’s thighs, gloss on pale skin, slow and viscous like it’s teasing Hinata on purpose.

He’s fucked.

“What are you doing?” It comes out husky. He’s beyond caring.

Komaeda once again says nothing - just shifts forward, rustling against the sheets. He presses his palm against Hinata’s chest, and Hinata’s so wired and confused that he just rolls with it, letting himself be pushed to lie back against the mattress. Komaeda follows him down, pressing his chest against Hinata’s and tucking his face against the crook of Hinata’s neck. Hinata blinks as he lets Komaeda curl up against him, blinks again as he registers the feeling of stickiness pressing up against him, transferring onto his skin.

Oh ,” Komaeda says, with a little start, and Hinata can tell he’d forgotten about it, “I’m-”

“You’re fine,” Hinata hushes him, because it’s not like they both aren’t filthy right now. He thinks Komaeda might still be on the verge of protesting, so he reaches out, looping his arms around Komaeda’s lithe waist and drawing him in closer, shivering a little at the feel of come smearing between them.

This is so much messier than Hinata thought it would be. He didn't plan on being so okay with it. Into it, even.

“Mm.” Komaeda sounds distracted. Hinata lets a hand slip down to rest against his lower back, paying close attention as Komaeda arches his hips up, leaving enough space to trail his fingers down Hinata’s pelvic bone before they finally come to curl around his cock in a gentle grip. It’s only been about a minute, but Hinata is already touch-starved enough to shiver at the feeling. He’s confused, for a second, when Komaeda shifts, Hinata’s cock rubbing up between thighs slippery and warm around him. Komaeda lowers his hips so they’re flush against Hinata’s, bracing his arms around Hinata’s shoulders and burying his face against Hinata’s neck again.

“What?” is the only thing Hinata can manage, even as his body decides it’s done taking orders from his rapidly decomposing brain, hips rocking up, burying his cock deeper against Komaeda’s body. His eyes scrunch closed at the answering squeeze. He waits for it to let up. It doesn’t.

“I don’t know if you’ve done it this way before, Hinata-kun, but it’ll be better if you…” Hinata thinks it’s sweet that Komaeda’s even bothering to pretend like Hinata has any idea what the fuck Komaeda is currently up to. Komaeda’s hand is slick with lube when he takes Hinata’s, setting it on a bony hip. “Ah. Move me.”

It takes a second, fried as Hinata’s brain is.

“Oh.” He swallows. “ Oh.”

Komaeda’s hair tickles at his neck, sending another shiver down Hinata’s spine. “I thought,” he says, voice a low murmur, “That… this is… even though I’m disgusting… and you should probably just push me off...”

It’s the least convincing thing Hinata’s ever heard out of Komaeda’s mouth.

“I.” It’s going nowhere - none of Hinata’s thoughts are at this point. He tightens his hands about Komaeda’s hips, pulls him closer, more out of curiosity than anything else. “Oh,” he breathes again, surprised at how much slip Komaeda’s thighs have around him.

He’s pretty sure his antenna stands all the way on end when Komaeda sucks lazily at his neck. “Bruises are only superficial, Hinata-kun,” is his helpful statement.

Hinata isn’t quite at that point yet, even after everything, but he doesn’t have much faith in his self control. He holds his breath as he digs bruising fingers into Komaeda’s hips, before he moves his hands up to grab at Komaeda’s ass. The groan spills out before he can do anything about it, and Komaeda just breathes against his neck. Hinata thinks he might be laughing. Hinata drags him down again, full body shudder tearing down his spine at the slippery friction of Komaeda’s thighs.

And Komaeda claimed to be the easy one. He huffs a laugh out against Komaeda’s bony shoulder. He’s about to leave Komaeda in the dust.

“...Are you laughing?” Komaeda asks, surprise making his voice waver.

“Yeah,” Hinata mumbles, scraping his teeth against Komaeda’s skin.

“Why?” Komaeda sounds concerned. It’s probably justified. Hinata feels halfway hysterical.

Hinata forces Komaeda’s hips to work again, parting his lips to breathe a moan against his shoulder. “This was a good idea.” He thinks his filter might have finally gone up in smoke - not that it really ever had a chance.

“Oh?” His voice hitches a little when Hinata bucks his hips up while he drags Komaeda’s down. That works, Hinata thinks. He’s glad for how easy it is to shove Komaeda around, how easy it is to sink into a slippery, delirious rhythm, burying himself so deep against Komaeda’s body it dizzies him.

“You feel,” he sinks his teeth into Komaeda’s shoulder, “So fucking good-”

Komaeda just hums back at him, shifting so he can press his lips to the juncture of Hinata’s neck and throat. Hinata lets out a sharp gasp when Komaeda sinks his teeth in. They’re both sticky with sweat, and Komaeda’s bones are sharp enough to dig into Hinata where they touch, but Hinata thinks they might bruise later, and the image makes him moan and yank at Komaeda, pulling him closer, tighter. There’s something that makes him feel giddy about being this close to Komaeda, feeling him exhale against the saliva-slick mess he’s leaving on Hinata’s throat, feeling his heart thud between his sharp rib cage, being able to touch him like this.

He hisses when Komaeda bites, hard, feels a flick of tongue before the pressure of suction, and that’s good, enough to make a spasm rack through him, make him squeeze Komaeda’s ass so viciously he’s sure he’s leaving angry red nail welts behind.

“Hinata-kun is rough,” Komaeda breathes, sounding giddy himself as speaks between sucks.

Komaeda ,” Hinata moans, because the pressure’s building, and he’s about to snap, lose himself all over Komaeda, he can feel it-

“You know, Hinata-kun.” He sounds so breathless he’s gasping a little, every time Hinata rocks his hips up to fuck his thighs deeper. “When you left me the other morning. I thought about you being rough like this while you fucked me.”

Hinata lets out a whine that barely even sounds like his own voice, fingers digging into Komaeda's skin as he snaps, gut twisting, hips wrenching up, grabbing at Komaeda so hard it pulls a little whimper of pain from him. Komaeda sinks his teeth in again as Hinata fucks his thighs with shallow, desperate thrusts, feels everything get wetter and slipperier between his legs, groaning at how fucking filthy it feels. His thoughts liquefy in his head, as he squeezes his eyes shut and pants with it, shuddering until it almost hurts.

Finally the heat drains out of him, leaving him bracketed by white noise in his head and Komaeda warm on top of him. He pants as he winds his arms around Komaeda, letting his eyes drift shut. He feels hands stroking through his hair, idle and soft.

After a moment: “Hinata-kun.”

“Yeah?” Hinata barely manages.

“Do you mind if I sit up?”

Hinata does, in fact, mind a great deal. “Go ahead,” he says anyway.

Hinata’s brain is already struggling to maintain a grip on anything like coherence. It grinds to a halt entirely when Komaeda sits up, thighs still either side of Hinata. Hinata probably wasn't ready to get a look at him just yet, flushed and sweaty with wild hair, scratches and finger welts scattered around his hips, come still smeared on his chest, dripping from between his thighs.

“Holy shit,” Hinata breathes.

Komaeda glances up. “What?”

“You’re…” His brain is firing on exactly no cylinders - words are failing him. His basic internal monologue is failing him. It’s a wonder he can even get his mouth to move.

Komaeda smirks, tilting his head. “Debauched?”

Hinata knows he should probably feel bad for getting off on seeing Komaeda like this. Yet it’s almost, almost enough to make him hard again, cock giving a longing little twitch despite being wrung out. He summons the strength to push himself up on his elbows, reaches out with a hand to drag his fingers through a streak of come glistening on Komaeda’s inner thigh. He hears Komaeda take a breath like he’s shocked, feels his thighs tense when Hinata slips his fingers between them and rubs it further into the skin. Hinata’s jaw slackens a little at how wet it feels between his legs, smearing sticky, glossy trails down Komaeda’s thigh. He trails his fingers up, exhaling as he rubs his fingers lightly against the softness deep between Komaeda’s thighs, coating them in wetness.

Maybe he’s not completely wrung out.

“Hinata-kun.” He sounds gentle, a little amused, as much as he’s shivering.

“Mmm?”

“As flattering as this is,” Komaeda says, “We should clean up before it gets really disgusting.”

He has a point, as much as Hinata bitterly, bitterly regrets it. “I guess.”

“Maybe we can do more of that later,” Komaeda says mildly.

The regret siphons away - just a little. “Maybe,” he agrees.

“Where are your towels?”

Hinata waves a hand. “Sheets are fine.” When Komaeda gives him an aghast look, he raises his eyebrows and just says, “Komaeda. Look around.”

Komaeda does. Hinata might be able to picture the carnage he’s seeing a little more clearly if his brain didn’t currently feel like someone went at it with sandpaper. “Ah,” he says, mildly.

Hinata snorts. He thinks he might be a little delirious.

Komaeda insists on cleaning him up. Hinata appreciates the gesture. When he’s managed to get them both to a state of only mild indecency, Komaeda settles back, staring at the messy sheet in his hand.

“I should strip the bed,” he says.

“Komaeda,” Hinata says, letting his eyes drift shut, “Please stop. ” Hinata isn’t moving. Not for anything .

“But the sheets-”

“Are already ruined.” His voice is croaky like he’s getting over a cold. “Don’t care.” Laundry is the furthest thing from his mind. He doesn’t even care if it’s gross. He doesn't care about anything right now.

He opens his eyes to find Komaeda hesitating, sheet clutched in an anxious hand.

Hinata softens his voice. “Come here?”

He watches Komaeda take in a breath, sharp ribcage expanding around it. Something like determination washes across his face, and he drops the sheet, crawling over the mess and letting Hinata pull him down to lie against his chest.

“You lying in anything?” He’s kind of slurring. He just barely has the mental coherence to be embarrassed at how quickly he’s drifting off.

He feels a tickle as Komaeda shakes his head. “No.”

“Good.” It seems like a miracle, given how badly they’ve trashed the bed, but Hinata’s glad for it. He throws an arm over Komaeda’s waist, drawing him closer, because he has a sudden impulse to wrap himself up in Komaeda, drown to death in skin on skin contact and the fuzzy warmth blanketing his brain.

It takes a little while for Komaeda to start to untense. Hinata can tell he’s not used to this kind of contact, and it’s not like Hinata is, either, but sadness still prickles through him. He strokes his fingers up and down the line of Komaeda’s waist, feeling him shudder like it's his own body.

“Tickles,” Komaeda murmurs. He sounds distant. Hinata’s relieved that he’s apparently unwound enough for the sleep fog to settle over him.

“Sorry.”

“It’s nice.”

“Okay,” Hinata says, and it is pleasant, feeling Komaeda shiver against him every now and then, puffing out sighs against his chest.

Hinata closes his eyes, revelling in touch and quiet, the rain still drumming down on the roof outside.

“It’s weird,” he mumbles into Komaeda’s hair after a moment.

“What is?”

“Feeling happy.”

He feels Komaeda tense up a little, drifts in the pause. Then, hesitant, maybe awed, Hinata’s not sure, on the verge of fading like he is: “Are you happy?”

Hinata presses a kiss into his hair. There’s so much volume he’s not even sure if Komaeda feels it. “Yeah.” Such a casual word - he tries to cram all the overflowing sincerity he can into it.

Cold fingers settle on his hip. Hinata cracks his eyes open.

“It does feel strange,” is the last thing Hinata’s aware of, a warm glow against his chest, and even if he barely has the energy for it, he smiles anyway.