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Kisu Shite Mo Ii?

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It was unsettling to be back on Jabberwock Island, to say the least.  All those horrible memories.  Most of them couldn't go certain places.  Hiyoko and Ibuki wouldn't step foot in the music venue.  Koizumi wouldn't even look at the beach house.  For Hinata, it was the warehouse.  That was for sure.  It didn't really bother anyone else, that place. He didn't know why. He hadn't died there; he couldn't have. What was it about that place?

"Yo, Earth to Hajime!"  He was brought back to reality at the sound of Souda's voice.  "You're totally spacing out, dude!  Get it together!"  Right.  They were at the hotel restaurant.  Like every morning.  He didn't even remember why he started thinking about the islands.

Souda had his fork pointed at Hinata, a piece of food on the end of it threatening to fall off back onto his plate. He had a care-free grin on his face, one eyebrow slightly tilted up in a curious look. "You've been starin' off for a while now, Hajime. Ya got somethin' on your mind? Anything worth sharin... that ya think you need to talk about?" He leaned forward in his seat, giving his self-proclaimed 'Soul Friend' a pointed look.

There really was no need to address that no one felt perfectly happy back on the island. They all knew it was for the best, that nothing inside the simulation could truly get to them now- that talking things out was much more important outside the simulation than it ever seemed to be inside. This was real.

The mechanic allowed his eyes to flicker over Hinata's face, then the others that were in the restaurant, trying to figure it out himself, if he could- although, it was unlikely, so instead he settled for seeing if anything seemed generally amiss before looking back to Hinata and popping his fork into his mouth, chewing contemplatively and focusing all his attention onto the man sitting opposite him.

"I'm fine." Hinata couldn't help but feel slightly amused. "Really. I just spaced out, 's all." Souda didn't seem to believe him entirely, but he shrugged after a moment.

"Fine, then," he said with a mouthful of food. "But if ya need to talk about anything, ya can!" He added. "We're all traumatized, here."

Hinata gave a tiny smile. "Sure," he said. "Thanks, Souda." Souda seemed happy enough with that, offering a sharp-toothed grin in response.

"I gotcha!" He proclaimed. "Now, whattya thinking of doing on this fine day? I kinda wanna go and take a look at that factory on the fifth island. 'Been awhile since I've been in there. I wanna see what it's about."

"I could come with you. I don't have anything to do, really," Hinata suggested, shrugging.

"That sounds fine to me!" Souda replied joyfully, taking a final bite of food. "You know I love havin' my Soul Friend around! Let's go now!" He insisted.

"Alright." Hinata nodded, pushing his chair back and standing. Souda was already halfway down the stairs. Hinata hurried to catch up to him.

They were at the hotel entrance within moments. Peko and Kuzuryuu were lounging by some of the beach chairs. Komaeda was close by, talking softly to the both of them. As they got closer to the two, Hinata could see Kuzuryuu's eyes glazing over in boredom.

"'Goin' out?" Kuzuryuu asked as they passed, glancing at Hinata. "Where to?"

"The factory," Souda replied, happily, before Hinata had a chance.

"Take this with you, then." He jabbed a thumb in Komaeda's direction. "'Bastard's givin' me a headache already."

"Do we hafta?" Souda seemed annoyed.

"It...couldn't hurt," Hinata offered. Souda looked at him like he had just suggested he murder someone.

"Well, if you wanted to get rid of me so badly, you could have just asked, Kuzuryuu-kun!" Komaeda laughed, standing up. "Are you sure I won't be a bother to the both of you?"

Souda opened his mouth to speak, but Hinata quickly spoke over him, as he knew that his friend- none of them, really- were quite able to see Komaeda in the exact same light again. He also knew, though, that Souda was... never really one to think before he spoke his opinions, usually jumping straight to stating them.

"You won't be a bother, Komaeda," the brunette said, quirking his mouth into a slight smile, pointedly ignoring the rather childish expression he was sure Souda was making. "We really wouldn't mind. Right, Souda?" Hinata tilted his head to glance at said mechanic out of the corner of his eye, watching as he gave a rather stilted-nod.

Komaeda let out a little laugh, taking the invitation gratefully with many spoken words, saying how if he became a bother they really could just send him away, that's fine, and Hinata threw a glance at Souda, knowing how he got with Komaeda's self-deprecating talks on the island the first time 'round, before turning back to Komaeda.

"Really, Komaeda, we would have declined if we really wanted to," Hinata told him, "we aren't obligated to do anything with each other anymore, right?"

Souda huffed something out rudely in the background, half-agreeing with Hinata, half-complaining about the situation as he shoved his hands behind his head, turning to the over-all pale boy.

"Yeah... We really don't hafta say yes. But- but we are!" Souda rushed, waving his hands frantically in front of him.

Komaeda gave him a light smile. "Well, I suppose if you say so, it'll be alright," he said. "I'll try my best not to be bothersome," he added.

"Okay. You do that," Hinata said, finding it best to simply humor him at that point. "Let's go, then." He waved Komaeda along, who followed slowly. Peko and Kuzuryuu seemed instantly relieved, turning to talk with each other once the three were a short distance away.

"Hurry up, Hajime! You're slacking!" Souda called. He was ahead of the two already. Hinata laughed slightly and jogged to catch up to him, while Komaeda lagged behind. Souda glanced over his shoulder at the boy before looking back at Hinata. "You'd think he'd've moved on from the comments already," he muttered. "Like, what's the deal? I can't tell if he seriously hates himself or if he's just doin' it for attention at this point. It's kinda frustrating."

"I don't know why he does it," Hinata shrugged, shoving his hands into his pant pockets. "But he'll stop eventually, I'm sure. He just needs to...feel like he's worth something, I guess."

"Yeah, but he could just be doin' it for attention," Souda reminded, shaking a finger at him.

"I don't know," Hinata repeated, kicking a pebble in his path. "Just...try and be nice to him. We're all still pretty screwed up after everything and that doesn't exclude him. So just, y'know. Roll with it."

"Yeah, sure.  'Guess you're right."  Souda rubbed the back of his neck slightly. "So long as he doesn't do anything weird or say dumb stuff I'm fine with it."

"He's always said dumb stuff, from what I've heard from you all," Hinata pointed out, giving a slightly crooked smile. "Surely you're used to it?"

Grumbling a noncommittal reply, Souda put his hands back behind his head, shrugging. "Kinda, I guess. 'S not somethin'... he wasn't really in class a lot, but I guess... whatever. I'll trust you sayin' he'll get over it, you know him best, dont'cha?" Souda waggled his eyebrows at Hinata, snickering at the surprised look that came over his face before it melted into a look that showed how he was clearly used to Souda's antics, at the very least.

Hinata elbowed him, Souda still laughing, voice raising an octave as he did so.

"You're an idiot," Hinata announced.

"Yeah, but ya love me," Souda replied, grinning.

"Sure." Hinata rolled his eyes as they reached the bridge to the central island. Komaeda appeared on his right at that moment.

"The two of you walk rather fast," Komaeda observed. "What is it you're looking to do at the factory, Souda?" He asked.

Souda glanced at him. "Uh...I jus' wanna look around a bit. I never really got a good look inside and it's probably different here than it was in the simulation," he said, looking ahead again. "You can just...do your thing if ya want. You don't have to come in."

"Hm. You're probably right. Knowing my luck, one of you will probably fall from an extremely high point and land on a metal piece of machinery." Komaeda looked thoughtful. "Maybe I'll stay outside."

"I'm sure nothing like that will happen," Hinata said quickly. Souda's eyes widened and he stared at Komaeda.

"What the hell, dude?" He said. "What the hell?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Did I scare you?" Komaeda seemed honestly concerned. "I didn't mean to. That's just my luck. Don't worry about it!"

Hinata nudged his friend. "It's fine," he insisted. "We're good."

Souda gave him a slightly annoyed look in response. "Yeah," he muttered. "Sure we are."

Fixing Souda with a slightly-stern look, Hinata moved forward to push open the doors of the factory open, glancing over his shoulder at Komaeda. "Your... bad luck aside, you really don't have to come in if you don't want to," he said, giving a slight smile he hoped was welcoming.

Komaeda smiled back, raising a hand. "Alright! I don't think I will come in with you, I really don't want to be a bother- after all, you didn't invite me, and Souda seemed to want to just spend time with you, Hinata," he said light-heartedly, "I wouldn't want to intrude anymore than I already am.

Souda had at least half a thought to look guilty, and Hinata blinked. "You really aren't-" he swallowed his words, knowing trying to argue would be pointless. "Alright. We can catch up with you as soon as Souda is done, alright?" Hinata watched as Komaeda gave a nod and laugh, leaning against the outside of the factory.

"We'll try to be quick," Hinata promised, once more ignoring Souda's quiet protest, before following said grumbling man into the factory.

"Really though," Souda started, jumping into conversation immediately upon being alone once more, "I wasn't fully jokin' when I said you knew him best earlier," he said, looking around the factory curiously.

Hinata snorted involuntarily, huffing. "Neither was I when I said you were an idiot," he replied, ignoring the feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"Oi, you're kiddin'," Souda replied, turning to look at Hinata. "You're really pullin' on my leg, aren't cha?" He asked, a bewildered look crossing his face.

"I thought I just stated that that's the opposite of what I was doing," Hinata said, raising an eyebrow. "I honestly have no idea what you're getting so worked up about. Really, though- hurry a little bit, Komaeda is waiting for us- we can come back tomorrow, or sometime soon, to make up for it," he said, putting his hands on his hips. Souda seemed to deflate at these words, and Hinata assumed it was because his plans for the day were, essentially, just ruined.

"Alright, alright. I'll give it a quick look around and then we can go," Souda sighed, "but I'm holding you up to that raincheck!" He said, holding a finger up to Hinata.

"Sure," Hinata replied, lips quirking up slightly as Souda hurried further inside.

"It's definitely a lot different than I remember in the simulation," the mechanic announced as he looked around. "No Monobeasts or whatever. It seems pretty normal, t'be honest."

Souda remembered a lot compared to a lot of them. Many could remember some things, while other memories were distorted or fuzzy. Collectively, however, they could pretty much recall everything. At least, that's what they figured.

Hinata stepped further into the factory. Machines were whirring and clicking and all around making it hard for him to even hear himself think. He was surprised, considering they had to have been running for a long time. How did they still run on an abandoned island like this?

Whatever. It wasn't really important. Souda, however, seemed intrigued by this fact. He rushed down a flight of nearby stairs in order to get closer to the machinery, and Hinata followed instinctively.

"Don't ya think it's nuts, Hajime? How all this stuff still works?" Souda asked. He sounded like a child. "I mean, think about it! How long ya think it's all been here? A long time, probably. Ya think the Future Foundation's keepin' It running somehow?" He inquired.

"'Dunno," Hinata gave, hands shoved into his pockets. "Is this stuff important somehow? I mean, we're not trying to get off the island anymore..."

"Hajime, Hajime, Hajime." Souda clicked his tongue. "Of course it's important! A mechanic's gotta keep himself busy somehow! 'Don't wanna get rusty," he explained, pressing a hand to a nearby machine, inspecting it closely.

"There doesn't seem to be anything here that needs fixing," Hinata observed.

"Yet, my good friend." Souda seemed pleased with these findings. "Okay! We can go now, if ya want," he said. The other nodded in response.

"Sure. Komaeda's still waiting. 'Probably wandered off by now," Hinata joked as they climbed back up the stairs, which he only noticed, now, were very unsteady and creaked as they walked. They looked like they were made out of plastic, if anything.

"Good riddance," said Souda. Hinata elbowed him for the second time that day. "I was only kiddin'!"

"At least try and get along. We're really stuck with each other, now," Hinata insisted.

"It wouldn't be hard if he wasn't so weird. I'm scared he's gonna come for me in my sleep or somethin'," Souda said weakly as they exited the building. Hinata took a deep breath, not realizing how badly it reeked of gasoline inside the factory. He looked around after a moment, noticing Komaeda was nowhere within sight.

"Huh," he huffed. "I guess I jinxed it."

"Where the hell could he have gone?" Souda grumbled. "'This mean we have to find him now?"

"Well, yeah." Hinata glared at him slightly. "We can't just, like, go all the way back to the first island and leave him here. "

"I guess." Souda crossed his arms behind his head. "Where should we check first, then?"

"I'm not sure.  He couldn't have gone too far in that amount of time, right?"  Hinata stopped to think.  Souda was having none of that.

"I'll check Electric Avenue,"  he offered.  Before Hinata could protest, Souda was off.  "I'll meet you at the island bridge later, Hajime!  I'll come get you if I find him!"  He added, and was gone.

Hinata huffed out a sigh, shaking his head slightly as he began to walk away from the factory.  The boy weighed his options.  The plushie factory wasn't far; Komaeda could've feasibly made it there, Hinata figured.  He's not that fast, anyway.  He's probably there.

He began to jog in that direction.  He wondered if it was even a plushie factory; that's what it was in the simulation, but it could be anything in reality.  He made it there fairly quickly.  He stopped in front, noticing the exterior was lacking the enormous Monokuma head it once had over it.  Instead, it just seemed like a regular building.  There was some sort of sign above the entrance, some words not in Hinata's language scrawled across it.  He pushed the doors open and entered.

It looked the same as he remembered inside, though lacking the thousands of Monokuma plushies being made.  The conveyor belts were not moving, totally still.  It was oddly quiet inside.

Hinata walked further in, looking around for any sign of Komaeda.  He found none.  After creaking the door to the lounge open and finding nothing once again, he decided the luckster couldn't  possible be there.  So, he turned and left.

Once outside again, he stopped in front of the door and put his hands on his hips, trying to determine where to search next.  His gaze almost immediately flickered over to the entrance to the warehouse on his left.

Just my luck, Hinata thought bitterly.  'Guess I...don't really have a choice.  His heart instantly began to race, but he pushed towards the door, anyway.

"Komaeda...?" He poked his head in, instantly spotting the head of white hair. "There you are," he muttered, stepping into the warehouse, feeling uneasy.

Komaeda turned to look at him, and broke out into a grin. "Ah, Hinata-kun! You and Souda are already finished?" He asked, tilting his head to the side.

"Um--yeah. Souda--he said that he'd check it out another day," Hinata admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'll just...go with him when he does it then," he contained, eyes darting around the warehouse warily.

"Ah, of course!" Komaeda replied, smile growing larger, seeming content with the answer. He also, oddly, seemed completely at ease in the warehouse- although, he always seemed to be at ease when he shouldn't be- at the beginning of the simulation being a prime example.

"Hey... why did you choose here, of all places, to look around while we were in the factory?" Hinata asked him, his eyes moving from around the room to the man in question himself.

"I'm not too sure, myself,"  Komaeda said.  "This place gives off an odd vibe, in my opinion.  I just can't put my finger on what's off about it,"  he hummed.  This was understandable.  If Souda had the best memory of the simulation, Komaeda definitely had the worst.  He remembered fragments of memories, bits and pieces; nothing too specific.  Any whole memory he could recall was an experience he shared with Hinata. Typically when something horrible wasn't occurring.

"Is that it?"  Hinata was beginning to get antsy just standing there.  "You had us worried.  You can come back here on your own time, okay?  Let's leave, Souda's looking for you, too."  He knew that was probably untrue, but he said it anyway. 

Komaeda smiled softly and nodded.  "Alright,"  he said, walking over to Hinata.  "I must say, I'm flattered you were worried about trash like me."  He laughed good-heartedly as they exited the warehouse. 

"You're not trash.  Of course we'd be worried,"  Hinata mumbled, beginning to head in the direction of Electric Avenue.

"If you say so, Hinata-kun," Komaeda replied.  They were both silent for a few moments before the white-haired boy spoke again.  "You seemed a bit tense back there,"  he observed.  "Is there something about that place that you remember?" 

"No, nothing,"  Hinata lied.  "I just don't like it."

Komaeda hummed in response, crossing his arms.  "Alright,"  he said. "Maybe you're starting to remember something, then?  Or, at least, deep down, you know that something happened there," he mused, matching Hinata's steps, if only with a half a moments delay, now that he was thinking.

"Something happened in every corner of this island," Hinata replied, frowning. "Besides, it's not like we... really mentioned it in detail, when sharing," he contributed, rubbing his arm to get rid of the goosebumps that had formed there.

"I'm sure someone will remember eventually.  Then we can find out why it bothers you so much," Komaeda declared,  "the others have their reasons not to go into specific rooms, you could have yours."

Hinata made a noise as a means of responding, pursing his lips.  "...Right," he breathed, looking up to assess their surroundings.

"Or maybe you'll remember it yourself,"  Komaeda continued, either choosing to ignore or just not noticing the slight discomfort in Hinata's voice. "It's too bad that we can't ask anyone and get an answer right away,"  the albino-haired sighed, seeming genuinely disappointed.

"I'm sure I'll remember it eventually." There was an edge of annoyance in Hinata's voice.  "It'll come to me.  Let's just stop talking about it,"  he said. 

"Oh.  Alright, Hinata-kun."  Komaeda frowned for a moment before offering another tiny smile.  "I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable."

"It's fine.  You're fine,"  Hinata insisted, walking a bit faster.  They were already a bit past the vendor street, which meant they weren't far from Electric Avenue. 

"Heeey!"  He suddenly heard Souda's voice.  The mechanic was a bit farther ahead of them, waving his hands in the air.  "'Found him?  Great!"  He came running up to the both of them.  "That means we can go back now, then, yeah?"

"Yeah,"  Hinata said, crossing his arms over his chest.  "Let's head back to the hotel."

 

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They made it back rather quickly;  Hinata walked with a sort of urgency in his step.  Komaeda lagged behind, mostly, while Souda jogged slowly as a means of staying a little farther in front of Hinata the whole time.

"So, where was he?"  Souda inquired, once they were about halfway to the first island's bridge. 

"'Warehouse by the plushie factory,"  Hinata responded, shortly.

"That's weird,"  Souda said.  "Did 'e tell ya why?"

"He doesn't know why.  He thinks it's just a strange place."  Why couldn't anyone seem to get the hint that he didn't want to talk about the goddamn warehouse?

"That's weird.  It's such a small place, too."  He glanced at Hinata.  "Do you not like it there or somethin'?  You're all pale,"  he commented.

"No, I don't like it, so I'd appreciate if we could stop talking about it,"  Hinata snapped.

"Woah!  Okay, man, no need to get defensive."  Souda threw his hands up in the air.  "I gotcha!"

"Sorry," Hinata sighed, deflating. "'Didn't mean to yell at you. That place just... doesn't sit well with me, and Komaeda wouldn't drop it earlier," he said, feeling the need to explain himself. "Well- he did, eventually, but... we still talked about it longer than I would have liked," he clarified, moving to defend Komaeda- a habit, defending people, but especially Komaeda, nowadays.

Souda shrugged, swinging his arms. "Nah, I get it, I get it. Everyone's got that place they don't wanna be, maybe that's just yours," Souda said as a final note, unknowingly agreeing with Komaeda.

"So I've heard," Hinata replied flatly, crossing his arms.

"Would you... try to get along with him more?" The brunette suddenly asked, turning to Souda. He was only partially trying to change the subject- he still did want Souda to get along with Komaeda, what with the little pieces that the elites could remember from their actual school days. "It's not his fault that..." he trailed off, knowing Souda would be able to fill in the rest of that sentence perfectly fine.

"What?  That he's constantly saying weird shit, tried to kill us all once, among other things?"  Souda raised an eyebrow at him.  "I want to try, Hajime, I just, ya know.  It's kinda hard for some of us to be comfortable with that.  'Guy gives me the creeps.  And I get you like him and all but I dunno how to talk to the guy like you can!  I mean, you can talk to everyone!"  He shrugged, arms in the air.  "I can try,  for my Soul Friend,  but it's not like it's gonna be easy!"

Hinata huffed out a sigh, arms tightening around himself.  "He'd never do anything like that again.  He likes all of us, he does,"  he said.  "He's just not...as social as we all are, I guess.  But he'd never kill any of us.  You can't compare what happened in the simulation to this."  He glanced ahead, spotting the bridge back to the first island.  "We're not in a situation where he'd do that.  So that's not going to happen.  Try and put that aside."

Komaeda began to catch up with them as they walked across the bridge.  "I haven't walked this much in awhile,"  he laughed.  "I apologize for falling behind."

"It's fine, Komaeda," Hinata said quickly.  "Don't worry about it.  We're not really in a rush."

Komaeda stared at him.  "Excuse me for saying, but you seem to be in quite the rush, Hinata-kun."

"Oh?"  Hinata raised an eyebrow.  "Sorry."

"Oh, it's nothing to be sorry for!  I simply made an observation,"  the luckster said.

"Okay."  Hinata looked back ahead, focusing on the arch at the end of the bridge.  They walked in silence for awhile.  Once they reached the hotel entrance, Komaeda turned to Hinata.

"Alright, well, I don't want to bother you two any more!  I'll talk to you later, Hinata-kun,"  he said.  Before the other could respond, he was off.  Hinata turned to Souda.

"So, um..."  He struggled to find what to say.  It was an awkward situation, to say the least.  "I think I'm...gonna go back to my cottage.  I'll, uh, meet you later, if that's okay."

"Sure thing, Hajime!"  Souda grinned at him.  "I'll be by the hotel for awhile if ya need me!  Rest and recuperate."  He clapped Hinata not-so gently on the shoulder before walking in the direction of the hotel.  Hinata, rubbing his shoulder, watched him go before turning and walking to his cottage.

Yeah.  He just needed to rest, take his mind off things.  I shouldn't be so shaken up about this, still.  I'm not even in there anymore, dammit!  The boy huffed out a sigh of frustration, pushing his door open and nearly slamming it behind him.

Hinata sighed, falling onto his bed. He turned over onto his back at stared at the canopy, thoughts that he couldn't fully make sense of rubbing rampant through his mind. He laid like that for awhile before sleep finally consumed him.

----------------

 

"...ata...Hinata!"

Hinata's eyes flew open. Souda was looming over him, looking concerned.

"Huh?"

"Ya gotta get up, Hinata. Kuzuryuu found the bombs."

Hinata was instantly wide awake, eyes bulging. "Bombs," he repeated, sitting up so quickly his head spun. "What bombs?!"

"The ones Komaeda hid from us." Souda looked at him like he'd just asked the dumbest question in the universe. Hinata's head was still spinning, oddly enough. "C'mon, we don't have time for this." He yanked Hinata by the arm out of bed. He began running the instant they were out of the cottage, and Hinata followed suit.

It felt like forever had gone by when they finally reached the plushie factory. Inside was a beat-up pickup truck, filled to the brim with what had to be hundreds of explosives. Hinata halted the instant he saw them.

"What....what is this?"

"It is not what you think!" Sonia suddenly spoke up. She was closest to the truck, turned to face all of them. Well, some of them. Akane was there, as well as Kuzuryuu and Chiaki (and of course Souda and himself). That was it. "These are not explosives! They're fireworks!" As if on cue, the "bombs" suddenly burst, crackling loudly as they released sparks into the air. Hinata squinted, covering his ears. Once it died down, he spoke.

"What's...what's going on?" He demanded, voice shaking. "What is all of this? Why did you tell me that Komaeda was hiding bombs from us?" He whipped around to face Souda.

"We thought he did!" Souda instantly cried. "He said he did! We didn't know they were fireworks!"

"Listen, I get you don't like him, but that's a pretty fucked up lie, Souda!" Hinata continued, venom in his voice. "What's the meaning of this? Why we're all these fireworks in here?!"

"Have you forgotten, Hinata?" Sonia looked at him, worried. "I hope you're not suffering from memory loss! What Souda is saying is true, we thought Komaeda was planning to blow up the island!"

Hinata felt dizzy. "You're...you're kidding." He paused. "Where are--"

"Can you all hold on a second?" Kuzuryuu suddenly snapped. "We have to figure out what the hell is going on. There's a computer over here, maybe there's something on it that'll help us make sense of this."

Everyone crowded around a computer that was left on one of the conveyor belts. Hinata watched as Komaeda's face appeared on screen, but couldn't seem to hear what he was saying.

"Shit!" Kuzuryuu cursed after a moment. "This bastard...okay, let's just...get over there already." He left first, and Akane followed.

"I'm gonna clobber him!" She growled.

Sonia and Souda went after them, Hinata trailing behind. What is going on? The boy's heart was racing. What the hell is going on?

By the time he was outside, Akane was bashing the door to the warehouse in.   He hurried over just as it opened.

"Well, go in!" Souda said as everyone paused. However, Hinata could hear the uncertainty in his voice. Akane stepped in first and the rest followed, looking around.

Hinata held his breath as he walked into the warehouse. There was...a line of Monokuma cutouts laying on the ground, toppled over on one another. Before he could wonder why they were there, flames rose in the room, engulfing the whole thing.

"What the hell?!" Souda cried.

"What do we do?!"

"It's a fire!"

"Everyone! There are fire grenades in the break room of the plushie factory!" Chiaki yelled. Chiaki...he hadn't thought anything of it before. Why was Chiaki-? "We have to go and get them!" She dashed out of the warehouse, the others following, with Hinata last once again.

They made a byline for the factory, and fell all over one another to get to the fire grenades. Chiaki tossed one to each of them.

When they reached the warehouse once again, they threw the fire grenades towards the flames. However, that seemed to do nothing to stop the roaring fire.

"What do we do now?!" Akane cried. "It's not stoppin' at all!" Moments after she spoke, the sprinklers in the room seemed to finally detect the smoke, and went off, successfully putting out the flames. Everyone went quiet. 

Moments that felt more like minutes passed when, suddenly, Chiaki turned to them.  "We have to leave,"  she said, "to let the smoke dissipate."  They all listened, exiting the building once again.

Hinata's heart raced.  His mind was going just as fast, filled with questions like, What the hell is happening?  and Why did the warehouse set on fire?, Where did those Monokuma cutouts come from?, but most prominently: Where's Komaeda?  Is he okay?

He plopped down on the ground, head in his arms.  He just needed to collect his thoughts.  Before he could even begin,  Souda sat down beside him.

"Hey,"  the mechanic quietly began,  "'you okay, Hinata?"

"...'Fine,"  Hinata muttered. "'M fine."

"Y'sure?  You seem... out of it,"  Souda pushed, leaning back on his hands.

"I just... Yeah. Yeah, I'm alright." Hinata said, shaking his head to clear it. "Just... a weird dream, I guess, or somethin',"  he sighed, threading a hand through his short hair and averting his eyes from his friend.

"If ya say so," Souda grunted, continuing to watch Hinata as if he could figure out whatever was plaguing the brunette's mind just by staring at him.

Is my mind really cruel enough to dream up a world where everything is fine at a time like this? Hinata asked himself, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth.  And more importantly, where is Komaeda...? Why the hell were they talking about bombs? Komaeda never... He quickly banished the thought, realizing he was just stuck in a place of confusion between what happened in his dream, and what was currently happening.

"Hey hey, I think we can go back in to check it out now,"  Nanami was walking towards them, effectively halting Hinata's thoughts. Funny, that was, as that was another thing he was confused about, but he just kept repeating the mantra of  It was a dream in his head, not realizing the irony of that statement.

Hinata and Souda stood up, and they made their way briskly back to the warehouse to investigate. Hinata had a bad feeling about going back in there, he really did- he wasn't sure if he really wanted to, but he knew that he would have to go back regardless. "You can do this,"  he said to himself, straightening his stance, as if that would give him more confidence.

The rag-tag group walked cautiously into the warehouse, smelling the remnants of the fire, but also something else.

"Is that...?"

Hinata made a choked noise in the back of his throat, taking a step back.  "It's... but--"  he stuttered, cautiously following the rest of the group, if not a bit slower.

"Yup, it is," Nanami confirmed, pulling the straps of her backpack.

"No way, no way, no way," Souda muttered, tugging on his hat.

Hinata took slow steps towards the curtain at the far end of the room, ignoring the burning feeling of the others' eyes on his back. He slowly reached out and moved to pull back the curtain, letting out a shaky breath.  Whipping back the curtain, Hinata stumbled backwards amongst the rest of the group, ignoring the piercing scream that Sonia let out, as well as the familiar shriek that Souda emitted.

"What the hell is going on?!" Kuzuryuu yelled, face contorting into a look of shocked confusion.

"He's not playin' around, is he?!" Akane demanded, clenching a fist. "He's dead? He's really dead? There's no way he could be dead, it's- it's Komaeda!" She shouted, clenching her teeth together.

Hinata's mind repeated his name over and over, unable to comprehend what was before him. Komaeda was- dead?

Something about that was not right.

Hinata watched as the space between himself and Komaeda-- Komaeda's body grew darker, and darker, until---

 

-----------

 

Hinata's body flailed, and he shot ramrod straight in his bed, chest heaving as he tried to re-capture his breath.  His eyes danced frantically around the room, noticing the changes-- no stand for Monokuma plushies being the most notable.

"What the hell..."  he whispered, clutching the front of his shirt in his hand, "was that?" 

His heart was hammering in his chest.  He sat in silence for awhile, willing himself to calm down.  What was all that? His head was still spinning.  That was all just some crazy dream, right?

After a few more moments of sitting, Hinata forced himself out of bed and out the door to his cottage.  He began making his way towards the restaurant, where he was sure Souda would be.  As he walked, however, the pain in his head seemed to steadily increase, until he had to stop and sit down in one of the nearby chairs.

"Shit,"  Hinata mumbled, gripping his head.  "What is going on?"

At that moment, images flashed through his mind.  They came and went, almost too fast for Hinata to even register them.  Akane, Chiaki, Souda, Sonia and himself -- all in that horrible warehouse.  Horror on their faces.  Fire.  Komaeda, bloody, duct tape over his mouth.  Blood, blood, blood, so much blood--

The boy could barely hear himself screaming.  He actually became aware of it once he was literally shaken out of his thoughts, Souda in front of him, tightly gripping his shoulders.

"Hajime!  Hajime, calm down, man!  Calm down!"  The mechanic was shouting.  He looked bewildered, face pale.  "Hajime!  Are you okay?!"  He cried as Hinata seemed to return to reality. 

"I--"  Hinata gasped for breath.  "I don't--I'm--"

"What happened?!"  Souda demanded.  "Why were you screaming?!"

"I--Komaeda, he--you, the others--"

"Okay, okay, calm down!  Just--you don't have to tell me right now."  Souda yanked Hinata to his feet, letting him lean on his side.  The boy's head was still pounding, he was still gripping it tightly.  "Let's get you to Mikan, I'm sure she'll...know what's wrong.  Can ya walk?"  He was watching his friend closely as he helped him towards the hotel.  "Okay, you're good...ah...your head hurtin'?"

Hinata clenched his jaw tightly, nodding slightly.  He screwed his eyes shut;  the pain was still there, prominent.  "I think,"  he managed,  "I had...a nightmare..."

"...A nightmare?" Souda repeated, furrowing his eyebrows.  "That's... You're sure?" he asked, speaking slowly. "And... you don't wanna talk about it?"

"Mm... I don't know, if-"  Hinata muttered, rubbing his temple.  "It was kind of... brutal," he admitted, gritting his teeth.

"You don't mean--" Souda started, but Hinata weakly waved a hand to cut him off.

"You said I didn't have to talk about it, remember?" Hinata grunted, "I just... need a little bit to think about it first. Alright? Then... then I'll tell you," he said, hoping that would be enough to hold Souda off for even just a little while.

This probably isn't something I should hold from the group,  Hinata thought,  But the contents of that dream... worry me.

"Okay..."  Souda sighed.  "If ya say so," he added as they climbed the stairs and entered the restaurant.

The instant they arrived inside, Mikan, Sonia, Hiyoko, and Gundham (who we're all sitting at a table) looked straight at him.  Mikan stood up quickly.

"I-is that who was screaming?"  Her voice was high with concern, hands clasped together under her chin.  "Hajime, are you okay?"  She rushed over to him, checking for any external injuries.

"'M fine," Hinata lied. "I just...had a nightmare, and a...really bad headache. I'll be fine."

Mikan seemed confused. "A nightmare? So you fell asleep outside?"

"No..."

"I think he had a flashback," Souda put in, shrugging. "Just for the record. Ya don't scream like that over a nightmare."

"A flashback," Hinata repeated slowly. That's impossible, he thought bitterly. My mind's just sick, cruel. 'Made me dream that up. There's no way that was some sort of flashback. I'm just freaked out from the dream. "There's no way that was a flashback," he said aloud.

"You said you had a really bad headache?" Mikan stared at him with now partly curious, partly concerned eyes. "W-what happened while you had the worst of that headache, which I'm guessing was when you were outside?"

"I...I just, saw some things, from the dream I had." He turned his head away from her, studying a spot on the wall. Suddenly, he felt a surge of agitation. "I have to...just let me try and make sense of it myself, first, I don't want to talk about it anymore!"

Mikan flinched. "O-okay!" She said quickly. "Th-that's okay! We don't have to t-talk about it! I'm sorry," the nurse whimpered.

"Don't be sorry!" Souda said quickly. "He's just on edge!"

Hinata clutched his head again. "'Sorry," he said after a moment, finally feeling strong enough to pull himself from Souda's grasp and stand on his own. "I'm just...really confused about it. I didn't mean to yell at you."

"O-oh, that's alright, I-I shouldn't have p-pushed," Mikan stuttered, rubbing her knuckles together. "R-really, though- I-I should get something to help you with your h-headache!" She spoke at varying paces, stilling her hands. "It m-might be best for you to just rest f-for the day. I-I'll bring something to y-you to help you with the headache, and to h-help you sleep... I-if that's okay!" She yelped, nervously running a hand through her choppy hair.

"Yeah... yeah, thanks, Mikan," Hinata said, wincing slightly. "That sounds great, thank you," he repeated, letting out an internal sigh. This would buy him some time before Souda would inevitably get pushy and want to hear about his dream- whenever anything that could have even the vaguest hint to their simulation lives came up, Souda was usually the first to know, all things considered.

"I-I'll be back right away!" She squeaked, rushing out of the restaurant in a flurry of motion, calling out a timid "Please stay here and don't m-move much!"

Souda chuckled from behind him, and Hinata startled, forgetting he was there- the brunette was so caught up between trying to sift through his own thoughts and trying to calm Mikan whilst normally trying to talk with her.

"You should probably sit down then, eh?" Souda said, sitting down at a chair. "After she gives ya your medicine or whatever I can walk ya back to your cottage, and then you can catch up on your sleep."

"I can walk there on my own--" Hinata went to insist, before being immediately cut off.

"Ya barely made it out of your room earlier, from where I found ya. What kinda friend would I be if that happened again?" Souda asked, leaning back on his chair. "I'm walkin ya back. Don't argue- ah, Mikan's back," he said, looking over Hinata's shoulder.

Mikan walked briskly towards Hinata, just barely avoiding tripping and causing a scene. "H-here," she stuttered, "Take one of these and g-go straight to bed. Y-you should be fine again t-tomorrow," the nurse explained, sounding as confident as she possibly could, pushing a pill bottle into Hinata's hands.

Hinata made a hum, turning to Souda. "We're going, then?" He asked, getting a nod from the pink-haired.

They addressed the group with a general goodbye, and Hinata received some kind words, mostly being something like feel better! He accepted them awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck with a clammy hand.

Hinata and Souda walked in silence the short distance to the cottages, Souda forcing Hinata to walk on the outside as to "Not fall into the pool, just in case!"

They got to their cottages, still sat across from each other, and Souda fixed Hinata with a pointed look. "Tell me tomorrow? We shouldn't keep things from each other," he pointed out, placing a hand on his hip.

"Alright, alright," Hinata sighed, absentmindedly rattling the pill bottle in his hand. "I'll tell you some time around breakfast. Promise," he said, sarcastically placing a hand on his chest.

Souda scowled despite the joking light in his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. Feel better, alright?" He said, watching Hinata turn and enter his cottage.

"Got it!" Hinata called, immediately regretting it and opening the little bottle of pills upon entering his cottage. He took one, just as Mikan had told him, grimacing at the taste and sitting down on his bed, toeing off his shoes and laying back comfortably. He felt his eyes lids grow heavy and the corners of his mind fuzz, this time to just a simple black rather than blood-splattered curtains or the horrific sight of a seemingly terrified, duct-taped face.

And before he knew it, Hinata was waking up again, thankfully in his normal cottage, he noted.

Sunlight was teaming in through his window. The instant he could focus, he turned over and glanced at the clock on his nightstand (which read 6:24). After a few moments, he willed himself to get up and out of bed. I'm just gonna get this over with, he told himself, No big deal. It'll be over in a couple minutes.

He walked to the bathroom, proceeding to do basic things: he tried to tame his hair a bit, he brushed his teeth, and so on. Afterwards, he glanced at himself in the mirror and took a deep breath. Then, he left as quick as he came in.

He slipped his shoes on before leaving the cottage, and then headed for the restaurant.

Once he arrived, he found Souda sitting alone (luckily) at a table. The mechanic instantly turned and smiled at him.

"Hey, Hajime," he chirped. "You're up early!"

"You are, too," Hinata pointed out, going and sitting beside him.

"Anyway," said Souda. "How'd ya sleep?" He inquired.

Hinata instantly felt uncomfortable again. "Good," he said after a pause of silence. "No more nightmares, so far."

"That's good!" Souda nodded. "'Ready to tell me about the one ya did have?"

Hinata swallowed thickly. "Um. Yes," he said slowly, reluctantly. "So, um...I don't know, it was...it was weird," he began. "I...I was in my cottage in bed and...you woke me up and told me that...there were bombs.  They were in the plushie factory,"  the boy explained.  "And...we went there, but the bombs were actually fireworks.  And then, I don't know-- there was some computer, with a video of Komaeda on it, and Kuzuryuu, he went to the warehouse and we all followed him...and Chiaki was there, too,"  he stated in a rush.  "And-- when we got to the warehouse, there was a fire, and so we tried to put it out but we couldn't, but the sprinklers put it out instead--"  he could feel himself running out of breath, "--and then we had to wait for the smoke to dissipate but when we went back in, he-- Komaeda, he was, he was in the back, and he was all bloody and--and tied up, and he was dead, and--"

"Woah, woah, woah!"  Souda threw his hands up.  "Calm down, slow down."  Hinata only noticed his hands trembling when Souda interrupted him.  "So...in this dream, Komaeda died?"

"Yes,"  Hinata said slowly.

"In the warehouse?"

"Yes."

Souda raised an eyebrow at him. "And you think that wasn't a flashback to something that happened in the simulation?"

"Of course I don't,"  Hinata muttered.  "It couldn't be, that'd never happen."

"That would explain your irrational fear 'a the place,"  Souda pointed out, pointing a finger at him, eyebrows raised.  "It's not impossible.  I do remember a fire happening; can't say for sure if it was at the warehouse, though."

Hinata's throat went dry.  "Really?"  He said,  "you're kidding, right?  Please tell me you're joking."

"Well, some of it could've just been a dream, but...it's really not impossible that part of it happened."

"But, Komaeda--"

Souda cut him off.  "Who was in the dream?  'Sides me and Fuyuhiko.  And...Chiaki."

"Sonia,"  Hinata said slowly, licking his lips.  "And you guys.  That's it.  And-- of course, Komaeda."

"That would also explain why he woke up last,"  Souda said.  "If he died last. That's everyone who was still alive at the time. I mean, 'sides from Chiaki, I remember Komaeda being the only one not there. I don't remember if he died or not, though. I just know those two...weren't there at the end. Maybe ya know since ya care about him so much."

Hinata was silent for a long time.  "...So...h-he died?  He-he really died, that wasn't just a dream?"

"I don't know for sure, I can't really say."  Souda looked thoughtful, leaning his elbows on the table.  "But if I had to...put money on it, I'd bet at least part of it happened.  For sure.  'Cause I remember the fire. And everyone who was with us before the simulation...ended."

"But...but, that's means--" Hinata muttered, rubbing his arms.

Souda gave him a slightly-sympathetic smile, chuckling weakly.

"But he's...he's okay now."  Hinata took quick breaths, trying to calm himself down.  His heart was beating a mile a minute.  "If that did happen."

"Uh-huh."  Souda nodded, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms across his chest.  He watched Hinata closely.

"So it's fine."  The boy showed zero signs of calming down any time soon.  "I'm-shit, I'm never stepping foot in that warehouse again, what the hell--"

"Hinata-kun?"  A familiar voice cut him off.  Hinata jerked his head to face the entrance to the restaurant, eyes locking on Komaeda, who stood in the doorway.  "What are you talking about?"

"Nothing."  Hinata's response was instantaneous, instinctual.  "Why?"

"That didn't sound like nothing."  Komaeda was staring at him, eyes wide. He almost looked worried.

Souda glanced between the two, sighing.  "I think you should just tell 'im,"  the mechanic said.  "It's somethin' he should know, if anyone."

Hinata felt like a rock had been lodged in his throat.  "I don't want to,"  he managed.  "I don't want to think about it anymore, I don't want him to--"

"I'm right here, Hinata-kun."  Komaeda laughed airily.  "What is it?"

"I can't do this.  You tell him."  Hinata pushed his chair back and stood up, but Komaeda stopped him before he could leave, grasping him by the arm.

"Hinata-kun,"  he said,  "it's about the warehouse, right?  What happened in there?  I'd really like to know."

Hinata stared at him for awhile before finally speaking.  "You died.  I guess."  His voice trembled.  "Happy?"  He pulled away from the luckster.  Komaeda stared at him.  Before he could say anything, Hinata hurried out of the restaurant.

He wanted to scream out of frustration more than anything.  This was all too much.  Life was supposed to be simpler now, but nothing could be simple for them, could it? 

Hinata vowed, then, that he wouldn't even visit the fifth island again.  What reason would he have for it, anyway? He didn't need anymore weird flashbacks of Komaeda.

The boy walked (or, more like jogged) all the way to the beach.  Once he was there he plopped down in the sand, staring out at the ocean, resting an arm on a knee.  He just needed to calm down.

The fresh air was helpful.  It was better there than anywhere on Jabberwock Island, in his opinion -- on the beach.  It was pure, clean, seemingly unpolluted. Like it was separate from everywhere else entirely. There was always something relaxing about it.  For a short time, him and the others bonded there.  He got to know them there.  He met Komaeda there.  Regardless of whatever horrible memories resided at that beach, the good conquered them.  That was a good feeling.

He sat there for what felt like hours but was more like minutes, just gazing out at the water.  It was peaceful; it calmed him down.  He was fine.  Then, someone sat down beside him.  He didn't have to look to know who it was. 

"Hello, Hinata-kun,"  Komaeda said slowly, carefully, as if he were trying to coax a stray dog towards safety.  "I'm sorry about what happened back there.  I shouldn't have--"

"Don't apologize,"  Hinata mumbled.  He still didn't look at the other.  "I'm just...still trying to understand it all, myself.  I'm seriously freaked out."

"I understand,"  Komaeda replied.  "I'm sorry you had to remember such a thing.  Now that you mention it, I...do recall a little."

"So what happened to you?"  Hinata didn't want to know.  "Who killed you?"   He felt like he already knew. 

"Not important,"  Komaeda insisted.  "...Does it bother you, then?"

"Of course it does,"  Hinata admitted, not without hesitance.  "It's scary.  I...don't think I'll ever be able to go back in there,"  he added.

"Understandable,"  Komaeda sighed.  "At least now you know why your forbidden place is forbidden!"

"I guess."  Hinata brought his knees to his chest.  "I'm really sorry, Komaeda,"  he said,  "that that happened."

"It can't be helped, Hinata-kun.  Besides, that was...the past.  For that matter, it wasn't even real!"  Komaeda pointed out, sounding as optimistic as ever.  "It would be best not to let it eat you up.  I'm fine, after all!  Though I'm kind of surprised you'd worry yourself sick over scum like me!"  The way Komaeda spoke about his own death, his own murder, made Hinata feel ill.  Like he wasn't fazed by it at all -- like it didn't matter.  How could he act like that?  Was it just an act?  Was there trauma underneath it?  Hinata didn't have the answers.

"I guess so,"  the boy replied slowly.  "You're not scum,"  he added, as an afterthought.

Komaeda laughed, digging his fingers into the sand. "You don't have to say things like that," he said, smiling. "It's alright," he continued, turning his face to the sky and closing his eyes serenely.

Hinata turned to look at Komaeda, watching him. "Why do you do that?" He asked, resting his chin on his knees.

"Do what?" Komaeda asked, a genuine look of confusion coming across his face as he turned to watch Hinata.

"You-- you put yourself down all the time," Hinata stuttered, suddenly wary about the conversation topic, what with how Komaeda was staring at him.

"Well - no one else wants to say the truth about me - it's only fair if someone points it out, right? It means you all don't have to lie to me...although, you still do..." Komaeda hummed, lifting a hand and letting the sand fall through the gaps in his fingers.

"...The only one lying is you, Komaeda- really, you don't have to say that stuff about yourself," Hinata mumbled, watching the sand trickle from Komaeda's hand.

"Hm."  Komaeda glanced away from him, back out at the sea.

"Things are different, now, okay?"  Hinata went on.  "I care about you, you know?  We all do, honestly.  You just can't see it."

"I find that hard to believe, Hinata-kun,"  Komaeda sighed.  "Now I believe you're the one lying."

"Komaeda."  Hinata took a breath, agitated at that point.  "You have to stop.  You're not worthless.  You aren't scum, or trash, or whatever, alright?  I wouldn't say it so many goddamn times if I didn't mean it.  I'll keep saying it if I have to, even if it annoys the shit out of me, which it's really starting to."  He turned to face him fully.  "Got it?"

Komaeda looked back at him, quiet for a few moments.  "I suppose so,"  he said, finally,  "thank you."

Hinata blinked at him. "No problem," he quickly replied. They were quiet for a few minutes, at least, before Komaeda spoke again, unexpectedly.

"I'm just..." he seemed to hesitate, clearly not sure if he should've been saying what he was about to say. "...I'm sure you'll get tired of me, Hinata-kun."

It was Hinata's turn to stare. "What makes you say that? Why would I get tired of you?" Where did that come from? He wondered. Why would he suddenly say that?

"Well, because everyone does!" Komaeda laughed. Of course he laughed. Though, he didn't sound as lighthearted as he typically would.  In fact, Hinata could hear the strain in his voice.  "You will, too, eventually.  I can't say that doesn't worry me a bit."

"It worries you?"  Hinata was still staring.  "Komaeda, I'm not gonna get sick of you, okay?  I couldn't even if I wanted to.  So just...calm down, alright?"

"Right."  The luckster seemed to quickly recover from whatever moment he had just went through in an instant.  "I'm sorry about that.  I didn't mean to say that."

Komaeda was...notorious for trying to cover things up after he said them, or switch things around and insisting truths to be lies.  Hinata knew this by now-- after so many encounters with Komaeda doing just that.  He learned to humor him;  it made him feel better.

"Okay, Komaeda,"  Hinata said, standing and brushing the sand from his pants.  "I believe you.  Let's, um...let's go back to the restaurant now, okay?"

The other passed him a look, silent, before he stood up, as well.  "Alright,"  he agreed.  "That would be fine."

 

-------------------

 

Komaeda began acting...more odd than usual after that.  It was like he avoided Hinata on purpose.  It bothered Hinata a little, in all honesty -- had he said something wrong?  Was Komaeda angry with him?

He figured those weren't the cases, and Komaeda was just being his weird self, as usual.  He had a reason for his actions but they'd be too hard to decode just by thinking, so why bother worrying?  Hinata would simply walk up and ask the guy!  No big deal.  If he could find him, that was. Since Komaeda seemed to be avoiding him, that included staying out of Hinata's sight. He could've been anywhere, really.

Hinata pressed his knuckles to his cheek, closing his eyes as he began to think. Komaeda was really good at hiding when he didn't want to be found, but at the same time... Hinata himself was very good at finding when he needed to.

He started with obvious places -- the beach, Komaeda's cottage, the old building by the hotel.  Then he tried others -- Nezumi Castle, the music venue, the diner, the airport.  Nothing.  Of course, Hinata already had a suspicion as to just where he probably was (which seemed to be Komaeda's new "thing"), but he was really just trying to buy time at that point.

By the time he accepted the fact that yes, Komaeda was most likely in the godforsaken warehouse by the plushie factory, Hinata was more angry than uncomfortable.  He went storming into the place, any terror squashed down by rage that was...probably caused by fear in the first place.

He found Komaeda easily, sitting in the storage room, oddly.  "What the hell, Komaeda?!"  The boy snapped.  "Do you live to torture me?  What the hell are you doing here again?!"

"Oh, Hinata-kun!"  Komaeda flinched in actual surprise.  "I wasn't expecting you here!"  He shot up from his spot on the ground.  "I was only thinking!  That's all.  Why did you come here, anyway?"

"To find you!"  Hinata felt the fake-anger beginning to wear off, the spike of adrenaline dying down.  "You've been avoiding me -- why?"

"Avoiding you?"  Komaeda looked clueless.  Hinata saw through it.  "That's not true, Hinata-kun.  Why would I ever avoid you?"

"You tell me,"  Hinata retorted.  "Ever since that day on the beach, you're acting weirder than usual."  He glanced around the room.  "Can we just get out of here, already?  And would ya stop coming here?"

"I can't promise anything,"  the luckster said, thankfully heading for the door.  "Why do you get the impression I'm avoiding you?"

Hinata came out of the warehouse after Komaeda, slamming the door behind them.  "You don't show up at the restaurant,"  he said.  "You haven't been visiting my cottage.  You haven't been on the beach.  You haven't spoken to me in days.  You weren't even in the library."  Hinata paused, staring st the other.  "Are you angry about something?"

"Of course not!"  That was genuine.  "I'm certainly not angry, Hinata-kun.  If you must know, I've just needed some time to think." 

"That's a lie,"  Hinata stated.  "Komaeda, you don't have to lie to me, you know?  You can just tell me.  It's not crazy for you to have feelings; you need to learn how to communicate them.  Practice makes perfect."

Komaeda laughed.  "I'm really fine, Hinata-kun,"  he said,  "no need to worry about scum like me; really!  I'd only be bothering you."  He moved to turn away, but Hinata caught his metal arm. 

"I'm sick of you talking like that,"  he spat.  "I'm absolutely sick of it.  You're not scum, and you're not bothering me, goddammit, alright?!  If I'm asking, it means I want to know, so stop saying things as if you know what I'm thinking, because you clearly don't."  Hinata took a breath, glaring at him.  Komaeda's mouth was a thin line.  "You've spent way too long 'not wanting to talk about it'.  You can't just keep everything in; everyone's got a breaking point, Komaeda, and I've yet to see yours but I can feel it coming.  This isn't healthy, okay?  There was something wrong before we talked and there's obviously something else on top of that, now.  I want to help you, don't you get it?"  Hinata felt himself trembling.  "Why can't you believe that someone can care about you?  Is it so hard to believe?  I can't take it, Komaeda, you make everything so difficult!"  He was yelling, by that point, but in his own ears it sounded more like a whisper.  "I can't predict you!  All this time has passed; I'm only beginning to really understand you.  I'm afraid that if I can't figure you out quick enough, something's gonna happen, or you'll do something reckless, and I don't know what I'd do if that happened, okay?!  Chiaki's already gone, I can't let you go, too, do you know what it'd be like to be stuck with Souda day in and day out?  I love the guy but I don't want to be messing with machines for the rest of my life on this island!"  He was laughing by then.  Komaeda was simply staring, eyes boring into him.  Hinata took a few deep breaths.  "What's...what's wrong, already?"

Komaeda was silent for awhile.  Hinata wasn't sure if he was just thinking of what to say or if he felt there wasn't anything to say.  As moments passed, he grew more and more anxious.

"You're very honest, Hinata-kun,"  Komaeda finally announced,  "I...think I like that about you?" He gave another laugh, quieter. "If I'm honest," he went on, "I've just been a little nervous, myself! I'm more attached to you...than I'd...care to admit." He laughed once again. Hinata swallowed; he could feel the tension in the air. "I'm worried that...due to my luck, you'll suffer, the closer I become to you."

"My luck will cancel yours out, I'm sure," Hinata insisted.

"Who knows." Komaeda shrugged weakly, no longer smiling. "Regardless, I don't really want to take any chances! I'd rather you stay safe, considering your life matters much more than mine. I don't want you to get hurt."

He's worried...about me? Hinata stared at the other. He's joking, right?

"Komaeda," he gave him a sidelong glance. "I'm not going to get hurt. I haven't thus far, right? It'll be fine," the boy insisted. "I understand you're worried, I mean, you have a right to be, but...I'm going to be fine."

"That's...that's very good of you to believe, Hinata, really, but I'm not sure if you really are understanding! My luck is a terrible curse sometimes, it...it always affects those around me, and you might not be any different.  I wouldn't ever be able to forgive myself if something happened to you-- I don't think the others would forgive me, either!  After all, you gave them- us- this future, right?"

Hinata watched Komaeda chuckle humorlessly and wrap his arms around himself, and the brunette furrowed his eyebrows as he stared at the pale-haired boy.

"Komaeda... there's no way of knowing if that's even true if you're not willing to try. Who knows how your luck will work now? Maybe something... changed, and I'll be fine," Hinata tried to assure, holding back a sigh. "Give it a chance, alright? Things might just work out fine."

Komaeda's eyes still held a clear sense of disbelief as they met Hinata's, although they were also clouded with... something else. "...You really believe that, don't you?  Well, maybe I should trust your word, after all-"

"Komaeda," Hinata cut him off, knowing where he was going to take that sentence. He huffed, before allowing a half-smile to slide onto his face. "Just listen to what I said, alright?"

The white-haired boy paused, a somewhat-serious expression on his face that almost made Hinata want to laugh. "If Hinata-kun thinks that, then I'll listen,"  Komaeda said, nodding to himself.

Hinata sighed softly. "Okay," he said. "Good."

"If that's the case," Komaeda was still wearing that expression, "then...May I tell you something?"

The other stared back at him. "Sure you can."

Komaeda fell suddenly silent.  Hinata shot him a look.

"Komaeda?"  He waved a hand in front of his face.  "What is it?  Don't just clam up, now."

"I'm in...I...think that I...care for you more than I should?"  It was awkward, to say the least, but Hinata felt like he understood.  It was hard not to.  His heart began to race.  "I...really like you."

"Ah.  Ok."  Komaeda seemed to deflate slightly at Hinata's lackluster response, if it could even be considered one. 

He immediately began rambling.  "Of course, I don't expect someone as wonderful as you to return my feelings, not in the slightest, that's not what I was suggesting!  I just figured-- I just figured I--!"

"Komaeda,"  Hinata said quickly, before the white haired boy could fit another word in.  Komaeda instantly went quiet.  "Please, calm down.  I'm just...trying to process."  He reached out with an open hand after a moment, inviting the other to take it.  "I, um...I had figured you'd have...gotten it earlier, but...I...feel the same.  Sort of."  The exchange was so much more awkward than Hinata anticipated.  It would've been much smoother.  This was anything but smooth, that was for sure.  He was ok with it.

"Huh?"  Komaeda stared at his hand for a moment, his own raised but not yet willing to take Hinata's.  "You're...telling me the truth?  You...you want tr--you...want me?"

"Of course I do."  Hinata smiled, partly due to Komaeda deciding against a self deprecating comment.  He reached the rest of the way and took the other's hand.  "You're...nothing you say you are, y'know?  I don't know if you just can't see it or...you just don't want to.  I don't know nearly everything about you, but...I want to,"  Komaeda squeezed his hand at that,  "'cause I think...I really believe you're just misunderstood.  Even by yourself, Komaeda; I want you to realize one day that you're worth something."

"...You're so...kind to me.  You always have been,"  Komaeda commented.  "Why?  What did I do to deserve it?"

"You always helped me.  From the very beginning.  You're selfless.  Even if you put on an...unlikeable mask during the simulation, your...your true colors showed through in the beginning and countless times throughout the whole thing.  Give yourself some credit, Komaeda.  You're a good person;  not trash, not scum...none of that.  You've just...said it so many times that you actually started believing it."

"Hinata-kun."  Komaeda was making direct eye contact with the other, and Hinata found it almost impossible to break.  "You're really amazing.  I'm...glad to have met you, because...who knows if I would have learned to love again."  He laughed.  "I think it was more than just good luck.  I wonder what will follow."

Hinata chose to ignore the last part.  "I'm glad I met you, too.  Definitely."  He stood beside the other, now.  "I think...we'll help each other, don't you?"

Komaeda blinked at him.  "I figure."

Hinata smiled lightheartedly at him.  "Then,"  he glanced towards the gate separating the factory from the road.  "I think we'll be ok."

Komaeda nodded, staring almost dumbly at him, as if he couldn't take in everything Hinata was telling him.  "Hinata-kun,"  he said after a moment.  "May I...kiss you?"

Feeling a light flush crawl up his cheeks and neck, Hinata blinked, briefly opening and closing his mouth. Sure, he shouldn't be as caught off guard as he was, with what they had both just confessed to each other, but... but, to be fair, he didn't know for sure if this point would ever happen, and there's no way he'd let himself mess it up now.

"Of course," Hinata said, cringing inwardly at his rushed words and unusually eager reply. "You- you don't have to ask, in the future, you know," Hinata continued, using his free hand to rub the back of his neck.

Komaeda's face seemed to light up, and Hinata wished that he'd be able to see that expression more often- his face became more youthful, more reminiscent of a teenager, and his gray eyes held a light that wasn't self deprecating, or insane, it was simply full of love and happiness, and Hinata was embarrassed to admit that he was happy that he put those emotions there, and felt that a lifetime of putting that expression on Komaeda's face might make up for how his avatar treated Komaeda's, might pay him back for Komaeda staying on the beach after he collapsed that first day.

Hinata wondered if Koizumi might have any photos of Komaeda's face like that. True, she tended not to take as many pictures of the guys, but--

All thoughts of Koizumi screeched to a halt as Hinata felt Komaeda's lips press softly against his own. It wasn't just the fact that it felt inappropriate to think about Koizumi at a time like this, but it was also because he was just surprised- of course he remembered that he agreed, but despite the fact that he got caught up staring at Komaeda he didn't notice that the pale man had been moving closer to him. Or maybe he had been moving closer to Komaeda? He wasn't sure, but at that moment, it seemed an unimportant fact that couldn't have mattered less, not when this was the end result.

Hinata knew he should close his eyes. And he was planning on it, but- he was still mesmerized by Komaeda, the way this man easily was able to conquer all of Hinata's senses and put his mind on a one-way track. He secretly, and admittedly selfishly, hoped he might have the same effect on Komaeda. His eyelids fluttered before shutting, if only necessary for a brief moment before they both pulled back and looked at each other once more.

There was no stereotypical "he tasted like strawberries" or "our lips fit together like puzzle pieces"- Komaeda's lips had been chapped, Hinata's own, he knew, must have felt weird due to his habit of chewing on them when thinking, and the overall kiss was just clumsy, shaky even, possibly even hesitant- but that's why Hinata knew it was perfect. There weren't sparks or fireworks, just the rabbit stomping around in his heart, making it beat much faster than he felt it should, and- judging by the look on Komaeda's face- another expression Hinata felt he would learn to love- he felt the same.

"Woah," Hinata breathed, wide pupils flickering over Komaeda's face. The corners of his mouth involuntarily pulled into a smile, and he didn't try to stop it.

Komaeda's usual pale face had turned a rather lovely shade of pink, and he had a dopey love-struck and amazed smile on his face. His eyes held the wonder of a child, his relaxed posture close to that of someone completely at ease with the world, and Hinata was glad to be the cause of bringing Komaeda to a point where he was clearly happy and relaxed.

"You are...amazing in many more ways than one, Hinata-kun,"  Komaeda said after a moment.  "Thank you."

"You don't have to thank me,"  Hinata laughed.  He suddenly felt...lighter.  That was the only way to describe it.  "Okay?"

Komaeda nodded at him, eyes practically shining.  "I'm...very happy right now, Hinata-kun," he announced. "My luck has reached a whole other level!"

"I wouldn't consider it luck. It's not an in-the-moment thing." Hinata took the others' hand, beginning to lead him away from the factory, the warehouse. "Let's call it fate, instead."