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MNCHRM "Monochrome"

Chapter Text

The room's dead quiet with the moonlight shining through the empty library's windows and the fireflies flying around outside. I can't hear the firing candle's motion that rests besides my left hand; only the sound of the page from my book as I flip to the next chapter. If I weren't careful with sneaking in here, I would've been kicked out of this place with a scolding and a smack on the head from either the teachers or the headmaster of this school. But, this isn't necessarily any ordinary school. This is the Inmates Academy for the Young and Gifted. Only those who are the best of the best at their talent can come to this school...
Unfortunately for me, I was chosen to come here even if I didn't think I had a "talent." After two hours of pacing my room in thought and running to my father for advice, he made a deal with me. If I didn't seem comfortable in this school after one month, then he'd come by and homeschool me just like normal. So, here I am. A quiet, anti-social boy who refuses to strike a conversation with anyone here just so that I can go back home where I belong. It doesn't feel like a week has passed since my arrival at this academy but I'm slowly starting to feel some sort of after effect of leaving home.
As for the students themselves who do come here, they're all very...questionable. Some of them are your normal, everyday type of people who are nice and kind. Others seem to step outside that comfort zone and are more "wild" in their nature. I'm not sure why but even after avoiding anyone and successfully not speaking a word to anyone here, these people still try to talk to me. Why? I haven't the slightest clue, but I'd rather be alone. I can't be pretending to be friends with people I don't even know, while my father is back home. He's the only person who I can be somewhat comfortable with..Besides, who's going to take care of him when I'm gone? My mother's been who knows where ever since I was a child and I still haven't found her..No one else will take care of him even if the Professor's in his early thirty's. I just hope I can leave or graduate soon enough...
There's a sudden noise that interrupts my trail of thought as I blow the candle out with a muffled breath and close the book noiselessly. It sounds like footsteps and the opening of a door, almost as if they were expecting someone to be inside. I stand up from my seat carefully and tuck the book under my arm while holding the candle in another. I was fortunate enough that this school didn't enforce a school uniform, but seeing as my suit was completely black, I was fine. The only problem was my hair. A pure white shade against the brown and black color scheme of this room make it hard to hide. I do have my hat on as well, but my hair is thick and hard to tuck in completely. I just pray whoever's in here doesn't see my blue eyes or my bangs.
The thud of steps seem to be coming from my right while I'm currently hiding behind four shelves away on my left. If I can move to the first shelf without being caught, I can reach the door and run out to my dorm room. Before I decide to run, I leave my book on the shelf I was currently at and take off my dress shoes, making a mental note to retrieve it in the morning.
With the pair in one hand and the candle in the other, I quickly rush to each shelf and pause to wait for the steps to move as I hide on the side. After repeating the steps three more times, I see the open door and run out as silently as I could.
Of course, the wooden boards on the floor still make a couple of squeaks as my feet move but it's not loud enough to make whoever was in the library blink an eye.
The halls are just as dark and quiet as the library as I search for my room. It doesn't seem like the person followed me but I can't help to turn around and check just in case. I turn around momentarily; nothing but silence... I make another couple of turns before finally reaching my room at the farther left end of the third hall. My door is closed with the phrase "forty five C" engraved in a square piece of platinum. A small sigh of relief runs from my lips as I open the door and walk inside, making sure to shut it quietly behind me and locking it.
"That was close... I wonder who that was, and why they were doing a monitor of the school's halls at this hour."
The temperature in my room was a little cooler than normal, even if they had shut off the air conditioning to save it for the morning when it was usually warmer than now. I would have just slept in my clothes but they would probably get wrinkled and messy by the time my alarm would go off...I take a glance at the clock sitting on my nightstand next to my bed and read "September 17,12:40 a.m."
"Looks like I won't be able to get up tomorrow..Oh well." I chuckled to myself as I set the candle on my nightstand and my dress shoes under my bed. At this point, there was no use changing into pajamas since I would have to wake up in about six to seven hours anyways. I took off everything but my undergarments and set my clothes on the chair near my desk. A small shiver runs down my body as the chilly air continues to roam freely in the room, along with my teeth chattering a bit as I lay down in the covers and try to warm up a bit in the soft sheets. For a solid ten minutes I try to sleep but wake up again frustrated;I guess it's just one of those nights where you don't feel tired but right when morning comes, you still feel drowsy and heavy. If only I could have brought my book from earlier... I can admit the selection of stories from the library are more interesting than the people who run this place..In a way every new book is like meeting new people,but better. The story I was reading had quite a good storyline, and the idea of the antagonist turning back on the other villains and maybe having a chance to be a hero instead is different from your usual hero always saving the day while the villain dies or gets defeated...
Another ten to twenty minutes pass by as I continue to stay up, my eyelids refusing to droop.
My mind wanders from thinking about stories of heroes and villains to the speech the headmaster gave at the beginning of our entrance ceremony. They kept talking about how knowledge wouldn't free us from the school and how it was up to us as Ultimates to take the first step in where we wanted our lives to be. I don't see my talent as anything special but even before that, it's always been a small question in the back of my mind. What would I do after I was done with school for good? Where would I go? How would I spend the rest of my life? None of these questions had answers to them yet, but this so called existential crisis always found a way to set in at times where I wouldn't really want it to. The only thing I've thought of so far as to what I want to do is get out of here and go back home...I guess I'll find out sooner or later. Right now, I needed some sleep.
I readjusted my pillow and settled myself in, pulling the covers up to my chin and finally falling asleep.

Chapter Text

“...Now who wishes to demonstrate a bit of their talent as an example for your first project?” Ms. Viola, our first period teacher, asks as she continues her daily lesson; Small sounds of chattering can be heard around the brightly lit room along with some hands going up. I sit there almost asleep with my cheek resting on my palm and my eyes closed, unaware of what's going on due to last night's reading trip in the library. An hour and a half has passed ever since I arrived here in class along with the other students for our first period but getting here in the first place was a hassle since some...purpled haired idiot decided it would be a good idea to fight on the staircase leading to this class. Good thing a girl with a blue uniform and twin tails stopped the fight before it could get any worse...At least it’s not my problem anymore.

Her coffee colored eyes wander through the seats until they land on my desk, noticing my unconscious expression.

“Mr. Iidabashi? Why don't you have a go? You haven't spoken a word since your enrollment…”

I bolt up and freeze in place, opening my mouth to say something but nothing coming out. My face heats up in frustration for a short time before I look around the class, everyone's eyes fixated on me as their raised arms flutter down.

“Is something wrong?” She asks as a wave of concern clouds her face.

I could only manage to shake my head and try to think of something to say without being rude.

“I...I'm sorry..” I glance at the clock and wished for the time to go by faster. The clock had almost reached the release time but there were still six or so minutes left. Ms. Viola sighs and concludes,”Well, I won't force you to if you don't want to. Just say no thank you next time okay?”

She pauses and looks back at the clock.
“Well it's true your talent takes a bit longer to warm up anyways..Don't worry, you'll have another chance next time... Anyone else?”

Another wave of chatter flows by as I take my seat in embarrassment and shame. The first words I've spoken to anyone is a straight out pathetic apology just so I don't have to face the class…Tch..Who cares. I'm out of the picture now, so it doesn't matter anymore. Another couple of minutes pass by before a petite girl with a witch hat and cape proudly stands up.

“I shall go ahead and show the class my magic since the mute person over there can't. ” She remarks, glowering in my direction. I look away and lay my head down, doing my best to control the urge of doing something harmful to her.

“Sure. Go right ahead Ms. Yumeno.”

The smaller girl smiles at the teacher and hurries on to the front of the class; excitably taking out a pack of worn cards, a wand, three metal rings, a small book, and a small glass bottle filled with red liquid from her cloak pockets.

“Dear classmates, prepare to witness the wonders of magic performed by yours truly,” Yumeno announces, giving a small curtsy. ”Now, since many of you have little to no knowledge of my talent, I will show some of the most basic ones. If we do have time later, then I'll show you a more advanced trick using my spell book and healing potion. Let's begin with the ring trick!”

Yumeno then proceeds to show how to link the rings together, as well as some simple card tricks. Half the class ooed and awed at her handiwork while the other half seemed uninterested or confused about the subject. I only kept an eye open on her performance just because I feared Ms.Viola would scold me or call me out again… It's funny how she thinks we know nothing about magic and yet all these magic tricks are painfully obvious as to how they work. Only an idiot would be stupid to not see the small opening in each ring that makes them link together. As for the card trick, it's all about memorizing each card in the deck from the different markings on the back...Maybe that's why she hasn't bought a new set; the one she uses are old and worn. A sign they've been used frequently.

“And now for my final trick! Now, this one's a little dangerous but as long as I call out the incantation correctly, we should be fine...Can Kiibo come over to the front please?”

I quietly swear under my breath, wishing she had chosen someone else. I just hope she doesn't poison me… My mind starts throwing alarms at me,. begging me to stay seated while the class turns in my direction. However, Yumeno catches my hesitation and teases,”Don't worry, I won't kill you. I'm just an innocent magician after all!”

Her choice of vocabulary definitely put me on edge after hearing the cheerful tone in her voice… I don't know who this girl is or why she chose me but I don't trust her. I look to the teacher for support but she only gestures me to hurry up, tapping the watch on her left wrist...I don't have a choice. I make my way slowly to the front as she takes another bottle filled with red liquid out of her cloak.

“Here. Drink this. ” Yumeno grabs my hand and places the bottle securely in my palm.

“Um-”

“What are you? Brain dead? I said drink it!”

“...What is this exactly? And why did you just take this out?" I ask, examining the bottle for any labels, just in case my hunch was correct. No sticker indicated what the liquid inside was.

“It’s just a healing potion. What, do you not trust the Ultimate Magician?” She straightens her hat and taps her foot, giving me another disgusted glare.

“And if I don't?” I reply, making eye contact with her.

“Ugh..you are the WORST subj- I mean, volunteer, I've ever worked with. Now be a good boy and drink the potion before I make you hurl slugs for the rest of the day.” She spoke with her teeth clenched and her wand raised at my lips.

I sigh and pop open the bottle, swishing the liquid inside for a bit to stall for time. As I was doing so, I caught a glimpse of orange and gold specks inside. They looked like dust of some sort but before I could ponder any further, Yumeno raises her wand at me and whispered something in a foreign language. Everything soon felt distorted and slow; My vision was no longer able to process colors, only black and white. I couldn’t hear or feel anything at all either..It's as if time had slowed down to a halt.

"Drink it...It's okay...You'll feel better after..Just like I said.." a voice murmured in my head.

"No..Don't drink it Kiibo...Pull yourself together.." My last bit of subconscious urged before slipping away.

Was this mind control? Hypnosis? I found myself struggling to think or say anything at all. It was as if my mind had gone completely blank.

Before I knew what was happening next, I found myself swallowing the bottle's content entirely before collapsing on the ground; the bottle shattering in my hand.

Chapter Text

A flash of white blinds me as I wake up drenched in sweat; my heart racing like my life depended on it. I can no longer hear the chatter of the classroom. Only the silence of an empty room where I lay safe and sound in a bed. I'm mildly surprised at the fact I'm not dead but I still feel sick to my stomach with acid and butterflies. My anxiety rises as I grit my teeth, hoping Yumeno’s threat of a slug curse was just a bluff. Suddenly, there's the sound of a door opening and footsteps beside me, accompanied by a worried voice.

“You're awake! Are you okay?”

My eyes adjust to the light and wander to the person speaking, soon meeting a pair of small silver eyes and a pale face. They’re about five to six inches taller than me with raven black hair and a hat covering his left eye from my perspective. I nod and hold my head in my hands. The taller boy walks closer to me and quickly places the back of his hand to my forehead, cheek, and neck. I jump at contact and move his hand away.

“Please calm down,I'm just checking up on your fever. Seems like it hasn't gone down much.” he chuckles nervously, taking a seat next to me on the soft mattress.

“ I'm not comfortable with strangers or anyone in general touching me without my permission…” I remark with an upset tone, sitting up to face the boy better.

“Who are you? And what happened?”

He takes his cap off and brushes his bangs to the side with his left hand. Judging from his facial expression, he's seem to be trying his hardest to contain some sort of excitement.

“Oh! Uh, my name's Shuuichi Saihara! It's an honor to finally talk to you Iidabashi! I've got so many questions and-”

I place my hand over his mouth to shut him up and ask,”What are you talking about? And how do you know my name?”

Saihara’s eyes widen before his face turns slightly pink.

“Oooh that…Uh...I've heard it from the beginning of the year when they called out attendance? As for what happened, after you collapsed from drinking whatever Himiko gave you, she started reading Latin from the spellbook and called it a day while the class freaked out. She said you'd be fine as long as you didn't overwork yourself… Ms.Viola was more worried about you than the explanation she was giving to prove you wouldn't die. She couldn't carry you on her own and since I was the closest one to her at the time, she asked if I could help. Of course, you don't weigh more than a toothpick so I told the teacher to stay in class while I took you to the infirmary…I...I usually only look at you from afar since you sometimes seem agitated or upset but...but today was the first time I got close to you..I stayed with you and took care of you for a good chunk of the day until now..” Saihara's face was changing from white marble to red as he mutters the last sentence.

Oh god... First the drama with Yumeno and the class and now there's a stalker watching me everyday which I didn't know about!? Crap! What if he was the one who snuck in the library last night?! Was he trying to prove I was breaking school rules? I groan and lower my hands in shame. Apart from the embarrassment of being outsmarted by a tiny little bottle, Saihara’s first impression didn't settle well with my mind. Just thinking about him watching me from a distance and carrying my unconscious body is...unsettling. I shouldn't be jumping to conclusions but here I go again.

“ You bloody idiot! I told you not to drink the damn poison and you still continued to do so anyways! Now look what you've gotten yourself into!” My subconscious blurts in anger.

“I know. But now I'm going after that little girl and asking her what exactly did she do to me.” I reply silently as Saihara began to fidget around.

“I know that...I know I sound like a creep and everything but..uh..I was interested about why you're acting the way you do…” he stutters, not making eye contact with me.

“I'm sorry but that's classified. I appreciate the help but I need to leave.”

Saihara shakes his head and keeps me from getting up.

“Wait! Please! You REALLY shouldn't get up y’know? You're still hurt. Doesn't sleeping sound better? The bed's nice and uh..and comfortable..?” Saihara smiles sweetly, giggling nervously again. I could sense he was trying to persuade me to stay but I couldn't.

“I don't know how to feel about you watching me sleep. I tried trusting one person and almost died. How can I trust anyone here without putting my life on the line? Until I see valid evidence you won't kill me or do anything weird to me while I'm unconscious I can't trust you or anyone else here.”

“But-”

“No. I can't let you put me under too. It's best if you left anyways...there's still work to do for tomorrow…”

I tried getting up from where I was laying down but Saihara gripped my shoulders and pushed me back into an embrace.

“Iidabashi no! You can't..you can't leave yet. Until you get better, you're staying right here until the nurses say you can go.”

“Hey- I said I'm fine! Let go!”

I push him back the farthest I can but he wouldn't let go. None of my squirming worked to worm out of his arms and trying to kick him off was hard. Saihara wasn't letting go and started to lay on me to reach a button on the top edge of the bed with his right hand.

“HHH!! Hey! Get off! You're squishing me!!” I yell in a muffled voice. I was flinging my arms around to get his body off me but it was no use. It was just as he said; I was nothing more than a toothpick compared to him.

“Stay still! I just want to help!”

“Liar! You're nothing but a perverted stalker!”

“That’s not true! Just listen to me and calm down! Ow!” He whimpers as I bite his left arm. He decides to lean sideways on me and make things even worse. At this point I was trying to scream for help but my air was limited.

“Sorry, this is for your own good.” He murmurs as he pressed the button. A buzz went off and he finally let go, trying to hold me down the best he could with his hands on my shoulders without being rough. I gasp for air and cough hard, feeling a burning sensation in my throat.

“Ugh..Why you IDIOT! I couldn't breathe because of your stupid chest in the way! Let me go!”

“I already told you I can't! Please listen-”

My body was a bag of lead as I finally push him off to the side, kicking him in the rib with my knee. That's when I saw the black spiraling markings on my legs...and screamed.

Chapter Text

"What the hell?! My legs!"

The blanket dragged off when Saihara fell with a loud thump on the floor, while I kept pulling the blue sleeping gown upwards. I guess I hadn't noticed my change of clothing earlier but the markings on my legs were not a good sign. They were black, and they spread out in curls and waves from my feet all the way to my thighs.

"That's why...that's why I didn't want you getting up..." Saihara mumbles, rubbing the side of his head as he staggers to lift himself upward.

"Seriously?! You didn't tell me you also changed my clothes you brat! I can't believe you!" I scowl as I started to back away to the opposite side of the bed. I hold my body tightly, turning a bright shade of red and gritting my teeth. He's really done it now...

"Well I'm-...I'm sorry okay?! I couldn't let you die right there in your uniform! " Saihara angrily retorts with a crack in his voice, frustration clouding his face.

"You should've just woken me up instead of stripping me naked! Or called the nurses to help instead of doing it on your own!" I add, shaking my head in anger. I don't care if he was trying to "help", taking that action was way too iffy.

"But I didn't do anything to you!"

"That's not an excuse! You don't know how to do things like this!"

"I was only trying to do the right thing! Is that so wrong!?"

"The right thing is calling for help! Not taking matters into your own hands, especially if you don't know what you're doing!"

"Uggh! This is a petty reason for you to be getting mad over something so small!Why are you so sensitive-"

"That's enough!" I raise my voice loudly. My stomach was ready to throw up again but I wouldn't let it happen just yet. "I don't have to explain my life story to a stranger like you. So why don't you grab your stuff and leave. Now. Unless you have anything ELSE you're hiding from me."

"But-"

"I said I'm fine!" I winch, clutching my stomach. "Just. Leave.."

Saihara storms off and grabs his hat and bag with a pout, pacing to the door. I look away from him in shame and focus more on the floor below me to keep me from thinking about doing something worse than yelling at him. At the moment, my position is uncomfortable, so I pull myself a little to the right.

"Good luck figuring out Himiko's curse without me." Saihara scoffs before leaving and slamming the door closed.

"Hmph..Fine then. I didn't need it anyways."

Good riddance... I've had enough of him. As soon as I get better from whatever I'm cursed with, I'm leaving.

As soon as he closed the door, I stumble off the edge with a thump and throw up on the floor. My throat burns with the foul taste of bile and vomit as a couple black, wriggly blobs come out.

"H...Holy shit..She wasn't.. Joking."

I manage to hold myself up until the blobs move away before my face lands in the pool of pale brown mush. I try to get up the second time but it seems as if I can't support my weight. My heart feels like it's about to burst while my blood races around my body.

"Ughh...Can this get any worse?"

Right on cue,I hear the door open again and a new female voice.

"Aaa! Are you alright?"

My vision turns watery from the force I used to vomit. The only thing I see is a white and black blob picking me up and setting me down on the bed. Of course I instinctively squirm, but she's stronger than she looks.

"No..."

"Don't squirm so much! You need help!"

"I...You..no..." I groan, too fatigue to form a sentence.

She grabs a towel from my bedside and avoids stepping in my mess, picking up my face and cleaning it.

"You poor thing...Looks like you're having a hangover." She brushes her bangs to the side with a free hand, giving a small giggle.

Great...another "helper" to give me their sympathy...At least they actually look like a doctor..

I cringe at the lingering taste in my mouth before I slowly grab the towel from her hands and wipe the rest of my vomit off. She only stares and places another towel in the floor, killing the slugs with her heel.

"Who...who called you here?" I ask, scrubbing my gown with a frown.

"Oh! Well...I got a message from your buzzer that you required assistance. I came as fast as I could but I stopped when I heard your argument with that boy..." she tugs on one of her dark and choppy strands of hair.

"Look, I'm fine..Just give me a spare change of clothes..please."

She sighs and finds a spare gown and undergarment in a drawer to the left and tosses it next to me.

"Alright then. Here you go. Do you need any help?"

"With changing or..whatever is inside my blood that's making these black marks on my legs..?" I point down with a shaky finger.

"Both."

I look downwards in frustration and ask,"What is this..?"

The nurse girl kneels down and takes a closer look, examining the markings.

"Well...Looks like someone pulled some hokus pokus and cast something to make you sick. From what I know, it doesn't look like any human illness I've healed before.." She answers, shaking her head and standing on her feet.

"Is.. there a cure?"

She taps her bottom lip with a lavender fingernail before replying,"Not that I know of. Sorry...If you do die,then your guardian has all the right to sue the person who killed you."

"W-what?! So..So you're just going to let me die here?!" My face flushes in anger as I throw my hands down.

"Now I didn't say you were going to die. I said IF you die. I'm guessing someone from the magic ward got you correct?" She wags her finger in the air with her purple brows raised.

"Yeah...Her name's..Yumeno Himiko."

The nurse sighed and added,"Of course... This was going on a while ago with a different Ultimate but to see she's at it again with you? That's weird.."

"You... know her?"

"Sort of? She gets sick easily from eating things she's not supposed to. Most of the time, it's her own mixtures and all that. My question is why? Shouldn't that be for an Ultimate Alchemist and not a Magician?"

"My point exactly...Anywho..I think I want to change now...I'm all icky and gross.." I move my arms around my body.

"Okay. I'll get the water ready." She nods with a wave of black hair and turns to my bathroom. I hear the water pour as I hold a hand to my head. How in the world did I fall? I knew for certain I was sitting correctly...was I? I give up on remembering, as I try not to think about everything that's happened so far. If only I could sleep in my dorm and hide the rest of the year. I can't bear to look at my classmates or my teachers again after this. I know I shouldn't care but, still...

"Hey! You coming or what? The water's nice and warm!" The nurse comes back a couple minutes later with a towel tossed over her shoulder and an eyebrow raised at me. I motion for her to help me walk and she sits me down on the wide edge of the tub. I take a glance and see a slight steam rise along with bubbles mixed inside.

"Alright then. I'll leave you be here. Just call if you need help okay? I'll be outside the door."

"Thank you uh..."

"Oh. My name's Mikan Tsumiki. And you are?"

"Iidabashi..."

"What a cool name! Anywho in you go."

Tsumiki waves and closes the door in front of me. I sigh, shaking my head and thinking...What if Saihara found out about my markings? Then what? He'd probably go off and tell everyone else about them and then my secret would be out. This is too frustrating...I know I didn't plan on interacting anymore than what's needed but now I'm in huge trouble if word gets out...At least it's almost over...And I can go home again...

I somewhat manage to untie the bows on the back of my robe and take off the other clothes;placing them on the top of the toilet seat before sliding in the warm water. I'm quickly wrapped in a sea of foam after sinking in quietly, the water rising up to my neck. The white walls are somewhat fitting to the scene while the scent of vanilla surrounds me. I'm still nervous and confused about what exactly happened to me after I drank Yumeno's potion...The very moment she took control, everyone else froze. They didn't move or speak at all,but rather sat and stared...I thought magic didn't exist but I guess I was wrong. But why did she do this to me in the first place..? I don't recall ever doing anything to her or even speaking with her at all..I just wish she'd tell me what was it I did instead of well, poisoning me. Thanks to her, things are a mess, and I'm being irrational.. I...I can't let my emotions make me do stupid decisions.

'Just like you did with Saihara.' My subconscious scolds me.

I pause, and realize what I've done. Thinking back to our argument, I dig my hands into my hair and swear at myself. How could I?! Father raised me better than that! I'm not a bratty bitch! True, I was trying to hide my secret but that wasn't an excuse to just shove him away. He was just trying to help...Maybe I was being selfish. God curse me for jumping to conclusions. A wave of guilt fills me with dread as I think of what next...I can't just suddenly go up to him and apologize like it was nothing.. He's probably already telling everyone how stuck up I am..

"Why should I care?! He doesn't know what I've gone through..He doesn't know anything about Mother,or Father or what I've had to go through to be forced to come here.. They're just another person. They don't need to know anything! I just...I just want to leave. I shouldn't be hurt by this. I don't know them so why?!" I lie to myself in anger before hitting the back of my head on the wall.

"O-ow!"

"Everything okay in there?" Tsumiki knocks on the door in concern.

"Yes! Everything's fine!" I call back, not wanting to get her involved in this mess.

What now? I'm torn between feeling guilty or not about him and the other girl...I can't talk to Tsumiki either. May as well just forget about it. As soon as it's over, I'm heading to the library before calling Father to tell him the deal's off. I can't say I didn't try to do my best but I can't be with people...I don't know HOW to be with people... At least it'll be over soon...

For the next twenty minutes, I clean myself up to distract me from thinking about anything else. I don't care if Tsumiki overheard me talking to myself. I won't be seeing her much after however long it takes for me to heal up. The water loses its warm touch as I finally rinse off with a shiver and drain the water out with my foot. I reach out for a towel before I remember the girl has it...

"Oh great..." I groan, hugging myself to keep warm. Goosebumps rise on my skin while I feel another wave of pain in the back of my head.

"Tsumiki! Do you happen to have my towel? I'm done now!" I call out.

"Oh! Y-Yes I do! I'm sorry! Here I'll give it to you-"

"Hey! Close your eyes first! I don't want you seeing me naked,got it?"

"Yeah yeah!"

The door opens with a squeak from the hinge as I see an outstretched arm holding a towel while the girl is walking backwards; Her black choppy hair swishes behind her as her hand seems to be covering her eyes.

"Tell me when to stop moving backwards. I don't want to slip and fall." She instructs, stepping slowly on the floor as if it was cracking ice on a lake.

Her white heels soon meet the side of the tub and I tell her to stop. I grab the towel from her and wrap it around me before I tell her to open her eyes.

"Huh? What is it?"

"I need help getting up...As much as I don't want to ask straight out of the blue, I'm scared I might slip and break something...Mind giving me a hand please?" I ask with a reluctant arm raised.

"Of course. It's my job after all." Tsumiki nods, holding my hand with one while placing her other hand under my arm on the other side.

"One..two..three-"

She hoists me up slowly while I hold the towel in place. I pray it doesn't slip and before I know it, I'm on my feet.

"There you go." Tsumiki helps me keep my balance while she wraps the towel around me entirely instead of it only covering the front side of me.

"You're not embarrassed?" I ask with an eyebrow raised.

"No. I'm a nurse,and you're the patient. It's my job to help you with whatever task you need. That's why I had training beforehand. If I didn't, I'd be exactly how I was my first year and I wouldn't be able to act professional. Besides, it's just a body. No need to feel ashamed for being a human right?" She explains, walking me to my bed and sitting me down on the mattress.

"...I guess you're right..Thank you." I reply while she nods and retrieves my clothes. I look down and see she's cleaned and mopped the floor where I had thrown up earlier. Along with a new sheet, there's the smell of citrus in the room. I look over to my nightstand and see she's sprayed a disinfectant in the room. Praise the air freshner...

"Hey, I got something for you." Tsumiki says as she fishes a couple of things from her apron pocket.

"Hm? What are-"

I'm interrupted by a sweet, bubblegum taste in my mouth. A lollipop..? After that, I see her place a small purple flower sticker on my cheek and a band aid on the bridge of my pale nose.

"You do know I'm not a child anymore...." I frown, biting on the sweet candy.

"Oh who cares! Just take it as a token of my gratitude. Do you need anything else?"

"No...thank you." I reply, shaking my head.

"Mhm! No more messing around ok? I'll be checking up on you later. Bye!"

And just like that, she excuses herself out of the room. I sigh and change into my new clothes before lying down for a while to rest my head. Right as I'm about to fall asleep, I hear the door open once more, and a familiar voice calls my name.

Chapter Text

“Well well well! If it isn't the suffering idiot of the Harmony ward!”

Yumeno snickers with a flick of her hair, making herself at home with a toss of her school bag and a flourish of her cape. She places her hands on her hips, pacing the room with a playful smirk before closing the white door behind her. I can already feel my hatred bubble inside before I flinch at the sharp pain in my stomach. I look up and see the magician pointing her wand at my mouth as she's inches from my face. I don't remember when she got so close but I'm now aware she's not someone to take lightly...

“All that anger is only going to make the slugs in your stomach more agitated than what needs to be...But go ahead. Hate me, and you can kiss your internal organs goodbye.” She taunts, her yellow eyes seeping into my ice blue ones….Wait what the-

Something’s very wrong...I think back to what Tsumiki told me earlier..

“Of course… This was going on a while ago with a different Ultimate but to see she's at it again with you? That’s weird..”

“You... know her?”

“Sort of? She gets sick easily from eating things she's not supposed to. Most of the time, it's her own mixtures and all that. My question is why?”

Oh god...this isn't good...

She really wants me dead...No doubt. Her cocky attitude along with the tease in her voice makes it clear she knows she has the upper hand. I'm weak against her and her magic so there wouldn't be any use picking a fight with her. What I need now is information because if I don't, I'm doomed within a matter of time.

“I’m still not over how my spell didn't work but to see you here all weak and helpless is enough payback to satisfy me.” She moves away from me and sits down on the bed with a small bounce.

“Yumeno...I just want to talk.” I say quietly.

“Begging for your life?”

“I'm not begging for a savior...I need to know where to find a cure for the poison you put in me.”

“Huh? Poison? Hey, I only gave you a small amount-”

I move the blanket away and show her the black markings.Exposing my weakness so early is indeed a bad idea, but I need to hurry up. Her eyes wander around before darting back up to meet mine.

“Well that was unintentional but it's okay. Angel Lace is deadly yes, but fortunately I know how to wear off the effects according to my book of spells. All I need is some information from you..”

This isn't good...What information is she talking about?

Once again my thoughts are interrupted as she hits me on the head with her wand.

“Ow!” I winch, holding my head in my hands.

“Listen to me when I'm talking to you! Now hurry up and spit it out! Why are you here?! Are you trying to get me caught? Huh? Or are you a spy for them?! Answer me!” She demands, poking me again with the wand.

Spy? What? I..don't understand why she's asking me about getting her caught..Unless she's done something bad. Is it about hiding what she's done to me? That's ridiculous...There were several witnesses when I first collapsed..That includes the teacher..As for why I'm here...What kind of stupid question is that? I blink twice, completely dumbfounded by the questions she's given me. Was she asking just out of curiosity or was she going on a deeper level? Either way, it technically isn't any of her business but I honestly don't know myself either….I was basically forced to come here because the school wanted me here and my Father basically wanted me to go outside for once...So in short, I'm kind of a guinea pig in my Father's experiment…

“I...Don't know..” I mumble, closing my eyes shut in preparation for another hit.

“Can you say that again? I can't hear you Kiibo.” She asks sweetly, tapping the point of the wand to my cheek.

“I don't know.” I say a little louder as my voice hints a slight waver. No response. I look up before immediately whimpering, while Yumeno’s wand glows an ominously dark violet. I feel like I'm being cut by burning glass before I see the same black lines and spirals wrap around my arms…

‘No...I don't want to die..’ I turn my head away for her to stop. Hot tears begin to form around my eyes and I began to cry in agony before she pushes the poison faster...I want to scream and call for help but the bugs in my stomach continue biting, making me hurl and throw up a fountain of warm, sticky blood. By now it's a bloodbath, with Yumeno covered in my blood and a couple smaller slugs crawling out of my mouth. She isn't bothered by this at all...Smiling happily as she clamps down her hand on my mouth tightly to attempt to make me not scream and swallow my vomit. I try biting or licking her hand, doing anything I can to get her off me. It isn't long before I trace black dots in my vision…

"Please....no...more.."

I can't reach my distress button at all...it's too far from my right side…

"Why...? Why are you..doing this?" I ask.

After what feels like forever, she stops, lowering her wand and staring ominously at me... I start hiccuping and coughing while I rub my cold trembling arms; red blood smearing everywhere while the black spirals begin fading from their bright violet glare.

“If you don't wish to meet your doom, then you'll give me what I want.”

“Gh...I don't... know okay...? I just….made a deal with someone...but I'll be leaving in two weeks...So please..Don't kill me...” I mutter with a wavery voice. I feel like I'm on fire while someone's cutting off my circulation. Everything hurts. My head’s about to explode and I feel the bugs crawling and biting in my insides.

“What deal..?” She asks.

“H-huh..?”

“You're so dense! What deal!?” She shakes me violently, my soaked collar bunched up in her red hands.

“ Family..deal..” I cry while gasping for air, feeling like I'm drowning in water. Yumeno stops, pushing me away with a huff.

“It’s no use getting anything from you...You're just as hopeless as I thought. How ironic. Well, it doesn't matter. Keep screaming all you want...No one's coming.”

“Please...Just let me live...I'm sorry for whatever I did..” I croak out, my vision beginning to turn black...This is the end for me…

Himiko grabs me by my hair, yanking my bangs upwards as she mutters,”From now on...Your every breath is a gift from me…” Her eyes are a shade of orange before I note...They're going from orange to red… For a final touch, she slams my head against my bedside table,making me see nothing but blood… Right before I fall unconscious to the floor, I see a blurry Himiko shake her head in confusion before looking at me in horror and screaming.

"AAAAAAAA!... K-Kiibo! no.....Didn't mean it..what do? I was...In cafeteria...Gonta..How... here? Dead..? No... can't let him die...Please...Someone help.."

Chapter Text

Black...The only color I've been seeing ever since I last opened my eyes...A long time has passed since I've began to feel anything...I can't wake up but, every now and then I'll hear voices...echoes of different people. They whisper around me about me or the other people involved in the situation and fade off after some time. It feels cold as if I'm in a freezing and desolate underwater cage...Everything's far away and muffled...nowhere to reach out and cry for help.

Am I dead? If I am then...I've failed..Father's going to die as well and it's all my fault...I'm sorry...I'm sorry I can't write letters to you or call you to check on how you've been doing...I'm sorry I couldn't go back and prevented this...You wouldn't need to worry about me or blame yourself for why Mother's gone...You wouldn't need to skip on meals or not take your medicine like you used to...This isn't some game where I can go back to the beginning.
I've lost you forever...I'm sorry. Please...Give me a second chance. Let me go home and make sure he's okay...Please, I don't want to die...I'm only 16..Please...I don't want to be alone...I love you..

I can't die. Not here. I attempt to move or open my eyes but I seemed to be tied down to something...

Damn...As of now I can't see, move,speak or feel very much but my hearing is a bit clear...I hear a familiar woman's voice..talking to that nurse...What was her name? I can't remember but the other voice..sounds so familiar... Could it be? I have to know...I have to see them... Their face...Anything...

".....Is he going to be alright? The boy keeps crying...Something about this Father figure...he keeps repeating his name."

"Physically yes, but his mental state may need some work...His wounds have been healing slowly but well and the frequent fevers have been down...Even the Angel Lace is gone thanks to Yumeno's magic...The only thing left is to wake him up..."

"And his family Ms. Tsumiki?"

"They know nothing of the situation at hand yet since the twenty fourth of September... The only thing we know is his father's in London while his mother's still been missing..."

"Ah...Poor child...I can't imagine his childhood..Not having a mother must cause a lot of stress on the boy..."

"Indeed...His records show he has poor mental health compared to the other boys and girls in his year...It's to the point where he's taken frequent trips to different hospitals ever since the beginning. No medication however, has been able to help.."

"Nothing at all?"

"No ma'am...Most cases, it makes things worse."

"That must explain the white hair and his rather odd behavior...I want you to keep an eye on this boy as much as possible. We wouldn't want another student to fall into a near death experiment again now would we?"

"Yes ma'am...That girl...Was much stronger than this one however...What if he passes away?"

"We pay the costs of funeral bills for the family and give them assistance..."

"....What about Yumeno? She must pay for her actions again..."

"Don't worry. That's already in the works..I've taken the wand and her spellbook in my office while sending another Ultimate to her room; she's in charge of monitoring her at all times...As well as making sure her mana levels are low at all times."

"Understood.. Thank you.."

"You're welcome...Would you mind spending a break with me?"

"Ah, thank you...but who will watch over him?"

"No need to worry. I already have someone in mind...Bring Ryouma to me please. Perhaps he can help."

"Of course.."

Sounds of papers shuffling and footsteps are around me before a new voice enters.

"You called?"

"Yes..I need you to do me a favor..Please, watch over Iidabashi until we return. Understood?"

"Mhm..Sounds easy enough."

"Thank you. Shall we go Ms. Tsumiki?"

"Of course. Goodbye Ryouma."

"Yeah.."

No...don't leave..I need to know who you are. Please, let me wake up. I push myself to open my eyes and finally sneak a blurry glance at Tsumiki and a taller woman with a black coat. For a moment I see a glimpse of green before I close my heavy eyelids once more. I want to stay up but I physically can't.. For now I decide to rest before hearing Ryouma's deep voice again. It sounded empathetic and tired, as if he'd already experienced things like this.

"Man...Must be rough being you, Iidabashi... You come here for your first two silent weeks without a scratch and now look at you... Almost bleeding to death must've been scary...First it's Yumeno getting mad at another new kid for slacking off and then Saihara goes crying to Shirogane for help on overcoming his embarrassment from his so called " idol." Said you hated his guts for getting too close...Now Yumeno's a mess for almost killing you and having a mana chain stuck in her wrist while the scary girl's in charge of making sure she doesn't pull her pranks ever again...Even so, a person like you doesn't deserve this when we don't know anything about you...I think..I think it's because we're scared. We haven't had a new kid around since she swung by, but even then we're still skeptical...They don't call her Demon Princess for nothin'...."

He sighs softly before continuing, "Who am I to talk? I can't tell you what you can and can't think right now...You're probably painfully confused as to what exactly's going on..Honestly, I don't know either but if there's a piece of advice I'd give you is to restart. Restart with everyone you've met by far and don't think everything you see is the real thing...There's always a reason for everyone's actions, whether they're good or bad..."

There's a long amount of silence after...I assume he didn't want to keep rambling and kept quiet to watch me rest.. Given the new information I've heard and taken in, it seems like a lot of things have happened...My only question is how long I've been out....Mn...I'll leave it for later..I'm too tired to think anyways...

Chapter Text

"Iidabashi....Iidabashi....Iidabashi!" A voice echoes my name as I try for the hundredth time to fully wake up. I'm still tied down to my invisible barrier before finally, bursting free, opening my tired eyes and watching the blurry new world come into focus.

A pair of round, dark eyes greet me as I silently blink and look around. I'm back in my room, now dark and cool from the air conditioning humming in the background...Nothing looks different from my memory...At least until my vision adjusts to the dim atmosphere. There's an IV hooked up to my arm as well as another machine attached to different parts of my body. The smell of fabric softener gives off the idea of the soft blankets being cleaned as well as my pillow..The air's scented with lavender and a hint of other sweet scents I can't remember at the moment...I take a glance down and smile weakly in relief. The black markings are gone..No more gnawing and crawling in my stomach...My head hurts a bit but other than that, I'm sort of numb. I look way thinner than I remember and trying to get up is out of the question.

I think back to where I last left off and jump a bit. There was blood everywhere...Yumeno... She killed- No, almost killed me..And I'm still here in this school. I can't.. I don't want to stay here anymore. I'm scared...Just take me home..

I don't notice myself sobbing until my vision blurs completely and a small hand tries to hold my own.

"It's okay to cry..I won't scold you for it..You're safe now okay? No one's coming to hurt you.." The boy who's holding my hand reassures as I can no longer see clearly.

He takes what looks like a box of tissues and wipes my heated face with one. I'm scared of this tiny boy but there's no use fighting back when I'm shaking and can't move.

"There there. Everything's okay.."

I can only look down before he helps me sit up and hugs me soothingly. His attire doesn't give off the nurse theme with his black shorts and coffee colored jacket but at least it's warm. I'm unable to push away or do anything but accept the hug at this point...

Why? I don't understand...These people..Even after pushing them out, they still care? Well, not all of them but..I hate it. They're horrible. If they cared so much as they claimed, they would've helped me when Yumeno was trying to kill me... Why couldn't they just leave me be if they weren't going to keep that stupid promise? All I wanted was to be left alone while experiencing what it feels like to be a talented individual. Why did I come here...What was the point? I already lived a comfortable life..I wasn't lacking necessities... Was it to get some fresh air and let the sun hit me for once instead of always being stuck in a cramped, dark basement? I don't know..I don't know what I was thinking. I'm a fool...A stupid, arrogant, and naive fool to think I could let go for a bit and try to understand the outside world..All because I simply questioned someone else's abilities.. Because of Yumeno...It's because she didn't understand. She still doesn't understand anything. It's not my fault... Right? It shouldn't be...

My sobbing continues for a while as the smaller boy strokes my hair and reassures me he doesn't intend to harm me. We don't speak for a long time until the smaller boy lets go, claiming his arms were growing tired. He lays me back down carefully and sits back down on the chair at the side of my bedside.

"Hey...How are you feeling?" The boy watching over me asks.

"Everything hurts..Can't move.." I hear myself reply slowly. It's quite painful, listening to the croaks and voice cracks that belong to me..I already sound as if I haven't had water in years.

"Well, that's reasonable, considering what happened and how long you've been out." He replies, adjusting his brown hat by tugging the sides down a bit.

What happened... How long...I've been asking myself those things for what feels like forever. I want to ask as much as possible to fill in my gaps but I don't have the energy to do so. I can only groan and continue to listen to the silence.

"Oh..I didn't tell you my name huh? I'm Ryouma Hoshi. Sorry things had to be this way..."

"..."

"I'm guessing you have questions huh?" He raises a brow, before taking out a blue notebook from a school bag along with a pencil...Notes?

I nod slowly, listening attentively to what he's about to say while keeping an eye on the page he turns to.. Please...Tell me everything..What did I do?

"Now, I know you can't exactly..talk, but if you can write, we can discuss this way. Here, I'll help you sit up."

He does the same as before, pulling me forward by holding my hand and placing another behind my back. Before letting go, he tucks a pillow behind me so it's easier for me to not fall.

"Okay then...Whatever you want to know, I'll answer the best I can." He places the thin notebook in my lap and the pencil in my left hand...

"How...know I..left hand..?" I mumble, slowly turning the orange wooden stick in my hand.

"Ah. Your handwriting. Whenever you turn in your work, there's always a slight slant in the letters. I..have another friend who's a leftie and they have the same habit."

"Oh..."

I stay quiet, slowly moving my hand for the point of the pencil to hit the paper when I stop again. How does he know about my work? Is he another watcher... Another person who's been watching my every move silently? No no..I've probably been thinking too hard about the simplest of things..He might just be an assistant for the teacher..Yes..That's a better thought..Better..

"Uh...Iidabashi? Hey, your paper..." Ryouma's voice snaps me back into reality, making me jump and move my head up slightly. I blink twice, and see there's small scribbles and X's where I've had my hand.

"Ah...Sorry.." I turn the orange stick around to the pink nub and slowly erase the odd shapes and markings. 

"Everything alright?" He asks in concern, making eye contact with me.

"..." I swallow nervously, making the pain in my throat worse as my hand slowly wobbles to scratch out the word,"Why?"

"What do you mean why?" The smaller boy moves my hand away to look at the one word with it's weak, shaky lines and spaced out letters that jump around and float on the pale blue lines of the paper.

"Why did this happen to me? What did I do? Why didn't anyone save me when I almost died..?"

"Oh...u-um.. unfortunately.. this isn't my story to tell...But, I know who's it is...Unless you want them here, I highly doubt you're ready to face the Red Witch again." Ryouma frowns, shaking his head at my questions.

"Red Witch?"

"Ah. That's one of many nicknames we call her. It used to be a name based on her appearance but..After you were gone, it grew into a negative connotation.."

Gone...I'm an idiot..I need to stop asking things revolved around her and get my surroundings in check...

"How long has it been since I last opened my eyes?"

I hear Ryouma suck in air through his teeth while making a pained expression before answering,"Do you really want to know...?"

"Please...I need to...before it's too late."

"Alright then...It's been a month and two days. You fell under two weeks after your arrival in September and now it's November... November second.."

At that moment, my heart sank. One whole month...the last bit of September.. all of October...This is bad. Really bad. What if..What if he's really dead? I have to go. Now.

From the corner of my eye, the other boy isn't looking in my direction, rather the floor..His large eyes are looking downward, focusing on the floor intensely as his crossed arms are shifting slightly..As much as I want to ponder what he's thinking about, I can't waste any time. I struggle to reach out for Ryouma's sleeve, tugging on the end to get his attention. He looks up a bit, then at me worriedly, breaking his train of thought.

"Oh- Sorry for spacing out. I'm listening now. What's wrong? Why'd you stop writing?"

"Father..! I need..To see him.! Please! I can't...let him die! Please..Help me..!" I panic, my voice straining to speak the words clearly.

"Hey hey, it's okay! Don't force yourself to talk! Do you want the phone to call him?" He points to his backpack before taking out a black square. I nod as fast as I can, winching slightly from the aches in my head.

"Okay, here's what we'll do. Since it's almost time for you to eat, we'll call your dad, have you talk to him and make sure everything's okay, and then get something for you to eat before taking your meds. Cool?"

"..." I make a face at the mention of medicine. It's not my favorite thing to do or take, especially if it includes needles or pills. Even syrup and gummies get my stomach into a knot. Immediately after, I sigh, knowing I'd have to take it one way or another.

"I'll take that as a yes."

The smaller boy helps me lie back down before asking me for Father's phone number. I have to pause a couple of times before finally getting the full string of numbers down. I can feel my heart leaping into my throat before Ryouma presses the green button and tucks it in near my ear.

"I'll be right back okay? I need to go tell Nurse Tsumiki about you being awake. Are you fine being alone for a bit?" He gets out of his seat and grabs what looks to be a set of two gold keys.

"Y-yeah..."

"Ok. Your aide button's going to be right here if you need it." Ryouma comes back to place the same button from before under my hand, giving it a small pat.

"I'll be back as soon as I can.." Ryouma smiles before rushing back to the door and closing it softly behind him...

Now all that's left to do is wait...I hear a ring but no pick up. Come on..please, answer. Another ring passes by..I notice my breathing is a little uneven and do the best I can to not panic..Ryouma was right. I'm not ready..I don't want what's been crossing my mind forever to happen..Another three rings pass by, and I'm quickly starting to well up again.

"H..he's okay...it's... Fi..Nothing bad..'z going to happen..Everything is..fine...." I attempt to lie to myself, trembling again while the button begins to get slippery. Press it..Press it...You need it... In a close call, I lean to my left side and push down, letting the buzzer go off for a good 10 or so seconds before moving back and accidentally letting it slip past my clammy palms. Crap...Well, at least the wire's still wrapped around my arm. I can pull it back if I need to...

"No...I don't...want you to.. leave too.." I press the phone closer to my ear, ignoring the wet drops running down my heated face and the rush of pain going to my head.

"Please...pick up.."

Another ring passes. I'm close to letting the phone drop and giving up before a weary, familiar voice answers.

"Hello...?"

"Father...It's me.."

Chapter Text

"Kiibo? Is that you?"

Father's voice was a relief to hear. It's different than what I remember but...After all this time...I'm glad he's okay.

"Father...I'm so happy..You're okay." I turn to the side slowly, continuing to speak quietly into the phone.

"Kiibo...why are you crying?"

"Huh..? I'm just glad you're here.."

"What are you talking about? You sound more strained than before...Are you sure-"

Right before I can reply, there's a thump on my door. I can't get up to open it but whoever's on the other side doesn't sound all that  happy...There's the sounds of muffled yelling and crying.. I can only hear fragments of what the people on the other side are arguing about..

"Traitor!....You going to see you're stupid-?!...I'm sure the school'll keep you-!..Creep! Go crawl back to the regular high school-!"

"No- Not his fault! It....Stop!...Sorry! I'm sorry...Did what he had to!It's because of Himiko he...Because of her...None of this would've...She had left him alone!! It's her fucking fault! -Don't care what you do to me...Not hurting him! He- Ow!"

What follows is the sounds of cries and kicks on the door followed by a female voice whom I've never heard of... and the sound of something being tossed on the door...The first voice sounded like the male who was picking a fight..somewhere? I can't remember. The other sounded like that boy...The boy with the silver eyes... What were they fighting about? And why is he calling him a traitor? Did something happen?

"H..hello?" I croak worriedly, slowly forcing myself to turn to the door's side while holding the phone in my hand. It's painful, after not moving much for almost two months. I only hope I can still walk after I have the chance to stand...

"Is something wrong?"

"Someone...someone is here. They're hurt but.. they don't want to come in.."

"Oh dear...Are you sure they're going to the right room?"

"I don't know..." I reply, catching my breath before watching the door.
The racket's seemed to stop before I hear another soft thud. For a while I can only sit there and stare at the wall in fear. For some reason I feel odd. Father hasn't said much..and his voice is way groggier than I remember. Maybe if I ask him if I can come home, he'll feel better? He sounds like he misses me a lot... It has to be lonely out there..All alone in the dark..

"Father...I..want to ask something.." I murmur, listening to the quick beats of my heart.

"....Why?" He asks abruptly.

"Because...because of the people outside..What if they kick the door open and hurt me too?"

No reply.

"Hello? Father?"

Still nothing. I shiver slightly, wanting to think of something else so I could stop jumping to the worst of my situation. I swallow nervously, rummaging my head for anything to talk about.

"Father...?"

"Yes?"

It's now or never.

"...I..Can I go home?..I don't want to stay here..Not in Japan..Please...Take me home." I'm practically begging at this point.

"..." He sighs in what feels like disappointment, pausing in silence for a minute or so. "I'm sorry...But you're not going home.."

"What...?"

I almost drop the phone, my heart sinking and shattering into bits. No..No this can't...It's obviously a joke right? I'm probably not hearing things correctly.

"I'm sorry... Can you s-say that again? I..don't know if I heard you right.."

"I'm not taking you home, Kiibo." He replies, his tone going from tired to serious. No...Please don't let this go where I think it'll go..Please. I don't want this.

I slump slightly over to the side, staring off into the floor. There's no way. Everything I've done. All the times I'd stay up thinking and worrying about him. The letters I've written to send home...The book I stole from his library just to keep a bit of home with me...Was my worry all for nothing? It can't... I don't want to stay.. I'm stuck in this cage for the rest of my career days...until I graduate. It's not fair...it's not fair,it's,not fair,it's not fair!

I try to focus, but my distress sends me in for a ride. My eyesight blurs and clears up at a rapid speed, making everything distorted; Colors begin to mix and invert randomly before moving and fading all at once. I try and grasp the blanket in my hand but everything feels far away...What the hell is wrong with me? I'm shaking again...Did winter decide to drop in for a visit because as of now, everything feels like ice. My teeth chatter and I'm left motionless... I don't think I'm in sleep paralysis..But this is scary..I can hardly hear Father, despite him asking questions...

"Ki...O?...Hey...At's... Ng?..swer me!"

"I can't..hear you..." I say back, my voice underwater. I struggle to say anything else before I close my eyes momentarily. Everything's black...Black as night.. I open them again, and the colors bleed off...No longer being able to see color. No...not again. What is this?

"Kii...?"

I don't reply, letting his words and my surroundings sink in. It hurts.  Everything I've been doing is..was all for him..And now he's just throwing me under? Why..how could he?

"Kiib...!..iibo!"

I swallow and glance down at the wire tied around my arm. The blood's stopped circulating correctly while my veins are more prominent against the while porcelain of my skin. I move it slightly, and don't feel anything. I slowly take the time to raise and unravel the wire bound around my forearm, allowing the blood to flow again. I sit there again, shivering and numb, letting my hearing come back to normal. It took a while before my hearing and heat came back.. before mumbling the words gnawing in my head.

"Why..? Did you even  know I almost died?" My voice cracks a bit as I sit there in anger and disbelief.

"Yes. Everything you were dealing with after your last letter sent on September fifth.. A couple days after your incident with the magician, I came to visit you in fear if you died. Fortunately that isn't the case, and I've made a decision. You're not to leave the Inmates Academy or Japan until you've finished your final year. Is that clear?"

"But...That's not right...I have a valid reason to leave..." I speak with clenched teeth.

"I'm sorry...But it's time to wake up and face reality. You're not a child anymore, and you need to start learning how to be independent...Besides, I won't always be here to save you."

"But I! I...The only reason why I wanted to go back was for you! Why are you leaving me?!"

"Because I can't take care of you that way anymore! You're sixteen now and from what I've heard, your behavior is far off from what you were like before I left! What's gotten into you?"

"What are you talking about?! I haven't done anything bad-"

"Don't lie to me. You've been insulting your classmates and making them feel horrible. You've been blaming them for your injuries..your problems. The world doesn't revolve around you. And you should feel ashamed for making the magician wear that mana bond around her wrist."

"But she..She's the one who almost killed me..I only tried to reason with her..."

"But you're the reason why she retaliated. She told me you acted like you had higher status just because of your name...Honestly, you don't deserve the title or the right to be at the school but I don't want it all to go to waste, hence why you're staying there."

"And...You're asking what's wrong with me? You're keeping me...from going home when I almost died and that's not enough?!What's wrong with you?! What kind of parent just leaves their child in a dangerous area and doesn't come back?! Huh?!"

"Kiibo listen-"

"No!! First Mother's gone and now you're leaving me too?! Real parents of the year huh?!"

"Don't you raise your voice at me! I'm the one who makes the rules, not you. I understand why you want to see me and I can assure you I'm fine...But don't bring the past into this. I'm sure your mother had to leave for a good reason..." He fades off.  

"I can't believe you... You'd rather believe these people.. These strangers more than your own flesh and blood.." I murmur.

"Are you done?" He replies with a bored tone.

"Excuse me?"

"If that's all of your bickering...Then we have nothing else to talk about."

He's really leaving... I quickly speak without thinking.

"I love you..."

What follows is the sounds of beeping and silence.

Chapter Text

I knew it...I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up. I shouldn't have relied on him to go back to where I belong...Or maybe, I don't belong there anymore..Perhaps all of this is just a dream I can't wake up from yet..Please let me wake up..

Without thinking, the phone falls down from my shoulder and lands on the floor with a clatter as I stare off into the dull colorless room. It's no use...Nothing matters anymore...The one person I held dearly to me has disowned me. All I've been doing is denying the truth...I'm disgusting...

The room gives me an acrid, wretched, knot in my stomach, watching the colors swirl and blotch into messy black streaks. Everything I had worked for, gone. Father doesn't want me back. I've put him to shame. I can't... I can't go on home no matter how much I want to... But now lies another problem. What now? I've dedicated my entire life solely for the sake of my family...for our name...Not for my own personal gain or desires...

"Iidabashi...?" A familiar yet tearful voice bursts through the door with a mix of surprise and fear, making me meet eyes with him...Saihara. His eyes dart around me before he looks down again. There's a small whimper which follows before he mumbles,"I-I'm sorry for invading your privacy..I'll leave now-"

I can only whimper for him to not leave, reaching out slowly while keeping my vision on my blanket. It's embarrassing to think about it but I can't trust myself to be alone.

"Iidabashi...?What's the matter? You...Your eyes..."

My vision is moved from the bed to a pair of watery silver eyes as he rushes towards me; slowly picking up my face to examine my plain expression with both hands... Saihara...Why? Why are you back? I told you to leave me be and here you come back to me like a stray cat...All bruised and dirty.

I lack the strength to yell at him to let go or to stop crying because of me but I can't. My heart may be pounding in anger, hatred, and sorrow, but I no longer have the heart to do anything.

"I'm so glad you're alive..." Saihara lets go of my face and embraces me gently, stroking my hair in a pattern. The fabric of his jacket and buttoned collar give a warm buzz as I am lead into a face full of cotton and the scent of faint jasmine. I'm unable to embrace him back, leaving my limp arms to the side.

"I'm sorry...I'm so sorry.." His shoulders shudder, indicating him sobbing harder than before.

"I'm sorry for getting angry...and touching you when you d..Didn't want me to...For not h..Helping you when you needed it the most...I'm sorry for not stopping Himiko...while I had the chance..I'm sorry."

I have no words; nothing to say for comfort..or closure.. Or a response. I can only close my eyes and rest. Today has been quite the adventure, and after all this, I need to stop...

We stay there for about five or so minutes before he lets go, sniffling and wiping his face.

"Ah- I'm sorry! I did it again!"

I shake my head and slowly reply," 'Z okay...Don care...'Nymore.."

"Hey...Why do you look sad?" Saihara breaks my daze as I look back in his direction. He looks troubled, but at the same time, almost angry...

I try to answer but once I open my mouth, only fragments of syllables come out.

"It's fine if you can't say so..um...Do you mind if I brush your hair? It's a little messy and well- I can call Nurse Mikan if you want her to do it i-instead.. You don't have to have me do it if you don't want to.." He stumbles in between words, glancing at the door in fear of something...I don't know why..

I lean my head over to him, letting my mop of matted, oily, tangled hair brush against his stomach. I still feel reluctant letting a stranger do my hair but I don't want to argue anymore...It's better than being all oily and gross, especially after two months. Saihara jumps slightly at my sudden lean before getting the picture afterwards. I feel him rest my head down on my pillow to slide off the mattress, walking off to the bathroom to come back with a brush and two white bottles; one petite, one medium. I don't know what either of them are for, but if I had to guess, maybe some sort of substance to untangle the strands?

"Here..Uh..Can you scoot over so I can be next to you?" He asks, scratching the back of his head. I now notice he's not wearing his hat...?

I try to roll or scoot over but the amount of force it takes for me to even try is agonizing. I hear Saihara swear the same time I cry out in pain as he starts holding me from my back and legs.

"Wait, wait, I got you. Hang in there-"

He hovers me over more to the left in a sort of bridal style, pushing the blankets away to the other end of the bed. At that moment he gasps again and bites his lip.

"Oh my god..."

Saihara's eyes widen in shock. I look down, and immediately gag, turning my head away to the left. My body's been stained with blood and fresher cuts on my stomach...How? I haven't been doing any sort of string or metal work ever since I last left home...

"Y...You shouldn't even be hurt like that after two months..No wonder why you can't move..Not to mention these scars and wires on you. They're everywhere.."

Damn it all...He's found out. What if they've already searched my room? Are they going to kick me out now? Where would I go?

I start shivering quickly, holding onto his sleeve to motion him to hurry up. It feels like I could probably see my breath if I tried hard enough.

"Crap-Um!" Saihara looks back and forth a bit before going back to the bathroom and fetching wipes with a trash can. Meanwhile, I squeeze my eyes shut, mortified at what's happened to me. The blood...the skin..the cut marks...They don't look like regular cuts or self harm..I quit doing it years ago...From what it feels like, the slices look more precise and clean...What could've done this?

Don't think about it. Don't think about it. Don't think about it. Dontthinkaboutitdontthinkaboutitdontthinkaboutit-

Every time I tell myself nothing is wrong, I can feel pins and needles crawling about on me..I hate feeling like my skin's being torn or I'm being stabbed with the thin metallic needles.. It hurts.

As soon as I open my eyes again the first thing i see is his hand holding a cotton ball and then the trash can...I flinch at the sight of the discarded needles inside and gag again, doing my best to back away.

"No..! No..No!" I whimper, covering my hands as quickly as possible with my face.

"Wait wait, I'm not going to hurt you...!I'm just gonna clean you up a bit okay? Look. No needles...See? It's cotton..." I hear Saihara reassure, speaking to me in a low voice..Sort of like talking to a wounded animal.

I don't take my hands away from my face. I would rather be blind forever than having to look at anything needle or medicine related... It sickens me.

"Iidabashi... Please. You can trust me...I'd never want to hurt you, even if you were to get me angry. Come on now..."

I shake my head again. I don't want it. Just go away...I'm changing my mind; I'm fine here on my own.

I hear him walking away muttering,"Stubborn huh..? I can fix that. Just give me a minute." It sounds like he's walking into the bathroom once more? What in the world is he planning?

Silence lingers for a while before I hear footsteps coming back...please just end my suffering. I don't want to be here anymore.

Instead of him just forcefully rubbing whatever item he had in his hands to wash me down, I hear a drawer open along with a plastic wrapper..

"I'll give you a piece of candy if you cooperate. Honey Drops are your favorite aren't they?"

What...? How did he know? I peek out from my hands and see the gray circular candy wrapped in a clear plastic. Just as I suspected...

"H..How..?" I croak out, facing him once more in awe.

"Well..I may or may not have noticed..You used to eat these during class and your practice sessions..T-That's why your homework had crumbs on it sometimes... Right?"

He comes forward, fumbling with the wrapping before taking it out and raising the treat to my lips.

"I promise I won't tell the nurses if you eat this before actually having real food in you." He smiled sweetly.

I stare at the candy then at Saihara a couple of times before slowly parting my lips and leaning forward to bite the hard candy. He pushes the other half in slowly before taking a step back and laughing nervously; I can't tell whether he's blushing in embarrassment or just shyness.

It doesn't take long before my attempt to smile fades away...It feels like karma's slapped me in the face, for these sweets also painfully remind me of the times Mother and I would drink honey sweetened tea in the fresh mornings. Those moments were always filled with peace as she'd sing songs to me from her childhood... Only fragments of her melodies remain in my memories...

"Hey uhm...Can I clean you up now? I won't force you to look..." Saihara asks.

"Oh! I have an idea!" He adds, picking my head up gently before turning it away and upwards.

"There we go...Now I know this might sting a bit but I'm not sure if your wounds are already infected...B-But I'm sure you'll be okay..." I hear him open a bottle and immediately recognize the strong scent. Alcohol.

I whine quietly and bite the inside of my cheek. I didn't want to feel the burning sensation but I had to deal with it sooner or later....

Saihara comes closer and holds my hand slowly. I jump and stare at him wide eyed before he shakes his head.

"I'm just supporting you in case you try and dig your nails into anything that’ll hurt you...Just tell me if it hurts too much. I'll do my best to make sure you don't cry... Ready?"

No. I'm not ready in the slightest but I give a subtle nod. I hold my breath and before long comes the first wave of whimpers in pain. I can't do anything but hold onto the other's hand and try not to move too much. This boy who I scarcely know is trying so desperately to keep me from harm but why? I honestly feel undeserving of this kindness...this admiration...It hurts to see how much Saihara pities me to the point where disappearing for a time doesn't sound so bad after all.. I wished the cotton was dipped in water instead of alcohol but I can't complain....After all, it is my fault for getting into this mess in the first place. For now, I should distract myself with something else.

"Shshshsh...You're okay...We're almost done..." He coaxes me, rubbing my hand with his thumb in a circle. This cycle continues for what feels like forever until finally, the pain is over. I'm shaking and trying hard to keep my teeth from chattering while Saihara throws away the last bits of cotton and covers me in bandages he found in a different drawer.

"All done. See? It wasn't so bad. Good job!" He giggles, buttoning up my gown and brushing my bangs to the side.

"M-mhm..."

I'm so tired...My heart's still pounding in my chest and the final bits of the gooey candy melt away from my mouth. I slowly move my head to see Saihara taking off his shoes and slowly settling in my bed with the other bottled supplies in hand, pulling the blankets over both of our legs and sitting us up so he can start doing my hair. I shake my head and try to push him away.

"Huh..!?" I manage to say before swallowing in fear...I don't think this is okay...

"Shshshshsh- I'm not going to do anything bad..! I was only trying to hurry so you could get warm.. You're freezing too,so I thought if I were to sit with you, you'd be more comfortable...Please..You can trust me...but it's your choice whether you want me to help or not..."

A fast ball. My eyes widen in thought. Do I? He won't...No..He wouldn't right? I'm not sure...But I need to warm up..I'm too cold, even with these covers. Besides, I did treat him horribly the last time we met...Maybe he's not a bad person after all...?

I nod quietly before he gives an okay, and sprays what sounds like a foamy substance in his hands, rubbing it together momentarily.

"What's that...?" I ask.

"It's a shampoo I found in the bottom drawer. Since you can't exactly take a bath, I can at least clean your hair...Now, try to keep your head straight so I can spread this out."

Saihara proceeds to gently massage my hair, rubbing the foam in sections instead of in a random area. I can admit, it does feel relaxing but I can't fall asleep yet...

I feel my face burning slightly as he finishes up and shakes my hair out a bit with his fingers.

"Heh...your hair's thicker than I thought..I'm kind of jealous."

"Oh..." I've never been complimented for my hair before, especially by a boy, so this feels a little strange..My face heats up once more while there's another tingly feeling that flows through me;I can't describe exactly what it is but maybe it's okay?

He stops and reaches for a small towel resting on the table, drying my hair out carefully. Once he's finished, he pulls me into a light hug.

"What..?" I ask without completing my thought before he fills in the blank.

"It's just a hug...But, I've been wanting to ask you something."

Oh great. Questions... I'm not in the mood for questions..Unfortunately he can't see my face but he continues anyways.

"Why are you wounded so much?"

My face falls to confusion. Does he mean as of now or from a long time ago?

"I.." I shake my head in defeat before Saihara lets go of me and gets up in search of something. He turns around to search the area before looking down and scooping up the notebook from under my bed. I guess I've just forgotten about that.

" Here. Just write here instead."

He hands me the notebook with a new fresh page as I think for a bit, collecting the words I want to say. Saihara sits back in the blankets with me and smiles nervously, looking at the fresh paper in anticipation. I pick up the orange pencil and start to write.

"What do you mean? I don't understand.."

"Hm...I'll rephrase that. Why are you always the one to get hurt? Is that why you're so angered at everything?"

I jump back a little bit, startled by the new question. Was I really always angry? No wonder... No wonder they did this to me...I sit there silently for a bit before writing down,"Home." I don't want to write everything down so this much should suffice.

"Home? What happened..?" Saihara continues to ask, his silver eyes darting between me and the paper.

"Father...Hates me. I thought he was going to take me home but he doesn't love me anymore...I made him hate me. Now I'm trapped here forever, and I don't have anyone.. No more family.." I write down with a shaky hand until I feel water falling down my face and onto the paper..

"Oh Iidabashi.. I'm sure you don't mean that. Your father loves you very much. Why would he hate you if he enrolled you in this specific school?" Saihara replies.

I close my eyes and shake my aching head in a slow pattern. The things he doesn't know...I guess now’s the time..

I grasp the pencil in my left hand once more before swallowing nervously and writing,”From what I can tell, he left me here so he wouldn't have to deal with my behavior...I know as of now both of us have different mindsets on what we want but..I hate it. My mother’s already missing and I’m scared..I don’t trust myself being alone anymore...” More droplets fall on the paper as I wipe my face with the back of my right hand.

“Oh Iidabashi…” Saihara pulls me in for a hug, this time in a much slower pace. There's silence for a bit before I hear the boy begin to cry.

“I guess...You and I are the same..” He manages to speak, despite his voice cracking…

“Since you bothered to share something secret..I guess I will too...Do you remember when I grabbed you a while ago? Back before you fell into a coma?”

I nod in agreement as the boy sniffles a bit.

“Well...I couldn't help but see my Mom in you..I-Is that weird?”

His mother? That's… interesting but at the same time, kind of sad...Is he homesick too?

“My Mom had gotten really sick with your illness way back when I was around 10. My Dad wouldn't let me see her for personal reasons but one of the workers always found a way to sneak me out...Despite her being stubborn and distant, she was also kind and protective...One day, she called me in to talk about something that was on her mind...I found out I didn't have much time left to be with her..”

“Did..Did she leave..?” I ask, trying to turn to face the taller boy.

“Yeah…” Saihara inhales sharply, balling up the blanket in his shaking fists.

“She asked me if I could help put her down..I didn't want to but she...She did it herself… I tried to stop her the best I could but...I was too weak…” Saihara sobs, looking down.

Now I understand why...What I thought to be a gross, perverted fanboy turned out to be someone who shared almost the same burden as me…

I manage to turn my body around completely before returning the gesture from earlier. It still feels awkward from the wires but I can't bear hearing him cry. We've both lost someone important to us…

“Even now..! I-I see her in you Iidabashi...The way you look at me with those pale blue eyes...That stare of hopelessness and fear…” Saihara continues, pulling away from the embrace to look me in the eyes.

“Please...Iidabashi..C-can we be friends? I don't want to…I don't want you to end up like my Mom..I don’t wish for you to die...not again.” Saihara whimpers, before holding my hands with his. For a moment, I can see myself reflected in his eyes...as well as a glimpse of color…I feel different somehow. Realization? Awe? Shock? What is this? Perhaps this is part of what they call “making friends”. Even if the boy is almost the complete opposite of me in action...It appears we share similar experiences. I suddenly open my mouth without thinking and reply in a croaky voice.

“Yes...Let's be friends for now..” I reply, not letting go of his warm hands.

Chapter Text

    It's so strange..I can't help but feel scared of what I'm doing. Is this the right choice? Should I really be doing things like this? Is it okay? I'm not weird am I?  My mind isn’t completely changed by the other’s kind words but at least..It's woken me up. If I want to survive in this school, I have to adapt with the rest of the Ultimates, even if I don't want to. I close my eyes, sighing softly while resting my forehead hesitantly on Saihara's hands. I see now...Thank you. At least you believe me.

I open my eyes halfway and look up to see how Saihara is doing. He continuously looks behind his shoulder and darts his eyes around the room but continues to hold my hands, warming them up in the process.

“Your pulse is faster than earlier...Did I scare you somehow?” The corners of his mouth shift down,his fingertips grazing themselves to the left of my neck.

Ah- I hadn't noticed until moments after he mentioned it.

“Sorry...” I nod, picking my tired head back up. It feels like a drag having to do but I manage.

“And your stomach? Did I wrap the bandages too tight or are you able to breathe and move?”

I look down, placing a fragile hand on the wrapped area before making an unstable slash motion with my finger.

“You’re worried about your injuries huh? Well, I was wondering the same thing too. From what I calculated after cleaning them up, they were around a half inch deep...The cut itself wasn't small but rather long, clean and precise...almost like someone else did it…” Saihara's eyes widen, then dart around while I try to follow along.

“Ah..?” I ask,not being able to picture any suspect. I'm taken aback at how he switched from an awkward teen to an analytical thinker in the span of five seconds... Unfortunately, my brain seems to turn to jumbled mush afterwards. I don't know how to respond apart from subtle nods and grumbles.

“But who? This room has been forbidden to enter unless...Hm..No, that’s not possible. What if? No. She’d never do such a thing…” Saihara continues on, suddenly bouncing off the bed and moving about the area in a dance, analyzing each nook and cranny in the room. My mouth hangs slightly open to say something but it's flown out the room by now. His feet appear to not even touch the floor, floating and leaping from point A to point B… He floats over and rummages through my closet, causing me to ponder into space even further. So... Confusing..

Saihara pauses after hearing a series of metal items rustle together in a heavy box,before carefully placing everything back the way it was.  

“How strange..Why would a heavy toolbox be in this room? They can't be his..Maybe it's for the bed? And she doesn't look like she can lift the box. Unless she used something to help her..”

He continues in thought as he moves back to the front door, then to the closet..And then back again. What in the world is he doing? As if reenacting a scene in his mind, Saihara shakes his head once more and does a couple rounds of movements in a different order.

“But if she did...The amount of shock and utter humiliation would be horrifying. Her time at this school would be over in a blink of an eye if the officials were to finally put their foot down. I must search but I don't have what I need.”

Like a deer in headlights, Saihara comes to a complete halt, smacking the bottom of his left fist to his right palm. The waltz is over, and his eyes meet mine once more with a peculiar twinkle.

“O-oh sorry..Must’ve gone off on a ramble again..I didn't tell you my talent did I?” Saihara chuckles, his cheeks dusted with a lollipop pink.

“No...”

“It's-”

“Hello Iidabashi? This is Ms.Tsumiki. Are you awake? Hey- Hurry! They're coming!” A hushed female's voice calls through the door as we both jump in fear.

A startled whimper escapes through my mouth before Saihara comes to my side.

“Ah- it's okay, it's okay.. It's your nurse.”

“Don't wan..no...” I shake my head,grasping at the other's sleeve.

“Don't worry..she won't do anything-” He reassures once more, anxiously watching the door knob for its turn. Strange.. We weren't expecting anyone to be back so soon...Our small moment of privacy had broke, reverting us back to our awkward and timid selves.

“Can’t believe I forgot about her. I’m sorry.” Saihara whispers to me as he immediately helps me lie down and frantically makes the area seem just how he left it when he first came in. I wonder why he didn't finish his sentence or why he's in such a panic but my curiosity dies by the noise of the doorknob turning.

“I'm finally back!” Ms. Tsumiki tiredly smiles as she rushes through the door, clutching a paper filled clipboard and pen in her arms. Separate strands of her hair flop around in a tangled spider web mess, almost like she hadn't gotten a haircut in a while. Her facial expression drains out once she meets eyes with Saihara, causing a tense feeling in the air.

“Saihara...What are you doing here? You're not supposed to be here unless the headmaster gave you permission…”

“Ah yes well um..I was wondering if investigating this room would help me find any clues for my uh..Case. I haven't found anything yet but I need to find my equipment for a more accurate search.”

Her eyebrows furrow before she shakes her head and motions for the figure behind to get inside.

“Come on now. Before they see us-”

A smaller boy staggers after, pushing a cart towards me before stopping to shut the door and greet us.

“Saihara.. Iidabashi...You two look like you've made up. Mind if I have a word with you?”

“Ah- Of course Hoshi..” Saihara wobbles to the other in a rush, making sure to keep his own voice low. That name..Hoshi. Sounds familiar..? For a moment, the groggy feeling wavers as I tilt my head with a squint, feeling my blood rush through me. Hm? What would he want with Saihara? And why aren't they talking normally? I continue staring at the two boys, unaware of anything else going around me.

“Iidabashi sweetie? How are you feeling?” Ms. Tsumiki asks, checking the equipment surrounding me before moving on to examine me. No.. Don't want..I try to lean away but she persists, not letting go of my shoulders.  It feels like time has slowed down, causing me to look around in a dream like daze. Being poked and prodded with the many different medical objects was something I couldn't get through.

“No..er.. Orrble. Gu ‘way....er me..”

She doesn't reply, examining the tube in my arm in case it slipped out. Why..What is that? When I seem to be focusing more on the substance inside of the tube instead of the woman, a weird plastic stick thing is put in my mouth. It's feels cubic but I don't know why it hurts.

“Aa-nno-”  I uncomfortably groan at the stick stuck in my mouth and try to spit it out without much success.

“I know you're sleepy but I need to make sure you're okay.. I promise I won't take long. Do you remember who I am?” She makes sure my mouth stays closed for a moment before letting go of my face, searching my expression for an unknown reason. Tsu..Tsu?

I mumble gibberish, blinking twice at uh...Tsu before she nods and takes out the plastic item from my mouth. There's the sound of a click and something falling into a trash can nearby but I don't know where. She nibbles on the end of her pen for a moment before scribbling numbers and squiggles.

From my point of view, I can see small tidbits of her paperwork on the clipboard she’s holding. Her scribbles are hard to read, considering she's supposed to technically be a professional at this point but I hold my tongue and try to keep myself from falling asleep. Feeling her warm hands touch my forehead and cheek make me mumble more incoherent gibberish.

“Everything alright honey? You feel extremely chilly... Don't worry, this will be quick okay?” Tsu takes my hand and gently moves my arm around. A small whimper comes out from my mouth, making me shake my head slowly. Please leave me alone..Not a doll...I'm sleepy..lady..? Lady...Who? Who-za?

“Shsh... We're almost done here..” She coos, repeating the same thing on my other arm. I can only feel discomfort from the way she moves my limbs around in a slow circular motion. If I could speak clearly I would, but my body and mind are drained from earlier.

“I'll move your legs later but how do you feel right now?

“Col..Sle..mm..” I slowly hug myself, still keeping an eye for the two boys in the background.

“Anything else?”

“No..color...” I fade off, feeling my eyes close once more.

“What the.?” Tsu comes closer to take a look at my eyes, her eyebrows furrowing with the rest of her scrunched up face.

“No..” I turn my head away from her hands, barely struggling to break free. Please let go..So cold... sleep better..

“Hey it’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you..I just need a look..So strange..Your eye color’s changed to a different shade...”

Tsu pauses before putting down her paper filled clipboard and blue pen on the bed to take a tiny black flashlight from her right pocket. As soon as she slowly shines the light to my eyes, I blink and turn my head away slowly to avoid the stinging light.

“Sensitive... Are you okay?” She asks, picking up the items from before to quickly write notes down.

“Ye..” I reply wearily, blinking watery tears away in the process. At least the room is nicer to my vision.

“Your pupils are okay apart from the sensitivity issue... As for your movement, it’s more restrictive than I thought, but that's to be expected from your awakening..Then there’s your blood pressure..A little high, but I'm sure you're just overwhelmed by all the people in the room..The only issue afterwards is you're freezing to the touch, even if your air conditioner isn’t on..” Tsu takes the clipboard and flips through some papers, scribbling around for a moment before putting them down along with the pen. I don't understand the long list of words she speaks but it feels like forever before the woman stops speaking complicated jargon.

Taking another peek at the two boys behind the nurse, they look like they've finished their conversation and have now decided to chime in ours.

“What if the effects are from the Angel Lace?” Hoshi adds, placing his hands in his pockets. “I wouldn't be surprised if there was any permanent changes done..”

For some reason, I feel like I want to fall backward from all the blabbering going around... Their words are quiet and complicated for me to get.. Saihara spots my sleepiness, walking over to give me a pat on the back to wake me up. Sleep..sleepy.. Wanna sleep..Saihara..

“It'll be okay. Things can't be that bad, right? The doctors have medicine and therapy for you so you'll be good in no time.” Saihara flashes a bright smile at me before Tsu cuts in with a nod of her head.

“Ah yes- O-Of course haha.. We'll discuss the results later. Right now, Iidabashi needs some rest and then we'll get to his examinations,therapy plans and food.”

“Um..Ms. Tsumiki? If you don't mind me asking, how exactly is the treatment going to work?” Hoshi raises a brow, glancing at me exactly like the others in question.

“Only time will tell. I'm doing everything I can without getting caught by the other medical students. Even the SHSL Pharmacist is secretly giving it everything she’s got...The goal we have is getting Yumeno’s spell book and wand from the headmaster or interrogating her to cough up the complete antidote..”

I stop trying to doze off after that, feeling a horrible sensation flow through my stomach. Can't die..? I don't want…? Before I felt like this was going to be a relief from all this pain. A way to say goodbye without remembering me but..Saihara and the others are already counting on me to not go..I don't know what to do.. On one side, I could leave and get rid of being a bother to everyone..but at the cost of not knowing their feelings. Nothing would be the same, despite me leaving...Once again, I'm confused on how to feel. What I truly want. What to do...I know it's my fault but.. What is my purpose now when all of who I was is gone..?

I want to curl up into a ball and hide from everything but it's no use...It’s like staring in a mirror and desperately yearning for something different on the other side even if you know nothing will work. No matter what you do to change on one side of the mirror’s appearance, it's still the same, horrible person you see yourself as...At this point, I don’t even want to look into a mirror anymore..It’s useless..All of their efforts are being poured into the antidote in hopes to keep me alive..What's the point? I've already ruined so much...I don't deserve to be an Ultimate in a school like this...

My lips attempt to open to form words but nothing comes out. I'm paralyzed… A series of blurs start to grow slowly in my vision, causing me to blink and make a low strained groan. I don't have the energy to cry anymore.

“Aw Iidabashi, what's wrong? Are you in pain?” Hoshi comes near in attempt to comfort me, patting my hand gently. I don't know what to do or say. My mouth only wants to croak more quiet nonsense.

“Iidabashi?” He replies, tapping on my shoulder. I want to ask him to repeat what he said but something’s stopping me..My head..I can't focus.. The other retracts his hand with a concerned expression before stuffing it back in his pocket.

“Sorry Hoshi. He's probably not going to understand what exactly is happening or why he feels the way he does but we'll give him the space and patience he needs. For now, I say we let the boy rest. He looks exhausted already.” Tsu replies before motioning for everyone to leave the room. No.. please don't leave me alone..I don't want to be in the dark..

“Saia...stay.. sle..me..” I barely grasp the end of his sleeve before Saihara glances in my direction with a perplexed face.

“Huh? I don't get it..You want me to put you to sleep?”

“Sleep..wh..me..don... lea.” I repeat to the best of my ability before Saihara shifts his gaze around with a whisper under their breath, inhaling sharply at my tone. Hoshi is also thrown back by this, searching for an answer to fill the silent void.

“E-ehem..Ms. Tsumiki? Why is he acting well...Is that normal? Is he allowed to ask Saihara to do such a thing like that?”  
“ Normally coma patients are like newborns once they awaken from their vegetative state but this case is... Interesting... It's definitely different than anything I've seen before. In any case, Iidabashi's most likely afraid of being alone and he probably wants someone to keep him safe. Obviously, I would understand why that is..Which is why if Saihara or you agree, I'll allow you to spend the night here until we can get things organized. If not, then I'll go ahead and stay instead,” Tsu nods at the two before adding,“If Iidabashi's willing to trust you after what happened, then he’s bound to have a reason why..”    

Saihara suddenly goes quiet, looking back between me, Hoshi, and Tsu again. He paces around the area, nibbling on the end of his thumb. For a moment, he opens his mouth to say something to Hoshi but cuts himself off and quietly sighs.

“Saihara... It's okay to help him.. You're not that kind of person.” Hoshi walks up to him and lightly pats his arm.

“I can't..This isn't fair. I can't force myself to be with him just because of my stupid…” He fades off, scoffing at himself and tugging his hair.

“That's in the past...You understand that right..?” He replies before Saihara pushes the other's arm away.

“You're wrong..I keep doing it again and again.. I'm-” Saihara's voice wavers alongside his lip while shaking his head. For a moment, he makes eye contact with me again and gradually closes his eyes. I don't know why he's in distress but..I don't want him to feel like this…

“Sa..Zz..Kay..” I slowly wave my arm towards him in my way of saying to come over before finally falling back, letting my eyelids close. No..I gotta..stay up.

“Iidabashi…” Hoshi fades away before continuing,“Saihara.. please.. Don't leave his side. He needs you more than ever, and if I'm not being convincing, he told you it was okay to stay with him..”

“That's true. I think you're the one who can help him out with this the best right now next to me.. Can we agree on staying with him for now and then seeing if he still wants you to watch over him later on?” Tsu moves the cart away before I hear her walking up and brushing my hair out of my face. A shaky sigh follows before I open my eyes to see Saihara continue.

“If he trusts me enough to let me take care of him then I'll do my best...I can’t promise anything.. But..What about that girl?” Saihara worriedly stresses the last word, gripping onto one of his arms. “Won't she figure out about my absence? What about classes?” Her..? Who's that..?

“Oh you'll be fine. She doesn't usually check on student dorms and you'll have a written pass from me if anyone asks. My only request is that you and Hoshi keep your lips sealed about all of this. Confidentiality, yes?”

“Right.” Both boys reply at the same time.

“Okay then, I'll get your things ready for the night as well as instructions and bedding for the sides of the floor.  For now, I'd suggest you make sure Iidabashi doesn't fall off the bed or anything like that. If anything dire happens, don't hesitate to call me.”

“Mn..Hey, did anyone see my phone? I left it with Iidabashi but he's not holding it anymore.” Hoshi asks, looking around the room for it. The trio search around before Saihara scoops it up from the floor at my side.

“Found it. Here you go...” Saihara trails off once he sees the glowing screen, glaring daggers at the tiny square item. Hoshi gives his thanks before stopping in his path.

“Saihara..?”

What's..he doing? I can barely see him turning away from me before the phone is given back to Hoshi. Before he leaves, Saihara whispers something in the other's ear. I can't piece together everything he said but two words. “Go later..”

What? I don't get it…

“I'll see you tomorrow morning Iidabashi since I don't want to overwhelm you... Get some rest, okay?” Hoshi comes to me and gives me a soft pat on the shoulder before making his way out the door. I give a hum in reply, closing my eyes for a moment. Everyone's taking forever..I'll sleep again..Tsu and Saihara's here so I'm not alone..

“I'll be back in a bit okay? These are for you two to read in the meantime. Watch over him while I'm gone.” I hear her whisper before feeling something papery stick to my cheek as well as a stick by my hand. Well..so much for staying. Stupid..

“Thank you.” Saihara whispers back before I hear the door shut quietly. There's a long period of silence in the room apart from the small footsteps wandering in a random direction. No pattern could be played out..Almost like skipping rocks on the surface of a pond.

“Nothing adds up..He shouldn't have been able to do those things earlier..And now he's back to being what he should technically be acting like? Hhh...What did you do Yumeno? Were you bluffing this entire time? Damn you. I won't let it happen again..I can't..”

Is it wrong to wish for a different sense to go away instead of color in your vision? The nerve...Why? All this time, they've put me in the dark about so much. I don't understand it but I want to..I wish I could do something instead of sitting here helpless and utterly stupid...Please let me wake up from this nightmare. God..Hell sure is an acrid bitter place to be in right now. I can't even tell if I'm in the same place as I was earlier..

Before my mind continues to fling me further in pity and hatred, I feel something warm lightly touch my shoulder. My vision blurs from the sheet to the same pained eyes glancing down at me.

“Hey..You still want me to..? I’m not going too far.”

I hum again with a subtle nod and pat the bunched up blanket. Nowhere else to go except the floor or the Other Side.

“Yu...ere..”

“Sorry Iidabashi..I can't do that..Ms. Tsumiki will get me in trouble if I do.” Saihara shakes his head, looking back at the door. No fair...he did earlier..Why not now? No one's here..

“You..uur...” I try to find a counter but he shakes his head, tucking me in and making sure I'm not hanging off the sides of the mattress. 

“Mn..How about if I sit here with you? That okay?”

I groan again in disappointment before holding onto his sleeve, suddenly being fascinated with the fabric on the cuff.

I think he was going to move away from me but Saihara stays, watching me closely. Before long I start to feel weird.. I don't know why, but I wish I didn't feel this. It's confusing and indescribable, but annoying nonetheless..

“Do you like it? It's comfortable Saihara nods, watching me poke the soft fabric. I tug his arm closer, placing my cheek to the surface.

“Ah- um..I can let you borrow it if you want? I'm sure you're cold, even with the blankets on you.” The taller boy does his best to continue smiling while I peek at him through my messy bangs.

“Bu..yu wrm..er..pleam... slep..nme..’M frez here.. pleae.. ju furm.. a lil bi..”

Saihara quietly sighs, eyeing the door again cautiously. “I can't. It wouldn't be fair because you're…You’re under the weather right now and I don't want to cause any more damage than what I've done already..”

What is he saying? Damage? He’s not the one who cut and hurt me..Stupid people...stupid rules..I continue asking to the best of my ability before three words brilliantly wormed their way into my brain. Fuck the nurse. Yeah! Fuck the nurse!

“Fuck..Fug thn nurz…” I replied groggily, feeling the corners of my mouth curl up. Hahaha- Fuck..Fuckity..

“Oi- You're gonna get in trouble- Please don't say stuff like that!” Saihara's body tenses up as he places a finger to his lips in a shush motion. Apparently my gibberish sounds wrong to him somehow?

“Fug..fugy fu..nm..”

Saihara stares at the door again, nervously swallowing before turning back to me. “Fine fine I'll do it- Just don't say that okay? It doesn't sound uh...Nevermind.”

Saihara sighs quietly, placing what seems to be a paper book like thing on the bed. The title read,“Coma Support and Care.” Huh...Wonder how that piece of paper is helping me.. I let go of the idea and close my eyes again, waiting for the other.. A pair of shoes dropping on the floor make me jump before I see Saihara unbuttoning his jacket and smoothing it down on me.

“Here..” His voice fades away while the curtain of black hair hides his face. For a while, he stares at the jacket without blinking or even moving. The corners of his lips stay down, wavering alongside his arms and body. A series of quiet mumbles follow along, making me question what the other’s thinking. Both his eyes and hands stay on the fabric in a distressed state before moving towards my own gaze. Saihara..? What..why are you looking at me like that? I don't..

I don't understand. My heart..It’s going faster? Why is it so painful? Why can't I breathe normally? What's wrong..With me? The air.. Something's wrong..

“Sai-? Yh..Kay?” I struggle to form words, gripping onto my blankets as tightly as I can. Please. What's wrong?

“Huh? Ah-” Saihara snaps out of it, immediately letting go of the jacket to look at the machine next to me. There's a weird squiggle line moving around quickly.

“Fuck-It's okay. Nothing's here to hurt you.. You're okay-” Saihara's voice hiccups, worrying about what I'm going through.

A couple beads of sweat slowly fall down the side of his cheek, indicating his level of awareness. Breathe..Breathe. Don't make anything go any faster. Just stay here..Saihara gets up to search for the aide button but can't find it. He then searches for what I guess is his phone but throws his hands in defeat and comes back to help me calm down. We both stop where we are and hold hands until the line falls back to normal. My hands eventually get their feeling back and I begin to breathe normally again.

“You're okay..Everything's going to be fine.. Sorry about that.. I shouldn't be spacing out..” He shakes his head, rubbing one of his eyes with a free hand as if he'd just woken up from a dream of some sort..Damn..What was that? For a moment, I felt like something was off? He just shut down.?

“Are you okay? Your face..I scared you again, didn't I?” Saihara leans away from me, making his eyes squint while he shifts his weight around.

“No..” I hum in response, grasping his hand again and holding it until I can't grip on anymore. Where was I again? Blankets of darkness form around me, slowly enveloping my brain into their embrace. I hear a gasp from the other as he jolts from my lack of warmth, which follows into a small squeeze.

His eyes watch me closely, too afraid to meet mine completely. I don't understand why the other's been in this state but..I don't want him to disappear this time. I don't want to see the door shut while he storms away to the Other Side. I want..I want to give him what I couldn't give him earlier…

Without thinking, my mouth moves to form a line of words I thought I'd never hear.

“Plea.. Stay so..ur not me..Red scary..No gon. ge us..ii she?”

The taller boy stares at me before moving the blanket and jacket aside. Is he going to..?

“No..You're a stubborn one, Iidabashi...A sleepover wouldn't hurt..Would it?”

I shake my head in a drowsy approval, watching him slowly settle in and even out our share of the covers. Immediately, my body begins to slowly defrost, instinctively craving more heat. Saihara pulls me closer with careful hands, loosely wrapping his arms around my body. I can feel his pulse running with mine in a rhythmic pattern, reminding me I'm not the only one worrying about what tomorrow will bring.

“She's not here...She's not going to hurt you okay? We'll protect each other.. So we can both get to the Other Side..” His whisper soothes me, causing me to draw closer to him like a child sleeping with their guardian after a horrible nightmare.

“Shurr..? ‘M scar...” I murmur, feeling my face warm up with the soft cotton of his collared shirt. Even if my adrenaline wants to gnaw at me, the thought of Saihara watching me is..different. I don't feel like I'm going to be attacked..My body doesn't want to drift apart either, finding itself in peace with his.. Is this is what friends do? Nothing feels wrong but a small voice worries what anyone else would do if they were to witness us..What would they think? Are we weird for having these sort of interactions between each other? Behind closed doors..Away from the peering furious eyes of the public.. We're not strangers, but we're not close enough to read each other..Yet here we are, seeking comfort in each other’s presence..I wonder, if this were to continue, would we deepen our bond? If we agree on the soft embraces and…

Wait.

Embracing..? And now sleeping..What the hell am I thinking?! Of course I wouldn't..he wouldn't.? Right now none of us are bothered by this.. Saihara wouldn't think about me like that would he? Why can't I get it out of my head now? What if I accidentally do something weird? Something..

Oh god. Please, make it stop. My head- A burning tingling sensation hits my face hard while I bite my tongue and attempt to stop my imagination. No..it's not going to get to that point. This isn't some stupid movie where two characters go all out and.. And do said things? Ugh- I hate this.. It's making me worry more than the Red Witch.

Gradually my imagination fades away from the complex idea, calming my heart back to its normal flow. It won't happen.. I'm not going to think about it. Shut up..Stop.

“Ow…” I shift around my weight the best I can before Saihara gently rests my body on my side to ease the uncomfortableness. Our eyes locked again for longer than a moment before I shake off my irrational thoughts. All I need right now is a sanctuary… Yes..Just a little longer.

“Shh..It’s alright..Ms.Tsumiki’s outside and I’m holding you so you don't fall. We’ll watch over for a bit while you go to sleep.. Is that okay..?” His voice reassures soothingly, swerving me to another wave of mushiness.

“Mn..I.. Prote..yu to..” I close my eyes before feeling a hand stroke my hair. The pattern and smooth repetition make it difficult to resist, igniting a small spark of hope for him to not stop. A silence in the room fills the air until a familiar tune plays from Saihara. I can't tell what it is but at least the notes are easy on the ear. Time passes before I'm completely asleep, save for the soft whistling of my nose.

“Goodnight, Iidabashi...” I hear Saihara murmur, fading away into my unconsciousness.

My mind leads me into an abyss of white mist, rocking gently along with its warmth… I’m floating for a while, unable to see anything except a singular firefly. A bright light winks teasingly at me before flying away in a whimsical path. Where are you going? Do you want me to follow?

I hear myself hum at the sight of the light before following its nonlinear path. My bare feet touch the green fuzz of grass, causing flannel flowers to move away in hopes of not crushing their pretty petals. Within a few moments, a burst of air pushes me forward, causing me to run across the surface. This feeling of safety wormed into my head that nothing would go wrong. That everything stayed peaceful and calm forever. With another leap, the light is pulled away into my grasp, leading to my fall into the land of green. Poof. I lie there momentarily, catching my breath while finally looking down to see my body no longer in it's fragile state. One glance down told me I seemed to be normal. My flesh no longer clung to my bones nor was there any constraints..Until I hear a whirr...Inside me? Within closer inspection I realize..My arms and legs were warm, yes, but...No heartbeat. What in the world? This is strange. Surely one can't live without a heart?

A crawling, fluttery sense moves around my hands, wishing to be free by it's struggle to escape through my fingers.

‘Oh- Sorry.’  I open my hands, watching the blinking light hover. It dances around my head before moving about again to the faraway distance. I swiftly pick myself up and fly onward, enjoying the calm atmosphere before stumbling upon a mysterious wooden door.. The mist from earlier has stopped here, making the wooden exterior much more vibrant.

‘Huh?’ My eyes search for what was a bright light, only to find hazy backgrounds of pale gray skies. Grass nor flannel flowers dare to step near this door despite its gleaming handle giving a warm welcome. Hm.. It wouldn't hurt to take a peek inside right? It doesn't seem like it’d do any harm. With a ginger touch of the smooth handle, I gently turn the knob, falling into a pitch black void.

Suddenly, my surroundings warp me into a bleak and murky environment, filled with a suffocating aura...I blink once more before discovering I'm not in my room or the open field anymore..The only way I can describe it is a tiny closet like area with dirty cushion like walls and a matching dirt covered floor to  go along with it..I can hear random screams of help and agony outside the bloody door, not wanting to know what waited beyond the other side..

Oh no. I move to try and escape when I look down and see I’m strapped into some sort of torn, belt like jacket. I can't move my hands at all. What is this place..?  Naturally, I want to squirm and panic but my body doesn't want to.. It's too heavy? This heat.. It's making me feel like my brain is slowly shutting off.

After a couple of minutes from struggling to break free from my jacket, the metal door creaks open, and a monstrous blob of thick black shadows slowly slithers towards me. What the- What the hell is that?! I whimper and try to crawl away as it comes closer and slams the door shut. Please no..go away!Don't hurt me! I hit the end of the corner and see it creeping up to my bare feet before something new happens...It begins to expand and twist, as if molding itself into a more humanoid creature. I can only watch helplessly as the transformation continues,turning the dust into a familiar boy...What the…? Is that me..? I immediately attempt to kick my- er..His shadowy body away and shudder, shaking my head in disbelief.

“Why are you still alive, Iidabashi? I thought that would've gotten rid of us for good… Or were you planning on kicking the bucket once your old man didn’t give you what you wanted?” The boy blankly stares, grabbing my face with his frost hands and gripping onto my cheeks like if he was ready to rip them apart.

“Eek..!Let go!” I attempt to turn my face away as I'm filled with a nauseous feeling in my gut. It feels like ice sticking on my face..He stands there in front of me with a singular, gigantic eye seeping into mine..

“You're not real! You're not me! Give me back Saihara..!” I try my hardest to glare back at him, despite how badly I'm shaking...My teeth grit against each other slightly while the temperature in the room rises. My heart leaps to my throat as I attempt to shake off his disproportionate, disgusting hands.

“Oh look at you..So adorable... Trying to control reality and your imagination’s gonna take more effort than that...But you're quite amusing. 'Give him back! Give me Saihara back!' What kind of sick animal are you? To be begging for him like a filthy dog? What happened to your real priorities?! Don't tell me.. It almost sounds like you’re in love with him."

Hearing that final sentence sends a unsettling shiver down my spine.

"Hang on. It's not like that-"

"Such a shame. No wonder your so called "Dad" doesn’t love you anymore. Not only are you in love with a boy, but you’re completely ruined! A broken waste of effort from your non existent Mom too. It sucks you'll never see her again since you're that much of an embarrassment to her.”

The monster’s laughter fills the air as I grit my teeth. How dare he talk about my family like that! And..And Saihara! He's mocking me! This..Whatever this is..! It's making my blood boil!

“Shut up..! Don't talk about my parents that way! I still..I still need them..I still miss them-”

“What a hypocrite..Are you listening to yourself? You can't search for your Mom with just a few memories! Why should you bother when they don't anymore.. I know how much you resented Dad after the phone call..The only person who you love is that disgusting detective!” It's hands run down from my face to my neck, gripping onto me tightly. I squirm around, choking in the other's grasp.

“Nngh- let go! I don't..love Sai-!”

“Awe...Are you really sure?” The boy tilts his head to the side with an unsettling snap noise.

“Are you really sure that's how you truly feel..? What about earlier? What if all of that was a lie...A filthy disgusting lie just to get closer to you? Wouldn't that be creepy..? What if he really is a pervert... What then? You'd be a victim of trusting a stranger. Horrified for the rest of your life.. Or will you allow it? You said so yourself. You don't care...”

My attempt to run away or shout at what Kiibo or..This version of the monster has said...fade off. I quit squirming and shaking to settle down and listen to the beast in front of me...No way...No...Saihara would never do anything like that.. Especially if he's trying so hard to keep me alive.. Right? I can still trust him can't I?

“I don't know..what you're trying to say... He'd never do that..Never...” I croak, fighting back the stinging feeling in the corners of my eyes. This can't be true..It's not! I refuse-

“Oh but think about it...He was able to hold you down during your first encounter..Right? If something bad were to happen..You wouldn't be able to fight back..You'd be helpless. Just because someone's nice to you doesn't mean they’re a pure hearted person...Everyone has skeletons in their closet they don't want anyone to see...No matter who they are.. Everyone has their dark thoughts kept away... It's only a matter of time before they come out..Heed my words and rid yourself of the parasite before it's too late.”

“No..! Stop messing- With my head..! S-Stop trying to.. confuse me.! I know what's the truth..Stop feeding me lies..! Saihara's..the only friend I have...Please..” I croak, feeling myself grow heavier.

“And how do you know what it's like to call someone a friend? Hm?” Kiibo replies with an ominous tone.

“Well...I..?”

“Stupid naive bitch. It's so obvious.. Have you seen the way he looks when he sees you?”

“I said stop..! You don't.. know anything about him..! Or my family..!”

I attempt once more to squirm and kick him away but only partially pass through him, making myself shudder in horror. Trying to loosen his hands only flings me further into his crippling grip.

“Oh my! Kicking someone like me so violently like this! And I thought Saihara was the pervert! Ha! Sad to say, he doesn't belong to you or anyone... He's his own person, even if he is worthless... But romance aside, Saihara doesn't matter either; The useless fanboy won't always be around to protect his sorry excuse of a human...Or in this case, a mindless broken vegetable...At least your expression is priceless..” He removes his hands from my neck, rubbing my face with his thumbs before letting go, leaving my cheeks stained with  black markings from his skin to harshly pull me by my bangs. I yelp in pain as he pulls my face closer. His scorching breath hits my face, forcing it to scrunch up mildly.  

“Let's play a game,shall we? I get to find out how long it takes before you break for good~ ”

“What..are you talking about..? I don't want you to hurt me...”

“But I do~! It's all in the name of giving up your desires...Now be a good boy and give yourself over to me... There's no point in fighting anymore..”

Where is it taking me? Judging by its facial expression, we’re going somewhere painful..Oh no.. Kiibo drags me along outside of the closet room and into the bloodstained halls of what appears to be some sort of hospital? Medical equipment is scattered around the area as random screeches of terror continue. Strands of my hair begin to fall, sticking to my cheeks in an irritating fashion.

‘Gh! It's like he's invincible! But..If this isn't real, then why can't I do anything?! This is a dream after all-Just...A stupid delusion. I hate this. I'm still weak.!’

I take a moment to hold my breath and open my eyes once more, just in case the worst was over. It isn’t..The monster continues tugging on me, causing me to cry out in pain.

“Still struggling are we? Why can't you just stop already? It's people like you who really get on my nerves, thinking they still have hope despite their grim situation.”

“Gh! What do you want?! Why can't you leave me alone?! I want to go back with him-”

“Stop bitching already-Use that stupid brain of yours to piece things together!” The monster growls, bearing a series of razor sharp teeth as I'm sent to the floor with a thud. I see this as an opportunity to escape, placing my arms into the other's mouth to cut the bindings of fabric. I succeed in freeing my arms at the cost of slicing my skin, sending a puddle of liquid down my forearms.

“Ghh-!” The monster reaches for me as I dodge,making a run for it. For a moment, gravity skids me off balance, almost sending me crashing to the floor. Thanking the walls for their existence, I lean against them for support, smudging the walls in blood. Come on, come on! There has to be a way out! Hearing the footsteps behind me motivates my lead like legs to continue moving forward.

‘Have to keep looking! Please! Someone!’ Blurs of black,grey, and white pass by, showing no indication of direction or area. Carts of needles and various tubes lay about, sending me into an obstacle course. With the beast behind me, I fling everything I can with all my strength, ignoring the searing pain in my arms.

“GYAAAAAAAAAA-AAUUUUUUUGGHHHHH!!!”  

My head turns to hear Kiibo writhing in pain, covering his face with a pair of melting hands. The creature's body continues to bubble and spew before deforming back into a puddle of black clouds, sharp teeth, and one burnt eye. Ugh-The most I can do is silently shudder, hugging myself for any sort of comfort.. A smoky, dirty odor fills the room, accompanied by long clouds of steam.

“AAAAA- IT BURNS! HHHNNG-” Its ear piercing voice screeches at me, hungry for revenge.

Time I left. That creature is not me, and I have no sympathy for its suffering. Hideous creature reminds me of Satan bribing Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden as a snake…

Strangely, it's final words still linger in my head, eerily haunting me..

‘Heed my words and rid yourself of the parasite before it's too late.’

Why..? Why would it say that? Saihara.. What are you exactly?

I rush far away from the life scarring blob, focusing more on searching around for bandages to heal up than stopping to see if Kiibo followed me. Already I can tell my feet are having trouble placing themselves in the correct order. There's no use in stopping now. I just need to press on..

When I feel the worst is over, I walk in a promising room to turn the handle, its dark cross hinting what type of items I'd find inside. To my surprise, I find exactly what I'm looking for, along with a singular round apple.. A piece of paper reads,“Protect Me,” in cursive black letters next to the fruit.

Hm..how curious..I take the small items to examine them closely. The small, round fruit seemed to give off a gleam, almost like it’s drawing me in..Weird. As for the wraps, a warm soapy smell reaches my nose when I raise it up slightly.  While my hands continue fixing and wrapping my wounds, my feet go exploring around the place for a moment. Barren walls and the soiled cracked floor tells me more than enough about the owner of the place..A shame..It could've been a more comfortable place, given its surroundings. Too bad it doesn't matter since I can't stay here much longer. With a couple wraps and rubs, the bandages hug my arms comfortably with no ends sticking out. For a moment, I raise the apple to my lips thinking if I wanted a bite but nothing happened. It was like something was stopping me…

I decide to ignore the option of eating it and hold it in my hand for the time being. Whatever reason this apple needs protection, it must be lucky enough for me to find it instead of anyone else. Right after I poke my head out from the room, I check around the area. Left. Right. Left. The halls stay silent, not screeching in terror like earlier. Something about the silence bothers me..Is something going to happen?

Oh I wish I didn't say that. Out of nowhere, a sharp, claw-like hand presses itself against my nose and mouth, causing me to squirm and fight for air.

“Found you~Ahahahaha~”

A small series of giggling already tells me who it is even without turning around. I swear if I try hard enough, I can feel the blood draining from my face. Oh no-

“Shh...Quiet now hehe..” It's distorted voice coos, making my stomach form a giant, painful knot in my stomach.  

No..I can't..! The apple..!My limbs fall limp, causing my body to collapse. My vision blurs as the last thing I feel is the other gripping onto me tightly and dragging me away…

When I come back to my senses, I can feel my hands being chained against a long cold surface. Leaning against it doesn't provide me much comfort.. In my hand I can feel a chilled square object.. A lock? My legs..I can't feel them at all.. What the? Where am I? It's dim.. I can't see much. And that sickly sweet smell.? Ugh it burns my nose.. What's in front of me..?

“Hehehe..You look better like this~All nice and pretty..Now you won't leave me..” A wave of short black hair hits my face as a puff of cold breath hits my ear. Oh god..No.

I attempt to cry out and scream until my lips abruptly stop moving..Tastes like glue? Shit- I do my best to squint and look at my surroundings before finally focusing on the culprit.

“Shhh...It's okay..I'm not going to hurt you..It's me, my love~ Don’t you recognize me Kiibo?”

The world around me grows hazy, impairing my vision. Why..Why did it have to be you Saihara?

“Shh..Don't worry..I'm here to keep you safe. You can trust me.” He coos, cupping my face with both hands before biting whatever black markings I have on my face. No! Stop that! His teeth feel like they're chewing my face off! Not to mention germs! I do my best to raise one of my legs and kick him away but they only twitch to my dismay. The gears..they're stuck? And the frozen cords..

“I'm sorry. Was I too harsh?” Saihara finally lets go of my now bleeding face, brushing my bangs away. “I'll go easy from now on okay? I want you to stay for a while.”

Liar! Go away! I hate you! Leave me you creep! I turn my face away as my teeth grit themselves up. Saihara's hands pull me back to stare at him straight in the eyes, seeing his true nature unfold. Taking a closer inspection, I see Saihara's face and body aren't human. His skin feels too smooth..Something like wood and paint? Saihara's eyes don't look real either. The gloss that surrounds them looks way too shiny, almost like they could shatter any moment now..Is this what people call the uncanny valley? Sure is disturbing..Judging by the large drops of black drool that hits my jacket and what's already on my face,someone seems to be delighted at the sight of my struggling. The sight of his shark teeth make me want to get away from him even more-  Vile disgusting worm! You're not Saihara! Don't touch me! You make me sick!

“Oh wait I forgot.. You're my cute little mute..Feeling you trembling here in my arms is giving me goosebumps!”

“Mngh!” My head tosses left and right in disagreement with the person in front of me. This..Thing..Is it like the other Kiibo I met earlier?

“Y'know, I just love it when you get all worked up.. It makes looking at you much more entertaining..”Saihara hums, conducting an imaginary choir with a wooden finger. Momentarily, he places his thumb to the tape and moves in closer. The humming doesn't stop either, growing louder into my ears. No-Stop it! Creepy bastard! You'll pay for this!

“Awe,you want to tell me something my love? I'll let you speak, so long as you give me what I want..” He snickers, tugging my stiff collar down.

“The apple you carry...It's valuable to you, is it not?” He asks, holding the chilled round fruit to my cheek. “Let me eat it. Besides, you can't do it yourself huh? Come on..I’m starving..Fill me so I can be whole~”

So that's why..He was warning me! I don't want this! I should’ve listened to Kiibo! Please..! Somebody help me! I continue wriggling in hopes of getting away with little success.

“Hhh quit moving! I can't do what I want if you're constantly squirming! Be a good boy and stay put-” Saihara voice begins to fill with anger as he grabs my stomach and pushes forward against the cold pole.

“Be obedient..okay? None of us will have to struggle in the end-”  

I continuously shake my head, rattling the chains as loud as I can while trying to move my legs. Please! Please work! I can't stay like this!

“Grr-Fine then! I'll eat that once I'm finished with you. No one's coming anyways.”

I can hear Saihara put down the fruit and roll it away before feeling my clothing becoming looser on the top. As much as I twist my body away, I can't escape from the other's grip. Another claw like hand rips off the tape and sticks it to the floor before finding its way to the back of my head with a painful grip. His face is inches away from mine, glaring angrily at me with it's hunger for me.

"Gh-! Let me go..!"

“Quit complaining! You should be grateful I'm here you helpless boy..You don't want the Red Witch to find you now do you? After all the hard work I put in so you wouldn’t see her disgusting face ever again? I know how much you're still scared of her.  You don't want to feel that pain and suffering she put into you."

"That doesn't explain why you're putting me through this..!"

"Yes. You want to feel safe and loved..I'll give you that and make sure you feel better.. So long as you don't run away from me..Because you're mine now.. No one else's. I rescued you, took care of you, and guarded your sacred body from those selfish people..Just give in already..Give the audience what they want~ It’s okay. " Saihara purrs, gazing at me through his artificial eyelashes.

"What- No! I don't understand what you mean by audience but I don't like what you're planning.." My face scrunches up, trying to get away from his face.

"But this is how the story always goes right? We give them a little action they enjoy..They approve it and ask for more and more..And it all repeats. Isn't that great? No one cares about the harsh realities of idols like you.  This is just my way of letting you escape the pain..It's only natural.. Besides, you already fantasize about me right? Go ahead and let your curiosity win. I won't tell anyone about it. Please? We're best friends after all~” Saihara whispers in my ear with a persuasive tone, not letting go of my face.

Best friends? No. This isn't what friends do to each other.. Never.

As if things couldn't get any worse, Saihara leans in, licking his lips in anticipation. I can't support his weight whatsoever. It hurts! All of this is wrong! How could anyone think like that!? I don't want to! I'm scared! Please wake me up!

“You're wrong..! I belong to no one-! Get off of me!” My voice cuts off from feeling a tug of my hair, causing me to yelp in pain.

“Haaa...Bad Kiibo- Not listening to me are you? You're so lucky to have such a pretty, soft pair of lips..And a slim body. It's not fair. You always have better things than me. Better looks, grades, talent..Even your popularity and fame with everyone.. I would've loved to take everything else you have, that way I wouldn't be the dead one. Spoiled brat. Things would be so much easier for us both if you let me do what I wanted..It won't hurt...” Saihara responds, digging his nails into my right calf. Once he secures a strong grip, he yanks my leg in an uncomfortable angle, making my panic skyrocket.

“Gh-!! Aaagh-! Stop it!” Tears begin to form and drip down my face before Saihara snickers, continuing to raise my level of discomfort and distress. I try to bite him to keep him away and do whatever I can to fight back but it's not effective. Not a single negative reaction comes from him at all, not even a flinch. Crap- I'm running out of time!

“NOOO-!! MOOOOOMM!! DAAAAAADDDD!! HELP MEEEEE!!!”

“Ahahahaha~!Oh Kiibo~! Keep that up- Your despair is MINE! Give me every last drop until you can't scream anymore~!”

“GYAAAAAAAAAAAAA-!”

Seconds before this Saihara ends up going any further, a new voice cuts in along with a door being kicked open, causing both a screech from him and small showers of sharp, splinter like shards to spray me. Tiny bits cut my face and body, drowning me in a spray of broken triangles. When I open my eyes again, I can see a sharp blade pointing its black tip at me, gleaming with the splash of light. I'm lucky enough it didn't go through me too..

“That's ENOUGH!”

What follows after is the feeling of a broken, pissed off Saihara being pulled away from me and the sounds of screaming, stabbing, and shattering.

“DIE! DIE! JUST DIE ALREADY!”

Oh god- I hold my breath,not daring to look at the scene playing out..I can already feel something thick and bitter rising in my throat, fighting its way outside. Please..Let this torture be over! Make it stop!

Eventually, the sounds of banging and broken glass ceases, following by the familiar figure catching his breath. I try leaning forward to hear where the figure's position before hearing a thud. And another. And another..What the?

“Go away! You're another one of them aren't you? Leave me alone!” I call out, feeling my lips trembling along with my body.  

“Iidabashi.. I don't have a reason to harm you. It's me,Saihara.”

“No! No more! I don't want to!”

“It's alright. He's dead! Or rather.. It's dead..I killed it. That thing won't hurt you anymore..You can trust me. We're friends right? I won’t touch you okay? Just..Let me set you free from those chains at least.?”

"Liar! You don't have proof! You just want to eat me!"

"Then open your eyes and let me show you!"

“Fine..! Make it quick!” I whimper, watching another Saihara kneel in front of me as he leans on his sword for support..His torn clothing only makes me fear him more..When I try to make eye contact, I notice a white ribbon wrapped around the other's eyes as different stains and tears in the fabric decorate it all around. Is he blind? Maybe that's why he can't see me. Moving my gaze downwards, I see the blade is longer but thinner than what I thought it was.. I wouldn't call it a regular sword..A katana?

“I'm sorry I couldn't help you sooner...His scent was cut off by another foul beast. Are you alright?” He asks, cautiously patting the ground while shaking his head.

“Yes..”

“Mn..I'll see what I can do.” Saihara replies, carefully finding his way around me. For a moment, he pauses to touch the ground again and stay silent.

“Iidabashi…Can you continue shaking the chains? I've almost found them..”

I nod and move my arms about before feeling a hand graze one of my palms. Immediately it stops, searching for the lock from earlier.

“I found it. It feels like..There's a hole? Do you know where a key would be?” Saihara asks, trying to tug the lock off.

“No but..where would we find it?”

“Perhaps the body..Whatever remains are left…” Saihara slowly pats the floor to crawl next to me.

“Iidabashi.. Please guide me to the shards so I can search the pile..”

“Why not take off the ribbon so you can see? Wouldn't things be easier that way?”

“I can't..We can discuss this later. Right now, we need to get you out of this place...You’re not suppose to be here.”

Something's weird. I can't put it in words, but this Saihara..Can I really trust him after what I've witnessed?

With a clear, brighter view, I can now see the container with the incense,boxes, small shelves of chemicals, cleaning supplies, more chains, my apple, and the pile of broken glass..A storage room out of all places.

“Saihara. Move forward until I tell you to stop. Use your blade as a walking stick if you need to..”

He does as he's told to, slowly taking some steps forward with the katana gently tapping the floor in front of him. In every other step, he pauses, moving his head about before continuing onward.

“Almost there.. Okay stop. Turn to my left, your right..Take three steps forward and stop there..” I watch Saihara follow my instructions with precise, almost robotic movement. Clink.

“There you are..” Saihara stabs the broken mirror like shards with a grunt, gritting his teeth and twisting his heel in the pile for extra measure.

“What do I do now?”

“Smooth out the pile by scattering around the shards..I'm sure it'll pop out that way. Just..Be careful with your strikes.”

With the blade in hand, Saihara sweeps the shards away left and right, scrambling them across the floor like marbles rolling around. I wait for the slashes to be over before opening my eyes again. Immediately, my mouth hangs open, making me fear this place even more. The slash marks mirror the same ones from what I have on my body.. What the..How? It's not possible for this to be a coincidence.

“Iidabashi? Hey..! Are you okay? Where are you? I can't sense you.”

“I’m here..!”

I can't.. No, not now! I need to focus. Focus..Ignore the knot in your stomach. Squinting lightly, no visible key lies in the scattered glass pile.

“Is it there?”

“No. I'll keep looking but for now, stay where you are.”

Saihara quickly nods, standing on guard while I continue scanning the area. Where would he hide it..? My choices consist of the boxes, the shelves, or the cleaning supplies..

“Look in the shelves first. Turn around and come forward until I tell you to stop then turn left..”

“Mn..” Saihara does as I tell him to, poking the shelves with his sword. Hearing the bottles fall off the shelves makes me jump.

“W-Watch it! What are you doing?”

“Listening for the key..I don't think he would put it in the boxes. Too obvious.” Saihara shakes his head, moving around on his own this time. He goes down on his hands and knees, crawling towards a broom and mop. With a careless push, they crash to the side.

“Not here either..”

“Great-”

My voice is cut off by a loud slam, making Saihara gasp and point his blade to the door.

“Did you hear that..?”

“Yes- We need to hurry. We don't want to know who or what that is.” Saihara continues searching more frantically before hearing a metallic ringing noise slide.

“Under the mop..” Saihara finally grabs the key and fumbles with it for a moment as I grumble in discomfort. Finally!

Saihara finds the lock after another round of rattling the chains and inserts the key, turning it quickly. I'm free! I immediately toss the chains off and crawl away to button up my jacket and scoop up my apple. Poor thing’s bruised and dirty but still intact..Good thing he's blind..But this is the end. I creep up to Saihara slowly, inching closer to his sword. If I can stab him all the way through, I can finally be free. I can wake up and forget about everything that's just happened. I'm sorry Saihara..But after hearing that demon speak, I don't know what you truly seek.

“Iidabashi. Wait. Killing me won't end this torment. Nor will it increase your chances of finding a peace..”

What the? I haven't touched his sword at all. I freeze where I am before feeling a sharp tip graze my nose.

“Do not take my kindness for stupidity. I understand your distrust in me but it's futile to fight someone with the same goal..Let’s work together..Alright?”

“..One condition..You tell me the truth about everything! No more secrets..No half truths either-”

“Fine..And if I turn out to be just like that fake Saihara I killed earlier, you have all the right to behead me. Deal?”

“Deal- Just don't touch me..”

Saihara finally lowers his guard, taking a couple steps away from me. I attempt to stand up instead of crawl with no success, causing me to fall back down.

“Iidabashi..? What's wrong?”

“I can't feel my legs..They're broken. Gears inside won't move and the cords are frozen.”

Saihara shakes his head, handing me his sword.

“May I carry you? We can't get out if you can't walk..”

I stay quiet for a moment,tightly gripping on the sword’s handle. I have the upper hand. He can't hurt me if I have the only weapon..

“Fine.. Don't do anything bad or else.”

Saihara nods, taking my apple to put it in his pocket before kneeling down and picking me up bridal style. Immediately I squirm, losing my balance until Saihara secures me in place. I somehow manage to loop one arm around his neck,holding sword in the other by the end of it.

SLAM!

“Eek- Let’s just leave.”

Saihara gets us out of the room, listening for whatever’s making the noise. Nowhere to be seen. He decides to quickly walk forward, sniffing the air every now and then for something.. Weird.

“Hey..We're out now.. You can take off the ribbon.” I whisper, keeping my eyes open for anything.

“It doesn’t work that way- I..Already tried taking it off earlier.”

“Eh..Then how are you able to fight? I don't see you as a fighter-”

“Shhh-” Saihara shushes me and picks up the pace. At first I don't hear the small pitter patters on the floor until the noises grow louder. It's coming from the ceiling! 

I don't have time to observe my surroundings as the scenery blurs into one giant storm of black and white. I feel the sword being taken from my hand as I'm flipped over onto Saihara's shoulder. There's nothing left to do but cling on for dear life, watching slimy blobs turn into distorted limbs and splatter away by Saihara's hand.

“Aagh- Saihara! Slow down! I don't..! Feel so good!”

The turmoil continues on until Saihara stops attacking and turns to run again. I shift around and grab his sword before he catches on and flips me back to hold me bridal style again. I spot a vase with roses sitting on a table, knocking it down to the black blobs of goo.

“We can't kill them all-”

“It doesn't matter,” Saihara makes a sharp turn before freezing. “There's nothing but doors now! What do we do?!”

“I’ll pick one and we run through! That vase won't stall them much longer! Middle first!”

We rush through together, desperately bursting through each door. The limbs of goo morph into longer, claw like arms, grasping at our bodies in hopes of dragging us down. Left! Right! Middle! Right! Left! Middle and-

“Iidabashi! Don't let go!”

The solid floor disappears, flinging us downwards into a blur of white. Both of us shriek with the loss of gravity until we bounce against something soft and start to roll down together in a tangled mess with our sword following in front of us. After what feels like a couple minutes, we roll slower until easing into a halt.

“Mngh..hh..Hey..Are you okay?” I hear Saihara groan in pain, lowering my head to see where it's coming from. He's below me, letting go of my body to place a hand on the back of his head.

“Yeah..I'm fine-”

I stare back for a moment, watching Saihara sit up before his ribbon unties itself and falls off to his shoulder. He blinks and looks around for a moment, eyebrows raised at the new environment. His eyes..They appear to be darker than the usual silver shade..

“I can see again..That’s a relief. Those things won’t be coming down this area anytime soon.”

“..I don’t want to ever go back into whatever hell that was. Good riddance.” My voice wavers, causing me to squirm around.

I lightly scoot away from him,feeling the soft blankets under me squish. Small star shaped figures sprinkle down from the patchwork covered sky, showering us in fluffy, snow like specks.. My calf still feels sore from the pull, creating a wave of pain all the way down to my ankle..Asshole. I kind of wish I could've killed the other Saihara instead but I don't think I'd have the strength of heart to do so since fear tightened its grip on me.. I wonder..What would it have been like to kill him? Obviously he wasn't human..So I wouldn't be feeling horrible.. As for wanting to stab this Saihara..I see it would've been a foolish idea. Without him, I would've never escaped the twisted hospital with my broken legs and for all I know, I would've been chewed out by those blobs..

No- Now's not the time. It's over- It's not coming back. It's not going to eat me..It's not going to do it..Just focus on something else..   

“What a bizarre place..Everything feels warm and calming..” Saihara hums, lying down on the cotton floor to close his eyes. Small bits of stars float around him, hovering about before fluttering back down. How can someone be so..Mellow after everything that happened? I don't understand you..Not in this world or the real one. In any case,I can give you back this much..

“Saihara..Thank you. I wouldn't have survived if it weren't for you..” I swallow nervously, keeping my gaze to my arms. I'm surprised no itching sensation has run through them in hopes of being free from the bandages..

“Of course..I'm sorry you had to listen to that thing...Don’t blame yourself.” Saihara takes out my apple from earlier to hold out to me.

“Here..For you.”

“Thank you but..I don't know what I'm supposed to do with this. I can't eat it and anyone else who makes contact with it ends up wanting to do the opposite.” I grasp the apple in one of my hands, brushing off any debris it may have had during our tumble. I'm surprised it hasn't been turned to applesauce but oh well..

“Hm..I don't have a reason to eat it either. Nor do I feel hungry. Odd.” Saihara closes his eyes in thought, swaying lightly in the process.

Out of nowhere, he suddenly yelps, wrapping the ribbon around his finger.

“Ah- Are you okay?”

“Er..What was that? It's like something bit me-Ow!”

Both of us turn and try to find the culprit before hearing an odd squee noise. Something soft and squishy worms its way under my hand, generating a small wave of heat. Gotcha-! It's..

A white rabbit? No. Yes, the two flaps on the head are indeed rabbit ears but...Its body is too ovaly and hairy for a rabbit..Where are its feet? The tail? Limbs? I begin turning it around in my hand, watching it stare at me with the largest round eyes I've seen in any animal. If I can call it that..

“Eep- Eep eep!”

“Wh-What in the world is that? Is that what bit me?” A wrapped finger pokes the creature on the head, creating a circular motion in the middle of its ears.

“I assume so but..Where it came from is a mystery to me..”

“Squeee-” The animal hybrid worms its way out of my hand to wriggle on Saihara, nibbling on the small star poofs from earlier.

Just what I needed..A therapeutic session with the strangest animal I've ever seen. What could go wrong?

“Eep! Eep eep eep!”

Another wriggle of ears pops up, tickling my hand with its warm fuzz. Large, curious eyes from all over appear to scatter and surround us, joining the plentiful feast of cotton stars. Within seconds, both of us are swimming in a field of cuddly white poofs. One chick sized lump of fluff nuzzles me, lying down on my stomach.

“Squee.” A pair of round orbs reassure me no harm as its ears droop and flop down to its side. I guess you can stay...

My eyes search for Saihara until the sounds of rustling and a cold handle graze my arm.

“Iidabashi…”

His body lies down next to mine, cautiously making sure no contact is made. For a moment, his gaze takes a hold of mine in a subconscious, thoughtful manner. No noises are heard apart from my breathing and the slight ringing in my ears, filling in the peaceful silence.

“Rest easy for now.. We're in for another level of hell soon.”

The world around me begins to waver and sink, sending a wave of panicked squeaks to waddle away into their cozy blanket burrows. Saihara closes his eyes once more, folding his hands on his chest with a hum. Blurs and spots of black bleed into my vision,forcing me to swim into a blanket of black. The last thing I can feel is the cool handle of the sword resting in my hands...

Chapter Text

It's so strange..I can't help but feel scared of what I'm doing.Is this the right choice? Should I really be doing things like this? Is it okay? I'm not weird am I? My mind isn’t completely changed by the other’s kind words but at least..It's woken me up. If I want to survive in this school, I have to adapt with the rest of the Ultimates, even if I don't want to. I close my eyes, sighing softly while resting my forehead hesitantly on Saihara's hands. I see now...Thank you. At least you believe me.

I open my eyes halfway and look up to see how Saihara is doing. He continuously looks behind his shoulder and darts his eyes around the room but continues to hold my hands, warming them up in the process.

“Your pulse is faster than earlier...Did I scare you somehow?” The corners of his mouth shift down,his fingertips grazing themselves to the left of my neck.

Ah- I hadn't noticed until moments after he mentioned it. “Sorry...” I nod, picking my tired head back up. It feels like a drag having to do but I manage.

“And your stomach? Did I wrap the bandages too tight or are you able to breathe and move?”

I look down, placing a fragile hand on the wrapped area before making an unstable slash motion with my finger.

“You’re worried about your injuries huh? Well, I was wondering the same thing too. From what I calculated after cleaning them up, they were around a half inch deep...The cut itself wasn't small but rather long, clean and precise...almost like someone else did it…” Saihara's eyes widen, then dart around while I try to follow along.

“Ah..?” I ask,not being able to picture any suspect. I'm taken aback at how he switched from an awkward teen to an analytical thinker in the span of five seconds... Unfortunately, my brain seems to turn to jumbled mush afterwards. I don't know how to respond apart from subtle nods and grumbles.

“But who? This room has been forbidden to enter unless...Hm..No, that’s not possible. What if? No. She’d never do such a thing…” Saihara continues on, suddenly bouncing off the bed and moving about the area in a dance, analyzing each nook and cranny in the room. My mouth hangs slightly open to say something but it's flown out the room by now. His feet appear to not even touch the floor, floating and leaping from point A to point B…He floats over and rummages through my closet, causing me to ponder into space even further. So... Confusing..

Saihara pauses after hearing a series of metal items rustle together in a heavy box,before carefully placing everything back the way it was.

“How strange..Why would a heavy toolbox be in this room? They can't be his..Maybe it's for the bed? And she doesn't look like she can lift the box . Unless she used something to help her..”

He continues in thought as he moves back to the front door, then to the closet..And then back again. What in the world is he doing? As if reenacting a scene in his mind, Saihara shakes his head once more and does a couple rounds of movements in a different order.

“But if she did...The amount of shock and utter humiliation would be horrifying. Her time at this school would be over in a blink of an eye if the officials were to finally put their foot down.I must search but I don't have what I need.”

Like a deer in headlights, Saihara comes to a complete halt, smacking the bottom of his left fist to his right palm. The waltz is over, and his eyes meet mine once more with a peculiar twinkle.

“O-oh sorry..Must’ve gone off on a ramble again..I didn't tell you my talent did I?” Saihara chuckles, his cheeks dusted with a lollipop pink.

“No...”

“It's-”

“Hello Iidabashi? This is Ms.Tsumiki. Are you awake? Hey- Hurry! They're coming!” A hushed female's voice calls through the door as we both jump in fear.

A startled whimper escapes through my mouth before Saihara comes to my side.

“Ah- it's okay, it's okay.. It's your nurse.”

“Don't wan..no...” I shake my head,gasping at the other's sleeve.

“Don't worry..she won't do anything-” He reassures once more, anxiously watching the door knob for its turn. Strange.. We weren't expecting anyone to be back so soon...Our small moment of privacy had broke, reverting us back to our awkward and timid selves.

“Can’t believe I forgot about her. I’m sorry.” Saihara whispers to me as he immediately helps me lie down and frantically makes the area seem just how he left it when he first came in. I wonder why he didn't finish his sentence or why he's in such a panic but my curiosity dies by the noise of the doorknob turning.

“I'm finally back!” Ms. Tsumiki tiredly smiles as she rushes through the door, clutching a paper filled clipboard and pen in her arms. Separate strands of her hair flop around in a tangled spider web mess, almost like she hadn't gotten a haircut in a while. Her facial expression drains out once she meets eyes with Saihara, causing a tense feeling in the air.

“Saihara...What are you doing here? You're not supposed to be here unless the headmaster gave you permission…”

“Ah yes well um..I was wondering if investigating this room would help me find any clues for my uh..Case. I haven't found anything yet but I need to find my equipment for a more accurate search.”

Her eyebrows furrow before she shakes her head and motions for the figure behind to get inside.

“Come on now. Before they see us-”

A smaller boy staggers after, pushing a cart towards me before stopping to shut the door and greet us.

“Saihara.. Iidabashi...You two look like you've made up. Mind if I have a word with you?”

“Ah- Of course Hoshi..” Saihara wobbles to the other in a rush, making sure to keep his own voice low. That name..Hoshi. Sounds familiar..? For a moment, the groggy feeling wavers as I tilt my head with a squint, feeling my blood rush through me. Hm? What would he want with Saihara? And why aren't they talking normally? I continue staring at the two boys, unaware of anything else going around me.

“Iidabashi sweetie? How are you feeling?” Ms. Tsumiki asks, checking the equipment surrounding me before moving on to examine me. No.. Don't want..I try to lean away but she persists, not letting go of my shoulders. It feels like time has slowed down, causing me to look around in a dream like daze. Being poked and prodded with the many different medical objects was something I couldn't get through.

“No..er.. Orrble. Gu ‘way....er me..”

She doesn't reply, examining the tube in my arm in case it slipped out. Why..What is that? When I seem to be focusing more on the substance inside of the tube instead of the woman, a weird plastic stick thing is put in my mouth. It's feels cubic but I don't know why it hurts.

“Aa-nno-” I uncomfortably groan at the stick stuck in my mouth and try to spit it out without much success.

“I know you're sleepy but I need to make sure you're okay.. I promise I won't take long.Do you remember who I am?” She makes sure my mouth stays closed for a moment before letting go of my face, searching my expression for an unknown reason. Tsu..Tsu?

I mumble gibberish, blinking twice at uh...Tsu before she nods and takes out the plastic item from my mouth. There's the sound of a click and something falling into a trash can nearby but I don't know where. She nibbles on the end of her pen for a moment before scribbling numbers and squiggles.

From my point of view, I can see small tidbits of her paperwork on the clipboard she’s holding. Her scribbles are hard to read, considering she's supposed to technically be a professional at this point but I hold my tongue and try to keep myself from falling asleep. Feeling her warm hands touch my forehead and cheek make me mumble more incoherent gibberish.

“Everything alright honey? You feel extremely chilly... Don't worry, this will be quick okay?” Tsu takes my hand and gently moves my arm around. A small whimper comes out from my mouth, making me shake my head slowly. Please leave me alone..Not a doll...I'm sleepy..lady..? Lady...Who? Who-za?

“Shsh... We're almost done here..” She coos, repeating the same thing on my other arm. I can only feel discomfort from the way she moves my limbs around in a slow circular motion. If I could speak clearly I would, but my body and mind are drained from earlier.

“I'll move your legs later but how do you feel right now?

“Col..Sle..mm..” I slowly hug myself, still keeping an eye for the two boys in the background.

“Anything else?”

“No..color...” I fade off, feeling my eyes close once more.

“What the.?” Tsu comes closer to take a look at my eyes, her eyebrows furrowing with the rest of her scrunched up face.

“No..” I turn my head away from her hands, barely struggling to break free. Please let go..So cold... sleep better..

“Hey it’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you..I just need a look..So strange..Your eye color’s changed to a different shade...”

Tsu pauses before putting down her paper filled clipboard and blue pen on the bed to take a tiny black flashlight from her right pocket. As soon as she slowly shines the light to my eyes, I blink and turn my head away slowly to avoid the stinging light.

“Sensitive... Are you okay?” She asks, picking up the items from before to quickly write notes down.

“Ye..” I reply wearily, blinking watery tears away in the process. At least the room is nicer to my vision.

“Your pupils are okay apart from the sensitivity issue... As for your movement, it’s more restrictive than I thought, but that's to be expected from your awakening..Then there’s your blood pressure..A little high, but I'm sure you're just overwhelmed by all the people in the room..The only issue afterwards is you're freezing to the touch, even if your air conditioner isn’t on..” Tsu takes the clipboard and flips through some papers, scribbling around for a moment before putting them down along with the pen. I don't understand the long list of words she speaks but it feels like forever before the woman stops speaking complicated jargon.

Taking another half peek at the two boys behind the nurse, they look like they've finished their conversation and have now decided to chime in ours.

“What if the effects are from the Angel Lace?” Hoshi adds, placing his hands in his pockets. “I wouldn't be surprised if there was any permanent changes done..”

For some reason, I feel like I want to fall backward from all the blabbering going around... Their words are quiet and complicated for me to get.. Saihara spots my sleepiness, walking over to give me a pat on the back to wake me up. Sleep..sleepy.. Wanna sleep..Saihara..

“It'll be okay. Things can't be that bad, right? The doctors have medicine and therapy for you so you'll be good in no time.” Saihara flashes a bright smile at me before Tsu cuts in with a nod of her head.

“Ah yes- O-Of course haha.. We'll discuss the results later. Right now, Iidabashi needs some rest and then we'll get to his examinations,therapy plans and food.”

“Um..Ms. Tsumiki? If you don't mind me asking, how exactly is the treatment going to work?” Hoshi raises a brow, glancing at me exactly like the others in question.

“Only time will tell. I'm doing everything I can without getting caught by the other medical students. Even the SHSL Pharmacist is secretly giving it everything she’s got...The goal we have is getting Yumeno’s spell book and wand from the headmaster or interrogating her to cough up the complete antidote..”

I stop trying to doze off after that, feeling a horrible sensation flow through my stomach. Can't die..? I don't want…? Before I felt like this was going to be a relief from all this pain. A way to say goodbye without remembering me but..Saihara and the others are already counting on me to not go..I don't know what to do.. On one side, I could leave and get rid of being a bother to everyone..but at the cost of not knowing their feelings.Nothing would be the same, despite me leaving...Once again, I'm confused on how to feel. What I truly want. What to do...I know it's my fault but.. What is my purpose now when all of who I was is gone..?

I want to curl up into a ball and hide from everything but it's no use...It’s like staring in a mirror and desperately yearning for something different on the other side even if you know nothing will work.No matter what you do to change on one side of the mirror’s appearance, it's still the same, horrible person you see yourself as...At this point, I don’t even want to look into a mirror anymore..It’s useless..All of their efforts are being poured into the antidote in hopes to keep me alive..What's the point? I've already ruined so much...I don't deserve to be an Ultimate in a school like this...

My lips attempt to open to form words but nothing comes out. I'm paralyzed…A series of blurs start to grow slowly in my vision, causing me to blink and make a low strained groan. I don't have the energy to cry anymore.

“Aw Iidabashi, what's wrong? Are you in pain?” Hoshi comes near in attempt to comfort me, patting my hand gently. I don't know what to do or say. My mouth only wants to croak more quiet nonsense.

“Iidabashi?” He replies, tapping on my shoulder. I want to ask him to repeat what he said but something’s stopping me..My head..I can't focus.. The other retracts his hand with a concerned expression before stuffing it back in his pocket.

“Sorry Hoshi. He's probably not going to understand what exactly is happening or why he feels the way he does but we'll give him the space and patience he needs. For now, I say we let the boy rest. He looks exhausted already.” Tsu replies before motioning for everyone to leave the room. No.. please don't leave me alone..I don't want to be in the dark..

“Saia...stay.. sle..me..” I barely grasp the end of his sleeve before Saihara glances in my direction with a perplexed face.

“Huh? I don't get it..You want me to put you to sleep?”

“Sleep..wh..me..don... lea.” I repeat to the best of my ability before Saihara shifts his gaze around with a whisper under their breath, inhaling sharply at my tone. Hoshi is also thrown back by this, searching for an answer to fill the silent void.

“E-ehem..Ms. Tsumiki? Why is he acting well...Is that normal? Is he allowed to ask Saihara to do such a thing like that?”

“ Normally coma patients are like newborns once they awaken from their vegetative state but this case is... Interesting... It's definitely different than anything I've seen before. In any case, Iidabashi's most likely afraid of being alone and he probably wants someone to keep him safe. Obviously, I would understand why that is..Which is why if Saihara or you agree, I'll allow you two to spend the night here until we can get things organized. If not, then I'll go ahead and stay instead.” Tsu nods at the two before adding,“If Iidabashi's willing to trust you after what happened, then he’s bound to have a reason why..”

Saihara suddenly goes quiet, looking back between me, Hoshi, and Tsu again. He paces around the area, nibbling on the end of his thumb. For a moment, he opens his mouth to say something to Hoshi but cuts himself off and quietly sighs.

“Saihara... It's okay to help him.. You're not that kind of person.” Hoshi walks up to him and lightly pats his arm.

“I can't..This isn't fair. I can't force myself to be with him just because of my stupid…” He fades off, scoffing at himself and tugging his hair.

“That's in the past...You understand that right..?” He replies before Saihara pushes the other's arm away.

“You're wrong..I keep doing it again and again.. I'm-” Saihara's voice wavers alongside his lip while shaking his head. For a moment, he makes eye contact with me again and gradually closes his eyes. I don't know why he's in distress but..I don't want him to feel like this…

“Sa..Zz..Kay..” I slowly wave my arm towards him in my way of saying to come over before finally falling back, letting my eyelids close. No..I gotta..stay up.

“Iidabashi…” Hoshi fades away before continuing,“Saihara.. please.. Don't leave his side. He needs you more than ever, and if I'm not being convincing, he told you it was okay to stay with him..”

“That's true. I think you're the one who can help him out with this the best right now next to me.. Can we agree on staying with him for now and then seeing if he still wants you to watch over him later on?” Tsu moves the cart away before I hear her walking up and brushing my hair out of my face. A shaky sigh follows before I open my eyes to see Saihara continue.

“If he trusts me enough to let me take care of him then I'll do my best...I can’t promise anything.. But..What about that girl?” Saihara worriedly stresses the last word, gripping onto one of his arms. “Won't she figure out about my absence? What about classes?” Her..? Who's that..?

“Oh you'll be fine. She doesn't usually check on student dorms and you'll have a written pass from me if anyone asks. My only request is that you and Hoshi keep your lips sealed about all of this. Confidentiality, yes?”

“Right.” Both boys reply at the same time.

“Okay then, I'll get your things ready for the night as well as instructions and bedding for the sides of the floor. For now, I'd suggest you make sure Iidabashi doesn't fall off the bed or anything like that. If anything dire happens, don't hesitate to call me.”

“Mn..Hey, did anyone see my phone? I left it with Iidabashi but he's not holding it anymore.” Hoshi asks, looking around the room for it. The trio search around before Saihara scoops it up from the floor at my side.

“Found it. Here you go...” Saihara trails off once he sees the glowing screen, glaring daggers at the tiny square item. Hoshi gives his thanks before stopping in his path.

“Saihara..?”

What's..he doing? I can barely see him turning away from me before the phone is given back to Hoshi. Before he leaves, Saihara whispers something in the other's ear. I can't piece together everything he said but two words. “Go later..”

What? I don't get it…

“I'll see you tomorrow morning Iidabashi since I don't want to overwhelm you... Get some rest, okay?” Hoshi comes to me and gives me a soft pat on the shoulder before making his way out the door. I give a hum in reply, closing my eyes for a moment. Everyone's taking forever..I'll sleep again..Tsu and Saihara's here so I'm not alone..

“I'll be back in a bit okay? These are for you two to read in the meantime. Watch over him while I'm gone.” I hear her whisper before feeling something papery stick to my cheek as well as a stick by my hand. Well..so much for staying. Stupid..

“Thank you.” Saihara whispers back before I hear the door shut quietly. There's a long period of silence in the room apart from the small footsteps wandering in a random direction. No pattern could be played out..Almost like skipping rocks on the surface of a pond.

“Nothing adds up..He shouldn't have been able to do those things earlier..And now he's back to being what he should technically be acting like? Hhh...What did you do Yumeno? Were you bluffing this entire time? Damn you. I won't let it happen again..I can’t..”

Is it wrong to wish for a different sense to go away instead of color in your vision? The nerve...Why? All this time, they've put me in the dark about so much. I don't understand it but I want to..I wish I could do something instead of sitting here helpless and utterly stupid...Please let me wake up from this nightmare. God..Hell sure is an acrid bitter place to be in right now. I can't even tell if I'm in the same place as I was earlier..

Before my mind continues to fling me further in pity and hatred, I feel something warm lightly touch my shoulder. My vision blurs from the sheet to the same pained eyes glancing down at me.

“Hey..You still want me to..? I’m not going too far.”

I hum again with a subtle nod and pat the bunched up blanket. Nowhere else to go except the floor or the Other Side.

“Yu...ere..”

“Sorry Iidabashi..I can't do that..Ms. Tsumiki will get me in trouble if I do.” Saihara shakes his head, looking back at the door. No fair...he did earlier..Why not now? No one's here..

“You..uur..” I try to find a counter but he shakes his head, tucking me in and making sure I'm not hanging off the sides of the mattress.

“Mn..How about if I sit here with you? That okay?”

I groan again in disappointment before holding onto his sleeve, suddenly being fascinated with the fabric on the cuff.

I think he was going to move away from me but Saihara stays, watching me closely. Before long I start to feel weird.. I don't know why, but I wish I didn't feel this. It's confusing and indescribable, but annoying nonetheless..

“Do you like it? It's comfortable.” Saihara nods, watching me poke the soft fabric. I tug his arm closer, placing my cheek to the surface.

“Ah- um..I can let you borrow it if you want? I'm sure you're cold, even with the blankets on you.” The taller boy does his best to continue smiling while I peek at him through my messy bangs.

“Bu..yu wrm..er..pleam... slep..nme..’M frez here.. pleae.. ju furm.. a lil bi..”

Saihara quietly sighs, eyeing the door again cautiously. “I can't. It wouldn't be fair because you're…You’re under the weather right now and I don't want to cause any more damage than what I've done already..”

What is he saying? Damage? He’s not the one who cut me and hurt me..Stupid people...stupid rules..I continue asking to the best of my ability before three words brilliantly wormed their way into my brain. Fuck the nurse. Yeah! Fuck the nurse!

“Fuck..Fug thn nurz…” I replied groggily, feeling the corners of my mouth curl up. Hahaha- Fuck..Fuckity..

“Oi- You're gonna get in trouble- Please don't say stuff like that!” Saihara's body tenses up as he places a finger to his lips in a shush motion. Apparently my gibberish sounds wrong to him somehow?

“Fug..fugy fu..nm..”

Saihara stares at the door again, nervously swallowing before turning back to me. “Fine fine I'll do it- Just don't say that okay? It doesn't sound uh...Nevermind.”

Saihara sighs quietly, placing what seems to be a paper book like thing on the bed. The title read,“Coma Support and Care.” Huh...Wonder how that piece of paper is helping me.. I let go of the idea and close my eyes again, waiting for the other.. A pair of shoes dropping on the floor make me jump before I see Saihara unbuttoning his jacket and smoothing it down on me.

“Here..” His voice fades away while the curtain of black hair hides his face. For a while, he stares at the jacket without blinking or even moving. The corners of his lips stay down, wavering alongside his arms and body. A series of quiet mumbles follow along, making me question what the other’s thinking. Both his eyes and hands stay on the fabric in a distressed state before wandering towards my own gaze. Saihara..? What..why are you looking at me like that? I don't..

I don't understand. My heart..It’s going faster? Why is it so painful? Why can't I breathe normally? What's wrong..With me? The air.. Something's wrong..

“Sai-? Yh..Kay?” I struggle to form words, gripping onto my blankets as tightly as I can. Please. What's wrong?

“Huh? Ah-” Saihara snaps out of it, immediately letting go of the jacket to look at the machine next to me. There's a weird squiggle line moving around quickly.

“Fuck- It's okay. Nothing’s here to hurt you.. You're okay-” Saihara's voice hiccups, worrying about what I'm going through.

A couple beads of sweat slowly fall down the side of his cheek, indicating his level of awareness. Breathe..Breathe. Don't make anything go any faster. Just. Stay here.. Saihara gets up to search for the aide button but can't find it. He then searches for what I can guess is his phone but throws his hands in defeat and comes back to help me calm down. We both stop where we are and hold hands until the line falls back to normal. My hands eventually get their feeling back and I begin to breathe normally again.

“ You’re okay.. Everything’s going to be fine..Sorry about that.. I shouldn't be spacing out.” He shakes his head, rubbing one of his eyes with a free hand as if he'd just woken up from a dream of some sort..Damn..What was that? For a moment, I felt like something was off? He just shut down.?

“Are you okay? Your face..I scared you again, didn't I?” Saihara leans away from me, making his eyes squint while he shifts his weight around.

“No..” I hum in response, grasping his hand again and holding it until I can't grip on anymore. Where was I again? Blankets of darkness form around me, slowly enveloping my brain into their embrace. I hear a gasp from the other as he jolts from my lack of warmth, which follows into a small squeeze.

His eyes watch me closely, too afraid to meet mine completely. I don't understand why the other's been in this state but..I don't want him to disappear this time. I don't want to see the door shut while he storms away to the Other Side. I want..I want to give him what I couldn't give him earlier…

Without thinking, my mouth moves to form a line of words I thought I'd never hear.

“Plea.. Stay so..ur not me..Red scary..No gon. ge us..ii she?”

The taller boy stares at me in shock before moving the blanket and jacket aside. Is he going to..?

“No..You're a stubborn one, Iidabashi...A sleepover wouldn't hurt..Would it?”

I shake my head in a drowsy approval, watching him slowly settle in and even out our share of the covers. Immediately, my body begins to slowly defrost, instinctively craving more heat. Saihara pulls me closer with careful hands, loosely wrapping his arms around my body. I can feel his pulse running with mine in a rhythmic pattern, reminding me I'm not the only one worrying about what tomorrow will bring.

“She's not here...She's not going to hurt you okay? We'll protect each other.. So we can both get to the Other Side..” His whisper soothes me, causing me for draw closer to him like a child sleeping with their guardian after a horrible nightmare.

“Shurr..? ‘M scar...” I murmur, feeling my face warm up with the soft cotton of his collared shirt. Even if my adrenaline wants to gnaw at me, the thought of Saihara watching me is..different. I don't feel like I'm going to be attacked..My body doesn't want to drift apart either, finding itself in peace with his.. Is this is what friends do? Nothing feels wrong but a small voice worries what anyone else would do if they were to witness us..What would they think? Are we weird for having these sort of interactions between each other? Behind closed doors..Away from the peering furious eyes of the public.. We're not strangers, but we're not close enough to read each other..Yet here we are, seeking comfort in each other’s presence..I wonder, if this were to continue, would we deepen our bond? If we agree on the soft embraces and…

Wait.

Embracing..? And now sleeping..What the hell am I thinking?! Of course I wouldn't..he wouldn't.? Right now none of us are bothered by this.. Saihara wouldn't think about me like that would he? Why can't I get it out of my head now? What if I accidentally do something weird? Something..

Oh god. Please, make it stop. My head- A burning tingling sensation hits my face hard while I bite my tongue and attempt to stop my imagination. No..it's not going to get to that point. This isn't some stupid movie where two characters go all out and.. And do said things? Ugh- I hate this.. It's making me worry more than the Red Witch.

Gradually my imagination fades away from the complex idea, calming my heart back to its normal flow. It won't happen.. I'm not going to think about it. Shut up..Stop.

“Ow…” I shift around my weight the best I can before Saihara gently rests my body on my side to ease the uncomfortableness. Our eyes locked again for longer than a moment before I shake off my irrational thoughts. All I need right now is a sanctuary… Yes..Just a little longer.

“Shh..It’s alright..Ms.Tsumiki’s outside and I’m holding you so you don't fall. We’ll watch over for a bit while you go to sleep.. Is that okay..?” His voice reassures soothingly, swerving me to another wave of mushiness.

“Mn..I.. Prote..yu to..” I close my eyes before feeling a hand stroke my hair. The pattern and smooth repetition make it difficult to resist, igniting a small spark of hope for him to not stop. A silence in the room fills the air until a familiar tune plays from Saihara. I can't tell what it is but at least the notes are easy on the ear. Time passes before I'm completely still, save for the soft whistling of my nose.

“Goodnight, Iidabashi...” I hear Saihara murmur, fading away into my unconsciousness.

My mind leads me into an abyss of white mist, rocking gently along with its warmth…I’m floating for a while, unable to see anything except a singular firefly. A bright light winks teasingly at me before flying away in a whimsical path. Where are you going? Do you want me to follow?

I hear myself hum at the sight of the light before following its nonlinear path. My bare feet touch the green fuzz of grass, causing flannel flowers to move away in hopes of not crushing their pretty petals. Within a few moments, a burst of air pushes me forward, causing me to run across the surface. This feeling of safety wormed into my head that nothing would go wrong. That everything stayed peaceful and calm forever. With another leap, the light is pulled away into my grasp, leading to my fall into the land of green. Poof. I lie there momentarily, catching my breath while finally looking down to see my body no longer in it's fragile state. One glance down told me I seemed to be normal. My flesh no longer clung to my bones nor was there any constraints..Until I hear a whirr...Inside me? Within closer inspection I realize..My arms and legs were warm, yes, but...No heartbeat. What in the world? This is strange. Surely one can't live without a heart?

A crawling, fluttery sense moves around my hands, wishing to be free by it's struggle to escape through my fingers.

‘Oh- Sorry.’ I open my hands, watching the blinking light hover. It dances around my head before moving about again to the faraway distance. I swiftly pick myself up and fly onward, enjoying the calm atmosphere before stumbling upon a mysterious wooden door.. The mist from earlier has stopped here, making the wooden exterior much more vibrant.

‘Huh?’ My eyes search for what was a bright light, only to find hazy backgrounds of pale gray skies. Grass nor flannel flowers dare to step near this door despite its gleaming handle giving a warm welcome. Hm…It wouldn't hurt to take a peek inside right? It doesn't seem like it’d do any harm. With a ginger touch of the smooth handle, I gently turn the knob, falling into a pitch black void.

Suddenly, my surroundings warp me into a bleak and murky environment, filled with a suffocating aura...I blink once more before discovering I'm not in my room or the open field anymore..The only way I can describe it is a tiny closet like area with dirty cushion like walls and a matching dirt covered floor to go along with it..I can hear random screams of help and agony outside the bloody door, not wanting to know what waited beyond the other side..

Oh no. I move to try and escape when I look down and see I’m strapped into some sort of torn, belt like jacket.I can't move my hands at all.What is this place..? Naturally, I want to squirm and panic but my body doesn't want to.. It's too heavy? This heat.. It's making me feel like my brain is slowly shutting off.

After a couple of minutes from struggling to break free from my jacket, the metal door creaks open, and a monsterous blob of thick black goo with sharp teeth and giant eyes scattered across its body slowly slithers towards me. What the- What the hell is that?! I whimper and try to crawl away as it comes closer and slams the door shut. Please no..go away!Don't eat me you hideous monster! I hit the end of the corner and see it creeping up to my bare feet before something new happening...It begins to bubble and twist, as if molding itself into a more humanoid creature. I can only watch helplessly as the transformation continues,turning the ooze into a familiar boy...What the…? Is that me..? I immediately attempt to kick my- er..His slimy body away and shudder, shaking my head in disbelief.

“Why are you still alive,Iidabashi? I thought that would've gotten rid of us for good…Or were you planning on kicking the bucket once your old man didn’t give you what you wanted?” The boy blankly stares at me, grabbing my face with his gooey like hands and gripping onto my cheeks like if he was ready to rip them apart.

“Eek..! Uugh- Let go!” I attempt to turn my face away as I'm filled with a nauseous feeling in my gut..Eww-! It feels like sticky vomit on my face..He stands there in front of me with a singular, gigantic, doll like eye seeping into mine..

“You're not real! You're not me! Give me back Saihara..!” I try my hardest to glare back at him, despite how badly I'm shaking...My teeth grit against each other while the temperature in the room rises. My heart leaps to my throat as I attempt to shake off his disproportionate, disgusting hands.

“Oh look at you..So adorable... Trying to control reality and your imagination’s gonna take more effort than that...But you're really funny in your naiveness. ‘Give him back! Give me Saihara back!’ What kind of sick animal are you? To be begging for him like a filthy dog? What happened to your real priorities?! Don't tell me.. It almost sounds like you’re in love with him.”

Hearing that final sentence sends an unsettling shiver down my spine.

“Hang on. It's not like that-”

“ Such a shame. No wonder your so called “Dad” doesn’t love you anymore. Not only are you in love with a boy, but you’re completely ruined! A broken waste of effort from your non existent Mom too. It sucks you'll never see her again since you're that much of an embarrassment to her.”

The monster’s laughter fills the air as I grit my teeth. How dare he talk about my family like that! And..And Saihara! He's mocking me! This..Whatever this is..! It's making my blood boil!

“Shut up..! Don't talk about my parents that way! I still..I still need them..I still miss them-”

“What a hypocrite..Are you listening to yourself? You can't search for Mom with just a few memories! Why should you bother when they don't anymore... I know how much you resented Dad after the phone call..The only person who you love is that disgusting detective.” It's hands run down from my face to my neck, gripping onto me tightly. I squirm around, choking in the other's grasp.

“Nngh- let go! I don't.. love Sai-!”

“Awe...Are you really sure?” The boy tilts his head to the side with an unsettling slimy noise.

“Are you really sure that's how you truly feel..? What about earlier? You were there, contemplating how it’d feel to get closer..What you would do when the others aren’t looking..Even after everything he and you've done? How you've spoken to him after what he told you..? How he's touched you? What if all of that was a lie...A filthy disgusting lie just to get closer to you so he could feel your warmth..Your skin..your heartbeat... How about him taking in your scent? Or the smell of your hair? Wouldn't that be creepy..? What if he really is a pervert.. What then? You'd be a victim of trusting a stranger.. Horrified for the rest of your life... Or will you allow it? You said so yourself...You don't care anymore...”

My attempt to run away or shout at what Kiibo or..This version of the monster has said...fade off. I quit squirming and shaking to settle down and listen to the beast in front of me...No way...No...Saihara would never do anything like that.. Especially if he's trying so hard to keep me alive.. Right? I can still trust him can't I?

“I don't know what you're trying to say... He'd never do that..Never...” I croak, fighting back the stinging feeling in the corners of my eyes. This can't be true..It's not! I refuse-

“Oh but think about it...He was able to hold you down during your first encounter..Right? If something bad were to happen..You wouldn't be able to fight back..You'd be helpless. Just because someone's nice to you doesn't mean they’re a pure hearted person...Everyone has skeletons in their closet they don't want anyone to see...No matter who they are.. Everyone has their dark thoughts kept away... It's only a matter of time before they come out..Heed my words and rid yourself of the parasite before it's too late.”

“No..! Stop messing- With my head..! S-Stop trying to.. confuse me.! I know what's the truth..Stop feeding me lies..! Saihara's..the only friend I have...Please..” I croak, feeling myself grow heavier.

“And how do you know what it's like to call someone a friend? Hm?” Kiibo replies with an ominous tone.

“Well...I..?”

“Stupid naive bitch. It's so obvious.. Have you seen the way he turns red when he sees you?”

“I said stop..! You don't.. know anything about him..! Or my family..!”

I attempt once more to squirm and kick him away but I only partially pass through him, making myself shudder in horror. Prying his hands off only flung me further into his crippling grip.

“Oh my! Kicking someone like me so violently like this! And I thought Saihara was the pervert!! Ha! Sad to say, he doesn't belong to you or anyone... He's his own person, even if he is worthless... But romance aside, Saihara doesn't matter either; The useless fanboy won't always be around to protect his sorry excuse of a human...Or in this case, a mindless broken vegetable...At least your expression is priceless..” He removes his hands from my neck, rubbing my face with his thumbs before letting go, leaving my cheeks stained with the black liquid from his skin to harshly pull me by my bangs. I yelp in pain as he pulls my face closer. His scorching breath hits my face, forcing it to scrunch up mildly.

“Let's play a game,shall we? I get to find out how long it takes before you break for good~ ”

“What..are you talking about..? I don't want you to hurt me...”

“But I do~! It's all in the name of giving into your desires...Now be a good boy and give yourself over to me... There's no point in fighting anymore..”

Where is it taking me? Judging by its facial expression, we’re going somewhere painful..Oh no.. Kiibo drags me along outside of the closet room and into the bloodstained halls of what appears to be some sort of hospital? Medical equipment is scattered around the area as random screeches of terror continue. Strands of my hair begin to fall, sticking to my cheeks in an irritating fashion.

‘Gh! It's like he's invincible! But..If this isn't real, then why can't I do anything?! This is a dream after all-Just...A stupid delusion.I hate this.I'm still weak.!’

I take a moment to hold my breath and open my eyes once more, just in case the worst was over. It isn’t..The monster continues tugging on me, causing me to cry out in pain.

“Still struggling are we? Why can't you just stop already? It's people like you who really get on my nerves, thinking they still have hope despite their grim situation.”

“Gh! What do you want?! Why can't you leave me alone?! I want to go back with him-”

“Stop bitching already-Use that stupid brain of yours to piece things together!” The monster growls, bearing a series of razor sharp teeth as I'm sent to the floor with a thud. I see this as an opportunity to knee the beast in the stomach, placing my arms into the other's mouth to cut the bindings of fabric. I succeed in freeing my arms at the cost of slicing my skin, sending a puddle of liquid down my forearms.

“Ghh-!” The monster reaches for me as I send a heavy kick to its face before making a run for it. For a moment, gravity and the substance left over on my foot skid me off balance, sticking to the floor in a bubblegum fashion. Thanking the walls for their existence, I lean against them for support, smudging the walls in blood. Come on, come on! There has to be a way out! Hearing the footsteps behind me motivates my lead like legs to continue moving forward.

‘Have to keep looking! Please! Someone!’ Blurs of black,grey, and white pass by, showing no indication of direction or area. Carts of needles and various tubes lay about, sending me into an obstacle course. With the beast behind me, I fling everything I can with all my strength, ignoring the searing pain in my arms.

“GYAAAAAAAAAA-AAUUUUUUUGGHHHHH!!!”

My head turns to hear Kiibo writhing in pain, covering his face with a pair of melting hands. The creature's body continues to bubble and spew before deforming back into a puddle of black goo, sharp teeth, and one burnt eye. Ugh-The most I can do is silently shudder, hugging myself for any sort of comfort.. A smoky, dirty odor fills the room, accompanied by long clouds of steam.

“AAAAA- IT BURNS! HHHNNG-” Its ear piercing voice screeches at me, hungry for revenge.

Time I left. That creature is not me, and I have no sympathy for its suffering. Hideous creature reminds me of Satan bribing Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden as a snake…

Strangely, it's final words still linger in my head, eerily haunting me..

‘Heed my words and rid yourself of the parasite before it's too late.’

Why..? Why would it say that? Saihara.. What are you exactly?

I rush far away from the life scarring blob, focusing more on searching around for bandages to heal up the wounds from my arms than stopping to see if Kiibo followed me. Already I can tell my feet are having trouble placing themselves in the correct order. There's no use in stopping now. I just need to press on..

When I feel the worst is over, I walk in a promising room to turn the handle, it's dark cross hinting what type of items I'd find inside. To my surprise, I find exactly what I'm looking for, along with a singular round apple.. A piece of paper read,“Protect Me,” in cursive black letters next to the fruit.

Hm..how curious..I take the small items to examine them closely. The small, round fruit seemed to give off a gleam, almost like it’s drawing me in..Weird. As for the wraps, a warm soapy smell reaches my nose when I raise it up slightly. While my hands continue fixing and wrapping my wounds, my feet go exploring around the place for a moment. Barren walls and the soiled cracked floor told me more than enough about the owner of the place..A shame..It could've been a more comfortable place, given its surroundings. Too bad it doesn't matter since I can't stay here much longer. With a couple wraps and rubs, the bandages hug my arms comfortably with no ends sticking out. For a moment, I raise the apple to my lips thinking if I wanted a bite but nothing happened. It was like something was stopping me…

I decide to ignore the option of eating it and hold it in my hand for the time being. Whatever reason this apple needs protection, it must be lucky enough for me to find it instead of anyone else. Right after I poke my head out from the room, I check around the area. Left. Right. Left. The halls stay silent, not screeching in terror like earlier. Something about the silence bothers me..Is something going to happen?

Oh I wish I didn't say that. Out of nowhere, a sharp, claw-like hand presses itself against my nose and mouth, causing me to squirm and fight for air.

“Found you~Ahahahaha~”

A small series of giggling already tells me who it is even without turning around. I swear if I try hard enough, I can feel the blood draining from my face. Oh no-

“Shh...Quiet now hehe..” It's distorted voice coos, making my stomach form a giant, painful knot in my stomach.

No..I can't..! The apple..!My limbs fall limp, making my body to collapse. My vision blurs as the last thing I feel is the other gripping onto me tightly and dragging me away…

When I come back to my senses, I can feel my hands being chained against a long cold surface. Leaning against it doesn't provide me much comfort.. In my hand I can feel a chilled square-like object.. A lock? My legs..I can't feel them at all.. What the? Where am I? It's dim.. I can't see much. And that sickly sweet smell.? Ugh it burns my nose.. What's in front of me..?

“Hehehe..You look better like this~All nice and pretty..Now you won't leave me..” A wave of short black hair hits my face as a puff of cold breath hits my ear. Oh god..No.

I attempt to cry out and scream until my lips abruptly stop moving..Tastes like glue? Shit- I do my best to squint and look at my surroundings before finally focusing on the culprit.

“Shhh...It's okay..I'm not going to hurt you..It's me, my love~ Don’t you recognize me Kiibo?”

The world around me grows hazy, impairing my vision. Why..Why did it have to be you Saihara?

“Shh..Don't worry..I'm here to keep you safe. You can trust me.” He coos, cupping my face with both hands before biting whatever sticky black substance I have on my face- No! Stop that-! His teeth feel like they're chewing my face off! Not to mention germs! I do my best to raise one of my legs and kick him away but they only twitch to my dismay. The gears..they're stuck? No. The cords inside. It's cold.

“Mm~I'm sorry. Was I too harsh?” Saihara finally lets go of my now bleeding face, brushing my bangs away. “I'll be gentle from now on okay? I want you to last me.”

Liar! Go away! I hate you! Leave me you creep! I turn my face away as my teeth grit themselves up. Saihara's hands pull me back to stare at him straight in the eyes, seeing his true nature unfold. Taking a closer inspection, I see Saihara's face and body seem off. His skin feels too smooth..Something like porcelain? Saihara's eyes don't look real either. The gloss that surrounds them looks way too shiny, almost like they could shatter any moment now..Is this what people call the uncanny valley? Sure is disturbing..Judging by the large drops of black drool that hits my shirt and what's already on my face,someone seems to be delighted at the sight of my struggling. The sight of his hyper realistic teeth make me want to get away from him even more- Vile disgusting worm! You're not Saihara! Don't touch me! You make me sick!

“Oh wait I forgot.. You're my cute little mute..Feeling you trembling here in my arms is giving me goosebumps!”

“Mngh!” My hair tosses left and right in disagreement with the person in front of me. This..Thing..Is it like the other Kiibo I met earlier?

“Y'know, I just love it when you get all worked up.. It makes looking at you much more entertaining..”Saihara replies, tracing his chilly, claw like fingers around my cheek. Gross! You leech! For a moment, he places a thumb to the tape and moves it around in a circular motion. No-Stop it! Creepy bastard! You'll pay for this!

“Awe, you're the sensitive type~ Heh.. you want to tell me something, my love? I'll let you speak, so long as you give me what I want..” He snickers, running a finger down to my clothing and tugging it downwards.

“The apple you carry...It's valuable to you, is it not?” He asks, holding the chilled round fruit to my cheek. “Let me eat it. Besides, you can't do it yourself huh? Come on..I’m starving..Fill me so I can be whole again~”

So that's why..He was warning me! I don't want this! I should’ve listened to Kiibo! Please..! Somebody help me! I continue wriggling in hopes of getting away with little success.

“Hhh quit moving! I can't do what I want if you're constantly squirming! Be a good boy and stay put-” Saihara voice begins to fill with anger as he grabs my stomach and pushes forward against the cold pole.

“Be obedient..okay? None of us will have to struggle in the end-”

I continuously shake my head, rattling the chains as loud as I can while trying to move my legs. Please! Please work! I can't stay like this!

“Grr-Fine then! I'll eat that once I'm finished with you. No one's coming anyways.”

I can hear Saihara put down the fruit and roll it away before feeling my clothing becoming looser on the top. As much as I twist my body away, I can't escape from the other's grip. Another claw like hand rips off the tape and sticks it to the floor before finding its way to the back of my head with a painful grip. His face is inches away from mine, glaring angrily at me with it's hunger for me.

“Gh- Let me go!”

“ Quit complaining! You should be grateful I'm here you helpless boy..You don't want the Red Witch to find you now do you? After all the hard work I put in so you wouldn’t see her disgusting face ever again? I know how much you're still scared of her. You don't want to feel that pain and suffering she put into you.”

“That doesn't explain why you're putting me through this!”

“Yes. You want to feel safe and loved..I'll give you that.. I'll make sure you feel better.. So long as you don't run away from me..Because you're mine now.. No one else's. I rescued you..I was the one to take care of you and guard your sacred body from those selfish people..Just give in already..Give the audience what they want~ It’s okay.” Saihara purrs, gazing at me through his artificial eyelashes.

“What- No! I don't understand what you mean by audience but I don't like what you're planning..”

“But this is how the story always goes right? We give them a little action they enjoy..They approve it and ask for more and more..And it all repeats! Isn't that great? This “forbidden action!” People rant on about how wrong it is and yet, they ask for more.. Just to make themselves feel better..”

“That's not true! I'm not even on T.V or anything! Whoever likes this if they do exist is seriously sick and twisted!”

“But my love..No one cares about the harsh realities of idols like you. This is just my way of letting you escape the pain. It's only natural.. Besides, you already fantasize about me right? Go ahead and let your curiosity win. Things will feel better when you do~ Plus, we're best friends..I promise I won't tell anyone. Please?” Saihara whispers in my ear with a persuasive tone, not letting go of my face.

Best friends? No. This isn't what friends do to each other..Never.

“You're an idiot if you think I'm going to agree..I'm not stupid..! Now, let me go!”

As if things couldn't get any worse, Saihara leans in, licking his lips in anticipation. I can't support his weight whatsoever..It hurts! All of this is wrong! How could anyone think like that!? I don't want to! I'm scared! Please wake me up!

“You're wrong..! I belong to no one-! Get off of me!” My voice cuts off from feeling a tug of my hair, causing me to yelp in pain.

“Haaa...Bad Kiibo- Not listening to me are you? You're so lucky to have such a pretty, soft pair of lips..And a slim body..It's not fair...You always have better things than me..Better looks. A better body..Better grades..better talent..Even your popularity and fame with everyone.. I would've loved to take everything else you have..That way I wouldn't be the dead one. Spoiled brat..Things would be so much easier for us both if you let me do what I wanted..It won't hurt...” Saihara responds, leaning forward and digging his nails into my right thigh. Once he secures a strong grip, he yanks my leg outward, making my panic skyrocket.

“Gh-!! Aaagh-! Stop it! That hurts!” Tears begin to form and drip down my face before Saihara snickers, continuing to raise my level of discomfort and distress. I try to bite him to keep him away and do whatever I can to fight back but it's not effective. Not a single negative reaction comes from him at all, not even a flinch. Crap- I'm running out of time!

“NOOO-!! MOOOOOMM!! DAAAAAADDDD!! HELP MEEEEE!!!”

“Ahahahaha~!Oh Kiibo~! Keep that up- Your despair is MINE! Give me every last drop until you can't scream anymore~!”

“GYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-!”

Seconds before this Saihara ends up going any further, a new voice cuts in along with a door being kicked open, causing both a screech from him and small showers of sharp, mirror like shards to spray me. Tiny bits cut my face and body, drowning me in a waterfall of broken triangles. When I open my eyes again, I can see a sharp blade pointing its black tip at me, gleaming with the splash of light. I'm lucky enough it didn't go through me too..

“That's ENOUGH!”

What follows after is the feeling of a broken, pissed off Saihara being pulled away from me and the sounds of screaming, stabbing, and shattering.

“DIE! DIE! JUST DIE ALREADY!”

Oh god- I hold my breath,not daring to look at the scene playing out..I can already feel bile rising in my throat, fighting its way outside. Please..Let this torture be over! Make it stop!

Eventually, the sounds of banging and broken glass ceases, following by the familiar figure catching his breath. I try leaning forward to hear where the figure's position before hearing a thud. And another. And another..What the?

“Go away! You're another one of them aren't you? Leave me alone!” I call out, feeling my lips trembling along with my body.

“Iidabashi! I don't have a reason to harm you! It's me,Saihara!”

“No! No more! I don't want to!”

“It's alright! He's dead! Or rather.. It's dead..I killed it. That thing won't hurt you anymore..You can trust me. We're friends right? I won’t touch you okay? Just..Let me set you free from those chains at least.?”

“Liar! You don't have proof! You just want to eat me!”

“Then open your eyes and let me show you!”

“Fine..!Make it quick..!” I whimper, watching another Saihara kneel in front of me as he leans on his sword for support..His torn clothing only makes me fear him more..When I try to make eye contact, I notice a white ribbon wrapped around the other's eyes as different stains and tears in the fabric decorate it all around. Is he blind? Maybe that's why he can't see me.Moving my gaze downwards, I see the blade is longer but thinner than what I thought it was.. I wouldn't call it a regular sword..A katana?

“I'm sorry I couldn't help you sooner...His scent was cut off by another foul beast. Are you alright?” He asks, cautiously patting the ground while shaking his head.

“Yes..”

“Mn..I'll see what I can do.” Saihara replies, carefully finding his way around me. For a moment, he pauses to touch the ground again and stay silent.

“Iidabashi…Can you continue shaking them? I've almost found them..”

I nod and move my arms about before feeling a hand graze one of my palms. Immediately it stops, searching for the lock from earlier.

“I found it. It feels like..There's a hole? Does it unlock with a key?” Saihara asks, trying to tug the lock off.

“No but..where would we find it?”

“Perhaps the body..Whatever remains are left…” Saihara slowly pats the floor to crawl next to me.

“Iidabashi.. Please guide me to the shards so I can search the pile..”

“Why not take off the ribbon so you can see? Wouldn't things be easier that way?”

“I can't..We can discuss this later. Right now, we need to get you out of this place...You’re not suppose to be here.”

Something's weird. I can't put it in words, but this Saihara..Can I really trust him after what I've witnessed?

With a clear, brighter view, I can now see the container with the incense,boxes, small shelves of chemicals, cleaning supplies, more chains, my apple, and the pile of broken glass..A storage room out of all places.

“Saihara. Move forward until I tell you to. Use your blade as a walking stick if you need to..”

He does as he's told to, slowly taking some steps forward with the katana's gently tapping the floor in front of him. In every other step, he pauses, moving his head about before continuing onward.

“Almost there.. Okay stop. Turn to my left, your right..Take three steps forward and stop there..” I watch Saihara follow my instructions with precise, almost robotic movement. Clink.

“There you are..” Saihara stabs the broken mirror like shards with a grunt, gritting his teeth and twisting his heel in the pile for extra measure.

“What do I do now?”

“Smooth out the pile by scattering around the shards..I'm sure it'll pop out that way. Just..Be careful with your strikes.”

With the blade in hand, Saihara sweeps the shards away left and right, scrambling them across the floor like marbles rolling around. I wait for the slashes to be over before opening my eyes again. Immediately, my mouth hangs open, making me fear this place even more. The slash marks mirror the same ones from what I have on my body.. What the..How? It's not possible for this to be a coincidence.

“Iidabashi? Hey..! Are you okay? Where are you? I can't sense you.”

“I’m here..!”

I can't.. No, not now! I need to focus. Focus..Ignore the knot in your stomach. Squinting lightly, no visible key lies in the scattered glass pile.

“Is it there?”

“No. I'll keep looking but for now, stay where you are.”

Saihara quickly nods, standing on guard while I continue scouting the area. Where would he hide it..? My choices consist of the boxes, the shelves, or the cleaning supplies..

“Look in the shelves first. Turn around and come forward until I tell you to stop then turn left..”

“Mn..” Saihara does as I tell him to, poking the shelves with his sword. Hearing the bottles fall off the shelves makes me jump.

“W-Watch it! What are you doing?”

“Listening for the key..I don't think he would put it in the boxes. Too obvious.” Saihara shakes his head, moving around on his own this time. He goes down on his hands and knees, crawling towards a broom and mop. With a careless push, they crash to the side.

“Not here either..”

“Great-”

My voice is cut off by a loud slam, making Saihara gasp and point his blade to the door.

“Did you hear that..?”

“Yes- We need to hurry. We don't want to know who or what that is.” Saihara continues searching more frantically before hearing a metallic noise slide.

“Under the mop..Hmph.” Saihara finally grabs the key and fumbles with it for a moment as I grumble in discomfort. Finally!

Saihara finds the lock after another round of rattling the chains and inserts the key, turning it quickly. I'm free! I immediately toss the chains off and crawl away to button up my jacket and scoop up my apple. Poor thing’s bruised and dirty but still intact..Good thing he's blind..But this is the end. I creep up to Saihara slowly, inching closer to his sword. If I can stab him all the way through, I can finally be free. I can wake up and forget about everything that's just happened. I'm sorry Saihara..But after hearing your demon speak, I don’t know know what you truly seek.

“Iidabashi. Wait. Killing me won't end this torment. Nor will it increase your chances of finding a peace..”

What the? I haven't touched his sword at all. I freeze where I am before feeling a sharp tip graze my nose.

“Do not take my kindness for stupidity. I understand your distrust in me but it's futile to fight someone with the same goal..Let’s work together..Alright?”

“..One condition..You tell me the truth about everything! No more secrets..No half truths either-”

“Fine..And if I turn out to be just like the fake Saihara I killed earlier, you have all the right to behead me. Deal?”

“Deal- Just don't touch me..”

Saihara finally lowers his guard, taking a couple steps away from me. I attempt to stand up instead of crawl with no success, causing me to fall back down.

“Iidabashi..What's wrong?”

“I can't feel my legs..They're broken. Gears inside won't move and the cords are frozen.”

Saihara shakes his head, handing me his sword.

“May I carry you? We can't get out if you can't walk..”

I stay quiet for a moment,tightly gripping on the sword’s handle. I have the upper hand. He can't hurt me if I have the only weapon..

“Fine.. Don't do anything bad or else.”

Saihara nods, taking my apple to put it in his pocket before kneeling down and picking me up bridal style.Immediately I squirm, losing my balance until Saihara secures me in place. I somehow manage to loop one arm around his neck,holding sword in the other by the end of it.

SLAM!

“Eek- Let’s just leave.”

Saihara gets us out of the room, looking around for whatever’s making the noise. Nowhere to be seen. He decides to quickly walk forward, sniffing the air every now and then for something.. Weird.

“Hey..We're out now.. You can take off the ribbon.” I whisper, keeping my eyes open for anything.

“It doesn’t work that way- I..Already tried taking it off earlier.”

“Eh..Then how are you able to fight? I don't see you as a fighter-”

“Shhh-” Saihara shushes me and picks up the pace. At first I don't hear the small pitter patters on the floor until the noises grow louder. It's coming from the ceiling!

I don't have time to observe my surroundings as the scenery blurs into one giant storm of black and white. I feel the sword being taken from my hand as I'm flipped over onto Saihara's shoulder. There's nothing left to do but cling on for dear life, watching slimy blobs turn into distorted limbs and splatter away by Saihara's hand.

“Aagh- Saihara! Slow down! I don't..! Feel so good!”

The turmoil continues on until Saihara stops attacking and turns to run again. I shift around and grab his sword before he catches on and flips me back to hold me bridal style again. I spot a vase with roses sitting on a table, snatching it and tossing it to the black blobs of eyes and teeth.

“We can't kill them all-”

“It doesn't matter,” Saihara makes a sharp turn before freezing.“There's nothing but doors now! What do we do?!”

“I’ll pick one and we run through! That vase won't stall them much longer! Middle first!”

We rush through together, desperately bursting through each door. The limbs of goo morph into longer, claw like arms, grasping at our bodies in hopes of dragging us down. Left! Right! Middle! Right! Left! Middle and-

“Iidabashi! Don't let go!”

The solid floor disappears, flinging us downwards into a blur of white. Both of us shriek with the loss of gravity until we bounce against something soft and start to roll down together in a tangled mess with our sword following in front of us. After what feels like a couple minutes, we roll slower until easing into a halt.

“Mngh..hh..Hey..Are you okay?” I hear Saihara groan in pain, raising my head to see where it's coming from. He's below me, letting go of my body to place a hand on the back of his head.

“Yeah..I'm fine-”

I stare back for a moment, watching Saihara sit up before his ribbon unties itself and falls off to his shoulder. He blinks and looks around for a moment, eyebrows raised at the new environment. His eyes..They appear to be darker than the usual silver shade..

“I can see again..That’s a relief. Those things won’t be coming down this area anytime soon.”

“..I don’t want to ever go back into whatever hell that was. Good riddance.” My voice wavers, causing me to squirm around.

I lightly scoot away from him,feeling the soft blankets under me squish. Small star shaped figures sprinkle down from the patchwork covered sky, showering us in fluffy, snow like specks.. My thigh still feels sore from the pull, creating a wave of pain all the way down to my knee..Asshole. I kind of wish I could've killed the other Saihara instead but I don't think I'd have the strength of heart to do so since fear tightened its grip on me.. I wonder..What would it have been like to kill him? Obviously he wasn't human..So I wouldn't be feeling horrible.. As for wanting to stab this Saihara..I see it would've been a foolish idea. Without him, I would've never escaped the twisted hospital with my broken legs and for all I know, I would've been chewed out by those blobs..

No- Now's not the time. It's over- It's not coming back. It's not going to eat me..It's not going to do it..Just focus on something else..

“What a bizarre place..Everything feels warm and calming..” Saihara hums, lying down on the cotton floor to close his eyes. Small bits of stars float around him, hovering about before fluttering back down. How can someone be so..Mellow after everything that happened? I don't understand you..Not in this world or the real one. In any case,I can give you back this much..

“Saihara..Thank you. I wouldn't have survived if it weren't for you..” I swallow nervously, keeping my gaze to my arms. I'm surprised no itching sensation has run through them in hopes of being free from the bandages..

“Of course..I'm sorry you had to listen to that thing...Don’t blame yourself.” Saihara takes out my apple from earlier to hold out to me.

“Here..For you.”

“Thank you but..I don't know what I'm supposed to do with this. I can't eat it and anyone else who makes contact with it ends up wanting to do the opposite.” I grasp the apple in one of my hands, brushing off any debris it may have had during our tumble. I'm surprised it hasn't been turned to applesauce but oh well..

“Hm..I don't have a reason to eat it either. Nor do I feel hungry. Odd.” Saihara closes his eyes in thought, swaying lightly in the process.

Out of nowhere, he suddenly yelps, wrapping the ribbon around his finger.

“Ah- Are you okay?”

“Er..What was that? It's like something bit me-Ow!”

Both of us turn and try to find the culprit before hearing an odd squee noise. Something soft and squishy worms its way under my hand, generating a small wave of heat. Gotcha-! It's..

A white rabbit? No. Yes, the two flaps on the head are indeed rabbit ears but...Its body is too ovaly and hairy for a rabbit..Where are its feet? The tail? I begin turning it around in my hand, watching it stare at me with the largest round eyes I've seen in any animal. If I can call it that..

“Eep- Eep eep!”

“Wh-What in the world is that? Is that what bit me?” A wrapped finger pokes the creature on the head, creating a circular motion in the middle of its ears.

“I assume so but..Where it came from is a mystery to me..”

“Squeee-” The animal hybrid worms its way out of my hand to wriggle on Saihara, nibbing on the small star poofs from earlier.

Just what I needed..A therapeutic session with the strangest animal I've ever seen. What could go wrong?

“Eep! Eep eep eep!”

Another wriggle of ears pops up, tickling my hand with its warm fuzz. Large eyes from all over appear to scatter and surround us, joining the plentiful feast of stars. Within seconds, both of us are swimming in a field of cuddly white poofs. One chick sized lump of fluff nuzzles me, lying down on my stomach.

“Squee.” A pair of round orbs reassure me no harm as its ears droop and flop down to its side. I guess you can stay...

My eyes search for Saihara until the sounds of rustling and a cold handle graze my arm.

“Iidabashi…”

His body lies down next to mine, cautiously making sure no contact is made. For a moment, his gaze takes a hold of mine in a subconscious, mesmerizing aura. No noises are heard apart from my breathing and the slight ringing in my ears, filling in the peaceful silence.

“Rest easy for now.. We're in for another level of hell soon.”

The world around me begins to waver and sink, sending a wave of panicked squeaks to waddle away into their cozy blanket burrows. Saihara closes his eyes once more, folding his hands on his chest with a hum. Blurs and spots of black bleed into my vision,forcing me to swim into a blanket of black. The last thing I can feel is the cool handle of the sword resting in my hands...

Chapter Text

“Ngh..Mmn..”

Wet drops run to the bottom of my cheek, waking up with a slight jolt. The sounds of muffled sobbing and whimpering reach my ears, causing me to squint.. Before I have the time to comprehend, two arms tug me closer to their side..

“Ah—”

Heartbeats and sweat flourish around my body along with a dense cloud of dread. They fortunately don't stay past their welcome as the monitor beeps to give a warning sign. A dream? What happened? I could've sworn there was something?

“Iidabashi—”

What? Controlling my fear to the best of my ability, I try to get a closer look at who’s hugging me. If only the room wasn't so dark..I manage to place my hand on their shoulder and start to gently shake them.

“Mn—Wake..up! Hey! Open—Your eyes!”

“Hhh—” A shaky gasp flows from his lips, following with a tremble. Immediately, the two arms which were embracing me earlier let go and push me away.

“Ah—I..” He fades off, still squeezing his eyes shut. His body slouches over, a trembling twig in white. Why the sudden rush of winter?

“Can't..! Can't go! Near you anymore—”

“You hurt? What's wrong?” I reply, wondering if it's my fault for making him do this.

“No—I had a nightmare.. Someone..Kept saying they were me.. They tied you up with chains and— I heard you screaming— I couldn't see you..!” Hiccups and coughs follow along, making it difficult to understand him. What do I do? I don't know..Maybe hug him? I slowly open my arms, facing him.

“Hey.. Over here. It's okay..”

He stares at me with his mouth open, watching me painfully scoot closer. His shaking arms cower in fear, doing whatever they can to hide themselves. Within seconds, he's curled up in a tight ball.

“Why— I'm disgusting..!— T-Trying— To not do it anymore..!”

This isn't working..His crying’s only getting worse! But what do I do?! I don't know! Do something! Anything! I scan the dim environment, letting my eyes land on a digital clock. November second. 2:58 a.m. Lingering knots of fear tightly spiral and coil in my stomach, piercing me with contagious negativity.
Think! What would Mother do..? Mother...

I shake my head in response when an alarming thud and clatter follow from a distance, decreasing abruptly in volume.

“Wh—!” A squeak escapes from my mouth, followed by a startled swear from the other. Immediately, I call for a retreat to hide under the covers. Not today Mr. Boogeyman. I want nothing to do with you. Please leave me alone..

“Crap—Hey, where'd you go?!” A shaky whisper cries, breaking into sniffles.

I shut my eyes and cover my ears, hoping the blankets over my head would hold. There’s a shift next to me, frantically searching for my whereabouts. Where? Why are you scared of me? I don't know who you are! Please tell me why you're shaking..Winter gingerly touches my shoulder, pulling itself away at the contact.

“There you are—Look.! I-I can't keep breaking rules for you okay..? I'm going to get in trouble— So forget this ever happened. Don't tell anyone about our sleepover. Not Hoshi. Not Ms. Tsumiki. No one! Okay? Please..” He begs, facing whatever noise is in the room.

“Why..? Who’re you?”

The world falls silent around us, wrapping us up in a suffocating blanket of negative energy. His cries die down with the coughing and balls up the blanket in his fist. Looking down, I can tell he's still drifting away from my presence. Did I say something wrong? Or was it just my imagination? The other nods his head, agreeing with the dim atmosphere of the room.

“Yes..of course that would work in my favor... I'm Saihara, but you don't need to worry about that anymore. I should be leaving. It's insanely late, and I'm on cleaning duty tomorrow..” Saihara chokes, dragging himself out of bed.

Saihara scans the area and slips on his shoes. Wait! Don't go! Boogeyman and you! He'll eat you! I call out to him in a strained voice.

“No..! You’re hurt—”

“There’s no point in fighting... Can you promise me you'll stay here while I go and see what it is?”

I feel a trembling squeeze from my hand, trying to convince me. It appears his hand wants to visit mine again for another reunion. Something feels wrong.. I raise his hand to my cheek and place it there in hopes of making things a little bit better. Another grunt from Saihara disagrees, yanking his arm back from the contact. He crosses his arms defensively, taking a couple steps back with wide uncertain eyes.

“Please.. Don't do this to me.”

I don't understand..Why is he scared of me? If it was a dream then it couldn't have been real...Right? Dreams aren’t supposed to come true. I rub my eyes and squint again at Saihara. This feeling..I know there's something wrong but I don't know what it is..Deja Vu?

“Well..Goodbye.” Saihara turns around, silently drifting to the door when I hear faint rustling. Footsteps? There's a heightened feeling of something staring at me. Oh no.. Something or someone else is in this room, and I don't think they sound like the Boogeyman.. Whoever it is stays silent, concealing their identity with the darkness of the room. The mysterious figure rushes over and takes a hold of Saihara, muffling his screaming. Stop that! What are you doing?! Why are they fighting? The noise! Everything's.. Too fast..! I cover my ears and start weakly calling for help. My mouth doesn't want to work, barely making my cries go unheard. I want to stop whatever's going on but my squeaks won't do. It's my fault..I made him sleep with me and now he's getting hurt for it..

“Saihara..! Saihara..! Please—Don’t hurt him..!” I reach out and grasp for anything that could help. If I could just get Tsu or Hoshi they could help! My hand brushes against a stick and some paper book, falling down to the floor. Another attempt leads me to hit a smooth surface. The back of the phone! It's so close but—No luck. I can't feel my distress button anywhere either. The monitor beeps again, it's screeching ring grating my ears.

“MMmmm!!Hhhh!! Hhhh..! Mmm—Nngh..” Saihara's struggle comes to an end, fading out his voice. A loud sound of him dropping and hitting the floor with a thud indicate the figure lingering closer. Oh god.. Saihara? No..

“Saihara..! Wake up—”

“Quiet you. Don’t wake the others up—” A rough palm slaps my cheek, setting in a painful sting. Female..? I can feel their hands searching my upper body for the wires that are attached to the monitor. My top gets pulled down with little care, making my wriggling painful.What the hell?! Stop it!

“Silence you useless machine—There.”

I feel about 4 or so pulls make the circular stickers come off my chest, leaving a circular ghost mark. As they fall off the bed, a finger pokes my bandages where my stomach is. Her gaze seeps down on me, sending chills down my spine. I don't want to look..Go away. Please..Leave me alone..

“Looks like he’s not completely braindead,” The voice mumbles,“Shh..Forget about the boy. I don't have much time so let's get to the point.. I need you to give me as much information as possible about the incident.”

“Go away..! You're—A monster! You hurt me and him!”

I feel a pinch by my ear,piercing the tip tightly. Mops of hair hit my face while I try and get whoever it is to let go.

“You don't know who I am do you? I'll give you a hint. Demon Princess.” She hisses, speaking through clenched teeth.

That name— I've heard it before..? If that's the case then that means..Oh no.

Immediately I'm falling into a deeper panic, trying to scream once more and get away. Everything hurts so much— Even breathing is difficult. I'm shaking around, feeling like I'm having a heart attack.

“Hey calm down. Urgh— I'm not here to hurt you.! And she's not here either. Listen, I need to know your side of what Himiko did to you—You don't want me to show everyone what you and Saihara did, now do you?” Her voice persuades, rushing itself to find a solution.

“Hhh—Elp..! T-Tsu! It hurts..! I can't..Breathe—”

“Maki! What's going on over there—?!” A static familiar voice rings out from her ear, disturbing the acids in my stomach. No no no!! Get out of my head! Get out of my head! Go away!

I feel the figure jerk an arm towards their head, then hear a small object roll on the floor.Oh god she's there! Her voice is right there! Why?! Leave me alone!! Let me leave in peace! Make it stop!

Louder cries and choked begin to let themselves explode from me, causing my body to try and fend for itself. I grab a long chunk of the Demon Princess’s hair and pull as hard as I can. They have to leave! Leave forever! Go! Don't bring her back!

“Go away! Go away! I hate you!! Stupid! Leave me alone.!” My voice cries, uncaring for anyone else's slumber. There's more struggling from me than her but luckily, a few strands are torn from her and entangle themselves in my bony fingers.

“Ow—! Listen!” Demon Princess roars at the missing bits of hair, continuing onwards. “Give me what I need now or else you and your little friend are going to get more than just your inappropriate pictures leaked to the entire school.”

“Leave me alone! I don't wanna see you anymore! I’ll call Tsu right now..! S-she’s really strong—and you’ll be in trouble for hitting me! So there!”

Without another word, she starts putting a bottle in my mouth filled to the brim with glowing liquid, pressing down. I squirm and start hitting her arms, losing more precious oxygen by the minute. No! Not again! I can't lose! No..! Have to..! Fight it!

“Grr— I hate to do this to someone like you but you can’t keep your mouth shut—” She forces the unknown substance into my mouth, holding my face to keep it from spilling. It's horrible—A mix of wintry,syrupy flavors avalanche through my taste buds, leaving nothing unscathed. I do my best to spit out the viscous waterfalls but eventually my throat gives into swallowing. My arms fall limp from the struggle, letting the rest of my body slowly start to fall numb. My heart begins to slow down, ending the race from earlier to concentrate and regain it's stamina.

“Naaghh—” The battle is coming to a close, making me sloppily drink the rest of the substance. Small rivers of the glowing drink and spit uncomfortably dribble down my chin, stopping around the end of my neck.

“Good boy...This one shouldn't hurt as much...Just drink it all okay? Make it quick.” Demon Princess murmurs, helping me sip the final drops. She tosses the glass bottle in the same trashcan as earlier somewhere farther away. Two hands pat my skin,then my clothing to fix my top back to normal. Why..? Only seconds pass until the after tastes kick in, fuming my stomach.

“Uuuu..I don't.. Feel so good...Wanna..Throw up.”

“No. Don't. If you do, this'll all be for nothing. Now shut up or answer my question.”

“I can't remember— it's too scary..I don't wanna—” I whimper, slowly shaking my head. She should know— She's with the Red Witch—!

“Please.. Don't make me resort to more violence. I know all this “hiatus story” is fake. You're not attending class or even leaving this room..Tell me, are you weak?”

“What?”

Immediately my entire body is thrown to the floor, making every nerve and joint in my body scream in pain. A pole with the IV bag hits my hand hard, and I feel a throbbing pain near my wrist. Footsteps then make their way to my right hand before planting their scraping heel into them. It hurts..it hurts so much..Any attempts to escape them fail, and I'm left to suffer through their rage.

“Aaaaagh! Stop! Stop it! It hurts!” I cry out violently, coughing and shaking on the ground. I can feel the drink from earlier start to come back into my mouth but I force myself to swallow it back. My body hates me for doing so, shuddering in discomfort.

“Are you weak?”

“Nngh..! Gaaah..!!” It hurts! Stop! Please— My heart can't take it anymore! I'm left drained of any remaining strength, trying to catch my breath. You—You’re the same! Why are you hurting me?

“You won't stand a chance against the Red Witch like this— This is nothing.. Are you weak?! Will you let her win!?”

“Ghh—NOOO!”

I try to somehow get up but my entire body screams no, unwilling to bear the excruciating pain. I manage to grasp her hair again, pulling down with my body weight.

“Hu—Agh!”

She slams headfirst into the floor, growling in pain. I sniff the air only to meet a strong iron scent.

“Ghh—Ugh..First Blood...Good. Keep that fire alive...and you'll be guaranteed to please the Red Witch..”

What the hell... She's not making any sense. I leave the silence to respond to her while I attempt to move around again.

“Ow— I can't..!”

“Yes you can..This is your first test...Pass, and I'll continue giving you what you need to move forward..Fail, and we'll make the rest of your life a living hell, foreigner. Don't disappoint me.”

I strain my head up to see two eyes staring into mine with sheer determination. Her feet balance themselves back to hold her weight, still grunting in the process. As she's doing that, I feel warm droplets sprinkle on my face.

“What...are you talking about? The drink..you gave me? What was that..?”

“I stole it from the Red Witch to test it for myself long ago... Unfortunately, I don't know what it does, but it hasn't killed me yet.”

“What about the story..? What hiatus?”

“Ngh.. Y-you'll find out soon enough. I.. have to go..” I hear her footsteps slowly getting away from me. No! Come back! I'm not done!

“Wait—Please.. Help me get back to bed at least.. Saihara too..”

“Hmph. You mean that pathetic excuse of a human? Sorry, but I don't help obsessed stalkers like him.”

And with that, the Demon Princess takes her leave. Her footsteps drag along until I hear the scrape and the sounds of a lanyard wrapping around something else. Afterwards, she eventually opens and starts to leave, locking the door behind her. Darkness substitutes, embracing me entirely. “Hhhh..! Hey—Help me..! Help me..! Please!” My cries drag out into the dark night. I'm quickly bitten by the cold once more, my shivering not being a welcoming presence. I have to do something.. Come on…Please…

“Tsu..! Hoshi..! Saihara..!” I weakly call out, slowly dragging myself on the floor with the help of the pole. Every time I pick up my head or my upper body, every nerve wants to stop. I can't stop..Where are you? When it feels like I'm at my limits, my hand touches a wet cheek. I found him..!

“Sai..! Sai..! Wake up! Please..! Get up!” I can't shake him at all, leaving me to painfully mourn on his chest.
“I'm sorry...I'll never push you again.. Just please get up..I'm sorry.”

No response..The only thing left to do is shiver and hug him for warmth..I rest my head on his shoulder, using myself as a heater of sorts. I'm fortunate to hear the beats of his heart flowing in a normal rhythmic pattern. Thank god he's not gone.. Tsu'll find me in the morning... As for the other, I can't tell whether she's a friend of mine or a bitter, cruel foe.

“I'm sorry Saihara..I couldn't help you.. I'll get stronger..I promise.”

My vision once again is spotted in black, and I'm sinking back into the arms of my unconscious.