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The Recovery Project

Chapter Text

“If there’s anyone that can help the Remnants of Despair, it’s probably going to be the former Ultimate Therapist, right?”

“Hard to say, but she’s certainly our best bet.”

 


 

 

The sky was a gloomy dark gray, with thick clouds obscuring the stars. Rain could be pouring down any second, and the air was getting cooler.

Work load seemed like it hadn’t been decreasing compared to the beginning of the day. Sleepiness gradually got overwhelming. Nothing out of the ordinary, it was merely part of the disheartening routine Miaya was stuck with. It was mildly irritating at best, but since there was not much to do about it, Miaya half-heartedly forced herself to put up with it. Still, concentrating proved difficult. Tapping her pen against the desk in irritation, her eyelids were only getting heavier as she tried to finish reading the weekly reports.

Miaya debated taking a nap on the couch in her office as she peered over to see the plush toy of Usami, the mascot of the Neo World Program.

Miaya smiled faintly.

Usami was a reminder of a simpler time, a time that was bittersweet to reminisce. For better or worse, Miaya’s time at Hope’s Peak Academy was etched into her memories.

Her heart was brimming with excitement when she was scouted for Class 77-A of Hope's Peak. The academy's stellar reputation spoke for itself. To be part of that was almost dream-like for her and everyone else around her. At the same time, it was pressure-inducing too, having to be surrounded by extraordinarily talented people. Luckily, her friend from the same class, Kotomi Ikuta, was scouted as the Ultimate Violinist.

Needless to say, the transition from regular school to Hope's Peak Academy was jarring. Their policy on attendance was lenient to a fault, so Kotomi mostly had to keep herself busy with Student Council duties while Miaya was occupied with the Neo World Program. Their time was spent in relative peace, until the Tragedy of Hope's Peak.

Hope’s Peak Academy’s student council all suddenly had to go abroad somewhere, they said. Kotomi didn't bring up anything like that. Countless missed calls. It wasn't like her. Miaya wasn't thrilled about pestering someone with messages so many times, but the fear of uncertainty ate away rational thoughts. She was hoping that it'd just end up annoying her.

Their other friends were clueless too, and not even their parents knew where exactly this “somewhere” they were supposedly studying abroad was. Somehow it traced back to Junko Enoshima, but none of them knew that until the Tragedy escalated beyond the point of no going back. Or maybe there were people that did know. It was highly unlikely that absolutely nobody suspected that she was involved, considering the school had an Ultimate Detective. Not to mention the fact that said detective was in the same class as her. That didn't matter, though, as nobody managed to put a stop to the chaos.

When it was far too late, it was revealed that going abroad had been a deadly euphemism all along. The news hit hard. Everything went off the rails from that point, and in Miaya's mind the memory was all a painful blur. The world crumpled like paper. Even with Future Foundation's recent assistance, it had yet to make a decent recovery.

They had said that time heals all wounds, hadn't they?

It wasn't entirely true. Time could ease the pain, sure, but the Tragedy was a chaotic force that twisted and severed the very foundation of the world from reality itself.

Sometimes it felt like things could never return to the way they were before.

Miaya detested that this was the reality that she had to get used to.

Against her better judgement, Miaya decided to fix herself a cup of hot coffee despite it being late at night.

To her surprise, there was a knock on her office’s door when she rose up from her desk. She wasn’t expecting any visitors. Definitely not at this time—all the other Future Foundation members in the 7th Division should have gone home for the day.

Hesitantly, Miaya walked over to the door and turned the doorknob. She saw that on the other side were two young men: one was blond and wore glasses, the other one had brown hair and was visibly shorter.

Miaya recognized the two from the broadcast of Class 78’s mutual killing game. They were Makoto Naegi and Byakuya Togami, two of the six survivors of the game. She didn’t have much chance to talk to either of them during their time at Future Foundation prior to this since they joined rather recently, and she wondered what business they could possibly have with her.

The blond abruptly began, “Byakuya Togami, Acting Head of 14th Division. I need you to do something for us.”

Miaya also knew from the broadcast that Byakuya had quite the attitude, but she still hadn’t a clue what they were there for.

“Togami-kun, that’s not how you ask for a favor,” Makoto awkwardly chuckled in embarrassment.

Taken aback by the blond’s blunt attempt at a request, Miaya stared blankly for a moment before remembering her manners. “Ah, why don’t the two of you have a seat over there?” she smiled as she gestured towards the couches on her left.

The two made their way to the couches, and after closing the door, Miaya turned to pour three cups of water for her unexpected guests and herself.

Right when Byakuya settled down, he pointed at the stuffed animal sitting upright on the couch and said with vague contempt, “What in the world is that?”

The stuffed animal was a rabbit wearing a bow, a bib and a layered skirt, holding what appeared to be a staff. It wasn’t at all an item one would expect to see in the office of a branch leader, considering that it looked like it came out of some anime about magical girls. Arguably the most questionable part, however, was that it resembled Monokuma an awful lot, except the rabbit donned mostly pink.

“You really shouldn’t be rude, Togami-kun,” Makoto frowned at Byakuya.

“That’s Usami,” was all Miaya said as she placed the cups down and covered her mouth as she held back a yawn. She looked down at her own cup, pondering if water was enough to wake her up for whatever they came here to talk about.

Byakuya seemed to have more questions about the stuffed animal in mind. Instead of pushing the topic though, he pushed up his glasses and cleared his throat.

“Er, anyway, we’re here to ask for your help with something, Gekkougahara-san. With something really important,” Makoto took a deep breath and straightened his posture. “We want to ask you if we could save the Remnants of Despair, somehow?”

The world stopped.

Miaya felt a million thoughts race through her head at once, all of them fleeting and all of them vanishing faster than a blink.

Remnants of Despair? As in, Ultimate Despair? The Ultimate Despair that was essentially responsible for the downfall of humanity? The Ultimate Despair that had a hand in setting up the mutual killing these two themselves were caught up in?

Come to think of it, Makoto did make a feeble attempt to stop Junko Enoshima's grandiose suicide, didn't he?

“Oh, but you don’t have to get personally involved if you don’t want to! I mean, technically it’s against Future Foundation’s orders and all,” Makoto added nervously as his voice drifted away.

Miaya couldn’t bring herself to pay much attention. Her train of thought was busy traveling through another dimension.

“Naegi, you do realize she could be considered an accessory to the crime if she helps us with this in the slightest?” Byakuya shot a cold glance at Makoto. “Look, Gekkougahara, either refuse right now and we can pretend this never happened, or—"

This was followed by some exchange about how Byakuya should be addressing Miaya with honorifics, but Miaya couldn’t focus on that either.

Miaya bit her lower lip and grasped her red scarf tightly.

The Neo World Program. It was meant for drastic cases like this, right?

Perhaps it was worth a try. If these remnants weren’t anything like Junko Enoshima. Perhaps.

Miaya’s mind was still trying to navigate back into reality, but her mouth moved before her mind processed what was happening.

“Give me some time to think about it.”

 

Miaya led her two visitors out of the door and began to tidy up the table. She glanced at her watch, which indicated that the time was 7:10pm. Miaya figured she wouldn't have any more luck in pushing herself to be productive that night. With a sigh, she packed up her laptop and documents.

In a logical sense, this request wasn't out of left field as the 7th Division was assigned to therapy for despair, yet something about the notion of rehabilitating the Remnants was uncanny by itself, to put it lightly. To assist the very group Future Foundation fought against would be unthinkable for the other division leaders, the chairman and Kyousuke Munakata in particular.

Byakuya had informed Miaya that they had found fifteen of the remnants. Miaya had no idea how she would deal with even one of the remnants, much less fifteen. It would be possible with the use of the Neo World Program, but in practice there would be a completely different issue.

What would Kotomi think? What would everyone else that died in the Tragedy think?

Miaya groaned. She needed a distraction for the moment. Her gaze returned to Usami once more. With a swift motion, she swung her computer bag over her shoulder and picked up the stuffed rabbit. On a stressful night like this, Miaya supposed she could take Usami home too. Usami could never magically fix everything with a swirl of her staff, of course, but she could always offer some comfort by just being there. Sometimes, that was more than enough.

Holding Usami in her arms, Miaya locked up her office and went to the elevator.

 

Miaya hadn't noticed the downpour until she was about to step out of the Future Foundation's main building. There were days where it seemed like anything that could go wrong, would go wrong.

But for Miaya, it was Tuesday.

Since she wasn't in the mood to get herself soaked while carrying a plush toy and a laptop, Miaya turned around to go back into the building. As she walked inside again, she saw several figures in the elevator.

Most were strangers, but there was one person that she recognized: it was Chisa Yukizome, the head of the 5th Division. As she walked out, Chisa's gaze was fixated on a book she was holding, but it was too distant to make out any of the words on the cover.

Miaya squinted, but it did her no good. The only thing that she could make out clearly was Chisa's smile. It was as if she was captivated by her own little fantasy world. Miaya kept observing, then Chisa bumped right into a pillar in front of her and fell with a thud.

Despite being baffled at the sight, Miaya offered a hand.

"Are you okay?" Miaya asked.

"I'll be fine," Chisa smiled brightly as she took Miaya's hand. "But thanks."

Miaya helped Chisa up, and Chisa picked the book back up again.

Before Miaya could ask about the book, Chisa looked around in confusion.

"Wait," Chisa exclaimed in surprise. "This isn't the parking lot!"

Miaya raised an eyebrow at the remark. What could possibly be so interesting, that would make Chisa get off at the wrong floor and bump into the pillar that should've been in her sight?

Chisa cheered up again as her attention was drawn by the plush toy Miaya held in her other arm. "Oh, what a cute stuffed rabbit!" she said with child-like enthusiasm.

"Thank you," Miaya smiled timidly in return. "Uh, can I ask a question about your book?"

"Ah, this?" Chisa's expression turned grim in a second. "It's the Despair Book. Anyone who reads a page from this will be converted to Despair instantly."

Miaya looked around in bewilderment, wondering if someone caught on to their conversation as her brain failed to formulate an appropriate response. Thankfully, nobody seemed to have noticed and Chisa's face lit up again.

"Just kidding! I'd have burnt the thing by now if it was capable of brainwashing people." Chisa let out a humorless laugh. "Though, Kyousuke does say that holding on to this makes me too soft on the despairs and all."

Miaya didn't comment on this, and Chisa continued.

"This is actually a yearbook for the class I taught," Chisa sighed. "Because of the complications brought on by the incident, we never did get around to finishing it. So I guess it's pretty bittersweet, huh?"

"I'm sorry to hear that," was all Miaya managed.

"Well, I'd like to think they're still alive somewhere out there," Chisa frowned. "But whatever they're up to is probably, uh, less than wholesome?"

Miaya furrowed her brows too. Assuming she meant Kyousuke Munakata when she talked about his disapproval earlier, her students presumably being alive didn't exactly bode well. From the sound of it, it was certainly a possibility that at least some of Chisa's students were the Remnants of Despair. Rushing to unfounded conclusions would be irrational, though. Maybe Miaya happened to think of that because of the discussion she just had. Maybe.

"Oh yeah, it's getting pretty late and the rain doesn't seem to be letting up," Chisa pouted a little then perked up again. "Would you like a ride home?"

Miaya nodded. The offer was a change of events she could appreciate.

 

Future Foundation’s parking lot was quite spacious, but the thing that jumped out about it was the see-through walls that lent view to the vast ocean and a variety of colorful sea creatures.

It was astonishing yet baffling. The overseas branch of Hope’s Peak went through a massive revamp to become Future Foundation’s main building. Most likely, this kind of thing was built-in back when the building was under Hope’s Peak’s name. In hindsight, this seemed largely unnecessary—still, it was a glorious sight.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Chisa walked towards the glass. “They must’ve gotten the former Ultimate Architect on the job or something.”

Miaya couldn’t help but agree. Something about being able to watch the fish swim freely was terribly soothing, too. She placed a hand on the glass. In that moment she was overwhelmed by a strange determination, as if her doubts cleared temporarily. Even if she hadn’t decided to partake in the mission to rehabilitate the Remnants then, she would at least give them benefit of doubt. If nothing else, she knew that she would need more details before making a decision.

“Yukizome-san, please tell me more about your students on the way, if that’s okay.”

 

Chisa would never pass up the chance to talk about her students. They were the first and the last batch of students she’d ever had the fortune—or misfortune, as Kyousuke Munakata might say—to teach. They were dear to her, even though she knew that they weren’t the best behaving kids.

Always a handful on their own, but Chisa didn’t believe for a second that Class 77-B’s descent into despair couldn’t have been prevented.

To this day, Chisa thought they weren’t completely irredeemable; she hated that her investigation on the school’s corruption, that had used up all the energy and time that could’ve been put to arguably better use by helping her students, reached a dead end.

“I don’t think I would be able to confront Kyousuke about this, though.” Chisa smiled weakly.

Kyousuke Munakata and Juzo Sakakura were both her long-time friends from Hope’s Peak, but Chisa knew that Kyousuke was in favor of ridding the entire world of despair, and it would not be easy to convince him otherwise, especially with Juzo backing him up.

“That Kyousuke is really determined, and I do think decisiveness like that is necessary for Future Foundation,” Chisa went on. “But if someone were to step up against him, it would be nice if they could consider his side of things.”

Miaya nodded. This was a complicated matter after all, treading carefully would not be a bad idea. That said, it might be easier said than done.

“This is probably wishful thinking, but it would be nice if we could find some middle ground.”

Miaya thought about all this tentatively. She’d lost many of her peers in the Tragedy, and the idea that it could’ve been her as well was nothing short of frightening. If she was being honest, she couldn’t forgive them. What they did was utterly inexcusable, regardless of how little they might have contributed.

Nevertheless, the Remnants were human too no matter what. Her peers, in fact. It was hard to say how much they had been manipulated, but it was hard to think that the despairs lent Junko a hand all by their free will.

As despicable as Junko Enoshima was, chances were that she had her ways with people. She did almost single-handedly convince five of the survivors of the School Life of Mutual Killing to not escape the academy until Makoto stepped in. Who knew what she could pull off, given more time. Of course, that was a rhetorical question. Miaya wondered how things would’ve gone had Junko spent more time with her personally other than in that one encounter.

Miaya clenched her fists. If it was true that the Remnants didn’t do all this entirely by their own volition, then maybe even they deserve a second chance. The second chance a certain somebody didn’t get to have.

Miaya knew she couldn’t afford to feign neutrality, not when the higher-ups would likely take drastic measures against them. Although this was not as personal as it was to Chisa, and she didn’t quite have faith that Class 77-B were innocent on their own.

Part of it was also because she didn’t feel much catharsis when Junko died, and when most despairs went with her. Them being gone didn’t bring anyone back. It couldn’t possibly have.

Between the two choices, one was more compelling, if only by a slight margin.

“Hey, if two hopes could understand each other and work together, wouldn’t that make an even better hope?” Chisa hummed as she kept her eyes on the road.

Hope, huh?

Would she be doing this for hope?

Maybe, or maybe not.

 

Next morning, Miaya made a phone call to the active head of the 14th Division. Stopping her own voice from trembling was no easy task, but she somehow pushed through it.

“I’ll do it.”

Chapter Text

“Let's keep up the pace and all do our best to peacefully enjoy this heart-throbbing school trip!”

 


 

 

The Remnants were strangely compliant in agreeing to the use of Neo World Program. Miaya found it suspicious yet chose to press on.

She took a deep breath and booted up the Neo World Program. The initializing process took its time, and it felt a slow and arduous wait. When the silence quickly became uncomfortable, Miaya picked up the files on the remnants and flipped through the pages for any familiar faces. Though in this situation finding a familiar face wouldn’t provide much comfort.

In any case, most of them really were somewhat familiar. She had seen all of them from the yearbook of the class Chisa had taught.

Strange coincidence. Keeping her eyes on the pages, Miaya couldn't help but wonder how all this impacted Chisa.

A young man with a head of messy white hair caught her attention first. Miaya vaguely recalled seeing someone like that multiple times in Matsuda’s office, most likely for check-ups.

Speaking of Matsuda, he was…

Not the person she needed to focus on now. This wasn’t the time or place to mourn, that would have to be on another day. On that note, holding a memorial for all the lives that were lost to the Tragedy was something of a nice thought.

She turned a few pages. Her eyes widened when she saw Mitarai—the head of the 10th Division, then the Ultimate Animator in Hope’s Peak—but saw that their name was listed as Ultimate Imposter. Miaya was curious why they chose to impersonate Mitarai of all people but shifted her focus to the screen that showed someone not from Class 77-B arriving in a classroom.

Izuru Kamukura…no, Hajime Hinata.

That was a mess on its own. If Miaya didn't know better, she could never have guessed they were the same. It was like Hope's Peak was nothing but bad news these days. A quiet sigh escaped her mouth as she kept watch.

Despite being a co-creator herself, Miaya couldn’t help but find it impressive that the Neo World Program could handle single-handedly reanimating a whole tropical island and past personalities in such detail as she looked down at the clear blue sky in the virtual world.

The boy with white hair just finished introducing Hajime to everyone else, and they were all heading to the beach.

Nagito Komaeda, was it? He seemed amicable enough, but Miaya took a wild guess that out of this bunch he might need more extensive care than the rest. Same could be said for the meek nurse whose name escaped Miaya.

The atmosphere was rather pleasant, with several students enjoying themselves. As if on cue to remind everyone that this was horrible timing for something like this, Monokuma showed up.

Miaya tried to yell something in frustration but couldn’t articulate anything coherent.

She had long since gotten sick of the bear’s appearance. Its presence mocked her.

“Nobody wants to see high school students living calm and peaceful lives,” Monokuma said jovially, not a concern for the consequences for people both in or out the virtual world. “What everyone wants to see is…other people’s misery…and despair.”

Miaya resisted punching a hole through the equipment by biting back a scowl. It wouldn’t have made a difference who or what exactly was controlling Monokuma this time. Having it happen once was unbearable enough, now a third time? What in the world about traumatizing people for no reason at all was so amusing than anything else?

It was then that the remnants’ agreement made sense, however: they counted on the Neo World Program to push them back into despair again, assuming this was part of their plan. That was neither here nor there, though, this had to be dealt with as soon as possible.

“It’s most likely an intruding AI,” Miaya huffed, trying to counter the virus in the system as she contacted Byakuya. “We’re going to have to be prepared for a forced shutdown.”

 

By the time the group had completed the forced shutdown successfully, Miaya was left feeling she had just lost about 20 years of her life.

In between recording the events in the simulation and trying to hack into the program, she slept very little. On top of that, watching the events unfold was so emotionally taxing that she was numb to the core. Whatever punishment the chairman could sentence her to paled in comparison.

What really added insult to the injury was that this was what had become of the hard work poured into the Neo World Program. Her work, Matsuda’s work and Fujisaki’s work—rendered outright meaningless, counterproductive even, as it ended up serving an entirely different purpose. It hurt to see the memory of her co-creators disrespected like this.

Yup, Junko Enoshima’s death was nowhere near cathartic. She’d immortalized herself in a sense—even though she was physically gone, her influence persisted in the worst possible ways.

“Oh, isn’t this just despairing?” Miaya mumbled in annoyance, imitating Junko’s manner of speaking.

Yet with everything that happened, Miaya was still here.

She'd had to deal with worse things before. At least, that was what she preferred to believe in the face of turmoil. Regardless, her courage faltered at the sight of the aftermath.

Ten comatose, five alive but allegedly reverted to despair.

She pursed her lips and fiddled with her pen.

If she was being honest, she was doubtful.

Not just whether Class 77-B would make it out all right—she would have to first confirm that she would be in any place to help them, now that a confrontation with her superior was nigh unavoidable. There was also the question of whether the remains of the Neo World Program could be salvaged, but that, too, depended on what the chairman and the rest had to say about it.

Instead of contemplating what to do from there, the fatigue from monitoring the simulation caught up to her, and she drifted off to sleep.

 

"You've got to learn to mind your own business," were words she hadn't heard Matsuda say in a while, and in hindsight maybe he knew that they would be his last words to her because the coldness and bitterness cut deep into her heart.

"I won't keep you if you don't want to talk about it."

Miaya forced a smile, and Matsuda took one good look to study her before heading out of the room.

Unnerving silence had become her only companion then, and she had only noticed her hands shaking when her eyes couldn't follow his figure anymore. Miaya gripped her scarf tightly in an attempt to stop the trembling, but it did very little to calm her own nerves.

Her eyes darted around the empty classroom. She didn't know what Matsuda was up to, yet she had nothing but bad feelings about it. Her heart pounded in her ears. The gravity of the situation was unclear, yet nonetheless menacing. She only knew that she couldn't hesitate, that she couldn't stand to sit still.

"Just what are we getting ourselves into?" Miaya whispered to herself, a bittersweet smile on her face as she tucked Usami into her seat. Miaya patted the stuffed rabbit's head, as if to reassure her that she'd be fine. Though Miaya knew this was more for her own comfort.

Then she dashed out of the room, in search of any faint hope.

 

What she had found wasn't hope.

In hindsight, it had been inevitable that everything would get worse before it got better, but nothing could've prepared Miaya for the incident at the old school building.

She didn't even know if her shortness of breath was from running for an extended amount of time or if she was just at the height of agitation. She couldn't bring herself to do anything except stare wide-eyed in horror as a girl stomped on a lifeless body that was near unrecognizable.

Miaya had a solid guess, a guess that she vehemently refused to believe in.

In the darkest hour, that was the moment reality shattered into pieces. The Ultimate Therapist's head pounded, and she found herself at a loss of what to do. Suddenly, her legs felt ten times as heavy as before. She wanted to escape the daunting despair, but her feet wouldn't budge an inch. With every millisecond that passed, she only doubted whether she should confirm her suspicions more. She dreaded the likelihood that there had been more casualties than she was seeing.

"Matsuda-kun," Miaya choked out, voice hardly above a whisper. She had a thousand questions she'd like to ask him, questions she couldn't possibly answer on her own. No other words came out, and he wouldn't have been able to give any answers anyway. The tears that rolled down her cheeks wouldn't stop.

Sensing unexpected company, someone else immediately restrained Miaya. Her movements were automatic, and it would be no surprise if she received intense training prior to this. The action proved redundant, as Miaya hardly had enough will to move even a finger in the moment.

"Aw, having a visitor wasn't part of the plan." The girl that Miaya would later remember as Junko Enoshima looked up. "I'm really not looking at my best, but whatever."

Visitor didn't seem an appropriate term for someone who had, quite literally, walked in on a killing. This sequence of events did nothing but fuel Miaya's confusion and fear of the uncertainty. Something was wrong. There were so many things wrong about this scene unfolding in that moment that it would take ages to list them all.

Somehow in the midst of all that there was another surprise: the biggest, most awful, most tragic surprise.

The girl that was stepping on Matsuda was crying, too.

"You must be Gekkougahara-senpai," she spoke through tears, and her tears were decidedly different in that she was ecstatic about having them. Although this wasn't a time anywhere close to being fit for tears of joy. "Thanks for taking care of our Matsuda-kun. Hey, Mukuro, let her go for now."

"Sorry," Mukuro obliged after a split second of hesitation.

What are we getting ourselves into? Repeating the earlier question was all Miaya's mind could do. She should've stayed out of this like Matsuda told her to after all.

"Well, no sense hanging around here anymore," the worried glance of the Ultimate Soldier shifted left and right for any other intruders. "Not for us, and not for you, especially since all of your classmates are...gone."

Miaya might have thought there was a hint of sympathy in the Ultimate Soldier's tone, but the situation didn't quite give her good reason to.

"Upupupu," the nonchalant laugh made Miaya freeze in place. "Congratulations on being the sole survivor of Class 77-A! I guess it'd be pretty lonely though, despairingly lonely."

Sole survivor? That couldn’t possibly be right.

"What the hell are you saying?" Miaya yelled in desperation, and her voice cracked in a way that it sounded unfamiliar even to herself. "Didn't they say the student council are officially studying abroad?"

"And you believed them?" Junko scoffed as she wore a blank expression. "Personally, I'd take my worthless sister's words over theirs, and that's really saying something."

At her worst fears being confirmed, Miaya grabbed the nearby knife and lunged toward Junko. The action took Mukuro off-guard while Junko appeared rather unfazed about being tackled, even smirking into the motion.

Miaya stopped her hand when the tip of the knife was barely hovering above the neck, her eye twitching at the sight of fresh markings of someone else's attempted strangling. Hands shaking, she stared at the embodiment of despair as she became aware of what she was doing.

"How exactly did they," Miaya wavered, still having trouble processing the information. "How exactly did they die?"

"Junko-chan here forced them into a game of mutual killing."

In any other circumstance, Miaya could brush that off because it didn't sound real. Not this time. Not when she'd been pushed over the edge like this herself, when there was a certain weight to it that she couldn't deny.

"Hearing that must've been like a shot through the heart," Junko's lips curled into a cruel smile.

Much to the surprise of the other two, Miaya tossed the knife away at that. Though, Junko didn't miss the way Miaya's eyes were devoid of hope when she did so. There was despair, not unlike the kind Junko had been indulging in, and something else that Junko decided was a resolution to herself. Junko had found the resolve to be a senseless one, one that prevented her to truly savor the despair of her own failure. Which was despairing in its own right, and so disappointing.

"More people are coming," Mukuro warned as she kept a look out on the window.

"Let's just play dead or some shit," with a slight shove on the shoulder, Junko had Miaya fall on her other side.

Then Mukuro threw a grenade that must had been filled with sleeping gas, and Miaya made little effort to protest the drowsiness. The rest was history.

Miaya didn't think what they did was an act of mercy. It was just tit-for-tat.

As for herself, she didn't dare to think what would become of her if she went through with it. Regardless of what Miaya did then, the sheer scale of it was all out of her control.

 

The next time she woke up, she was greeted by the absolute last person she wanted to hear from.

“Good morning, Gekkougahara-senpai!”

Miaya’s eyelids were heavy, but she nearly jolted at the shrill voice.

“Did you miss me? Did you miss the despairingly adorable Junko Enoshima?”

Miaya narrowed her eyes at the screen. Wasn’t Junko’s AI supposedly deleted along with everything else in the program? If someone out there was mass-producing Junko’s AI like some kind of commodity—

Miaya figured that it wasn’t the case when she noticed that the AI ran on the same program as Alter Ego. The former must had hacked into her laptop. Still, this was anything but a relief.

“I’ve had enough of you,” Miaya typed into the program, the words lacking the venom she thought Junko deserved, but got the point across.

“Don’t be like that,” Junko said. “I just have to tell you about a few things, namely your long-lost sister. Then I’ll leave you to your happily ever after or something, don’t really care to see you try to help those hopeless chumps now that your program’s gone. Man, and to think I had two AIs of me made when I don't have much of anything to do now.”

“My sister?” Miaya blinked, practically ignoring the everything else within the message.

“Ah yes, the clever Monaka Towa-chan,” Junko stated with an unreadable expression. “She wanted to create a second Junko Enoshima, or so I’ve heard. The loser that constantly rambled about hope probably helped, too.”

Miaya didn’t know what to make of the information, as if the set of words weren’t connected to a meaning.

“Speaking of that, I’m curious about something!” Junko was dissonantly cheerful again. “Having a long-lost sibling is such a boring cliché, but how does it feel when your little sister looks up to someone you loathe the entire time? Would you accept the despair as it is, or would you deny it like a hopeless idiot?”

“It wouldn’t be despairing if it wasn’t at least partly true, right?” a bitter smile on her face, each word Miaya typed into her laptop made her stomach sink a little, but she knew better than to accuse Junko of making up flimsy lies.

Especially after that.

Miaya's mother never did tell her that she had a sister, so there was theoretically some room for doubt. Knowing her mother, Miaya wouldn't put it past her to lie about Miaya being an only child if she really had a sister that did atrocious things.

That, and...Towa? The surname was different?

Before Miaya could dwell on the implications, Junko took the chance to keep the conversation going.

"Wow, such admirable acceptance!” Junko sing-songed, the artificial replication of her voice grating. “As expected of Gekkougahara-senpai!”

Miaya didn’t slam her laptop shut or force the program to close. At least the stakes weren’t nearly as high as in the Neo World Program. This couldn’t be a worse headache than the mutual killings, or so she thought.

Odd that she’d choose to stay with her, in any case.

“Just don’t say you regret not killing me back then,” Junko narrowed her eyes. “With everything said and done in that despairfully fated encounter.”

The words made Miaya’s fingertips turn cold, and she had to remind herself to breathe again. She stared hard at the screen, trying to type out any whole sentence for several times with no luck. She swallowed the lump in her throat.

"You know what," Miaya scrunched her nose at the screen in disdain. "I don't have the energy for this. I'm leaving."

Junko's AI bat her eyes twice at the message, then sighed.

"Of course something like this would fucking happen," she grumbled to herself. "But for us to end on this note is just uneventful."

There was a meaningful pause, as if the AI was genuinely unsatisfied.

"Oh, whatever. Two can play at that game."

Miaya didn't witness the other AI Junko's indifferent surrender to Alter Ego, and by extension another version of Junko's deletion. The 7th Division Leader knew the weight of Junko's callous manipulation was far from gone. Everything was far from over.

The end of the Island Life of Mutual Killing already set the gears of future trials and tribulations in motion.

Chapter Text

"I've made enough for the three of us," Chisa beamed. "So eat up!"

For as long as they knew Chisa, she'd always took pride in her home cooking. It was more than justified too, seeing as the sight of the generously filled lunchboxes was enough to bring some semblance of cheer on to the faces of the ever-stoic Munakata and Sakakura.

"Yukizome," Munakata began. "You shouldn't have."

The softened gaze spoke of his appreciation in his place. Meeting up to share a meal was something the three of them often did whenever they found time for it in Hope's Peak. Now that they had started working for Future Foundation, the habit had become more of a rare occurrence, even more so since they were now all leading their own branches. All the same, they had to make time for each other’s company.

"Yeah, don't overwork yourself," Sakakura added, turning his head to find a Munakata who was putting a stack of paperworks away. "Actually, same goes to you, Munakata."

"Hey!" Chisa gasped dramatically, as if almost offended at the innocuous comments. "Come on, why are we acting so distant here? Kyousuke, Juzo, you both know we're no strangers to each other by now!"

The two humored Chisa's comments with chuckles that she wished would last a little longer.

 

The bow of the ship on the returning voyage lent view to the vast ocean and the night sky adorned with the crescent moon. Miaya allowed herself to feel the chilly wind that blew at her hair and noted that bringing her scarf would've been helpful. Though considering what unfolded in the last few days, this was the least of her worries.

Long story short, Junko Enoshima was awful. Miaya could pull out every insulting word in the dictionary to talk about her and it still wouldn’t have been enough.

Junko would’ve been harder to hate so wholeheartedly, had she been downright evil.

She wasn’t, and that was the exact reason she was so detestable.

It took a while to piece it all together. An analyst Matsuda had spoken about in hypotheses, the reason Matsuda would default to keeping his distance and offer nothing but a sharp tongue more than half the time. Matsuda cared, definitely at least enough to pour time and energy into developing a program capable of saving people like her. By the time Miaya found Matsuda’s message that ended up being the puzzle to the truth, it all only made sense in the most nonsensical way.

In offering their devotion, both Matsuda and Mukuro Ikusaba lost their lives. As for the motive? Immense boredom, supposedly. Miaya couldn’t begin to imagine what they had felt. Then Junko had the audacity to make everyone else live the mess she was the catalyst for after exiting the stage.

The simulation dug out memories Miaya thought she was long since done with. Memories that, in truth, were only buried deep into her mind where she wouldn’t have to confront them.

The world since then had become a place rife with cruel violence, so much that words of encouragement rang hollow. Cases of compassion fatigue akin to this weren’t infrequent.

Miaya scoffed at nothing in particular. Whether it was everything Junko had done as she lived—for stupid kicks of adrenaline or whatever—or the fact that even an attempt to help Class 77-B went awry thanks to her, again, it didn’t matter, the list could go on endlessly.

Feeling powerless and at a loss of what to do, a deep and frustrated sigh escaped Miaya’s mouth. Lifting her head to gaze upwards was all she could do to keep herself from dwelling on the feelings, if only momentarily.

Glowing from high above, the waning moon stood proud in its place. Miaya got so transfixed at the sight that she didn't bother to question whether she felt comfort, numbness, or a mix of both. She also failed to notice the footsteps of someone coming up behind her.

"So that's where you are, Gekkougahara-san."

She nearly jumped.

Thankfully, it was just a concerned Makoto Naegi.

"Sorry about showing up out of the blue," Makoto had an apologetic look on his face. "I happened to see you storming out of your room, and I was kind of wondering if everything's alright?"

Instead of answering him, Miaya lowered her head to stare at her hands, which were going pale from gripping at the cold railing.

Learn to mind your own business, the memory of Matsuda's voice played like a record in her head. Her grasp got tighter. It took everything in her to dismiss the defensive thought for the time being.

"If you're worried about the group on Jabberwock Island," Makoto began, hoping to mediate whatever was eating away at the 7th Division Leader. "I'm sure they'll be fine."

"I don't know that," Miaya raised her head without meeting Makoto's eyes, the tears made her hair stick to her cheeks as the wind continued to blow. Her sobs were stifled along with the rest of her thoughts.

Makoto found himself at a loss of words at that. The irony of a situation where both the former Ultimate Therapist and the Ultimate Hope had nothing uplifting to say wouldn't have been lost on Monokuma had they been in a mutual killing, and it brought some solace that at least the cruel robotic bear was not around then. The gloom in the air proved more than overwhelming, however. Looking at each other in the eyes did nothing to ease the tension either.

"I'm sorry, I just—" Miaya finally opened her mouth to speak after an uncomfortable silence. "I'd rather not talk about this right now."

She lifted a hand, not to wipe away her watering eyes, but to get a hold on the red scarf she had the habit of wearing. Somehow the absence of the item resulted in her coming undone and urged even more tears to fall. It was obvious to Makoto that the scarf held special meaning to the therapist, but he chose to save the question for another time.

More words of apology were on the tip of their tongues, but Makoto ends up taking Miaya’s extended hand in both of his.

“We’ll figure something out.”

The therapist nodded, and they put off the rest of that conversation.

 

Much to both their relief, the connection on the ship was stable, so fortunately holding a conversation didn’t prove to be an issue. The news of recent development couldn’t wait, Asahina decided, though if she had any say in it, she would’ve liked to accompany them on their trip to Jabberwock Island.

“Sorry I couldn’t come along,” Asahina lowered her head, blue eyes filled with regret.

“It can’t be helped,” Kirigiri shook her head, and her calm voice had a tinge of sympathy to it. “What happened to the original leader of the 13th Division was not something any of us could foresee, though I will say that it is a rather interesting choice to appoint you as the new leader.”

“Maybe,” Asahina’s shoulders slumped as she sighed in defeat. “But at times like these it’s probably better to stick together, isn’t it? Not hearing from Fukawa-chan after we got that four-eyed lemon back makes me worry a little, and we’re not even sure where Hagakure ran off to.”

“You’re still calling Togami-kun that?” Kirigiri let out a soft giggle at the comical nickname.

“He deserves that much,” Asahina made a face, but her words had no bite in them. “Anyway, Kyoko-chan, you know we’re in this together, right?”

Kirigiri smiled at that. Having that to fight off the near-constant high tension was something to appreciate.

 

Neither Miaya nor Makoto were in a rush to return to their rooms, and they made minimal conversation as they walked down the quiet corridor together. Makoto’s curious gaze occasionally drifted to the therapist, whose face still wasn’t obscured by the red scarf she typically wore.

A rare sight, to be sure. His memories of his school life had not yet been fully restored, but he had seen enough to know most Ultimates had personalities that were colorful at the absolute best, as opposed to Miaya’s aura of near-tranquility. No, this shared more similarity with Kyouko before she made noticeable progress in opening up. A tendency of keeping to themselves was one thing they had in common. Makoto placed a hand on his chin as he thought about ways to break the ice and couldn’t help but admit to himself that the presents from the Monomono Machine made for easy conversation starters despite everything else in the environment.

The therapist’s lips once or twice almost twisted to an expression that wasn’t a neutral expression, thanks to the myriad of emotions stirred up inside of her. Confusion was certainly part of the equation, the rest she had trouble finding the words for.

It would have felt dishonest to say she was moved by Makoto Naegi’s earnest approach, so much that she could see her situation in a new light. Well, less like a lie and more like an exaggeration, to be precise.

His spirit was not unlike Usami’s.

Some part of Miaya considered it unbecoming of a therapist to find the idealistic optimism model impractical. Unfamiliar, even. Painfully so, too, to the point where she hadn’t taken up offering other people therapy sessions since joining Future Foundation. Didn’t feel right to try when her heart wasn’t in it.

Makoto didn’t strike her as someone people look to for profound advice, though she didn’t doubt that he could inspire on occasion.

Were those really hollow words?

Miaya found that this was a question she couldn’t bring herself to answer in honesty. For such a pressing issue, it was beyond frustrating that she couldn’t picture herself get any closer to discovering the answer in the near future.

 

Upon receiving the news, Munakata glared daggers into the distance and remained silent. Chisa fiddled with her hair and stared down at the edge of the table. Sakakura pounded the desk with a fist, but thankfully didn’t cause unnecessary damage.

The Ultimate Despair had not yet been eradicated entirely.

Instead, they were protected.

 

Miaya didn’t have the heart to tell Makoto to leave her be.

Maybe desperation could look different for every individual. She was more than certain that deep breathing exercises would have limited effect on all of this, so she didn’t bother.

“I think I’m gonna make some hot chocolate in the kitchen,” Makoto placed a hand on the frame of the entrance. “Gekkougahara-san, would you like some?”

The simple invitation broke Miaya out of her trance. Unconvinced it would prove to be much help, Miaya took up the offer anyway, for she lacked more promising options.

 

Miaya stared mindlessly at the warm mug in her hands. The heat was meant to work wonders for a chilled person, but the process wasn’t a speedy one. Makoto blew lightly at his own mug to help cooling the drink, careful not to burn his tongue as he took a sip.

Without her being aware of it, Miaya’s lips stretched to a thin line. She did think the air relaxed a bit, but something about sitting in the quietness rubbed her the wrong way.

“Naegi-kun,” her words came out after a sharp inhale, before she even gave herself time to think. “You’ve said that you consider Alter Ego a friend, right?”

“Yeah,” he smiled as he replied, but left Miaya uncertain what to make of such a short answer.

“What about Usa—er, Monomi?” Miaya asked, undecided on which name the character should be referred with now. Faint recollections of the observer's final speech hanged over the therapist's head.

“I feel kind of sorry for her…oh, Gekkougahara-san, are you a fan of magical girls? I was thinking if maybe that was the inspiration for Usami.”

"Huh?" Miaya was distraught by the answer despite that it was a rather typical one for small talks. "Yeah, uh, I guess you could say that? At least I used to be, it gave me something to talk about with a friend of mine."

If Makoto noticed something unnatural about the way the syllables for “friend” rolled off her tongue, he didn’t question it out loud. Thinking of Matsuda again, the therapist took a sip of the hot chocolate herself, the sweetness and the warmth forming a sharp contrast with her feelings, but not unwelcomed. Perhaps she needed something like this after all, she decided.

Before the conversation went any further, the door swung open to reveal an irritated Togami, with a silent Kirigiri behind him.

“Future Foundation is putting us on trial,” Togami huffed. “A week from the day this ship reaches port, all the division leaders are to gather for a private meeting.”

“That’s…” Makoto found the words die in his throat, and he looked to Kirigiri, who only gave a solemn nod as if to lend credence to Togami’s words. Makoto and Miaya took a moment to let the information sink in.

“Togami-kun and I will both attend, of course,” if Kirigiri was wavering, it didn’t show on her face. “It should be reassuring to know that Asahina-san will be there as well.”

Miaya caught Makoto raise an eyebrow at the last part. Before he could make an inquiry about that, though, the former heir spoke up again.

“In name, the trial will be held for you specifically, Naegi,” Togami’s piercing glare sent a chill down Miaya’s spine. “It’s not unlikely they’ll have you confined beforehand.”

“Well, I can’t imagine backing out now.”

To the therapist’s surprise, Togami’s expression softened to a smirk at that.