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The One Thing That Matters

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Komaeda waits to hear their captors leave before he begins to free himself, working his hands loose from the rope they’re tied with. It hurts, but he manages it, and he pulls the blindfold from his head.

Hinata’s lying on the floor, still knocked out. The two of them have been dumped in a small room, one that seems to have been cleared out rather than intended as a cell. There’s carpet, as if it were an office, and a half-empty water cooler, and a plastic rubbish bin. Nothing else.

Komaeda crawls toward Hinata, but he hesitates before saying his name. It’s because of how Hinata looks – vulnerable. Komaeda feels like he’s been given the upper hand – their captors have left Hinata with him, and there’s nothing Komaeda couldn’t do if he wanted. Hinata would never know it was him.

Komaeda’s heart beats faster. His eyes trace the line of Hinata’s arms, pulled behind his back and bound, framed and made fragile. Hinata’s shirt has rucked up from the way he’s been dumped, and Komaeda can see the hollow of his hips there.

They’re captives, but it feels like he’s been given a treat. But then, isn’t that the nature of his luck? It takes, but it gives, but it takes again …

Hinata stirs. Komaeda rocks back on his heels, feeling caught out even though he hasn’t done anything; he hasn’t done anything but look.

‘Who’s there?’ Hinata says. He tries to sit up, ends up sprawled uncomfortably on his side. And Komaeda knows the right thing to do would be to help him, but on the other hand, when is he ever going to get to see Hinata like this again?

‘Komaeda? Are you there?’ Hinata’s voice wavers.

Fuck it. Komaeda pulls Hinata upright and steadies him.

‘Komaeda,’ Hinata says again. ‘What’s going on?’

‘We were attacked when we got to the city,’ Komaeda says. ‘I guess whatever knock-out drug they used didn’t work properly on me.’ Hinata frowns, and Komaeda has to resist the urge to touch the furrow between his brows. ‘Anyway, they’ve locked us up now, so it’s just the two of us …’

‘How come you’re not tied up?’ Hinata says.

Because he’d half-dislocated his wrist pulling himself free. ‘I guess I wasn’t tied as tightly,’ he says. ‘Aren’t you going to ask me to untie you?’

‘Do I have to ask that?’ Hinata says. Komaeda’s about to explain that it’s only polite, but Hinata lets out a short breath and says, ‘Please, can you untie me, Komaeda? And take off the blindfold?’

Komaeda’s almost disappointed that Hinata acceded so easily. ‘Well, since you asked so nicely. I was enjoying myself, you know.’ He slips the blindfold off Hinata’s face, and Hinata blinks rapidly, his eyes adjusting to the light. ‘Better?’ Komaeda asks.

‘You’re very calm about all this,’ Hinata says.

‘It’s not my first time being kidnapped.’

He almost wants to make Hinata ask again before he unties him, but maybe that would be pushing things too far. When he tries undoing the rope, though, he finds the knot is stuck tight.

‘Hm.’

‘What is it?’

‘I don’t know if I can get this undone.’

‘You’re kidding.’

‘No, I really just am this useless,’ Komaeda says. ‘Guess I should’ve taken that multi-tool upgrade from Souda after all, huh?’

‘Don’t joke.’

Komaeda pats Hinata on the shoulder. ‘Poor Hinata-kun,’ he says. ‘You’re not used to being treated like this, are you?’

Hinata gives him what isn’t quite a dirty look, but before he can say anything, they’re interrupted by the door opening.

Hinata stiffens. Komaeda’s more curious than afraid – he wants to know who’s taken this interest in them, after all. There are three of them in the doorway –  a man and a woman who are dressed like guards, batons on their belts, and an older woman who looks like someone’s mother. She’s the one who speaks.

‘I see we shouldn’t have bothered tying you up.’ Her voice has an edge, like glass.

‘What do you want with us?’ Hinata says. Talking tough, but he shifts back slightly, bumping into Komaeda.

‘I think you can guess,’ the woman says. She pauses. ‘We know who you are.’

‘You have us at a disadvantage, then,’ Komaeda says, keeping his voice light. The woman’s eyes slide over him.

‘I suppose I do,’ she says.

Well, it was worth asking. For all Komaeda knows, he’s met the woman before, is personally responsible for some atrocity in her life. It’s difficult for him to remember back then. He can’t deny that he was part of what happened, neither emotionally nor logically, but the memory of it eludes him.

He doesn’t know if he’s met this woman before. He doesn’t know what he might’ve done, or allowed to be done.

He doesn’t know what Hinata might’ve done either, as Kamukura.

It’s Hinata that woman approaches, and she takes his chin in her hands.

‘You’re a monster,’ she says, leaning into his face. ‘You do know that, don’t you?’

‘What are you going to do with us?’ Hinata says. It’s the same question the woman has already dodged.

‘She wants revenge,’ Komaeda says. ‘Don’t you?’

The woman smiles. She pushes Hinata away, violently.

‘You do know,’ she says, her voice soft.

‘But you know it’s not just the two of us, right?’ Komaeda says. ‘If you get rid of us, you’re still not even half-done.’ The woman’s expression is hard; Komaeda’s not sure if he’s confirming her thoughts or giving them to her. ‘You want to know where the others are, right?’

‘You’re going to tell me,’ the woman agrees.

Komaeda smiles back at her.

‘We won’t tell you that,’ Hinata says. He straightens himself. ‘You can do what you want to us.’ Brave, fool-hardly Hinata. Such ordinary bravado.

‘You wouldn’t survive what I want to do,’ the woman says. ‘But I think you will tell me.’ She tilts her head back, as if to consider them both.

‘Are you planning to torture us, then?’ Komaeda asks. Hinata shoots a horrified look at him, but Komaeda’s not putting the idea in her head.

‘It won’t work,’ Hinata says.

‘That depends what she has planned,’ Komaeda says. ‘I know I don’t particularly want to be tortured. I can’t speak for you, of course.’ He stops short of saying Hinata’s name. He thinks that the woman doesn’t know who he is, not really. Whatever Hinata might’ve done that she wants revenge for, he did under a different name.

‘We’ll take this one first,’ the woman says, gesturing at Hinata.

‘Wait a minute,’ Hinata says. The male guard steps forward and drags him to his feet. The female guard has her baton out and her eye on Komaeda, who is forced to reconsider the protest forming on his lips. It might be best not to be seen to care too much.

Hinata shoots him a desperate look.

‘You’ll be alright,’ Komaeda says. As if Hinata would ever be convinced by such a platitude. For the guard though, it’s enough to whack him for.

‘Shut up,’ she says, and Komaeda thinks, that was entirely unnecessary, as he sprawls to the ground.

Performance. It’s all performance.

He watches them take Hinata away, and he feels sick.

It should have been him.

***

Komaeda can’t tell how much time passes, without Hinata. He paces the length of the room, examines the door, the door handle, the air duct.

He has no idea if Hinata will be coming back. Even if he tells the woman everything … she hasn’t brought them here as trophies. She wants to punish them. Sooner or later, she wants them dead. And all Komaeda has to rely on is the hope it will be later.

Komaeda’s hopes have always been meaningless, unreliable things. But Hinata’s …

It’s the guards alone who return Hinata to the room. Komaeda jumps up, and he catches Hinata’s weight when the guards push him in.

‘Hinata-kun?’ He’s strangely unresistant in Komaeda’s arms. ‘Hey, you didn’t hurt him too badly, did you?’

But the guards have already shut the door and left. Komaeda forgets them too, holding Hinata up.

‘Hey,’ Komaeda says, and presses his hair back from his forehead. His breathing is ragged. ‘Are you okay?’

‘I didn’t tell her anything,’ Hinata mumbles.

‘It’s okay,’ Komaeda says. ‘I don’t care if you tell her everything. The others can take care of themselves.’ It’s the truth.

‘No.’ Hinata pulls back, stands upright. There’s a welt on his cheek, like he’s been struck and he stands with his hand curled close to his body as if to protect it. They’ve untied him, at least.

Komaeda touches his arm. ‘Show me,’ he says.

‘It’s not that bad.’

‘Hinata-kun.’

Hinata holds his hand out, and avoids Komaeda’s eyes. His nails have been torn out. Komaeda takes his other hand to inspect too, but that one is fine, only shaking.

‘Guess she’s saving that for later,’ Hinata says. He sits down, knees against his chest.

Komaeda crouches beside him. ‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘You would’ve done better to be kidnapped with Tsumiki or someone, huh?’ Hinata would have been happy coming to meet the Future Foundation on his own; it was Komaeda who insisted on accompanying him. ‘Of course, it’s probably because of me that this even happened …’

‘It’s because of all of us.’

‘Oh.’

‘She showed me a picture,’ Hinata says. ‘Of her family. Before. Her daughter …’ He rocks himself, and Komaeda touches his shoulder gently, to make him ease off. ‘She killed her own father.’

‘Is that it?’ Komaeda says. It’s a familiar story, but it doesn’t seem to relate to them personally.

‘I didn’t tell her anything,’ Hinata says again, and he turns away.

There’s nothing Komaeda can do for him. It wasn’t that Hinata had been glad of his company; just that everyone else had been so enthusiastic to be rid of him. Trash like Komaeda has no real place in the home they’re trying to build for themselves, on the island. Maybe he has no place beside Hinata either.

But while Komaeda’s okay with their exile, he doesn’t know if Hinata is. Maybe that’s why he wanted to come here, to the mainland. 

Maybe. Komaeda doesn’t know.

‘Hey, Hinata-kun?’ Komaeda asks. ‘Are we going to try and escape?’

Hinata doesn’t answer. It probably serves Komaeda right to be ignored, but he keeps trying. ‘You can’t hold out forever, you know.’

‘I can hold out long enough,’ Hinata says. He looks up at Komaeda, his eyes dark. ‘Can you?’

Komaeda stops. Then he smiles, as if Hinata hadn’t meant the words as a slap. ‘If it’s only me,’ he says, ‘I can put up with anything. But if it’s you …’

Hinata’s eyes narrow. ‘Don’t say that.’

‘I know we’re not exactly friends, Hinata-kun –’

‘I don’t want to hear it.’

Komaeda shuts up.

Eventually Hinata sighs, and lies down on the carpet. On his back, so that Komaeda can see his face. He looks worn out. Breathing with his mouth open, eyes shut …

It’s not fair, Komaeda thinks. He’s just an ordinary boy. He should have lived an ordinary life. Smile and laughed, with none of it having any significance at all. And Komaeda would never have met him. What would Hinata do, if Komaeda reached out for him now? As if there were any comfort Komaeda could offer him.

It’s only once Hinata falls asleep that Komaeda lies down beside him. Not touching him; just to be close.

He’d wanted to go somewhere with Hinata, that was all.

They’d got into trouble instead.

***

When he wakes, the light in the room is off and the light in the hall is on. It streams in the doorway and silhouettes the guard who stands there.

Komaeda sits up, covering his eyes. ‘It’s a bit late for visiting,’ he says.

‘We thought we might give your friend a chance to reconsider his stance,’ the older woman says, coming up behind the guard.

Komaeda glances back. Hinata is sitting up too, and he meets Komaeda’s eyes. Komaeda knows what Hinata looks like when he’s afraid, and when he’s being stubborn too. He’s the only person in the world Komaeda’s ever wanted to put himself out for.

Hinata gets to his feet.

They’re not worth it, Komaeda wants to say. The rest of their group, on the island – maybe they used to be all the world’s hope to him, but that time is past. They’re not worth it.

The woman stays behind, after Hinata is gone.

‘I hope we’re not keeping you up,’ Komaeda starts, but she cuts in.

‘You know what we’re going to do with your friend.’

Komaeda knows. ‘You didn’t stay behind to threaten me, did you?’

‘I heard you did that to yourself,’ she says, gesturing to his arm. ‘I don’t think there’s much point threatening you with pain. But –’ she pauses – ‘you might still care what happens to him.’

Komaeda hesitates. ‘I think you might have misinterpreted our relationship.’

‘I don’t think so,’ the woman says. ‘Do you want me to go tell the guards to get started? Because it doesn’t have to be that way.’

Hinata would tell Komaeda to keep his mouth shut. At the moment, the others are safe. They can stay safe, just as long as Hinata and Komaeda sacrifice themselves. But Komaeda’s tried that once before, and it didn’t work out the way he planned.

‘I guess it’s too much to ask for you to let the two of us go.’

‘It is,’ the woman says. ‘Once we have the others in custody, you’ll all meet your fate together.’

It’s a bad deal.

‘But you won’t hurt Hinata-kun any more,’ Komaeda says. ‘Or not till then, at least.’ She certainly intends to hurt them in the end.

‘No more torture,’ the woman agrees. ‘It’s so much more civilised to talk things over like this, don’t you think?’

Komaeda hates her. It doesn’t matter if they deserve her anger; it doesn’t matter if her torture is only turnabout and fair play. She’s fallen to Despair as much as any of them; she just thinks she’s on the other side.

‘I’ll tell you,’ Komaeda says.

***

Five minutes later, he and Hinata are together again, in the dark.

Hinata knows something is wrong. ‘What did you do?’ he says, and Komaeda is almost glad he can’t see his expression.

‘They can still help themselves,’ he says.

‘They weren’t in any danger!’ Hinata finds Komaeda to shove him, hard enough to make him stumble. ‘Tell me you’re kidding, Komaeda. Tell me you didn’t just sell everyone out.’

‘Because you had a better plan, Hinata-kun?’

‘We just had to keep our mouths shut,’ Hinata says. He grabs Komaeda by the shirt; he can’t be in that much pain, then.

‘What, do you think Naegi’s going to ride in and save us? I’m sure he would, if he knew. He’s that kind of guy. Ah, but you’re stuck here with me …’

Hinata shoves him again, but this time Komaeda stays where he is.

‘You can’t be disappointed in me,’ Komaeda says, softly. ‘Surely even you can’t have such unrealistic expectations.’

‘It’s not unrealistic,’ Hinata says. ‘You just had to not say anything.’

‘Like you didn’t say anything? I suppose you weren’t even the slightest bit relieved, then, when she told them to stop? If you weren’t, I guess you can judge me as much as you like.’ Hinata was always judging him anyway.

‘That’s not fair.’

‘Isn’t it? I do just keep letting you down, don’t I? I guess my endurance isn’t as good as yours.’

‘Did she even do anything to you, or did you just offer?’

‘She was doing it to you,’ Komaeda says. He can’t help the exasperation entering his voice. ‘If it were just me, it wouldn’t matter. And maybe you don’t matter either; your stupid pointless life doesn’t matter, but …’ He stops. Swallows. ‘But I still care about it.’

He hears Hinata sit down.

‘You make me feel like the bad guy,’ Hinata mumbles.

Komaeda sits beside him. ‘That’s why we’re in this situation, isn’t it? Because we’re the bad guys.’

Hinata makes a sound that’s half a laugh. Out the blue, he says, ‘I think we’re in a courthouse.’

A courthouse. So he has been paying attention after all. ‘She wants to put us on trial.’ Komaeda laughs.

“It would be appropriate, right?’ Hinata mutters.

‘Ah, then should we even try to escape? Maybe we should just let her go ahead.’ The idea isn’t entirely objectionable. They could admit their sins, and be judged for them. No-one would need to be tortured. The executions would be reassuringly banal.

‘Maybe that would be the right thing,’ Hinata says. ‘But I want to live.’

‘See, you still haven’t given up,’ Komaeda says, speaking to himself as much as to Hinata. ‘I don’t suppose you have a plan?’

No response.

‘I guess you’ve had a bad day.’ Komaeda lies back down. The woman could at least have provided them a futon, blankets. It’s going to be an uncomfortable night. ‘Do you think they’re planning to feed us?’ They won’t be able to escape if they’re too weak from hunger.

‘I don’t know.’

‘It’d be nice to eat something we didn’t have to produce ourselves.’

‘Yeah.’

He hears Hinata moving, lying down beside him in the dark. Komaeda wonders if he’s still very mad. But when he reaches out his hand, he touches Hinata’s shoulder, not his back. Hinata isn’t facing away from him.

‘What is it?’

‘Nothing,’ Komaeda says. ‘Just checking.’ He pulls his hand back, holds it to his lips. At least if he’s beside Hinata, the discomfort isn’t completely pointless. ‘How’s your hand?’

‘Not good. I guess it could be worse though, couldn’t it? I can’t believe this.’ The last sentence is muttered.

It’s hardly the least believable thing that’s ever happened to them. But Komaeda keeps that thought to himself.

***

Komaeda wakes again when the lights turn on. They must be on a timer – it’s just the two of them still. Komaeda gets up to wet his mouth, feeling stiff and sore. And undignified, trying to drink from the water cooler without a cup. But he feels better for having drunk.

Hinata doesn’t get up. His eyes are open, but he doesn’t move, even when Komaeda stands over him. Until Komaeda flicks water on his face – then he says, ‘Hey!’ and tries to hide behind his hands.

‘Get up,’ Komaeda says. ‘We have to be ready.’

Hinata sits up, reluctantly.

‘Did you get any sleep at all?’ Komaeda asks. He looks exhausted.

‘Who knows?’ Hinata says. He brings his head to his knees, like he has a headache on top of everything else. He doesn’t look like someone with much hope for escape.

‘Well, if we’re going to get out to warn the others –’

‘And who made that necessary?’ He’s grouchy in the morning. But before they can get into a proper disagreement, the door opens. It’s the same two guards, one who carries a tray with two plates of toast on it.

‘Ah, room service,’ Komaeda says. ‘I have to say, I was hoping for the Japanese-style breakfast.’ There’s nothing on the plate that could be used as a weapon, without so much as a pair of chopsticks.

The guard meets his eyes as he sets the plate down. Then, deliberately, he steps on the toast – Komaeda’s toast – and crushes it to pieces.

‘Brat,’ he mutters, as he walks out.

‘Did you seriously have to say it?’ Hinata asks.

‘I didn’t know he’s be so touchy, did I? Oh, look.’ The guard’s weight has cracked the plate – not quite breaking it, but it’s easy for Komaeda to apply a little force and finish the job. ‘Weapons. Give me your toast.’

Hinata only gives him half. It will do.

***

Hinata is better at this type of thing than Komaeda, so when the guards return, he’s the one that attacks. A broken plate is more convincing as a weapon when it’s pressed against someone’s throat. Komaeda intends just to stay out the way – except that it’s a bit too easy to trip the other guard up when she tries to rush Hinata.

She falls, her head knocking into the wall. She sags and hits the floor, but she’s more dazed than damaged. Still, it gives Komaeda the opportunity to tie her wrists with the drawstring from his jacket.

‘Hurry up,’ Hinata says. The plate draws a line against the other guard’s neck, as Hinata holds him back.

Komaeda ties his knots tighter than he strictly needs to. The woman looks at him blearily, and she says, ‘Why don’t you just kill me?’ There’s only one reason why, but she doesn’t need to know it.

‘I’m ready,’ Komaeda says, standing up. ‘Where’s the key?’

‘On my belt,’ the other guard says. When Komaeda looks at them now, he wonders if they’re really professionals, or just two people roped into an old lady’s half-baked revenge plot. He shouldn’t complain either way.

Komaeda takes the keycard, and Hinata maneuvers to the doorway. When he sends the guard sprawling, it gives them time to get out and get the door shut. Then the guard is banging on the door, and Hinata has his back against it, letting out a sigh.

Komaeda tests the handle, but it must have an automatic lock.

‘Are you alright, Hinata-kun?’

Hinata touches a hand to his ribs. ‘He elbowed me some,’ he says. ‘We better get out before anyone catches on.’

‘Do you think there is anyone else?’ Komaeda asks. The sound of the guards becomes muffled, and by the time the reach the fire exit, it’s disappeared completely. ‘I’ve only seen the three of them.’

Hinata shakes his head. ‘I don’t think this was planned out.’

‘Citizen’s arrest, huh?’

‘Something like that.’

‘I didn’t know we were so famous.’

Hinata is moving less easily than he usually would, as they make their way down the stairs; maybe the woman did more to him than he let on.

It makes Komaeda feel slightly irrational to think so.

When they get to the exit to the street, the woman is waiting there. She holds a gun, lifting it with both hands. Like she’s afraid she might lose her grip. Or her nerve.

‘You’re not leaving,’ she says.

‘We don’t want to hurt you,’ Hinata says. It’s not true – Komaeda would be more than happy to hurt her, but he’s not going to contradict Hinata at a time like this.

Hinata takes a step forward, and the woman raises the gun higher.

‘There’s nothing you can do to me,’ she says. ‘I’ve already lost everything.’ Her voice cracks. ‘Why don’t you just go back inside, huh?’

Hinata glances at Komaeda. ‘One of us has to get out to warn the others,’ he says, his voice low.

Komaeda knows what he’s thinking, but it’s a bad idea.

Before Hinata can charge at the woman, Komaeda knocks him away. He expects to hear the gun fire; expects to feel the bullet sink into his shoulder blade. Then he’ll look up at Hinata one last time, and think that at least he did this one worthwhile thing with his life …

But the bullet never comes.

‘It jammed,’ Hinata says, wide-eyed. And while the woman is still trying to work out how to fix it, he pushes Komaeda aside and tackles her. The gun is sent spinning, and it stops by Komaeda’s feet.

Komaeda picks it up. He holds it in his hand, and he clears the chamber.  ‘I understand how you feel,’ he says to the woman. They should be destroyed. They should be made to pay.

But they won’t be.

‘Are you crazy?’ Hinata says, as Komaeda lifts the gun. The woman struggles against him. ‘Let’s just get out of here.’

‘There’s no hurry,’ Komaeda says. ‘It’s cleaner just to end it, don’t you think?’ He’s asking the woman.

She goes still. He sees her swallow, like she’s ready for this. Hinata is the one who protests – Hinata is the one who gets up and is ready to confront him.

Komaeda rolls his eyes. Hinata really does take everything so seriously. Komaeda holds the gun up, like he never intended to shoot at all. ‘You get the door,’ he says. ‘I’ll make sure she doesn’t move.’ He reaims past Hinata, just to be sure.

He thinks for a moment that Hinata’s going to argue with him. But he leaves the woman where he is, and he opens the door. ‘Come on, then,’ he says. ‘Komaeda.’ He says it like a command.

The woman backs up as he passes her, pressing herself up against the wall. It would be easy, to shoot her now. No great loss to the world – hasn’t she already admitted that?

But Hinata’s disappointment weighs on him when no-one else’s would, and so Komaeda leaves her be.

***

It’s raining, outside. The streets are grey.

‘Do you have any idea where we are?’ Komaeda asks.

If it’s the main courthouse …’ Hinata frowns. ‘I should be able to find our way. But haven’t you been here before?’

This city. ‘You know I don’t remember anything from back then, Hinata-kun.’ It’s not even a lie. ‘Shall we go?’ he asks. The fire exit is locked from this direction, but that doesn’t mean the woman won’t still try and follow them. Komaeda would be disappointed if she didn’t.

‘Right,’ Hinata says. ‘This way.’ He starts walking, and Komaeda doesn’t know if he really knows where he’s going, or if he’s just picked a direction at random. It’s not like it matters – Komaeda will follow him anyway. Even if they’re not able to get in touch with Naegi, or to warn the others – it doesn’t really matter to him.

Hinata is the thing that matters to him. It’s Hinata he follows.

And together, they leave the courthouse behind.