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of gods, monsters, and pointy objects

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The buzz of Shuuichi’s phone against the hollow wood of his desk is jarring, and it startles him awake with a flinch. He sits up straight, eyes scanning over the classroom, where no one seems to have been disturbed by the Snapchat notification noise. Even his history teacher hasn’t missed a beat; he continues droning on about something Shuuichi had stopped listening to a long time ago, so he allows himself to relax and flip over his phone.

As he silences it, he reads over the new notification: the name Rantarou blinks up at him, and he unlocks his phone to check the Snapchat with a confused frown.

Only the left half of his friend’s face is visible; he’s crossing his eyes — eye, Shuuichi supposes — and he’s wearing a jovial smile, a peace sign half obscured by his earthy green hair. He can see his teacher in the background, frozen mid word. Shuuichi’s eyes find the caption: we’re going out tonight.

And. Well. Shuuichi is not a fan of that idea at all. He has homework tonight — and he’s going to ignore the fact that he’s currently tuning out a lecture in a class he has homework in — and he knows that Rantarou’s dads will not be super into that idea, so he taps a few times until he has a blurry picture of his desk and has attached a sad face as the caption.

Shuuichi idly looks at Rantarou as he receives the notification, and uses his hand to mask an amused smile as he watches his best friend pose for a new picture. It appears on his phone a moment later; Rantarou pouting into the camera, totally oblivious to their teacher, whose eyes just barely missed making contact with the camera itself.

i want to win my little brother a prize at the arcade!

Shuuichi rolls his eyes, angling his camera down to snap a picture of his shoes. i’m not your little brother.

The next Snap he receives from Rantarou is him pouting even more pronouncedly, cheek resting on his fist. you’re littler than me, and my parents have custody of you, so you’re my little brother.

Shuuichi is readying to send another award-worthy picture of his shoes when he suddenly freezes up at the sound of his name.

“Saihara.” Immediately feeling himself begin to perspire, Shuuichi struggles for a few moments to find the will to look upward; when he does, he finds his teacher staring down at him with his arms loosely crossed, a long-suffering frown on his face. The eyes of every person in the class are on him, and he nearly drops his phone as his hands become slick with sweat.

“As much as I’m sure whoever you’re messaging,” his teacher’s eyes cut across to Rantarou, who smiles good-naturedly, “loves receiving Snapchat’s of your shoes, it can wait until I’m finished teaching, no?”

Shuuichi nods furiously, his hat nearly flying off his head. He pulls it further down as his teacher sighs.

“Good. Now, to get us back on track, can you tell me anything I’ve said at all today?”

Instead of answering, Shuuichi pulls his hat down further, shielding himself from eye contact entirely. It’s unbearably silent for a few long beats. Finally his teacher clucks his tongue.

“After class please, Saihara.” A pause. “You too.”

Shuuichi peeks out from underneath his hat to watch as his teacher’s gaze lingers on him for a few moments before moving back to the board, where he underlines a name Shuuichi doesn’t recognize.

“Now, back to the betrayal of the Goddess of Vitality—”

Shuuichi’s phone lights up with another message from Rantarou. He wipes his hands several times on his pants, lays his head back down on the desk, and presses his thumb against his phone until it recognizes his sweaty fingerprint and unlocks.

Rantarou smiles up at him in what would be an unattractive manner on anyone else, but it mostly comes off as endearing. The caption on the picture asks Shuuichi if he’s alright. Quick as he can he snaps a blurry picture of his shoes, sending back a dejected i’m fine, just hate being called on.

Rantarou’s next response mirror’s Shuuichi’s habit of sending shoe pictures; the caption of maybe you should pay more attention! Is backdropped by a shot of Rantarou’s legs. Shuuichi rolls his eyes; neither of them are very keen on paying attention in their shared history class, so Rantarou had no place teasing him. He tells him as much with the next message.

i know plenty about what’s going on. the goddess of music is terrible, and you shouldn’t mess with the goddess of vitality.

Shuuichi frowns. there’s no way you heard all of that!

Rantarou sends him one last message, a picture of himself winking, before the messages stop. When Shuuichi peeks up a few minutes later, he notices Rantarou casually playing a game on his phone, oblivious to the increasingly exasperated glares his teacher was sending him. Shuuichi, though not doing nearly anything so overt, finds his attention caught away from the lecture at the front of the classroom until the bell signalling the end of the school day rings, jarring him out of his daydreaming.

As the class clears he stays obediently in his seat, and he can only fondly roll his eyes as he catches Rantarou’s frame attempting to retreat along with the crowd. The teacher calls his name, and Rantarou turns, no shame on his face as he laughs it off.

“Oh, come on, Mr. Hinata, what could you possibly want with poor Shuuichi and I?”

At his name Shuuichi stands, shuffling his belongings together and slinging his backpack over his shoulder nervously. Mr. Hinata rolls his eyes and motions them both towards his desk. Rantarou lightly bumps him as they move, flashing him a thumbs up before settling into an easy stance next to Shuuichi’s own tense one.

Shuuichi watches him warily. Rantarou smiles, his entire appearance announcing his usual carefree attitude. One hand rests on his hip, his elbow gently touching Shuuichi; the other holds his bag over his shoulder lazily, watching their teacher with half lidded eyes. He shoots Shuuichi a wink over his shoulder, and yes, while having Rantarou by his side during this does make him feel somewhat better, Shuuichi can’t push past the discomfort he feels at Rantarou being so casual and seeming to almost. . .tease Mr. Hinata.

“Actually,” their teacher says to Rantarou, watching him with wary green eyes, “all I have to say to you is how close I am to calling your parents, Togami.”

Rantarou laughs, apparently unconcerned. “To be completely honest, I’m not sure how happy my dads would be to hear from you.”

Mr. Hinata rolls his eyes, gesturing towards the door. “Have a good night, Togami.”

After waving good-naturedly to Mr. Hinata and promising Shuuichi to wait for him outside the classroom Rantarou leaves, leaving just him and Mr. Hinata. At all of the attention being focused on him, Shuuichi begins to squirm.

It’s not that Shuuichi doesn’t like Mr. Hinata, or that he’s particularly afraid of him; on the contrary, he’s probably one of the nicer teachers Shuuichi has ever had. With the amount of times Shuuichi has moved schools, he’s had his fair share of teachers, and not all of them were so understanding of his various issues in and out of the classroom. Coupled with the fact that it’s so hard to get a feel for each new teacher, each new class, each new batch of classmates, he knows he’s not an easy person to deal with. Sometimes it’s hard to even find a reason to get acclimated when he moves around so much — and, really, he’s averaging out to almost a new school every year — and it’s just a lot to deal with on top of everything else.

Everything else, being a whole host of things really very out of his control, but his not paying attention in class: that’s totally Shuuichi’s fault. His face feels hot; he does this a lot, the ‘being too distracted to pay good attention’ thing, but he’s never been held back after class by Mr. Hinata before. Is he in real trouble now? Is he going to be yelled at? Is he going to ask to talk to Shuuichi’s mom? Shuuichi knows it’s Rantarou’s dads listed on his contact sheet, but—

“Shuuichi?” There’s a hand on his shoulder. Shuuichi sucks in a deep breath, looks up to meet his teacher’s eyes. The look on his face makes him squirm all the more. “Are you alright?”

“Ah, I’m fine.” Shuuichi pulls the visor of his hat over his eyes, suddenly embarrassed at his bout of silence.

“I. . .Saihara, you’re not in trouble, so don’t worry about that.” Mr. Hinata sighs, leaning to rest against his desk. Shuuichi shuffles from foot to foot, unsure of what to do. His teacher smiles gently, running a hand through his hair awkwardly.

“You do worry me a little bit, you know.” The gaze on Shuuichi sharpens a touch, and he suddenly feels as though he’s being assessed. Shuuichi scratches anxiously at his neck. “Is everything alright? At home, at school?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” Mr. Hinata looks a little uncomfortable for a moment, “I am. . .familiar with some aspects of your situation. Your home arrangement, your history of moving schools, the, ah, reasons for that. I guess I’m asking if things are okay here.”

He feels himself go red with mortification at the mention of his moving schools. He looks down at his shoes, wishing he could melt into the floor. “No, things are, um, okay here.”

“Well, how about at home?” Shuuichi looks up sharply; Mr. Hinata goes red at his own words, and immediately puts his hands out defensively. “Not that I’m trying to assume anything. Really. I don’t doubt that Togami is a good friend to you. I just. . .worry, like I said. I don’t see you interacting with people other than him very often, is all.”

“Sorry,” is all that Shuuichi says, not sure of how else to respond. Mr. Hinata sighs, dragging a hand down his face. He shakes his head, then fixes Shuuichi with an odd look.

“No, I’m sorry. I can tell I’m making you uncomfortable.” Mr. Hinata moves behind his desk and sits in his chair, smiling kindly up at Shuuichi. “Have a good night, Saihara. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight.” He wastes no time escaping the room, more than ready to leave school behind for the day. As he retreats he looks for Rantarou and, upon not seeing him, chooses to wait tucked in next to a row of lockers, thumbing at his phone where it rests in his pocket impatiently.

Shuuichi is by default on high alert when alone in school hallways, but the sight of empty floor space before him offers him some comfort, and he allows himself to relax a bit. He stands up straight for a moment, rolls his shoulders against the ache of a chronically sore back, and glances around again for any sign of Rantarou. When none appears, he finds his mind wandering to his conversation with Mr. Hinata.

It’s terrible enough operating with the knowledge that Rantarou and his parents are privy to the details of the intense bullying Shuuichi has been faced with a good portion of his life, but something about a teacher he only met a matter of months ago knowing as well makes the memory of his own low points all the heavier.

The moving schools, the bullying, they were issues even before his mom died, but after the fact, well. . .

Freshly traumatized by his mother’s out of nowhere death, newly started on hormone blockers, and facing the terrifying reality of heading into the world with no remaining blood relatives made for easy (if exceedingly cruel) targets for people his age to exploit to the fullest. At first the jokes made at his expense were relatively simple in nature — he was jumpy, he was prone to acne, he didn’t have a dad or a nice house or new toys like the rest of his classmates.

But then his mom died. And he went to live with his best friend, who was something of a celebrity at whatever school he ended up. And his new guardians made the mistake of disclosing Shuuichi’s status as trans to the first school he ended up at after his upending. And it got so much worse.

It was better at some schools than others. But he never stayed at any single school for long. And neither, in that regard, has Rantarou; even before Shuuichi moved in with him, he always insisted to his dads that he follow Shuuichi to his new schools. He and Rantarou had moved schools something like six times in as many years, and where they were settled now. . .

It was nice. It wasn’t a far commute from the house, and people mostly just left him and Rantarou alone after the novelty of having a famous person and his less-famous adoptive sibling wore off. Things were unexciting, but that suited Shuuichi just fine.

Though he gets the feeling, sometimes, that perhaps Rantarou vies for more than what Shuuichi is able to handle.

“There you are.” Rantarou steps out of the bathroom a few yards down the hallway and waves, a delighted smile on his face. It droops some when he sees the — presumably cloudy — look on Shuuichi’s face, and when he makes his way over to Shuuichi he throws an arm around his shoulders, leading them both towards the exit, eyes on his phone.

“You didn’t get yelled at too much, did you?”

“No,” Shuuichi replies, squinting against the bright sunlight as they step outside the school. “I think there’s a gossip circle about me among the teachers, though.”

“If there’s a teacher support group about either of us, it’s definitely for me,” Rantarou counters with a laugh, slipping his phone into his pants pocket.

“That’s true. You’re the only one of us who plays Cookie Run in class, anyways.”

“And you listen excitedly to my play-by-play, so you’re hardly innocent, you know.” They begin down the steps towards their awaiting ride. “But seriously, why do you think the teachers are talking about you?”

Shuuichi sighs. “Mr. Hinata, ah, knows about how much I move schools. And asked me about it. And I guess it just. . .doesn’t feel great to be reminded of it, when things have been okay so far here.”

“I’ll lecture him next time I see him, make sure he doesn’t bother my little brother again.” Rantarou squeezes Shuuichi’s cheeks teasingly before circling around the car and climbing into the backseat. Huffing, Shuuichi pulls open the door on his side of the limo and settles in himself.

“I’m not your little brother. And I think that’s unnecessary.” He clicks his seatbelt into place, and gives Rantarou an unimpressed look. “Speaking of unnecessary, did you have to get the limo to pick us up?”

“It’s fun.”

“It’s tacky. And obnoxious.” Shuuichi makes sheepish eye contact with the driver. “Uh, no offense?”

Rantarou chuckles, waving off Shuuichi’s embarrassment with a smile. “Hey, don’t make such a long face. To make you feel better, I’ll win you a prize and get you something sweet at the arcade tonight, okay?”

Shuuichi groans at the mention of sneaking out, flopping back against the seat. Rantarou chuckles again, patting Shuuichi on the shoulder, before shifting away and beginning a conversation with the driver.

Shuuichi contents himself to watch his friend silently, uninterested in interjecting into the conversation. As he observes him, he quietly catalogues Rantarou’s behavior.

He shines with effortless confidence. Every movement, every word out of his mouth, every carefree laugh and contented smile boasts what is one of his many strengths: his seemingly endless supply of self-assuredness. Rantarou is one of the most easy-going people Shuuichi has ever met; is that where his confidence stems from?

He’s confident, and he’s carefree, and he’s languid, and he’s upbeat, and he’s sort of Shuuichi’s hero. He’s so different from Shuuichi; from his insecurity, his anxiousness, his uptightness, his undercurrent of depression.

It’s sort of a wonder he holds any interest in being around Shuuichi, for all that they’re different.

Rantarou looks over, meeting Shuuichi’s eyes for a moment. His friend smiles warmly, reclining back against his seat and slinging an arm over Shuuichi’s shoulders before continuing his conversation with the driver.

Warmth floods Shuuichi’s chest.

Despite their differences, despite their near polar opposite at times tendencies, despite how many leagues above Shuuichi he is, Rantarou never fails to show him kindness. Never fails to be the best friend Shuuichi could ever ask for. Rantarou always has Shuuichi’s back, is always the best friend and brother that Shuuichi needs; he always has been, ever since the first day they met.

Despite his issues with expressing it a lot of the time, Shuuichi hopes that he is as good a best friend as Rantarou deserves.

Shuuichi doesn’t notice that they’re home until the low hum of the engine dies, and Rantarou is pulling away and pushing open the car door. Shuuichi exits on his side, smiling fondly as Rantarou presses a generous tip into the hand of the driver, and motions him forward.

As he and Rantarou enter the house, Shuuichi marvels — not for the first nor the last time — at the grandeur of the home he has come to live in. It’s not what he would call necessarily homey; as someone who spent the first decade of his life living in a modest little apartment with only his mother, he still finds it uncomfortable to walk through the house’s sweeping halls and spend too much time on the marble stairs that he’s frankly terrified of dirtying.

Rantarou, as Shuuichi has observed many times, does not share this same fear; he moves towards the kitchen with his shoes still on, not pausing for Shuuichi to toe his own off. When he catches up with his friend, he finds him stealing a cookie off of a warm tray resting on the oven as his father wraps up a phone call.

Shuuichi accepts the cookie he’s offered, and politely waits until Makoto hangs up the phone to speak. “Hi, Makoto.”

“Hey, dad.”

Makoto smiles at the both of them, wrinkling his nose a bit at the stolen cookies. “Hey, guys. How was school?”

Before Shuuichi can meekly mention his meeting with Mr. Hinata, Rantarou cuts in, leaning against the granite island. “Uneventful. Would’ve much rather been home baking cookies.”

“More like eating them.” Makoto scoops up the tray as Rantarou reaches for another, tucking it onto the counter behind him. “Besides, I think it’s more likely that you’d be causing trouble rather than baking cookies with your dad.”

“Me, cause trouble?” Shuuichi smothers a smirk at the faux-confused look Rantarou adopts. Rantarou kicks him lightly. “I’m not the problem child.”

Makoto laughs. “Are you implying the problem child is Shuuichi?”

“Of course not. Shuuichi’s a good boy.” This time, it’s Shuuichi who kicks Rantarou. “Byakuya’s the problem child.”

“Don’t call your father by his first name,” Makoto warns gently, a smile on his face. “Oh, speaking of. He won’t be home until late tonight.”

“Again?” Rantarou’s smile dips around the corners ever so slightly. “Is something wrong?”

Makoto shakes his head, pulling a soda out of the fridge. “You both know how it is at work. Someone’s misplaced something important, and your father is going to throw a fit until it’s fixed.”

Rantarou’s smile returns, and he leans towards Shuuichi conspiratorially. “Tell me again how he’s not the problem child again?”

“Go,” Makoto tells them both, shooing them out of the kitchen. “Stop being mean to your father when he can’t defend himself. He’ll get all pouty.”

“Sounds like him.” They both watch as Makoto heads back into the kitchen, phone in hand. Rantarou steers them both towards the stairs. “Hey, Shuuichi, let’s play Smash.”

They play Smash. They play until the not-quite-summer sun dips below the horizon, and they play until Makoto orders takeout for dinner, and they play until Byakuya doesn’t come home (again), and they play until Makoto, voice tired, implores the two of them to go to bed.

Shuuichi is more than happy to oblige; the call of his bed has been tempting him for hours now. He doesn’t get the chance, however; just as he’s folded up his binder and is about to climb into bed there’s a knock at the door, Rantarou appearing a few moments later, looking much more dressed up than Shuuichi’s choice of a hoodie and striped pajama pants.

“I’m going to win you something,” Rantarou says, and Shuuichi flops onto his bed, groaning.

“If we get caught your dads will kill us.”

“Would I let anything happen to my little brother?” Shuuichi grasps around for a moment before his hands wrap around a pillow, and he throws it forcefully in Rantarou’s direction. The laugh he gets in response tells him he wasn’t even close to hitting his mark.

Rantarou tosses the pillow back to him a moment later, leaving the room with a request that Shuuichi put some actual clothes on. As the door shuts Shuuichi sits up, rolling his eyes at this whole situation, but getting up to change anyways. If he’s going to be made to go, he’ll make his friend keep good on his promise to get him something good.

A few minutes later he emerges from his room changed into his most casual attire: a slightly-less-sleeped in hoodie, a pair of dark jeans he’s had since he was about thirteen, and his practically new sneakers. His hair isn’t brushed, and he hasn’t bothered to put his binder back on; he knows where Rantarou intends to take them, and there won’t be much of a crowd to judge Shuuichi’s fashion sense, so he makes himself not worry about it too much.

He shuts the door to his room as quietly as he can and begins down the stairs where he knows Rantarou is waiting, having gone through this a few times before. As he passes through the foyer his eyes catch on the clock — nearing one in the morning, god is he going to be dead tired tomorrow — before moving through the kitchen towards the back door where Rantarou waits, wallet in hand.

Shuuichi’s lead out through the back door without a word, and after a few minutes of maneuvering over the large fencing the house boasts they’re on their way, shoes lightly slapping the pavement as they walk. Rantarou hums quietly as he walks, one earbud in ear, the other spilling tinny music into the crisp air around them. Shuuichi wishes he’d had the foresight to bring his own earbuds, but it’s not a long walk to the arcade, only a few blocks, so he doesn’t concern himself too much with the thought.

The trip is uneventful until the foot traffic on the sidewalk gets clogged up for a reason Shuuichi can’t immediately see. Rantarou, too, seems confused, pulling his earbud out of his ear to ask Shuuichi what’s going on.

They find out a few minutes later when the mini crowd is finally granted passage across the upcoming crosswalk, the sight of a nasty car wreck coming into full view as they move. As soon as Shuuichi realizes what he’s looking at he forcefully pulls his gaze away, letting Rantarou’s body block his view as he moves past as quickly as possible, now wishing he had his earbuds so he could drown out the growing sound of sirens.

“You okay?” Rantarou asks once they’re out of view of the wreck and an ambulance has flown by. Shuuichi manages a smile, appreciative of his friend’s kindness.

“Yeah.” Rantarou mirrors his smile, and affectionately flicks Shuuichi’s cowlick before facing forward again and continuing their walk in silence. Shuuichi allows his bravado to deflate after a moment.

He’s lucky it’s an okay night. There were some days where the mention of a car crash, even a minor one, could turn an entire day sour. Could put him out of commission entirely until he could calm himself down again.

Shuuichi feels himself frown. Hm. Maybe dwelling on the trauma he has surrounding his mother’s death isn’t the most productive way to spend his evening.

“Shuuichi?” Rantarou’s voice sounds farther away than it should. Shuuichi blinks a few times, turns around, and finds him waiting at the entrance to the arcade, a contemplatively concerned look on his face. Shuuichi rolls his eyes at himself for just walking off, and follows Rantarou inside.

His spirits lift exponentially once any idle thoughts in his mind are killed by the sensory overload the arcade offers. Between the multitudes of noises being thrown around the dark room, the neon lights illuminating up the area like someone’s taken highlighters to the walls, and the vast collection of claw machines available for Shuuichi to waste his money on, he simply doesn’t have the capacity to worry over anything but the present. And that’s good for someone like him.

He’s not sure how long exactly he and Rantarou stay at the arcade, but when they’re starting their walk back home, Shuuichi can hardly keep his heavy eyelids open and his arms secured around the stuffed animal Rantarou had scored him after his many jackpot wins.

All Shuuichi had been able to get Rantarou with his collection of tickets was a rubber duck wearing sunglasses, a pair of cheap matching braided bracelets (one of which Rantarou immediately tied around Shuuichi’s wrist), and a few pieces of assorted candy.

Rantarou, however, didn’t seem to mind the trade off; in their last few minutes before they were kicked out the arcade, he insisted Shuuichi pose for his Snapchat story with the stuffed Bewear Rantarou won for him, as well as take an egregious amount of selfies showing off their matching bracelets that could not have cost more than about twenty-five cents, combined.

Nevertheless, Shuuichi leaves the arcade feeling sort of deliriously content, hugging the Bewear doll close and fidgeting with his bracelet. He only becomes all the more happy when he notices Rantarou’s choice to take a different route home, circumventing the sight of the wreck for Shuuichi’s sake.

If a thought of Rantarou is the best brother I could have, passes through Shuuichi’s mind as he settles into bed, well, who is he to say that he’s wrong?

The sentiment is not quite the same when he wakes up what seems only minutes after his head hits the pillow, sunlight streaming through the window, reminding Shuuichi that he does in fact need to wake up for school now.

He showers quickly, gets dressed even quicker, and is prepared to head downstairs and find Rantarou waiting for him so they can leave.

He does not. Instead, he finds Rantarou getting what must be the quietest yelling-at Shuuichi has ever seen.

Also, Byakuya is home.

Also also, Byakuya and Makoto both look really angry.

Shuuichi ducks behind a corner, sending a silent prayer to Rantarou in an attempt to atone for not facing whatever discipline is happening with him.

It is supremely awkward waiting for an appropriate time to make his entrance into the room, and despite his valiant efforts not to, his environment (and, in all honesty, his nosiness) doesn’t allow him any option but to eavesdrop.

“We shouldn’t have to be having this conversation again and you know it, Rantarou.”

“We’re teenagers, we should be allowed to have fun.”

“You are allowed to have fun, I just wish you would tell one of us before you go out into the middle of the night—”

“—I disagree. You shouldn’t be going out that late at all. You could get yourselves killed.”

“You know me better than that. I wouldn’t let anything hurt Shuuichi or I.”

“You say that as if you can control what decides to go after you.”

“Byakuya, I think it’s time to consider actually sitting Shuuichi down and—”

“I. . .don’t necessarily disagree.” A pause. Shuuichi hears Byakuya sigh. “But we have to think realistically. A situation this. . . complicated requires a certain delicacy, and we can’t exactly just come out with it out of nowhere.”

Shuuichi, feeling confused and more than a little bit anxious at whatever he’s out of the loop of, decides he needs to make his presence known. He rounds the corner from the stairs, trying not to cringe at the sudden hush that falls over the Togamis.

The three sets of eyes on him start him sweating. Byakuya speaks first. “Shuuichi.”

“Ah, good morning.” He tries his hardest to seem casual. His neck feels hot.

“You and Rantarou snuck out last night.” Shuuichi has never known Byakuya to be anything but straight to the point, but the accusation — not even a question, he says it as a fact — hits him like a brick to the chest, and the sleepy smile he’d put on as he entered the room quickly drops off.

“Uh.”

Makoto and Byakuya give him matching unimpressed looks. Shuuichi wishes he’d stayed in bed. “I’m sorry.”

“I made him go with me,” offers Rantarou, earning a glare from both of his parents.

“Shuuichi’s just as guilty.” Makoto pauses. “Okay, not quite. Nevertheless, you’re both very grounded.”

Shuuichi nods, fully accepting his fate. Rantarou mirrors him, though the badly-hidden smile on his face doesn’t do much for him in the ‘seeming genuinely sorry’ department. Makoto rolls his eyes.

“Right home after school. I’m going to put you both to work.”

Shuuichi nods again, and Makoto waves them both off, saying ‘I love you both!’ before moving into a different room. Byakuya taps for a few moments on his phone before looking up.

“Your ride is outside. Like your father said, home right after school.” Without further preamble Byakuya follows after his husband, pausing for a moment to ruffle Rantarou’s hair affectionately, and then do the same to Shuuichi. Embarrassed, he pulls his hat onto his head and follows Rantarou out the door.

Shuuichi does his best to push down the anxiety he feels at being in trouble with Byakuya and Makoto on the ride to school.

Easier said than done.

He does, eventually, feel his guilt over the situation lessen, but the anxiety sticking in his lungs doesn’t ebb. All day he is on edge, hairs standing on end; he feels eyes on him, everywhere, and it’s the strangest — and most uncomfortable — sensation he can remember feeling in a long time.

At first he thinks he’s imagining it; he rationalizes that he’s simply high-strung from the events of that morning, or overly tired from his late night, and he’s daydreaming. He spends more than one class looking over his shoulder, confirming with his own eyes that no one is actually staring at him; and even when he does, even when he catalogues every single person in each of his classes, sees for himself that no one is paying attention to him, the feeling doesn’t go away.

He ducks into the bathroom more than once to mop up the sweat building on the back of his neck and escape the feeling.

By lunchtime, Shuuichi is a wreck, and he’s half considering calling Makoto or Byakuya to come pick him up.

The stress must show on his face, because when Rantarou meets him by a classroom door to walk him to lunch, his face immediately falls, eyebrows drawn in concern. He approaches Shuuichi, a question on his lips, when suddenly his face — and everything in Shuuichi’s immediate vicinity entirely — disappears, eyes instead filling with red and blue spots. A sound akin to a clap of thunder booms in his ears, immediately followed by a sharp pain stabbing at the space between his eyes, and he feels himself collapse.

Ouch.

He still can’t see, still can’t hear all to well over the memory of the metallic clanging and the pain quickly overtaking his head, but he thinks he senses Rantarou’s shadow looming over him, and hears a distinct edge in his voice as he says, “hey, leave him alone.”

“Out of the way, filthy Togami,” comes a hiss from above him, and Shuuichi, alarmed, opens his eyes just in time to see a girl he doesn’t recognize grab Rantarou by the neck and throw him several yards down the hall.

His body smashes hard into an adjacent set of lockers. Rantarou crumples to the floor and doesn’t get up.

There’s yelling in Shuuichi’s ears; it might be his. He isn’t given long enough to tell before the girl focuses in on him, red eyes catlike and narrowed.

A hand tangles itself in the front of his shirt, hauling him upwards; in the next moment the hand moves to instead wrap around his throat, squeezing too tight to let any air through. Panicking, he tears at the hand around his neck with his nails, trying desperately to make her let him go. He might as well be patting her for all the effect it has.

Through the tears in his eyes Shuuichi focuses on Rantarou, still unmoving on the ground so far away. Terror mounting, he looks to her face, scratching as hard as he can in an attempt to just make her let go. The already intense scowl on her face intensifies and she bares her teeth, showing Shuuichi — to his complete and utter horror — four rows of dagger-sharp teeth only a matter of inches away from his face.

She knocks his head against the wall again, sending another shot of pain through his whole upper body. His body tries to cough, but he pulls no air in.

“R-Rant—”

“Dead.” He’s pushed even harder against the wall. “You’re next.”

His vision goes all at once, leaving him swimming in terrifying, empty blackness. His chest, already heavy from the weight of the day’s anxiety, seems to grow infinitely heavier; stickiness sprouts from his stomach, moves like sludge through his veins, overtakes his whole body; the sensation makes him want to gag.

He forces himself to blink, and his sight returns some, but it’s different; his vision suddenly tips and he feels himself stumble. He looks around desperately, trying to regain some control on what’s happening, but he’s been seized by the worst vertigo he’s ever had in his life, and he’s not even sure he’s still standing up.

He forces himself to focus on the girl: is she still choking me? Her eyes are angry, rows upon rows of teeth still bared, but she doesn’t lunge as he expects her to; she moves so much slower, now; a complete shift from her lightning quick movements from before.

The sudden change in speed is so disorienting, the blur of color and shape before him threatens to melt his brain. His limbs feel so heavy, like he must be swimming in, drowning in molasses, but when he forces his arms up to defend himself, he finds them moving just fine, the speed jarring in comparison to the girl and the rest of the world.

Shuuichi only gets as far as moving a hand towards her before his vision goes again, and this time, he can’t get it back. His sight is dark and his breath threatens to freeze him to death and he doesn’t even know if this is real, if he is even real as he floats in honeyed darkness.

Sensation comes back first. He’s on his knees — they hurt. The stickiness recedes, leaving him feeling off-kilter and unbalanced. The only remnants of it are his arms. They’re warm. Too warm. There’s something wrapped tight around his middle.

His vision comes back to him all at once, and he’s so overstimulated that he physically flinches at the reappearance of light. He looks around frantically, trying to find some semblance of what’s happened; he stops dead as he looks down at his hands, flecked with red.

The girl from before is on the ground, limp and breathing laboriously. Rantarou is on his feet and in front of Shuuichi, hands grabbing at his face, speaking words Shuuichi can’t make out. His eyes are wide, desperate, scared; so unlike the Rantarou he is accustomed to. They are surrounded by the eyes of classmates.

Sound returns last. There’s whispering all around him. Rantarou’s voice is near hysterical, but he can’t make out the words over the new voice in his ear.

“Shuuichi, can you hear me? Come on, come back, come on. . .” Mr. Hinata’s voice is gentle in his ear, and it makes Shuuichi want to sleep. The tension saps from his body all at once, and he feels himself go limp, held up only by the arms Mr. Hinata has wrapped firmly around his waist.

He’s not sure how long passes before he’s brought to his feet. Mr. Hinata snaps at the forming crowd to get out of the way. Rantarou reaches out to help him stay upright, but he’s also reprimanded and told to go to the nurse immediately. As he’s lead away, Shuuichi glances back.

He doesn’t register the girl has disappeared until he’s sat down in the office lobby.

Shuuichi sits for a long, long time. His hands are too warm. He’s shaking enough to vibrate the chair he’s been sat in.

At some point Rantarou joins him, gauze wrapped somewhat crudely around his head. He settles in next to him wordlessly, wraps an arm around his shaking shoulders, and does not let go.

He’s not sure how much time passes between when he’s delivered to the office and when Makoto arrives, but it must be only a matter of moments from his arrival until when he’s ordered into the principal’s office, Rantarou following close behind.

In the office stands the principal, Makoto, and Mr. Hinata. Shuuichi doesn’t understand the intensity of the look shared between Rantarou’s dad and his teacher, but such concerns are immediately blown from his mind once the principal delivers to him the news that he’s been expelled for fighting.

“What?” Rantarou is the one who objects, a look of shocked annoyance on his face. “Shuuichi was attacked. He was defending himself.”

“Rantarou.” Makoto’s tone is sharp. He settles back in his seat, a dark look focused in his father’s direction. “Will there be police involvement?”

Shuuichi stops listening, not even slightly emotionally prepared to deal with the prospect of being arrested. He stares at his shoes until Makoto’s hand on his shoulder rouses him from his stupor and he stands, not offering a word to anyone as he leaves.

He tries to melt into the leather of Makoto’s car as they begin the ride home, hat pulled so low over his face that he can see nothing but the dark gray of the fabric on the inside. The obscuring of his own vision does nothing to block out the conversation up front that very obviously does not include him.

“You should have told me you had him as a teacher.”

“It would have only made you upset.”

“Obviously, I’m upset,” Makoto says flatly. “He didn’t tell me he was around, that he was teaching my children, for a reason. You have a responsibility, Rantarou—”

“—I think you’re overestimating the importance of him being here.”

“He’s scouting,” Makoto says, voice low. “And there’s no one else of interest at your school. Which means he’s there for you, and as your parents, me and Byakuya should know why.”

“I didn’t say anything because I knew you would freak out like you are now.”

“I am freaking out because I was just called to the school, where both of my children have just been expelled for fighting. You’re both covered in blood, Rantarou, am I meant not to freak out?”

Rantarou sighs. “Have you called Byakuya?”

“Don’t call him that.” Makoto’s voice is tight. “And no, I haven’t. I was putting that off until I had asked you what you’ve been seeing.”

“. . .Is this a conversation we should be having in front of Shuuichi?”

He flinches at the mention of his name.

Makoto winces softly. “No, it isn’t.” A pause. Makoto kills the engine, and with a start Shuuichi realizes they must be home. “Shuuichi, look at me, please.”

After a moment’s hesitation he pushes his hat back up onto his head, looking at Makoto through the rearview mirror. His eyes are soft as they look at each other.

“Look, Rantarou, Shuuichi. I love you — both of you. There’s nothing Byakuya and I wouldn’t do for you. All I ask, is that — you keep us in the loop. Keep us involved. We can’t do our jobs as your parents and your protectors if we don’t know what’s happening. Okay?”

Shuuichi nods in acknowledgement, desperate to get out of the car. Makoto sighs. “Head inside, Shuuichi. I’m going to talk to Rantarou for a little while.”

He doesn’t need to be told twice. He maneuvers out of the car and into the house at Olympic-level speed, ducking into the first bathroom he comes across to begin the nauseating task of cleaning the blood from his hands, tears streaming down his face.

 

><

 

After spending what seems like forever scrubbing obsessively at his skin, Shuuichi is satisfied — to the extent he can be — and changes into his most worn comfort clothes and crawls into bed with the lights off, covers pulled over his head. His phone is plugged in and on silent across the room.

The sun has set and his pillow has dried-in tear stains marking it before he sees another person.

There’s a sharp knock at his door, and without waiting for Shuuichi to answer the door is opened and Makoto is gently prying the blankets away from his face. He can’t bring himself to make eye contact, the memory of Makoto’s anger and shame in the principal’s office making him sick to his stomach.

“Shuuichi, listen to me, please.” With difficulty he looks up. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Rantarou looming in the doorway, the tight expression he wears concerningly out of place. The baseball bat held loosely at his side is even more so odd, but Shuuichi isn’t given time to dwell before Makoto begins to speak.

“There’s an emergency.” Shuuichi’s chest seizes in anxiety; Makoto rests a hand on his, squeezing gently. “It’s nothing you need to worry about. But I have to go meet Byakuya at work, and I’m not sure when I’ll be back.”

“Is he okay?”

“Byakuya’s fine, I’m fine, we’re all fine. But I need you both to follow my directions very carefully.” Makoto tilts his head minutely towards Rantarou. “Neither of you are to leave the house. Stay upstairs, don’t answer the door for anyone. If I come home I’ll call one of you and unlock the door myself. Don’t call me unless it’s an absolute emergency, and don’t make any calls at all to anyone else. Understood?”

Shuuichi nods mutely, the severity of Makoto’s tone doing nothing to lessen the sick feeling in his stomach. Makoto smiles softly at Shuuichi, pressing a kiss to the top of his head.

“If I’m going to be out all night, I’ll call Komaru and have her come over. I love you.” He squeezes Shuuichi’s hand once more before standing and moving briskly towards the door. He kisses Rantarou’s forehead as well, leaning in to whisper something not meant for Shuuichi’s ears before beginning towards the stairs.

Shuuichi looks to Rantarou, utterly confused: was he any the wiser about what was going on?

Rantarou gives him an indecipherable look before he walks away without a word, leaving Shuuichi with a pit in his stomach as falls asleep.

He’s woken up an unknown amount of time by a rough grip around his shoulder as he’s shaken violently. He sits up with a start, glancing around the room in a panic, wincing against the bright ceiling light. Rantarou pulls his hand away, face scarier than Shuuichi has ever seen it, his eyes wide and shadowed in a way that strikes Shuuichi as haunting.

He’s opening his mouth to ask what’s happening when he realizes his brother is covered in blood.

“. . .Rantarou?”

“We need to go.” Rantarou drops a duffle bag onto Shuuichi’s legs. Several drops of blood fall from Rantarou’s hands and stain his blanket. “Pack absolute essentials only. You have two minutes.”

He exits the room without another word, the baseball bat clenched tightly in his fist, smearing the carpeting of Shuuichi’s room a grotesque blood color. Shuuichi jumps from bed, not understanding what on earth is happening, but complies anyways.

Shuuichi’s head swims as he rushes around, shoving anything he feels he might need into the bag. Why was Rantarou covered in blood? Was he hurt? Did someone break in? Why was he being made to pack a bag?

The look on Rantarou’s face flashes in his mind, and Shuuichi pushes his questions aside as best he can. He needs to hurry if Rantarou is in danger, and working himself up over the unknowns will only slow him down.

He ends up with his bag full of his phone and its charger, his inhaler, his wallet, a random assortment of sweatshirts, shirts, pants, clean boxers and socks, two binders, and the bear Rantarou won him. He pushes his hat onto his head as he swings the bag over his shoulder, and on a whim grabs the photo of himself and his mother that sits on his desk, pushing it on top of the bag’s contents and zipping it up before pulling his bedroom door open.

Shuuichi nearly collapses at the rush of nausea the smell of blood sends through him. There’s deep stains all over the floor, and the midst of it all stands Rantarou, a bag slung over his back and the bat clutched offensively in both hands. Shuuichi plugs his nose against the scent of the hallway and looks at Rantarou, eyes wide.

“What’s happening?”

“Stop talking.” Rantarou takes a few steps forward, peeks down the long staircase. His voice is low, dangerous; it sends a chill down Shuuichi’s spine. “Don’t say a single word until we get to the car.”

Rantarou takes the first few stairs, dead silent, and after another sweeping look around he motions for Shuuichi to follow him. He does, keeping his voice as quiet a whisper as he can as he follows him down the stairs. “We can’t leave, your dad said—”

Rantarou holds a finger against his lips, expression harsh. “Things changed.” He holds out a hand to stop Shuuichi as he reaches the bottom of the stairs. “Keep your eyes shut through the living room, I’ll guide you.”

Shuuichi’s seized around the wrist and pulled forward. The warning doesn’t register until it’s too late, and his eyes have already caught on the grotesque pool of blood staining the hardwood.

There’s a body slumped in the middle of his living room. She’s bleeding.

And unlike at school, she doesn’t move.

His mind runs slow in comparison to his body in registering that she’s a corpse, and by the time the word corpse is actually running through his mind, they’re in the garage and Shuuichi’s sobbing. He can’t get her face out of his mind.

Did Rantarou kill her?

“Get in the car. The black one.” Rantarou enters the driver’s side, motioning for Shuuichi to take the passenger’s seat. He does, dropping his bag at his feet and looking at Rantarou pleadingly.

“You — you c-can’t drive.”

“I’ll make it work.”

“Where are we going?”

Rantarou pushes the key into the ignition and peels out of the garage, turning hard onto the road and speeding off into the darkness. “Komaru’s house.”

“H-Have you called—”

“Not yet.” He pulls his phone from his pocket and begins rapidly scrolling through something. “I have one call to make before that. No talking.”

Shuuichi just nods, eyes focused on him as he presses something on his screen and brings his phone to his ear. The car shakes with the rapid speed Rantarou’s settled on.

“It’s Rantarou.” His voice is matter-of-fact; cold. Shuuichi, like everything else that’s happened all day, doesn’t know what to make of it. “Byakuya and Makoto are away, and there’s a dead monster in my house. There’s probably—”

He pauses for a long moment, a far away look in his eye. “Damn it. We’re in a black car. I’m sending you my location, get here as soon as possible. You won’t have a long time.”

He hangs up, spends a few moments tapping on his screen, before dropping the phone in the cup holder and steadying the wheel with both hands.

“I don’t have much time to explain what’s going on. I doubt you’re going to believe me anyways, but—” Rantarou pauses for another long minute, teeth grinding together. “Shit. Okay, Shuuichi. You’re going to learn a lot these next few days, all right? Keep an open mind. Be smart, because I know you are.”

“Pick who you trust very carefully, because it’s not everybody.” Rantarou exhales, suddenly sounding small. His eyes laser-focus on something in the rearview mirror. “And don’t give up hope. I’ll be waiting for you on the other side of this, okay?”

Why does this sound like a goodbye? Why is Rantarou saying goodbye?

“No, stop, what are you — why are you saying that? Rantarou, why are you talking like that?” Shuuichi asks breathlessly, on the verge of hysterics.

“I thought I’d have more time.” Rantarou reaches behind him with one hand, pulling out his bag and dropping it at Shuuichi’s feet, following it with — inexplicably — the bloodied baseball bat. “Whatever happens, wherever we end up, know that I love you, okay? You’re my brother, and I’m so proud of you, and I know you will make it through this. We’ll always have each others back, and I’m going to need you to have mine right now.”

Rantarou tears his eyes away from the mirror to give Shuuichi a significant look, clap a hand on his shoulder. He wipes desperately at his eyes, trying to find meaning, to find the answer to what Rantarou is talking about in the few brief moments he looks at him.

He doesn’t. Rantarou’s focus is pulled to one of his door mirrors, and he grits his teeth in annoyance. He follows his gaze, mind completely blanking on what to think of the large, amorphous figures quickly gaining on the car.

“This isn’t going to feel good. Hold on, Shuuichi.”

Rantarou yanks the wheel harshly to the left, weaving into the oncoming lane of traffic. Shuuichi opens his mouth to ask what on earth he’s doing when something rushes Rantarou’s side of the car, sending the car careening sideways down the road. Shuuichi hears himself scream in alarm, the sound cut off sharply as the car is hit again, sending them spinning off the shoulder of the road.

His head smacks roughly against the window and his vision fills with all-consuming purple spots. Something sticky begins to leak down the side of his head and he hears himself sobbing; from the pain, the terror, the shock of the unknown, a combination of it all.

A deafening metallic shriek rips through the air, grating on his ears, disorienting him further. His heart is beating as fast as it ever has, his breath is icy and hard to catch, and it’s impossible to make out what’s happening through the cloud of pain closing in around his head and the darkness quickly pulling his eyes into total blindness.

The last time Shuuichi is able to open his eyes, he can only watch as Rantarou is lifted from the wrecked car by an unknown force. He can’t make out if he’s injured, if he’s moving, if he’s breathing. All he can make out between the darkness and the blood falling into his eyes is the blood on Rantarou’s face.

Shuuichi must be dying. He must be. There is no other explanation for the sight of a large, dark figure, a creature he can only describe as monstrous, taking his best friend, his brother from him, leaving him to watch, helpless and injured and losing consciousness fast.

He hears screaming, and then he hears whispering, and then finally he hears nothing.

Chapter Text

Shuuichi, in the moments before he loses consciousness, hears whispering. What sounds like whispering, at least. He’s not sure how loud it really is. Or if it’s really even happening. If he’s even really alive.

“Oh, no. . .” The voice is light, soft, but sad.

“Stay in the car. You don’t need to see this.” Airy, more masculine, pitched downward with an emotion Shuuichi can’t decipher.

“No, I can help. If they’re still here, they’re probably hurt really bad.”

“Togami isn’t here. Shit.” 

“What about. . .?”

“Here.” Something to his immediate right crunches unpleasantly, the sound of metal tearing jarring against the quiet. “Let me just. . .”

“I’ll grab him. You look around and see if you can find the other one.”

Shuuichi can’t feel anything, but there’s a soft grunt of effort by his ear. Muttering he can’t make out. Finally there’s a triumphant little noise. 

“Nagito, he’s so heavy!” 

“He’s not here. Oh, dealing with the two of them is going to be a nightmare.” 

“Help me get his heavy butt in the car before he bleeds out all over me!” 

“You insisted on coming with me, Kaede.”

“Let’s just go. He needs to be healed.”

As what remain of Shuuichi’s senses fall away, including the voices keeping him company in his final moments awake, he has to wonder whether he really heard them at all.

 

***

 

When Shuuichi comes to, he is immediately confronted with two very startling realities.

One: he feels as though his head’s just been shoved into a blender that’s running at its highest setting. Even with eyes closed he feels disoriented and dizzy, and after a few moment’s consciousness he finds that the problem is not exclusively concentrated in his head. The presence of an ache works its way down the length of his entire body, and the mental visual of not only his head being beat in like a pinata, but his whole body, makes him want to gag.

Two: he can’t breathe.

All at once he gasps, eyes shooting open and widening in primal panic, coughing against the insistent weight on his chest. His lungs ache like every other part of him, feeling too big for his body, feeling like they’re being constricted by the confines of his chest cavity and that he’s going to die if he can’t get rid of it.

“Oh!” A voice gasps in surprise from directly in front of him. Shuuichi, alarmed, looks towards the source, and finds the source of the weight on his chest — a pair of deep violet eyes — appraising him. A pale finger jabs into his cheek. “Mooorning, sleepyhead!”

“Wow, the new kid is so handsome!”

Shuuichi screams, and as he reflexively sits up the person on top of him topples to the ground. He backs up against the headrest of the bed he’s in, pulling the blanket up to his chin, glancing around the bright, unfamiliar room in a panicked haze.

Floods of natural light stream through the many windows adorning the walls of the. . .log cabin? The log cabin Shuuichi currently found himself in. Lush green grass was only just visible through the windows from the angle Shuuichi was at. A thin white curtain stands a few feet away, pushed all the way open, revealing that the room is rather densely populated, and every single person inside is staring at him.

There’s a non-subtle cough from the floor next to Shuuichi’s bed. Remembering the person who had, until a few moments ago, been sharing the bed with him, he whips his head down and catches the same purple eyes from before, this time taking in the rest of their appearance, too.

The first thing Shuuichi notices — of many very odd characteristics — is the long purple hair obscuring most of the person’s face. Both eyes peer out through breaks in their bangs, slightly narrowed and watching him with an expression Shuuichi can’t puzzle out in the few moments he regards them. The checker print bandana tied neatly around their neck is slightly askew, revealing thin-looking collarbones through the damaged-looking top of their shirt.

The shirt. Which is a straitjacket.  The person who almost suffocated him to death is wearing an untied straitjacket. 

Right before his eyes, Straitjacket’s eyes gloss over with a blindsiding rush of tears, and they let out a pitiful wail.

“Wah!” Two small hands disappear under purple bangs to wipe raggedly under their eyes. Shuuichi flinches so hard he nearly falls off the bed himself, hands floating in the air in guilt, trying to find some way to remedy this — whatever this is.

“I can’t believe the n-new kid pushed me! I think I have a concussion, ow!” Shuuichi is given a nasty look from beneath the person’s bangs as they bring a hand to hold the side of their head. Shuuichi finds himself mirroring the action, touching lightly with the pads of his fingers at the source — or, at least, one of them — of his pain. 

He freezes.

He’s injured because he was in a car accident. He — he and Rantarou were in a car accident. If he’s hurt, that means Rantarou must be, too, because whatever they hit — a deer? A really, really big deer? — smashed into Rantarou’s side. Is he okay? Why is he with these people he doesn’t know? Where is Byakuya, where is Makoto, where—

“Oi, shut up already, Kokichi! New Kid actually has a concussion, and your cryin’ is just making it worse!” 

“Where am I?” The many eyes in the room zero in on him. He pulls the blankets up over his nose. ‘Where’s Rantarou?”

“God, what is taking Mr. Ko so long? My arm hurts, nyeh. . .” 

Shuuichi doesn’t have time to feel offended at being ignored as he takes in the people populating the room for the first time. He’s the only one laying down, but considering some of the current afflictions some of the other occupants were dealing with, Shuuichi almost wanted to offer the bed to someone else.

A girl with red hair cut in a neat bob cut and wearing a Halloween witch hat clutches at an obviously dislocated arm. She yawns when she catches Shuuichi’s eye.

There’s the person on the floor, wails quieted down into sniffling as they bicker with someone wrapped up in a. . .net? Whose volume steadily rises with every word out of their mouth. Sat on a spinny chair is a blonde girl reading a magazine upside down, and in the far corner. . .

Someone is holding their own head. Right in their hands.

Shuuichi yells, and promptly falls out of the bed.

“The new kid sure is jumpy. . .” The dislocated arm wiggles grotesquely as the girl points at him. 

“You’re holding your own head.” Shuuichi resists the urge to point, feeling it to be a little more rude than he’s comfortable with. The blonde girl drops the magazine onto the floor and gives Shuuichi a bright smile, getting to her feet.

“Glad to see you’ve rejoined the land of the living! I’ll go get Nagito.” She winks at him as she turns to leave. Shuuichi wants to say something, ask what on earth is happening, figure out where Rantarou is, but the words die on his tongue as he watches her leave.

“Kokichi, shut up with the crying already, would you? You get more and more obnoxious every second, I swear!” The person in the net jabs an accusatory finger towards the purple-haired person who fell onto the floor.

“But Kaito!” Their eyes water again, bottom lip wobbling almost comically. “I’m so hurt! New Kid is so mean for bullying me!”

“I didn’t — I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to—”

‘Kokichi’ giggles, all remnants of the previous tears forgotten. “Just kidding! That was toootally a lie. As if you could bully me, a light breeze would blow you over!” 

Their smile becomes unkind. “‘Sides, I’d just kill you if you really tried!”

Shuuichi blanches, totally at a loss for words. “Wh—”

A door opens, hitting against the wall of the cabin hard enough to make Shuuichi flinch. He looks to the entrance just in time to see a man, looking to be in his mid-twenties, with messy-looking white hair and an uncomfortable-looking sunburn across his cheeks step into the cabin, and promptly groan. As he surveys the room, Shuuichi notes the many offbeat things about his appearance, feeling his discomfort rise: his sickly pale face, his long, gangly limbs, the too-big-looking blue t-shirt with lettering Shuuichi can’t make out, the long, single glove covering all the way up to his left elbow. 

“I believe I only left one of you in here to supervise our new addition, no?” The man sighs breathily, pinching the bridge of his nose. “So why is half of my camp in the infirmary?”

Everyone begins to speak at once. The man lifts his non-gloved hand to silence them, and then looks at Shuuichi, a small smile on his face. “Just a moment, please. Also, whatever Kokichi did to bring you onto the floor, you’re free to return to your bed.”

He does, too overwhelmed to speak.

The man turns to the red-haired girl, the corners of his mouth dipping into a light frown. “Himiko, what did you do to your arm?”

She blinks blearily up at him, shaking the arm for emphasis as she speaks. “I fell out of a tree.”

“And why were you in a tree?” 

“Tenko and I were. . .dropping water balloons on the boys as they,” she pauses for a moment to yawn,  “. . .passed underneath us.” 

The man exhales harshly through his nose and mutters to himself for a moment. No one seems particularly concerned. “I’ll need to put it back into place.”

“I made it fall asleep. I can’t feel it, nyeh.” Once again she shakes the arm. Kokichi makes gagging noises from the floor.

“Wonderful.” The man’s smile is painfully forced. He takes the arm into his hands and spends a few moments popping it loudly back into place. Shuuichi feels himself go green. 

“What are you doing to Himiko!” A frankly pissed off voice accompanies the visual of a girl catapulting herself in through one of the windows, landing on her feet and entering an offensive stance in front of Himiko. The man watches her with half-lidded eyes, blinking so slowly that it makes Shuuichi wonder if he is as caught off guard by all of this as he is.

“I fixed her arm, Tenko.” 

“Tenko will avenge you, Himiko! Hi- yaaah!” The floor creaks with the weight of the man as Tenko flips him and slams him into the floor, earning spatters of giggles from around the room. Tenko turns back to Himiko, picking her up and racing towards the door. 

“Tenko will take you to Angie, Angie will fix you pain-free!” 

The door slams behind the two of them. Shuuichi can’t keep his jaw off the floor. 

“You’ll catch flies like that, New Kid,” Kokichi says thoughtfully from the floor, eyes on the man as he gets to his feet with a self-deprecating sigh. He turns to the person wrapped up in the net.

“Kaito, this is the third time this week this has happened, isn’t it?”

“W-Well, yeah, but!” Kaito gestures wildly with his hands — or, at least, as well as he can with both bound up quite securely in the confines of a sturdy-looking net. “It’s different this time!”

“You mean it didn’t happen because you’re an idiot this time?” Kokichi giggles as Kaito’s face goes red. 

“No, asshole! It happened ‘cause Maki Roll and I had an incredible sparrin’ match, and the cannon shot at the wrong time!” 

“Hm,” is all the man says, a bemused smile on his face. 

“Kaito, I think you need to accept that the net cannon is a bad idea,” the blonde girl supplies, bouncing on the balls of her feet. 

“No way! I’m so close, I can feel it!”

The man rubs his chin thoughtfully, appraising Kaito with a grin on his face. In his other hand is a pair of scissors that Shuuichi didn’t see him grab. “Perhaps it could use some reworking.”

“Komaeda, no! This is my last net! Kirumi said she wouldn’t help me make anymore after this one, don’t cut it!”

Komaeda shakes his head in sympathy. “It would take hours to even attempt to untangle, and I just don’t have that kind of time right now, I’m afraid.” 

Kokichi snickers as Komaeda gets to work cutting Kaito out of the net. Shuuichi thinks he may hear sniffling from Kaito as he kicks the ruined net away from himself dejectedly, but he can’t be sure, as a moment later he’s being thrown a blinding smile and a thumbs up.

“It’s a shame, but I won’t sweat the little stuff! That’s what I always say.” 

Shuuichi can see his outfit for the first time, unobscured by the net. He’s wearing a galaxy-print hoodie and slippers. 

“Goodbye, Kaito,” Komaeda says, voice light but holding a clear implication of ‘please get out now.’ Kaito slaps him good-naturedly on the back, sending him stumbling; he stares blankly into space, an uncomfortable looking grin on his face, as Kaito waves the rest of the room goodbye — save for Kokichi — and exits the cabin.

Komaeda blinks the haze from his eyes, gives Shuuichi an odd smile, and spins on his heel to face the person who was holding their own head. 

Frankly, Shuuichi would have made that the priority within the cabin, but.

“Kiibo, what on earth happened?”

“W-Well!” The head goes bright red, eyes scrunched up in. . .embarrassment? “Miu was — she recently obtained some new parts! And she wanted to, ah, make some modifications to my hardware!” 

Oh. It’s a robot. Because of course.

“Ew, nasty Miu wanted to poke around in your insides?” Shuuichi feels himself go red at the implication. ‘Kiibo’ lets out a whine, head dropping from their hands as they begin to gesticulate feverishly with them. The head clangs metallically against the floor, jumping Shuuichi out of his skin. Kiibo’s head lets out a pitiful ‘ow!’ as it rolls away from the deep dent now left in the floor.

“Kokichi! Don’t say such vulgar things, it’s embarrassing!” Kiibo’s body struggles to pick up their head off the floor. Once it’s upright and back in their arms, they fix Kokichi with an unimpressed scowl. 

“What? It’s true!” 

“Mr. Nagito, please make him stop!” 

Komaeda sighs, sinking into the spinny chair that the blonde girl had left vacated when she’d gotten up. 

“So,” he says after a long moment, interrupting the growing argument between the two, “you’re saying Miu took your head off while she was trying to make modifications to your body?”

Does this sound insane to anyone else? Or is it just Shuuichi?

“Not exactly.” Kiibo looks sheepish, cheeks once again going red. “I, ah, told Miu that perhaps we should wait until w-we talked to you, because of what happened last time,” ‘last time’? “But she was, ah, v-very excited! So I was running away to come find you, when I tripped, a-and. . .”

“Kiibo, you tripped and — and your head fell off?” The blonde girl looks as though she’s trying her hardest to suppress a fit of laughter. Kokichi, on the other hand, is openly rolling on the floor, tears streaming down his face as he giggles.

“Are you making fun of me?” Kiibo asks incredulously, turning their head in their hands to point a glare at her. Her face is bright red and there are tears leaking out of her eyes as she shakes her head. 

Komaeda clears his throat. “Kiibo, we can talk about this later. Come here so I can fix you.”

As they march forward, there’s a pout on their face. “Mr. Nagito, I have to say, I think I object to you saying ‘fix you’! The implication that there is something wrong with me on the basis of me being a robot is very robophobic, and frankly I’m very disapp—”

Their schpiel is cut short as Komaeda takes the head from Kiibo’s hands and without preamble slams it back down onto their neck. Kiibo shrieks, the sound a string of electronic garbling that hurts Shuuichi’s aching head. 

“Ow!” Kiibo’s eyes spin wildly in their. . .sockets? 

“Robots can’t feel pain, Kiibaby’s totally faking it,” Kokichi says to Shuuichi matter-of-factly, snickering at the new round of protests the sentiment brings on.

“If you’re all set, Kiibo, I need to speak with our new addition.” Komaeda’s smile is polite, if a little forced-looking. Kiibo spares another glare in Kokichi’s direction before nodding, hands on their hips.

“Understood. Shall I finish setting up the new kid’s room?” At Komaeda’s nod, Kiibo claps their hands, looking to Shuuichi. “Not to worry, I’ll decorate it to the best of my ability! I have studied Mr. Nagito’s many interior design magazines, so I am equipped with—”

Komaeda stands and scoots Kiibo out the door, smiling embarrassedly. Kokichi and the blonde girl snicker.

“Now, you two.” He faces Kokichi. “What are you doing here?”

A finger is pointed in Shuuichi’s direction. “New Kid tried to kill me!”

Komaeda sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “No, he didn’t, Kokichi. If that’s all, then. . .”

Kokichi jumps to his feet, jutting his lip out and clutching at Komaeda’s shirt. “But Nagitooo—”

“No. Please go find someone else to bother until he’s settled.”

The upset on his face quickly turns to unrestrained mischief as a smile cracks his mouth open and he giggles. “Well, since I have your permission, I’m gonna go put rocks in your pillows! Byeee, New Kid!” 

The door slams shut, settling the room into uncomfortable silence. Left with only two strangers instead of an entire crowd, Shuuichi finds it a little less intimidating, but not by much. Both Komaeda and the girl stare at him with equally indecipherable expressions.

“Where am I?” Shuuichi tries, voice small even in the quiet of the room. Both stares turn sadder, and it only turns Shuuichi’s stomach all the more. “Where is Rantarou? And who are you?”

“One thing at a time, okay?” Komaeda comes closer, and looks for a moment like he’s considering taking a seat on the edge of the bed, but at the last minute thinks better of it and instead idles awkwardly a few feet away. 

“My name is Nagito Komaeda. I’m a camp counselor here at Camp Hope’s Peak.” He gestures to his shirt which does, in fact, boast the camp’s name. Shuuichi stares in silence, waiting for answers to the rest of his questions. “You can call me Ko, Komaeda, Mr. Ko, or Mr. Komaeda. Don’t let the others convince you otherwise.”

Komaeda laughs breathily to himself, eyes momentarily unfocused. Shuuichi doesn’t laugh with him.

“You’re Shuuichi Saihara, right?” He nods mutely. “And you know Rantarou Togami.” 

Hearing his name fills him with hope that someone knows where he is. He nods again, much harder than before. 

“Are you. . .” Shuuichi pauses, mind glazing over a hazy memory of a breathy, lilting voice in the midst of darkness. “I heard you. Before, you were at the. . .” Shuuichi can’t bring himself to say the words. “Right?”

Komaeda nods. “I was the one Rantarou called. He asked me to pick you up and bring you to camp.”

Shuuichi brightens, eyes searching around the room, greedy for any sign of Rantarou. Komaeda’s face darkens as he does so, and he stops, confused. 

“Where is he?”

“Kaede.” Komaeda turns to the blonde girl, who perks up at — presumably — her name being spoken. “Go get Hajime, please. He’s better at these sorts of conversations.”

She frowns, cheeks puffing out. “But—”

“Please.” Komaeda smiles in Kaede’s direction until she sighs and leaves the cabin. After a moment, his attention refocuses on Shuuichi.

“I understand the impatience you’re feeling, but please forgive me for not being able to answer your questions.” He smiles. “And please allow me to ask you a few questions of my own.”

Shuuichi doesn’t answer, too distracted by the unease taking hold of his insides. Komaeda continues on despite his lack of an answer. 

“What is the last thing you remember before waking up here?”

He has to take a moment to think. “I. . .I was in the car with Rantarou. We had just left his house, because—” Shuuichi clams up, flashes of blood pools and unending rows of teeth and unblinking, blank eyes taking the words from his mouth. He pulls a hand to his mouth, a rush of nausea threatening to make him empty his stomach.

The idea makes his stomach seize up. Hunger gnaws at him, but the thought of eating anything is. . .

“A-Anyways, we were driving, and Rantarou was saying strange things I didn’t understand. That I would be learning new things. . .?”

“He wasn’t wrong,” Komaeda says softly, running a hand through his hair. His fingers seem to tangle up somewhere, because he has to spend a few moments pulling his hand free. “I suppose I should start somewhere familiar. How much do you know?”

Shuuichi blinks, utterly lost. “Know about what?”

“About what you are.” Shuuichi’s confusion must show on his face, because all of a sudden Komaeda’s eyebrow shoots up, and he pins Shuuichi with an incredulous look. “Did — did no one tell you?”

“Tell me about what?” Shuuichi asks sort of desperately. Komaeda bursts into uncomfortable laughter, burying his head in his hands.

“Oh, wow, I knew those two were protective, but this is just. . .” He regains his composure a moment later, still not quite meeting Shuuichi’s eye. “Oh- kay. This is, hm, I didn’t expect this at all. Okay.” 

Komaeda takes a deep breath. “I know this is going to sound really unbelievable, but you just have to listen, okay? Shuuichi, you’re a demigod. You know what that means, right?”

Shuuichi thought he did, but apparently he doesn’t, because the definition he’s thinking of certainly doesn’t make sense in this context. Nevertheless he nods, feigning understanding.

“Okay, okay! Good. That’s good. Well, you are. And you. . .” Komaeda walks over to one of the tables decorating the room, and picks up a small file with Shuuichi’s last name brandished on the front. He licks his pointer finger and flips through a few pages, before stopping on one. “You lived with your mom, right?”

Shuuichi nods. 

“And you never knew who your dad was.” Shuuichi nods again. “Well, the reason for that is because your dad is a god. So you’re half-god.”

“Ah, what?” Shuuichi asks, because, ah, what? 

Just where on earth is he?

Komaeda chuckles, picking idly at his glove. “So is Rantarou. I was under the impression you at least knew that, but from the look on your face, I’m guessing I was wrong?” 

Very, very wrong. 

“Look,” Shuuichi begins, his unease and anxiety since waking up, and his irritation at not being told about Rantarou spilling out of his mouth, “I don’t know what’s happening here. But this is all crazy. I just want to know where Rantarou is, and you — you telling me fairy tales instead of where my brother is, is really just cruel.”

“I’m not lying, or telling stories, or anything like that,” Komaeda replies, hands up defensively, “but I understand where you’re coming from. I do, promise. I’ve been doing this for hundreds of years, so I get why you’re upset. You’ll understand with time.”

Wait.

‘Hundreds of years’?

“‘Hundreds of years’?” Shuuichi asks, eyebrows shooting into his hairline. Komaeda laughs, looking sheepish. 

“You caught me. Hold on, let me reintroduce myself.” He waves, smiling brightly. “My name is Nagito Komaeda, and I’m the God of Luck. I’m one of the two camp counselors here at Camp Hope’s Peak, a summer camp for demigods, and I have been for a long time.”

“Okay. I’m still passed out after getting hurt. Okay.” Shuuichi takes in a deep breath and lays down rather forcefully in the bed, hiking the blankets up over his head. “Time to go to sleep and wake up in a hospital, next to Rantarou, with Byakuya and Makoto telling me I’m grounded. Okay. Nice meeting you.”

The door creaks open. Shuuichi stays underneath the covers. 

“Ah, that’s my cue to leave. I have a lot of paperwork to do. I’ll see you around, okay, Shuuichi?” Komaeda doesn’t wait for a response before exiting the cabin, leaving Shuuichi with a different stranger. Whoever it is walks across the floor, and the sound of the spinning chair being rolled towards the bed makes Shuuichi — hesitantly — pull the blankets down far enough to make eye contact with Mr. Hinata.

Wait.

Mr. Hinata?!

“M-Mr. Hinata?” Shuuichi scrambles into a sitting position, eyes bug-eyed as he takes in the sight of his history teacher sitting backwards in the chair. He smiles gently.

One of his eyes glows red.

“It’s nice to see you again, Shuuichi.” Mr. Hinata’s smile dampens slightly, eyes focused intently on Shuuichi. “I just wish circumstances were a little better. How are you feeling?”

“Sore. Ah, confused. Anxious, too. Mostly anxious.” Shuuichi tries his best not to stare, but he can’t keep his eyes away from Mr. Hinata’s face. The red eye is literally glowing. “Your, ah, your eye is red.”

Instead of being offended, Mr. Hinata laughs, smile kind. “There’s a lot about me you don’t know. I’m going to change that.” He sticks a hand out towards Shuuichi. “First off, I’m not really a history teacher, so you don’t have to call me ‘Mr. Hinata’ anymore. Hajime is fine. Nice to meet you.”

Shuuichi shakes the offered hand, feeling awkward. As Hajime pulls his hand back, he sighs. “So I imagine it’s time for me to fill you in. Is there a starting point you’re comfortable going from?”

Shuuichi takes a moment to consider his starting question. “Where. . .am I?”

“Camp Hope’s Peak.”

Okay. That, at least, checks out. “And why am I here?”

“Rantarou called Nagito and arranged for him to bring the two of you here.”

“Why summer camp?”

“Because it’s the safest place on earth for endangered demigods.”

Shuuichi blanches. “Demigods?” 

Hajime nods. “You, and Rantarou, and everyone here except for Nagito and I.”

“So he’s really — and that means you, you’re—” Hajime quirks an eyebrow up, and Shuuichi groans. “You’re actually. . .like, a God?” Hajime nods. “You’re a God. And you taught my history class about Gods. And I never listened in your class.”

He buries his head in his hands, embarrassed. Hajime pats him awkwardly on the shoulder as someone laughs. He looks up, surprised, and finds Kaede peeking around the curtain. When they make eye contact she waves and comes to sit at the foot of the bed. 

“So, yes, you’re half-god. So is Rantarou. I know who his godly parent is, but I’m not sure about you.”

“Oh, I — I don’t know. No one ever said anything, not even my mom. So I don’t. . .” He trails off, suddenly self conscious. Hajime shrugs. 

“That’s fine, in the grand scheme of things it’s unimportant, anyways; it’s more a fun fact to share with the other campers than anything else.” 

“Oh. Okay.” Shuuichi fidgets with the hem of the blanket. “So, ah, who is Rantarou’s, um, ‘godly parent’?” 

“Oh my god, Hajime, I know you said he was flunking your history class,” Shuuichi goes red with mortification as Kaede stage-whispers, “but how did he not realize he was living with two gods?”

“What?” Shuuchi shakes his head. “No, Byakuya and Makoto aren’t, they can’t—” He looks at Hajime pleadingly, hoping for some semblance of normalcy to remain. “. . .They can’t be.”

“They are,” Hajime says, smiling a little too much for his faux-sympathetic tone to really mean anything. He pats Shuuichi on the back. “The Gods of Wealth and Friendship, actually.” 

Shuuichi suppresses a snort. If it’s real, it’s certainly fitting. 

“I feel sort of like I’m going crazy,” Shuuichi tells Hajime emphatically, “I’m apparently a demigod, so is my best friend, his parent’s are Gods—”

“—Makoto is a Big Five God, too, so that means he’s one of the more powerful ones! Just like Hajime!” Kaede cuts in. Shuuichi stares at her blankly.

“Okay, great, that too. Now it turns out my history teacher is also a God, and everyone else in the world knew this before me.” Shuuichi forces a smile, feeling sort of hysterical. “I am totally cool with all of this.”

He is not totally cool about all of this. 

“Well, that’s good news, because this next bit. . .” Hajime’s smile drops into a frown, his hands playing idly with his tie. Kaede, too, loses some of her cheery aura; though a small smile remains, her face becomes a little less bright, morphs into something a little too much like pity for Shuuichi to be comfortable looking at.

“You were in a car crash. That was almost three days ago.” Shuuichi freezes up all at once, hands suddenly going clammy as he waits with bated breath for Hajime to continue. 

“When Nagito and Kaede got to the site of the crash, the car was totaled.” The pitying looks on Hajime’s and Kaede’s faces amp up in intensity, and Shuuichi suddenly begins shaking his head, tears welling up in his eyes.

Please don’t say it. Please don’t say that Rantarou is dead. 

Please

“When they got there, you were the only one in the car.” Kaede’s hand finds his and grasps it firmly. He can hear his breath begin to hiccup in his ears. “You were the only one there, and we don’t know where he is, but we are doing our best to find him.”

“You mean that — I wasn’t hallucinating when I saw,” he swallows around the lump in his throat, “when that. . . thing t-took him?”

“I’m sorry,” is what Hajime says. Shuuichi shakes his head, pulls his hand away from Kaede and into his lap. 

“H-How can you not know? If you’re a god, aren’t you — why can’t you find him?” he demands, sudden anger pumping in tandem with blood through his veins. Hajime sighs.

“It doesn’t work like that — I don’t work like that.” He pauses. “But there are gods who do have a penchant for finding people, and they’re working their hardest to find him. All we can do right now is wait and try not to make ourselves miserable over what might be happening.”

Shuuichi nods, wiping at his eyes, feeling miserable despite Hajime’s attempts to steer him otherwise. He shuts his eyes against his headache, the suddenly more pressing at the day’s revelations. 

“Do his dads know?”

Hajime winces. “They know Rantarou’s missing, yes.” 

Shuuichi grimaces.

“Hey, Hajime.” Kaede stands up from the bed. “What if we introduce Shuuichi to everyone? I know we’re just waiting for news right now, but I know everyone wants to meet him, and it would be good to get out of the infirmary, right?”

He can’t really think of anything he’d rather be doing less than being forced to meet a bunch of people he doesn’t know and who are just going to pity him. Especially after he’s been crying and unconscious for three days and hit with the feeling he had when his mom died all over again. 

“It’s up to Shuuichi.” Hajime places a hand on his shoulder and he looks up, not quite meeting his eyes. Kaede smiles reassuringly behind him, and he rubs at his eyes, feeling like he’s being cornered in the friendliest way possible.

He shrugs, not feeling up to committing to one answer over another. Kaede nods, pumping her fist, and crouches down by the edge of the bed, the sound of rummaging accompanying the movement. Her head pops back up a moment later, and she places Shuuichi’s duffle bag onto the bed by his feet. 

“Your other bag and your bat are in your cabin. Oh!” She moves over to a stray box on the floor and pulls out a blue t-shirt with ‘Camp Hope’s Peak’ emblazoned on the front. She wads it up and tosses it towards him. “You can change into that if you want, or you can just get something out of your bag. The clothes you’re wearing now are a little wrecked, so we’ll let you get changed.”

Hajime stands, offering him one last squeeze on the shoulder before leaving the cabin. Kaede flashes Shuuichi a smile as she pulls the white curtain across the stall, leaving him in private silence to gather his thoughts.

He looks down at his hands, really takes in his appearance for the first time since waking up; Kaede was right, he is a wreck. The hoodie and pants he wore in the car were all but destroyed, soaked through with varying amounts of dirt, blood, and sweat. He pulls the hoodie off quickly, dropping it to the floor with a shudder, feeling itchy just thinking about how long he had it on. 

He digs around in his bag for a moment, feeling a new rush of grief as his hands pause over the stuffed bear Rantarou won him. He pulls it along with one of his binders and his deodorant from his bag, quickly applying a generous amount of the latter and shuffling on the former before settling down on the bed, the bear in his arms.

Secured around its neck is the bracelet Shuuichi won Rantarou at the arcade, and that alone sets him off sobbing again.

Rantarou is missing — Shuuichi will not think the word ‘dead,’ not even to himself — and all that he has left of him is a stuffed animal and a piece of plastic.

It’s not fair. 

Everything was okay just a few days ago. He was happy. He fell asleep in his history class, and played video games with his best friend, and got grounded for sneaking out, and it was normal. Shuuichi was a normal, unassuming teenager, and his trait of greatest note was the fact that his guardians were rich.

He buries his face in the bear, the cheap felt of its fur scratchy against his cheeks. He forces himself to take large, deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling through the fabric until his hiccuped breathing turned shaky but manageable, and all that remained of his previous tears were wet stains on the plush and sticky trails on his cheeks.

Shuuichi pulls his face away and gentle removes the bracelet from around the bear’s neck, securing it around his wrist a moment later. For good measure he ties the pull strings of both his and Rantarou’s bracelets together, wipes at his eyes once more, and pulls on the shirt Kaede gave to him.

Along with fresh underwear and a pair of jeans, he fishes out his hat as well, pushing it onto his head as he stoops down to pull on his shoes. Satisfied as he can be, Shuuichi piles his belongings back into his bag (including the ruined clothes; though he doesn’t want to, leaving them on the floor felt wrong) and pulls back the curtain, eyeing the door warily.

As an afterthought he goes back to his bag and retrieves his phone, pushing it into his pocket before walking towards the door and opening it.

Immediately a warm breeze blows across his face, and as he makes his way down the two stairs he sort of relishes the feeling of sunlight falling onto his arms and face, feeling his lack of sunlight these past few days in full force. The sound of birds chirping calls his attention to the fact that they’re somewhere in the woods, trees surrounding the large open space the cabin and a few others were situated in quite thickly. He thinks he may hear water somewhere farther away.

“You all ready?” Shuuichi nods in response to Hajime’s question, pulling at the edge of his shirt a little self consciously. They move past the infirmary, and after a few moments Kaede joins them, in the process of pulling her hair into a ponytail.

“I just realized that I didn’t really introduce myself back there, sorry,” she says with a light laugh, using her hand as a visor against the sun as she turns to look at Shuuichi. “I’m Kaede Akamatsu! I was with Nagito when he brought you back to camp.”

“I remember hearing you talking. You said I was heavy.” 

She laughs, going a little red. Shuuichi hears Hajime snort from his other side. “As if someone like she should worry about being heavy.” She gestures to herself vaguely, and Shuuichi doesn’t really know how to respond without sounding like an asshole. “Anyways, sorry about that. But it’s nice to actually talk to you! You had me scared back at the wreck.”

“Yeah.” Shuuichi scratches at his arm awkwardly, trying to think of what to say. “So, ah, who is your. . .god?”

Kaede bursts into sudden laughter, and Shuuichi looks down, embarrassed. “No, it’s okay! It’s just been so long since someone’s asked me, I guess. My mom is Sayaka, the Goddess of Music.”

“Oh, that’s cool. I guess there’s always music playing at your house, right?”

“Oh, no. I live at camp all year.” Her smile dampens for a moment, but soon it’s back in place, and she reaches in front of Shuuichi to flick Hajime’s arm. “I’ve been here so long I’m like a mini-camp counselor!” 

“Really?”

“It’s true,” Hajime cuts in, rolling his eyes a bit. “I remember you protested outside of Nagito’s office for hours until he let you be his assistant.”

“You can be smug all you want, at least I get paid,” she counters, sharing a laugh with Hajime before settling into silence. As they walk, Shuuichi glances over at her, getting a real read on her appearance for the first time.

She’s pretty, the sort of pretty that makes Shuuichi get intimidated and shy. Her blonde hair is short, with just enough length that she can put it up into a ponytail. She is fat in all the places Shuuichi is thin, with round cheeks and soft-looking hands and large, solid legs. As she walks she seems to bounce to a music Shuuichi can’t hear; her steps are heavy, confident, much like everything else he observes about her. Her dress is casual but cute, in a pair of what looks to be self-tie dyed overall shorts and a pink tank top. 

All of her exposed skin — face, legs, arms — is heavily freckled, and there’s a hint of a sunburn touching the apples of her cheeks and the tops of her shoulders. Her eyes cut over to meet Shuuichi’s, and he finds himself feeling less embarrassed than he probably should when she offers him a warm smile instead of an affronted look.

She takes him by the arm and pulls them to a stop in front of a large, two-story cabin. Every available inch of outdoor space is covered in various planters filled with a vast array of different flowers. 

“This is Nagito and Hajime’s cabin,” she explains, dropping Shuuichi’s arm and using both hands to gesture to various aspects of the building. “We’re not technically supposed to go in there, but I have special privileges because I’m Nagito’s assistant!” 

“No, you don’t,” Hajime corrects, rolling his eyes. “No, she doesn’t. Stay out of our house.”

Kaede sticks her tongue out at him and continues walking. 

The counselor’s cabin is much more central to the rest of the camp, as far as Shuuichi can tell; as he turns around to follow after Kaede, he can make out several buildings and other landmarks around the large clearing. A garage and what looks to be an RV are situated immediately to the left of Hajime’s house, and just beyond that stands a large, unassuming wooden building that Shuuichi can not immediately discern the purpose of. His focus is caught for a few moments on what looks to be a small outdoor amphitheatre, but it’s soon gone from his vision as Kaede leads the three of them around one of the larger buildings Shuuichi can see. 

“We have communal bathrooms here,” Hajime says as the gender markers over each door come into view. “There are toilets in each cabin, but showers and additional toilets are in here.” Hajime approaches the men’s side of the building and pushes open the door, holding it for the two of them.

“We’re working on getting the gender marker’s taken off, yes Kaede, I haven’t ignored the notes you and Kiibo have been leaving on my desk, but since everything here runs through the gods, it’s a long process, so — wait, why are the lights off in here?”

As he verbalizes his question he flicks the light switch on, revealing that they are not the only ones in the bathroom.

There’s a strange circle drawn on the floor, outlined with various candles, and in the middle of the ghastly display is a person.

Shuuichi looks at Kaede and Hajime pleadingly. The former takes the sudden awkward silence to slip back out the door, while the latter seems intent on permanently denting his temples with how hard he’s rubbing them.

“Oh, it seems we’ve been interrupted,” the person in the middle of the. . .whatever that is says, a chuckle in their soft voice. They sit up, yellow eyes reminiscent of a cat’s in both color and intensity as they give Shuuichi a once over. Satisfied, they laugh again, the sound somewhat muffled by the mask over their face.

“Of all the days. . .” Hajime grumbles, stepping into the middle of the room and systematically blowing out the candles. Shuuichi, for the first time, notices there’s another person in the bathroom: a short boy wearing a blue hoodie and ripped jeans sat up on one of the sinks, eyes on his phone. When he notices Shuuichi he glances up, inclining his head in acknowledgement. 

“Are you putting an end to our ritual, Hajime?”

“Your ritual. I’m just here because Kiyo said I couldn’t shower until they finished.” The boy pulls his hood over his head, and Shuuichi is relieved that the action keeps him from seeing Shuuichi’s reaction to his oddly deep voice. “What a great first impression to make on the new kid.” 

Hajime runs a few handfuls of paper towels underneath the tap for a few moments, and then forcefully hands it to the person conducting the ‘ritual,’ who has since stood up and began dusting themselves off. They stare at it for a few moments, hesitantly take it, and then a few moments later discard it onto the ground. Shuuichi smother an uncomfortable laugh as Hajime begins cursing under his breath, stooping onto his knees to begin scrubbing at the drawings on the floor.

“Any other time I would welcome someone new into my practices, but I’m afraid it’s all coming undone now. . .” They idly push a lock of long, straight hair behind their shoulder and focus their attention of Shuuichi. He sort of feels as though he’s craning his neck just to look them in the eye. “Yes, how intriguing. . .our new addition is quite a specimen, Hajime.”

“Don’t call him a specimen,” Hajime says irritably from the floor, taking the words right out of Shuuichi’s mouth. Nonetheless, he smiles — if a bit uneasily — up at the person, who in return raises their eyebrows in an approximation of what Shuuichi thinks is meant to be a smile. 

“Please pardon our strange meeting, and allow me to introduce myself. My name is Korekiyo Shinguji.” Another maybe-smile from behind the mask. “I invite you to call me Kiyo.”

“N-Nice to meet you,” Shuuichi replies, hoping his smile isn’t too uncomfortable. “I’m Shuuichi.” 

“What a precious name,” Kiyo says thoughtfully, a finger pressed to their chin. Shuuichi quite honestly does not know how to respond to that, so he doesn’t; he instead turns to the boy on the sink, who has since returned his attention to his phone.

“Ryoma Hoshi,” Kiyo says, stooping down to gather up some of the candles adorning the floor. Ryoma looks up at the mention of his name, and offers a tiny twitch of his lips in response, but nothing further. 

It’s at this point Kaede steps back into the bathroom, hands over her eyes. “Shuuichi, no one’s naked, right? Can I look?”

“Not that kind of ritual, Kaede,” Kiyo says, a hint of humor in their voice. Kaede pulls her hands from her face and laughs, replying, “maybe not this time.”

Just what the hell goes on here?

“Oh!” Kaede waves her hands around for a moment, waiting until she’s garnered the room’s attention before continuing. “Shuuichi just learned about god stuff today, so you guys should tell him about your parents! Give him a little culture lesson.”

Kiyo perks up significantly, eyes zeroing in on Shuuichi. “Oh, what an honor it is to introduce a new pupil to our world!” Their eyes widen, expression absolutely delighted. 

“The realm of the gods is a very interesting one, and there is so much lore to be explored! I myself do not personally ascribe to all of the beliefs commonly held by ones such as myself, but—”

Shuuichi blanches. “Wait, what do you mean? You don’t believe this stuff?”

Kiyo looks a bit annoyed to have been interrupted. Before they can counter, Kaede cuts in with, “Kiyo has a lot of background knowledge on other cultures and deities and stuff, and they’re really interested in studying other cultures anyways, so they have different views on the gods than the rest of us! And as much as Shuuichi would love to listen to one of your anthropology lectures,” Kaede shoots him a subtle wink, “we’re trying to go around and meet everyone before dinner, so maybe we can just start with your mom?”

Kiyo straightens, shrugging their shoulders. “Ah, of course. My parentage is that of the Goddess of Literature; that is to say, my mother is Touko. She introduced to me a dear love of knowledge and literary exploration, which of course influenced my passion for—”

“Wait.” Shuuichi’s voice is doing that thing it does where it gets all scratchy and choked sounding. He feels his eye twitch. “Touko? You said Touko?”

“That’s correct. . .?”

“Touko? Like the Touko that’s married to Komaru Naegi?”

Kiyo looks surprised. “I did not expect someone with such entry-level godly knowledge to know who my godly parent is married to, how interesting. . .”

“You’re Touko’s kid?” Kiyo nods. Shuuichi laughs, the sound sort of choked, and Kaede gives him an odd look. He flushes, embarrassed at his outburst. “It’s nothing bad! It’s just, ah, Komaru is Ra — my best friend’s aunt, so that means. . .”

“Rantarou, yes.” Hearing his name makes Shuuichi feel a bit ill. “Yes, Byakuya and Makoto’s son. . .I suppose one could call us cousins.” Kiyo shrugs. “It amazes me how small our world seems at times.”

“Uh, yeah.” Shuuichi looks to Ryoma, desperate for an out of this. . . weird conversation with his sort-of-psuedo-maybe-cousin. “What about you?”

“Hm.” Ryoma jumps down from the sink, shuffling his feet. “My dad is. . .no, nevermind. It’s not important.”

“Ryoma’s like me,” Kaede tells Shuuichi gently, a small frown on her face. “Not so good parents,” she clarifies, looking a bit awkward. He’s sort of sorry he asked. 

“But that’s okay!” She suddenly brightens and moves closer to Ryoma. “Because we get to live here and be friends! Yeah?”

“Right,” Ryoma replies gruffly, but his face is as close to a smile as Shuuichi’s seen. He drops his gaze to the floor and kicks idly at the floor.

“Since Kiyo’s all done, I’m gonna shower, but I don’t want to while there’s still a girl in here, so. . .” Kaede goes a little red and quickly heads towards the door, waving to Ryoma and Kiyo on her way out. 

Hajime stands a moment later, hair disheveled and looking as though he’s faced a thousand hardships. He drops the wet paper towels in a nearby garbage can, and pins Kiyo with a look. 

“No more ritual drawings,” he says, voice tinged with exasperation. Kiyo gently picks at their nails. “Seriously. They’re a pain in the ass to clean.”

“We’ll see.” They turn to face Shuuichi once more. “It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Shuuichi. Please feel free to seek me out, should you have anymore questions for me.”

Shuuichi nods, quick to follow Kaede out of the restroom. As soon as the door is shut behind him he gives Kaede an incredulous look. She simply laughs into her hand.

Hajime joins them a moment later, a long-suffering grimace on his face. “Please, let’s go anywhere but here.”

‘Anywhere but here’ ends up being the picnic area and adjacent fire pit only a short walk away from the bathrooms. Shuuichi reasons that the sound of water he heard earlier must have come from around here; the setup was within view of what looked to be a large lake, equipped with several paddle boats, canoes, and even an anchored dock a ways away from the shore.

A cluster of five picnic tables sat a short distance away from the unlit fire pit, some of them adorned with small notes of graffiti that showcased their apparent age and use. The stone fire pit a few yards away was large, larger than any Shuuichi had ever seen, and surrounded by four logs crafted into makeshift benches. His eyes lingered on the large bell hung up in the space between the picnic tables and the fire, but, discerning no visible use for it, he moves past it to focus on the girl holding a blowtorch to the pile of wood in the pit.

“This is where we eat when it’s nice out. Those of us here year-round eat in the mess hall most of the time, but the summer-only people like eating outside, so this picnic area gets used pretty much every day during the summer.” Kaede turns away from where she was previously gesticulating towards the tables, and falls silent as she catches view of the girl who looked as though she was attempting to DIY herself a forest fire. 

“Miu.” The girl jumps in surprise as Hajime yells her name, quickly dumping something in the roaring fire she’s started. Hajime runs over towards her, Kaede and Shuuichi following close behind. 

Her startled expression quickly turns into one that Shuuichi can only describe as cocky as she looks at him. Scattered heavily across the bridge of her nose are dark freckles, and she, like Kaede, shows the hints of a sunburn. She pops one hip out — the action making the pink hoodie tied around her waist swish lightly — as she props her hand up on it and stares down at him with a leer. 

“Here to check out the goods, huh, New Kid?” She gestures vaguely to herself, and Shuuichi’s mouth goes dry. Her grin widens at his lack of response, and with a scoff she tosses some of her wild hair over her shoulder. “Can’t say’s I blame ya! If I were you, I’d be starin’ like a lovesick bitch across camp at me, too.”

While Shuuichi struggles to come up with any sort of appropriate response to that, Hajime cuts in, rubbing his forehead tiredly. “Why.” 

“‘Cause I’m the hottest bitch in this place, that’s w—”

“No, no. Why do you have a blowtorch, and why did you just set all of the wood on fire?” She ignores him in favor of staring down Shuuichi some more. He tries to make polite eye contact with her, but her expression morphs into one of disgust, and she pulls something from the pocket of her shorts and throws it at his head. 

“Fuckin’ perv, quit starin’ at me like that!”

“I’m not!” Shuuichi protests, looking to Kaede for help. She’s frowning, face red. 

“I guess I can’t expect you to be normal for even one conversation, huh?” Miu begins to sputter at that, grin dropping into a scowl. 

“S’a little early for you to be foamin’ at the mouth over New Kid, isn’t it?” 

Kaede burns bright red, hands clenched in tight fists at her sides. “Will you just introduce yourself to him so we can go talk to someone I don’t want to punch?”

Miu’s demeanor physically deflates into something much more submissive and uncomfortable, eyes watering. She turns to Hajime, who was busying himself with taking apart the blowtorch. “H-Hajime, Kaeidiot is embarrassing me in front of the new kid!” 

Hajime seems to be pointedly ignoring the exchange happening between the three of them. Getting nowhere she sighs, pulls back her original confidence, and shoots Shuuichi a wink. 

“Name’s Miu fuckin’ Iruma, the gorgeous golden girl of Camp Huge Penis.” She laughs heartily at herself, filling the space enough that Shuuichi only feels sort of awkward for not finding it that funny. “Hey, you’re not so much of a sad, cuck-lookin’ loser up close, y’know?”

He doubts ‘thank you’ is the appropriate response to that, so he doesn’t say it; instead, he offers his hand to her. “I’m Shuuichi Saihara.” 

“Don’t care!” Miu’s eyes find Kaede’s and she rolls her eyes, groaning loudly. “You’re a real pain in the dick today, y’know that? Fine. Nice to fuckin’ meet you. Happy?” 

“Definitely.” Kaede’s smile is forced, to put it lightly, but it softens several degrees when she turns to look at Shuuichi. “I’m sorry she’s such an embarrassment. I have this theory that she got all the crazy genes, and I got all the normal ones.”

“At least I got all the hots and the brains!” Miu protests loudly, sticking her tongue out at Kaede. Shuuichi stares between the two of them.

Both blonde (though their respective tones varied some), both on the taller and heavier side, both heavily freckled with very similar complexions, both with very blunt, forward personalities. . .

Could they be?

As Shuuichi was lost in thought Hajime had made his way over, the blowtorch in pieces next to the fire. He doesn’t look away from the two as their squabbling increases in volume. “Are they related?”

“Twins,” Hajime replies, loud enough for them both to hear, and they pause their fighting to look over. Kaede straightens out and smiles at Shuuichi, playing with a stray piece of her hair. 

“Same mom, different dads.” Kaede’s smile twitches at the confused look Shuuichi adopts. “I know, right?”

“It’s a shame a bombshell like me had to share a womb with her,” Miu pouts, slumping against one of the logs. “‘Least mom likes me more.”

“Not the accomplishment you think it is,” Kaede sing songs, sparing her sister a look, which is returned with a heartfelt middle finger in her direction. 

“It’s okay, I understand why you’re jealous of me and mom’s relationship. It must suck not to be loved by both your parents, huh?” 

“Enough,” Hajime cuts in sharply, startling Miu off the bench and falling onto the ground. “Go find something better to do than antagonizing people. Kiibo included. Nagito’s tired of having to put their head back on.” 

“F-Fine! It smells like whiny virgin over here anyways.” She pulls her hair over herself like a curtain as she stands. “See you later, cock goblins.”

She scrambles away without another word, leaving Shuuichi to stew in the aftermath of that whole encounter. Kaede tugs at his arm after a moment, and he follows, deciding it’s probably best to not spend too much time thinking about Kaede’s sister.

He’s led next into what must be the mess hall, if the large tables, serving station, and adjacent kitchen were anything to go by. It’s the biggest building he’s been in so far since he arrived at camp, and he spends a few moments marvelling at the ceiling, which served as one large skylight. The room glowed a honey yellow, no artificial light necessary, and for a simple building, he found himself charmed for the first time since waking up. 

“Kirumi!” Kaede calls at the same time Hajime mutters, “where is Kokichi?” 

Shuuichi looks into the kitchen area through the half wall stretching all the way across, and finds a pair of green eyes watching him. After a moment she waves, and Shuuichi finds himself reciprocating. 

Kaede leads him towards a door on the far end of the room, and once he’s entered the kitchen he’s greeted with the girl offering him a hand and a kind smile. He shakes it as she introduces herself.

“You must be Shuuichi. I’m Kirumi; it’s nice to meet you.” As she pulls her hand away she pushes up the sleeves of her green sweater, and turns to Hajime. “I hate to interrupt our introduction, but Hajime, my mother just called.”

“Anything new?” he asks, glancing around the kitchen for a moment before refocusing on her. Kirumi shakes her head. 

“Just that she’s still working, and that when she hears word that someone’s found something, she’ll call me. You’ll be the first to know.”

“Thank you.” Hajime shies away from the concerned look Shuuichi gives him. “Kirumi’s mother is helping search for Rantarou, and I’ve asked her to let me know when she finds something out.”

“I’m very sorry about your friend,” Kirumi says solemnly, shaking her head. “I’m truly hoping for a happy ending to this.” 

“Me, too.” Kaede pushes an elbow into his ribs gently. “Oh, ah, Kaede is having people talk about their godly parents, get me more acquainted with this stuff, so. . .”

“Of course!” she turns away, but motions for Shuuichi to follow as she moves across the kitchen, pulling open a few cupboards before huffing, seemingly annoyed. “Oh, Kokichi, why. . .”

“He bailed on dinner duty again?” Hajime asks, sounding exasperated. Kirumi hums.

“I sent him away, actually. He was being especially obnoxious, and now it seems he’s stolen the flour.” She turns to Shuuichi. “Oh, my apologies. My mother is Chihiro, the Goddess of Knowledge.”

“Chihiro’s so cool,” Kaede says reverently, a wistful smile on her face. “Kirumi, can you ask your mom to adopt me?”

“The next time she’s allowed to visit, feel free to ask,” she replies, a laugh in her voice. 

“‘Allowed to visit’?” Shuuichi asks, earning matching uncomfortable looks from the other three people in the room. Once again the feeling of being totally out of the loop permeates the air around him, and he tries to laugh off some of his embarrassment at being so clueless when it came to this stuff.

“Will you be all set to work on dinner tonight alone?” Hajime asks, ignoring Shuuichi. Kirumi nods. 

“Yes, but to avoid this issue in the future. . .” she smiles a little sheepishly, “perhaps he should no longer be assigned cooking duty.” 

“I’ll make sure this doesn’t happen again.” Hajime moves towards the door. “We’ll be off now, we still have a few more people to meet. Let me know as soon as you hear anything.”

Shuuichi exchanges pleasantries with Kirumi once more before leaving, and once they’ve left the dining hall and begun moving towards their next tour stop — from the direction they’re headed, Shuuichi guesses it’s the stage — he looks to Hajime for an explanation of his earlier question.

It’s Kaede that gives it to him. “Camp has been a lot of things over the years. When the gods first built it, it was intended as a place to train demigods to survive in a world among monsters and gods, but it’s changed over time. For a long time it was what you’d think — summer camp. Demis would come, get away from the human world for a little while, learn more about our parents and history and things like that.

“But, uhm, a few years ago — something happened. One of the Big Five Gods got really out of control, and forbid birth parents from seeing their children. And it left a lot of demis without a place to go, so the camp opened up for full-year residency. Probably about half of us are full year, and everyone else just doesn’t live with their parents.”

Shuuichi frowns. “But that doesn’t make sense. If the ‘Big Five’ are the most powerful out of all of the gods. . .” He looks to Hajime for verification; he nods. “Couldn’t the. . .other four, uhm, team up and stop them?”

“Doesn’t work like that,” Hajime says, sounding bitter. He waits for an elaboration, but none comes.

“But what about Rantarou? I guess it wouldn’t apply in my case, but he. . .” He freezes all of a sudden. “Unless that’s why he was. . .?”

“It’s a possibility. J — she has a habit of going after demigods specifically.” Hajime sighs, settles down onto one of the benches surrounding the small amphitheatre. “Byakuya and Makoto have never been very receptive to her leadership, especially when it came to their kids. No matter how many times Nagito and I offered, they wouldn’t give the two of you up.” Hajime puts his head in his hands, exhaling very deeply.

Shuuichi doesn’t know how to respond to that. Kaede nudges him, violet eyes kind. 

“This is our stage. One of our camp activities is doing a talent show every few weeks, so it gets used a lot. It’s one of my favorite places here.”

“It’s nice,” Shuuichi replies softly, his heart not exactly fully into the conversation. He hears her sigh, and then a moment later his hand is being tugged at. 

“Hajime?” he looks up at Kaede’s prompting, red eye pulsing; Shuuichi notes it looks painful. “You go take a break. I’ll finish up Shuuichi’s tour and bring him to his cabin, okay?” 

He nods, looking grateful, but doesn’t move from his spot on the bleachers as Shuuichi and Kaede walk towards a stretch of woods. Once they cross the tree line Kaede drops his hand and begins swinging hers at her side, occasionally glancing over at Shuuichi, though she doesn’t say anything until they come across a stream, where three girls are sat around chatting. He recognizes two of them as the girl with the dislocated arm and the girl who flipped Komaeda onto the floor, but the white-haired girl he hasn’t seen before.

“Kaede!” the white-haired girl waves as the two of them approach, a bright smile on her face. “Himiko was just telling Angie that the new kid was awake!” 

The three girls stand up and appraise Shuuichi. He swallows nervously at the tallest girl’s disapproving gaze. He waves.

“I’m Shuuichi Saihara. It’s nice to meet all of you.” 

“You pushed Kokichi onto the floor,” the red-haired girl (what was her name?) observes, a chuckle in her voice. “That was pretty funny, New Kid.”

“It was an accident!”

“Whatever he did, I’m sure that brat deserved it,” the tallest girl says darkly, hands fretting over the shortest. “But Himiko, are you sure your arm is alright? Tenko trusts Angie, of course, but. . .”

“I told you, I’m,” she punctuates her sentence with a small sound, “okay. Angie did a good job. Oh. . .I’m Himiko, by the way.”

“Angie Yonaga!” Angie takes Shuuichi’s hands, bouncing on the balls of her feet as she greets him. “Angie is so happy to meet you! It’s been so long since Angie met someone new, you know!”

“Oh, it’s nice to meet you, too,” Shuuichi replies, hoping his hands aren’t too sweaty in hers. “So, ah, who is your—”

“Angie, waaait!” the only girl yet to introduce herself wails, sounding genuinely distressed. “He’s still a nasty boy, don’t trust him so much!”

“Angie likes making new friends, even if they are nasty boys. Oh, Tenko, you must introduce yourself!” 

Tenko does not seem very keen on that idea. She frowns in Shuuichi’s direction, and as a peace offering, he offers a hand for her to shake. She stares at it for a long moment, unblinking, before grabbing it lightning fast and promptly flipping him directly onto his ass.

Recalling her reaction to Komaeda earlier, Shuuichi really should have seen that coming.

“Oh my god, Tenko!” Kaede cries, immediately scrambling to help Shuuichi up. Huh, he doesn’t remember her having three heads. “He has a concussion! Shuuichi, are you alright?”

“Ahh! Tenko is sorry!” Tenko paces in place for a moment, face (he thinks, anyways) bright red. “Tenko just wanted him to know that no menace boys can touch her! Not hurt him!”

“I’m okay,” Shuuichi says emphatically, sitting up. He rubs at the back of his head; he’s not bleeding, at least. That seems to appease Tenko, whose guilt seems to ebb completely. 

“You should not be taken down so easily! Tenko could flip you into next week if she is not careful!” She seems to actually be scolding him, which is about four shades of crazy too far. He stands on slightly wobbly legs without actually responding, keeping a fair amount of distance between the two of them.

“Okay, okay.” Kaede pulls at the straps of her overalls. “Anyways. I’m bringing Shuuichi around and introducing him to everyone, and letting everyone talk about their godly parents, because Shuuichi’s new to this stuff!”

“Oh! Oh! Angie first!” Angie raises her hand as high as it will go, jumping up and down until she’s sure no one will interrupt her. “Angie has two amazing godly mothers who she loves so very much! Sakura is the Goddess of Strength, and Angie’s birth mother is the Goddess of the Ocean! Angie is so blessed to have such a strong, happy family!”

Her constant positivity is a little blinding, but also infectious, so Shuuichi finds himself smiling. “That’s really cool.”

“Oh! On Angie’s island, she is the leader of spiritual worship! During the summer Angie’s island celebrates with festivals, but the rest of the time Angie is in charge of making sacrifices to her mothers!”

“Um.” Shuuichi blinks. “Sacrifices?”

“Yes! Would Shuuichi like to offer up his first? One pint of blood should suffice!”

He laughs. Because if he doesn’t laugh he’s going to cry, or go completely bonkers, or say something that will make Tenko flip him again (as the warning look on her face tells him very, very clearly). 

“I was in an accident a few days ago, so I shouldn’t while I’m still recovering,” Shuuichi says gently, praying the excuse will work. Angie frowns, shrugging a moment later. 

“What a shame. Another time, then! Himiko, what about you?”

“No sacrifices,” she says, sounding the most passionate that she has since Shuuichi’s met her. “Oh, my mom is the Goddess of Sleep. But I’m also a mage.”

“Oh. . .?” 

“It’s true!” Tenko interjects, looking rather adoringly in Himiko’s direction. “Himiko’s magic is amazing! Tenko helps her with spells during talent shows all the time!” 

Shuuichi is in no place to dispute the existence of magic when he’s at a summer camp for half-gods. He just smiles in acknowledgement, and the subtle thumbs up Kaede sends his way is proof enough that he’s made the right choice.

“Tenko, do you want to talk about your godly parent?”

She frowns. “No thank you.” 

Fair enough. 

“That’s fine! We still have a few more people to meet, so we’re gonna head out. See you guys later!”

After sharing a few additional goodbyes the two of them head back the way they came, weaving between the trees. As they settle into a comfortable pace, Shuuichi asks, “how many people are here, anyways?”

“The last of our summer only people just moved in a few days ago, so all of the usual demis are here, and with you there’s fourteen. Plus Nagito and Hajime, there’s sixteen people. We still have a few people left to meet. Speaking of, I should have asked them if they’d seen Gonta around. . .”

They emerge from the trees and back into the open air, and Kaede leads the two of them back the way they’d originally come from. 

“What do you think of everything so far?” she asks, pulling the elastic from her hair and shaking it out gently. “I know you’ve had a lot of information pushed at you today, so how are you feeling about everything?”

“It’s weird,” Shuuichi admits, lifting his hat off his head to fan himself with it for a moment. “Just learning about all of this stuff, and meeting everyone, it’s already a lot, but with everything with Rantarou happening. . .”

“I’m sure it’s tough.” Their arms bounce against each other as they walk. “But we don’t know anything for sure yet, so try to keep your head high, okay? And whatever happens, you’ve got people here who have your back.”

“Thanks.” He smiles at her. “Thank you, really. You have no reason to do all of this for me, so I appreciate your kindness, I guess.”

“Of course! I know we just met, but I already consider us friends, you know? And I want to help my friends whenever I can.” 

The sentiment is surprisingly touching, and to his embarrassment he feels himself tearing up. He wipes quickly at his eyes and replaces his hat on his head, eyes downcast. 

“Friends. I like that idea.” 

“Oh, here’s our next stop.” Kaede plants her feet and waits for Shuuichi to do the same, then begins pointing to various landmarks around the area. 

“This is the training grounds! This is the only place where we can spar without giving Nagito a stroke, so naturally, we use it pretty often to train or just blow off steam!” 

They’re standing in a large pocket of open space surrounded on all but one side by tall, thick trees. In the middle of the ground is a large white diamond, marked in the middle with a large red ‘X,’ with various equipment lining the shelves on its outskirts. In the midst of it stand two people, one of which Shuuichi recognizes as Kaito, the one who was stuck in the net.

“Harumaki and Kaito are sparring right now, so we’ll wait until they’re finished to introduce ourselves.” She points upwards towards a patch of trees, and when Shuuichi squints he can make out some sort of structure near the top of an especially large one. 

“That’s the zip-lining course. It’s not mandatory, so don’t worry if heights aren’t your thing. And over there,” her finger moves back to the ground and past the sparring area, where several large targets sit in a row. He notices a few bows hung neatly on a nearby rack. “We also have a place to practice archery, but usually the only people that use it are Harumaki and Kaito when they’re competing.”

Kaede falls into silence, eyes focused on the two as they spar. Shuuichi turns to watch as well, curious. 

He isn’t able to watch for long. The girl opposite Kaito glances up very briefly, eyes passing over Shuuichi and Kaede, and with a swiftness that surprises Shuuichi she hits several points on Kaito’s body with quick, clean hits — both arms, his chest, and his stomach — and in moments has him pinned quite firmly to the ground. She says something very quietly in his ear and then stands, dusting herself off. 

“Good match,” Kaito says weakly from the ground, a mass of purple clothes and gelled hair. Kaede is cheering at his side. 

“Harumaki! Come here and meet Shuuichi! You too, Kaito!” 

The girl offers a hand to help Kaito to his feet which he waves off with a laugh. She scoffs and leaves Kaito behind, making her way over to the two of them with a neutral expression. When she’s stopped in front of them she looks at Kaede expectantly.

“You did really good out there,” Kaede says excitedly, pumping her fist. “You’ve been at it for hours, haven’t you? You don’t look tired at all!”

“He’s not what I’d call a ‘challenge,’” the girl replies in a low voice, hands coming through one of the two dark pigtails adorning her head. When she catches Shuuichi looking she stops and frowns at him. “You’re the new kid.”

“Oh, yes. Shuuichi Saihara, it’s nice to meet you.” 

“Maki Harukawa,” she says simply.

“Oi, Maki Roll, don’t be so cold!” Kaito’s made his way over, and there’s a smile on his face as he looks down at Shuuichi. “Name’s Kaito! We met earlier in the infirmary.”

“Nice to see you again. Shuuichi Saihara.”

Maki turns to walk away, but both Kaede and Kaito’s protests stop her. 

“Harumaki, wait!”

“Where’re you goin’, Maki Roll? You hardly said a word to Shuuichi!”

Her shoulders move steeply in time with the deep breath she takes as she turns around and fixes Shuuichi with an unimpressed look, as if he’s the one annoying her. “Don’t let these two give you any ideas with the stupid nicknames. You’ll call me Harukawa, or you’ll be calling an ambulance.” 

Shuuichi swallows, and resists the urge to take a large step back. To his surprise (and, when he thinks about it, horror), Kaede and Kaito simply laugh at the threat, apparently not taking it seriously at all.

Her red eyes leave no room for argument. She’s definitely serious.

“Anyways, I’m having everyone talk about their godly parents with Shuuichi, since this is his first time hearing about this sort of thing! I know you’re not going to want to talk, Harumaki,” Maki nods, something like a smile on her face, “but what about you, Kaito?”

“Oh, well, I’m just like you, Shuuichi! I’m pretty new to this god stuff, too. Just moved in full time a few months ago, actually.” He rubs the back of his neck, pulling at the galaxy print hoodie a bit. “And I don’t actually know who my godly parent is. I lived with my grandparents before I lived here.”

“Oh, me too,” Shuuichi says, chest filling with the tiniest bit of relief at having someone he could relate to. “I don’t know who my dad is, so I guess we do have quite a bit in common.”

“There’s a few of us who’re unclaimed, actually, so don’t worry!” Kaito pumps his fists. “We’re friends now, so I’ll watch out for ya, ya got that?”

Shuuichi nods, a smile on his face. Kaede clears her throat. “We’re still looking for a few people so Shuuichi can meet everyone. I know where Kiibo is, and he’s already met Kokichi well enough, so do either of you happen to know where Gonta is?” 

“Kiibo came an’ grabbed him a little while ago, said they needed help with somethin’.” Kaito looks back to Maki, a challenging grin on his face. “You ready to go again, Maki Roll?”

“Obviously.” She spares a look to Kaede. “See you later.”

“Good luck!” After waving goodbye Kaede takes Shuuichi by the arm and begins leading him towards another stretch of woods. “That pretty much finishes up our tour! I left out a few places, but I’ll show you those another time. We’ll meet up with Kiibo and Gonta after I show you the boy’s common room, and by then it should be time for dinner.”

It turns out the path Kaede takes them through the woods is a shortcut towards the boy’s cabins, because only a few minutes later they break into another clearing filled up with cabins of various shapes, sizes, and colors. 

As they pass between two cabins, Kaede, points to them. “Something that we all get involved with when we get someone new is we decorate each cabin! Like Kaito’s,” she stops briefly in front of the oddly shaped one, “he’s really into space and astronauts, so we tried to shape his sort of like a rocket! And Kokichi’s,” she gestures to the black and white cabin to the left of Kaito’s, “we painted like that, because he specifically told us he wanted it to be an eyesore.” 

As they walk, she points out the various other cabins, briefly stopping to point out Shuuichi’s comparatively plain-looking cabin. “Yours is a little underwhelming right now, but once you get settled Nagito will take you shopping for decorations. It’s one of my favorite parts of getting new campers.” 

The end up in front of a rather large wooden building, and once Kaede leads them inside he’s sort of surprised to find that all of the available floor space is taken up by. . .washing machines.

“You have to wash your clothes at least once a week, or else Nagito hunts you down. Upstairs is the boy’s common room, where — oh, hey, Gonta!” 

The stairs leading upstairs creak in protest as a large figure makes their way down two at a time. Their initial appearance is rather intimidating; long, dark, wild hair that flows all the way down their back, piercing red eyes, a frame packed with more muscle than Shuuichi has ever seen in a single person, matched well with a height that must be almost a foot taller than Shuuichi. 

Once they’ve reached the ground floor they smile, arms filled to the max with various sheets, blankets, and pillows, and their intimidating aura dies some.

“Kaede, hello! Gonta was just helping Kiibo with setting up!” Kiibo begins down the stairs a moment later, and Shuuichi is more than relieved to find their head still intact and firmly on their head. 

“Here, Gonts, let me take some of those!” Kaede swipes the top few layers of fabric from Gonta’s large pile, and they smile appreciatively. Kiibo approaches Shuuichi with a hand outstretched and a smile on their face.

“Hello again! We met earlier in the infirmary, but I am now going to properly introduce myself! My name is Kiibo, and yes I am a robot, but please do not discriminate against me!”

“Of, ah, of course,” Shuuichi replies, taking the offered hand and shaking it politely. Kiibo retracts their hand a moment later and places both defiantly on their hips.

“I know I may not appear to be a demigod like yourself, but please do not allow your preconceived notions about robots cloud your judgement! I am just as much a demigod as you are, but I am also a fine specimen in robotics, as well!” 

“That’s. . .remarkable?”

Kiibo nods. “Indeed.” They smile brightly at Shuuichi, and the intensity of it makes him feel more than a little awkward. He’s more than thankful when Kaede comes to the rescue. 

“Let’s go set up Shuuichi’s room and walk as we talk.” Shuuichi holds the door for all of them as they exit the building, and returns to his spot next to Kaede as they begin the short walk towards his cabin.

“Gonta sorry he can’t shake Shuuichi’s hand right now, but Gonta is very excited to meet him!” 

Whatever personality he was expecting from Gonta, it certainly wasn’t overly enthusiastic and polite. 

“It’s nice to meet you, too,” he says to both of them, and means it, taking comfort in both of their genuineness. 

Kaede pushes open the door to Shuuichi’s cabin with her hip and promptly dumps the fabric in her arms onto the bed. Gonta places his pile neatly on the bedside table, and Kiibo claps their hands, calling attention to themselves.

“As I said before, I did my very best to make your cabin comfortable, but my resources were limited during the decorating phase. I hope it is acceptable until you can begin with your own decorations.”

“It’s more than enough, thank you.” Shuuichi feels a sort of embarrassment at watching Kaede and Gonta put the sheets on his bed. “I don’t know what to say. You’ve all been very kind to me.”

“Why, of course!” Kiibo announces proudly. “The three of us, as well as Kirumi, hold a special distinction among the rest of our friends, so Hajime and Nagito often put us in charge of welcoming new people! It is only natural that we be kind.”

“Oh, Shuuichi, Gonta bring your bag back to your cabin,” Gonta says, pointing towards the bag Shuuichi had gotten his clothes from. He notices Rantarou’s own bag and the bat propped up in a corner of the room, and it fills Shuuichi with a relief he can’t really put a name to. 

“Thank you,” Shuuichi says, picking up his bag and setting it on his bed. He doesn’t pull it out, but he does reach his hand into the bag and close it protectively around the bear. It’s soft on his fingers, and unendingly comforting. 

“Dinner,” Kiibo begins, pausing for a brief moment, “should be ready any time now, so we will wait for you to get ready and then escort you to — oh, hello, Hajime.”

Hajime steps into the cabin, a hand behind his back. Any joviality in the room drains as each of them digests the look marring his face, and Shuuichi finds himself gripping the bear tighter. 

“I need to talk to Shuuichi.” Worst, those are the worst words someone can say. The ambiguity of the statement makes the sick feeling he’d experienced earlier come back full force. “Why don’t the rest of you go get ready to eat.”

“I — I see.” Kiibo spares Shuuichi an unmistakably sympathetic look. “Good luck, Shuuichi. We’ll see you outside.” Without another word they leave, Gonta following close behind.

“Kaede,” Hajime prompts, and he looks so tired. She fidgets with the straps of her overalls. 

“Do you want me here?” she asks, a gentle hand on Shuuichi’s arm. He shakes his head, eyes focused intently on his shoes. He feels her squeeze, and then pull away. 

“Be brave. I’m rooting for you, ‘kay?” She idles for a moment by the door before slipping out, leaving Shuuichi alone with Hajime, who takes a seat next to him on the bed.

He pulls the hand from behind his back, revealing two pieces of paper that he recognizes to be envelopes. One is a midnight black, accented with gold and sealed with a wax stamp shaped far too much like a skull for Shuuichi’s stomach to handle.

The other, he realizes with an increasing amount of anxiety, is Byakuya’s stationery.

Chapter Text

Shuuichi’s brain knows before Hajime even says anything. His brain knows, the ache behind his eyes knows, the tightness in his chest knows, the squeeze of his stomach knows, but nevertheless, in the deepest part of his heart, he allows himself to hope, allows himself to cling to the notion that Rantarou isn’t — that he can’t be dead.

As if the world cares what Shuuichi Saihara wants. 

Hajime flips open the black envelope, the red of the wax skull leering up at Shuuichi. He doesn’t pull the letter out. 

“This is from Celeste, the Goddess who is in charge of keeping track which souls enter the Underworld.” Hajime places the letter on the bed next to himself — away from Shuuichi — onto the bed and sighs, clasping his hands in his lap. “She’s recorded the soul of Rantarou Togami as entering the Underworld about three days ago. I’m so sorry.”

He’s known, he could never really convince himself otherwise, but nevertheless that fact doesn’t lessen the swell of grief that fills Shuuichi. He almost thought he’d cried himself dry in these past few days, but the steady stream of tears that drip from his cheeks and stain the bear disprove that notion quite soundly. 

He thinks of the other letter. “Byakuya k-knows?”

There’s a brief pause as Hajime flips open the letter, skims over it quietly. “He does.”

“D-Does he know that I-I’m—”

“Not yet,” Hajime says gently, “it’s best for now that you stay where you can be protected. While we figure everything out.”

Shuuichi hiccups into the silence that falls between the two of them, body rocking back and forth of its own accord. His whole body is filled with misplaced adrenaline; though he’s never felt more like a livewire, there’s nowhere to direct his overflow of anxious energy; his teeth begin to chatter from the force of it, his whole body begins twitching uncomfortably, and he can’t stop it.

“Is it—” Speaking around the chattering of his teeth and the vice-like tightness in his voice is difficult, and he has to swallow around the sickly feeling the words he plans to say bring him several times before he continues. “Is it my fault Rantarou’s dead? It m-must be, right?”

“Of course not,” Hajime says immediately, turning to face him for the first time since delivering the news and laying a hand on his shoulder. Shuuichi flinches away from the contact so hard it seems to startle Hajime, and the pitying look he’s given in response somehow makes him feel worse. 

“I think — no, Rantarou knew what was coming, at least to an extent. That’s why he said what he did.”

The attempt at a justification sends a simultaneous flash of anger and of self-hatred through Shuuichi’s body, and though he doesn’t look up, he feels himself grimace. “How c-could he have known he was going to die? Why wouldn’t he tell anyone?”

“. . .Every demigod has a certain ability, something that makes them unique, gives them a leg up.” He feels Hajime looking at him, gauging his reaction. “Rantarou had — to a certain extent — precognitive abilities. I can’t say if he knew exactly what was going to happen, but I guarantee he suspected.” 

Shuuichi shakes his head, squeezing the bear tighter. “No, I can’t believe that! If I let myself believe that, then that means Rantarou let himself die!” Let himself die for me, he doesn’t add, because he knows that if he were to say something as horrible as that out loud, it would make him sick.

“Shuuichi.” Hajime rubs at his eyes, posture slumped. “I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know who is responsible, or how the two of you got caught up in all of this, or why Rantarou made the choices he did before he died.” They both flinch at the word. 

“But myself, and Nagito, and Byakuya, and Makoto, and all of the other gods — we’re going to figure it out. We’re not going to let whoever or whatever’s responsible get away with what happened. And I know that means nothing right now. Whatever justice we enact on the responsible parties won’t make this better. But you’re here, you’re where Rantarou wanted, and together we’re going to make sure that what happened means something.”

“‘Means something’?” Shuuichi parrots incredulously, rising to his feet and staring down at Hajime. His blood feels white hot in his head, the feeling only feeding into the anger very quickly overtaking him. “Rantarou died. He’s dead. He was murdered by a monster! He died when it could have just as easily been me!” 

And maybe it should have been, a dark part of his mind adds, but he ignores it for now, too swept up in his grief to care.

“The monster at school went after m-me. He died and it was after me.” Like a stick bent too far his anger breaks, leaving only gaping, unending sadness and guilt as it ebbs. Shuuichi’s knees weaken and he sobs, fingers digging through his hair as he tries desperately to find stability somewhere. “How is — where is t-there any meaning in t-that?” 

Like when he woke up, he can’t breathe. But there’s no one sitting on his chest now, no physical excuse to pin the blame on; his throat constricts dangerously, the hiccuping from his sobbing and the coughs as he struggles to breathe becoming indistinguishable. The emotional tears and the primal, panicked tears blur together, leaving him unable to see which bag has his inhaler in it.

Nevertheless it’s pressed into his hands a few moments later, Hajime’s calm voice in his ear telling him to relax as he fumbles with the plunger. He gets it, eventually, and the time spent coming down from his asthma attack he spends sucking in hurried, uncomfortable breaths and wiping at his raw, damp cheeks. 

Hajime sits him on the bed when his breathing has returned to normal, and looks as though he has more to say. Shuuichi, embarrassed about but not willing to take back what he said before, wishes he’d pass out to save himself from what has without a doubt become the worst day of his life.

It doesn’t take passing out. As Hajime opens his mouth the door to the cabin swings open, Kaede and Kaito lingering awkwardly in the doorway. When Shuuichi makes eye contact with them their expressions fall, and Kaito takes a hesitant step into the room, Kaede close behind.

“Now’s not really a good time,” Hajime says, voice curt. Undeterred, Kaito makes his way over to the bed and plops down unceremoniously next to Shuuichi, their sides flush. Kaede steps forward, thumbs looped in the straps of her overalls, and regards Hajime with a sad look.

“Anything else you need to say can wait until he’s eaten and slept, right?” She spares a glance out the window, the low light of sunlight casting shadows across the trees. “We’ll look after Shuuichi, so leave him to us, ‘kay?”

Hajime still looked as though he wanted to object, but he just nods, pulling at his tie. “Yeah, okay. Okay. I’m trusting you guys to take care of him, alright? Shuuichi, we’ll. . .talk later. Goodnight.”

Shuuichi draws further in on himself as the slam of the cabin door reverberates behind Hajime. He half expects Kaede to sit in the vacant spot Hajime left, but she doesn’t, and instead drops into a cross-legged sit onto the floor, eyes searching for contact with his.

“How ya holdin’ up?” Kaito asks from beside him, their elbows bumping. Shuuichi laughs drily, the sensation irritating on his raw throat. 

“My best friend and brother, who was apparently half God, is dead. My father who abandoned me and my mom is apparently a God, and I’m concussed, and I’m scared, and all I want to do is go home and forget about all of this.” Shuuichi wipes at his sore eyes. “Not exactly a winning day.”

“No, s’pose not,” Kaito replies, bracing his hands behind him on the bed and leaning back onto his arms. Shuuichi feels his eyes on his face. “But hey, what point is there in just wallowing in how shitty you feel?”

Shuuichi looks over sharply, hackles raised. “Excuse me?”

“Kaito—” 

“No, Kaede, he should hear this,” Kaito interrupts, making unabashed eye contact with Shuuichi as he speaks. “I’m not tryin’ to tell you that you can’t be upset, ‘cause that’d be stupid. Somethin’ supremely shitty just happened, and you’re gonna feel down.”

“But!” Kaito clasps a hand around his shoulder; Shuuichi stares at it warily. “You gotta keep your head up! You and me are sorta alike, y’know, Shuuichi. About seven months ago, I had to come to camp too. Similar reasons.”

“. . .Oh?”

Kaito removes his hand, flashes Shuuichi a reflective smile. “Lost my grandparents to a monster, didn’t have a godly parent who’d take me in, y’know? Real shitty circumstances. I could’ve been a sad sack about it — everyone prolly expected me to be, all things considered.”

“I’m sorry.”

Kaito shrugs. “But I got real tired of bein’ depressed. Bein’ pitied. And I knew that they wouldn’t want me bein’ miserable either, y’know? So I told myself I gotta chin up, I gotta start smiling and getting back to bein’ me, ‘cause what’s the point in living if you’re stuck dwelling on the past?”

Shuuichi wrings his hands, looking to his lap. He hears Kaito chuckle. 

“Listen, Shuuichi,” he begins, standing up and popping some of the bones in his back, “You know your life better than I do. You know your friend better than anyone else. So ask yourself — how would he want you to continue on? Would he want you to be miserable over him forever? Or would he want you to keep on living, keep movin’ forward, and live your life to the fullest so what happened didn’t happen in vain?”

He’s right, of course. Kaito doesn’t know Rantarou in the slightest, but of course Rantarou wouldn’t want him to hide away and be miserable forever. If he were here, he’d haul Shuuichi to his feet, lightly scold him, and wouldn’t leave him be until Shuuichi was feeling better.

The ache in his chest doesn’t lessen, not even a little bit, but the smile that cracks his face feels genuine. He squeezes the bear once and sets it down before getting to his feet.

“No one’s saying you can’t grieve,” Kaede interjects gently, pushing herself to her feet. “You’re allowed to be upset. Life sucks sometimes, so do parents, but as long as you try your best and rely on your friends, you can do anything. And that includes being able to feel better.”

“. . .Thank you,” he tells the two of them emphatically, trying not to sniff as he does. Kaito shoots him a grin and a thumbs up. 

“‘Course. Now, hey, it’s dinnertime, so let’s grab somethin’ to eat, alright? You must be starving!”

Shuuichi feels as unhungry as he ever has, but he doesn’t object as his new friends lead him from his cabin towards the picnic area. The air outside is warm, even as the sun dips lower beneath the horizon, and just past the picnic table he can see the fire from earlier is much larger. 

 “It looks like Kirumi made chicken for dinner,” Kaede says, gently tapping Shuuichi on the arm to grab his attention. She points over towards a mostly empty table, only occupied by Kiibo and Gonta, who wave when Shuuichi looks over at them. “If you want to go grab a seat, I’ll bring you something to eat?”

“Alright, thank you.” Kaede smiles before going off to meet Kaito by the table where Kirumi was set up. He watches her for a moment, then turns to the rest of the picnic area, silently taking in everything.

Korekiyo is sat on one of the logs closer to the fire, book in hand and eyes trained on it carefully. Angie, Himiko, and Tenko occupied one of the tables, talking animatedly about something Shuuichi can’t hear. 

Miu, it seems, is back to harassing Kiibo; they’re having to bat her hands away as she attempts to mess with. . .something on the back of their neck. Shuuichi has to mentally prepare himself to put himself in the midst of that situation, his memory of his first meeting with Miu flashing in the forefront of his mind. 

Before he can dwell much on what inappropriate comment Miu may make at his expense, there’s a sharp jab in his side. He yelps, winces at the sound, and looks down to the source to find Kokichi standing right next to him, two large plates full of food in his hands and a smile on his face.

He is, thankfully, no longer wearing the straitjacket.

“New Kid!” One of the plates is waved in his face. “I brought you some dinner!”

“Oh, thank you,” Shuuichi says softly, taking the offered plate and trying his best to smile down at Kokichi.

Strangely, his smile falls, until it reappears in full force a few moments later, toothy and wide. 

“Well, of course! You figure, we’re both sad parentless loser archetypes, I may as well start leveling up my affection early so we can be besties!”

Alright.

There’s a lot of ways Shuuichi could respond to that, which could lend itself to many different conversations he’s not sure if he wants to navigate. He settles on a nervous sort-of laugh.

“So, where are we sitting?”

“Over here.” Shuuichi nods his head in the general direction of the table Kiibo, Gonta, and Miu were occupying.

“‘Kay! Lead the way, New Kid.”

Shuuichi wants to ask why he’s still being called ‘New Kid’ when he realizes that Kokichi probably doesn’t know his name, and feels himself flush at his lack of manners. “Ah, I guess you’re the only one I haven’t really introduced myself to, right? Sorry. I’m Shuuichi.”

“Kokichi Ouma!” He slams his plate down onto the picnic table forcefully as he says it, startling Kiibo enough that they jump a good foot in the air. The unimpressed look they send his way either goes unnoticed, or ignored altogether. Shuuichi settles in next to him, smiling at those at the table as he does.

“I see you’ve officially met Kokichi,” Kiibo says a little irritably, lightly shooing Miu’s hands away. She huffs, mumbles something unintelligible under her breath, and proceeds to shove Kiibo over as far as she can in order to squeeze herself in onto the bench next to them. 

“Yeeep! Me and New Kid are total besties for the resties now, right?”

Gonta silently offers Shuuichi a fork from across the table; he thanks him and takes it, picking at his food in a way he hopes draws little attention.

“Ah, you can just call me Shuuichi.”

Kokichi has begun flicking spoonfuls of rice across the table. As he lands a particularly good shot on Miu’s face, he says, “huh, what was that, Shuumai? I was too busy ignoring you to listen to what you said.”

Shuumai. . .?

“You fuckin’ cockshit, quit gettin’ food all over me!”

Someone settles down heavily on Shuuichi’s other side; he looks over to find Kaede smiling at him, looking a little sheepish as she sets down two plates of food. “Guess I didn’t need to get two after all, huh?”

“Sorry.” He pulls his hat a little lower over his face, an irrational feeling of guilt washing over him. Kaede just shrugs and pushes it towards the middle of the table. 

“Why doesn’t Kaede give the extra food to Kiibaby?” As he speaks, Kokichi lands another spoonful of rice in Kiibo’s hair. “Oh, wait! Robots can’t eat, cuz they’re not real people.”

“Stop being rude just because you want to show off! Being robophobic isn’t funny, nor will it make Shuuichi want to be your friend!”

“Oh, I don’t care about that. I think being robophobic is just hysterical. Absolute top tier comedy, you know?”

“L-Leave me alone!”

Shuuichi shrinks back from the growing argument a bit, leaning in more towards Kaede to whisper, “are they always like this?”

“Unfortunately,” she replies, eyes focused somewhere behind Shuuichi’s head. “Oh, good idea, Kaito!”

After turning to see what she was talking about, he finds Kaito working along with a reluctant-looking Maki to lift one of the empty picnic tables. They set it down so one end of it lines up with the end of the one he was currently sitting at. 

“C’mon, everyone come eat over here!”

It takes some more yelling, but eventually Kaito gets everyone sat at the two connected picnic tables, and he comes to sit on Kaede’s other side. Once all’s said and done everyone seems to dig into their food and conversation lulls for some time; Shuuichi is more than happy to sit in silence for a bit, even if his only stimulation is to push his food around his plate and occasionally pop bites in his mouth when he feels eyes on him.

“Oh, Kiibo, Gonta,” Kaede says after a time, pulling her napkin from her lap and dropping it onto her empty plate, “you two didn’t get a chance to talk to Shuuichi about your parents! Would you mind telling him a little bit about your situations?”

Gonta nods, eyes settling on Shuuichi. “Gonta do his best, but Gonta not know who godly parent is, so Gonta not have much to say.”

“Hey, no way!” Kaito interjects, mouth a bit too full for the words to come out clearly. Kiibo shrinks away a bit. “You may not know who it is, but what does it even matter? Listen, godly parents don’t matter that much at all, so don’t undersell yourself jus’ cause you don’t know who it is!”

“It sounds like Kaito is trying to make himself feel better about the fact that his godly parent doesn’t want him, just like Gonta’s,” Kokichi says mildly, stabbing at a piece of chicken on his plate rather forcefully with his fork.

“You little—” Kaito sputters for a moment, face going hot. “I don’t care about that! And no one wanted you either, you know!”

“And how cruel it is for Kaito to rub it in my face.” Tears well up in Kokichi’s eyes, and Shuuichi finds himself sort of proud at realizing that they’re entirely fake even before Kokichi smiles them away and continues eating. 

“Anyways,” Kaede cuts in, sounding a bit exasperated, “Kiibo, what about you?”

“W-Well, I—”

“Kiibs has some major mommy and daddy issues,” Miu interrupts, idly flicking a piece of rice out of their hair. “Shit’s been goin’ on for years.”

Kiibo rolls their eyes. “While your description of my situation is crude, it is not entirely incorrect. That is to say, ah, I am not sure who should be technically classified as my godly parent.”

“How does that happen?”

“Well, I am a robot, of course.” Kiibo gestures to themselves, as if Shuuichi hadn’t already caught onto that fact. “And as one might expect, most robots are not sentient, and most robots certainly don’t have souls. I, however, am the exception!”

“I was constructed by Kazuichi, the God of Craftsmanship, and for a time I simply functioned as an AI in his care—”

“Like a robo-slave?” Kokichi asks, looking a bit starry eyed at the idea.

“A-Absolutely not!” Kiibo’s face goes red. “If you’re going to ruin the story, I’m just going to ignore you!”

Kokichi shrugs, having taken to stabbing at his plate with a pair of chopsticks that have seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Kiibo exhales forcefully (do they need to breathe, Shuuichi wonders?) and looks back to Shuuichi.

“As I was saying, Kazuichi technically ‘created’ me, which would likely indicate him as my godly parent, right?” Kiibo shakes their head before Shuuichi can respond. “However, the issue arises when the fact of Sonia giving me a soul comes to pass.”

Shuuichi falters. “. . .Give you a soul?”

“Yes!” Kiibo nods, a smile on their face as they gauge Shuuichi’s investment in the story. “Sonia is the Goddess of Magic, so of course it was no challenge for her. It was not long after she gave me my soul that I, ah,” Kiibo suddenly shrinks in on themselves, looking a little sad, “was forced to come here by. . . her.”

“Which!” They cut in after a brief pause, their enthusiasm apparently back, “Of course puts forth the issue of my parentage: though Sonia gave me a soul and that action is what classified me as a demigod, it was Kazuichi who built my body and the vessel of that soul. It is a complicated issue, and one I have been struggling with since the problem came about.”

“It certainly sounds complicated,” Shuuichi agrees, to which Kiibo smiles brightly at him. 

Everyone breaks off into smaller conversations at that point, food mostly finished and people seeming to just want to spend time with each other. Shuuichi looks over at Kaede, whose eyes were fixed on his plate, a small frown on her face. He does his best to ignore how full it seems comparatively to everyone’s empty ones, and instead tries to engage her in conversation.

“So, ah, what’s going to happen now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well.” Shuuichi fidgets with his hat a bit. “I guess if I’m meant to stay here for. . .some time, what do you guys do?”

“Oh!” Her eyes focus on his face, smile returning. Shuuichi smiles back. “There’s not like. . .a lot of structured activities? We’ll do a couple of group things a week, like our talent show, or capture the flag, and a whole bunch of other competitive stuff like that, but otherwise we’re free to do what we want?”

“We have the training grounds, the lake, the common rooms, and really anywhere else within the barrier to hang out and find stuff to do, so there’s never a dull moment as long as you’re looking for fun. Speaking of!”

Kaede stands as the rest of the group begins to rise from the tables. He parrots the action when prompted, taking his plate and dumping it along with hers into a nearby trashcan. 

“Tomorrow we’re all playing dodgeball. Breakfast starts at nine, and we’re starting right after, so—”

“You better not be late, Shuuichi!” Kaito falls into step on Shuuichi’s other side, turning for a moment to wave at someone behind him before continuing on towards — presumably — Shuuichi’s cabin. “Me an’ Maki are gonna take tomorrow’s match for the red team, definitely, and I don’t want any delays!”

“I’ll. . .do my best,” Shuuichi says, which appeases Kaito enough to earn a smile. 

“And after that we’ll hang out with you more, okay?” Kaede inches a bit closer, takes Shuuichi’s hand and squeezes, the sudden touch causing him to fumble momentarily. “I know that being constantly surrounded by people probably is the last thing you want right now, but I think when things are really tough, you shouldn’t be alone and wrapped up in the bad without any support, y’know?”

“An’ hey, the three of us’ll have such a good time, you’ll hardly have time to feel sad at all!”

Sounds suffocating.

As they approach the door to Shuuichi’s cabin their pace slows, until they’re stopped just short of the entrance. Kaede fidgets with her hands.

“Shuuichi.” Kaede’s eyes are intense, but her expression is kind, understanding. “Things are going to be tough. There’s a lot you have to get used to, and a lot you have to sort out. And while I’d like to think that our presence will help lift some of that burden, I know it won’t be enough.”

“Just — do what you need to do to feel better. If that means throwing yourself into life at camp, great. But if that means being alone for a while, and working through things on your own, that’s — I understand. But don’t be a stranger, alright? All of us are here for you. So just let me know, okay?”

“T-Thanks.” Shuuichi pulls his hat low on his face, tired of having her sad eyes on him. “I’m really tired, so I’m going to go to bed. Ah, nine tomorrow, right?”

“Yup!” A pause. He inches towards the door. “Goodnight, Shuuichi.”

“Night, man.”

“Yeah, goodnight.” He pulls open the door to his cabin and shuts it quickly behind him, holding his breath until he can hear the soft crunch of grass underfoot as Kaede and Kaito walk away.

When he’s alone he deflates, eyes drifting towards the bed that seems to be calling his name. Without bothering to turn on a light he undresses, pulling on the first shirt and pair of pants his hands catch on in Rantarou’s bag. He coughs out a laugh as he pulls the pants on, knowing just from the feel that they’re that one stupid pair that look like sweatpants but cost more than anything in Shuuichi’s own closet. 

The shirt that he pulls on is silken and smooth, and Shuuichi is sure that when Rantarou finds out, he’ll tell Shuuichi off for getting it so wrinkled—

The thought fractures and shatters in his head before he can finish it, the broken pieces wedging themselves in his insides. The sudden realization hurts so much he stumbles, falling haphazardly onto the bed. 

The commotion knocks both his and Rantarou’s bags off and onto the floor, and the sound of both’s contents spilling all across the hardwood, coupled with the overwhelming grief of the day starts him off crying again; the kind he feels not in his eyes, not in the hot damp streaks on his cheeks that chafe when he rubs at them, but in his stomach, where each gasp, each sob, each sharp intake of breath as he in vain tries to calm himself, sends a new wave of pain radiating through his entire core.

His fingers scramble desperately around for the plush, his breathing dipping dangerously close to hyperventilating until he grasps and pulls it from where it lay tangled in the mass of new blankets on the bed. 

It’s a stupid plushie. It’s worth pocket change. Some of the felt is already peeling from the base. It shouldn’t provide Shuuichi the comfort (albeit small) that it does. 

Nevertheless, it’s only the fact of it being in his arms that allows him to fall unconscious, the weight of the day an overwhelming force against his weary mind.

 

><

 

Shuuichi wakes to rhythmic pounding.

It’s so loud in his ears, so grating on his senses that he thinks for a moment it’s his own head that is pulsating. He doesn’t open his eyes, the idea too daunting to consider as the events of the past few days slowly make themselves known to him again.

Another loud wham rings out, and though it makes his head throb, his head isn’t the source of the discomfort itself.

Shuuichi ponders, for just a moment, over the idea of himself hallucinating the noise; with all of the stress he’s been subjected to as of late, it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility.

Wham. Wham. Wham.

No, the noise is coming from somewhere in the room, definitely. Each solid hit is accompanied by various other noises; metal bouncing off of. . .something, wood splintering, something tiny and metallic rolling. Sounds he doubts his mind could come up with on its own.

With that mystery solved, he decides to simply keep his eyes shut and hope that. . .whatever is happening just stops, because frankly, he’s been made to deal with far too many inexplicable situations over the past twenty-four hours. He’s encountered the existence of gods, and rituals involving pentagrams in bathrooms, and robots who can talk and carry their own heads. Shuuichi has had his fill of confusing unknowns.

Wham wham wham wham wham wham wham—

Okay, this is just ridiculous. 

He opens his eyes but otherwise stays very still, and the lovely view of the wall next to the bed is not very informative. It doesn’t seem the small action has been noticed; the sound continues all the same.

“Ow, shit!” A voice suddenly rips through the air, nearly jumping Shuuichi out of his skin. As it stands he nearly follows his and Rantarou’s bags onto the floor, and before he can collect himself and place a name to the mysterious speaker that is, apparently, somewhere on the floor behind Shuuichi, he hears snickering.

“Are you done pretending to be asleep, Shuuichi?” He stiffens as he recognizes the voice to belong to Kokichi and freezes for a moment, feeling more than a little caught off guard, before resigning himself to turn around, bunching the blankets up over his torso as he does. 

The first of many sights before Shuuichi that he takes note of is the fact that Kokichi is sitting cross-legged on the floor, a hammer in one hand, the other up near his mouth, one finger in his mouth and a pained expression on his face. Scattered all around him are various. . .nails? The bat sits not too far off as well, certainly within Kokichi’s reach.

The pieces come together quickly in Shuuichi’s mind.

“W-What are you doing?”

Kokichi pauses at that, taking a few moments to look slowly between the hammer, the bat, and Shuuichi. His expression is almost disappointed.

“Is it not obvious?” He plucks a nail up from the floor and pounds it with the hammer a few times, leaving the bat with yet another jagged bit of metal sticking out of it.

“Why?”

The look on Kokichi’s face practically screams ‘what are you, an idiot?’ as he picks up another nail and looks at it appraisingly. “To make it more deadly, duh.”

Shuuichi swallows, his mouth feeling rather dry all of a sudden. “And, ah, why do I need something like that?”

“I dunno!” The hammer is casually tossed behind him, clattering noisily against the floor. “Maybe I just wanted an excuse to see you! Ooh, I know, I was just trying to freak you out! Isn’t that a fun answer?”

“I—”

“No, it’s no fun when I say it like that.” Kokichi picks idly at his fingernails, looking bored. “Sooo, how did your first day at summer camp go, sport?”

One of the worst days of his life, actually, but something tells him that that may not be an appropriate way to respond to a near-stranger’s question. Shuuichi sits up, blankets still pulled to his neck, and reaches for his phone before remembering it’s still in his pants from yesterday.

“About as well as you’d expect, I guess?” He’s more than a little thankful when Kokichi begins picking up the nails from the floor, though the visual of the absolutely ruined bat doesn’t do much to quell his nerves. “Um, do you know what time it is?”

“Lunchtime! You reeeally let everyone down when you missed out on dodgeball, y’know!” A quick glance out the window tells Shuuichi it most certainly is not lunchtime. “Juuust kidding. Jeesh, don’t make such a scary face, Shuumai.”

Shuuichi doesn’t respond to that, and instead bends down to rummage through the mess on the floor. Kokichi is silent until he’s got his phone plugged in and he’s checked the time, confirming for real that he hasn’t, in fact, missed the game he’d promised Kaede he’d attend.

He waits for Kokichi to leave so he can change before he’s actually late, but he doesn’t, and instead stares up at Shuuichi as if he’s the one who’s waiting. Shuuichi coughs. 

“‘Kay, you’re actually gonna be late and hokey CIT Kaede is going to pitch a fit, so let’s hurry up already! Just watching you stare at me is weird.” Kokichi picks at the sleeves of his black jacket idly, eyes not leaving Shuuichi, and eventually narrowing a fraction when he doesn’t move. 

“Unless you’re actually planning on skipping out? How rebellious!” 

“Um, actually,” Shuuichi feels his face redden, eyes pointedly looking away from Kokichi, “I’m just waiting for you to leave, so I can, uh, change. So.”

“Ugh, fine! But dooon’t take too long! Or I’ll use the hammer on you!” Kokichi bounds to his feet, retrieving the hammer and dropping it haphazardly into his jacket pocket. He leaves the nails.

Shuuichi flops back onto the bed as the door slams shut, taking a moment to process that whole encounter before fully emerging from bed. But he does, eventually (not without some rather persistent knocking on the door from Kokichi, though), mechanically going through the motions of putting on deoderant, dressing, combing his hair through with his fingers, and pulling his hat onto his head. He takes his phone with him as he leaves, despite the fact that it’s only charged up to a measly 17% since he plugged it in. 

“Finally! C’mon, I’ll walk with you to breakfast, cuz I’m just soo nice!” In the time Shuuichi took to change, Kokichi somehow disposed of the hammer, leaving the pockets empty as he knots it around his waist. Underneath the black and white scarf tied around his neck he wears a purple tanktop, emblazoned with the camp name. He seems to leer when he catches Shuuichi observing him, and he quickly turns away, pulling the hat low to obscure his caught-out expression.

“So!” As they make their way towards the picnic area, Kokichi rests both hands behind his head, pace casual and eyes occasionally darting over to Shuuichi. Whenever they make eye contact, he makes a face. “You ready for dodgeball today, newbie?”

“Probably not,” Shuuichi answers honestly, hands floating from his jeans pockets to his hat to his sides and back again. “I’m not exactly the, ah, athletic type.”

“Ooh, it’s a good thing I modified your bat, then!” Kokichi slows significantly, an intense expression on his face. “Yeah, you may wanna go back and grab that.”

“What?”

After a moment he regains his normal pace, idly tightening the jacket around his waist. “Did Miss CIT not tell you? Dodgeball gets, like, crazy serious around her. Demigod camp games are not joke.”

“There’s no way I’d need something like that for dodgeball.”

“No, Shuuichi, you don’t understand. If you don’t have a way to protect yourself, you’re gonna die.” Kokichi blinks up at him as he steers towards the cafeteria building. “I’m not kidding.”

Shuuichi regards him closely as they pause just outside the doors. Kokichi’s expression is blank, eyebrows set and posture firm. He almost believes there’s any merit at all to what he’s saying until he sees the corner of his mouth quirk up, just slightly, a fraction of a smile that threatens to undermine whatever. . .well, whatever this is.

He’s known Kokichi all of one day, but surely he’s witnessed him lie more convincingly than that, right?

“I don’t even know how to use something like that, I’d probably just end up hurting myself,” Shuuichi decides on, which warrants a shrug from Kokichi as he reaches for the door and pulls it open.

“Well, whatever. Anyways, let’s eat! I’m staaarving, cuz all my food ended up on Miu and Kiibaby last night.”

The only people in the cafeteria are Angie and Gonta, who are each in the process of filling their plates with various food items from a rather impressive buffet-style array of breakfast options. Angie catches sight of them first and waves, a slice of avocado stuck midway on a fork.

“Gooood morning, New Kid!” Kokichi pushes a plate into his hands and begins piling his plate up with rice, and Shuuichi has a sneaking suspicion there may be a repeat of last night’s incident. “Are you ready for dodgeball today?”

“I’m. . .looking forward to seeing what everyone’s talking about,” Shuuichi says honestly. Gonta steps up next to him, a finger to his chin as he goes over the various foods before him. 

“Good morning, Shuuichi, Kokichi,” he says, smiling down at the two of them once he finally decides on a banana. 

“Morning, Gonts! Ooh, I’ll trade you some cereal for your chocolate muffin!” 

Shuuichi responds to Gonta’s greeting in kind as Kokichi makes grabby hands towards his plate. As they negotiate, Shuuichi fills his own plate with a few options; despite his lack of appetite, his body is hungry, and the last thing he needs is to get sick in the middle of the game and cause a scene. 

As the four of them are getting ready to head outside the cafeteria doors open, and he hears, “there you are, Shuuichi!” as Kaede steps in. She waves, the single braid hanging down her back bobbing as she walks up to greet him. “Morning, everyone!”

With a brief pause to say hello, Angie and Gonta both leave the cafeteria, leaving Shuuichi to wait for Kaede to grab her breakfast, Kokichi bouncing on the balls of his feet impatiently.

She doesn’t take long, and soon the three of them are on their way towards the picnic area. Just from looking Shuuichi can see that most everyone is already there and well into their breakfast; the only faces he can immediately pick out as being absent are Nagito and Hajime.

Kaede leads the three of them to the table where Maki and Kaito were sat at, the latter waving excitedly at them when he sees them approaching. Kaede takes the empty seat next to Maki, leaving Shuuichi to sit on the unoccupied bench, Kokichi settling in next to him.

Other than an occasional bite being stolen from his plate or random bits of food being deposited on his plate by Kokichi, breakfast is fairly uneventful. There’s an undercurrent of excitement underneath everyone’s conversation, and by the time Komaeda is calling for everyone’s attention, Shuuichi finds himself almost looking forward to the game.

Though Shuuichi wouldn’t qualify Nagito as being necessarily “calm” looking at any point in time since he’d met him, something in his posture as he calls for everyone’s attention, in the way his face is dripping with sweat and his eyes are dark, filled with anxious energy, makes Shuuichi immediately tense. 

“As many of you know, there’s some. . .complicated stuff happening with the gods right now.” He laughs, the sound joyless. “And I’ve just been called to a meeting, so I’ll be out for the day. Maybe a few days, you know how these things go.” 

“Kirumi and Kaede, you’re in charge. Please, don’t let the camp burn down while I’m gone.” Komaeda laughs again, running a hand through his hair as he stares out at the camp with glazed-looking eyes. “I will remind everyone that under no circumstances are you to go anywhere near the barrier. If I suspect you’ve even thought about it, well. . .You don’t want to know.”

He pats at the pockets of his jacket. “I’ll have my phone on me, like always, but unless he,” Komaeda pulls an oddly dark face as he speaks, “starts eating people, don’t call. Please be good.”

With a sharp sound like wood splintering he’s gone, and within moments the entire group has broken out into hushed whispers. When Shuuichi looks over at Kaede for an explanation, he sees that Kirumi is crouched down next to her, the two whispering hurriedly at each other.

“Us being put in charge is usually not the best thing. . .”

“What a time for him to come back, too, right?”

“I agree, but unfortunately there is not much we can do. . .” Kirumi briefly glances up at Shuuichi. “Should we cancel dodgeball for today?”

“Um. . .” Kaede turns and appraises him closely. “No, I think we’ll be okay, as long as we make sure no one goes near the boundary.”

“Will Shuuichi know not to. . .?”

Kokichi peeks out behind Shuuichi’s shoulder with a sly look. “Shuuichi isn’t dumb enough to follow some creepy stranger, riiight?”

“Uh, no?”

That answer seems to satisfy Kaede, as not a moment later she’s climbing on top of the picnic table and cupping her hands around her mouth. “Hey, everyone! Dodgeball’s still on, so after I split up the teams, go get ready, ‘kay?”

“Red team is Maki, Kaito, Kiyo, Miu, Angie, Himiko, and Tenko! Blue team is me, Shuuichi, Kiibo, Gonta, Kirumi, Ryoma, and Kokichi! Meet up by the fire pit when you’re ready!”

As Kaede steps down from the table the group breaks off into smaller clumps of one or two, most heading back to the cabins and a few heading towards the edge of the tree line. When Shuuichi turns he finds everyone else who had previously been at the table has disappeared, and as he’s attempting to figure out what exactly he’s meant to be doing right now, something soft is pushed into his hands; a blue bandana, an exact match to the one Kaede was tying around her braid.

“I’m not sure how great your outfit is for dodgeball, but I doubt anyone’s going to go super hard on you anyways, so I’m sure it’s fine! Here.” She gently plucks the bandana from his fingers and sidles up behind him, tying it around his neck with deft fingers. He knows he’s surely bright red under his hat, but when she faces him again she just smiles and gestures for the two of them to move.

“So, dodgeball is really sort of a free for all,” she explains as they walk, rolling the sleeves of her blue t-shirt as she does, “and we don’t have a ton of rules. Play fair and be safe covers most of it, but also things like traps, shields, balls, and powers only, and—”

“Powers?” She pauses as she’s interrupted. “I’m sorry! I, ah, just don’t know — are saying that people have. . .superpowers?”

“Um. . .” She laughs. “You’ll see, how about that.”

Her smile only widens at the frown he sends her way. “Anyways, yeah. There are balls scattered all throughout the woods, so if you can’t find any balls where you are, that should tell you you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be. Anything below the neck is an out, but if you hit someone in the head, they get a free shot on you. It’s a good thing you’re on blue, ‘cause Kokichi likes to duck into headshots and just cheat in general.”

“Um, other than that. . .most of the game is pretty intuitive? We have a rule about ball catching, so if you happen to do that, the person who threw it is out. Ah, and last one standing wins for their team. Oh, hey Kiyo!”

“Kaede, Shuuichi,” they reply, the visible portion of their face reflecting what Shuuichi can only describe as pain as the two of them take in the hastily drawn red smile now adorning their mask. “The red team is playing rather dirty today, it seems.”

“When aren’t they?” Kaede cranes her neck to peek over their shoulder. “I wonder where our paint is. . .”

Shuuichi, curious, looks behind Kiyo as well, and sees the red team with crimson paint on their fingers, decorating themselves in various ways. Angie, decorated rather heavily in various lines, dots, and symbols of bright red chases after a shouting Miu, calling her name and attempting to coax her into being painted. Kaito looks as though he’s just pulled his head out of the paint bucket, his hair and face dripping with it.

Tenko and Maki have matching red lines underneath their eyes, with Tenko being slightly more decorative as Himiko draws swirls on her cheeks, hearts adorning her own face. 

“Oh, thanks, Kirumi!” Kaede is drawing light blue lines under her own eyes when Shuuichi turns towards her, and when she catches his gaze she beams. “Shuuichi, do you want any?”

“No, thanks.”

“Okay! Kirumi, what about you?” At her nod Kaede drags two streaks of paint across her cheeks as well, and a moment later her eyes are on Ryoma, who looks as though he might have been trying to sneak past her unnoticed. “Ryoma, there you are!”

With a wink Kaede dashes after him, blue paint running down her fingers as she gives chase. Shuuichi can’t help but laugh at the picture of the two running around, and the giggling that bubbles up from next to him doesn’t surprise him as much as he would expect in his preoccupation.

Kokichi has reappeared, his standard checker print scarf traded out for a blue one not unlike Shuuichi’s. He spares Shuuichi no attention as his eyes catch on the abandoned paint bucket.

“Ooh, goody!” His smile as he seizes it is positively devilish, dark eyes glinting dangerously. “Hey, Kiiboy! C’mere, c’mere!”

“Kokichi, what do you — no! Get away from me right now!” 

He’s off like a shot after Kiibo, who runs away crying about the paint dulling their body’s shine. 

Shuuichi contents himself with observing the contained chaos from a distance, watching as Kaede wrestles two crooked lines of blue down Ryoma’s face, both of them laughing as Kaede struggles to catch her breath. He can hear Kaito shouting vaguely motivational phrases at the rest of his team, and the clicking of Miu’s phone as she takes selfies.

“Shuumai, look ooout!” 

The tail end of the sudden shout is accompanied by the wet smack of a hand against his lower back and his own yelp as the sensation makes him jump out of his skin. Something cold and moist immediately soaks through his shirt and jeans, and as the reality of what just happens sets in, he feels himself go scarlet all the way up to his ears.

“K-Kokichi!” He can hardly hear his own voice over the sound of cackling, Kokichi have double over and fallen directly onto his ass in the aftermath. Both hands are dripping blue, and there are actual tears streaming down his face as he points to Shuuichi’s backside, which was most certainly now covered in a blue stain in the shape of Kokichi’s hand. 

“Oh my God, you should’ve seen your face!” The force of his laughter causes Kokichi to cough, but that doesn’t stop him from craning his neck in order to shout to Miu, “puh- lease tell me you got that on camera!”

The thumbs up Miu manages as she rolls in laughter herself only worsens Shuuichi’s embarrassment.

“You’re almost as easy to get as Kaito, New Kid!” Kokichi has collected himself enough not to burst into giggles upon looking at Shuuichi’s face, at least. “Hey, help me up? Pretty pwease?”

Rolling his eyes but deciding that no real harm was done, Shuuichi offers a hand and is unsurprised when Kokichi takes the opportunity to rub as much paint as he can into Shuuichi’s palm. He pulls Kokichi up with a soft grunt, and once Kokichi’s tossed his hand away, he takes the chance to retaliate, drawing a wobbly line just beneath his eye.

“Ooh, good idea! I’ll do yours and you can do mine! We’ll match, just like yucky Himiko and Tenko! How disgustingly romantic, Shuuichi.”

“That’s not really—” There’s already something being written on his forehead, his hat bumped onto the ground to avoid getting stained, which he more than appreciates. Shuuichi sighs and rolls his eyes, bringing his own hand up to Kokichi’s face.

He struggles to keep his face still against the ticklish feeling of the paint being smushed into his skin, and he can tell just from the smug expression on Kokichi’s face that he’s being made a mess of, but he manages, and tries his best to think of how to decorate Kokichi in return. 

He writes KOKICHI in big, bold letters across his forehead, but beyond that he draws a blank. The idea to draw something crude strikes him, and though he knows he’ll surely regret it later, he lets his childish side win out and traces out something vaguely phallic across his chin. 

If Kokichi notices, he doesn’t mention it, though by the way his smile brightens, Shuuichi doubts it’s gotten past him.

With the remaining paint he simply claps his hand against Kokichi’s cheek, leaving a handprint that likely matches the one on his back. Kokichi pulls his fingers away not long after, staring at Shuuichi’s face intensely, uncharacteristically silent in such a silly situation.

He’s very quiet for a long stretch of time, eyes focused intently on Shuuichi’s face for enough of a stretch that it becomes uncomfortable. He’s close enough that he can feel the light puff of each exhale against the drying paint, and his expression is blank, oddly unreadable for someone usually so expressive.

It’s more than a little uncomfortable.

“Blue isn’t your color.” A grin crack’s Kokichi’s face, and he laughs for a moment in Shuuichi’s space before bouncing back several feet and taking off in Gonta’s direction, paint bucket in hand and shouting for Gonta to bend down so he can get some, too.

“Kokichi, quit wasting the paint and get over here! You too, Shuuichi!” Kaede barely suppresses a laugh as Shuuichi turns to look at her, and after taking a moment to settle her expression she beckons him over with the hand not currently holding her phone. 

As soon as he’s within reach he’s manhandled into position next to Kirumi, Kokichi being pressed in just behind Ryoma when he eventually makes his way over. Kaede slots herself in next to Shuuichi and Kiibo, throws an arm around his shoulders, and offers her phone to Gonta, who was sporting matching sky-colored stars on both cheeks. 

“Here, Gonta, come stand behind me, good — okay, everyone smile!” He tries to smile as convincingly as he can as Gonta fumbles with the camera on Kaede’s phone, though he finds it loosening some when he sees the blue bunny ears that have sprouted over his head, suspiciously close to where Kokichi’s smile was peeking up innocently at the camera.

Kaede takes her phone back after Gonta’s taken a good few pictures just in time for Maki to make her way over, arms crossed and eyeing Shuuichi oddly. 

“Kaede.” Maki runs her fingers through one of her pigtails as she waits for Kaede to acknowledge her. “Our five minutes are up and we’re ready. Tell your team to take theirs so we can get started.”

“C’mon, Gonta, we gotta huuurry!” Kokichi takes off towards the woods, pulling Gonta along as he does. Kaede jogs after them, leaving Shuuichi to wait behind with Kirumi, Ryoma, and Kiibo, the latter of whom was grimacing as they tried to scrape the drying paint off of their face.

Kiibo looks at Shuuichi and smiles, though the expression looked pained. “It seems Kokichi got his hands on you, as well.”

“In more ways than one.” When he turns to show the hand-shaped stain on his back, Kiibo gasps, and he thinks he might hear Ryoma snort from somewhere, but he can’t be sure. 

As he waits for something to happen he pulls out his phone, and though he is unsurprised to find he has no new notifications, it still pulls some of the warmth from his mood nonetheless. He stares at it for a few long moments, but aside from the battery dropping down a percent, nothing happens, and he pushes it back into his pocket dejectedly.

“Hey. Shuuichi.” He startles a bit at hearing his name, but settles in time to look down at Ryoma, who was worrying at one of his sleeves. “Thought I’d give a word of advice before we start.”

“Don’t know if someone told you this already, and if so sorry for wasting your time, but if you see Angie, Maki, or Tenko during the game, run in the opposite direction.” Ryoma’s mouth twitches into a smile. “Or you’ll have more to worry about than cleaning the paint off of your clothes by the end of this.”

“Oh, thank you,” Shuuichi replies, resisting the urge to scratch at the paint on his face, which was beginning to itch. “Are they really good?”

“You could say that. The rest of that team are usually easy targets, so if you’re the offensive type, go for them.” He runs a hand through his red hair, staring off at the red team as they stood in a huddle a small distance away. “Just make sure Himiko doesn’t touch you with her hands.”

“Got it. Thanks again.”

“No worries.” 

“Oh, Shuuichi,” Kirumi says softly, stepping closer to him to speak in his ear. “There is one more thing you should be aware of. If you see an, ah, I’m not really sure how to describe him—”

“Vaguely homeless looking?” Ryoma offers, chuckling softly at himself.

“Yes, that. If you see a man you don’t recognize who looks. . .as Ryoma described, it would be best if you stayed away from him. If he tries to speak to you, ignore him and don’t go anywhere he asks you to.”

“Uh?”

“He’s creepy for sure, but he can’t hurt you.” Ryoma shrugs. “He probably won’t even talk to you. But if you do come across him, just find any of us, and he’ll leave you alone.”

As Shuuichi is trying to formulate a response to that, the sound of a whistle being blown carries through the trees as Kaede emerges, Gonta and Kokichi not far behind. 

“Red team, are you guys ready?” At Maki’s nod, Kaede beckons the rest of the blue team over to the tree line. “Blue, what about you?”

A nod from all of them is greeted with a resolute grin from Kaede. “Alright! When Maki and I blow our whistles, it’s game on! Everybody, good luck, and please do your very best!”

The whistles blow in unison and Shuuichi’s off, grabbing a small shield from the pile and taking off into the woods in a direction he thinks is away from everyone else. He keeps his eyes on the ground, searching out any tripping hazards, as well as dodgeballs to let him know he’s still within bounds.

It takes a few minutes, but a spot of bright green catches his eye from a few yards away. As he runs over and stoops down to grab it he listens; the only sounds he can hear is that of his own breathing and some sort of water source somewhere farther into the woods. 

He takes a moment to look around; he’s lost sight of the break in the trees where he entered from, but he trusts that the woodsy area isn’t big enough for him to actually get lost in, so for once he pushes any anxiety to the backburner and allows himself a moment of peace in the quiet.

He’ll play for a little while, he’ll eventually get out, and though he’s more than confident he won’t be one of the last players in, he’s fairly certain he won’t be first. 

Something purple catches Shuuchi’s eye from a ways away and he takes his time going to retrieve it, allowing himself to bask in the calmness the woods provided. Sunlight only filtered through the thick foliage in thin yellow slivers, lending the air to be cool and comfortable. The ground was worn in countless long, winding paths; a sign of a long history of usage. A weak breeze occasionally brushed past him, carrying the scent of decaying leaves and dirt.

After living in a place like Tokyo for as long as he can remember, the stark difference the remoteness of the camp provides feels almost like a vacation, and not a mandatory holding facility until his life back in the real world is sorted.

The thought makes him cringe, and his steps falter for a moment, the tips of his shoes just shy of the purple ball he’d been after. He bends down to retrieve it, and as he’s straightening something shrill and nauseatingly loud and almost like a scream breaks through the silence he’d cultivated, leaving him feeling dizzy and even a bit like he could get sick.

The sound is cut off abruptly, nearly as soon as it began, and replaced with the sound of a high whine, not too far away from Shuuichi. 

“Kokichi, you fuckin’ cockshit!” From the volume of Miu’s anger, she really isn’t that far away. And from how clearly he can hear Kokichi laughing in response, she can’t be more than a few yards out of eyesight. “You always target me! Go after someone yer own size, you goddamn fuckin’ manlet!”

Shuuichi doesn’t hesitate to run in the opposite direction, more than okay with neither of them knowing he’s close by.

He slows to a jog after a few minutes of not seeing anything — no balls or people, for that matter — and he’s just considering turning around and trying to find his way back towards where he started when he hears the sound of something heavy dropping to the ground somewhere close by. He tenses, pulling the shield flush against his chest; though he listens, he hears nothing further, and after another beat of silence he begins to tiptoe towards the source.

It’s not too hard to find once he catches a flash of red hair, and immediately he steps behind a tree for cover, peeking out only long enough to get a read on the situation in front of him.

Kirumi is on the ground, looking as though she was moments away from falling asleep. A ball sat next to one of her hands. Above her stood Himiko, pulling a hand away from Kirumi and seeming to sway in the air. 

Is. . .this what a ‘power’ is?

With difficulty she grabs the ball from next to Kirumi and drops it against her arm, effectively getting her out. Shuuichi looks at the balls in his possession, takes a moment to weigh his odds, and steps out from behind the tree with a sheepish smile on his face.

Himiko blinks up at him blearily, recognition flashing in her eyes after several long moments. Her gaze drops to the ball he was aiming in her direction.

“N-New Ki. . .d, you better. . .not get me o. . .ut. . .”

“Sorry, Himiko.” He tosses the ball underhand at her, and she can only manage to lift one of her hands up before the ball is bouncing off her arm. She rubs at her eyes for a moment and fixes him with an unimpressed — if sleepy — look.

“Aw, T. . .enko, Sh. . .uichi got me. . .” Her eyes focus somewhere behind his head.

Wait.

He spins around, alarmed, and finds Tenko hardly two steps away, a ball in each hand and expression blank, something that he finds almost more concerning as if she’d been staring at him with murder in her eyes.

He blinks, and tries to subtly lift the shield to cover his face. Tenko’s eyes track each movement, and he feels himself grow sweaty under the collar at the intensity of her focus.

“I, ah — you’re v-very good at being quiet.”

Her eyes narrow a fraction. Shuuichi hears a huff from behind him. “Duh. . .That’s her p. . .ower. . .”

Ah.

“Ah. Very impressive power.”

Her mouth twitches downward. “Tenko doesn’t care what some boy she just met thinks of her or her powers.”

“Of course.” He swallows nervously. Her fingers twitch around one of the balls. “Still, very cool.”

“Tenko is going to get you out now.”

She winds one arm back, eyes determined; Shuuichi cringes backward, realizing all at once that there is not a chance Tenko isn’t going to bruise one part or another of his body with one or both of those balls. 

If only she slowed down, I might be able to get away—

That train of thought — along with the air in his body — is knocked out of him all at once, and he almost thinks he’s been hit until he realizes his vision is darkening around the edges, the world around him moving in what feels like slow motion. Realization seizes him in an instant and he panics, the idea of losing his sense of reality like he did when that girl attacked him and Rantarou scaring him into moving, running away, regaining control, something.

But his vision doesn’t escape him entirely. He watches as the ball Tenko had prepared to send his way passes through the space he’d been occupying several moments ago at an almost leisurely pace, before falling like a coin through honey towards the ground.

He looks to Tenko as she moves her eyes towards him, though her reaction is significantly delayed. This is not lost on her; genuine surprise and then anger cycle through her face, and it’s only as she opens her mouth to speak that the world regains its usual speed, the headrush the acceleration around him gives him sending him stumbling.

“—nswer me! What did you do?”

Shuuichi stares straight ahead, his legs shaking underneath him as his mind struggles to fill in the gaps as to what just happened.

Did I just. . .?

Was that what happened at school? When — when that girl attacked him, when he was up by the throat and suddenly he couldn’t see and everything was wrong, was that — did he slow down time? How was that even possible? Was it even possible?

The feeling of something sticky and heavy crawling through his veins, the vertigo, the blackening of his vision; that was all the same, but it was so vivid this time, and he couldn’t just blame it on being asphyxiated this time. 

He almost wants to blame it on being disoriented, but if Tenko is acknowledging it, then. . .?

Something slams against the shield, startling him out of his stupor. His eyes find Tenko’s and — she’s mad. 

“Tenko was going to go easy on you before, but since you cheated, you won’t get any mercy!”

She bends down, lightning quick, to retrieve a ball. 

“I’m, ah, going to run now.”

He wastes no further time, taking off running in the opposite direction as fast as his legs will take him. He hears her shout from behind him, and the whizz of a ball as it brushes past his ear sends his heart into overdrive, pumping in tandem with each slam of his shoes on the ground, his head and body and everything screaming at him to get away.

Shuuichi runs until he’s teetering dangerously on the edge of an asthma attack and he has to stop, and he almost collapses with relief when he finds he’s stumbled upon the mysterious water source he’d heard earlier, a substantial looking stream running straight through the trees, filled to the brim with water that was simply too tempting to pass up.

He spends several long moments cleaning the crumbling paint from his hands and then brings a handful of water to his mouth, cringing at the taste but swallowing it nevertheless. He flops onto his back once satisfied, content to lay there and catch his breath until someone (hopefully not Tenko) found him and got him out.

“Shuuichi?” 

He blinks, startled, and looks over to find Angie standing on the opposite side of the stream. She waves, and he’s confused — but not ungrateful — to find that there are no balls in sight. 

“Ah, hello! How fun to see you here!” With difficulty he rises into a standing position, pulling the shield and balls close as he watches her step into the stream with bare feet. 

“. . .Hi, Angie.”

“Are you having fun playing dodgeball so far, Shuuichi?”

That’s not the word I’d use, is what he thinks, but he smiles at her and nods, to which she claps her hands, looking delighted. “Wonderful! Oh, oh! Shuuichi, do you know who Angie’s mother is?”

“Uh. . .” He wasn’t expecting a pop quiz, though nonetheless he offers what he hopes is the correct answer. “The Goddess of Strength?”

“Nyahaha!” Angie laughs, swaying lightly in the water. “Yes, this is true! But do you remember who Angie’s other mother is?”

Shuuichi is suddenly seized by a very, very bad feeling. He takes a step back, and when her smile only widens, he takes another one.

“. . .The Goddess of the Ocean?”

She nods, looking proud. “Very good, Shuuichi! Angie loves her mother very much, you know, because she has given her many wonderful things! Do you want to know something else about her?”

“Wh. . .?” 

Angie’s smile is shadowed as a wall of water rises around her. Her eyes sparkle as she says, “she gave Angie her powers? Isn’t that divine?”

All he has time to do is retrieve his phone and toss it as far away as possible before the water is raining down on him, soaking him through to the bone. The shield does little to protect him from the torrential downpour that is thrown at him, and as he scrambles towards his phone and then as far away from the stream as he can, he is backdropped by the sound of Angie’s delighted laughter.

He’s hardly been running a minute when he suddenly stops dead, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up and adrenaline screaming in his ears. In his haste he’d dropped one of the balls, so all he has to defend himself is the shield and the other ball, both of which he pulls as close to him as he can, spinning around wildly in search of whatever was sending his senses haywire.

“I see Angie got to you.”

Maki?

He tenses reflexively, bracing himself for a moment before spinning on his heel in search of the source of the voice. He falters when he doesn’t see anyone in the vicinity; he’d been positive that was the low lilt of Maki’s voice, and yet she was nowhere to be seen?

And. Well. He’d seen Himiko put someone to sleep and Angie control water today; it shouldn’t be a stretch to consider there were some sort of supernatural — is that the correct term? — shenanigans at play here.

“. . .Maki?” he ventures, keeping the shield pulled tight against his chest as he slowly spins around, keeping his eyes peeled for even a hint as to where she might be.

“Tenko said you were cheating.” The statement is punctuated by the sound of a ball passing just next to his head, as well as his own shout of surprise as he registers it. He does his best to retrace the path the ball travelled; it definitely originated from somewhere in the trees, though no matter how closely he looks, there’s nothing there. 

“I doubt you’d believe me if I told you I wasn’t,” Shuuichi replies nervously, jumping several feet back as another ball shoots through the trees and smacks directly into his shield.

It’s silent for several long beats, long enough that he’s sweating through the water that’s drenched his clothes, when he hears something gently hit the ground. 

“You’ve stayed in longer than I thought you would.” The voice is definitely coming from in front of him; it’s much closer now. In a normal world, she’d be standing right in front of him, but she isn’t—

There’s a ball floating several feet off the ground. 

Sleep powers, water powers, now this?

“I, ah, was told you’re very good at dodgeball.” He eyes the yellow ball warily. It doesn’t move even a little bit. “I think I just figured out why.”

He feels his jaw slacken as she pops into view right in front of him, as if she’d been there all along. She’s crouched down low, a hand curled dangerously around the ball. She looks positively lethal. 

She almost smiles. “Invisibility. It comes in handy.”

“I imagine it would.” He swallows, and then she’s gone again, the yellow ball the only tangible thing denoting her presence. 

He’s absolutely caught, unless. . .

Slow down, please.

Somehow, that works, and the ball passes through the air slowly, giving Shuuichi more than enough time to sidestep out of its path. The slowing of the world around him is once again accompanied by a feeling of something sickly moving through his blood, as well as a nauseating blur of his vision, but he can pretty quickly recover enough to begin running away in the opposite direction of Maki before the forest once again rockets into regular speed around him. In the distance, he hears an affronted scoff, but he can’t be bothered to stop, the looming threat of death by dodgeball not yet fully avoided.

For a single, fleeting moment, he thinks he might just be in the clear, that he’s evaded a beating from the red team for the second time and he might actually win this thing, until he comes crashing down to earth.

Literally.

The ground gives out from underneath him and he yells, falling in time with a large amount of leaves and branches into a hole in the ground, where he lands rather harshly on his side, immediately knocking the wind out of him.

He groans, head spinning, and positions the dented shield as well over his most sensitive parts as he can.

“Shuumai!” Kokichi’s tone sounds sever enough to indicate Shuuichi had done something positively terrible. The face Kokichi makes at him as he peeks over the edge of the whole mirrors the sentiment. He’s too sore to care.  “You ruined my Maki catcher, you meanie!”

“Your what?” Maki’s voice comes from somewhere above him. 

“I mean, my Tenko catcher — ow!”

“Your what, degenerate?”

Oh, good. He’s surrounded by all the people who are most likely to send a ball flying at his head. Fantastic.

“Quit ganging up on me!”

“You’re out. Kokichi. Get lost.”

“No I’m n — oh, shit.”

“. . .Shit.”

“Shit!”

“. . .Hey, Shuuichi, jumpscare warning.” With difficulty he looks up as Kokichi’s face reappears, visible only as a silhouette against the bright sun. “Captain Killjoy is here, so don’t get into his candy van, ‘kay? Ew, get away from me!”

Kokichi jumps away from the edge of the hole as a new face peeks over, this one totally foreign. Long, dark hair hangs over the shoulders of a tall, imposing figure, red eyes bright even against the glare of the sun and staring down at Shuuichi coldly. The veil of intimidation is ebbed some by the frankly very out of place clothing combination of a Camp Hope’s Peak sweatshirt and. . .dress slacks?

He’s almost funny looking right up until his red eyes begin to pulse, and Shuuichi feels his vision darkening for the third time that day. 

The gaze is hypnotic, intoxicating, and despite the swell of dark, scary energy that begins to cloud his head, he can’t pull his eyes away. It’s impossible to look away, but the more he stares back, the more he feels as though he’s dying.

The feeling is only broken when something slams roughly into the fleshy part of his torso and he rolls over, arms cradling the area instinctively.

“He’s out. Kokichi, go ask Gonta to fish him out of the hole.”

He’s terrified to look up, afraid that the feeling will overtake him again. He hears Maki huff. “You’re wasting your time. He’s not going to go anywhere with you. Go be creepy somewhere else.”

Shuuichi chances a look upwards. A ball bounces off the stranger’s head, the absurdity of the sight causing him to cough out a frantic sounding laugh. But he needn’t have worried; the stranger was now looking at — Shuuichi presumes — Maki, and he simply stares silently until another ball glances off of his head.

“Leave her alone, you freak! Or Tenko will flip you into next week!”

God, was she afraid of anything?

The stranger’s eyes sudden cut downward to look at Shuuichi. He swallows nervously, but the stranger steps out of view a moment later, leaving Shuuichi blinded by the bright sunlight once again, but he’d take that over whatever that man did to him any day.

“Shuuichi, you okay?” He jumps as Gonta drops without preamble into the hole, arms open. “Gonta come save you from Maki’s trap!”

“You’re a bastard, you know that, right?” Maki’s voice rattles in his ears along with Kokichi’s laughter as Gonta — embarrassingly — lifts him from the hole and sets him gently on his feet. A moment later, when Gonta has himself climbed out of the hole, Shuuichi thanks him, face bright red.

“Ugh, just! Go to the kitchen! There’s all the saltines you could ever want, just go away!” Kaede walks into the group of them facing backwards, freezes when she turns to see all of them, and then waves awkwardly. “Oh, hey, everybody. Um, Gonts, are you out yet?”

“No, not — oh, yes, Gonta out now.”

“Shuuichi?”

He smiles sheepishly, cradling his stomach. “Yeah.”

“Damn.”

With a soft ‘pop!’ Maki blinks out of existence again, and as Shuuichi is getting ready to mourn the loss of the blue team Kaede begins singing softly.

And then his limbs lock up. And so, it seems, do everyone else’s.

With an apologetic smile Kaede takes the ball from his frozen hands, but she doesn’t have time to do anything with it before Maki blinks back into view, smiling, and hits her with the ball. 

“Ugh, Maki!” As soon as her singing stops feeling begins to creep back into Shuuichi’s body. “I really thought we were gonna win this time.”

Maki smirks. “If Izuru hadn’t shown up, you just might’ve.”

Kaede turns away from the group and blows for a few moments on her whistle. She smiles at the group when she finishes, and then links her arm with Shuuichi’s. “Good job, guys! Let’s clean up and head back, ‘kay?”

Though his fingers were feeling a bit numb still he grabs the shield Gonta had retrieved from the hole and begins walking along with Kaede, though he can’t help but eye her warily. She notices immediately and her smile drops some, looking sheepish.

“Sorry about that. Guess I should’ve warned you about what my power was, huh?” She does a once over on him, biting back a guilty smile. “And everyone else’s, too.”

“Ah, yeah.” He forces a laugh. “So, um, what was that, anyways?” 

“I have, uhm,” she blushes, looking shy all of a sudden, “I can. . .if I sing, people around me freeze up. Which kinda stinks when you’re someone who wants to do music for a living, haha. . .”

“Oh.” He doesn’t know how to respond to that. “That’s. . .really useful in a game like dodgeball, huh?”

She shrugs, looking shy again. “Yeah, though not like Maki’s or Tenko’s.”

“Yeah, ah, invisibility seems pretty perfect for something like this. And Tenko’s, uh. . .”

“She’s really fast. Like, really fast. And quiet.” Kaede laughs. “And I guess you know what Angie’s is, huh?”

He nods. “And Miu has something similar to you, right? I heard, ah, do something near the start of the game.”

Kaede makes a face. “It’s pretty terrible, right? She screams like that enough at Kokichi, I’m surprised he’s not deaf.”

Shuuichi laughs along with her. “What’s Kokichi’s, if I can ask? I didn’t notice one.”

“It’s mind control!” Kokichi appears at his side, smiling brightly up at him. “You just didn’t notice cuz I mind controlled you not to!”

“Uh huh.” 

“So, Shuumai, what’s yours? Meanie Tenko was complaining about you cheating, so it must be really good, right? Right?”

Kaede looks at him curiously. “Did you figure yours out?”

“. . .Maybe? But I don’t know if it’s worth talking about—”

“Nuh uh, Shuuichi!” Kokichi pulls on his shirt, stopping the three of them in their tracks. He points emphatically at what Shuuichi had drawn on him, earning a laugh from Kaede. “You drew a dick on me, so you gotta cough it up! It’s, like, equality, or whatever.”

Shuuchi hopes the look he sends his way conveys how unimpressed he is in that excuse. Kokichi blinks up at him innocently until Shuuichi sighs.

“I — maybe — can slow down time? Maybe? But it makes me dizzy, and feel sick, so—”

“That was you?” Kaede and Kokichi ask in unison, wearing matching looks of surprise. Suddenly feeling bashful he just nods, pulling his hat over his head.

“Well, that’s okay I guuuess, but it’s not as cool as my real power!” 

“And that is. . .?”

“Hmm, it’s a secret! You gotta unlock friendship level twenty-two for that kind of lore, Shuumai!” Kokichi winks up at him. “Take me on a date, and maaaybe I’ll tell you!”

“Wh—”

“Juuust kidding! You’re too stinky for me. Anyways, bye!” Kokichi runs off, leaving Shuuichi feeling more confused than their encounters usually do. Kaede just smiles fondly and nudges the two of them forward.

“There’s a couple of us who don’t have powers,” she says softly, not looking at Shuuichi’s face. “Like Kaito, Kiibo, and Ryoma. Kokichi, too, but he’s probably too embarrassed to say it, y’know?”

She shakes her head, looks to Shuuichi again with a smile as they break through the tree line and back into the main campus. “Well, whatever, stuff like that doesn’t matter to us. What matters most to me right now is getting some lunch, though, so go clean up and I’ll grab us something to eat, ‘kay?”

Chapter Text

Despite everything, Shuuichi was in relatively high spirits as he sat down to eat (actually eat!) dinner after the day’s events. True to their word, Kaede and Kaito had stuck by his side for the rest of the day following dodgeball; after another slightly more in-depth tour and an unsuccessful attempt on Kaito’s part to get Shuuichi to try out the zipline course, he’d been lead to an American-style dinner of hot dogs and corn roasted over the large campfire, everyone sat around on the log-style seating, laughter and conversation filling the air between the group.

Shuuichi sat on one of the logs, flanked on either side by Gonta and Maki, both of whom were, like him, carefully balancing paper plates filled with various foods on their laps and sticks in their hands. Kaede was sat on the ground in front of Maki, leaning back against her legs as she roasted a hotdog. Kokichi and Kaito were sprawled out a mere foot or so away, Kaito groaning in the aftermath of a hot dog eating contest gone wrong, and Kokichi systematically burning whatever he could stab onto his stick into a crisp.

Shuuichi’s in a fresh pair of clothes, the dirty, damp, paint-soaked things he had been wearing earlier tossed into the corner of his cabin, a reminder that he’ll have to do laundry at some point. The sinks in the men’s bathroom were dyed a dull purple from the runoff of everyone scrubbing red and blue paint from their faces. He felt fresher, cleaner, more whole than he had on his first day; and though the ache of the wound that was Rantarou’s death never strayed too far from the front of his mind, he found himself smiling along with the conversations floating around his head, his fingers worrying with the strings of his and Rantarou’s bracelets he now wore around his wrist.

During a lull in conversation Kiibo jumps to their feet and takes off towards the cafeteria, evidently more excited than anyone who could actually eat about the upcoming s’mores roasting session. Shuuichi watches after them with a smile, though his expression falls when he sees Hajime stumble out from somewhere in the darkness, both hands cradling his head and feet tripping over each other as he makes his way into the warm light of the campfire. He glances up and seems to catch Shuuichi’s eye, because a moment later he’s making his way over, the action seeming to come only with great difficulty. 

Shuuichi pulls anxiously on the bracelet as he waits for Hajime to approach, the dark feelings associated with their last interaction bringing down his mood. Though his behavior was embarrassing and uncomfortable, he didn’t feel it appropriate to apologize; whether that was due to the awkwardness the conversation was already sure to bring, or his own complicated feelings over the matter of how Hajime regarded Rantarou’s death, he isn’t sure; whatever the case, the smile he offers when Hajime eventually manages his way over to the fire pit isn’t exactly genuine. 

He’s about to broach the subject of their last conversation when he registers the drawn look of pain on Hajime’s face, and falls short. “Are you alright? You’re stumbling.”

The sound of his voice speaking up for the first time in a while seems to rouse the attention of the people around him. One of Hajime’s eyes pulses a bloody red in the low glow of the fire.

“I’m fine. Thank you.” Even the smile he offers to Shuuichi is strained; he grimaces to himself and turns to Kaede. “How much time did I lose today?”

“From around when Nagito left til now is about eleven hours.”

Hajime looks so, so tired as he runs a hand through his hair, posture slumping. “Any incidents?”

“He met Shuuichi,” Maki interjects, eyes on Kiibo as they throw her a marshmallow. She catches it one handed. 

“But!” Kaede says, hands waving in the air nervously at Hajime’s haunted expression. “Me, Maki, and Tenko were there, and nothing happened!”

“I was there too, y’know!” Kokichi whines, sitting up to lean back against Shuuichi’s legs, a pout on his face.

“All you did was insult Izuru and lie about not being out,” Maki says with a roll of her eyes, spearing the marshmallow onto her stick and raising it over the coals of the fire. Kokichi sticks his tongue out at her.

“Well, that’s good at least. No, thank you, Kiibo,” Hajime says wearily, shaking his head at the marshmallow he’s offered. Instead it’s passed to Shuuichi, Kiibo smiling as they settle down next to Kaede.

“Hajime.” Shuuichi pushes his free hand into the pocket of his hoodie, stick balanced between his legs as he prepares to roast his own s’more. “What — or, ah, who was that person?”

Hajime sighs, looking as though all he wants to do in the world is lay down and rest. He tries to smile, but it ends up looking uncomfortable. His red eye pulses. 

It looks painful.

“Want us to field this one, man?” Kaito offers from the ground, artfully spinning his stick so as to ensure his marshmallows didn’t catch. Hajime nods, looking grateful.

“Yes, thank you.” He looks to the group. “I’m going to go call Nagito. Have fun, everyone.”

The explanation doesn’t begin until Shuuichi has his marshmallow balanced delicately over the tips of the flames. Kokichi occasionally bumps their sticks together, knocking his own already smoldering marshmallow into the fire. 

“So,” Kaede begins, looking thoughtfully at the fire as she speaks. “This is a complicated, really weird story, even for someone who knows how stuff with the gods works, so just. . .try your best not to let anything weird keep you from believing this, ‘kay?”

Shuuichi nods. Kaede brings her knees to her chest, wraps her arms around them. “Hajime is the God of Hope, right? And he’s a Big Five god. So he’s a really powerful person. And he sort of seems like the sort of guy who, well, like nothing could really shake him, right?”

He thinks of the stress lines on Hajime’s face as he taught his history class. Of the thinly-veiled panic as he held Shuuichi in the hallway. Of the pain in his eyes as he broke the news about Rantarou. Of the way he struggled to even walk over to where the group sat.

Shuuichi just nods again.

“Well, there was always just one thing that got to Hajime. Just one person who he struggled to hold his own against. The God of Despair.”

He swallows nervously at the idea of such a being. Maki huffs from next to him, smushing her perfectly-roasted marshmallow between two graham crackers. She passes it down silently to Kaede, who beams as she receives it.

“That’s who you met today. Izuru Kamukura,” Maki explains, pushing another marshmallow onto the point of her stick. “The look on your face when he was staring at you — you felt it, right?”

Though there’s no way he can for sure know that what she’s describing is the same as what he felt when that person —  Izuru, he reminds himself — looked at him, he just nods, figuring it’s okay to assume. She gauges his reaction for a moment before continuing. “That’s what he does. Infects people with despair.”

“Hajime and Izuru have been enemies since, well, forever,” Kaede picks up, idly sucking on her fingers to remove the sticky residue. “They would have these big, destructive, earth-shattering fights every so often, they’d beat each other up really badly. They were like—”

“Like mortal enemies!” Kaito cuts in, speaking around his own s’more. He can feel Kokichi recoil into his legs, a look of disgust on his face. “Like good and evil! Darkness and light!”

“Or like people who have good taste, and people who like Homest—”

“Anyways,” Kaede interrupts Kokichi, voice forceful and eyes rolling, “they’re enemies. And they fought each other a lot, always looking to destroy the other. But one day. . .”

“They almost killed each other,” Maki supplies calmly, once again passing a finished s’more to Kaede. With a grin, Kaede passes her one as well. “The two of them were barely hanging on by a thread. And it’s already incredibly difficult to kill a god, so that tells you a lot about how terrible the fighting was.”

“But Hajime’s. . .?” Not dead, Shuuichi doesn’t say.

“Nagito had to go to very. . . extreme measures to save him,” Kaede says quietly. “What’s worse, he had to—”

“He had to fight Junko!” As soon as the last syllable leaves Kokichi’s mouth Maki is striking him harshly upside the head, and Kaito has a hand clapped over his mouth. Kaede sighs. 

“Nagito did not fight her,” she corrects sternly, rolling her eyes before turning to Shuuichi to give him a long-suffering smile. “But he did have to. . .find a way to get her to do what he wanted.”

“Which was. . .?”

Kaede doesn’t speak for a moment, instead saying a thanks to Maki as she’s handed a napkin. After wiping her hands carefully she looks back up at Maki. “Hey, can we trade spots so I can braid your hair?”

Shuuichi’s honestly expecting Maki to scoff and turn her down coldly, but to his surprise she just shrugs and vacates the seat next to him, waiting for Kaede to take her spot before settling into a cross-legged sit on the ground in front of her. Kaede sets to work running her fingers through one of her pigtails before addressing Shuuichi again.

“Nagito is Hajime’s husband, duh,” she continues, eyes fixated on Maki’s hair, “and Junko is. . .Izuru’s only associate, I’ll call it. The point of the matter was that to save one, both of their healing abilities had to be combined, which meant—”

“They had to stick both their brains in one body, like some fucked up Frankenstein shit!” Kokichi laughs as Shuuichi makes a face at the mental image. Kaito flicks him in the head. 

“That’s not what happened, but yes, both gods had to be put into one body to save Hajime. And Junko and Nagito. . .disagreed on whose body should have been saved.”

Maki looks over at Shuuichi over her shoulder, not seeming impressed. “Junko is a Big Five goddess. Like Hajime.”

“She’s a raging bitch,” Kaito says curtly, mood suddenly sour. “Fuck her.”

“Agreed.” Maki, looking very reluctant, reciprocates the fist bump Kaito initiates. “So, Nagito and Junko ‘fought’ over whose body would be saved.”

“How did they do that?”

“Rock, paper, scissors,” Kokichi supplies. When no one corrects him, Shuuichi catches his eye, confused. “No, I’m being serious.”

“Why would someone like that agree to a game of luck with the God of Luck?”

“Junko is the Goddess of Chaos,” Kiibo interjects, speaking for the first time though they’d been listening intently the whole time. “As such, she is more inclined to agree to terms that will produce chaotic results, even to the point of her own misfortune.”

“So, with Hajime’s body bein’ the one that was saved, it took a few other of the gods — Celeste, Sonia, and—”

“—and another god whose name we don’t say,” Kaede cuts in quickly, looking up from her half-finished braid to pin Kaito with an especially stern look. 

“Who? And why?” Shuuichi asks, curious, seized with a desire to know more about the world he’s been shut off from. The group looks at him — and between each other — warily.

“He’s, ah, not one of the friendlier gods,” Kaede says delicately, looking as though she’s choosing her words very carefully. “So much so that, um, in fact, we don’t say his name, because—”

“If you say his name, it’s said you’ll have bad luck. And or die.” Shuuichi glances at Maki incredulously; she just levels an unfazed look at him. 

“He kills people just for saying his name?” 

“Allegedly! But, um, no one’s really keen to test it, especially since he’s part of the Big Five, and—” Kaede gestures vaguely with her hands. “Uh. God of the Dark Arts. Magic stuff I don’t really get.”

Shuuichi blinks. And blinks again. “Okay. Great. Cool. I would prefer not to, ah, be killed. So. You were saying, about. . .?”

“Where were we. . .” Kiibo puts a finger to their chin. “After the intervention from the other gods, Hajime and Izuru’s lives were both saved, and the two of them now reside in Hajime’s body,” Kiibo continues. “And though Hajime is the one in control the majority of the time, sometimes—”

“—When he’s super stressed out, like when a random geek with an emo haircut shows up on his doorstep unannounced—"

“Don’t be rude!” Kiibo glares at Kokichi for a few moments before continuing. “Sometimes, when Hajime is under a certain level of duress, or when he is otherwise weakened, Izuru emerges for a few hours.”

Shuuichi takes a moment to digest all of that, sparing a brief glance in the direction Hajime wandered off; at the edge of his vision he can see a dark shape that looks mostly like Hajime if he were pacing. He turns back quickly, looking at his hands. 

To imagine Hajime and this Izuru person both were in equal proximity to Shuuichi and everyone else. . .

“Hey, I know what you’re thinking,” Kaede says softly, nudging Shuuichi with her elbow. “You’re thinking ‘what if Izuru tried to hurt one of us,’ right?”

Shuuichi nods. The several pairs of rolling eyes are not lost on him.

“He’s why Nagito is so insistent about staying within camp boundaries. Gods can’t interfere here, so he doesn’t pose a threat outside of being creepy.” Kaede laughs, though her expression is suddenly downtrodden; uncomfortable. “Usually.”

“. . .Usually?”

Kaede shares a significant look with everyone involved in the conversation. Finally, she turns back to Shuuichi, a sad smile on her face. “There was, uh, an incident of note. A few years ago. Before most of us got here.”

“Izuru, ah,” Kiibo picks up, looking anxiously towards Gonta every few moments as they stammer, “when Gonta was much younger, he—”

“Izuru try to bring Gonta outside of camp.” Gonta squeezes his knees tightly, not quite meeting Shuuichi’s eyes as he speaks. “When Gonta much littler. Say he need Gonta’s help, but actually want to—” 

Gonta pauses for a long moment, chewing on his lip. Shuuichi looks away from the tears budding in his eyes. 

“Izuru actually. . .want to h-hurt. . .Gonta. That what Nagito told Gonta.” He sniffs noisily, and then wipes at his eyes, looking embarrassed. “Gonta sorry for crying, everyone.”

“No, it’s okay,” Shuuichi responds softly, encouraged to hear the sentiment parroted by everyone else. Gonta gives Shuuichi a watery smile, which he returns in kind. 

“Izuru isn’t a good person. But he can’t hurt us,” Kaede says after several beats of quiet, hands frozen in Maki’s hair. “Hajime would never let him hurt us. Would never let anything hurt us. I trust him with my life.”

“Kaede?”

She shakes her head, finishing up the last braid with gently trembling hands. “And I know all of us here do, too. So don’t let Izuru make you distrust Hajime, okay? He’s a good person. Just know that, okay?”

She turns to look at him, expression fierce; and though he’s only known Kaede for a day, something in the way she looks at him, the fire in her eyes tells him he can trust her word, and in turn, trust Hajime, too.

He nods. She does the same, then turns back to Maki’s hair as she secures the finished braid with the second scrunchie. 

The conversation drops off after that, and Shuuichi takes the opportunity to construct his first s’more of the night. Despite Kokichi’s valiant efforts to sabotage his marshmallow, it was done and relatively uncharred; Kokichi sticks his tongue out and spears another marshmallow, shoving it directly into the coals. It catches in moments, the smell of burnt sugar wafting over Shuuichi as he smushed his own between two graham crackers. 

The treat is sticky, and sweet, and already he’s planning on making himself another before he’s even finished his first. As he cleans his hands of a spot of stray chocolate, he watches as Angie walks with several immaculately made, perfectly roasted s’mores directly over to the fire, and sets them into the flames without hesitation. 

After swallowing around some leftover stickiness, he asks, “Angie, why are you putting those in the fire?”

He winces instinctively at how accusatory the question comes out, but as she directs a contented smile towards him, she seems unbothered. “An offering for Angie’s mothers, of course! Would Shuuichi like help making one for his own godly parent?”

“Oh, no, I’m okay—” He waves the stick he’d speared a second marshmallow on for emphasis. “But, ah, you really get along with your moms, huh?”

Angie nods emphatically, bounding over to where Kiibo sat with the bag of marshmallows and holding out her hands for another one. “Of course! Angie’s mothers are the most amazing goddesses in the whole world, why wouldn’t she show her love for them with offerings?”

She doesn’t wait for Shuuichi to respond to that before dancing back to her seat, happily accepting a stick from Himiko as she does. Shuuichi turns to Kaede, who seemed to have regained some of her cheer, and was idly chatting with Maki.

“Does, ah, everyone do the offering thing?” he asks, low enough that he hopes Angie won’t hear and take offense. Kaede laughs.

“Uh, no, that’s really an Angie thing,” she admits, shrugging. “But she has good reason. Angie has two of the better gods for parents. Unlike my mom, who, well.”

Kaede’s smile turns grim. “Let’s just say she won’t be winning Mother of the Year anytime soon.”

“Speak for yourself!” Miu shouts across the fire, harrumphing as she turns her body to fully enter the conversation. “Mom’s the fuckin’ best, she jus’ doesn’t like you.” 

Kaede crosses her arms, cheeks puffed out in annoyance. “Are you ever going to get it through your head that I don’t care what Sayaka thinks about me?”

“Oh-kay, sure, Miss ‘If Everyone Doesn’t Love Me I’ll Die,’” Miu bites back, haughtily turning her back towards Kaede. She huffs at Shuuichi’s side, face red. 

“Kaede’s right,” Himiko pipes up from the opposite side of the fire pit, tugging on the sleeves of the oversized hoodie she was wearing. “Her mom sucks. Miu’s just, nyeh, a suck up. . .”

Annoyance forgotten, Kaede giggles, grasping at her knees with both hands. “Himiko, your mom’s pretty cool though, right?”

“Miss Nanami is so wonderful, Himiko is so lucky to have such a wonderful godly parent,” Tenko adds dreamily, face reddening as Himiko rests her head on her shoulder.

“She’s pretty cool, compared to other people’s parents. . .I guess.” Her eyes lazily move over to Kiibo. “But she’s. . .nyeh. . .dating Kiibo’s mom, so that’s kind of weird, I think.”

“S-Sonia is not my mother!” Kiibo argues, face flushed. “At least, I — I am unaware if she is my mother, or if Kazuichi is my father.”

“Mom called you my sibling, though,” Himiko counters, eyes focused on the ribbon of Tenko’s hair she was idly braiding. “Which is really weird, but.”

“Why is me being your sibling weird?” Kiibo squacks, their previous argument of not being Himiko’s sibling apparently forgotten. “Are you saying having a robot for a sibling is weird? That’s—”

“‘That’s robophobic’, jeez, Kiibot, we get it,” Kokichi interrupts, jabbing at logs within the firepit with the horribly burnt end of his stick. “You have parent issues, whatever, whatever.”

“At least they have a parent, even if they can’t decide who it is,” Maki interjects quietly, something resembling a smile on her lips. Kaede tugs on one of her pigtails, affronted.

“Oh, that was low,” Kokichi tells her, not seeming all that bothered. His eyes flash up to Shuuichi before he turns his whole body to address Maki. “Since you’re right, and I have no parents to speak of, does that mean you want to tell the peanut gallery about your super cool parent situation?”

The whole group goes dead silent, eyes uneasily focused on the wordless exchange quickly growing in tension happening on both sides of Shuuichi. Maki assesses Kokichi coldly for several long, uncomfortable moments, eyes unblinking. Shuuichi doesn’t miss the hand Kaede curls around Maki’s shoulder, the several times she squeezes, foot tapping anxiously. 

The tension saps from, at least a little bit, Maki’s shoulders, and her expression morphs from murderous to thinly veiled annoyance. She leans back against Kaede’s legs, apparently choosing not to respond. Someone coughs awkwardly.

“Well, in that case, I’ll talk!” Kokichi kicks his feet out, reclining fully against Shuuichi’s legs and making himself comfortable. “It all started the day I was born, when—”

“Shut it, Kokichi, no one wants to hear ya lie through your teeth for half an hour,” Kaito says gruffly, ignoring the pout Kokichi turns towards him in favor of sitting up just enough to glance at Gonta. “Gonts, you got an interestin’ family story, don’t ya?”

“People want to hear about Gonta’s family?” he asks, looking around the circle for approval. Everyone seems to nod, and strangely, several people’s gazes end up on Shuuichi. 

“Gonta, I thought you didn’t know who your godly parent is?”

“Oh, that right! Gonta not know,” he affirms, nodding as he speaks. “Gonta talking about his forest family.”

Ah, what?

“Ah, what?” Shuuichi asks, face screwed up in confusion as he tries to imagine just what a. . . forest family is. 

There’s laughing all around the circle. Gonta just beams. “When Gonta lived in the woods, before meeting Mr. Komaeda, he lived with wolf family.”

Wolf family? Lived in the woods? 

“You. . .lived in the woods, Gonta?”

“Yes,” he responds, nodding firmly. “Gonta woke up in woods one day, lived there for a few years with wolf family, before being brought to camp. Gonta planning to visit wolf family soon, actually!”

“. . .Why?” Gonta’s face falls a bit, and Shuuichi blanks, scrambles to rephrase. “No, I mean — why were you in the woods? How old were you?”

He brings a thumb to his chin. “Gonta not sure. Mr. Komaeda and Hajime say they found Gonta when Gonta was nine, and Gonta remembers being in the forest for a long time, so. . .”

“Nine?” Shuuichi sweats just thinking about it. The idea of a kid — even someone so naturally strong and capable as Gonta seemed to be — living in the woods at nine, it was just horrifying. 

He glances around the fire, expecting to find matching expressions of horror on everyone’s faces, but instead finds laughter. He feels himself shrink back a bit, awed by the lack of — the lack of appropriate anger at Gonta’s situation.

“Shuuichi, what’s wrong?” Kirumi asks after a few beats of silence. He looks sideways at Gonta, who seemed totally fine at recounting his traumatic past. 

“I—” He struggles for a few moments to find the words. “Am I the only one horrified by this? By the fact that Gonta’s parent must have left him in the woods, alone, as a kid? By all the stories of terrible parents?”

Silence falls over the group again, everyone’s eyes downcast. It’s Kiyo who speaks up first. 

“No, you’re not. But, Shuuichi, please understand that most, if not all of us, have similar tales of parents being. . .not so good.”

“Something demigods learn really, really quick, is that most of the time, parents aren’t so good. Some of us have great parents — like Kirumi, and Angie, and Himiko — but most of us. . .” Kaede trails off, fiddling with her fingers. “You sort of get used to it, as terrible as it is.”

“So you just. . .are okay with it?”

“No,” Ryoma responds immediately, hands shoved deep into his pockets. “We all know better than to be okay with our bad parents, or to think we deserve how we’re treated. We just know that no amount of dwelling on it will change anything.”

“If the gods are anything, they’re set in their ways,” Kaede says gently, voice sad. “Having kids won’t change that.”

Shuuichi doesn’t know how to respond to that, so he doesn’t. He’s half considering excusing himself for the night until Gonta nudges him gently.

“What about Shuuichi’s godly parent?”

“Oh, I—” He pauses mid-thought, suddenly hesitant to say it out loud. “I don’t know who he is.”

“Does Shuuichi have any guesses?” Angie asks, head lolling gently to the side as she regards him. He shakes his head.

“No, I wouldn’t know, um — my mom, ah, never said anything about my dad. She never even said a name. And after she died, I—” As soon as it’s out of his mouth, the familiar lens of sympathy glazes over the eyes of everyone around him. He coughs uncomfortably. “I never heard anything. Byakuya and Makoto didn’t know, either. Why didn’t they know?”

“Shuuichi?” Kaede asks gently. He shakes his head.

“No, I mean, they’re gods, right? So wouldn’t they have known my father? Or did he not want to be known? And Rantarou, he has —  had precognitive powers, right? Wouldn’t he know? Did my father really not want to know me that badly. . .?”

“Was I a mistake?” he asks the air, suddenly desperate for answers to questions he’d never felt any need to ask. “Why didn’t he want me? Why didn’t he — when she died, why didn’t he come back? Why did he leave me alone? Why—”

“Shuuichi. Hey.” There’s two firm hands on his shoulders, and  at the end of them stands Kaito, face set in a frown and eyes focused intently on Shuuichi’s. “Listen t’me, alright? It doesn’t matter.”

“What?” Shuuichi realizes he has his arms drawn around himself only when the pressure of his fingers digging into his sides registers. He shakes his head. “How can it not matter? He abandoned me, I—”

“Shut up a second.” Kaito removes his hands, but the intensity of his gaze doesn’t lessen. “You’re right, it sucks. But you’re not the only one. Me, you, Gonts, Kokichi —  all our parents abandoned us. But listen up, kay? It’s ‘cause my shitty parent abandoned me that I got to spend sixteen years with my grandparents, y’know?”

Kaito rises to his full height, grinning. “I got to have them as my real parents, the best parents I coulda had. And ‘cause your dad abandoned you, you got to spend time with your mom, right? So yeah, it’s shitty, and you’re damn entitled to be pissed, but it means nothing compared to what ya got out of it.”

“You — you’re right.” Shuuichi stands, unwrapping his arms from his torso. They clench into unintentional fists at his sides. There’s a surge of something dark in him, something angry, but it feels righteous; feels natural. Almost good.

“Who cares if he didn’t want me? It’s because he abandoned me that I got to meet the best mom I could have had. That I was able to have Rantarou as a best friend!” His hands shake, the anger burns through him, buds tears in his eyes, but he’s smiling. “I was able to experience Makoto and Byakuya’s kindness. I don’t need someone who abandoned me. I already have all the family I need!”

A chorus of cheering rises into the air, shouts of, “hear, hear!” intermixed into expressions of agreement. Kaede rises and pulls Shuuichi into a tight hug, which he reciprocates in kind, a feeling of satisfying catharsis coursing through his veins.

“Shuuichi?” 

He swings around in the direction of the shout of his name, disentangling himself from Kaede as he searches for wherever Hajime’s voice came from. He doesn’t have to look for long; Hajime’s running headlong towards the group, his phone to his ear and his eyes wide, panicked.

“He’s right here, wh — no. Are you sure?” Hajime’s eyes narrow. “What?”

The fire, beforehand overly large but calm, surges straight up into the sky, the force of the heat knocking everyone backwards. Shuuichi’s feet catch on the log and he trips over it, landing hard on his side; he has only seconds to recover before the fire is licking at his shoes and he has to scramble backwards or risk being burned.

There’s someone screaming, the sound ringing in his ears as he drags himself away from the steadily growing fire. Hajime grabs him roughly by the arm and hauls him to his feet, sparing only a moment to shove him out of the fires’ reach before surging forward after those still on the ground.

“Get back! Back to your cabins!” Hajime’s voice is rough, panicked, pinched with an edge of horror that Shuuichi doesn’t understand until he looks back after him and sees the figure materializing within the flame. 

The fire must be fifteen feet high, if not higher. Even out of its direct reach the heat emiting from it makes Shuuichi’s eyes water, has sweat dripping down his forehead, has smoke choking him up. Hajime races away from the fire, pushing Miu in front of him as he moves, patting her back as she coughs the smoke out of her lungs. 

It’s all an afterthought in his mind as a torso takes shape within the fire, long and lean and cloaked. Hajime’s hands insistently shove him backward, he’s screaming at him to go back to his cabin, but Shuuichi, like most everyone else, can only stare as the torso develops a neck, and then a head, and then a twisted, furious face.

He hears someone gasp. Another person curses. A third shouts, “it’s him, run!”

Harsh, scarred eyes rake over the group from the sky. Backdropped by smoke, outlined in fire, the only word to describe the man before him is hellish.

And then he says his name.

“Shuuichi Saihara! Step forward!”

Something grips his arm tightly, painfully so. He doesn’t need to look to know it’s Kaede. He can hear her teeth chattering, feel her hands shaking, but she does not run away. He couldn’t run even if he tried; his feet were planted to the ground, and he isn’t sure there’s a force on earth that could make him move.

“I will not repeat myself again, mortal! Reveal yourself to me, or I shall rain death and destruction down on Camp Hope's Peak!”

“ Don't even think about it,” Hajime warns darkly, not sparing a glance towards any of the remaining campers as he steps towards the fire, expression harsher than Shuuichi has ever seen it. “Gundham—”

Several gasps ripple through the group. Kaede takes a step backwards, whole body trembling. Shuuichi tears his eyes away from the confrontation happening before him, looks to Kaede desperately; she just shakes her head, still grasping his arm. 

“—You know just as well as I do that gods can’t cause harm within the boundary, whether you’re physically here or not.”

“Do not speak to me as if I am a fool, Hajime!” The flames surrounding the god — Gundham — rise higher, smoke billowing out around him in troves. “It is one of the children in your care that stole Enoshima’s spear, do not make me repeat myself again!”

Shuuichi hears Kaede hiss out a quiet, “what?” as Hajime steps forward, unbothered at going head to head with the wall of fire before him.

“You have no reason to believe Saihara is even here—"

“Silence!”

Shuuichi steps forward, eyes fixed on the man in the fire. Kaede scrambles after him, whispering furiously, words Shuuichi can’t make out over the noise from the steadily rising flame. His knees wobble but he takes another step, and another, and another, until Hajime takes notice and shoots a hand out, knocking the air out of his lungs as it collides with Shuuichi’s chest. The man’s eyes track the movement closely, eyes eventually locking on Shuuichi. He can’t bring himself to look away.

“Shuuichi Saihara.” His name is said like a curse; as though it’s the most vile collection of syllables to ever cross the man’s lips. “Your fatal mistake was to steal Junko Enoshima’s spear from it’s home. It is a direct result of your foolish actions that the mortal world has been placed in jeopardy!”

“What?”

“You shall not interrupt me again, or you will risk facing my almighty wrath for your slow-wittedness.” The fire shifts; angry, restless, the red and orange hues flicker into blue. He can hear the stone of the pit cracking from the heat. “To atone for your crime, you are to bring the spear to the Underworld within one week!” 

“Should you fail to return it to my domain in time—” Gundham’s expression darkens, red eyes heavily shadowed by the blue flames that dance around him, “not only will the blood of seven billion mortal souls be on your hands, but I will see to it personally that the soul of Rantarou Togami never sees the light of day again!” 

“Rantarou?” Wrenching his arm from Kaede’s grasp, ducking under Hajime’s arm, Shuuichi runs headlong towards the fire, bracing a hand up against the waves of heat rolling off of it, though he knows instinctively that the heat isn’t what has tears welling in his eyes. “What do you mean? Is he alive? Where is he? What did you do to him?”

“Shuuichi, don’t, it’s not s—” Gundham’s face draws up in anger as Rantarou’s voice, weak but unmissably sharp and unmissable Rantarou, cuts off whatever he was about to say. Shuuichi falls to his knees, the sound of Rantarou’s voice a perfect key to unlocking any control he had over himself and his steadily worsening panic.

“. . .Rantarou?” Tears fall into his mouth as he tries to speak. “Rantarou, is that you? Are you there? Answer me. Please, an—”

“Get him out of here,” Gundham commands to someone Shuuichi can’t see, pausing for just a moment before recovering, and focuses his sole attention down on Shuuichi, expression cold, unkind. “One week to bring me the spear, or else the world will fall to fiery, hellish ruin. I shall be awaiting you.”

“No, wait! Give him back! Rantarou!”

The fire bursts upwards into the sky once again, the blue flames seeming to lick the stars themselves, before giving a great howl and shooting downwards. It seems to consume itself from the inside out; and within a matter of moments, the blue falls to warm orange until finally dying down to glowing red embers in the bottom of the pit, Gundham’s final words echoing out into the night.

All Shuuichi can do is stare after the embers as his vision blurs with tears, a steady mantra of no, no, no, no, no spilling from his lips as the world collapses in on him.

Rantarou is alive. 

Rantarou is alive, and he’s trapped, caught in the clutches of someone who is threatening worldwide destruction over something Shuuichi has no idea about. 

Junko Enoshima’s spear? He barely knows who that is, let alone anything about a spear, and he has a week to bring it to Gundham or else he’ll—

He’ll what? End the world? Kill Rantarou? Both?

A flash of bright, eye-searing light appears from somewhere behind Shuuichi, lighting up the whole clearing, blinding Shuuichi even just witnessing it secondhand as the light bounces off the surrounding grass.  Immediately it’s followed by an earth-shatteringly loud sound that leaves his ears ringing, and the whole earth seems to shake with the force of it.

“Shuuichi Saihara!”

He can barely see Nagito through the stream of tears washing down his face, can barely hear him over the steady crescendo of his hyperventilation and the broken, aching sobs that tear out of his throat. It’s not until Nagito is upon Shuuichi, hauling him up with his gloved hand with enough force to bruise his arm, that he sees the counselor’s eyes swirling with unkempt rage, matched with the most deliriously furious expression Shuuichi has ever seen on anyone.

Nagito does not let go of his arm, even as pained sounds begin to fall from Shuuichi’s lips. 

“What did you do.”

“I — I d-don’t—”

A large yellow blur comes between he and Nagito, and Shuuichi only vaguely registers it as Kaede as she forcefully pulls Nagito’s hand off of his aching arm. “Nagito, en—”

"Back up, Kaede,” he says darkly, seeming to tower over Kaede more than usual as he speaks, not pulling his eyes away from Shuuichi. “To my office. Now.”

Nagito leaves no room for argument as he spins around and stalks off in the direction of the main building. Hajime watches after him for a long moment, grimacing, before moving to follow after him.

Somewhere in the commotion everyone else must have scattered, because all who remain in the vicinity of the smoldering fire pit are he and Kaede. He can’t find it within himself to feel embarrassed, to feel ashamed or nervous about her witnessing the episode he was in the midst of, too entirely wrapped up in the replay of the last few minutes on repeat in his head.

She catches his eye. Her face holds no glimmer of hope, no signs of a coming reassurance of belief; her eyes only hold the same confusion, the same fear that he sees mirrored in his own.

He moves, mechanically, towards Nagito’s office.

When he eventually finds his way into the yet-to-be-explored main building and through the door leading to Nagito’s office, he finds him pacing up and down the room, hands tangled in his hair and whispering furiously to himself. Hajime sits behind the lone desk in the room, eyes staring straight ahead and head propped up on his elbows, two fingers rubbing at his temples. He inclines his head towards the pair of plastic chairs in front of the desk, and without a word Shuuichi sits, unable to keep his eyes on either man for long without having to suppress another round of hiccuping sobs.

There are various knickknacks and bits of junk scattered across the area of the desk. Most prominent is a handmade photo frame painted various neon's, wrapped around a photo of Nagito with three older, similar-looking teenagers with various shades of technicolor hair. Everyone in the photo, including Nagito — Nagito, whose footsteps were harsh and heavy on the wooden floor as he paced, whose hair was falling to the floor in clumps as his fingers tugged at it — was smiling.

Nagito was not smiling now.

“Before we discuss the matter of Shuuichi,” Hajime begins, voice purposefully neutral, eyes glazing right over him and instead focusing on Nagito, whose pacing doesn’t slow, “please fill me in on what happened at the meeting.”

“Gundham pretty much covered it,” Nagito says quickly, eye twitching, one hand moving to scratch incessantly at his neck. “I don’t know how on earth he found out, because of course he didn’t go, but things went to hell long before he started causing problems.”

“You said Celeste wasn’t there?”

“Of course not, Makoto would have—” Nagito laughs, the sound fractured, keyed up and ugly. “Talking about Makoto right now is going to give me an aneurysm.” 

“You saw Makoto?” Shuuichi asks gently, flinching when two sets of glares are turned on him.

“I,” Nagito begins, sucking in a very deep breath through his teeth, “cannot talk to you right now, or else I am going to freak. out.”

“You already are freaking out,” Hajime points out gently, looking unsurprised by the grimace Nagito gives him in response. He picks up the landline on the desk and begins dialing. “Breathe.”

Nagito ignores him. “No, Celeste wasn’t there. I doubt she’ll show her face ever again after the nightmare at the last meeting.” Nagito begins pacing again. “And of course the two of them were already threatening to kill every last one of us over Rantarou even before she showed up.”

“And we’re sure it was her at this point, right?”

“I certainly wouldn’t put murdering a kid past her, especially not a demigod, and especially not theirs,” Nagito says, visibly flinching. “But now Gundham has Rantarou, somehow, and he knows Junko’s spear is gone, somehow, so now—”

“And she’s saying Shuuichi took it.”

“And that if she doesn’t get it back, very, very soon, she’s going to start a war. Aha!” Nagito laughs again, crazed and humorless and stressed, gaze trained on Shuuichi. “Somehow, Shuuichi stole her spear, somehow, she found out, somehow, after she killed Rantarou — because of course she admitted that right in Togami and Naegi’s faces — he was taken out from under Celeste’s nose by Gundham, and somehow, Gundham knows all of this!”

“Celeste isn’t picking up,” Hajime says flatly, placing the phone back on the hook with more force than necessary. 

“Of course not. Access to the Underworld is cut off, too. No one can get down there.”

“Not even—?”

“No, as he was very pissed off to find out.” Nagito leans against the wall, head in his hands, body slowly slipping downwards until he’s on the ground. “Shuuichi, what did you do?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Shuuichi says desperately, eyes shifting quickly between the two of them, praying for some sign that they believe him. “I don’t know anything about a spear. I don’t know, I—”

“You need to cut the bullshit.” Hajime voice is harsh, strict, as he stands to his full height, arms braced on the desk as he stares down at Shuuichi. He feels so, so small.

“At this point, there are four different gods threatening to war with each other, three of whom are Big Five gods. When gods war, that means people die, Shuuichi.” His red eye pulses erratically. “Junko Enoshima is blaming you. And right now, none of the other gods have any reason not to believe her. I need you to tell me where the spear is, and I need you to do it now.”

“I don’t know!” He stands up abruptly, shaking, and the force of the movement sends the chair he was sitting in crashing to the floor. Everyone in the room flinches. “I don’t know! I don’t know what you’re talking about! I didn’t know about god stuff until I got here, I don’t know what’s happening! Why don’t you believe me?”

“You were in the same city as the spear when it was stolen over a week ago.”

“I live in Tokyo,” Shuuichi insists, inhaling deeply through his nose in an attempt to control his breathing. “I’ve always lived in Tokyo. I. . .I didn’t do anything w-wrong. . .”

Hajime is silent for a long time. Eventually his eyes move to Nagito, still curled up on the floor.

“You were in the city when it happened. It was — the field trip, right?” Hajime rubs at his eyes. “Was there anything suspicious? Was it there when you and the kids were there?”

“Of course it was,” Nagito says immediately, voice a whisper. “If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have been there. We only went because it was quiet.”

Hajime sighs heavily. “Shuuichi, you’re sure you didn’t take anything odd? Rantarou didn’t take you anywhere unfamiliar?”

“No.” He wraps his arms around himself. “The only thing we did different before — b-before Rantarou died, we — we went to the arcade. The night before.”

“It was already gone then,” Nagito says tiredly, lifting his head to look at Shuuichi. He regards him for a long time, green eyes cloudy, unfocused. Finally he stands, runs a hand gently through his hair.

“Hajime, I don’t think he has it.”

“I don’t think so, either.” Hajime scrubs at his face, expression weary. “Which brings us to a new set of problems.”

Nagito shifts around Hajime, dropping into the desk chair, which groans underneath his weight. He rubs at his temples, expression tense. 

They don’t acknowledge him for several long minutes. Shuuichi almost feels as though he’s free to go, but he can’t. He can’t.

He doesn’t know anything about a spear. He doesn’t know why Junko killed Rantarou, or why Gundham has him, alive, or why any of this is worth risking the entirety of the world. All he knows is that Rantarou is gone, Rantarou is trapped with a god with intentions to kill, and Shuuichi needs to save him.

“Where is he?” Shuuichi asks, stirring them both from their thoughts. He looks the two of them in the eye. “Where is Rantarou? How do I get to the Underworld?”

“Absolutely not,” Nagito spits viciously, expression hardening. “You will not be stepping a foot out of your cabin without Hajime or myself escorting you.”

“He’s being held hostage,” Shuuichi argues, taking a step forward, “I need to save him. He's my brother.” 

“Do you know what will happen if you leave camp, Shuuichi?” The nails of Nagito’s uncovered hand bite into the wood of his desk hard enough to leave marks.

“Nagito—”

“If you were to go to the Underworld, Gundham would kill you. As soon as he found out you didn’t have what he was after, he’d get rid of you, and what good would that do?” Nagito’s nostrils flare, volume rising. “My god, if you even left camp, I have no doubt that one of Junko or Gundham’s monsters would kill you.”

“So I should just leave Rantarou to fend for himself? To hold his own against a Big Five god?” 

“Shuuichi, I understand how you feel, I do. But you will not be able to do this. The gods will figure something out, we’ll—"

“You’ll what? You just said that no one can get into the Underworld! Gu — He told me to come, he’s expecting me, I can get in! I can — I can save him! I have to!”

I couldn’t save him before. I can save him now, so I have to. I have to. I have to. 

“We’re not going to let you get yourself killed, and that’s final.” Nagito, shoulders trembling, inclines his head towards the door. 

“Hajime, please escort Shuuichi back to his cabin. Lock the door behind you. I—I need to think.”

“No, please,” Shuuichi begs, backing away from Hajime as he advances. “Nagito, please, I need to save him. If I don’t, I — I have to, or else he’ll die and I’ll lose him forever, please, please! No, get away from me! Stop it, please!”

Hajime corrals him out the door with a firm hand on his shoulder, angling the door shut behind him. Shuuichi jerks away, tries to wrench himself free of Hajime’s grip, sobs building in intensity. The door shuts fully and Shuuichi falls forward, grasping at Hajime’s shirt, unable to stop himself as he heaves into Hajime’s chest.

His arms wrap around Shuuichi, holding him close, letting him sob into his chest. He rubs circles into Shuuichi’s back, quiet mutters of, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Shuuichi,” filling the space around his crying.

He’s not sure how long he stands there, begging between bouts of hyperventilation and dizzying sobbing spells to just tell me how to save him, please, I don’t want to lose him again , nor does he know how long it takes for Hajime to walk Shuuichi back to his cabin, because by the time the blur clears enough from his eyes to get a read on his surroundings, Hajime is sitting Shuuichi onto his bed and pulling the sheets back.

“I. . .” Hajime stands in the center of the room, face tired, looking all of a sudden much, much older than the twenty-something year old he appears as. “I can’t imagine how you’re feeling. And there’s nothing I can say that can make any of this better. But please, just. . .”

He drifts towards the door. “Don’t do anything stupid. The gods, we’ll — we’ll manage. We’ll find a way to make things right. I’ll call Makoto and Byakuya in the morning, and we can — we’ll start the process of making things right. As right as they can be.”

“Try to get some sleep, Shuuichi,” Hajime concludes, a hand on the doorknob. “I’ll come retrieve you in the morning, and we’ll get to work. I’m sorry.”

The door clicks gently through the silence of the cabin, followed shortly by a more mechanical, metallic sound; before Shuuichi can wonder what it is, he hears Hajime pull on the door; when it stays in place, it tells him it’s locked, and soon the only noise to be heard is the distant sound of Hajime’s retreating footsteps.

Shuuichi sits, stock still, for several long minutes, until he’s certain he’s alone, mind racing.

He has to find Rantarou. It’s not even a question of if, but how. Many, many, many ‘how’s that depend on information that he has no way of knowing, on finding a location that he can’t even begin to imagine where it might be, on doing all of these undoable things in the span of a week.

He needs to pack.

He stands, mind overaware of each creak of the floorboards, each ambient noise from the wilderness outside, as he moves throughout the cabin, piling his bag onto the bag and sorting through its contents in search of anything that might prove useful on a mission to, well, he isn’t sure.

Shuuichi is woefully unprepared to begin with. Though he packed clothes, there was no thought put into what was thrown into his bag the night of the monster attack; he had a surplus of shirts to wear, but only two binders, and though he’d thought to pack several sweatshirts, all he had for shoes were the ones he wore to school, and a scarcely used pair of running shoes. 

Dropping to his knees he begins to dig through Rantarou’s bag, finding much of the same; he takes clothes he knows will fit, pushing them into his own bag without much care for neatness or efficient use of space. Along with his own phone charger he shoves in Rantarou’s, and after finding the rest of the bag’s contents of little use, he pushes it aside, trying desperately to ignore the shaking of his hands as he stands up. His eyes catch on the bear sitting still tangled in the bedsheets, and without a second thought he takes it and places it gently, carefully, in the duffel as well.

He zips his bag with a feeling of finality, though as he swings it onto his shoulder he finds himself feeling directionless.

Shuuichi needs a plan. He paces for several long moments, eventually retrieving his hat and placing it on his head, hoping the familiar comfort of the garment may offer some sudden epiphany he knows in his heart is impossible; nevertheless, when it provides none, he is caught off guard at the feeling of frustration and panic once again stopping up his lungs and restricting his airflow.

Though the swell of emotion takes several minutes and puffs of his inhaler to work through, it reminds him to place the inhaler in the pocket of his sweatshirt, leaving a hand wrapped protectively around it as he resumes his pacing.

As he’s just beginning to seriously consider escaping through the window there’s a sudden clinking from outside the door. Instinctively he pauses his pacing, entire body tensing up like a rubber band pulled taut. The noises outside become louder, more hurried, and as the rubber band is just about to snap the door swings open. 

Kokichi stands just beyond the door frame, hands paused in mid air holding two small, slim pins. He removes a small box from a pocket of the jean jacket he was wearing, drops the pins into it, and steps into the room.

“Good to see you’re already packed,” he notes as Kaede, Maki, and Gonta step in behind him. Shuuichi regards them warily, stance defensive, until Kaede approaches and holds out a hand.

“Phone, please,” she tells him, voice holding a sense of urgency he doesn’t understand until he’s handed it to her and she adds, “what’s your passcode?”

“Why?” He types it in quickly and hands it back to her, eyes scanning over the rest of the group as she begins tapping quickly on the screen.

“I’m disabling your location services so it will be harder to track us once we leave.”

“Us?” He regards the group, genuinely confused. “What’s going on here? And how. . .do you know I’m going?”

“We’re going with you, duh,” Kokichi says flippantly, wandering towards the corner of the room, backpack in his hands. They’re all wearing backpacks. “And we were listening outside of Nagito’s window. I mean, really, stealing Junko's spear? You can tell just looking at you that you don't have the guts to do anything that fun.”

Kaede hands his phone back to him, pinning Kokichi with an unimpressed look. “Kokichi is not going with us, because he agreed he’d stall while we got away.”

“I don’t understand,” Shuuichi cuts in, watching as all four pairs of eyes focus on him. “You don’t know Rantarou. You don’t know me. It’s dangerous, you shouldn’t—”

“That’s the point,” Maki interrupts, rolling her eyes. “It is dangerous, and you won’t make it a mile outside of the barrier without someone who knows how to deal with thing kind of thing. You know Rantarou, we know god stuff, and all of us want to see this situation resolved without the world ending. That’s why we’re going with you.”

“But—”

“No but’s.” Gonta ignores Kokichi’s giggle as he steps forward towards Shuuichi and places a hand on his shoulder. “Shuuichi is Gonta’s friend. Friends protect friends, which is why we go.”

Shuuichi backs up, regarding the people in the room — his friends —  with wide eyes. “You. . .you all are really going to help me save him?”

“Demi’s stick together,” Kaede says firmly, pumping her fist. “We’ll save the world together. I know we can.”

“Demi Squad team high five!” Kokichi adds, bounding to the center of the room, hands raised. Maki knocks him with her elbow.

“You’re not going.”

“M-Maki is s-so—” Kokichi falls dramatically into Shuuichi’s chest, eyes round and watery as he pouts up at him. “Mee-ee-eean!” 

“Kokichi, shut up!” Kaede surges forward, clapping a hand over his mouth. “You’ll wake someone up, and ruin this wh—”

The door bursts open and slams against the wall of the cabin, jumping everybody in the room out of their skin. Kiibo stomps up to the ground of them, face bright red, eyes narrowed and an accusing finger shifting between the lot of them faster than Shuuichi can keep up with.

“Just what is going on in here!” Both of their hands find their hips, disapproving eyes moving systematically through the five of them. “I had a feeling something like this would happen, and thank goodness I charged last night, or else I would have been in sleep mode and just let this — this prison break happen!”

“Oh good, Robocop is here,” Kokichi muses, voice unkind, licking Kaede’s hand until she jumps away, wiping her hand on her sweatshirt and gagging in disgust. “That’s just awesome. Way to ruin everything, Kiiboob.”

“Do not mock me!” Kiibo stalks towards Kokichi, still pressed rather close up against Shuuichi, and jabs a finger into his chest. “Is it wrong to not want to see my friends get themselves hurt, or worse? Am I not allowed to feel angry that you are all doing something so — so reckless, with no regard to what everyone else is going to feel once they realize you’re gone?”

“Robots can’t feel,” Kokichi says flatly, shoving their hand away and removing himself from Shuuichi. “Back off.”

“Stop it, Kokichi!” Kiibo’s eyes narrow, the electric blue of them quickly shifting into a glowing red that has the whole room taking a collective step back. “Hajime and Nagito have entrusted me to look after my fellow campers, just as they have Kaede and Gonta!” 

Their eyes cut dangerously towards the two of them. “And though they have chosen to abandon their duties, I will not! I cannot and will not in good conscience abandon the job I have been given. As a counselor in training, and as your friend, I cannot allow you to do this. I’m sorry.”

Gonta looks towards the ground, shoulders trembling. Kaede refused to meet anyone’s eye for a long stretch of time, before rising to meet Kiibo’s gaze, eyes set in determination.

“Kiibo, I understand how you feel. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt, either. But we have to do this.” She takes several steps forward, grasps their hands in her own, her fingers shaking. “Because if we don’t, if we just wait the week out — people are going to die. But we — Shuuichi and the rest of us — we have a chance. So we have to try.”

“And what if you can’t?” They ask, voice softer, more watery; their anger seems to ebb out of them all at once, eyes blinking back to blue and expression suddenly softer, more vulnerable. “W-What if you don’t come back? Do all of you understand the extent of the risk you face outside of camp?”

“I don’t,” Shuuichi says quietly, shaking his head. “I don’t. I don’t know what’s at stake, and I don't know what's waiting out there for me. All I know is that the world is ending, and the people who have the power to end it think it’s my fault.”

“Shuuichi—”

“All I know,” he insists, hands squeezing into fists at his sides, “is that my brother died trying to protect me. But somehow he’s alive, and he needs saving, and I’m the only one that can. So I have to. I have to. And you won’t change my mind.”

The room is silent as he stands there, shaking, tears spilling down his face for what has to be the millionth time that night. 

“. . .I see.” Kiibo gently pulls away from Kaede, approaches Shuuichi with an unreadable expression. They hesitate for just a moment before wrapping two tentative arms around Shuuichi, engulfing him in the strangest hug he’s ever experienced. He reciprocates it, finding an odd comfort in the action as Kiibo squeezes him lightly.

“I admire your determination,” Kiibo says quietly, pulling away after a long moment and smiling up at Shuuichi, eyes sad. “And I — I am going to choose to believe in you. Furthermore, I believe I can help you. I’ll join you.”

“W-What?”

“Yes.” They nod firmly to themselves, turning to face the rest of the group. “Yes, I have decided. You may need my assistance in your journey, so I will accompany you. The — the voice in my head is telling me that I am needed more to look after you than those here. Please allow me to come with you.”

“Okay.” Shuuichi nods, wiping under his eyes and straightening his bag on his shoulder. “Okay, we can do this. But first we need to get out of here.”

“Kokichi.” Maki turns to Kokichi, who was making various unkind faces and gestures at Kiibo. “You’re up. Go make sure we don’t get caught.”

Kokichi shoves his hands in his pockets, staring dejectedly up at Shuuichi. “God, New Kid, you sure suck at picking members of your team. Fine, leave the escape to me.”

He zips up his backpack loudly, moving towards the door. “Give me fifteen minutes, and you’ll be good to leave. Don’t have too much fun without me!”

“Oh, and Shuuichi.” Kokichi spins on his heel in the door frame, grinning. “Try not to die, ‘kay? It’d be toootally lame.”

“. . .I’ll do my best.”

Kokichi winks. “Good luck, losers!” With a hearty wave he leaves, slamming the door shut behind him and leaving the group in silence. Maki rolls her eyes, shoving her hands into the pockets of her jacket.

“Okay, we have fifteen minutes to figure out what our plan here is.” Kaede begins to pace, counting things off on her fingers. “Shuuichi, all of us have our wallets, so if you have yours, you should grab it. Leave any credit cards here, they’re too easy to trace. We’ll need to budget for public transport, because there’s probably at least one bus ride involved. Until then, we’ll need a way out of here and reliable way of travel, so we’ll probably have to steal a car—”

“We have to steal a car?” Shuuichi interrupts, startled. Kaede just nods.

“Gonta not sure if we all fit in one car. . .”

Kaede hums in response, bringing a hand to her chin. “That’s true. Nagito has an RV in the garage, so maybe. . .”

“You’re going to steal the RV?”

“Technically, all of us will be stealing it,” Kiibo corrects, peeking out the window absently. “Kaede, you know where the keys are kept, correct?”

“I’ll go as soon as the fifteen minutes are up.”

Shuuichi feels ill. “Can anyone even drive an RV?”

That seems to give the room pause, though no one looks particularly concerned. Finally, Kaede, looks to Maki, face pensive.

“Harumaki, you can drive, right?” At her nod, Kaede claps, seeming satisfied. “Problem solved.”

Is it, though?

“Oh, no,” Kiibo mutters quietly, eyes still on the window. Before Shuuichi or anyone else can ask what they mean, the door to the cabin is once again thrown open, the walls seeming to shake from the force of it as Kaito steps in, a bag on his shoulder and a determined grin on his face.

“Shuuichi, dude, get a bag, I’m gonna help you earn yer sidekick status and go with ya to bust your friend outta Hell—wait, what the hell is goin’ on here?”

“Oh, Jesus,” Maki says tiredly, rubbing her temples. “We do not have time for this.”

“Maki Roll? Gonts? What’re you all doin’ here?” Kaito leans in towards Shuuichi, a hand over his mouth as he loudly whispers, “do they know me an’ you are leaving?”

“As much as I’m sure we’d all love to argue this issue,” Kiibo says quickly, pointing towards the door, “it’s time to go.”

Shuuichi is lead by the arm out of his cabin by Kaede, who has to continually shush Kaito as he runs after them, demanding to know what’s happening. Once in front of Nagito and Hajime’s cabin Kaede stops, shooing them towards the garage.

“I’m going to sneak in and grab the keys,” she whispers, jutting a thumb towards the garage. “You all wait there until I get back, and then we’ll go, but you need to be quiet.”

She moves up the stairs of the building without further preamble, back turned to the group as they carefully but quickly make their way towards the garage. Kaito tugs on Shuuichi’s jacket once they arrive in front of it, affronted.

“If you’re all goin’, then I am,” he promises seriously. “No arguments.”

Maki pinches the bridge of her nose, looking as though she’s just barely holding herself back from smacking the lot of them upside the head. “Kaito, we are going to the Underworld.”

“Yeah, and?”

Kiibo hums. “I believe what Maki is getting at is — we are going to the Underworld, which is where dead spirits reside.”

“And?”

“And you have a fear of ghosts, Kaito.”

Kaito scoffs, crossing his arms. “T-That’s a load of crap! I’ll be fine, why should I be scared of a bunch of stupid g-ghosts?”

“Whatever. Now shut up.” Maki’s eyes focus on something over Shuuichi’s shoulder, and in just a moment Kaede is there, a ring of keys swirling around one of her fingers, moonlight bouncing off the cool silver.

Kaede leads the six of them through a side door into the garage, and after a few minutes spend picking their way through the dark towards the large structure that must be the RV, Kaede slides one of the several keys into the lock on the door, eventually pulling it open and gesturing for them to climb in. It’s a long, tense few minutes as everyone makes their way on, several times having to stop as the RV creaks or groans under the added weight, but eventually everyone piles on, Kaede shutting the door behind her after she’s carefully opened the garage up, and then it’s a waiting game as Maki slides into the driver’s seat, shifts the engine into neutral, and begins the process of slowly, carefully, rolling the RV out of the garage and down the lone dirt road tucked carefully into a patch of wilderness.

Shuuichi can hardly allow himself to breathe in the twenty minutes or so it takes to move the RV down the road far enough to put it into drive. The whole way he fights the urge to hyperventilate, just barely managing to keep his breathing quiet as nerves completely overtake him. From his place on one of two small couches he watches out the window, eyes vigilant and searching for any sign that they’re to be interrupted. 

But none comes; despite the intensity of the anxious tremor that seizes his arms and legs and has him shuddering like a leaf, nothing happens; the engine comes to life, the sound making them all wince, but they continue forward, until there’s a physical shift in the arm around them.

It’s as though the warmth in the air is sapped away all at once, and the change startles him, puts him on edge; as he looks around, he finds he’s not the only one. Even Kaede, sat in the passenger’s seat next to Maki, has tensed enough that she shakes.

After several long moments, she spins around, eyes all of them with an expression Shuuichi can’t immediately decipher.

“That was the barrier we just crossed. We’re out,” she says quietly, eyes shutting as she speaks, and it’s then that Shuuichi understands.

Kaede is determined. She is terrified, and sick with fear, not unlike the rest of them; but her jaw is firm, her mouth boasts the ghost of a smile, and when she catches Shuuichi’s eyes, her eyes are confident, hopeful.

They can do this. Shuuichi can do this.

I’m coming, Rantarou.

Chapter Text

 

Despite the fact that she is not old enough to actually legally do so, Maki is a surprisingly good driver, and in the several hours they’ve been on the road, they’ve made remarkably good time.

Or, at least, it felt like they were putting the distance in. It must have been late morning at this point, but Shuuichi had been too anxious to check his phone since around dawn, when all of their devices had begun to ring with an urgency that could mean only one thing: they’d been discovered as missing.

It had been jarring; letting six phones ring for almost an hour without interruption, missed call after frantic text message after long voicemail filling up the spaces on their lock screens. Eventually Maki couldn’t take it anymore and demanded everyone’s phones either shut up or go out the window, and after that it had just been. . .silent.

The mood in the RV was tense, to say the least. Save for the ambient sounds from the RV — an occasional creaking of the floor, the whistle of wind outside the windows, the steady thrum of the engine, the rare sound of a car speeding by — it was quiet, too quiet, quiet enough that he could practically hear everyone else’s racing minds.

For the past hour or so Shuuichi has been heavily considering wasting the drive away with a nap, but the culmination of all going on at present kept him awake, foot tapping anxiously against the floor as he waited for someone to do something. Get up to go to the bathroom. Turn on the radio. Speak. Something.

Which was a stupid idea. By all accounts Shuuichi is at the head of this mission, the quest as Kaede had put it before everyone had fallen to silence, so if anything, the others may be waiting for him to make some sort of move.

He glances to the front of the RV. As she has been since they boarded the vehicle Maki is driving silently, body still and eyes totally focused on the road ahead of her. She — at least, Shuuichi hoped from what she’d said earlier — knew where she was headed, not having to stop once to check directions or ask anyone else for their input. Her reliability is comforting, though not much else is.

Kaede is in the passenger’s seat, and she is much more active than Maki; at one point she’d sat and spun around in the chair for about twenty minutes, eyes not really focused on anything. She’d stopped since Shuuichi last looked to her, and was now facing forward, one knee pulled up to her chest, her other foot tapping out a rhythm unknown to Shuuichi onto the floor. She’d been by far the most anxious when the phone calls began, and ever since hadn’t met anyone’s eyes.

Gonta and Kiibo were sat on the couch across from Shuuichi, and Kaito at the small booth right next to it. Kiibo had their eyes shut, hands on their knees and seemed to be in some sort of resting mode; and after Gonta had failed to rouse them a while earlier he’d taken to reading a book about — well, Shuuichi couldn’t be sure, but after about twenty minutes of staring at the odd-looking bug on the cover, he was pretty sure it was a book about beetles.

Interesting.

Kaito sits despondently on one side of the booth, picking at his fingers and bouncing his leg with such intensity it betrays his agitation and boredom. The few times he’d caught Shuuichi glancing at him he’d forced a grin, or pulled a face just long enough until Shuuichi looked away, before his expression dropped into something much less animated.

Shuuichi sat on the other couch, shoes tucked against the wall and feet pulled up next to himself. He’d abandoned any care for manners about feet on furniture right around when his anxious leg spasms gave way to cramps, and he’d been in that position since, alternating between spending long periods of time staring out the window at the moving scenery or at his uncomfortably quiet friends.

Unsatisfied with his assessment of his friends this time around but unable to do anything about it, he looks out the window once again. Smudges of green and gray blur past too quickly for him to catch the details of what they are.

“Anythin’ interesting out there?” Shuuichi doesn’t notice he’s being spoken to until Kaito heaves himself to his feet and drops down noisily next to him on the couch. He jumps, taking too long to process the question, and then shakes his head.

“It looks like the same forest and sky that it did two hours ago,” he replies, smiling the tiniest bit as Kaito chuckles next to him.

“That’s just ‘cuz you’re not lookin’ hard enough,” Kaito says, making himself comfortable on the other end of the couch and propping his legs up on Shuuichi. It surprises him for just a moment before he smiles, the close contact of his friend comforting. “Hey, let’s play a game of I Spy. You ever played?”

“When I was little.” A memory, vague and blurry on the edges pops into his mind of his mother with a finger to her chin, shaking her head as a much younger, more foreign Shuuichi guesses at what she possibly could have spied with her little eye. He brings his sleeve to his mouth to hide the smile it brings forth. 

“You’re all playing too, so get your thinkin’ caps on! Growing up in the middle of nowhere made me a master of car games!”

“I’m driving,” Maki says, the rolling of her eyes clear in her voice. Kaito grins conspiratorially at Shuuichi.

“That’s not the spirit I’m lookin’ for, Maki Roll! Be excited! Be engaged! Kaede, don’t let her slack off up there.”

“You got it, boss,” Kaede replies with a laugh, something like I’ll play one game with that moron and that’s it, coming from Maki, which only makes Kaede laugh harder. Kaito winks at him.

Maki, as well as the rest of their little group, ends up playing more than one game, some of them more involved in the guessing than others. Kaito, as is the case in seemingly all that he does, gets intensely into it, cheering on his friends whenever they guess correctly or otherwise show any sort of interest in the game at all.

Shuuichi finds himself almost content during the forty-five minutes or so the six of them play, laughing in tandem with everyone else more than once as the mood within the RV lifts significantly. Though his phone burning a hole in his pocket is never too far out of his mind, Shuuichi has fun, and he’s almost disappointed when Maki calls an end to the game as she turns into a secluded parking lot and shuts the vehicle off.

“Is everything alright, Maki?” Kiibo, whose face was still red from having taken an obscene amount of time to guess Gonta’s I Spy pick of the couch they were both sitting on, looks towards Maki curiously.

“I need to rest before I drive anymore.” She stands from the driver's seat and stretches her limbs, the pops of her joints as she moves echoing around the RV. “We’re making alright time, so taking a few hours won’t be an issue. The rest of you should sleep, too.”

“Maki and I are taking the bedroom, so everyone else find somewhere else to get comfortable and try to get some shut eye.” Kaede stands as well, yawning into her hand for a moment before following after Maki towards the back of the RV.

“If it is all right with everyone, I will be taking the booth,” Kiibo says to the rest of them, popping a panel open on their hip and settling gently into the seat nearest one of the outlets. “Though I do not necessarily need a charge right now, I am most comfortable operating at full capacity.”

“No problem.” Kaito stretches his arms over his head, yawning loudly. “Shuuichi, I’ll take the couch if you wanna take the wall bed?”

“Alright.” Kaito lifts his legs up enough for Shuuichi to stand, then kicks them out and settles fully onto the couch. Shuuichi watches as Gonta settles gently on the other couch, discarding his glasses onto the floor and waving up at Shuuichi sleepily. After waving back Shuuichi walks towards the wall bed, leaving his shoes by the couch for the time being but taking his bag and dropping it onto the twin mattress. 

As he pulls one of Rantarou’s hoodies and the bear from his bag, he can’t help but want to abandon the idea of taking off his binder and pass out right now. Though the bed didn’t look particularly comfortable, the idea of nodding off for a few hours and potentially being able to escape the trauma of the past few days was extremely tempting. There was nothing he wanted more than to forget, at least for a little while, the daunting task that lay ahead of having to save his brother from a fearsome god and save the world.

He snorts, the sound lacking any real humor. As if.

Shuuichi pulls his spare toothbrush and toothpaste from his bag as an afterthought, suddenly craving the taste of a fresh, clean mouth. As he pulls the zipper to close up his bag his eyes catch on something green in his periphery, and his heart stops.

He turns slowly, very slowly, and though he expects nothing less, he feels an ache develop in his chest regardless when he realizes the glimpse of Rantarou he thought he saw was just his imagination.

He’s hallucinating, and he needs to sleep.

“I’m going to brush my teeth,” Shuuichi says to the room, cringing when his voice comes out a quiver, the shake of it seeming to echo. With a flash of embarrassment he realizes he’s dangerously close to crying, and taking only a moment to wipe beneath his eyes he trods off towards the tiny bathroom to save himself the mortification of crying in front of everyone.

He shuts the flimsy door of the bathroom behind him with more force than necessary, an odd anger at himself manifesting as he tries and fails to fight the tears welling up out of a misplaced feeling of shame and pent up frustration.

It’s better to fall apart in private than in front of the others, though, so there is a note of relief to be felt to that point as Shuuichi relishes in the comfort of privacy for the first time pretty much since Rantarou was taken.

With a shaky breath he turns to face the bathroom, only to find that he is not as alone as he thought.

Kokichi sits perched daintily on the closed toilet lid, phone in hand and a delighted grin aimed in Shuuichi’s direction.

And, unlike Shuuichi, he is entirely unfazed by the scream that Shuuichi lets out at the sight of him.

“Ohhh, I’ve been found!” He pockets his phone and bats his eyelashes up at Shuuichi, expression fawnlike, eyes wide and a light blush crawling up his face. Any illusion of it being genuine is broken by the flash of his grin as he takes in Shuuichi’s caught out expression. “By my beloved Shuuichi, no less! That means you get a prize, cuz you’re the first one. You, my perpetually blue acquaintance, get to take a peek inside my bottomless backpack! Only for a second, though, otherwise the ga — oh, you’re crying. Huh.”

He is, but he’s too flabbergasted to feel any real shame at the fact. Gearing up to sound annoyed, though, he wipes beneath his eyes and pins Kokichi with an unimpressed look.

“Y-You said you were going to stay at camp.”

Kokichi clicks his tongue condescendingly, swinging his feet, not looking particularly concerned about that face. “And that’s where you’re wrong, New Kid! Meanie Maki and her hokey gal pal Kaede said I was staying at camp. It’s a personal conviction of mine to never listen to what cornballs like them have to say — leader types are just so obnoxious, y’know? — so here I am! Aren’t you delighted to see me?”

Kokichi wobbles his lip for emphasis. Shuuichi sighs, missing the energy necessary to humor Kokichi’s, well, whatever it was that these little interactions were. 

“You really shouldn’t be here, Kokichi.”

“Aww, why not? I’m following all the rules and everything! I turned my location thingy off, cut up all of Miu’s credit cards that I stole — cuz those are, like, suuuper easy to track — turned off my Snapchat map, and everything! You guys haven’t noticed me in the bathroom for hooours, I’ve been so quiet, you won’t let those meanies kick me out when I’ve been such a good boy, will you, Shuumai?”

“Please don’t call me that,” Shuuichi admonishes, voice weary. “And — you haven’t been totally a. . .good boy.”

He cringes as soon as he says it. Kokichi lets out a laugh, but his expression remains artfully confused. “Whaddya mean? I’ve been so well behaved, just like one of those ugly little show dogs.”

“. . .What?”

“Arf arf!” Kokichi sticks his tongue out in an approximation of a dog. It’s comically stupid, but Shuuichi feels a sort of compulsion to laugh.

“You lied just now.”

Kokichi’s nose scrunches up in confusion. “Okay, yes, I lied about the dog thing, I’m not a furry — unless you’re into that, but that’s a little yucky, even for y—”

“No, oh my. . .” Shuuichi rolls his eyes and places his toothbrush under the tap, too impatient to wait any longer to brush his teeth. “The backpack thing, Kokichi.”

“Oh, that?” Kokichi pulls it into his lap, idly messing with one of its pink cat ears. “No, I wasn’t lying, middle finger swear!” 

Shuuichi spits into the sink before he can see Kokichi flip him off.

“Besides, I hate liars.”

Before he can respond to that, a polite knock at the bathroom door interrupts him. “Shuuichi, I noticed you have been in the bathroom for quite a while, are you alright? Do you need any assistance?”

With a grimace, Shuuichi pulls the bathroom door open. Kiibo’s eyes move in an instant from Shuuichi to Kokichi, still sat on the toilet lid, and they immediately burst into sputters.

“Kokichi!”

“Oh, hey, Kiibaby. Way to perv on Shuuichi while he’s in the bathroom.” Kokichi hides a laugh with his hand, swinging the backpack onto his back with the other. “I’m gonna call you CR33-P0 from now on.”

Kiibo’s face goes red, finger hanging limply in the air as they try to come up with a response. Shuuichi spits the last of his toothpaste into the sink and sighs.

“H-Have you been hiding in here this whole time?”

“You betcha, CR33-P0! Hey, when did stinky Miu take the time to turn you into another of her weird sex bots? I’m thinking of filing a police report in Shuuichi’s honor.”

“Ugh!” Kiibo seizes forward and takes Kokichi by the hand, dragging him bodily out of the bathroom, Shuuichi following close behind. “Of course I couldn’t count on you to stay true to your word even once, Kokichi!”

“Oh how you wound me, Kiibot,” Kokichi says dramatically, glancing backwards to shoot Shuuichi a wink. “Hey, toaster oven, hands off the goods. I’m fragile.”

Kiibo scoffs, dropping his hand and retrieving their own to cross their arms indignantly. “You are no such thing.”

“Aw, shit.” Kaito groans from the couch as he catches sight of Kokichi. “Of course I couldn’t catch a goddamn break from you even while the world’s ending.”

“Lovely to see you as always, space case,” Kokichi retorts, waving his fingers at Kaito delicately. “Have I introduced you to my friend, CR33-PO the perv-bot?”

Kaito snorts and rolls over, apparently intent on going back to sleep.

Kokichi moves towards where Gonta lay and snatches his glasses up off the floor, placing them on his own face. The large round lenses dwarf his entire head, and after making a crude comment about the strength of Gonta’s prescription, hops on top of him and pokes his chest until he wakes.

“Gonts, you’re happy to see me, right? The rest of my friends hate me!”

“Gonta always happy to see Kokichi!” Gonta grins up at Kokichi to further his point, to which Kokichi’s pout falls into a smirk. 

“That’s why you’re my favorite, Gonts. At least someone loves me, even if it is the one who goes looking for stink bugs for fun.”

It’s at that point Kaede steps out of the bedroom, clad in a large pink t-shirt and pair of red shorts. Eyes bleary, she takes one look around the group, eyes narrowing as they catch on Kokichi, and without a word she steps back into the bedroom, shutting the door loudly behind her.

Kokichi, for all it’s worth, seems delighted by this turn of events. “Stinky protagonist Kaede is too busy making out with Sushi Roll to kick me out, so I’m safe for a while longer!”

As Gonta launches into a schpiel promising that he won’t let anybody get thrown off the RV, Shuuichi takes that as an opportunity to do what he set out to in the first place. As quietly as he can he slips away back into the bathroom, pulling the door shut and locking it for good measure before taking off his shirt and binder.

The hoodie, while big enough to provide adequate comfort and familiar in the way it smells like Rantarou’s terribly gaudy perfume, it doesn’t satisfy the loneliness radiating throughout his core like he thought it would, and the resulting emptiness in his chest only has him feeling more exposed and alone than ever.

He stares at himself in the tiny mirror, stained from what must be years of loving use. He’s missing his hat, having shoved it into his bag after several prodding questions about it had made him feel insecure in wearing it; even just the absence of it makes him seem so unlike the Shuuichi he knows himself to be.

Exposed and without his hat; messy, unwashed hair; under eyes and cheeks stained red and raw from rubbing away countless tears over the past several days; wearing Rantarou’s grossly overpriced clothing without having to be wrestled into it for a feature on his Snapchat story or something equally stupid; wide, angry, anxious yellow eyes staring back at him through the mirror in an RV stolen from a god in order to save the world from a threat that’s been blamed on him. 

There is so much in Shuuichi’s reflection that he doesn’t recognize, it’s almost as if he’s forgetting what he really looks like. What he’s supposed to look like.

With great difficulty he pries his gaze from the mirror, instead focusing on grabbing his phone he’d discarded on the sink and unlocking it with shaking hands. He half expects something to happen — an explosion? An alarm? The intense, breathy scream of Nagito’s voice or the panicked, desperate pleads of Makoto or the clipped, frazzled tone of Byakuya as they all urge him to call them back, tell them where he is, let them know he’s okay?

But, no. Though staring down the number of missed calls, voicemails, and texts his phone has been inundated with in the last few hours — the number well into the triple digits already — is scary and incredibly guilt-inducing, he gets to his target with no other issues.

Shuuichi isn’t what he’d consider a particularly organized person; he’s not like Byakuya, who has every contact, every document, every photo meticulously sorted into its matching folder or album or group. He only has one non-default photo album in his photo app, and it’s one comprised entirely of the stupid pictures Rantarou always took of the two of them.

There are over two hundred, collected and compiled over many, many years of friendship, and many different phases of his and Rantarou’s life. The early ones, of the two of them posing for first day of school pictures taken by Shuuichi’s mother, starting with their second year of friendship, only days after he and Rantarou had borrowed a pair of Makoto’s scissors in order to demolish Shuuichi’s new haircut that he hadn’t deemed short enough.

The terrible blurry ones that were the product of Rantarou getting his first smartphone at the ripe age of nine, mostly of Rantarou making dumb poses towards the front facing camera from too low of an angle and with Shuuichi caught doing homework in the background. 

The other various phases of their friendship; when Shuuichi’s mother died, and they found themselves living in the same house and spending more time together than ever; when Rantarou pierced his own nose at age twelve; when their matching love of video games emerged and they had a short-lived stint recording and uploading themselves playing and commentating on the games; Rantarou’s polaroid phase, in which he spent obscene amounts of money on old, authentic film just to take pictures of the most mundane things; Rantarou’s many hair colors, piercings, and even a tattoo; every new school, new house, and new experience documented.

Shuuichi stops on one of the many selfies Rantarou insisted they take together. They’re both smiling, though in fairness one side of Shuuichi’s mouth is being pulled up by Rantarou, one arm around Shuuichi’s shoulders so his finger can manipulate his face into the photographed grimace. It’s a terrible picture; the phone is shaking from the movement of them both laughing, half of Rantarou’s face is shielded by Shuuichi’s hat which he’d stolen and placed onto his own head, and neither of them had been able to look straight at the camera in time.

Even looking as he did, grinning like a moron and displaying a totally different persona than the casual, effortlessly beautiful Rantarou he broadcast to the world, he’s still eons more comfortable in front of a camera than Shuuichi ever has been. Rantarou was always the more photogenic one, but he always pulled Shuuichi into his selfies anyways; always took sneak shots of Shuuichi while he posed; always poked his cheeks afterward, made him flush, teased him about being his ‘handsome little brother.’

It was annoying, and embarrassing, and exhausting, but Shuuichi would give anything to have it back. Would give anything to have Rantarou back.

Setting the picture as both his lock screen and home screen doesn’t make the hurt go away, but the reminder of a time when everything is okay at his fingertips helps him close the distance, just the tiniest bit.

Stepping out of the bathroom, it seems that the arguing has for the time being been put on hold; all that Shuuichi can hear is Kaito snoring loudly, the low whir of Kiibo’s inner mechanisms as they charge, Kokichi’s idle humming coming from — oh. 

Kokichi waves from his spot on the wall bed, sprawled out in apparent comfort and feet swinging contentedly in the air. Shuuichi spares a glance to the shut bedroom door behind him; something tells him that trying to argue his way back onto the bed would draw Maki or Kaede out of the bedroom to mediate, and frankly, he’s already dreading the inevitable confrontation between Maki and Kokichi, he doesn’t want to worsen things by making it happen while Maki is tired. 

He just grabs his bag, which Kokichi must have set onto the floor at some point, and looks over his options for some place to rest. 

He ends up in the booth seat opposite Kiibo, more than a little unnerved by the way in which their eyes stare forward, unseeing and unblinking, the only movement in them a tiny green light that blips every so often to indicate their. . .battery. . .level? Or something to that degree, Shuuichi supposes. 

It’s hard to find a position comfortable enough to sleep in, but he must doze at some point, because when he next opens his eyes it’s to an RV cast in shade and, as is becoming worryingly common, Kokichi.

Maki has him by the hair, expression dangerous but overall appearance rather. . .cuddly? At the very least, the far too large, light purple hoodie patterned with kittens that fell nearly to her knees did not serve to make her look more intimidating. 

As Kokichi whines against the strength of her hold, though, Shuuichi can’t help but wonder if there’s an outfit on earth Maki wouldn’t look formidable in.

“Screaming isn’t going to stop me from killing you,” Maki tells him curtly, fingers twisting in his hair. 

Strangely, Kokichi’s eyes cut across to Shuuichi very briefly in response. He wiggles his eyebrows — Shuuichi cringes away in preparation of what’s to come — before glancing back up at Maki and letting out a bloodcurdling scream.

“What the—” Kaito scrambles for one of Shuuichi’s shoes, still discarded by the couch, and throws it in Kokichi’s general direction, looking miserable. Grinding his teeth, he pulls a pillow over his ears. “Maki, please shut him the hell up!”

“That can be arranged.”

Kiibo groans across from Shuuichi, unplugging themselves and shaking their head until their eyes flash back to their usual blue. Mouth set into a disgruntled frown, they roll their eyes. “And here I was hoping that finding you was just a bad dream.”

“Robots don’t dream,” Kokichi says idly, rolling his shoulders. “Someone wanna wake up Gonta so he can get Maki off of me already? This isn’t fun anymore.”

“You—” Maki releases her grip on Kokichi with difficulty, wiping her hand on her shirt in disgust. “What’s not fun is waking up to find the worm I thought I left behind having snuck his way onto the RV like some sort of infestation, and none of you—” her eyes cut across dangerously towards Shuuichi and Kiibo, “thought to tell me.”

“Worm?” Gonta asks sleepily, sitting up and looking around excitedly. Kokichi snorts and falls backwards to sit on his torso.

“There ya are, buddy.” 

“We have a stowaway,” Shuuichi supplies unhelpfully. Maki huffs and turns away, stomping off towards the bedroom. Kaito groans loudly from underneath the pillow as she slams the door behind her.

“Shuuichi! You’ll make sure I don’t get thrown off the moving RV, right? Right?”

Instead of answering, he stands to go and retrieve his shoes. As he’s slipping them back on someone emerges from the bedroom, and when he looks up he finds Kaede, fully dressed and staring at Kokichi with crossed arms.

“I want to say I can’t believe you, but I can’t, because I know you.” She rubs tiredly at her eyes. “How did you even know we were taking the RV?”

“As soon as Kiibaby showed up, I knew all of us wouldn’t fit in the car,” he responds casually, picking at his nails. “Then when I saw Kaito stomping up to Shuumai’s cabin, I knew it was a done deal. Go in through the unlocked garage door, break the latch on the bathroom window, slip in and hide til we were a few hours into the trip, and here I am! Clever, right?”

“You are. . .” Kaede balls her hands into fists, though there’s no real anger on her face. “I just want you to know how incredibly disappointed I am that you put this whole thing in jeopardy.”

“Oh nooo, the girl that wears sweater vests is disappointed in me.” Kaede crosses her arms over her outfit with a huff, face flushing in embarrassment. Maki emerges from the bedroom at the tail end of Kokichi’s taunt, hackles visibly raised as she stalks towards him. “However will I recover.”

Kaede puts a hand out to halt Maki’s apparent intent to kill him, sighing. “As much as I think we can all agree that Kokichi being here is a hindrance, we don’t have time to drop him somewhere safe.”

“Somewhere safe,” Maki echos, eyes narrowed at Kokichi dangerously. He leans farther back against Gonta, lip wobbling.

“And,” Kaede continues quickly, “this is no time to be fighting, or endangering each other. Out here, we’re — we’re all that we have to count on. We can’t leave him, or anyone else, behind. It wouldn’t be right.”

“I must agree,” Kiibo says, standing up from the booth to pin Kokichi with a look. “Though I am most certainly not looking forward to being taunted for the next several days by him, I cannot in good conscience as a counselor in training leave him behind.”

Kaede nods firmly, sparing one final apprehensive glance towards Kokichi before focusing her attention on Maki. “It’s almost four, so we should get back on the road. Are you alright to drive?”

“Yes.” Maki glances briefly over the rest of them. “Just keep him away from me.”

As Maki and Kaede settle into their seats and start up the RV, Shuuichi takes the opportunity to change back into his binder and use the restroom. When he reenters the rest of the RV he finds Maki has already pulled them out of the remote lot they’d stopped in and back onto the road.

In the time he took in the bathroom Gonta had taken to sitting across from Kiibo at the booth, so Shuuichi slides past to take a seat on the now-vacant couch. He unlocks his phone briefly to check the time and catalogue the new onslaught of messages he’d received while he slept, rolling his neck against a knot that had developed at having napped at such an odd angle.

“So, Maki Roll,” Kaito begins sleepily, propping his head up on the pillow to get a good look at Maki where she sat up front. “Where are we even goin’? How do you even get to the Un — well, uh, where we’re headed?”

There’s a slight shift in the room as everyone angles themselves to hear Maki’s response. She’d said when they’d left that she knew how to get there, but she’d yet to given any directions, or even any indication on where they were going, so it made sense that they were all interested in what she had to say.

“It’s not so clear cut as to say that the Underworld is at a certain place. It’s not something I can put in a GPS,” she begins, eyes on the road. “What we’re heading towards is a. . .point of access. An entrance that’s separate from the Underworld itself.”

“What do you mean?” Shuuichi asks. “Do you mean like. . .a portal?”

“. . .That’s a stupid way to describe it, but the short answer is yes. The long answer is that it’s not as clean cut as that. It’s more like we’re headed to where the entrance is in theory.”

“‘In theory’?”

Maki sighs. “It’s not a question of whether there is an entrance, because yes, there is technically one. It’s more a question of whether we’ll be able to access it.”

“What’re you sayin’, Maki?”

“I’m saying,” she snaps, “that the Underworld is not known for having visitors. It’s where souls go to die. There is no reason for a living person to end up there. So unless you’re dead, a descendant of an Underworld dwelling god, or invited, you don’t go to the Underworld, period. I know how to get to the entrance, but it’s a matter of whether or not that god will let us in or not.”

“You mean you don’t even know if we’re able to get to the Underworld?” Kiibo asks frantically, the sentiment echoed all around the RV as everyone has a collective freak out.

“No, I — I don’t think that’s right,” Shuuichi interrupts, shaking his head. “Gun — I mean, the, ah, the threat counts as an invitation, right? It must. He wouldn’t tell me to bring the spear to his ‘domain’ if I wasn’t able to get in.”

“Shuuichi’s right,” Kaede agrees, looking back at him with a small smile on her face. “He isn’t an idiot. As long as he thinks Shuuichi has the spear, we’ll be able to get in. What’s important is that Maki knows how to get there, and we’re working together, so try not to worry too much before we get there, ‘kay?”

The seven of them lapse into silence after that, no one seeming to have anything to say. Despite Kaede’s words of encouragement, though, there’s an undercurrent of suspense that permeates the air, stifling any conversation or attempts to really relax. Everyone, at least for the time being, though, seems content enough to do their own thing, which Shuuichi supposes is an improvement from this morning.

Gonta has pulled the book about beetles back out and reads silently at the booth; Kiibo sits and stares at him curiously, words — are those their thoughts, Shuuichi wonders? — scrolling across their collar; Kaito has seemingly fallen back asleep, breathing lightly from beneath the pillow; Kaede and Maki talk quietly amongst themselves, too soft for Shuuichi to hear; and Kokichi — Kokichi settles silently onto the couch next to Shuuichi, one earbud in his ear.

Shuuichi looks around awkwardly; though other than the bed there wasn’t really anywhere else for Kokichi to sit, it still was a little uncomfortable to be on the couch with him, after — after what? 

Kokichi was weird and loud and probably one of the most. . .interesting? Fascinating? At the very least unique people Shuuichi had ever met, but nothing he had done thus far warranted being wary of him, Shuuichi didn’t think. Maybe it was the fact that Shuuichi struggled to get a read on his intentions at any given moment, or the fact that half the time Kokichi spoke so fast about such strange things that he struggled to digest any of it in time to formulate any sort of response, but nevertheless. . .something about him was off. Maybe not in a bad way, but at least in a way that puzzled Shuuichi endlessly.

And he’d only known him for a matter of days. How so many questions could arise out of a near stranger was baffling, but it was also intriguing. Shuuichi would give anything to answer just one of the questions Kokichi had floating around his head.

He tries to be subtle as he observes Kokichi, body facing towards the window but eyes flickering over every so often to get a read on him. Unlike earlier, he’s not wearing any particular mood or face; most of the time Kokichi is so expressive, that whenever he isn’t performing (and is that an insensitive thing to call it, Shuuichi wonders?) he finds it impossible to puzzle out what exactly was running through his mind.

With others it was easy; one look at Kaito’s expression or one glimpse of Maki’s body language or one word out of Kaede’s mouth and it was immediately clear what they were thinking and feeling. Even when they’re trying to hide their feelings, like Kaede whenever she’s nervous or Kaito when he’s embarrassed, one look and you can tell.

Even with more challenging people — Rantarou and Byakuya being prime examples of people who kept up a facade in order to mask what they were really going through — Shuuichi could generally pick out what they were thinking or feeling. Byakuya’s mouth twitches whenever he’s trying to remain stern but doesn’t want to be, and his body language is always a dead giveaway whenever he’s nervous or uncomfortable or amused, even if his face remains unchanged.

Rantarou, too, was easy to read after so many years of knowing him; Shuuichi can usually tell what’s going on with just a look at his eyes, he’s so used to him. They narrow when he’s annoyed; he blinks more often when he’s bored or when he’s trying to impress; his eyes widen when he’s trying to appear engaged; he can’t look in the same place for long if he’s nervous or upset. 

But Kokichi. . .

Mouth set in a line, not frowing, just passive, no inclination one way or another. Eyes downcast at his phone, blinking slowly but not in any specific way. Not chewing on his lip, or tapping his fingers, or bouncing his leg, or anything.

Until he suddenly flashes his gaze over to Shuuichi, one eyebrow cocked upwards and a smile pointed in his direction.

Teasing, feigning surprise, looking to make sure Shuuichi knows he’s been caught staring. He knows what the expression is supposed to mean, but there’s nothing genuine in the way his brow wiggles, the way his smile is all teeth. 

Shuuichi recognizes an act when he sees one, but for the life of him he can’t figure out what’s going on behind the scenes. What’s almost worse, he’s still embarrassed at being caught out.

“Stare much?” Kokichi asks, voice casual, swinging his other earbuds loosely around in the air. It knocks Shuuichi’s leg more than once. “Maybe I was wrong about CR33-P0, maybe you’re the weirdo. How does Creepichi Saihara sound?”

“Really rolls off the tongue,” he concedes, forcing the thought process out of his mind for the time being. He can worry about Kokichi and his weird motivations when Rantarou isn’t in danger. “What are you listening to?”

“If you wanted to share, all you had to do was ask.” Shuuichi accepts the proffered earbud and places it in his ear, trying not to cringe away from the loud, bright music that immediately spills into his head. He’s expecting some double-edged (or perhaps even just straight-up rude) comment to follow, but it doesn’t; Kokichi just looks away and stares off into space, head moving minutely in time with the music.

It’s nice, actually, just sitting in silence (or, well, as silent as it can be when listening to music). Though he had his own earbuds buried somewhere in his bag, he hadn’t dug them out for fear of missing something while listening to music; though now, he’ll have to, because it’s actually the most relaxed he’s been since everything began.

Eventually, though, Kokichi breaks the silence. He doesn’t look over at Shuuichi. “You were crying in the bathroom earlier.” He keeps his voice quiet, barely a hum over the sound of the RV. “It’s none of my business, duh, but if you wanna talk about it, you can, I guess.”

The question surprises Shuuichi, so much so that he struggles to answer it. “I, ah. . .I must have just been overtired.”

Kokichi’s eyes cut across to him all of a sudden, narrowed dangerously and matched with an unimpressed frown. “You’re lying.”

“I. . .” He falters, pausing for a moment to pull out his phone, something to avoid Kokichi’s intense look. “I am. I — I miss him. Rantarou.”

Shuuichi pulls the earbud out of his ear, crossing his arms and pointedly looking away from him. “And right before you saw me I — I thought I saw him. And I think I probably was really tired, but also, it’s just been. Really, really hard. I watched him die — or, I thought I did, and I hardly had a chance to mourn before this all happened, and I just. He’s my best friend in the entire world, and I just want to see him again, and that’s. . .the gist of it, I guess.”

“Y’know,” Kokichi begins after a moment, edging himself closer to Shuuichi to peer curiously at his phone, “I’ve heard so much about this guy, and I’ve yet to see a picture. You gotta have one, right?”

Shuuichi tries not to cringe at the way Kokichi peers at his screen as he unlocks his phone and navigates to his photo library, ending up on the still-open photo album of the two of them. He angles his phone subtly towards himself, spends a few moments looking for a picture he hopes will give Kokichi a good first impression of his brother, and then, satisfied, turns the phone back towards him to reveal it. 

It’s one of the many selfies Rantarou insisted they take the night they went to the arcade, and though it’s dark due to only being illuminated by whatever city lights were on in that moment, and half of the frame is taken up by the matching peace signs Rantarou had insisted they do in order to show off the bracelets Shuuichi currently wore on his wrist, it’s a favorite and he can’t help but smile just looking at it.

Rantarou has the posed arm around Shuuichi’s shoulders, his two fingers brushing the edge of Shuuichi’s shyly smiling face. Shuuichi’s own hand is posed between them, framing Rantarou’s own grin.

Kokichi plucks the phone from Shuuichi’s fingers, voice teasing as he coos at the picture. “Wooow, Shuumai, he’s a real looker! I can’t believe you’re related!”

Shuuichi can’t help the grin that crosses his face at the comment. He reaches for his phone back, only for Kokichi to fall onto the other end of the couch away from him, scrolling quickly through the rest of the album. “He’s cute! When we bust him out, you should give him my number.”

“The first thing I do when I save Rantarou will not be to set him up with anybody.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I just texted myself from your phone, so now you have my number.” Kokichi tosses the phone back to him, remaining reclined on the couch and resting both arms underneath his head. When Shuuichi checks the message Kokichi sent himself, he finds it to be the picture; he feels himself flush as he puts his phone away.

“But you two look so happy, which is so weird! You’ve looked so emo since you got here, y’know?” Kokichi’s retrieved his own phone, eyes focused on it instead of on Shuuichi as he speaks. “I hardly recognize that smiling weirdo as you at all.”

Shuuichi feels his smile drop just as quickly as it appeared, physically deflating from the surprising hurt the jab inflicts. He tries not to let his change in mood be obvious; he needn’t worry, though, as Kokichi has entirely disengaged, earbuds back in his ears and eyes resolutely on his phone.

Kokichi is almost nice. He’s so close at times to saying something that genuinely makes Shuuichi feel a little better, saying something that is kind for the sake of it, but every time there is always something. Something that leaves Shuuichi feeling as if he would’ve been better off not talking at all.

Curling in on himself, feeling more than a little insecure, he can’t help but hope that the silence that falls between them sticks.

But, because of course not, it’s only a matter of minutes before Kaito is sitting up, cursing loudly. “Agh, c’mon guys! This is a road trip, and jus’ sitting in silence is freaking me out so bad I can’t even sleep!”

“Thank god, your snoring is obnoxious,” Maki retorts, earning an embarrassed squack from Kaito. 

“Maki Roll, I’m gonna go nuts! Can we at least turn on the radio?”

Kaede perks up at that, spinning around to face the rest of the RV with an approving smile pointed in Kaito’s direction. “That’s not a bad idea! I know we’re all understandably a little tense, but let’s try and relax for a while, at least until we start getting closer! Here, I’ll find us a station. . .”

She spins back around in order to fidget with the radio, missing the way Kaito mouths ‘thank god’ as his wish is granted. Fully seeming to commit himself to being awake he stretches, tossing the pillow aside and looking to Shuuichi, expression still a little bleary.

“Hey Shuuichi, what were you an’ Kokichi talkin’ about over there an—”

“—higher up at the Togami Corporation has confirmed the CEO, billionaire Byakuya Togami and his husband are still searching for their missing adoptive son, Shuuichi Saihara, after an automobile accident claimed the life of their other son, Rantarou Togami—”

Shuuichi’s breath catches in his throat as several pairs of eyes zero in on him.

“—are urged to contact the missing persons hotline at the following number, with any information as to the whereabouts of the missing child shall be rewarded with one hundred thousand—”

“Holy shit, Byakuya an’ Makoto aren’t messin’ around,” Kaito says dazedly, eyes still on Shuuichi. 

“Hey, Shuuichi,” Kokichi stage whispers, nudging him gently in the ribs, “when we’re all done saving the world, think I can call that number and get the cash reward for you?”

“Kokichi, you are so insensitive, I cannot—!”

“—In breaking international news, Queen Nevermind, after only revealing the existence of an heir apparent to the European Kingdom of Novoselic’s throne a matter of hours ago, has been granted authorization by the Japanese government to deploy over two thousand troops in search of her child after an apparent kidnapping. Roadblocks have been set up on major roads on the main island, so expect delays. . .”

“Shit.” 

“Of fuckin’ course a royal goes missin’ right after we go on the run!”

“Think Nagito’s luck is finally catching up with us? I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. . .”

“All of you shut up,” Maki says tersely, not having to turn around for the glare most definitely on her face to be effective. Shuuichi feels the RV slow the tiniest bit beneath him. “And let me think.”

“Oi, Maki, there any back roads you can pull onto?” Kaito rises from the couch to stand between Maki and Kaede’s seats, pawing at the map splayed out between them.

“No, there isn’t.” The RV slows a significant amount, sending more than one of them tripping as a long line of cars becomes visible beyond a sharp turn. “Damn it.”

“Gonta no understand,” Gonta begins softly, rising from his seat at the booth to join the majority of the group — minus Kiibo, who had been sat frozen since the broadcast had played — up near the front of the RV.

“We not do anything wrong, right? No kidnap Queen Nevermind’s ‘heir’. . .” Slowly, the RV shifts forward as more cars are stopped, searched, and let through the blockade manned by several soldiers in strange, bulky uniforms. “Gonta not even know Queen Nevermind have an heir. So we safe, right?”

The sound of Maki’s teeth grinding is audible. Kaede spins around, fingers drumming in a nervous, unsteady rhythm on her armrest.

“Even if we didn’t, we’re still seven teenagers driving in a stolen RV with no adults and no license.” 

Kokichi, having been silent for a long minute, opens the window closest to him and sticks his head out. “Hope we’re not thinking of driving through, cause they have guns. Uh oh.”

“Guns?” Kaito parrots, face paling as he turns to face Kokichi. When he receives only a shrug in response, he begins to pace anxiously, sneakers slapping loudly against the floor. “Maki, what’s our angle here?”

“Hey, Kiibaby, now would be a great time to be actually useful and show off your laser vision or machine gun arm or whatever other weird shit you can do.” 

He’s met with silence. Frowning, Kokichi rises from the couch and marches over to where Kiibo sits, looking vaguely affronted at being ignored. It’s not until he’s poking incessantly at their cheek that Kiibo responds, standing up with wobbly legs and glancing frantically around the RV.

“E-Everyone!” The volume of their voice has Shuuichi wincing. They don’t seem to notice. “Though I would normally be rightfully offended at this idea, it seems this situation is. . .dire.”

“Don’t say that, Kiibo, or I’m actually gonna freak out!”

“Anyways!” Another glance out the window has their thoughts turning from anything coherent into garbled letters and numbers across their collar. “The soldiers are searching vehicles, yes? Seeing as I am very visibly, ah, a r-robot, I believe it may be best for me to hide, so as not to arouse any unnecessary suspicion.”

“That’s a good idea,” Kaede says quickly, sparing a glance over her shoulder to where the line was growing increasingly shorter. “Come with me, we’ll find a place.”

Kaede takes them by the wrist and drags them bodily deeper into the RV, leaving the rest of them looking to Maki for guidance. She pulls the RV forward another few feet, close enough now to the soldiers to make out clearly the sleek, glossy guns at their belts and the strange insignia marking each of their face masks. 

“We are six eighteen-year-olds celebrating our last year of high school with a road trip,” Maki tells the four of them briskly, hands tight on the steering wheel. “They’re foreigners looking for a kidnapped European royal, not the cops. As long as we act natural and Kaede is able to hide Kiibo, things will be okay.”

“And if they do find Kiibo?” Kaito asks, eyes flickering back towards the two of them were rustling around quietly in search of a hiding spot.

“Then Kaede and I will disarm them long enough for us to get away.”

“You got it, boss!” Kokichi responds, voice cheerful as he pulls out his phone and waves it around in the air. “And I’ll be in charge of putting the whole thing on TikTok! Getting harassed by a bunch of freaky cops will be great for my page.”

She pins him with a harsh look over her shoulder, eyes narrowed towards his phone. “If I think you’re going to mess this up even a little bit, I will throw you to the soldiers and escape while they’re using you as a punching bag.”

The nervous tremor Shuuichi has been desperately trying to keep out of his legs rolls in with full force, so much so that even consciously tapping his feet won’t mask it. He wraps both arms around his stomach, taking a shaky inhale. “Please, don’t talk about leaving anybody behind.”

“Shuuichi’s right,” Gonta agrees with a nod of his head, looking to Kokichi with a small frown. “No matter what Kokichi says or does, we no can leave him behind.”

“Aw, Gonts! My heart is melting, seriously, I’m all gushy inside, yuck!”

“But Kokichi, please try to be nice. Shuuichi getting nervous.”

Kokichi raises an eyebrow in his direction. Shuuichi offers what he hopes is a blatantly sardonic thumbs up in response, one arm still firmly around his anxiety-induced aching stomach. He just shrugs before turning back to Gonta, rolling his eyes with an exaggerated whine.

“I’m always nice, but whatever!” Kokichi pockets his phone, then pulls on the pink backpack he’d had since Shuuichi had found him. “I’m a regular ol’ ball of sunshine, I am. Protag Kaede could take a few pages outta my book about being nice.”

“Somehow I doubt that,” Kaede mumbles as she reenters the front of the RV, settling back down in her seat before turning to pin Kokichi with a look. “And will you stop calling me that? I don’t know what you mean.”

Kokichi just bats his eyes at her until she groans and turns away. “Kiibo’s hiding as best as they can. Let’s just hope they have better things to do than check underneath our bed, huh?”

“I’m going to throw up,” Shuuichi says miserably, resting his head between his knees. A big hand rubs comfortingly in circles on his back, and he doesn’t need to look up to know it’s Gonta. He wheezes as a way of saying thanks.

“We’re next.” Maki puts the RV in park. “Nobody say a single word. Kaede, take the lead?”

“Mhm!” Kaito pulls Shuuichi to his feet, still looking a little pale himself. He offers Shuuichi a matching grin and thumbs up, though his smile shakes around the edges. He tries to match it best as he can as he follows after Kaede off the RV.

The climate outside is windy, and unusually warm for late afternoon. In all Shuuichi counts fourteen soldiers in total; two immediately step onto the RV as Kokichi makes his way out last, four stand before them, with the others scattered about at various stations around the blockade; their vehicles, the roadblocks themselves, and on either side of the surrounding woods. 

Shuuichi finds his eyes continuously trailing back to the silver, shining guns each of the four guards before the group of them wear at their belts. Their entire uniform matches; bulky, clean armor in various hues of silver, blue, and black cover their entire bodies, the only unshielded part of them being the area of their heads above the mask that covers from their chin to above their noises.

The four pairs of eyes that move over the six of them are cold, but not suspicious or hostile. The shortest guard, with piercing slate eyes that slide over each of them individually, speaks first.

“This is an authorized, lawful search by the Kingdom of Novoselic.” Their is soft, lilted, and heavily accented. “In addition to submitting to a vehicle search, please state your name, destination, and purpose of travel.” 

“Maizono,” Kaede says breezily, keeping her eyes locked with the soldier’s as she speaks. “We are heading to the nearest campground for a vacation.”

One of the other soldiers taps a few times on a panel on their arm, eyes trained on Kaede as they type. The first soldier nods, eyes flickering up to the RV. 

“License number?”

Shuuichi feels himself freeze up, and notices Kaito do the same at his side. Maki gives each of them sidelong icy glares, and Shuuichi coughs in an attempt to loosen himself up.

Kaede laughs, shrugging her shoulders in self-deprecation as she bares her hands. “Unfortunately, I forgot my ID, and by the time I noticed, we were several hours into our trip. My apologies!”

The soldier stares at her for several long moments, before turning to the other three and speaking for several moments in a language Shuuichi can’t understand. Finally they step away from the group to stand in front of Gonta, glancing up at him boredly.

“How old are you all?”

Kaede’s smile waivers slightly as she waits for Gonta to answer. He fidgets with his fingers for a few moments, face reddening the longer the group of them stand in silence. “Gonta a-and his friends are eighteen years old.”

The soldier takes a step back, eyes once again assessing each of them. Out of the corner of his eye, Shuuichi sees Kokichi grasping his phone from within his pocket, and silently prays this will just end already.

The soldier glances at Shuuichi as they speak. “Lying is unnecessary. We are not police, and we do not care about students on a joy ride in their parents vehicle. Do not be so nervous.”

Each of them take a collective deep breath. 

“As soon as my soldiers finish searching your vehicle, you will be free to leave. Please wait here until they are finished.”

The soldier turns away then, pulling out a cell phone to make a call. Some of the tension saps out of Shuuichi’s body, leaving him with merely a stomach ache and sweaty palms, as opposed to the full blown combination panic-and-asthma attack he could feel himself building up to. Kaito tosses an arm around his shoulders, seeming significantly more at ease himself.

“Is it just me, or do these guys seem to you that they have a stick up their ass?”

Shuuichi chuckles despite himself, reddening when one of the soldiers raises an eyebrow at him. He elbows Kaito gently in the side. “Don’t push our luck.”

“‘Least I’m not actin’ like Kokichi,” Kaito says disdainfully, jutting his head towards Kokichi who was eyeing one of the soldier’s guns carefully, fingers grasping around empty air as he asked rapid fire obnoxious questions to an unsuspecting soldier. Shuuichi brings a hand to his mouth to mask a laugh as he observes.

“I think I can hear Maki’s annoyance from here,” he whispers back, cringing as Kokichi flicks the soldier’s arm panel. 

“Don’t talk about me,” she says curtly from Kaito’s other side, earning an embarrassing squeak from Shuuichi and a guffaw from Kaito. 

Something clatters noisily to the ground behind Shuuichi, nearly jumping him out of his skin. 

All six of them turn to look at the cracked plastic of the window that has fallen out of its matching panel in the bathroom. Like it was planned, as Shuuichi’s eyes instinctively move upward to where the window used to be, something like a cry fills the air around them, followed by another, much more solid sounding crash to the ground.

Kiibo has just jumped out of the broken window, and their head has fallen off.

“Kiibo?” Shuuichi asks incredulously as they flail around on the ground for their head, sound leaving their mouth in an electronic garble.

“The Princette!”

“. . .The what?”

Gonta and Maki immediately move to pull Kiibo to their feet, the latter immediately taking their head aggressively from their hands and slamming it with more force than strictly necessary back onto their neck, earning a loud cry and another string of electronic noise.

And then Shuuichi notices the guns.

There’s a sniper sight pointed right around where his heart would be if it hadn’t already fallen right out of his chest and into his shoes. As the soldiers yell to each other in their native language and more move in to surround the seven of them, more guns take aim and more sights find themselves plastered to every immediate game-over spot on their bodies.

All of them except Kiibo, who stands suspiciously target free and shaking in their boots.

“What the hell, Kiibot!” Kokichi whispers in a hiss, kicking at Kiibo with unmasked annoyance. Half of the sniper sights immediately align themselves over his forehead, effectively clamming him up.

“Another hostile or robophobic action against the Princette will cost you your life,” one soldier says viciously, accent jarringly harsh comparative to the soft lilt Shuuichi had heard from the others just minutes ago. “Hands in the air.”

“What the fuck is going on?” Kaito demands, earning several sights on his own body. He coughs anxiously, raising his hands not a moment later. “Why are you freakin’ out over Kokichi bein’ an ass to Kiibo?”

“And why do you keep calling them. . .’Princette’?” 

Shuuichi is pretty sure he knows the answer already, but for the sake of clarification, he asks anyways. He expects the shift of several guns back over to him, but nevertheless he feels his anxiety shoot up in intensity at the imminent threat.

Like clockwork, each of the soldier’s face masks morph into full helmets, shielding all but their eyes. Shuuichi’s hands shake where they sit in the air.

“Under Novoselic law, at this time authorized to exert in the bounds of the nation of Japan, the punishment for the kidnapping and endangerment of a royal, and furthermore for the kidnapping and endangerment of a prince, princess, or princette is death.” From between Maki and Gonta, Kiibo visibly goes green. Shuuichi isn’t left with enough time to dwell on the logistics of that. “Queen Nevermind has authorized the use of deadly force in retrieving the Crown Princette. Release Princette Kiibo at once.”

Silence. 

Then: “Kiibaby is a what?”

Six pairs of eyes shift to Kiibo, wearing various shades of confusion, panic, and annoyance. 

Kokichi laughs, the sound vaguely unhinged, delirious. “What the fuck?”

Maki’s hands twitch into fists in the air, the expression on her face making it very clear that it’s Kiibo’s neck she’d much rather have them wrapped around. This is not lost on the soldiers, who direct the vast majority of their guns towards her.

“Did you not think it may be important to mention that you were international royalty?” Kiibo visibly shrinks under her frosty glare.

“I—” All of the soldiers start at the sound of Kiibo’s voice. Kokichi’s laughter fractures into something akin to a sob. “Sonia has never referred to me as the heir to the Novoselic throne, or even specifically as her child. As I’m still unaware of my true parentage, the thought did not occur to me!”

“Princette,” the shortest soldier says in a much more submissive, deferential tone, bowing ever so slightly towards Kiibo. Kokichi has begun cursing at Shuuichi’s side. “I must request that you step away from the kidnappers at once.”

Kiibo glances frantically between the group of them and the soldiers, but does not move from where they stand. “Please put away your guns! They are not kidnappers, they are my friends!”

“Kiibo, I hate you so, so much.”

Kiibo grimaces. “Except Kokichi. He is not my friend.”

“Not helping, Kiibo,” Kaede tells them, voice tight. 

“We will not ask again. Release Princette Kiibo at once.”

“Tin Can already told you,” Kokichi bites back irritably, cracking his knuckles in the air, “we didn’t kidnap them.”

“Will you shut the fuck up already, asshole?”

“Silence,” the soldier interrupts, voice harsh. With deliberate movements, they holster their gun. “I shall offer you a deal. Release the princette to us, and we shall not harm you.”

“No, you’ll just imprison us and then kill us once we’re brought back to your country.” Shuuichi gives a significant look to the rest of the group. “You already told us the punishment for the crime you’ve decided we’ve committed is death.”

With a shrug, the soldier retrieves their gun, aiming the sight between Shuuichi’s eyes. “Have it your way.”

“Wait!” Kiibo steps forward, arms thrown out defensively in front of as many of them as they can — they only succeed in shielding Maki and Gonta, but nevertheless immediately all of the guns slide far out of their direction. 

“You are not listening to me! I am telling you that I am here voluntarily, of my own free will, so no further threats are necessary! Please, just allow us to leave in peace!”

“My apologies, Your Highness,” the short soldier begins, gun sliding once again upward, “but we have direct orders from the queen to return you to her custody and to dispatch the kidnappers.”

“I have — ugh!” Kiibo throws their hands up in frustration, then pulls their right arm to their chest and begins fiddling anxiously with something there Shuuichi can’t immediately identify.

“I have no plans to allow you to harm my friends, nor to go with you. If you do not leave us be, I will be forced to take offensive action.”

Something whirs to life inside of their arm. A moment later they raise and aim at the collection of soldiers, intense blue light radiating from the hole where their hand used to be. Though their eyes narrow dangerously as they take aim, their whole frame trembles, fingers on their left hand shaking as they finger at a button on the bottom of their forearm.

“Princette Kiibo,” a soft voice pleads as one of the soldiers lowers her gun, helmet retracting back into the normal face mask a moment later. Her eyes are blue, and they water as she takes a tentative step towards Kiibo, arms held out placatingly.

“I beg of you to think of Queen Nevermind — your mother, before you choose your next action.” She takes another step closer, and Kiibo is really shaking now, a steady stream of no no no no i don’t understand rolling across their collar in quick green text. “I was there when she received the call that you had gone missing. I have never seen Her Majesty weep, and yet she was inconsolable at the news of your kidnapping.”

Kiibo blinks several times, as if holding back tears. With each artificial movement of their eyes, more and more static fills the white space within them.

“She love you so, so deeply. You understand the position she is in, yes?” Tears stream freely down the soldier’s face. “To give life to her first child in so, so long, to finally have an offspring who will not leave her due to the fallacies of being half human, only for you to be ripped away from her arms, yes? She is heartbroken. Please, come with us, let us take you to see your mother. All she wants is to see you again.”

There’s oppressive, tense silence for a long, long stretch of time as Kiibo glances between the soldier, with her arms outstretched as if to embrace them, and the increasingly scared looks the Shuuichi and the others were casting in Kiibo’s direction.

Finally, they shake their head, eyes firmly on the six of them.

“Please ask her for my forgiveness for what I am about to do, and for making her wait a few days longer.”

With a renewed confidence they rearm their gun, pointed at the encroaching soldier. She backs away with narrowed eyes, drawing her own gun. “I will give you one final chance to let my friends and I leave in peace.”

The sniper sights do not stray from the six of them. Kokichi groans in frustration, gesturing to Kiibo wildly.

“Hey, pigs, why don’t you aim at Kiibo, they’re the only one of us that’s armed!”

With a roll of their eyes and a wince, Kiibo fires, the kickback making them stumble. A flash of bright blue light streaks through the air before Shuuichi can even process it, so fast that he can’t shut his eyes in time to miss the impact of the shot against the group of soldiers.

He needn’t have bothered.

“W. . .What?” Kiibo asks incredulously, eyes focused intensely on the soldier who was pointedly not affected by Kiibo’s gun. “This gun has shot through metal before, I — I don’t understand—”

They fire again. Shuuichi watches as the force of Kiibo’s shot seems to merely bounce off the soldier’s armor like a rubber ball. 

“Uhm, Kiibo?” Kaede asks nervously.

Kiibo looks moments away from collapsing. “It would seem my mother has equipped her army with robot-proof armor.”

“Hey, Kiibo!” The intensity of Kaito’s shout draws all of the gun’s aims to him. “You just called Queen Sonia your mom! You admit it now?”

Strangely, inexplicably, they go red. “Y-Yes.”

“As happy as I am for you, Kiibo,” Shuuichi says urgently, eyes on the many guns still drawn and aimed at them, “is this really the most pressing matter at the moment?”

Several things happen within the span of a few seconds as the final syllables leave Shuuichi’s mouth.

One: the soldiers issue a final warning, promising to begin shooting if Kiibo does not immediately return to their care.

Two: Kiibo pleads once again to let them pass freely, growing audibly more frustrated the more they are ignored.

Three: the rest of the group — minus Shuuichi, who is too concerned with keeping a careful watch on the guns aimed at himself — makes some very purposeful eye contact over the shouting match between the soldiers and Kiibo, apparently firming between themselves something Shuuichi is not privy to.

And four: Maki pops out of sight, and all hell breaks loose.

In a matter of moments Shuuichi’s friends are armed and on the offensive. Maki, the only trace of her existence being a knife that floats poised dangerously in the air, moves methodically between soldiers, grabbing guns and tossing them aside faster than they can even notice what’s happening. Kaito has torn open a panel on the side of the RV, revealing a dusty toolbox and crowbar that he swings around with abandon, working at one soldier in particular, attempting to beat the helmet off of their head.

Gonta picks two soldiers up effortlessly, knocking their heads together between pained whimpers of, “sorry, sorry Gonta so sorry!” leaving them unable to do anything but flail helplessly in the air. 

Kaede has run a fair distance away, far enough that Shuuichi cannot hear whatever she’s meant to be saying — singing? — as she spins the paralyzed soldiers who made chase after her around in circles. Kiibo has joined her, apparently immune to the affects of her power as they take guns from the frozen hands of the soldiers and struggle to break them over their knee.

And Kokichi — Kokichi’s wielding a boxcutter, darting quickly beneath the legs, around the backs, over the heads of soldiers and dragging the sharp blade over whatever points of weakness he can find in their armor.

“Why is everybody armed and ready to fight except for me?”

“So slow on the uptake, jeez!” Kokichi wrenches a gun away from a downed soldier, eyeing it as if it’s a shiny new toy and he’s a rich kid in a toy shop. He clicks the boxcutter shut and slides it back into his backpack, pausing his hand within it for several moments to pull out — Rantarou’s baseball bat?

“Why do you have that?” Shuuichi demands, taking momentary behind Kokichi as he pushes the gun into the pocket of his jacket — it makes Shuuichi ill just to watch — and grips the bat in both hands. The pink kitten on his backpack stares pitifully up at Shuuichi. “How did that even fit in there?”

The response he gets is vaguely menacing laughter as he swings the bat experimentally, very nearly taking Shuuichi’s head off as a stray long nail nearly stabs his eye out. Knowing better than to trust Kokichi not to accidentally kill him he takes a large steps back, just in time for the soldier whose gun Kokichi stole to charge headlong towards the two of them.

“Hey, batter batter, swing!” 

It’s a terrible hit, and Kokichi winces with the force of it, but nevertheless the effect on the soldier is immediate; as they fly backwards from the impact of the hit, Shuuichi can immediately see patches of blood form within the pockets the nails ripped through the armor as if it was tissue paper.

Kokichi curses under his breath, eyes alight with wonder. “Holy shit, Shuuichi, this weapon is magical! Where did you get something like this?”

What?

“It’s a baseball bat!” Shuuichi half shrieks as Kokichi, looking on the verge of tears, pushes it into his hands. 

“A magic one! This convo is toootally not over, you hear me?” With a wicked grin Kokichi darts off, pulling the gun from his pocket and running headlong into the fray, conveniently leaving Shuuichi to deal with three incoming soldiers.

“This is crazy,” Shuuichi whispers to himself, struggling to get a decent grip on the bat as his hands sweat faster than he can wipe them off. “This is crazy, magic is weird, the robot is a princette, and I am going to freak out.”

Shutting his eyes he swings wildly with the bat, and nearly throws his arm out of its socket, not to mention totally misses any of the three soldiers bearing down on him. Cringing at himself he takes a deep breath, adjusts his grip, and swings again.

It just barely clips one of the soldiers in the side, but that’s all it takes to make them go flying several yards backwards, slamming hard into one of their vehicles, shattering the windshield and most definitely getting glass into the wound Shuuichi’s just left.

Wound. Wound Shuuichi just left. That he can already see is bleeding through their armor.

Oh, god.

Why the hell did Rantarou have this?

As much as his nervous brain would love to dwell for several anxiety-filled hours on that and similar questions, there is no time. There are still two soldiers with their sights set on Shuuichi, and all around him his friends are struggling within their own fights.

As he does his best to disarm the soldiers as painlessly as he can, he mentally takes stock of what his friends were dealing with. 

Maki is visible now, having to resort to ducking around gunfire and grasping hands as she pulls gun after gun from the hands of the soldiers bearing down on her. Kaito is with her, doing his best to beat the recovering soldiers away from the pile of guns Maki is amassing, but it’s no use; they’re grabbed and turned back on the others faster than Maki can disarm them again.

Kiibo seems on the verge of having a breakdown as shot after shot from their gun merely bounces off the soldier’s armor. Eventually they relent, and help Kaede lean paralyzed soldiers against the side of the road and out of the way.

Shuuichi swipes at a soldier’s legs with the bat, sending them sprawling, but he has no time to applaud his minor victory as the realities of the fight dawn on him.

Despite their progress, not much ground is being made — and if something drastic doesn’t tip the odds in their favor, fast, they’re going to lose, and Shuuichi fears for his friends safety at that outcome.

“Oh! Everyone, look!” Gonta’s sudden, booming yell breaks through the fighting, calling everyone’s attention momentarily to himself as he points at. . .nothing. An empty spot in the woods. 

“W-What is it, Gonta?” Kaito asks weakly, struggling to wrestle the crowbar back from one of the soldiers.

“We are surrounded by woods.”

“And?” Kokichi asks impatiently, banging the gun against his leg as it seems to run out of ammo. He resorts to hitting an unhelmeted soldier over the head with the end of it. 

“Many types of bugs live in the woods!”

“Get on with it, Gonta!”

With a grimace, Gonta kicks aside a soldier who was attempting to pull him to the ground, and cups both large hands over his mouth.

“Bug friends! Gonta need your help to save friends! Please!”

Aside from the dizzying headache Gonta’s voice at that volume imbues Shuuichi with, nothing happens. Grimacing at the aftershocks of pain from the hit a soldier was able to land on him while he was distracted, he winds the bat back up, prepared to do his best to make sure his friends make it out of this okay.

It’s his responsibility. Everyone is here because of Shuuichi, because they believe (at least somewhat) in the fact that he didn’t steal Junko’s spear. In his determination to save Rantarou. In his inability to give up when he’s being depended on by people he cares about.

Shuuichi will not allow himself to fail.

He swings the bat, hits the soldier as hard as he can, despite the rush of guilt it sends through him.

As he moves to regain his grip some force from behind him seizes the bat, yanking backward in one fluid motion, causing him to stumble and nearly let go of it. He catches himself on one knee, wincing at the jolt of pain it sends through him, but does not let go. 

The soldier persists, even as the nails, apparently affected by the magic Kokichi said possessed the bat, digs through their armored gloves like a hot knife through butter and bloodies their hands. Shuuichi tugs desperately on it, the feeling of the rough wood rubbing against his bare palms painful, but he cannot let go. 

If he lets go, it means giving him and his friends one further disadvantage. If he lets go, it means giving the soldiers one more weapon to seriously hurt them with. If he lets go, it means losing one of the only things he has left of Rantarou.

“Give it back!”

Squeezing his eyes shut he forces himself to fall backward, silently willing the world to slow, slow, slow down as he grasps onto the handle of the bat with everything he has. The inky, shifting darkness ebbs his vision immediately, and with a sick feeling of satisfaction the ill feeling and the slowness only lasts until he’s fallen onto his back, the bat fully in his hands and the soldier looking utterly bewildered.

As he stands, though, the darkness crawling across his vision does not leave, and it takes the screaming of the others to realize that it isn’t just him that’s seeing it.

Oh, god.

An amorphous, all-encompassing wave of black, buzzing matter rises from the woods like a tidal wave, rising high enough into the air to block out the almost-setting sun for a few moments before surging downwards towards the makeshift battlefield. Screams crescendo all around Shuuichi as the wall of — they’re bugs, oh my god, thousands, hundreds of thousands — bugs overtakes all of them, swarming everyone without a care to who was friend or who was foe.

There’s buzzing in his ears, in his eyes, in his mouth, so sickening loud that he can’t make out who it is who runs screaming onto the RV. Just barely between the waves of insects swirling in the air he can see Maki standing statue still within the fray, a hand braced over her eyes as her other is thrown out behind her, wrapped protectively around Kaede as she cringes behind her. 

Something loud and clunky moves past — the electronic edge to the scream sets it off as being Kiibo as they, too, take shelter on the RV — which seems to give Kaede the idea that now is their chance to get out of here.

“Everyone get in!” she yells as loudly as she can over the dizzying buzz, grasping Maki around the arm and pulling her bodily behind her. Shuuichi looks around wildly for any stragglers, finding Kaito after a few moments braced against the RV, coughing and bracing both hands over his ears. Shuuichi pushes him towards the door, tosses the bat in after him, and holds it open just long enough for Gonta to hurry on before pulling it shut as quickly as he can.

From the safety of the bug-free RV, the chaos outside is all the more horrifying. Soldiers sit half engulfed by various bugs all around, waving guns and hands and helmets frantically in the air in an attempt to escape. Very, very cautiously, he spares a sidelong glance to Gonta.

That is his power?

“Kokichi better be on, because I am not opening the doors,” Maki says with conviction, voice aghast as she throws the RV into drive and floors the gas pedal.

“Present,” Kokichi replies from somewhere within the bathroom, accompanied by the flush of a toilet. When he stumbles out moments later, he collapses onto the floor without preamble, looking positively green.

Kaede stands from her seat with shaky legs, tapping each of them on the head as she passes through the RV. “We have everyone. Okay. Okay.”

She falls heavily onto one of the couches, letting her head rest against an equally-exhausted looking Kaito. Kaito pats her leg gently, leaning his own head against hers and letting his eyes fall shut.

As Maki speeds away from the roadblock much faster than is strictly legal, Shuuichi lets himself collapse on the other couch, looking to Gonta wearily as he settles into a cross-legged sit on the floor.

If Gonta is powerful enough to do that, then who on earth could his godly parent be?

Kokichi rises from the floor and falls onto couch next to Shuuichi, groaning. Kiibo emerges from the bathroom a few moments later, looking deeply ashamed as they settle into the booth, eyes downcast and hands folded tightly in their lap. Shuuichi looks down at Kokichi for a moment, noting how tired, how exhausted he looks. How exhausted all of them look.

For now, he supposes, it doesn’t matter who anyone’s parents are. They faced their first real challenge of this mission and survived, and right now, that’s all that’s worth thinking about.

Chapter Text

The subsequent yelling match held between the seven of them immediately following the haphazard escape from the Novoselic army leaves Shuuichi with a resounding headache that lasts well into the drive they take late through the night.

In the uncomfortable atmosphere during and immediately following the argument, he learned several things. For one, Kiibo can’t cry — though from the expressions they could make and the heartbreakingly guilty tone their voice could take on when upset, they might as well have anyways, with how inconsolable they’d been for the first few hours of the drive. 

For another, each of the other six people in the RV could be a formidable force when tensions were high. In addition to Kiibo’s pseudo-crying, Gonta had more than once fallen victim to upset or anxious tears, and even Kaede had to wipe hastily under her eyes at one point.

As Shuuichi would have expected, Maki and Kaito were at the head of the whole affair, lecturing Kiibo (and anyone who jumped to their defense) about how much unnecessary danger the miscommunication put them all in, how close they all were to getting injured, or captured, or worse, and how if they’re going to do this, there cannot be any more disasters like the Novoselic incident.

And while Shuuichi agreed. . .looking at any one of them for the hour following the heated exchange made him ill to his stomach.

What had been most surprising, though, was the lack of interjection into the whole affair by Kokichi, who had gone from being green from sickness at the swarm of bugs to unusually despondent and quiet, eyes on his phone as Kiibo was torn into by the others. 

Shuuichi, admittedly, knew very little about Kokichi as a person, but just by witnessing his behavior the past few days, he knew that he got some sort of pleasure, some thrill out of pestering Kiibo. Sometimes it was simply light-hearted ribbing, sometimes it twisted into something a little crueler, but as Kiibo was scolded, he’d had nothing to say. His only indication that he knew some sort of altercation was even taking place was when Shuuichi caught him glancing at Kiibo for long stretches of time, face unreadable and eyes blank, but continuing to stare.

Why was Kokichi holding his tongue now, when any taunts and criticisms he leveled Kiibo’s way would likely be allowed to stand?

Shuuichi could only watch his movements wordlessly, trying to understand.

But now, though, the tension had faded to fatigue in the long stretch of time it’s been since the sun set, and Shuuichi could feel the cloud of exhaustion in the air. As a peace offering of sorts, Kaito had settled into the booth opposite Kiibo, but had long since fallen asleep; Gonta had been yawning into his hand at a steadily increasing pace over the last hour or so, and Shuuichi was just now hearing the beginnings of Kaede’s insistence that Maki pull the RV into the nearest rest station so she could rest.

With Kaito’s light snoring and Kaede’s whispered directions towards the closest rest stop being the only auditory stimulus in the RV, it’s easy for Shuuichi to zone out — not for the first time — until the RV pulls to a stop and the two girls up front are standing and rubbing at their eyes. 

“Today has been a long day,” Maki begins quietly, pointedly looking away from Kiibo, who seems to shrink in on themselves even further, “so we’re going to stay and sleep the whole night. No one leaves the RV.”

No one moves to object, so she just nods and brushes back towards the bedroom, leaving Kaede standing up front. She smiles, rubbing her eyes. 

“Today was really, really hard, and stressful, and scary, but we got through it, and that’s what’s most important. Let’s just try and get some rest, so we’re ready to get going tomorrow. We also have a stop planned for tomorrow to get some supplies and some disguises for Kiibo and Gonta,” the two of them look up in surprise, but Kaede continues, “so let’s get to sleep as soon as we can, okay?”

She’s met with nods from everyone still awake, to which she nods herself before moving towards the booth and speaking too softly for Shuuichi to hear to Kiibo, who rises after a moment and follows her towards the bathroom.

At their departure, everyone moves to prepare for bed. Gonta rouses Kaito, and the two of them move to the respective couches they slept on earlier as Shuuichi and Kokichi vacate them. As the three of them take to changing into more comfortable sleepwear, Shuuichi rummages around in his bag for his toothbrush and a fresh pair of comfortable clothes, heading into the bathroom a few moments later when Kaede and Kiibo emerge, both a little misty eyed but smiling.

Kaede bids Shuuichi goodnight as he moves past her into the bathroom, which he returns before she retreats into the bedroom and he shuts the door. He goes through the motions a little mechanically, body physically fatigued but mind not quite in the bleary headspace that usually indicates he’s ready to sleep. 

When he exits the bathroom a few minutes later, teeth brushed, binder folded up with the other clothes he’d worn during the day, and still feeling distinctly as though sleep were out of the question, he finds that the lights have been shut off and the blinds drawn, washing the area in darkness, save for the lights on Kiibo and the overhead fluorescent beaming bright yellow just above the wall bed.

As Shuuichi is stooping down next to his bag to put away the day’s clothes and retrieve the bear he feels a shadow fall over him, and when he glances up he finds Kokichi standing a foot or so away, body facing towards the wall bed and rubbing sleepily at his eyes.

He gives no indication that he’s paying attention to Shuuichi as he stands, drawing the bear to his chest and observing him curiously.

Kokichi pulls his phone from somewhere deep within the front pocket of his oversized hoodie, blinking for a few moments down at the screen before dropping it back into his pocket and yawning sleepily into his hand, the sleeves of the sweatshirt bunched up in a way much akin to sweater paws at his hands.

It’s so transparently an act in order to get Shuuichi to relinquish the wall bed again that he has to laugh. Kokichi looks tentatively at him, and when Shuuichi just shrugs and gestures towards the bed with his free hand, he bursts into a smile, fatigue evidently forgotten as he jumps around excitedly.

“Shuuichi, how gentlemanly! You’re giving poor Gonta a run for his money!” He picks his own bag up from the floor and sets it delicately on the bed, his phone following a moment later, much less carefully as it’s flung onto the threadbare sheets. Kokichi hops up himself a moment later, feet swinging in the air as he lavishes Shuuichi with a faux-charmed smile. “Such chivalry! And they say romance is dead.”

With another soft laugh Shuuichi rolls his eyes, nodding to Kokichi before retrieving his bag from the floor and moving forward in search of a place to sleep for the night.

Option one: the booth he napped in earlier that day. Perhaps it was a minor injury from the fight with the soldiers beforehand, but the idea of trying to sleep through the night with the ache in his neck that he’d developed didn’t seem all that pleasant, so that was a no.

Option two: the floor. The assured stiffness he’d be in for in the morning aside, Shuuichi could tell even in the relative darkness of the RV that the floor was in desparate need of a good sweeping (a deep clean, more likely, but that was a fantasy and Shuuichi knew it) and he had very little desire, frankly, to wake up to a clogged respiratory system thanks to the dust and whatever else down there that would surely aggravate his allergies. So, no, thank you.

Option three: the passenger’s seat that Kaede had commandeered for herself, up front. It was padded, at least, but it would neither recline nor be large enough for him to comfortably lay sideways across, so it was sure to be a night of awkward angles.

Looking like a yes, then. 

Shuuichi drops his bag unceremoniously onto the floor next to the chair, eyeing it warily for a moment before settling down. He nearly yells as his text tone goes off, the sound reverberating in the ambient silence of the RV. Quick to pull it out of his pocket and silence it, he finds his lock screen lit up with a slew of new messages from an unknown number.

 

shuuichi! shuuichi! hey ;)

where did you gooooooo shuumai it’s so dark!!! ;(

i hope you’re not going to cuddle with kiibaby! what if they blow you up with their lazer beam eyes while they’re having a bad dream???

just kidding robots can’t dream. ur safe!!!!!

hey cmere i have a surprise for you

shuuichiii babyyy hit me uppppp ;00000

hey do u think i can send a text with every single emoji in it

 

He does. It takes almost a full minute of scrolling to reach the end of it and see the final message Kokichi’s sent.

 

are u ignoring me, shuuichi???:((( u aren’t here yet 

 

With more apprehension than anything else Shuuichi lifts himself out of the chair, placing his hands in his pockets as he tiptoes as quietly as he can past his sleeping friends towards the wall bed, which was still lit up by the overhead light.

As he comes to stand it front of it he makes eye contact with the bright glare of Kokichi’s phone’s flashlight, wincing away as he waits for Kokichi to, well, do whatever he planned to after he got Shuuichi to come over.

Eyes on his phone, Kokichi pats the pathetic patch of space on the bed next to himself. It takes Shuuichi a bit longer than it feasibly should to realize it’s an invitation, and when he does, he can’t help but laugh a little.

“Uh, Kokichi, I’m pretty sure this isn’t even a full twin size bed,” he points out in a whisper, trying to figure out in his mind why anyone would even make a bed this small. “You’re way smaller than me, and you’re hardly fitting. Thanks for the offer, though.”

Attention still on his screen, Kokichi half-rolls until he’s pressed flush against the wall of the RV, making some — but not a lot of — additional free space on the bed. His tongue just barely peeking out his mouth in concentration, he doesn’t look up as he taps something else out on his phone.

When Kokichi finishes he spares a millisecond to glance at Shuuichi’s pocket before his eyes move back to his own phone. Warily, Shuuichi pulls his phone out, and reads the new message Kokichi has sent him.

 

we’ll fit if we cuddle ;?

 

By the way Kokichi’s grin widens as he watches Shuuichi read the message he knows that this whole interaction is a bit, but regardless he feels an embarrassing redness crawl up his face anyways. An excuse is halfway off his tongue when Kokichi sends him another text rife with a collection of sad-looking emojis, so resigning himself to a very uncomfortable night for a whole host of reasons, he moves back towards the chair in search of the bear.

He doesn’t need to look at his phone to know that Kokichi sends him a flood of messages in his absence. When he returns to the front of the bed it’s with the bear and a roll of his eyes, followed by a long stretch of embarrassing moments as he attempts to slot himself next to Kokichi on the pitifully small bed without letting the two of them touch too much. To his credit Kokichi at least attempts to stifle his laughter on the multiple occasions Shuuichi either bangs his head on the low ceiling or squeaks when they accidentally touch, but he’s fairly certain Kokichi begins to record him at one point, so the gesture is sort of lost.

Eventually, though, Shuuichi manages to wiggle his way on and hastily shuts off the overhead light, face warm from the effort and embarrassment and awkwardness at the several points of contact his body makes with Kokichi’s on the tiny mattress.

Even with his arms wrapped around his chest as well as the bear his elbow bumps Kokichi’s chest; their knees knock together with every minute movement; and Shuuichi has to fight the urge to sneeze at the way some of Kokichi’s hair tickles his nose from where they both lay in relative closeness on the singular pillow.

It’s more than just vaguely uncomfortable, and he feels his stomach turning in agreement with his brain at the sentiment.

Because. Well. Kokichi is weird, and unpredictable, and a little mean, and a little too excitable for Shuuichi’s already fragile mental health, but the way he beams at Shuuichi when he’s settled and smiling back at Kokichi gives him that same glimmer of optimism he’s felt several times that perhaps Kokichi is just a little eccentric, not anything too formidable.

Kokichi clicks the light back on.

“Oh, thank gods you brushed your teeth before bed! If you hadn’t, I definitely would have barfed from having to smell stinky boy breath all night!”

Very, very eccentric, Shuuichi thinks to himself as he shrinks back in embarrassment despite the fact that it was, he thinks, a compliment? Kokichi’s smile is still there, if a bit more of a leer at this point, so he doesn’t think it’s an attempt to be mean.

He chooses to respond with: “so you’re talking to me again?”

“Of course!” Kokichi says emphatically, sounding aghast. “It would be so rude if I let my lovely Shuumai sleep in my bed and didn’t even talk to him!”

Shuuichi groans, pulling the bear up to hide his face. “Don’t phrase it like that. . .”

He feels a poke at his nose through the plush, and when he lifts his eyes he finds Kokichi’s finger pushing insistently at its nose, eyes alight with intrigue. “Ooh, this is so cute, Shuuichi! Hey, if I start wearing pink and white, will you cuddle me instead?”

Shuuichi gapes like a fish while trying to find a way to respond to that, half considering rolling backwards out of the bed the to escape the way Kokichi’s eyes crawl up his neck to his face, more than likely following the blush that’s once again turning him red.

“Stop flirting with Shuuichi and go to sleep,” Maki says sharply from the bedroom, the sound of her voice and what it was she actually said making Shuuichi’s face flush all the more.

“Say’s the one in bed with her ultimate gal pal,” Kokichi says lightly, though Shuuichi notes that his response isn’t nearly loud enough for Maki to actually hear.

That is, he thinks, probably to the benefit of both of their health.

Kokichi winks at Shuuichi, seeming content to leave that line of conversation there, despite not denying Maki’s accusation. Which.

He clears his throat, unable to look at Kokichi as he speaks. “Is, uhm, that what’s happening here?”

“Hmm?”

Shuuichi grimaces. “The, ah — the flirting.”

Kokichi laughs into his hand, propping his head up on his other one. “Me, flirt with you? How bold, Shuumai, how cute! But, no. I just want your Pokemon. Have you named it yet? Where’d you get it?”

Shuuichi shakes his head, kicking himself for being distracted again by Kokichi’s antics. “Didn’t you invite me here to sleep?”

“The way I see it,” Kokichi begins, making grabbing hands at the bear, “we can just sleep on the drive, can’t we? It’s obvious you don’t really trust me or like me that much, so why not bond a little, ease some of the tension?”

Shuuichi stalls. “I don’t—”

Kokichi plucks the bear from his hands, observing it appraisingly. He tugs on its ears, squeezes its paws, flicks the short nub of a tail, almost as if he were inspecting it. His eyes don’t leave the bear, and Shuuichi’s eyes don’t leave Kokichi.

“Y’know, it is toooootally unsurprising that you’re the sort of loser to sleep with stuffed animals, but I wouldn’t expect it to be such a cheap little thing! Seriously, what dollar store did you steal this from?”

Shuuichi glances instead at the bear’s face as he speaks. “I got it from an arcade, actually. Rantarou won it, he’s really good at that kind of stuff, and he got it the night before he. . .well. The night before everything happened, I guess. So I can’t bring myself to part with it, as silly as it is.”

He hears Kokichi boo quietly, pulling the bear protectively to his chest and glancing at Shuuichi with a muted expression. 

For someone who keeps complaining about how cheap the toy is, Kokichi doesn’t seem too eager to actually give it back to Shuuichi.

A pause. Then: “you’re real upset about your friend, huh?”

Shuuichi looks at him, a little confused. “Well, yeah. I think anybody would be, right?”

“That’s not what I mean.” Kokichi rests his chin on the bear’s head, looking up at Shuuichi searchingly, much as he looked at the bear as he was inspecting it. He feels himself squirm.

“You’re weird, y’know that? A monster tries to kill you, you find out your bestie and his daddies and you are mixed up in all this god stuff, that you’re half god and that your parent abandoned you, then find out the world is gonna end and all the gods are blaming you and fighting over ugly Junko’s spear, but all you’re concerned about is Rantarou.”

Shuuichi pauses, Kokichi’s words washing over him with no small amount of significance. Yes, actually, in the grand scheme of things happening in his life right now, maybe he should be more preoccupied with the fact that, actually, he’s half god, and whoever his godly parent is abandoned him and hasn’t made himself known at all during Shuuichi’s life.

Or, a bit more pressing, the whole the world is ending and everyone thinks it’s your fault thing, wherein the lives of everyone are under threat from no less than four different gods, and if Shuuichi doesn’t somehow make things right and stop the gods from tearing each other and the world apart, poof, that’s it, curtain call, everyone dies. 

It’s stupid, and more than a little bit selfish, but every time he even thinks about the state of things all Shuuichi can do is circle back to the fact that Rantarou is gone, that Rantarou was willing to die to protect Shuuichi, and that it’s now all on him to save his friend and make things right.

And, y’know, stop the world from ending.

That’s a lot of pressure. A lot of pressure.

“Uh oh! Looks like I freaked you out.” He must look as stricken as he feels, if Kokichi can pick up on it. He laughs to himself, waving his hand dismissively in Shuuichi’s direction. “Don’t linger too much on that sorta stuff, Shuumai. You can’t save your prettier brother-friend-whatever if you’re all locked up in your head freaking out.”

For emphasis, Kokichi raps his knuckles lightly against Shuuichi’s forehead. “So lighten up, kay? Hey, y’know, for all that you talk about Rantarou, I don’t know anything about him! As much as I would haaaaate to listen to you angst about your dead bestie, I won’t be able to sleep if you’re crying next to me all night, so spill all the dirty details of your life to me! I’m all ears, and that’s the truth!”

“You want to know about Rantarou?” Shuuichi asks, a little blindsided by Kokichi’s request. Though Kokichi had expressed interest in Rantarou beforehand, it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise, but still. . .

When he’s given an enthusiastic nod in response, Shuuichi just shrugs and tries his best to think of a good place to start. There was so much that he knew about Rantarou, so much history between them that spans the majority of Shuuichi’s life; what should he mention? What shouldn’t he? How much does Kokichi really want to know?

“Um, well—” Shuuichi stops short of finishing a single thought when Kokichi’s head lolls heavily against the pillow, fake snores spilling loudly out of his mouth. Shuuichi rolls his eyes, turning the overhead light off with a shake of his head.

He wasn’t sure what he expected.

“Just kidding!” Kokichi says into the darkness, giggles spilling out of his mouth. “. . .That was a joke, Shuuichi. C’mon, tell me about him already!”

Kokichi doesn’t move to turn the light back on, so Shuuichi doesn’t bother either before launching back into his train of thought again.

“Well, uh,” Shuuichi begins, ever eloquent, blanking on how to begin, “I hope you’re not expecting anything super grandeur or dramatic, because it, uh wasn’t? We met on basically our first day of school — same class and table to sit at and everything. 

“It’s hard to remember stuff from so long ago, but I remember Rantarou reached out first. I’m sure it doesn’t come as much of a shock that I wasn’t the, ah, most outgoing kid—” when Kokichi hums in agreement, Shuuichi finds himself stalling momentarily, smiling, “—but Rantarou was your usual rowdy six year old, and wanted to be my friend pretty much immediately.”

Shuuichi shifts minutely in the bed so he’s facing Kokichi more directly, a bit more comfortable with speaking while looking at him now that he’s gotten into the groove of telling his story. “We were sort of best friends from the get go. I don’t know what it was about me that made him fixate on me so much, ah, maybe now that I think about it, it might have something to do with his, um, power? But even then. . .”

Shuuichi trails off for a moment, a sudden surge of affection overtaking him.

“Rantarou was always very genuine with everything he said and did. Coming from parents like he did, very rich and in the public eye, even as a kid I think he sort of realized there would be people who would want to use that to their advantage? I think he appreciated the fact that I, ah, didn’t really have the knowledge to take advantage of his status and wealth, and I appreciated that he never tried to get me to be something I wasn’t.” 

Shuuichi bites his lip. Kokichi blinks slowly, purple eyes bright in the darkness, waiting patiently for him to speak again. He rolls his shoulders. “But, uh, who his parents were never really mattered to me. All that I ever really cared about was that he was nice to me. Even when he didn’t have to be. Even when it maybe would have benefited him to go along with the crowd, or just, uh, stop being my friend.

“But he hasn’t. Didn’t. Um, stop being my friend, ever. And he was never a bad friend. He likes to tease me a lot, poke fun, but he was always respectful of my, ah, many boundaries. And even when he was stressed out, or if I was stressed out and spiralling, or I did something wrong or we had a bad day or — or anything, he was always kind to me. Always. And he always made time for me, even when he had a world of other things going on, you know? I guess I mean that literally.”

He pauses for a long moment, shutting his eyes as he ponders whether to touch on his next point at all. When Kokichi makes a noise encouraging him to continue he does, though he’s not quite able to meet his gaze.

“I, ah, school wasn’t — school wasn’t always very good to me. For a lot of reasons. And, uh, because of that, I had to — move, a lot? I moved schools a ton, and every single time, Rantarou made Byakuya and Makoto enroll him in whatever new school my mom signed me up for, so he was always in my life, which helped.”

“Moved schools a lot, hmm?” Kokichi asks, voice tinged with intrigue as he interjects for the first time. “Was Shuuichi a troublemaker? Did you get expelled?”

Shuuichi’s expecting the question, but nevertheless it makes his stomach turn uncomfortably as images of his last day of school make their presence known in his head. He laughs into his hand, attempting to hide his discomfort.

“I only got expelled once, actually, after the monster attack,” Shuuichi admits a little shamefully, tapping his fingers anxiously against the bedspread. “The other times, um. It was because of bullying? My mom always enrolled me in the higher end schools, and I guess it was pretty obvious that I wasn’t as wealthy, or as confident, or as worthy of respect,” or as cis, his mind tacks on as an afterthought, because while Shuuichi’s more than sure that that was a deciding factor in the treatment he got, that wasn’t a conversation he was going to have with Kokichi while in bed with him, “in a lot of people’s eyes.”

The silence around them settles somewhat awkwardly for a moment, before Kokichi comments, looking surprisingly muted, “y’know, that doesn’t surprise me.”

Shuuichi looks at Kokichi a bit sharper than he intends to, but when he sees that his expression is free of anything cruel or really of any sort of joking nature at all he relaxes. The context of his comment isn’t exactly comforting, but what he says isn’t unkind, isn’t a jab — more a soft observation, free of judgement.

Still, there’s a discomfort at talking about himself so frankly at length. He shrugs in response to Kokichi’s words, realizing that his reaction is too late to be casual when Kokichi silently raises an eyebrow. He averts his eyes, silently hoping that Kokichi is satisfied so they can get to sleep.

After a few minute’s silence, Kokichi silently reaches above their heads and clicks on the light, making them both wince against the glare, wherein he takes the opportunity to push the pillow more towards Shuuichi, nudging his own head marginally closer. 

“Hey.” Kokichi’s fingers twirl a bit of fur from the bear as he speaks, eyes not quite meeting Shuuichi’s. “I know you’re totally clueless about who your godly parent is, but what about your human mom? What’s she like?”

“Dead.”

Kokichi glances up at Shuuichi, expression open and confused for only a beat before falling back into a schooled neutral, an eyebrow lifting curiously. Shuuichi cringes as he realizes what he said, bringing his hands to cover his face in mortification.

“Oh my god, that was the worst way I could have phrased that.”

“You’re telling me, jeez, Shuuichi,” Kokichi replies with a scoff, though there’s a smile in his voice. “How am I supposed to rebound a conversation after that?”

“Just — ugh, sorry,” Shuuichi apologizes quickly, staring up at the ceiling. “No one really asks about her, ah, no one likes touching the dead mom subject. So I don’t, hm, know how to talk about it delicately.”

“Hmm. . .” Kokichi rolls over to stare up at the ceiling as well, the bear pulled protectively to his chest. “Just what feels right, I guess? You’re barking up the tree about how to talk about parent stuff, y’know.”

He resists the urge to glance curiously at Kokichi before launching into another explanation. “Uh, well, like I said, I don’t really know where to start. I talk about her even less than I do Rantarou, and anyone that’s ever known my situation has been him and his family, so there’s been no reason to talk about it outside of therapy and stuff, so.

“It was just me and my mom all my life. She never really — there was never anyone else, no step dads or boyfriends or anything. It was always just the two of us in our apartment. And it worked for us, I think. She was — she was a really good mom. The best I could have ever had. She was supportive of everything about me, and she didn’t have to be, and — yeah.

“She was really good friends with Byakuya and Makoto,” Shuuichi recalls fondly, letting a smile slip onto his face, “she was like me with Rantarou — didn’t care about their wealth or their status or anything like that, which is why I think they liked her so much, too. I don’t think I can remember anything bad about her. She was always supportive, and tried her best to make things good for us, good for me, and when she was alive things were just. . .good. At least when it came to me and her.”

“But then, she, ah, she died. Car accident. Emergency workers and Makoto and Byakuya and therapists all said it was quick, that she didn’t feel anything, which I guess is good. But, um, because it was so quick, I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. One night I was having a sleepover at Rantarou’s house and the next I was being moved into one of the guest rooms and having adoption papers signed, ha. Which maybe explains why I feel so blindsided and on edge all the time, huh?”

Curious as to how his story has landed on Kokichi, who had been remarkably quite throughout his recalling, Shuuichi turns on his side to find Kokichi doing the same, his face a brick wall.

Kokichi’s expression is unreadable, and the lack of animation in his features gives him pause. Even though much of what Kokichi projected to others was untrue, or at the very least largely exaggerated, Shuuichi could generally read what he was at least trying to portray. But now, much as he had been faced with during the day when Kokichi had walled his expressions off, and now as they lay in the same cramped bed, Kokichi’s face is impassive, and he doesn’t meet Shuuichi’s eyes.

Discomfort floats in the scant space between them. Kokichi has taken to — perhaps subconsciously — squeezing at one of the bear’s paws, eyes fixed on a random spot on the blankets. Shuuichi, still not quite sleepy enough to fall asleep in a bed he’s sharing with an almost-stranger, especially not after such a heavy reveal of some of his past, taps Kokichi gently on the arm, an idea in mind.

“What about you?”

“What do you mean?” Kokichi replies, some of his bravado back as he smiles curiously at Shuuichi.

“If you want, you can tell me more about yourself. It’s only fair, right?”

“Fair. . .” Kokichi ponders it for a moment before shrugging and propping himself up on one of his arms so his head rests above Shuuichi’s, looking down at him with shining eyes. “I guess that makes sense! Buckle in, Shuuichi, this is gonna be the craziest story you’ve ever heard in your life!”

As Kokichi loudly clears his throat in preparation of. . . whatever’s to come, Shuuichi settles back to comfortably look at him, smiling a little at the fact that what comes out of Kokichi’s mouth in the next few minutes is more than surely going to just be a stream of lies.

Still, if Kokichi is anything, he’s a hell of a storyteller.

“So, Shuumai wants to know all about me, hm? Well, I could talk about the legions of thousands that I use to secretly puppeteer the world's elite, but then I’d have to kill you! Hm. . .”

“Ooh, here’s a story!” Kokichi aligns his pointer and middle fingers in an approximation of a frame, calling Shuuichi’s full attention. “Picture this: little old me, sixteen or so years younger and way less devilishly handsome, wrapped in a plastic bag and dumped on the doorstep of some rural shitbag orphanage. What a way to celebrate being born, huh?”

Though his tone is flippant and artfully detached, the contents of Kokichi’s words leave Shuuichi with a pit in his stomach as he describes his abandonment. 

“Mammy or pappy or whoever dropped baby me off didn’t leave a note or anything like in those hokey Disney movies, so I couldn’t Annie my way into my own Daddy Warbucks, which is laaame. Had that childhood dream smushed pretty early, right around when I figured I wouldn’t be gettin’ my Hogwarts letter, so that tells you how sad orphan life was.

“Just kidding! The misses and misters at the orphanage had better things to do than let us read, so I didn’t do any of that! Couldn’t read myself til the ripe age of eight, which maybe explains why I have to cheat off of Kaede’s homework for online school. I digress!” Kokichi waves his hands in the air as if to clear the tangent away.

“Stuck around the orphanages — yes that’s plural, I was a problem kiddo just like you, y’know — til I hit everyone’s favorite time of their life puberty, when I became more of a brat than usual and the lovely folks who ran the child labor workshops couldn’t get me to behave anymore! So I went to all sortsa homes. Never stayed too long, y’know? I’ve got a sensitive heart, after all, and being used for tax breaks just made me cry day and night!

“By the time yours truly was, hmm, eleven? Whatever, the trauma makes it blurry around the edges, I was spending more time on the street than in the foster homes, which kinda defeats the purpose! The bestest home, though, was the one where fetus baby me walked into one of my foster’s apartments one day and found his body! Talk about a terrible, no good, very bad day.” Kokichi’s smile twists, morphing into some bastardization of humor that Shuuichi can’t place exactly. Shuuichi’s own expression must shift, because when Kokichi’s eyes refocus on him he winks, the smile falling away into something more playful.

“Of course, me and my big MENSA brain weren’t gonna get blamed for wacking off the old bastard. Dunno what actually happened, but as soon as I saw that I dipped and never looked back.” Kokichi giggles softly into the space between the two of them. “Don’t look so horrified, Shuuichi. Trauma bonding is only fun if we’re both laughing.”

He hums quietly to himself before falling backwards onto the pillow, face aimed up towards the ceiling. “Kicked the old foster system to the curb after that. How do you get better than that? Worry not, though! I’m good with my hands, and found I had a real knack for stealing the wallets off of dumb people! Got bored  of that, though, decided I didn’t wanna just live off of half-empty Subway gift cards and pocket change, y’know? 

“I had aspirations, I had dreams like you wouldn’t believe! And that dream?” He pauses for a long moment, taking a deep breath. “Rule the world. Small beans for an eleven year old street rat, huh? Found a ragtag gang of like minded orphans, and a year later I had ten thousand underlings that hung off my every word and obeyed each and every command! Like I said, small beans, but hey, I gotta start somewhere, right? Soon enough I was richer than God and had the criminal underbelly of the country in my grasp. Good ol’ God of Crime didn’t know what hit him, psh. Eat your heart out, Kuzuryuu’s, I was on the scene now.”

Kokichi suddenly flips over to stare at Shuuichi again, openly appraising him. After a moment he shrugs, resting his cheek on his palm. “Go figure, though, shit hits the fan and I’m arrested just short of making the jump from tween to full blown villainous teenage heartthrob. ‘Course, I’m a legend, and they try to try me as an adult. Jokes on them, I got bailed outta jail by Nagito before they got the chance, ha!”

“I know you’re endlessly enthralled by my autobiography here, Shuumai, but unfortunately we’re getting close to the end.” Instead propping himself up on his elbow, he uses his now free hand to mime a mouth moving as he mimes the bear in tandem. “Nagito poofs himself into my cell and is all like, ‘hey ya little brat wanna go to summer camp?’ and cuz I’m not stupid, I’m not about to crawl into the candy van of someone that looks like Nagito, I’m like, ‘no way, you look homeless!’”

“And so Nagito’s like,” as he gears up to move his hand in tandem with his pitiful Nagito impression Kokichi’s face twists, intentionally crossing his eyes and developing a tremor, “‘I’m, like, a god and stuff, and you’re a hybrid freak, you come with me and I’ll show you your sick god powers, ‘kay?’ and I was like, ‘this definitely sounds like something fresh off of Famous Last Words, but okay’ and then he bailed me out! Funny enough, the first place we went was the local city hall, so I could actually get a name.”

“What?” Shuuichi cuts in bluntly, knowing full well that that is certainly not the strangest part of this tale, but nonetheless the one that catches him the most off guard. 

“Oh, did I forget to mention that?” Kokichi shrugs, wrapping both arms around the bear and falling onto his back again. “Whoops, guess it got caught up in all the other sordid details of my life. Yeah, y’know good ol’ mom or dad or whoever? Parent of the Year who dropped me off at an orphanage as a newborn? Didn’t give me a name before they did. Nagito asked me about it when he broke me out of that yucky jail, and when I told him, he let me pick one out! Got the papers done and everything!”

Kokichi beams over at him, seemingly unbothered by the horrific events recounted in his ‘life story,’ Not even a crack in his amused demeanor.

“I get the feeling you’re not telling me the truth.”

Unsurprisingly, Kokichi’s good mood stays, though his grin drops into a pitiful pout. “Huh? No way! At least, like, two of those things actually happened. Promise!”

Shuuichi groans, though it’s clear to the both of them that it’s lighthearted. Kokichi breaks into laughter, apparently overjoyed at the effect his waste of time of a story has on Shuuichi, and pulls the thin blanket up to his chin, smile warm. Shuuichi angles himself to face Kokichi a bit more head on, half anticipating the expectant look in his eye to lead to another addition to the conversation.

Kokichi just blinks owlishly, almost sleepily at him, the ears of the bear only just peeking out over the edge of the blanket. Shuuichi stares back, not necessarily uncomfortable in the silence that falls over them but also feeling as though it’s weirdly intimate — even considering their current position.

But, like clockwork, the moment is broken when Kokichi’s face splits into a wicked smirk as he presses his socked feet against Shuuichi’s legs, causing him to jump in surprise and nearly bang his head off of the ceiling, groaning over the sound of Kokichi’s laughter that erupts into the surrounding RV.

Shuuichi’s head falls back onto the pillow at the same moment that Kokichi angles himself even closer, now laying only a matter of centimeters away, the several points of contact their limbs previously made on the bed now a singular, elongated point, from their shoulders down to their feet. Kokichi shoves his head ever closer, and Shuuichi can feel the tickle of his — bubblegum scented? Does Kokichi use bubblegum toothpaste? — breath against his cheeks.

And suddenly, Shuuichi is uncomfortably warm.

Shuuichi attempts to shift away as anxiety over being so close physically to someone, especially a stranger, especially Kokichi, especially without being out or having his binder on, bubbles up in him so fast it takes him by surprise. It’s a losing battle, he realizes a little belatedly, as he finds himself balancing already on the edge of the bed.

“Shuuichi, no!” Kokichi whines dramatically, crocodile tears set in motion and a hand grasping towards Shuuichi’s sweatshirt. “My life living on the streets has left me with a damaged immune system, and I’m so sickly that my body temperature is several degrees lower than a normal human’s! At night I can get so cold I can die. You wouldn’t let me die, would you? You don’t reeeeally hate me that much, do you?”

Neither of them miss the harshness of Shuuichi’s grasp as he removes Kokichi’s hand from the front of his hoodie. He retreats immediately, though he can’t fight the frustration that tinges his voice as he speaks. “Kokichi, don’t, I’m getting uncomfortable. Let’s just sleep.”

Shuuichi nearly falls backwards as the bear is shoved forcefully against his chest, and immediately the press of Kokichi against him is gone; only a light, unavoidable pressure around their knees remain. Kokichi shuts his eyes, pressed as closely as he can against the metal of the wall, and though he looks uncomfortable, even embarrassed, he knows on instinct that his pride is too high to address that fact.

Kokichi punches the overhead light out, hard, and the sudden darkness can mask neither the discomforted red that floods his cheeks, nor the soft curse he utters as he pulls his hand to his chest, and there’s an undeniably you fucked up coursing through the both of them as the silence turns from uncomfortably sour to downright suffocating.

“I’m sorry, I’m just — tired. I didn’t mean to be snappish. I can leave.” Shuuichi isn’t sure of what response he’s hoping for, but Kokichi flipping over to face the wall certainly isn’t it.

“What, and sleep on the floor?” Kokichi asks sardonically, voice acidic. Any lightness is gone; Kokichi is all hard edges and sharp words now, and even in the darkness Shuuichi knows that he’s genuinely hurt him, frustration in himself quickly rising.

There were better ways to handle that, damn it. He should've known that underneath Kokichi’s flighty demeanor there was an edge of truth, something genuine that could be wounded, and he just — he shouldn’t have been so short with him. They were both teasing, there was no way for Kokichi to know he was taking things too far.

He loathes to leave the night on such a bad note. In part because he has to sleep in, quite literally, the bed he’s made for himself, but also because he knows how it feels to go to bed feeling like you’ve ruined things, and he doesn’t want Kokichi to, not if he can help it. 

Biting his lip, he hesitates for several long moments before he carefully draws the blanket over Kokichi, who seems to purposefully still his breathing as Shuuichi’s hands ghost across him. He withdraws only once Kokichi’s covered, and as an afterthought lays the bear between them, its face towards Kokichi. And finally, bracing himself against the discomfort of sleeping so close to another person, he angles himself just a touch closer to Kokichi on the bed; a peace offering, of sorts. He flips onto his other side with as little disruption of the bed as he can, facing away from Kokichi to allow them both some privacy but staying just close enough to (he hopes) stand still as a peace offering.

The closeness between them is tangible; the shared body heat is comforting, if unfamiliar, and he feels the tendrils of sleep pulling him down fast, the exhaustion of the day heavy on him.

“Goodnight, Kokichi.” 

He’s not expecting a response, but Kokichi’s socked foot gently tapping his heel serves well enough as one. His smile at the gesture is his last action before he drifts to sleep.

 

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When Shuuichi wakes, the bear in his arms, he is alone; and when he rises for the day, and greets his friends good morning, Kokichi does not meet his eyes.