Fuyuhiko didn’t think he’d ever see his home again. He knows it’s not really his home in front of him, but the rendition created from Peko’s memories is faultless. He wants to go inside almost as much as he doesn’t. He can’t though. In this world, he’s already inside there with Peko.
“You can’t be seen with Peko’s copy of you.” Hinata had told him before putting him in the program. “And you can’t interfere with my AI. It has to destroy their worlds to wake them up.” Softer, more hesitant, he had added, “Are you sure you want to go in? You won’t remember anything when you wake up.”
Fuyuhiko had nodded and that was that. Hinata put him into the machine and Fuyuhiko appeared in his hometown. Beside him was Hinata’s AI. It looks like Hinata but with Kamukura’s eyes, and personality, Fuyuhiko quickly learned. The AI’s dressed in the reserve course uniform. It was already almost too much. Too close to when they’d been Despairs.
He starts regretting his slightly rash decision when he sees Natsumi come home from school. He knows it’s not really Natsumi, that it’s all a part of Peko’s world created to protect her mind from her execution in the Killing Game. And Hinata’s AI is going to destroy everything.
“What a dull world,” the AI says. It looks at Fuyuhiko, disinterest in its relaxed posture and dead eyes. Fuyuhiko has to remind himself it’s not Hinata. “I cannot remove you from here but if you interfere I will detain you until I am finished.”
“Don’t have to worry about me,” Fuyuhiko says. But when the AI kills the group of underlings who attack it with nothing more than its finger, Fuyuhiko clenches his hands in his pockets and looks away.
And then he sees himself. Peko’s version of himself. He’s talking with Natsumi, Peko three steps behind, a silent weapon. She really doesn’t see herself as more than a tool for him.
He manages to get Peko without Peko’s version of him around. The copy is in a meeting with his parents. Peko notices something different but she keeps her head down and treats him like she did when they were younger, their relationship master and weapon. Fuyuhiko can’t stand it. When he tries to break her reality, tells her none of this is real, that she needs to wake up, she doesn’t react. She send for a doctor, thinks he’s ill. A sniper tries to kill him but Hinata’s AI takes care of Peko’s subconscious defenses. In defeat, Fuyuhiko leaves Peko to this world’s version of him.
The AI appears beside him when he’s alone. “Did you think that would work? You have no purpose being in here.”
“Shut up and do your job,” Fuyuhiko replies. He stalks away, knowing the AI’s not wrong. He doesn’t know what he was thinking. He knew what Hinata’s program was going to do, knew what it entailed. He doesn’t want Peko to suffer. But he isn’t the one who can wake her up.
“None of this is real, Kuzuryuu-kun.”
Fuyuhiko turns to the voice ready to snap at the AI. But this Hinata is in his normal clothes and one of his eyes is a comforting green.
Hinata, the real one, or the virtual version of the real one, rubs the back of his neck and looks to the side. “I, uh, didn’t want you to have to deal with all this alone. My AI isn’t exactly… I had to make him more Izuru than Hajime.”
“First name basis with yourself, huh.”
Hinata smiles ruefully. “I’m still figuring things out.”
Fuyuhiko kicks himself. He scratches his nose, guilty and feeling terrible. “You’re doing a better job than a lot of us.” Hinata gives him a small self-conscious smile. Fuyuhiko quietly adds, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Hinata replies just as quietly. He looks over to Peko with the copy of Fuyuhiko and Natsumi she’s escorting to an event by the looks of their attire. A flash of sadness flickers in his expression. Hinata had known Natsumi, they’d been classmates. Fuyuhiko had only learned that recently but had wondered if in a world without Despairs he’d have met Hinata through his sister. Would she have introduced him as a friend? Boyfriend? Natsumi had always liked a lot of the same things as him.
“What you see here isn’t necessarily her true desires. It’s all to protect her mind. Sometimes that’s what’s familiar or expected.” Hinata’s watching the three of them get into one of the Kuzuryuu cars. “But even here she just wants you safe and happy.”
“She needs to think about herself too. She’s not just a weapon to me, she’s my best friend. More than that, even.”
“Oh.” Fuyuhiko sees Hinata’s throat work as he swallows hard. His smile takes on a strained edge. “When she wakes up, you’ll have the time and freedom to let her know.” The world flickers and Fuyuhiko doesn’t want to know who the AI’s killed, much less how, to fracture Peko’s world. Time’s running out.
“She’s family,” Fuyuhiko clarifies and Hinata blinks in surprise. He coughs, cheeks pinking and Fuyuhiko can’t believe his eyes. He almost doesn’t want to consider, to think, but maybe.
“Well, she’ll be waking up soon, by the looks of things.” The world is flickering, buildings turning into pixels and disappearing.
“Thanks for, humoring me.” He looks up at Hinata and bites his lip. It’s a cop-out, but if what he thinks has been forming between them is real, then maybe some things will carry over back in the real world. This world is ending anyway.
“Hinata?” Fuyuhiko gathers his courage.
Hinata meets his gaze, curious and giving Fuyuhiko his full attention. His eyes widen when Fuyuhiko grabs him by the collar and rises up on his toes to kiss him as the world around them dissolves into pixels. Fuyuhiko planned on keeping it simple, quick, mostly chaste, but as he pulls away, embarrassed and feeing a mix of relief and regret that this moment will be forgotten, Hinata’s hands come up to his face and he presses back in, kissing back. Fuyuhiko’s eyes open in surprise and Hinata’s are closed, eyelashes fluttering as he firmly kisses Fuyuhiko’s knees weak.
They pull away and Fuyuhiko has to take a second to get his bearings. Hinata’s hands fall from Fuyuhiko’s face and slide nervously into his own pockets. “Can I take this as a good sign that if I kissed you in the real world, you won’t knock me out?”
Fuyuhiko clicks his tongue but his traitorous mouth twitches into a smile anyway. “We’ll find out if you kiss me. I’ll probably have to kiss you first again since you’re too slow.”
Hinata pouts and whatever his retort is gets cut off as he disappears in fragmented pixels. Fuyuhiko has barely a moment to wonder if Hinata’s kiss will be the same before he blinks out. It was a first kiss he won’t mind reliving.